Enter Oblivion Part 2
Part II: The Darkness Conquers
Chapter VIII: Yesterday's Reprise, Part I
The Hollow Bastion, Ten Years Earlier
Flashback I: Sympathy for the Devil
“Hello Darkness, my old friend. I've come to talk with you again.”
-Paul Simon and Art Garfunkle
“What is it, Professor Hojo?” Remus asked, annoyed. The door to Remus' lab opened, and Hojo ambled in, arms crossed behind his back. He was around twenty years-old, and had long, greasy, black hair, tied back in a ponytail. He had oily, sallow skin, and beady, untrustworthy eyes hidden behind thick spectacles. All of that, and he had a hump on his back, that obstructed his walk to an odd waddle.
“Professor Gast… There is something you should see, in the waterways. I believe it to be an unidentified organism.” Remus' eyes flashed in interest.
“Where did you say?” he asked lustfully.
“The waterways,” Hojo replied, his voice as oily as his hair.
“Take me there,” Remus insisted.
“Follow me.” Hojo lead Remus Gast down to the sewers of the castle, where a small black creature was trapped in the prison-like gates that blocked off loose pets and would-be runaways.
Remus inspected the creature that kept trying to attack the two scientists. It had glowing yellow eyes, wriggling antenna, and smooth black skin. It was very small, the size of a child's stuffed toy, and Remus would expect it would be, for not the ferocity of the creature's “attacks”.
“What is it?” Remus asked, fascinated at the hostile animal.
“I have no clue. I came to get you before I talked to Queen Sorceress Dalaar about it,” Hojo replied, sounding almost bored.
“Well, I appreciate that, Professor Hojo.”
“Mm-hm…” was Hojo's response. Deep down inside Hojo was fairly flattered. Remus hardly ever put the title 'professor' before his name. But Hojo didn't expect it to last.
“Here, let's capture it. Did you bring anything?” Remus asked, never taking his eyes off of the odd creature. Hojo grunted and pulled off his labcoat, tying the sleeves together, and handing it to Remus, who took it greedily. “All right, now, go flip the switch over there, and I'll contain it in here.
Hojo obediently walked across the waterway floor (which was ankle-deep with water), and stroked a gem, that was imbedded into the wall. The gem glowed, and a gate slowly swung open. Remus seized this opportunity, and pounced upon the creature, quickly making the labcoat into a makeshift sack, and trapping the poor creature inside. Remus sealed all orifices of the labcoat-sack, and struggled for a moment with the squirming creature.
“All right, let's take it back to the lab,” Remus ordered. Hojo grunted, not pleased that he was Remus' subordinate. The two slowly took the creature to the lab, getting odd stares from the inhabitants of the Hollow Bastion.
Hojo let the creature out of the labcoat, but quickly placed it inside of a small cage. The hostile monster ran around its confined prison, not making any noise. Now the two had a chance to inspect the creature a bit closer.
It was somewhat humanoid, bipedal if nothing else. It had glowing yellow ovals for eyes, jagged antennae that never seemed to stop wriggling; and it had no nose, nor did it have a mouth. Hojo spoke these observations out:
“How does it eat? Or breathe even?” Hojo asked in curiosity and confusion. Remus shrugged.
“I have no clue… But we really should show this to the queen before we go cutting it open,” Remus advised. Hojo nodded in agreement, and went to fetch the queen. Once Hojo was gone, Remus breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank whatever deity is out there that he is gone… Gosh that man gives me the wiggins….” Having said that, Remus turned his attention back to the black creature. “Little monster… what are you…? Where did you come from? Let's only hope the queen can provide some insight…”
Queen Sorceress Dalaar stepped back from the cage, and thought for a few minutes, the time dragging by, until she said, “I have no idea what it is, or where it came from.” Remus' shoulders slumped, and Hojo furrowed a brow in annoyance.
“Perhaps my brother, Prince Ansem, will have more ideas about this odd little animal,” the queen suggested. The two scientists exchanged excited glances.
“Excellent idea, Your Majesty,” Hojo exclaimed.
“Yes! Where is Prince Ansem at the moment?” Remus asked, shaking out of his labcoat.
“In the chapel, I believe… Hm… Even if I have no idea what it is, I appreciate it being shown to me,” the queen said wistfully. The two professors bowed to Dalaar, and she left the lab, to hunt for her brother.
“Hello? Is anyone here?” a voice called from the doorway. It was a woman, in her early thirties, wearing a blue sweater, khaki pants, and wore her brown hair in a bun. A girl, perhaps four or five, possibly the woman's daughter, was clinging to the woman's leg. The woman let out a loud sneeze, and the girl jumped in surprise.
“Come on in, Sis!” A voice replied. “Welcome to the new humble abode of the Loires! Well, my name is Leonhart-Loire… I like the hyphen,” said the woman. Her sister lightly applauded.
“It's very pretty in here… Where's the baby?” Her voice was very nasally.
“Oh, Squall? He's asleep right now, I didn't want to wake him,” the woman said quietly. Upon hearing this, the woman contained her next sneeze and sighed quietly afterward.
“Ugh, this cold… I've only had it today, but it's getting worse very quickly. I'm afraid Ellone might catch it!” Upon hearing her name, the little girl scampered to stand in front of her mother.
“Hi, Auntie Raine! How's Squally?” she asked. Raine giggled to herself.
“He's fine, dear, he's asleep right-“
“I'm home!” called another voice from the doorway, this one male. Raine grunted, and hissed a sharp “shh!”. The man came into the living room. He was fairly tall, had shoulder-length black hair, a small nose, and had a pistol holstered at his side.
“Uncle Lagoona!” Ellone cheered running over to hug her uncle's knees. Laguna laughed to himself, and squirmed out of the little girl's grasp.
“How're ya doin' darlin'?” Laguna asked, putting on a strange accent.
“Laguna!” snapped Raine. “Use proper English when speaking to Ellone!”
“Say what?” Laguna asked scratching his head.
“You heard me!”
“Aw, it's okay Raine. As long as he doesn't get too mouthy, she'll be alright,” Raine's sister, Sarah, replied nonchalantly.
“How're you doing, Sarah?” Laguna asked Sarah, giving her a peck on the cheek.
“Oh, just fine, how about yourself?”
“Wonderfully perfect! I have a wife, a son, a new house…”
“My Gosh, he's been saying that to everyone he meets… Would you like anything to drink, Sarah, I may have quit bartending, but I can still whip up something good!”
“Oh, no thanks, we have to get going, I only stopped in to see the-“ she sneezed- “excuse me, house.”
“Well stop by again!” Raine called as Sarah was walking out the door.
“Good to see you guys!” she called back. From out the door they could hear a childish, “Bye Uncle Lagoona!”
Laguna smiled and turned to his wife, and kissed her on the cheek. “And how are you?”
“I finally got a break, Squall fell asleep a few hours ago.”
“Wow. So this is his, what, second nap in five months?” Laguna asked. Raine smiled.
“Something like that. Would you like anything to drink?”
“Sure. Sarah have a cold, did she?”
“Yeah… I hope Ellone doesn't get it…”
“She's a great kid…”
“You going back out?”
“Yeah, I guess I should… After just one drink…”
One would think with Vincent Valentine being eighteen, almost nineteen, would be the one who would be leading Ansem around into troublesome pranks, but this was not the case. Sixteen year-old Ansem was actually the leader.
And this was the case right now. Ansem was constructing a “trap”, of sorts, for some poor, unsuspecting citizen of the Bastion, in the chapel, while Vincent cautioned him.
“Sire,” Vincent started, a concerned tone in his voice, “your sister will not be too happy with you, if you go about trying to injure her subjects.”
“Bah, nonsense, Dalaar is a teddy bear, she wouldn't dare be angry with me,” Ansem replied nonchalantly. His trap was one that required a person who wasn't paying attention to where they were walking, to step on a small slip on a small patch of cooking oil. If the trapee's impact to the floor was hard enough, than several pails of marbles would fall off of their respective ledges, covering the entire chapel floor with marbles, making it impossible for the person to walk further into, or out of the chapel without slipping several times.
Vincent merely grunted in response, as Ansem was busy carefully setting pails full of marbles onto ledges. A figure cast a shadow into the chapel, and in a split second, Vincent had a pistol drawn and aimed at the figure in the chapel doorway.
It was Lucrecia Valentine, Vincent's wife, pregnant with his son. Upon realizing who it was, Vincent immediately holstered his pistol, and turned a beet red in embarrassment.
“Sorry, darling…” Vincent mumbled sheepishly.
“Ah, the ever-faithful guardian. What are you two doing?” Lucrecia asked, watching Ansem scurry across the chapel, being careful to avoid the spreading cooking oil.
“It'd be best to just not come in, dear, Prince Ansem is… well, you know,” Vincent warned, holding out a gloved hand, for her to stay back.
“Alright, I wanted to tell you two that the dinner bell will ring soon…” Lucrecia reminded the two of them. Ansem slapped his forehead.
“Dinner, I was supposed to ask Dalaar something earlier today, urgh! Gosh, I'm a complete moron!” Ansem jumped down from a ledge, with enough force that every pail of marbles spilled their contents onto the floor.
“Well, sire, I was going to tell you that you weren't a moron, but… um…” Vincent trailed off, looking as Ansem was surrounded in a sea of multi-colored spheres that were still rolling across the floor.
“You two go on ahead, I'll try and maneuver myself out of here,” Ansem said, looking around at the current situation he was in.
“You are sure?” Lucrecia asked, concerned for the prince.
“Yeah, yeah, go on to dinner, I'll be fine… Hmmm…” Ansem stood there, thinking, whilst Vincent and Lucrecia made their way to the Dining Hall to beat the crowd.
'Excellent work, idiot, your own prank backfired on you…' Ansem thought bitterly. He kneeled to the floor, laying on his stomach, and crawled across the chapel floor, until he reached the doorway.
Ansem grinned, satisfied with his victory, and began to walk to the Dining Hall, until he slipped on a single marble, one that had rolled astray into the hallway, and he fell, hitting the ground forcefully.
He painfully stood, with a scraped chin, and bruised limbs. Ansem growled in annoyance and made his way to the Dining Hall, silently cursing irony.
Dinner that night, and the next few nights that followed were uneventful. The bell rang, the people came, the people ate, the people left. But the night that Hojo was missing from his spot near Raine Leonhart.
As everyone was eating, Hojo burst into the Dining Hall, his oily hair even more oily, and his greasy skin even more greasy, if either were possible. Even through his thick spectacles, one could see widened bloodshot eyes, and his lips were contorted into an insane grin.
“I have it! We are the fathers!” Hojo screamed 'we are the fathers' several more times before Sorceress Adel grunted, stood, and cast a spell that, unbeknownst to him, muted Hojo.
Hojo continued ranting in silence as a still badly bruised Prince Ansem spoke up, “Does anybody in this room know what in Hyne's name this man is talking about?” A long, quizzical silence… “Alright… Sorceress Adel, could you restore his voice so we know why to put him in the asylum?”
Adel grunted once more, not wanting to hear Hojo's crazy phrase any longer, but was forced to oblige.
“-the fathers! You and I Lord Ansem! We are the father's of the Valentines' child!” After that was spoken, both Lucrecia, Vincent, and Ansem all stood, and shouted an incredulous “What?!”
