Crusade, Chapter 1: Opening Moves
Rating: M for violence
Disclaimer: I don't own Kingdom Hearts.
World: Takes place during 358/2 and Roxas's last week in KH2. I'm messing with time frames just a bit, so things won't line up exactly as in canon.
Important notes: This is a Kairi-centric fic with strong SoKai and RokuNami implications. It's rated M because this is intentionally a much darker, arguably more realistic take on the KH world.
"We travel, some of us forever,
To seek other states,
Kairi woke in a cold sweat, a nightmare still burning her skin as she breathed deeply to calm her nerves. Her room was dark, the curtains drawn, but outside the sun was up and the gulls were cooing. Wiping damp bangs from her forehead, she pulled back the curtains and opened the window over her bed. Salty, ocean air filtered into the room and brought the sun in with it.
It was Saturday on the Destiny Islands, a day off from school with nothing to do. She was supposed to meet Selphie to go shopping later, but before that there was somewhere she needed to be. The same place she went every Saturday morning alone without fail.
The boat ride to the islet where she'd played as a child was a short one, and she could do it with her eyes closed after so many trips back and forth. She and Riku had spent their days there looking for seashells and talking of the future back when they were children. He'd always been ambitious, wanting more than they had and never satisfied with what they could achieve. A dreamer. In a way, she wished she were more like him. Maybe then she would be out there with him instead of here waiting for his return.
Just standing here on the white sand beach under the shade of the Paopu tree made her heart ache with a now-familiar nostalgia, something between longing and languishing. The sea breeze was cool and refreshing on this spring morning, but Kairi shivered and rubbed her arms for warmth. Rustling nearby drew her attention to a shady nook under hollowed tree roots next to a gushing waterfall.
It was the Secret Place where kids painted the walls and told ghost stories at night. She hadn't had the urge to go in there for the longest time. It was just a dead end, nothing of value there.
"Remember your promise."
The voice in her dream was a distant echo, unidentifiable, but she heard it here in the wind that flooded the cavern. Curious, Kairi followed the whim on hands and knees to that dark place.
The damp rock walls made her shiver. It was chilly despite the warm weather. Upon the walls, drawings danced in still life. They were carved in chalk, embedded into the rock forever. She traced them with a hand, unsure what they meant or who of her friends had inscribed them. Eventually, she came upon a crude carving of two people exchanging Paopu fruits. They were laughing, and Kairi traced their smiles with gentle fingers.
Me, she thought.
She had no idea why her face would be imprinted upon the ancient walls of this secret hideaway, but there it was. That was her, smiling and accepting the fruit from another, but he didn't know his face.
A burst of wind drew her attention, and she turned around. A door, not there when she'd first arrived, had materialized. Odd—she'd never seen a door here before.
That's not true.
Somewhere in her memory she could picture a door, bright and terrifying. It was a gateway to all her hopes and fears, but she couldn't remember going through it—though she'd wanted to. Something wasn't right, and she felt sick to her stomach.
"Don't be afraid."
"Who's there?" Kairi said, standing and putting up a hand in front of herself. It was the same voice from her dream, distant and near all at once.
"Open the door. You can do it."
Kairi stared at the door, wondering. It was so familiar, like she'd been here before. Approaching it, she touched a hand to the cool, wooden surface. Light, warm and bright, bloomed under her touch. Blinding. Kairi cried out, unable to keep her eyes focused under the sheer brightness. Her body felt weightless, floating, like she was dreaming.
And then there was nothing.
Kairi turned in her sleep, groggy. Fluorescent lights blinded her from above and her body ached all over.
"Oh, there you are," a feminine voice said.
Kairi squinted to see through the light and tried to sit up. "Huh? Where am I?"
Slowly, the world began to adjust around her. There were no shadows, only stark white nothingness.
"Who are you?" Kairi asked, focusing on the figure looming over her.
"I'm Naminé," she said, lending Kairi a hand to stand.
"What is this place?"
Naminé's smile faltered. "This is a place in-between. We're neither here nor there."
Kairi studied the girl. Naminé shared her height. Her blonde hair fell about her in wisps, pretty, as though there were an invisible wind following her. But her eyes bespoke a sadness that weighed her down.
"You're here because you're needed," Naminé went on.
"Needed for what? And how do you know—"
There were fortune tellers on the Islands, people who claimed to have the foresight of gods. Kairi had sometimes visited them, enjoying the opportunity of someone else telling her future than to have to wait and see what it held for herself. But with Naminé, there was something so sentimental that words seemed almost offensive.