“The genes of Prince Ansem and I formed into Lucrecia Valentine's embryo, which I implanted in her! It worked! And the child will be mine!” Hojo rubbed his hands together, trying to look sinister, but in the end it only made it seem he was warming them.
“That's insane! When did you ever implant anything inside of me?!” Lucrecia asked, moving to stand closer to Vincent.
“Your 'flu shot'! And your child will be born, very shortly. Exciting times, Lucrecia, exciting times,” Hojo rambled, grinning sickly.
“Isn't this happening too quick?” An anonymous voice asked.
“No! I've waited over nine months bearing this secret, and I choose to reveal it now!” Hojo yelled. “In fact, I must return to my lab for more studies.”
It took a good several minutes for everyone to start clamoring over Hojo's insane craziness. Lucrecia and Vincent both turned a beet red while the entire castle talked about them, but not to them.
Flash forward three weeks of unimportant events, yet tense rumors flitting back and forth at super-sonic speed, and Lucrecia is barricaded in her home.
Only Vincent had seen her in the three weeks she isolated herself. Lucrecia was overridden with stress of Hojo's outrageous claim. Vincent was worried also, but he didn't display as much of it.
But, then again, the only people he spoke to were Prince Ansem and Lucrecia. In fact, Vincent was doing his job as Ansem's guardian, while Lucrecia was inside their house, in bed. Her water broke two hours ago.
Remus Gast was home with his wife, Ifalna Gast, because Hojo had literally locked himself in the lab, and locked everyone else out. According to his observations, Project Angel Lustre was reaching immanency.
Project Angel Lustre… A project started over ten months ago by Hojo, in secret, it was to genetically create a human being, by fusing the likenesses of two already existent human beings. The Valentine baby, was the end result. And that baby should be born any day now…
Was this project really existent? Or was it a crazy idea implanted inside Hojo's mind? After all… The “new creature” was in a nearby cage, covering emitting a thin, wispy, mist… Mist that Hojo breathed regularly, and with each breath, brought him further into darkness… mist that was slowly devouring his heart.
Raine Leonhart-Loire's brain was about to explode in an overload of stress. She and Laguna were ready to have a child, and they did have one- it was actually Raine that started the “trend” of getting pregnant- and the seven month-old Squall was more than a handful.
He cried, and screamed, and yelled, and cried some more, whenever Raine left the room. She didn't have a moment to herself, and Laguna didn't help matters with running off with Cid Highwind to “play cards”. Their sessions of Tetra Master went well beyond the simple, friendly card playing, and more into excessive drinking, swearing, and gambling.
And Raine was at home right now. It was a cold, stormy day, just like the day Squall was born, and Raine was holding the boy close to her. He was sleeping right now, but Raine was sure that the moment she put him down, he'd start screaming, so she just rocked and held. Hyne, this was boring.
Laguna came home about the time when the storm had been reduced to a calm drizzle. He was out later this time… When he walked inside he had a solemn expression engraved on his face, like an epitaph.
“Honey, what's wrong?” Raine asked. Raine saw Ellone D'Argent, Raine's neice, creeping around Laguna's knees. She was crying, which was rare, and this worried Raine. “Laguna, what is it?”
“Raine… Your sister, she…” Laguna stifled a sob at this point, another rare thing. “…She's gone, Raine… Apparently her cold wasn't a cold… She died of pneumonia this morning…”
Raine gasped, and her breath was caught in her throat. She coughed heartily, and Laguna's eyes widened in terror. She held out a hand, and said, “I'm not sick.”
Then Ellone started bawling, that woke Squall who also started screaming, and that got Raine started, followed by Laguna. The new family united by marriage, birth, and death, mourned together for Sarah D'Argent.
Hojo crept into the Valentine home, positive that Vincent Valentine was not at home. A newborn baby boy was lying on the bed, screaming his lungs out. He was covered in birthing fluids, but his hair was a jet black, no mistake about that.
Lucrecia Valentine was asleep and exhausted. Her breathing wasn't very steady, so Hojo wrapped the baby in a towel he had brought, and wisked him away to the lab.
“Project Angel Lustre phase three- injecting the baby with genes from the new-found creature….” Hojo cut the umbilical cord of the baby, cleaned him, gave it a shot in the arm of a dark liquid, and wrapped him up in a towel.
When the child started to calm down some, it started screaming again, and Hojo noticed something- the baby's jet black hair was fading. Hojo smiled, and unwrapped the baby, holding him a good distance away from him. Hojo saw it.
A wing, gray at first, but slowly absorbing the black from the baby's hair, was growing from the right shoulder of the baby. The wing had few feathers, mostly black fuzz, but Hojo was satisfied.
If he didn't truthfully create the baby, he sure did take away its humanity. Now that he knew this was a success, he could do one last experiment. As he was leaving the lab to go deliver the baby back to the Valentine home, Remus entered the lab, holding a pistol.
“Hello Hojo,” he drawled. Hojo smirked, and Remus cocked the pistol. “I think you've gone far enough.”
Hojo used the baby to shield him, and when faced with the threat of a pistol being aimed at him, the Valentine baby was engulfed in calm, green flames. Although unburned, the baby screamed, and more of the “new creatures” enigmatically appeared from nowhere. Remus gasped, and fired at them, giving time for Hojo to escape.
Hojo was careful running with the boy, and carefully deposited him back with his mother, who was still asleep.
Remus was unconscious in the lab, even with the creatures gone, as Hojo reentered. He didn't know how the baby had summoned those creatures, but he didn't care at the moment. More pressing matters were at hand. Such as, his ascension.
He extracted more DNA from the mysterious creature, who willingly gave it, and then Hojo immediately injected the substance into his own arm. Within the second of the needle piercing his skin, he already felt power screaming through his veins. He was changing. He was Becoming, nothing short of a devil.
Ansem immediately paused in his studying. Something was wrong…
“Vincent?” Ansem asked quietly. Vincent snapped out of whatever trance he was in, and looked out the window of the library.
“Dear Hyne…” he whispered. The two dashed out of the library, and into the outside, where a group of people had gathered, trying to destroy a large, rampaging monster.
Laguna was asleep. Squall was asleep. Ellone was asleep. Raine was not asleep. A thundering roar had woken her up… she was never a sound sleeper. And although it went against everything she knew, she went to investigate the goings-on outside…
Lucrecia had woken up a while ago, and was pondering why her baby had a wing. Did he have a wing when he was born? Did it just now appear? Was she just going insane? She scooped up the baby, and awkwardly walked outside, as she was incredibly sore from giving birth, but still, she walked through the pain.
After a good while of walking, she came to Ma Dincht's house.
“Hello, honey, what brings you here?” Ma asked happily.
“Ma, could you watch my son?” Lucrecia asked blankly.
“Well, I guess, honey, what's his name?”
“Hm?” Lucrecia asked, confused.
“What's his name?”
“Hm… an odd name… oh well…” She turned and placed the baby in Zell's old crib, and when she turned, Lucrecia was gone. “Hm… What's wrong with her?”
Sephiroth was crying.
Lucrecia, Raine, and half of the castle's people were gathered around the beast, most in a panic, but Lucrecia and Raine both were very calm.
Vincent and Ansem were hiding on a ledge, Vincent shooting the creature occasionally with his pistol, but the creatures hide was too thick.
Remus Gast approached the beast, limping with a broken leg.
“HOJO!!!” he yelled. “HOJO YOU BASTARD! STOP! I ORDER YOU TO STOP!” He pushed everyone aside to stand in front of the rampaging Behemoth, Hojo. “HOJO! STOP THIS!”
Hojo roared, and with the horn that was embedded on his head, he impaled, Remus, Raine, and Lucrecia, all in a line, all dying instantly.
Vincent, who had just noticed Lucrecia, sat on the ledge, in a monotone. He didn't fly into a blind rage, or scream and shout. He just sat…. and was engulfed in bright green flames.
He jumped from the ledge, and started to transform himself. His canines elongated into fangs, his black hair, becoming spines, talons taking the place of hands. The vampire-esque thing that Vincent became was soon tearing at Hojo's flesh, cleaving it from his bones, using his fangs and talons.
After much of Hojo lay here or there, Dalaar arrived, breathless. She swept Vincent aside with her magic, and then, her pupils dilated, and she started casting a long spell.
Hojo, in pain, rage, and fear, stomped around, shook the trio of people off of his horn, and his stomping killed even more. Dalaar wasn't doing it fast enough!!!!
'Don't fail your people now, Dalaar… Not when they need you most… Concentrate!!!!!' Dalaar screamed in pain, as Hojo slowly floated in air, and was perfectly still, unable to move. Tears tore their way out of Dalaar's eyes, and Hojo was thrown by the invisible force that Dalaar was invoking. He was thrown into the mists below the castle.
Afterwards, Dalaar turned on Vincent, and used her own magic to morph him back into human, caging his inner beast. After performing all these feats, Dalaar fainted, exhausted.
A stone stood in the farthest corner of the world, in a solitary meadow. The stone read:
“May she ascend to Heaven with the courage and pride of a lion.”
Laguna, holding a crying Squall in one arm, and a bawling Ellone in the other, were gathered around the stone.
Further back in the same meadow, Vincent, holding his son, Sephiroth, stood before another stone.
Wife of Vincent Valentine
Mother of Sephiroth Valentine
“Death also steals Angels.”
And Ifalna Gast, wife of Remus, knelt before the last stone in the meadow. She wasn't crying but smiling warmly. She held her bulging stomach, and whispered, “Thank you Remus, for our baby…”
Dalaar had been resting for awhile now, with Ansem attending to her. Now that she had started to show signs of life, Ansem was in the lab of Hojo and Remus, cleaning up. He was intelligent, very intelligent, yes, but nowhere near the greatness of Gast, or the madness of Hojo.
Staring at the creature in the cage, he wrote:
“Much of my life has been dedicated to pursuit of knowledge. That knowledge has guarded this world well. Not a soul doubts that. I am blessed with people's smiles and respect.
But though I am called a sage, there are things I do not understand. I believe darkness sleeps in every heart, no matter how pure. Given the chance, the smallest drop can spread and swallow the heart. I have witnessed it many times.
Darkness of the heart.
How is it born? How does it come to affect us so? As ruler of this world, I must find the answers.
I must find them before the world is lost to those taken by the darkness.”
Ansem filed the page, as “Report, Page One”. Sighing grimly, Ansem looked to the creature in the cage.
'I will find out what you things are… And I'll do it, to stop whatever scheme you monsters may have in mind… I'll learn and learn and learn, to save these people… Count on it...'
Chapter IX: Arrival of the King of Light
“True and baseless evil is as rare as the purest good…and we all know how rare that is.”
-Jasper Fforde; The Eyre Affair, Acheron Hades
It was several months after Laguna, Squall, and Cid Highwind broke free from Ansem's dungeon, and now they had taken refuge in Raine's abandoned pub. Cid had taken a few essentials from his workshop, and Squall had taken a few things from Ellone's home while she was away. The three had banded together, to kill Ansem, and they would accomplish their goal… just as soon as-
“I can't find my ironcutters!” Cid yelled. Both Laguna and Squall gave him a look that told him to shut up. Cid looked around, and repeated, “I can't find my ironcutters!”
“Do you really need them?” Squall asked, scratching his head.
“Yes, dammit, now help me find them!” Cid ordered. Squall scoffed, and went upstairs. The room was cluttered with some of his stuff, some of Cid's tools, Laguna's writings, and two beds, one his, the other one Cid's.
Squall wondered which bed his mother had slept in, and who the other bed belonged to… This was his mother's pub, from when she was a bartender, before she died. She was killed during the rampage of the Behemoth, only a few months after he was born…
Ansem wiped the sweat off of his brow, and looked at his first invention. It was box-shaped, and had various gears, and belts, and other things to make it run, but did it work?
'Beta version it may be, it must still be tested… Perhaps now I won't have to sacrifice as many lives to conduct further experiments…' he thought. Ansem took a deep breath of anticipation, and flipped a lever. Jets of steam came from various orange pipes and valves, and all of the gears, wheels, belts, began to turn.
After a few minutes of this, a Heartless, came rolling out on a belt leading from the machine, to a containment cage.
Ansem cheered silently, praising his genius, and finished the page of his report that he had started earlier that week. Altogether, the page (now page eight) said:
”There is no doubt that the Heartless are deeply connected to the people's hearts. Further study may unravel both their motivations and the mysteries shrouding the heart. As a start, I have built a device that artificially creates Heartless.
By recreating the conditions that spawn the Heartless naturally, I should be able to produce them artificially. This device is the culmination of all my research thus far. The machine's test run successfully created a Heartless. This may be a step toward creating a heart from nothing.
The artificially and naturally created Heartless showed nearly identical traits. But the two types remain distinct for the purpose of the experiment. So, I will mark the ones that are created artificially.”
Ansem chuckled in delight as he filed the page with the other seven, and pulled the lever again, to create more Heartless.
Cloud laughed heartily and Aerith looked at him incredulously.
“Shut up! It is not funny!” she yelled, punching him playfully. The two had spent much time together the past few weeks, Cloud having nothing but free time, and Aerith stealing time away from the people at the orphanage.
“Not true. If it wasn't funny, why would I be laughing?” Cloud replied, stifling a laugh by biting down on his lower lip.
“You won't be laughing when I'm strangling the life out of you!” Aerith threatened, reaching a clawed hand to Cloud's neck.
“I may be choking, but I'd still be laughing on the inside,” Cloud replied slyly. Aerith seemed to have given up, and for a few moments she only stared at him, into his eyes.
She felt a burning in her chest, and felt that she might throw up, something she never felt with her infatuations with Sephiroth. Was this love?!
'If so,' Aerith decided, 'love sucks… But I kinda like it…'
With perfect timing, Cloud bent forward to kiss her, and Aerith gasped inward as their lips connected, causing her to be out of breath when he kissed her. She jerked away and coughed, then gasped for air.
When she looked back to Cloud, he had looked away, to the mountains in the horizon. Aerith tapped his shoulder, and once he turned, she kissed him. The kiss lasted a good few minutes, before both reluctantly broke it. Both Cloud and Aerith looked at one another, and kissed once more.
Godo was furious. Yuffie hadn't been home in several weeks, and she was nowhere to be found. How could he train her to be the next ninja in the renowned Line of Wutai, if she wasn't at home, to be trained?!
“Yuffie is foolish girl!” Godo growled to himself. “Not at home to train! Out fraternizing with friends! Maybe even ran away!!! Errrrggghhh….”
Gala, who was drinking his tea, in the kitchen, listened to all of Godo's ramblings.
'Yuffie did not run away. If anything, she might even be in trouble! I must find her…' Gala thought to himself. He set down his tea, and walked into Godo's bedroom, and walked over to his weapons cabinet.
It had been years since he wielded a weapon on any sort, as he was pushing his seventies, and as he picked up a thin sword, from the weapons cabinet, it felt almost too heavy in his aging hands.
Gala tied the small sword to his waist, and set out to find his granddaughter- something his son was too stubborn and foolish to do himself.
Seifer and Lulu were walking through the waterways, Seifer with his gunblade, the Hyperion, drawn.
“What are we doing down here, Seifer?” Lulu asked.
“One of those little bastards attacked me the other day. It disappeared before I had a chance to get it,” Seifer answered, looking diligently around for any Heartless to use as a scapegoat.
“Why did you take me?” Lulu asked.
“I wanted to show you how I'd protect you from any one of these shadowed freaks,” Seifer replied, throwing one of his trademarked cocky grins to Lulu.
Lulu turned a beet red in embarrassment. She wasn't embarrassed because of Seifer's obsession of being a “Sorceress' Knight”, but because that he would risk his life for her. Nobody had ever treated Lulu as if she was of that much importance, except for maybe Matron.
Lulu watched as Seifer hunted for a Heartless, to prove his love, although he really didn't have to. The thought that he'd protect her until the end, was plenty proof enough.
where am i
darkness… that is where i am…darkness…
Yuffie, as a Heartless, had crawled her way up from the cavernous, abyssal, depths of the grand fortress, and was currently wandering around the castle, staying out of sight. If she stayed out of sight, nobody would see her like this… In the dark…
It was twilight now, and Ansem had taken a break from creating Heartless. He had also stayed busy, by emblazoning them with a seal he designed, based on a piece of the castle (a heart with an odd-shaped bottom, and an “X” with small spikes crossing the middle). He used this seal to mark the Heartless he created, so he could monitor the differences in the ones he made, from the real ones in the Bastion's Depths.
Ansem was in the library, with the boy, Sephiroth, lurking about, reading, when he saw the sky tear open. Lightning emitted from the tear, and an odd airship floated out of it also. Once the airship had completely gone through the rip in the sky, the rip sealed itself shut.
The airship, which looked like it was made from the meteors that rained a few weeks ago, had finally landed on the courtyard in the Rising Falls. From where he was, Ansem couldn't see anyone coming out of the airship, but he rushed as fast as he could to the doors to the Entrance Hall, and opened. Walking up to the castle, was an odd creature, certainly not human, but Ansem didn't detect any hostility from it. On the creature's head, rested a crown, signifying he was of some nobility.
'A creature from another world! This can't be! But it is… An inhabitant from another world, is in my castle!'
Breathless, amazed, astounded, ecstatic, and overall, confused, Ansem greeted the newcomer. “W-welcome to t-the Hollow Bastion…”
Chapter X: Key to Eternity
“One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. 'Which road do I take?' she asked. 'Where do you want to go?' was his response. 'I don't know,' Alice answered. 'Then,' said the cat, 'it doesn't matter…'”
-Lewis Carrol; Alice In Wonderland
Ansem didn't really know what to make of the newcomer- who just called himself “The King”- he decided not to disclose his real name. Ansem took the king to the library, and, luckily, the maddened Valentine child was gone. The two sat at a table, and talked.
They talked for hours on end. The King began with talking about the vessel he used to get there. “It's made from things called 'Gummi Blocks'.”
“Gummi Blocks?” Ansem repeated, stupefied.
“Your world's- and all of the others too- barrier is made from Gummi Blocks. When your barrier broke, your world was 'connected' to some of the others.” The King explained.
“Hmmm… There was a meteor shower the night I opened this particular door…” Ansem said, mainly to himself.
“A door?” The King questioned. “Can I see it?”
“Oh, I don't remember where it was,” Ansem lied. Although Ansem felt no hostility from The King, he still didn't trust him to see his door.
“Oh, I see…” The King replied thoughtfully, almost as if he could see through Ansem's lie. “Anyway, since your world is connected, I could get here.”
“You could get here, eh? Can you leave here? Can my people and I leave here?” Ansem asked, clawing the arm of his chair.
“Oh yeah. In fact, I'm only staying tonight, and then I have to get back to my own kingdom,” The King explained. Ansem was quite disappointed to hear this... The thought of someone who knew more than he did! The simple thought of it was astonishing.
The King and Ansem talked much more after that, too. It was in the wee hours of the morning, and the two intellectuals started telling stories. It was one story that changed Ansem's life forever.
“Kingdom Hearts,” The King muttered.
“Hm? What is 'Kingdom Hearts'?” Ansem asked, curious.
“Kingdom Hearts, is the legendary 'Heart of All Worlds'. It is a door to Darkness… A door to Light… A door to Knowledge.” At the word 'Darkness' Ansem's eyes lit up, and at the mention of knowledge, the King had his undivided attention. “Supposedly, within Kingdom Hearts is infinite knowledge. More than the libraries of all the worlds combined. But that knowledge is supposed to come with a price.”
“What price is that?” Ansem asked eagerly. For Knowledge, Ansem would do anything.
“I'm not sure. The legend stopped after that…” Ansem's shoulders slumped in disappointment. “…but it'd be safe to say that the price is pretty high…”
The two talked more about legends, and one particular legend snagged Ansem's attention more than the others.
“The Key,” The King said from out of the blue.
“The Key? The Key to what?”
“Well, it's called a 'Keyblade'. It's a weapon, of sorts, that holds phenomenal power. Now, there are two legends about the actual wielder of the Keyblade. One legend said he saved the world, and the other states he only brought chaos and ruin. Now, the Keyblade is rumored to be able to open doors, and close them.”
Out of all the stories, Ansem really liked this one, though, not as much as the one about 'Kingdom Hearts'… A door to Knowledge... 'Nobody should learn more than they have to about Kingdom Hearts… I suppose this must also be excluded from my report…'
The sun had only risen an hour or so ago, and The King said he had to leave. Ansem objected, of course, but the King insisted upon his departure, so he returned to his vessel, and took flight, leaving the Hollow Bastion. Ansem immediately proceeded to his laboratory, when Sephiroth stopped him.
“You! What do you want?” Ansem asked crankily. Sephiroth kept a calm, cool, insidious look that Ansem didn't like…
“I was there,” Sephiroth replied.
“You were where?!” Ansem demanded. He raised a threatening fist, but Sephiroth obviously was not intimidated.
“In the library. All night. Listening… to everything… I now possess more knowledge than even you,” Sephiroth said madly.
“Oh really?” Ansem sneered. “What exactly do you know about?”
“The Key… Light… Darkness… In Between… Kingdom Hearts…” By now, Sephiroth had his back turned to Ansem, and, just for effect, he turned his back when he said the last word: “Paradise.”
Paradise. The one thing Ansem had wanted all along. Where did true Paradise lie? Ansem nervously licked his lips and said, “What would you like for this information?”
“The same thing you do, sire… Darkness.”
man with dark hair… man with blonde hair…
squall… heart… heart… my heart…. Yuffie.
I am Yuffie. Falling through the darkness… I can see it… I can see my heart.
Laguna and Cid crept out of the wooden door of the pub, not even noticing the Heartless that went in after them. The Heartless' antennae vibrated at the sight of Squall, who was currently unaware of the Heartless' presence.
The Heartless pounced upon Squall without warning. Squall only had enough time to gasp in surprise before he and the Heartless were engulfed in a bright light. Everything happened in a blur- he saw the Heartless, then the light, then-
“Yuffie….” Squall whispered. The ninja girl stood before him, looking drowsy, yet elated to see Squall. She threw her arms around Squall's neck, even before he had time to process everything.
'Yuffie is… here? Why? Is she… hugging me?' Squall thought as Yuffie embraced him.
“Squall! Oh Hyne! I've missed you so much! You have no idea how lost I was!” By now, Yuffie had started to cry, and was crying even as she talked. “I was falling in the darkness! And I couldn't find anyone! I started to forget my friends, my family, even me, but I didn't forget you! I found you!”