"There's a lot I know about you, and you about me. But in any case, we don't have much time. I need your help."
Before Kairi could respond, a splitting pain pierced her head, and she raised a hand to apply pressure to her temples. The headaches came and went sometimes when she thought about Riku and the events of the previous year, but they had never been this bad.
"They're painful, aren't they? The memories," Naminé said. "The more it hurts, the better it heals."
"What do you mean?"
Naminé showed Kairi her back. "Just that you won't be like this forever. What goes up must come down. He'll come back to you, too. Like gravity."
Naminé laughed lightly, but it wasn't happy. "I've really made such a mess of things, haven't I?"
"I know this is all strange for you," Naminé continued, turning to face Kairi once more. "But you'll understand soon enough. There's something I need you to do. If you want to help the ones you love, then you must do it."
Kairi remembered a journey, a dark quest to restore peace and harmony in which Riku had been lost to her. And something else, something just out of reach.
"There's a part of your memory that's missing, the part that makes your heart beat. Without it, you're just breathing fumes."
"Does this have to do with the Heartless?"
"Yes and no. You see, I'm trying to help someone. He's lost so much, and I have to give it all back to him. But I don't have enough power. If we don't do something soon, his heart will return to darkness again."
"But what can I do? And why does it have to be me?"
Naminé smiled. "I need your power. You're one of the pure ones, a Princess of Heart. You saved him from darkness once, but to do it again we'll need something more permanent. Only then will the powers of darkness yield."
"I don't understand. Who is 'he'?"
"Someone very dear to you, but you don't yet know it. I need the power of everlasting light to ensure his heart will never collapse again. Otherwise, his memories will overpower and destroy him. Will you help me?"
Kairi didn't know what to say. Here was a girl, unknown, telling her to put her life on the line for a boy she didn't know. There were so many questions that Kairi didn't quite know where to start.
A loud pounding sound suddenly reverberated throughout the white room, shaking the crayon drawings pinned to the walls. Kairi fell on one knee and covered her ears with her hands to shut out the ringing in her head.
"What was that?"
Naminé took Kairi's shoulders, her eyes misted with fear. "You have to leave now! They're coming!"
"Listen, only you can help me save him. Look in your heart, and you'll find the strength to fight." Naminé touched her hand to the place above Kairi's heart, and a light bloomed beneath her fingertips.
The pounding grew louder, and Kairi grew weaker.
"They're almost here!" Naminé waved her hand and summoned a dark vortex. "Go, now!"
Kairi stumbled toward the darkness, her skin growing cold as black tendrils curled around her. "But what about you?"
"I'm still needed. They can't hurt me."
Kairi reached a hand out to the other girl, her fear mirroring Naminé's. Neither of them believed that lie.
"Find Merlin. He'll know what to do."
Shadows danced from Naminé's fingertips, and just when it looked like she would reach Kairi, the black light propelled Kairi backward into oblivion.
But she was gone.
"Now who's the lazy bum, huh Kairi? You can't sleep at a time like this."
Kairi groaned. Her body ached all over. It took some effort to prop herself up into a sitting position against the stone column behind her.
"I'm not sleeping."
Looking around, she saw no one. Another dream, then. Rubbing her eyes, she pulled herself up and took in her surroundings. Instead of sand underfoot, there was cobblestone. Gone was the gentle sound of waves, replaced with the mechanical clicking and turning of gears. Towers of metal and stone loomed above, connected by floating platforms that hovered like magic. She knew this place.
Naminé must have sent her here through a dark corridor like she'd seen the Heartless use. But Kairi felt fine; she could still detect the beat of her heart. The journey hadn't affected her. Dusting herself off and taking a deep breath, she walked to the entrance of the alley in which she'd landed onto a broad street. Shops lined the sides, their lights bright and welcoming, but there wasn't a soul around.
She meandered down the street, trying to remember the lay of the land. Things looked very different from when she'd lived here as a child, back when it was called Radiant Garden and the darkness had not yet overwhelmed it, and she didn't know quite where she was going. Something caught her eye, but when she turned to look there was nothing among the stone columns and street shops—only shadows.
Shadows that danced just out of her line of sight. Left, right, everywhere at once. They shifted and grew into menacing shapes, humanoid but not human. She was surrounded.
"Heartless," Kairi said, turning around and looking for an escape. There was none. "What do I do?"
The Shadows cooed and clicked, teetering on tapering feet as they approached. The nearest one let its mouth hang open as it caught her scent. Drool dripped to the ground through rows of tiny, razor-sharp teeth. There was no one to help, no one to save her. She was alone.