Squall let Yuffie cry into his shoulder, and as everything came into focus, his undying love for Yuffie slowly diminished.
“…and then, Squall, he said, 'Back off you crazy leopard!'” Aerith and Cloud both laughed for several minutes, Aerith gasping for air, and Cloud frequently wiping tears of mirth from his eyes.
All discomfort and fear from Cloud was gone from Aerith. She now felt more happy and safe with Cloud than she did with Sephiroth. And… when Squall was put away, Sephiroth ignored her, and Yuffie went missing, Cloud was there for her. He would stop whatever he was doing to spend time with her.
And, at first, Cloud disliked Aerith for the aloofness she carried around with her friends and she, but now… Now, she couldn't spend enough time with her…
When the two finished laughing, Cloud looked deep into Aerith… He knew something would happen… Something always did happen… From his birth within the world's core, from when his “father” Doctor Odine found him, adopted him, kept him as a secret, while all the while using him for information, and finally, when Sorceress Adel killed Odine, and forced Cloud into the Depths, from where he bided his time for the Darkness to take this place… Wherever Cloud went, Darkness and Pain always followed, like two faithful, conniving labradors. Darkness was coming… Cloud could feel it… And he knew there was no way he could stop it, and- the scary thing was- he wasn't sure he wanted to.
Ansem, after speaking with the devious Sephiroth, walked into his lab tired, yet energetic enough to write the ninth page of his report before falling unconscious on his desk:
“Simply astonishing! Today I had a guest from another world. He is a king, and his vessel is built of the material that composed the meteors. He called the pieces 'gummi blocks.' It seemed that my opening the door has opened a path to inter-world travel.
We talked for countless hours, but one story in particular caught my interest: that of a key called the "Keyblade." The Keyblade is said to hold phenomenal power. One legend says its wielder saved the world, while another says that he wrought chaos and ruin upon it.
I must know what this Keyblade is. A key opens doors. It must be connected to the door I have opened.”
The next several days were rather tense. Ansem wasn't seen, not even at dinner, rumors of the disappearances of Laguna and Cid were raging about like a wildfire, and Yuffie's disappearance unnerved everyone.
Cid, Laguna, Squall and Yuffie all stayed in the pub, living as quiet as mice, and Cid decided to not let Yuffie leave, as she knew of their location. Yuffie didn't mind- she took the bed next to Squall's, and that bumped Laguna to sleeping behind the bar.
It was only a few days after Yuffie's metamorphosis back to a human, when she started to notice something was wrong with Squall.
“Why aren't you talking to me that much? Is it because you're busy with the mission?” she asked. Of course, Yuffie couldn't live with them without being told of the plan to assassinate Ansem.
“Hm? Oh, yeah. Don't worry about it,” Squall said simply, brushing Yuffie off as he went to take a few boxes out of their room, and taking them downstairs. Yuffie followed close on his heels.
“Are you sure? You haven't talked to me a whole lot…” she said forlornly. “I mean, I haven't seen you in so long… After you were- um- institutionalized…”
“I'm fine, Yuffie,” Squall replied firmly. Yuffie persisted.
“I said I was fine!” Squall snarled. “Why don't you go ask Laguna or Cid if they need your help?!”
“Because, I want to know just what the hell is wrong with you!” Yuffie shot back quietly. Squall threw her a cold stare, and went upstairs again, slamming the door behind him. Even from downstairs, Yuffie heard the lock slide into place. Something was wrong…
And, oh, something was indeed wrong, and Squall did know what it was. 'Yuffie lost her heart… And her heart was alive in me… My love for her brought her back… But when she got her heart back, she took it from me… I don't have her heart anymore, so I don't love her anymore…'
Squall sighed, and whispered quietly, 'I vow… To never get close to anyone again… To prevent me from losing any more people, and causing me any more pain… I can't take it, so I won't…' And so, his fate was sealed. The man who chose to never love again… To miss out on life's greatest experiences, and greatest losses.
Chapter XI: Yesterday's Reprise, Part 2
The Hollow Bastion, Five Years Earlier
Flashback II: Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely
'Raine, my darling Raine… Why, why did you leave…? You hadn't the chance to witness Squall's first words, first steps… Had not the chance to witness Ellone growing into a beautiful little girl… heh… Neither did I…'
-From the journal of Laguna Loire, dated thirteen years previous to the Sealing of Kingdom Hearts
“Laguna, I love you very dearly, but this is getting ridiculous. You go home drunk every night, leave Ellone and Squall home alone, and feature bits of aggression when anyone mentions Raine. I'm afraid I've come to the decision to take Squall and Ellone away from you, and place them in a home.” It pained Dalaar to say this to Laguna, as she sat on the high bench, looking down upon Laguna… But she had no choice.
“Y-Your Majesty! I beg of you, please don't take them away!” He slammed his fist on the table across the bench, causing the mahogany wood to crack. Dalaar twitched some at this, for Laguna's undiluted anger is the exact reason why Dalaar had no choice but to take the children away from Laguna. She could just feel that he would soon turn violent on them. What she half-expected was attempted violence on her.
Laguna stood, drew his pistol, and pointed it at Dalaar. “I'm sorry Your Highness, but I'm going to have to ask you to rethink your decision,” Laguna threatened, cocking the dueling pistol. His hair was greasy, his eyes bloodshot, his hand trembling, his face sweaty. All symptoms of a lunatic about to do something rash.
“Laguna, drop the gun. Now, before you do something you're going to regret.” Dalaar replied calmly, putting her hands in the air.
“You've already made the decision that you're going to regret, queen,” Laguna growled.
“I do not regret my decision,” Dalaar responded firmly. Laguna charged towards Dalaar, who was prepared for this, and paralyzed Laguna with a quick spell. Then, she cast another spell, one that rose prison bars made of light, from the ground, surrounding the paralyzed Laguna in a miniature cell.
Sighing heavily, she walked through the Bastion, coming to Vincent Valentine's home. She rapped on the door, lightly, her strength slowly leaving her. After a few tries at this, an extremely tired-looking Vincent opened the door. It looked like he hadn't shaved in several days, and his hair looked greasy and unwashed. All symptoms of a shell who hadn't let go of the past.
“Vincent… We… I have a problem…” Dalaar let the words slither out, and it almost disgusted her- this was Laguna! This was a man who she had laughed with, laughed at, and a man she knew for the majority of her life! Dalaar shook her head, and Vincent stared at her with cold, gaunt eyes.
“What is it?”
Not half an hour later, Laguna was in a cell, stripped of his dueling pistol that he had carried with him since… since Raine gave it to him… Laguna looked so pitiful in the cell… And the children- what were they going to do with them? She knew they had to place them in a home… Edea's perhaps? Dalaar couldn't think of this… Laguna, whom she had grown up knowing, and his kids whom she'd die for.
Heck, Dalaar would die for anyone in the castle. Even Laguna, who'd tried to kill her… What did it matter? He lived here. People often wondered where true paradise lied… It was right here. No need to search any further- paradise was the Hollow Bastion, with the people.
Ansem, no longer the prankster that the elderly citizens of the Hollow Bastion looked down upon, was now twenty-six years old, and was on the verge of becoming a scientist. More than on the verge, he had already done experiments on some of the more willing guards of the Hollow Bastion. He had done this in secret for all of his experiments ended in tragedy: the victim's heart always failed. And, yes, Ansem had tried to come up with a cure for this, but he had no choice but to contain the shells in the Depths of the Hollow Bastion, in the immense cliffs and chasms. But still… A scientist! He just finished writing another report to add to his collection:
“It is my duty to expose what this darkness really is.
I shall conduct the following experiments:
Extract the darkness from a person's heart. Cultivate darkness in a pure heart. Both suppress and amplify the darkness within. The experiments caused the test subject's heart to collapse, including those of the most stalwart. How fragile our hearts are! My treatment produced no signs of recovery.
I confined those who had completely lost their hearts beneath the castle. Some time later, I went below and was greeted by the strangest sight.
Creatures that seemed born of darkness... What are they? Are they truly sentient beings? Could they be the shadows of those who lost their hearts in my experiments?“
Ansem's assailant- erm, assistant, Doctor Amadeus Odine, who knew the most vast amount of knowledge of magick in the Bastion, was busily fumbling with a gadget, that Ansem couldn't quite describe.
It was a disc, with many dials and needles and Ansem watched as the middle-aged man hunched over this contraption, until Odine lifted his head, and snapped in the direction of Ansem.
“Yes? Vhat iz it?” Odine asked sharply.
“What is that?” Ansem inquired, motioning to the disc.
“Zis? Nuzzing important. You! You must find dat cure for ze victimz of your experimentz.”
“Fine, old man, keep your secrets. And I'm working as fast as I can to create a cure… From nothing…”
“Anzem, you have everyzing you need. I have full faith zat you vill find a cure for ze people whoze hearts have collapsed. You vill find a cure.”
“I hope you're right, Odine. I pray to Hyne you're right.”
Adel was disgruntled, to say the least. How was she supposed to teach magic, if her students did not show up?!
“Foolish children,” she muttered angrily. “How the hell do they expect me to choose an apprentice when both of them are unfashionably late?!”
After a few more minutes of Adel drumming her fingers impatiently on her mahogany desk, Ellone clumsily stumbled into the room. Her cheeks were somewhat puffy and red, as if she'd been crying, but this was not Adel's job- Adel's job was to train her daughter Lulu, and Ellone all sorcery she knew, so that her successor would have the wisdom to be a sorceress.
Edea was a fine candidate, but… she had recently married, and started an orphanage, so Adel didn't think it fair to Edea that she shatter that happiness with the burden of being a Sorceress.
In any case, Ellone had taken her seat, and Lulu had briskly charged into the classroom, and sat in the remaining of the room's two desks. Adel stared at them both fiercely and asked, bitingly, “Are we all ready to begin?”
“Yes, Sorceress Adel,” replied Ellone immediately- whatever was troubling her before, she had hidden it well.
“Sorry I'm late, Mother, I-“
“Lulu, we both know I do not tolerate excuses. Now… I have taught you both many things. And against all my objection, the queen is imploring me to make a decision tomorrow, of whom I going to choose as my successor.”
“Mother, I think we both know, that it is I who should-“
“Lulu…” Dalaar sighed, cutting her daughter off, “Assuming and presuming seems to be one of the only things you're good for. I don't know if it's that Ellone is more mature than you are, but I think we both know now, that I'm choosing her today.”
“What?! Mother, you can't-“
“There you go again, Lulu, assuming that I can't, when it is I who holds all power, and it will be Ellone who will receive that power. Now, go home Lulu. Get out of here, now.”
In Lulu's eyes was a raging fire, a torrent from the darkest places of her soul. That fire followed her as she stormed out of the classroom, and ignited her physically, as well as mentally, on her way home. Although only eleven years old, Lulu was tasting darkness, and she was lit aflame, with calm, green, unburning embers.
'Believe me Mother… I promise that I'll be your successor… And there is nothing you can do about it…'
Dalaar was weary. After entrusting Princess Kairi to Ma Dincht for the next few days, she hoped to get some much-needed rest. Ever since that day, ten years earlier, when she lifted the monstrous Hojo, and then changed the vampire Vincent back to his human form, she never seemed to get her energy back.