"Look in your heart, and you'll find the strength to fight."
Kairi backed away from the approaching Heartless, a hand over her heart as she searched around for something she could use to defend herself. A weapon.
I need a weapon!
White energy burst forth from her chest and swirled around her in bright beams, a cyclone of light and warmth. Movement escaped her as the energy consumed her, and for one terrifying moment she could not breathe. Just when she thought she might fall, the light dissipated and she could feel the sturdy stone beneath her feet again.
And in her hand, the unfamiliar weight of a keyblade.
The blade shone with a golden hue, its crown of flowers shimmering in the sunlight. The Shadows drew nearer, emboldened. One shrieked and lunged itself at her, sharp teeth bared and gnashing. Kairi gasped and swung her keyblade in defense. Its flowering crown struck the Heartless and cleaved it in half.
The sound of tempered steel slicing flesh was blood-curdling. The Shadow's black hide ripped under the force of her blade and exposed muscle and bone. The crown of her keyblade was stuck fast, embedded among crushed bone matter and sticky ligaments. The stench of rotting flesh assaulted her with almost tangible force, making her eyes water. It was as if the Heartless were decomposing at high speed beneath her fingertips.
Kairi stared, wide-eyed, at what she'd done. The remains of the Shadow writhed on the ground, bleeding black as it sank through invisible holes in the earth. A small light flashed for one fleeting moment, and with its departure the Heartless fell still. All that remained was a smoking pile of jagged bones and sticky blood already congealing. But there was no time to dwell. More Shadows flung themselves at her, and she was forced to defend.
The movements did not come naturally to her unpracticed limbs, but the keyblade moved swiftly in her hands, compelled to fight. One by one, the Heartless fell under her blade in writhing heaps of putrid flesh and bone. Kairi panted, her grip on the keyblade still firm as she looked around for others waiting to jump out at her.
"I think they're gone, Miss!"
Kairi looked up and saw a young boy peering at her from over a high balcony. His owlish looks made him appear more confused than her. With a shaking hand, she wiped the sweat from her brow and bangs, not really believing the boy's words.
"Who are you?"
"Me? Oh, I uh, haha!" He waved his arms about. "Just wait there. I'll be, uh, right down! We'll go see Merlin."
"You know Merlin? I'm looking for him."
The boy made his way down to the ground level, and it was then that Kairi noticed his odd attire. He wore baggy, shapeless clothing decorated with an embroidered cross. She was sure he was even skinnier than she was under all those layers.
"Come on, we should go before more show up. Uh, this way!" He grabbed her free hand and began to drag her along.
"Hey, wait! Who are you?"
The blond boy turned to catch a glimpse of her over his shoulder and smiled nervously. "I'm Arthur. Come on!"
"You have to help me. I came all this way, and I'm not leaving until she's okay."
"Oh, my dear, please calm down. I understand that you're upset, but violence is not the answer."
"You haven't seen me get violent, old man. So can you do anything, or are the rumors just that?"
When Kairi and Arthur arrived at Merlin's hole in the wall, this was how they found him: with a sword pointed at his throat.
"Merlin!" Arthur sputtered.
Kairi looked between Merlin and his guest, unsure what to make of this situation.
"Oh! Kairi, you're just in time!" Merlin said, stumbling backwards.
The woman cornering him growled and turned on Kairi and Arthur. "Who are you?"
"Uh, I live here?" Arthur said.
"It's all right," Merlin said, balancing his hand against the wall. "She means well."
"Hey, what's this?" Arthur reached out to touch the large, crystalline structure resting against the wall opposite the fireplace.
"No!" The woman smacked Arthur's hand away with enough force to knock him down.
"Hey!" Kairi ran to help Arthur stand and glared at the woman. "What's your problem? You can't just treat people like that."
Merlin shook his head. "Oh, good heavens."
Kairi and the woman faced off, neither willing to back down. Kairi had never been particularly confrontational, but she wasn't about to stand by while Arthur suffered unwarranted mistreatment.
The young woman looked like she wanted to retort, but she just scowled and showed Kairi her back. "Whatever."
Kairi frowned. She took a moment to look the other woman over, puzzled by her strange appearance. She wore a red cape and her sword, mercifully sheathed, hung from chains behind her thighs. Her armor was modest, but it gleamed under the sunlight filtering through the windows. And her hair was the most uncanny shade of pink Kairi had ever seen—like bubble gum.
But there was nothing bubbly about her.