Of course, she never told anybody this, not even her brother Ansem, she didn't want them worrying needlessly. After all, she was fine. Really! She still had energy… Perhaps not as much as she used to, but she was pushing thirty. She was getting older. But, in retrospect, Ma Dincht was taking care of children for around ten years now, and had all the energy in the world for it, and then some.
She sighed, and slowly laid herself across the bed. Putting thoughts of Kairi's father out of her mind- he was a man she never wanted to think about again- she started to think about what Kairi would be like in the future. What kind of woman she'd become. If she would make a wise ruler… Pondering these things and more, her thoughts slowed down, and she drifted off into a dreamless sleep.
Ellone was… coping. After all, her entire life had changed today, and in more ways than one. She had moved out of Laguna's house, and into Edea's orphanage, she and Squall, and now she had just been chosen to become the next in a long line of sorceresses.
“I can do this,” she said to herself, walking back to Edea's orphanage. “I can do this. I'm fine. Everything is fine.”
It goes without saying, of course, that nothing was fine.
“She didn't choose me?! Why didn't she choose me?!” She wasn't screaming- screaming was below Lulu. She handled things calmly, but the way she handled things usually went to the extreme. This way of things handled being a prime example.
Lulu was furiously writing down a spell, a spell to cast on her mother. Her raven strings of hair fell onto the paper, like black blood, spilling onto the parchment. Once the spell was finished, Lulu lifted her head up quickly, looking at the spell. She calmed herself on the inside, let all emotions balance themselves out, and read:
“Forces of Fate,
Prophets of Time,
From my hate,
Punish the crime.
Hear my cries,
Let her see,
With knowing eyes,
She, who's worthy.
Power without fail,
Magick to cause,
A rain of red hail,
To break ancient laws.
I beg you to hear,
For power is lust,
To control all fear,
And turn all to dust.”
Several seconds passed, Lulu breathing heavily, and nothing happened. She sighed in light despair, and crumbled up the parchment, tossing it out her window. “Fine,” Lulu said half to herself, half to the Mighty Forces, “that's the way you want to play it? Fine. I'll find more conventional ways of getting power. I'll- Ugh!”
Lulu had no idea what had happened, all she knew was, was that she was in pain. Her back burned with a fiery intensity that she had never known. Lulu fell forward from the impact of the blow, and propped herself up using her elbow to turn and see her mother.
A guard, Randall Halcyon, stumbled into Dalaar's quarters, not bothering to knock. Dalaar, tiredly, sat up, and looked at the guard in worry, for- well, he was missing an arm. And a good chunk of flesh had been taken out of his left leg.
“Lieutenant Halcyon, what happened?!” Dalaar asked, weakly getting to her feet and walking, slowly, to the injured soldier. Halcyon collapsed on the carpet, blood spilling from his wounds.
Dalaar calmed spirit, and balanced out her emotions, and as she concentrated, Halcyon's wounds closed, but the flesh did not regenerate, and he stood, almost as frailly as Dalaar as his body became accustomed to the rapid healing.
“Now, Lieutenant Halcyon, tell me: what happened?”
“It's Sorceress Adel, Your Majesty. She- She's gone insane,” Halcyon explained, looking down at the blood-stained carpet.
“I-Insane? Wh-What do you mean insane? How did this happen?!” Dalaar asked, near hysteria. As she lost control of her emotions, Halcyon's wounds slowly opened up again, though Dalaar was too distressed to notice.
“We-we're not sure, Your Majesty,” Halcyon said nervously, and in too much pain to feel anything.
“Alright, alright. What has she done so far?”
“Um… She's… She's killed, Majesty,” Halcyon said hoarsely.
“Killed?” Dalaar asked, her voice seething with concern. “Killed who, who's dead?”
“Uh, my unit, a few citizens…”
“Alright. We need a plan to contain Adel. Get my brother, Odine, and Vincent Valentine here now. I want the rest of the castle to be evacuated to the dungeons of the castle. And I-“
Dalaar couldn't finish her sentence- as her focus collapsed, her spell had reversed itself, for she didn't keep her spirit balanced enough for the spell to finish finalizing itself. Randall Halcyon's wounds opened once more, and Dalaar had to turn away as he died…
“Oh Hyne…” she whispered to herself, “And he had a son!” A shudder tore through Dalaar, almost making her fragile figure collapse. Dalaar, not directly looking at Randall Halcyon, father of Zack Halcyon, stepped over him, and walked, as briskly as she could out of her quarters to find-
“Ansem!” Dalaar cried upon seeing her younger brother.
“Dalaar! I came as soon as I heard-“
“Ansem, what's happened?!”
“I don't know. Adel must have done something though- she's casting some of the Darkest Magicks, the most forbidden spells. Dalaar- I saw her perform a crucifixion on Rutherford Almasy in an instant.”
“Ansem, we need Odine. He might know how to stop Adel, where is he?”
“Well, I, um, don't know…”
“What?! Where can he be now?!”
Amadeus Odine strolled into the cave. In this cave, there was a bed, a dresser, a sword, and a few rather thick books, resting on a table. Resting on the bed, was a boy. A boy with spiky blonde hair, azure blue eyes, and plain maroon clothes.
“Cloud! Cloud Strife, vake up!” Odine yelled. The boy sat, bolt upright, in the bed, terror flashing in his eyes, as if he'd been dreaming.
“What?! What is it, father?!”
“Bah! I'm not your fazzer, boy! I am Doctaire Odine!”
“I'm sorry, Doctor. You… you awoke me from a dream… I forgot myself.” Odine's mood changed immediately.
“Dream? Really? Vhat happened in zis dream?”
“Darkness… I saw a woman… Darkness, and Power. She was consumed with it….” the boy, Cloud, replied, breathing heavily.
“How did zis happen?” Odine asked, scrambling through the piles of books, finding a piece of parchment and a pen.
“Her- her daughter… She… was vengeful… angry… She- she wanted the power for herself, but… she cast a spell. A spell to 'let her see'… her mother's eyes… But… the spell… it made the mother see that she was the only one who deserved power… power to… ugh… 'power to force one thousand cries'…” the boy struggled to remember. “Then… then she just started to kill… Fath- doctor. When you go back up, be careful. This woman is a dark force to be reckoned with.”
“Yes… Zank you, Cloud. But, if I don't return… Wait here. Wait for ze ultimate darkness to come. Becauze it vill. Vhen you start to see it clearly, zurface. But do not vait too long, or else it vill be too late.”
“I won't, doctor. I will prevent this world from falling into darkness,” Cloud said, bravely, yet… fearful at the same time. Almost uncertain…
“Yes, vell… Good luck. You vere, my best finding evaire. Ve vill save zis vorld. I promise.”
Guards were frantic, placing people in the dungeon to hide them, but of course, nobody could hide from Adel too terribly long…
Ansem was down there, idly throwing glances at people who bore resemblances to his sister, and avoiding death, of course, was his primary objective was to speak to Laguna. And, Ansem found Laguna, and stood in front of his cell.
“Well, well… Laguna… The one person I never thought would have tried to kill my sister.”
“I would suppose that makes two of us then…” Laguna replied bitterly. “Look, sire, I'm sorry I tried to kill Queen Dal-“
“YOU DON'T GET TO SAY HER NAME!!!” Ansem yelled, grabbing the bars of Laguna's cell, and attracting much attention to himself.
“Alright, fine. I'm sorry I tried to kill Her Majesty, but… well… there's something. I want out.”
“What?!” Ansem said incredulously, staring at Laguna as if he were from a different world, “Impossible! I don't care if you can-“
“I know what's going on up above. And I know how to stop Adel.”
“What do you mean?”
“Quid pro quo, sire, this for that: I want out of this cell for good, before I tell you anything.”
“No,” Ansem said firmly, “There is no possible way you are getting out of that cell alive.”
“Then it looks like your sister will meet a tragic end today,” Laguna said forlornly.
“What do you mean?” Ansem asked suspiciously. Laguna grabbed a rather large book from the end of his bed and held it up for Ansem to read the title. “'Mava, Volume I'… What is this?”
“A book that I requested from the library. It has some very interesting things. Like… The Death of Sorceress Queen Dalaar. Also known as, Chapter seven.” Ansem grabbed the book, and looked at the table of contents:
Chapter IV: The Arrival of Darkness………………………………………………183
Chapter V: Angels from Hells Afar………………………………………………...198
Chapter VI: Insanity's Requiem……………………………………………………217
Chapter VII: Death of the Sorceress……………………………………………......229
Ansem turned to the page 'Death of the Sorceress' started on, but found there was no Chapter VII. He looked to Laguna who held a handful of ashes, and looked at Ansem slyly.
“You burnt the pages, didn't you?” Ansem asked, throwing the tome between the bars.
“Yes. But, for the small price of letting me out of prison, I will tell you what Chapter seven was all about, and you have my vow as-“
“Your vows mean nothing, Laguna,” Ansem spat. His face glistened in dim light with sweat. “You tried to kill my sister! That isn't something easily forgiven! If Dalaar wasn't so soft in these matters… You'd get what you truly deserve… But for now…” Ansem produced a key ring from his trousers pocket, found the key he needed, and unlocked Laguna's cell. Ansem opened the door, and Laguna skittered out of his cell, looking around, somewhat nervously, as some were giving him dark glares.
Turning Laguna to face him Ansem whispered very quietly, “Now what do you know?”
Power… Power is Eden…
And Only Power.
All brought to their knees by Power.
I am Sorceress Adel.
I Am Power.
Odine rushed into the dungeon, only barely escaping Adel's view. He rushed to Ansem and Laguna, and was brought up to speed.
“Prophezy? What prophesy?”
“In Mava, apparently,” Ansem explained dryly.
“Vhat duz it zay?”
“Well, you see, the prophecy went something like this: 'The Queen will confront the Sorceress, and will be struck down. The Sorceress will take her power, and will be locked.'”
“That's a bit vague,” Ansem grunted.
“Actually, no, it iz not. Dalaar will confront Adel. Adel vill kill her, and take her power, and she vill be 'locked',” Odine explained, rather urgently.
“Dalaar… will die… No, that won't happen,” Ansem said, mainly to himself.
“No, you don't get it. Most of the prophecies in that book have already come to pass. Hojo's power trip? Yeah, in the book. As was Sephiroth's birth for some reason.”
“I zink ze prophesy may already be undervay…”
“What do you mean?” Ansem asked sharply.
“I zaw ze queen going towardz Adel. I tried to stop her, but she ignored me- ”
“Oh, Hyne… no…” Ansem ran out of the dungeon, through the halls of stone, taking the levitating lifts, walking down cobblestone streets. He heard nothing. Everything was inaudible. What little sound he did hear echoed, as he reached the Entrance Hall, and saw his sister, and a friend, battling. Adel was obviously winning, as Dalaar, though looking stronger than she had in years, still looked ragged and still looked tired.
“Adel…” Dalaar whispered.
“Dalaar... If this is the part where you offer me the chance to redeem myself, I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to skip it,” Adel said, her eyes solid obsidian stones, her red hair burning with fires of rage. Her robes were aflame with green.
“A second chance? Too late for that, Adel. I've come to kill you,” Dalaar said, and as she did, Dalaar's own inner demon was unleashed.
Ansem watched in horror, as his sister grew hawk-like talons, and angel wings with charred feathers ripped their way out of her back. Horns split out of her skull, and she was a harpy-creature, alit with green flames.
“D-D-Dalaar…” Ansem whispered weakly, his legs giving way. The Sorceresses fought with magic, and their own bestial attributes now. Dalaar's talons tore off Adel's flesh in strips, and Adel's magic singed Dalaar's flawless face.
Finally, though Adel had finally tired, Dalaar collapsed first, in a heap of blood, flesh, and torn robes. Adel, breathless, cackled maniacally.
“Well, well. We finally know who holds true power. With that out there, I see no point in you living,” Adel said, materializing a stone cross, and blasting it on the wall. With no strength to stop her, Adel levitated Dalaar, melded her ankles together, outstretched her arms, and held her against the cross. Adel conjured three red-hot iron spikes, and drove them into each of Dalaar's wrists, and the largest into her merged ankles.
Ansem stopped staring at his sister, being tortured in crucifixion, and turned his attention to Adel. He walked briskly toward her, never breaking stride, and while Adel was watching Dalaar, Ansem planted a well-placed elbow to the side of Adel's face. She fell over from the force of the attack, and Ansem kicked her in the same place. Adel rolled over on the stone floor, and stood. She walked towards Ansem and tossed him into the opposite wall of Dalaar. Here, Ansem saw she was still alive, the Harpy-like attributes and green flames had left her. And she still had strength.
Dalaar, using magick of course, ripped the spikes from her wrists and ankles, and broke the flesh bond of her ankles. She fell to the floor, but, with an inexorable will to live, she forced the spikes into Adel's back.
“What is with you, Dalaar?! You. Are. Going. To. Die! There is no stopping it!” Adel screeched, the spikes seeming to not faze her. Adel snapped her fingers, and the bloody spikes evaporated. “You think you can hurt me with my own magick?”
“I don't care how I hurt you anymore, Adel, just as long as I get it done. Ansem, get out of here, now!” Dalaar ordered. “You too, Edea!” Ansem and Adel turned to see the newly-wedded Edea Kramer, complete with black dress, and purple cape. She had
“Edea, what are you doing here?!” Adel asked, grinning. “Have you come for punishment as well?! 'Cause I would be more than happy to oblige!”
A jet of black flames rushed toward Edea, who sidestepped them easily. Ansem tackled Adel before she had a chance to try again, but Adel, conjuring an athame, planted it deep into Ansem's torso. Ansem's eyes widened as the knife entered his body, and he felt blood seep out.
The blood came out in intervals, in perfect synchronicity with his heartbeat- he thought it was interesting. That was his last thought before he blacked out….
“ANSEM!” Dalaar yelled, conjuring a large sickle, and charging at Adel, twirling the blade over her head. Adel, with a slowed reaction time, had no time to prevent her head detaching itself from her neck, courtesy of Dalaar's scythe.
Dalaar took a sigh of relief that was cut short due to Adel's head, slowly sliding to her neck. Dalaar looked to Ansem, concerned, and then to Edea.
“Yes, Your Majesty, and I'm ready to take your power,” Edea said firmly. “We discussed this, and I am ready.”
Dalaar nodded, wincing in pain, “Good… Good…” she whispered weakly. Standing on her own two feet, Adel's regeneration imminent, Dalaar joined hands with Edea, and both closed their eyes.
Dalaar, willing to let go of her power, let it flow into Edea, and Edea, willing to accept this power, let it flow into herself. Dalaar collapsed, one final time, and for a moment, Edea was dizzy, and she swayed for a moment, swooning in a split second of delirium… But then the severity of her predicament struck her, and she watched as Adel, head reattached, stood.
Edea whispered one last goodbye to ran towards the library that would lead to the dungeons- but not before she got her own strike at Adel. Adjusting to her new power, Edea conjured two very large spikes of ice, and sent them into Adel.
'I'm sorry, majesties…' Edea thought as she ran through the library, '… but I promise to wreak vengeance upon Adel…'
Adel, ripping the ice out of her body, turned to a weak Dalaar, who was breathing in short gasps, and was slowly dying.
“Now… I believe you mentioned something of pain. Let's continue with that thought,” Adel said. Before Dalaar could speak in objection, she was cocooned in a wooden box. “Long live the queen.” The box was blazing with flames of black and red, flames that Adel danced around in circles, and Ansem, floating semi-conscious, in the Entrance Hall fountain, watched with glazed eyes.
A tired Edea entered the dungeon, finding Laguna and Odine talking.
“Edea, what's wrong?” Laguna asked. Edea looked at him oddly- she was one of those who sympathized with Laguna, but still… it was a bit awkward to talk to the man who had almost killed the woman who just instilled her with power, the woman who just died.
“It… It's Queen Dalaar… Adel killed her…”
“Ahhh, you see? Ze books vere correct! Adel killed ze queen! It iz a very sad event, but it vas fortold. Did she take ze queen's powers?” Odine asked urgently.
“Ummm… no… It-it was something the queen and I talked about earlier. I received her powers,” Dalaar said nervously.
“Impossible! The prophezy fortold-“
“No, it was right,” Laguna interrupted. “Edea's mother, Sorceress Alexandria, passed her powers to Adel. Queen Dalaar's grandmother passed her powers to Dalaar. Now, they are all inter-related, in one familial relation or another, and so, technically, since Edea was a descendant of a Sorceress, she was destined to become one. As is Lulu, and Lady Kairi, and if Sid and Edea have a daughter, she will be destined to become one as well.”
“But… that's two sorceresses to pass on powers, and three girls to accept them,” Edea replied.
“Ahhh… Zat vould only be if you have a daughter. You may bear a son,” Odine pointed out.
“I see…” Edea thought for a moment. She loved children. Adored them. In fact, Ellone and Squall had only moved in with her yesterday. But… she didn't want to take the chance of Lulu or Lady Kairi dying. It was… unthinkable, and Edea was ashamed of herself. Having a child would put two other childrens' lives at risk… “So, what are we all going to do now?” Edea asked. “Adel is still on the rampage, and Prince- ummm… King Ansem was stabbed by Adel…”
Odine looked sharply at Edea, narrowing his eyes. “Vhat?!”
“Adel conjured an athame and stabbed King- His Majesty with it,” Adel explained. What to call Ansem? He wasn't coronated yet, and there was Lady Kairi to deal with… She couldn't think about this now. Adel had to be stopped…
“Hyne… Alright. We've got to find His Majesty as soon as we can. We can send Vincent up there to retrieve him, and distract Adel with-“ Laguna's eyes lit up. Edea could tell he'd hit something in whatever brains he had. “We can seal her. If Dalaar couldn't kill her-“
“Stop,” Edea said quietly. “Just stop, alright?! This is Adel we're talking about! And Dalaar, and Adel is insane, Dalaar is dead, and Hyne-only-knows how Ansem is, and we're talking about killing Adel, and sealing Adel, and the queen is dead. We'll never talk to her again, or see her move, or anything!!” Tears shimmered in the corners of Edea's eyes now, and she ran into the crowd to find her husband.
“Hyne… She's right… The queen is dead, isn't she…?” Laguna asked aloud. His shoulders slumped as the stark, naked thought sunk in. A fragmented sigh escaped his lips.
“Eh, she finished ze job you started-“ Odine's sentence was interrupted with a forceful punch from Laguna. His jaw was clenched, and his hand was wound into a trembling fist. Odine was taken aback for moment, and Laguna picked him up (he was a very small man) by his collar, and slammed him against the bars of a cell.
“You listen to me, you sick, revolting sub-human. You will build a machine that will freeze Adel. You will also build an instrument to absorb her power. You will do these things, or I'll do things to you that'll make Adel look like a saint,” Laguna threatened, letting Odine drop to the stone floor when he finished. Odine cowered in fear of Laguna, and skittered away, out of the dungeon and to his lab.
Adel was… bored. Everybody was gone. Dalaar was dead. Ansem was dying. And everyone else she hadn't killed was-
“Gone. Everybody is gone. Hiding, perhaps?” Adel asked herself, her lips curving into a sinister grin. “Time to go seek, then.”
After the sun had risen and set, Odine had finished the thing that would absorb Adel's powers. It was a brooch, that when touched by a Sorceress would immediately steal their powers. Odine was proud of this accomplishment, and held up his invention with pride, as it had taken him only a few hours to create it.
He wondered how Cloud Strife was doing, but decided not to worry- the child was a survivor, if anything. He had been born, or created, or forged in the world's core, and had so much potential knowledge… If only the boy would let himself remember, he would be wiser than everyone in the castle combined.
After a few more hours of planning, Odine had drawn up schematics of a containment chamber, that would- literally- freeze time for Adel. Now, the hard part was finding an ideal place to build it, and luring Adel there without being eviscerated. But, as every inventor, Odine loved a good challenge.
Vincent Valentine tread ever so softly in the castle. He was alert of all his surroundings, and kept quiet to hear Adel's approaching footsteps. Creeping through the fortress, he finally came to the Entrance Hall, and saw Ansem- he was floating face-up in the fountain, the water a blood red.
Vincent quickly went down the stairs, and kneeled next to the injured monarch, checking his pulse. It beat, but very weakly, and Ansem's eyes lolled in his skull to look at Vincent.
“Vincent…” Ansem croaked softly.
“Not now, Your Majesty. Save your energy. I'm taking you back to the dungeon. Sorceress Edea will then heal you, and, hopefully, the spell will hold long enough for you to be in perfect shape. As we speak, Odine is building a machine to stop Adel in the Depths.”
“That's…. good….” Ansem's voice was barely above a whisper, as Vincent picked the dying man up, and, keeping his eyes away from the pile of ashes in the center of the Entrance Hall, crept through the castle once more, taking Ansem back to the dungeon.
Never in his entire life had Sephiroth Valentine been more terrified. Lulu's mom was coming, hunting for them, coming for him. And Lulu was missing. Queen Dalaar was already dead, and when his father brought Prince Ansem back, he saw that the wounded man was dying. Never more terrified, but, still, he'd never been more thrilled either.
'Should I feel bad, that I feel great through all this death?' he thought to himself. Sephiroth decided not to think about. Thinking lead to places he didn't want to go.
Odine, Laguna, and Edea were already in the Depths. Monstrous cliffs with countless caves and trails surrounded them, and the wind whipped at them in the dark chasm, where Odine's machine, a large stone pillar, resembling a sarcophagus, with various pipes and gears, was resting against the dead end of a cliff trail. Edea used her new powers to send up a beacon of light. Brilliant red, a crimson beacon Adel would surely not miss.
Adel saw the small line of scarlet light rise from the Depths. She sensed people there, one of them holding great power… Power that Adel would use, and abuse. Only because she could.
Without warning, Adel was There, standing next to Odine. She grabbed him by the throat, and tossed him over the side of the wide trail. His scream echoed for what seemed like centuries…
“Well then. What have we here…? A sorceress and a not-murderer. How interesting…”
“O, Glorious Adel, I present to you, this gift…” Laguna said, kneeling before Adel, holding the brooch. Adel, scoffed, obviously disappointed.
“Honestly, did you think I'd fall for such a silly trick?” she asked slyly. Silently, Edea opened the door of the sarcophagus…
“Hmmm…” Laguna considered for a moment…
“You're right… my ideas are always…. PERFECT!” Laguna shouted.
With that, Laguna jammed the brooch into Adel's neck, and all power that she had gained rapidly seeped into the brooch. Adel stood, convulsing, only the whites of her eyes showing.