The woman reached a hand out to touch the crystalline structure as Arthur had attempted to do before, and it was then that Kairi saw what it concealed. A young girl slept inside, entombed in the shimmering crystal. Dead to the world.
The woman stared at the girl in the crystal coffin with a faraway look in her eyes. "If you can't help her, then I've wasted my time here."
When she lowered her hand, the faintest traces of light remained in her imprint, and Kairi gasped.
"A keyhole," she said, drawing closer.
"Hm? Oh, yes, it appears so," Merlin said.
"Keyhole? What're you talking about?"
Taking advantage of the distraction, Kairi traced the outlines of the keyhole imprinted upon the crystal with her fingertips. Its glow grew stronger under her touch, and soon the shape was plain for all to see.
"Um, that wasn't there before," Arthur said.
"She's locked away," Merlin said. "The poor thing."
"What're you all talking about? What do you know that you're not telling me?" The woman put a hand on the hilt of her sword.
"It's her heart," Kairi said, still marveling over the glass tomb. "It's what's making her like this."
A hand on Kairi's shoulder forced her to turn and meet the woman's troubled gaze. "If you know what's wrong with her, then do something." She turned back to Merlin. "I was told I'd find powerful magic here that doesn't exist in my world. So fix her."
Kairi thought little of the woman's manhandling, more entranced by this keyhole. As though answering her thoughts, the keyblade appeared in her hand. The woman took a step forward to put herself between Kairi and the tomb.
"It's okay, I think this might help. A key opens locks."
The woman was skeptical, but Kairi stood her ground, patient.
Kairi pointed the keyblade at the glowing lock. The light outlining the keyhole grew brighter, and the keyblade began to hum. Her heart rate sped up in anticipation.
Except, nothing happened.
"So how long do we, uh, have to wait?" Arthur asked.
Kairi shook the keyblade, confused. She was sure it would work.
I know it worked before...
Though she couldn't remember when or how.
"Figures. This was a mistake. I never should have come here," the woman said.
"No, wait!" Kairi grabbed her wrist. "Please, I know I can help you. It's just—"
"You don't have enough power," Merlin said. "It should work, but you can't get something for nothing, you know! Whatever magic sealed that girl's heart away was powerful. You'll need an equal power to counteract it."
"So what do I have to do? I can't just leave Serah like this."
Merlin bent over and peered at Kairi's keyblade, his tired eyes reflecting the dancing pinks and purples of the blade's flower crown. "Well, I suppose you'll have to give the keyblade more power. Actually, Kairi, I'm glad you're here. I was worried Naminé had encountered some trouble when you were taking so long."
Kairi remembered Merlin from her previous escapades in Traverse Town. He'd been a kind friend as she waited to return to the Destiny Islands. Eccentric and a bit loopy, but kind. Perhaps now she could get some answers.
"So this isn't a dream," Kairi said. "Naminé really sent me here."
"Quite right. And you've got a very important task to accomplish." He turned to the woman and smiled, making his long, snowy beard twitch. "As do you, my dear."
Merlin proceeded to explain how and why Kairi had come to be here. Just as Naminé had said, there was a force tampering with everyone's memories and threatening the heart of a boy at the center of it. He couldn't say who this boy was or how he was connected to Kairi, only that he existed. It was the strangest thing, trying to remember a person she'd never known. Merlin was having the same difficulty.
"All should reveal itself once the task is complete," Merlin went on. "To restore a heart fallen to darkness, you have to bring it back into the light, permanently. And that requires the power of hearts too pure to house darkness in any form."
"The Princesses of Heart," Kairi said. She touched a hand to her own heart.
"Precisely. And now you see why you must be the one to embark on this journey, yes? Only a Princess of Heart can contain the power of pure light and not go blind."
"Blind?" Arthur said.
"Yes, my boy. Too much of a good thing is a bad thing, you know. Darkness is no more 'bad' than light is 'good' in the wrong hands. Too much light and even the sharpest eyes lose their focus. There's no telling what horrors you might stumble upon running around blind."
Kairi studied her keyblade, wondering about that.
"Anyway, enough of my rubbish. When you collect the Princesses' light, you'll have the strength to obliterate true darkness. Only then can you restore a broken heart."
"This is all very touching," the woman said, "but it's got nothing to do with me. I don't care about some sleeping kid who lost his memories. I'm here for Serah."
"Yes, well, that's the goal: to restore a heart fragmented by darkness." Merlin waved a hand and shafts of light suddenly shot forth from the crystal tomb, illuminating cracks in the shimmering stone. "You must bind it with the purest light."
Kairi held her keyblade in both hands, wondering. "So, when I get the other Princesses' power, I'll be able to help Serah."