When Laguna was sure the brooch had done its job, he pulled it out, and a weakened Adel looked into his eyes. Her eyes begged for compassion- compassion she'd not shown anyone. She whispered, “Take care of Lulu,” and fell back into the sarcophagus.
Edea quickly slammed the door, and Adel was frozen in time, and the long, hellish nightmare had ended. As Laguna looked over the cliff-side to see if Odine had got caught on any rocks, or such business, Edea fulfilled her promise to Dalaar and Ansem. Tapping into the darker magicks she discovered, she cast a spell that made Adel's sealing device a coffin of perpetual aguish. She would keep her conscious forever, never-aging, and living in never-ceasing pain. As Laguna gave up, and the two started back for the castle, Edea smiled wickedly, and her eyes glowed a dim green…
Lulu, distraught, couldn't believe the force of one itty-bitty spell… thirty people dead… Nobody told her about everything her mother did. The other kids were terrified of her- except for Seifer, of course- and everyone knew that her mother had killed Queen Dalaar.
“Interesting…” Lulu murmured to herself. It was late night, two days after her mother had vanished, and Lulu was holding the brooch Odine had made.
She had snuck into Laguna's home and found the brooch. Edea- erm… Matron had told her that Laguna had something interesting… That he had something she couldn't receive for quite a while... She let slip that it was Adel's powers.
“Well, well… This must hold mother's powers” Lulu whispered, holding the brooch in her palm. Power vibrated within it- power Lulu desperately wanted. “Hmph. I suppose it should only be proper that I inherit them,” Lulu whispered to herself, as to not wake Laguna. Lulu thought for a moment, preparing a quick spell, and closed her eyes, whispering the spell her mind wrote only a few seconds ago.
The effect was instantaneous. Too late for Laguna, who had got up to get a glass of water. He watched dumbly as the brooch glowed with brilliant white light, which soon faded. It took a few seconds for Laguna's groggy mind to register what just happened. When it did, the concept hit him with the force of a war-hammer.
Lulu looked as if she were about to faint, and fell over, Laguna rushing over to catch her. As Lulu's eyes fought to stay open, she grinned one of her mother's trademarked grins. She saw Laguna's look of horror, and whispered weakly, “No worries, Laguna. I can take all this…” Lulu's eyes closed and she fell asleep, exhausted.
Laguna took the liberty of carrying Lulu back to Edea's orphanage, her new home, and woke Edea.
“I think we have a problem…”
“What is it, Laguna?” Edea asked, yawning.
“Lulu she found the brooch. I think she unlocked the power within.”
Edea stopped mid-yawn and looked at Laguna fiercely. “Please tell me you're joking.”
“Sorry… I brought her back home. It seems Fate sent her to live with you. Two fledgling sorceresses…”
“Fate? Perhaps… Maybe we'll learn from each other…” Edea said wistfully.
“Maybe… or maybe she'll kill all of you in your sleep…”
Edea glared at Laguna and shook her head. “Do you want to see Ellone and Squall?”
“Mm? No. It's… it's too soon…” Laguna said hoarsely, his throat going dry. “Mm.. Good night Edea.”
Dalaar's memorial was held a few days later, while Ansem was recovering from anemia. The ashes from Dalaar's cremation were placed in an urn, and placed in the family crypt with Ansem's ancestors, and the crypt was on that solitary meadow where Raine Leonhart-Loire, Remus Gast, and Lucrenia Valentine were laid to rest a decade earlier. More graves were added the day of Dalaar's memorial.
As many of the people were mourning for their lost loved ones, a creature, small and black, with wriggling antennae and glowing yellow eyes. Ansem, despite his weakness, walked up to the creature, and stomped on it, tears streaming in his eyes. The creature moved around dizzily, and Ansem kicked it, sending it off of the island meadow, and into the icy ocean.
'How dare they?! How dare those… things, come here, and disturb us now?! And on consecrated ground?!?! Heartless bastards…' Ansem thought darkly, as he boarded a boat that would take him back to the castle.
Ansem was… confused. Along with the death of his sister, the deaths of many of his people, his upcoming coronation, his research, and his weakening anemia, he now had a niece to raise.
Lady Kairi was an orphan now, her mother killed and her father- well, the less said about him, the better. Ansem cradled the small baby in his arms.
“You're all the family I have now, Kairi… But, no worries. Everything will be fine… Everything will be fine…”
The trip to the cemetery changed Vincent. With another rampage, and another visit to Lucrecia, he realized how much time had passed. And that she wasn't coming back… And Sephiroth was suffering from it as well.
He hadn't been there to support Seph, when children made fun of his wing, or when Seph wanted to do… anything. He'd been a fool… But no more.
It was early one morning when Vincent cleaned his pistols, and went out for target practice, taking Sephiroth with him.
It had been several weeks since then… And Cloud knew that he was alone. His fath- erm, Doctor Odine hadn't returned since he left…
“He must surely be dead…” Cloud whispered, letting out a sigh afterwards. “I truly am all alone…………. ………………….. …………………. ………………….. Rats.”
To survive after that, Cloud killed various cave and cliff-dwelling creatures for food. From the materials Odine left behind he made himself new clothes when necessary, and forged his own weapons. Trained with them. Trained for the coming darkness… and her…
Ansem sat at his desk, glad to be getting his strength back, and dealing with his sister's death. But he remembered the memorial, and took a trip to the caves with Vincent Valentine, who'd reinstated himself as his guardian.
There, they saw the creatures. One becoming two, two becoming four. Vincent killed as many as his bullets would allow, but the two had to retreat. While Vincent thought it was exhilarating, Ansem was terrified.
“The shadows that crawl beneath the castle... Are they the people who lost their hearts, or incarnations of darkness? Or something entirely beyond my imagination?
All my knowledge has provided no answer. One thing I am sure of is that they are entirely devoid of emotion. Perhaps further study will unlock the mysteries of the heart. Fortunately, there is no shortage of test samples.
They are multiplying underground even as I write this report. They still need a name.
Those who lack hearts... I will call them the Heartless.”
Ansem filed this as the third page, in his ongoing investigation. One that he started ten years ago. And would continue until the day he died.
Five Years Later The Hollow Bastion Depths
Gala trudged through the cliff trails, but could not find Yuffie. He was positive his granddaughter had perished, but he would not-
A loud noise from above interrupted his thoughts. As he looked up, he saw a large black thing, descending upon him. The large, metal object landed before him, on the summit of a cliff far from the Bastion.
He heard the sound of machinery dying, and watched as a door opened, and a woman stepping out. She looked to be in her mid-thirties or mid-forties, and wore an excessive amount of makeup. She held a gold staff with a green orb levitating above it, and was exceptionally tall. Gala was speechless. Was this woman from another world…?
“Ahhh… This is it, isn't it? The Hollow Bastion?!” the woman asked, excited. Gala drew his sword, and took battle stance.
“Who are you?!”
“Mm? Oh, me? We'll get to that later. For now, I'm going to ask you to do me a favor- well… I'm not going to ask, for you have no choice in the matter…”
Gala looked at the woman suspiciously, and he was suddenly lit aflame with green flames. Unburning flames, flames that felt evil, but still felt so good.
The woman waved her staff in a horizontal arc, and a Heartless appeared. The Heartless looked to the woman, who pointed at Gala with her staff. Gala, who'd collapsed by now, and was writhing on the cliff top, suddenly became very sluggish as the Heartless entered Gala, through his mouth. A few moments passed, the green flames faded, and Gala stood, sword in hand.
“Ahh… splendid. Well then, what I want you to do…. Ummm…?”
“Gala. What I want you to do, Gala, is to travel to a world called 'China', and find a man named 'Shan-Yu' that he is acting too slowly. I want you to take his position, and find China's 'keyhole'. Kill Shan-Yu if necessary. What I have given you is the power to cross worlds, and the power to summon and control the Heartless. The Heartless in you will tell you how to find the Keyhole. When you find it, send for me.”
“Yes, Mistress,” Gala said, bowing.
“Oh, don't bother with bowing, Gala.”
“Of course, I apologize. When I find Shan-Yu, who should I tell him this message is from?” Gala asked in monotone.
The woman started to walk away, and tossed back, “Tell him it is from 'Sorceress Maleficent',” before vanishing, setting off for the castle… and more importantly, the Keyhole.
Chapter XII: Arrival of the Queen of Darkness
“…Something Wicked this way comes…” -William Shakespeare; Macbeth, Second Witch
Squall's sixteenth birthday came and went. A quiet and abrupt celebration was held, between the four shut-ins. Afterwards, Cid left for a few hours and returned with chunks of meteor rock.
“What are you doing with all that?” Laguna asked, puzzled.
“Building. I'll be in the basement, working. Don't bother me, unless there are extreme circumstances,” Cid ordered, wheel-barrowing the rocks down the basement.
“And what are 'extreme circumstances'?” Laguna asked.
“Death, childbirth, or naked women, bearing lots of food and asking for pleasure,” Cid called from downstairs. Laguna scoffed. Cid had been busy with the meteor rocks for the past several weeks, that he had hardly been helping for any assassination scenarios.
And those were a flop. The best one they had was Laguna dressing as a woman, going to Ansem's bedchambers, seducing him, and getting him to drink poisoned wine. Needless to say, Laguna and Yuffie were the ones coming up with plots. Squall trained with his retrieved gunblade- the fiasco that nearly blew the group's cover- in the sewers, sneaking back inside during the night, and rising before dawn to retreat back in the sewers.
While Yuffie was drawing up floor-plans of the castle by memory, and designing a nice dress she could make, Cid was in the basement, hammering away, Squall was in the sewers, and Laguna was staring hopelessly at Yuffie's drawings, a knock came at the door.
Cloud and Aerith were in a meadow, not too dissimilar from the cemetery meadow, and were laying in the grass, a rowboat docked at the shore. There were watching the starless sky, the purple and blue and green clouds above, and thinking..
“What are you thinking about?” Aerith asked quietly, as if the clouds would eavesdrop if she weren't quiet.
“Mm? Nothing, really…” Cloud responded slowly. But Cloud was lying. He was thinking of the woman who plagued his dreams for his entire childhood… The woman who stalked him in his nightmares, bringing darkness, demons, death… As Cloud grew older, he brushed the nightmares off as macabre, yet childish nightmares. But it was this exact moment when Cloud realized one simple truth- they weren't nightmares, they were premonitions.
Thinking of the woman who was destined to help the 'One With Silver Hair' bring darkness, destined to arrive when the Hollow Bastion was at the pinnacle of its degeneration- it only meant one thing…. Sorceress Maleficent… She was here.
Ansem stared at the rotting book with awe. It showed a diagram of seven feminine figures, all in a line. Intersecting lines connected the figures hearts to one shape- a keyhole. The keyhole of the Hollow Bastion.
“Y-You are dismissed, Sephiroth,” Ansem ordered absently, staring at the book. Sephiroth bowed, and left the mad king's laboratory. The book told of seven “Princesses of Heart”, seven maidens whose hearts would complete the Hollow Bastion's keyhole. The keyhole that would lead to the heart of Hollow Bastion.
The heart of the a world, Ansem then deducted, held infinite knowledge- as the boy Cloud demonstrated the night he arrived. The boy born in the heart of the world, but too foolish to remember anything. He was useless.
“Yes… that's it… I know what I must do…” Ansem muttered. He sat down at his desk to write one last report as a human.