Kairi looked up to find the woman staring at her. There was pain in those eyes, a sadness that had chased her all the way here from whatever world she'd come. No, not sadness.
"I'll do everything I can to help Serah," Kairi said with conviction. "I give you my word."
The woman was taken aback by this sudden declaration, and it was the first non-threatening reaction Kairi had seen out of her.
"All right. I'll hold you to your promise, though."
It was a warning, but it only made Kairi smile. "I always keep my promises."
"Sure you do. But all the same, I'd like to be certain. So I'll be going with you to make sure you collect this 'light'."
"Oh, splendid! I was hoping you'd say that," Merlin said, rummaging through his bag on the nearby kitchen table. "Splendid, splendid. Now, if only I could find my spells! I know I put them in here somewhere."
Kairi laughed. The old wizard was as batty as ever. She dismissed her keyblade and held a hand out to the woman who'd be her new partner—hopefully for the better.
"I'm Kairi, by the way. I guess we'll be working together for awhile, so I hope we can get along."
The woman eyed Kairi's offered hand and radiant smile with suspicious blue eyes, but after a moment's hesitation she accepted the gesture of goodwill. Her grip was sturdy, confident, but not painful.
"Call me Lightning."
"Heartless, Nobodies, fal'Cie... As far as I'm concerned, they're all asking for the pointy end of my sword."
Lightning rested a hand on the hilt of her sword as though ready to cut down anyone who dared challenge her. Arthur had not been able to stop staring at her since she'd calmed down enough merely to look intimidating instead of lashing out.
Kairi sighed. Arthur was in a little over his head, in her opinion. Having rested and heard Merlin's information about the kinds of enemies they would encounter, Kairi and Lightning were nearly ready to depart Hollow Bastion. Kairi would be lying if she said she wasn't scared; after everything she'd seen in the past and her most recent confrontation with the Heartless, it was clear that her life was on the line. All for a boy she couldn't remember.
"Now then, you'll need to visit the other six Princesses in order to obtain the power to free Serah and help your friend, ehm, whoever he may be," Merlin explained. "Naminé will be working to restore his memories in the meantime, so together you should be able to save him."
"Naminé's really doing a lot," Kairi said. "He must be important to her."
"Ah yes, well, in any case, let me explain how you'll be getting around. You arrived here through a corridor of darkness, if you recall."
"But you have no sway over darkness. You'll have to find alternate transportation. Come here, please."
Kairi rose from her chair and joined Merlin in the center of the room near a giant computer with several monitors.
"Just as darkness connects all worlds, so, too, does light. It's along those paths of light that you'll be able to move between worlds. Even the Heartless cannot follow you there."
"So, how do we access these light superhighways, old man?" Lightning asked.
"I'm glad you asked that! Allow me to demonstrate."
It took some practice and several failed attempts, but Kairi soon got the hang of the spell to open a gateway. A vortex of shining light undulated where before there was only thin air. It was almost too bright.
"Ah, one more thing: don't dally in there. The brightest lights cast the darkest shadows. Don't stare into the light for too long, or you won't see them coming."
Silence befell the room as that thought sank in. Kairi had seen what true darkness did to a person when Ansem possessed Riku. If light had the same potential for danger, a duty of care was indeed required.
"Go on, time is wasting! Find the Princesses and borrow their power. Everything depends on it."
Lightning gazed at Serah with an unreadable expression. She was about to reach out and touch Serah's crystal coffin, but refrained at the last moment. "I'll save you, Serah. Just wait a little longer."
"Come now, I'm not getting any younger over here!"
Lighting let her gaze linger on Serah one last time, then joined Kairi. "All right, kid. Let's make this fast."
The unlikely duo approached the shimmering gateway, and Kairi took a deep breath. Finally, she was going to do something to help the ones she loved. Maybe she'd run into Riku on the way. The last time they'd seen each other he was drowning in darkness, only able to resist at the horror of nearly killing her.
"Ready?" Lightning asked, looking down at her.
Kairi blinked, the memories of that terrible scene fading. "Oh, yeah, sorry."
They stepped forward together into the light, and Kairi brought a hand up to shield her eyes.
"Oh, one last thing," Merlin said. "Kairi's heart is an anomaly, an imbalance of nature. The darkness will flock to her fiercely. Take care to watch your backs, both of you. I trust you'll need each other more than you know."
"We will, Merlin," Kairi said as the light enveloped Lighting and herself. "Thank you!"
Lighting said nothing as the brightness consumed them and everything faded into oblivion.