“Just as people have hearts, so do worlds. The same can be said of stars in the night sky. And deep within each world lies a door to its heart. The Heartless desire those hearts. Born out of darkness in people's hearts, they seek to return to a greater heart. Yes that's it. The Heartless come from people's hearts, as does the darkness.
Is the core of the world's heart the world of the Heartless? I will pursue the answer there and become all knowing. My path is set. I shall seek out the wielder of the Keyblade, and the princesses.
My body is too frail for such a journey, but I most do this.
I will cast it off and plunge into the depths of darkness.”
Edea's orphanage was humble house, carved from stone, hanging on one side of the Bastion, overlooking the ocean, and the mountainous Depths in the distance. Beyond the Depths was the placid lake, dotted with island meadows, such as the one Aerith kept running off to with Cloud.
It wasn't that Edea didn't trust Aerith- it was Cloud that made her nervous. After all, she didn't have “The Talk” with any of the kids, she'd just let them sort things out for themselves, and by now, she thought that all the kids knew the risks. But that wasn't what was preying on her mind at the moment.
She was reading and heard a noise- a scratching outside. She put her book- a journal of one of the more sensual sorceresses in Bastionian history- down on the table next to her reading chair, and went outside to investigate. Scratch, scratch.
It was dark, by now, and Edea could hardly see anything. She held out a finger and after a soft thwit, the tip of her index finger on her right hand glowed. Scratch, scratch.
She held her finger out to the darkness of an alleyway next to her house and what Edea felt to be a response, watched as glowing orbs lit within the alley. Scratch, scratch.
Curious, Edea walked to the edge of the alley, but jumped back as she saw the darkness move. With a shuddering realization, she knew that that was shadows- it was Shadows. Heartless. Scratch, scratch.
Everyone in the house froze- except for Cid who didn't hear the first knock due to his incessant hammering- as another knock came at the door. Instinctively, Yuffie and Laguna went to the basement door, but discovered it was locked from the inside.
Frantic, as another knock came, Yuffie and Laguna ran upstairs, and breathed softly as one more knock came, before the door opened. Right below them, the two could hear shoes walking slowly on the hardwood floors. They heard the basement doorknob rattle, and assumed the visitor discover it was locked. Then they heard footsteps walking up the steps. They saw the doorknob turn, and the door fly open to reveal a tall figure swathed in swooping black cloaks- no, not cloaks, but black dust, and the cloths that weren't swooping, but, crawling. As a black creature- a Heartless- was tossed to the ground, they saw an extremely pale face of Squall.
“Help!” he choked.
Vincent Valentine sat in his darkened kitchen in his darkened house, and drank a cup of cold tea that just didn't seem to hit the spot. Knowing where everything was in the darkness, Vincent got up from the kitchen table, walked three steps to a cupboard, opened the door, and reached his hand in for a bottle of whiskey, but produced a large, soft, thing with glowing yellow eyes.
Five year-old Kairi lay in her bed, covers up to her chin, and watched in horror, as glowing yellow eyes surrounded her. Afraid of the monsters that come at night, she ducked under the covers, cocooning herself in silk and velvet, and wouldn't let anybody in.
Edea Kramer and Lulu Atchley had glowing hands. Hands that unleashed flames that burned the Heartless around them. Seifer Almasy and Zack Halcyon were doing fantastic sword attacks, turning all Heartless that came near them to black dust, invisible at night. Rufus Shinra and Fujin Seiken also held their own, also held their own, Sid Kramer backing them up with pistol fire.
All battling in the street and alleyways next to the orphanage. The fire from Edea and Lulu was their own light. But that was all they needed, until dawn ripped through the horizon.
Immediately, Yuffie produced a shuriken, and threw it at the mass of Heartless that clung to Squall. One Heartless disintegrated into a cloud of black dust, a glowing heart rising and vanishing. Laguna dared not fire from his pistol, but instead, tried peeling the Heartless from Squall's body, and using well placed kicks to dispose of the creatures on the verge of devouring his son. The two killed the Heartless to a beat, a slow, steady rhythm of Cid's hammering.
Ansem was in the library, with Sephiroth, reading. The boy had come through again. A book, that had a list of significant worlds. In it, were names such as “Olympus Coliseum”, “Twilight Town”, but one really caught Ansem's eye- “The Ocean of All Worlds- Destiny Islands”. And next to that, was a small icon of a key.
This gave Ansem an idea for an experiment. Sinister it may be, to some, it was still necessary, for the pursuit of knowledge.
Vincent Valentine through the glowing-eyed monster to the floor, drew his pistol, and shot at the glowing eyes. It was over, and he saw a glowing heart rise a few feet above the floor, and vanish. Gave him quite a scare… Vincent found the whiskey bottle he was looking for to begin with, and started drinking from it.
What Vincent didn't notice was the other twenty Heartless in his home, pumping a camouflaged black fog that slowly poisoned Vincent's heart and mind.
Squall sat at the bar, shivering. His gunblade lay on the floor next to him, caked with dust patches…
“Here you go…” Yuffie said somberly, handing Squall a saucer and cup of tea. The china rattled as Squall's trembling hand accepted the china. He set the saucer on the bar, and drank the tea, spilling some as he brought the cup to his mouth.
He had a blanket wrapped around his shoulders, and even from a distance, Yuffie could tell he was freezing. His skin was a pale grey, and black smudges were beneath his eyes, as if he hadn't slept in months. Laguna came down from upstairs, with another blanket which he took the liberty of wrapping around Squall.
“Thank you,” Squall mumbled quietly, still shuddering violently.
“What happened down there?” Yuffie blurted out. Squall threw her a harsh glare in response, his ruffled chestnut hair, and white wool blankets making him look like an asylum patient.
“There were so many of them… I killed them when they were in small numbers, at first… But today… it was incomparable… Something's happened, something's made them come up.
“They surrounded me… Pounced on me… For several seconds, minutes, hours, they controlled, violated me, and made me come here… During that time, they showed me…”
“Showed you what?” Laguna asked quietly, barely audible above Cid's working.
“What they plan to do… Ansem is the least of our worries… I've seen them…All of them…” Squall muttered.
The wind whistled in the Depths. The lower cliffs were out of view from the top, and it was at the very bottom were They were slowly waking, resonating with Her presence. In a combination of all Heartless that were waking and all that were still dormant, they had an army that lied somewhere in the millions.
Ansem was looking into the pub's basement window. He remember what urge forced him to go to the old pub, but right now it didn't matter… Upon seeing what was in there, he knew how to conduct his experiment… He composed a report page in his head.
“In opening the door that stores a world's hearts, the wall around that world is broken down. We see this as a shooting star. Through this, I have been able to understand the reason why the material known as Gummi Blocks has the ability to allow travel to other worlds.
The cause of a world's wall collapsing is the appearance of the Heartless, but finding a world's door takes time. And robbing a world of its heart is a similar case.
If the door has been closed by the key known as the Keyblade, you probably cannot reach that world's heart again. Before the one with the Keyblade appears in this world, I must take measures to do something.
Supposing that there is a close relationship between the Princesses and the Keyblade, it seems likely that they will resonate with each other...
I have chosen one special girl. I do not know if she possesses a power like that of the Princesses. But, there is a chance, and this is an experiment. She may lead me to the place where the one holding the key is...
I shall send her off to the ocean of other worlds.”
Rather than filing this report with the others, Ansem wrote it, but placed it within his robes. He then walked over to where his meteor rock samples were, and he began working.
It was a few hours past dawn, when Edea, Sid, and the rest of the kids were sitting in various places in the kitchen, all covered with black dust, all drinking one beverage or another, and everyone was talking excitedly. Everyone except Edea and Sid. They exchanged glances, and they knew. They knew this wasn't it. The worst was still to come.
Cloud and Aerith had fallen asleep next to each other in the meadow. The sun had broken over the cliffs, and as the sun hit their eyes, the two awoke. Aerith looked into Cloud's eyes, a brilliant green- almost identical to Seph's- and smiled.
“Good morning,” she whispered.
“Good morning to you, too,” Cloud replied, smiling back. The two kissed, and the sun continued to rise.
After sketching a set of blueprints, Ansem's real work began. He worked through the day, never-ceasing. He was going to conduct the experiment the next day, if it killed him.
Seifer walked through the waterways, and that is where she encountered the cloaked woman. His gunblade, the Hyperion, was already drawn, and he stood in his battle stance.
“Who are you?!” he demanded. The woman, cloaked, smiled at him.
“Shhh… It's alright, Seifer…” She crooned. Seifer looked at her fiercely, his resolve wavering.
“H-How do you know my name?” he asked sharply.
“Shhh… Don't worry about that… Put that down, there's no need for it…” the woman said softly.
“Who are you?” Seifer asked, the Hyperion clattering to the damp floor.
“I am Sorceress Maleficent. I have come here to halt the coming threat to the castle…”
“Darkness?” Seifer asked. Maleficent laughed.
“Oh no, silly boy. Darkness will be this castle's savior!” Maleficent replied, a black serpentine whisp of smoke sliding from her staff. The smoke slithered up Seifer's form, curling non-threateningly around his neck. “Light is the enemy! Blinding, piercing light!”
Seifer became somewhat in a daze and swayed for a few seconds before asking, “What do you want?” Maleficent smiled once more, her eyes becoming a putrid yellow.
“Just a little tour…” The smoke entered Seifer, going through his chest, wrapping itself around his heart.
As Ansem working, building, constructing, theorems formed in his mind, about the one with the Keyblade, the purpose of the experiment. The Keyblade, Kingdom Hearts, and the heart of this world. Shuddering of possibilities that would doom his pursuit of knowledge, Ansem worked harder.
Sephiroth had closed the last book. Now, he knew everything about everything. Beaming at his accomplishment, but still lusting for more, he set the book on the floor, and stood. As he turned to go home, a cloaked woman stood in his way.
Cid, after uncountable hours of working had finished. The fail-safe, in case something should go wrong, was complete, and he could rest. He walked upstairs to get some food and drink, and saw Squall, wrapped in blankets, and looking as if he hadn't even heard of a comb.
Yuffie and Laguna were talking quietly in a corner. Upon noticing Cid, Yuffie frantically waved him over. Cid smiled at Squall, raised an eyebrow at Yuffie and walked over to the corner.
“Yeah, what is it?” he asked.
“You've been down there working for too long! You missed a lot!” Yuffie screeched quietly.
“I'm sorry, alright! I was working on the fail-safe! Just fill me in on what I missed,” Cid replied, holding his hands up in defense. And fill him in they did.
The next day, Ansem was pocketing an envelope and walked into Kairi's room. He heard quiet sniffling. Walking over to her bedside, he lifted up the covers and looked at the five year-old girl underneath, crying.
“What's wrong, dear?” he asked sympathetically.
“Uncle Ansem! The- The monsters! They wouldn't leave me alone!” she sobbed, wrapping her arms around her uncle's neck.
“Shhh…. Shhh… It's alright, darling, they're gone now… Say… Do you want to go on a trip?” he asked her, smiling. Kairi wiped her tears away and gave one last sniff.
“You mean like to Grandma's?” Kairi asked. “Grandma” is what she called Ma Dincht.
“No, someplace far, far away. How's that sound?” Ansem asked.
“Can you come with me?” the child asked hopefully.
“I'm sorry, darling, I can't, but I'm sure you'll make lots of new friends!” Ansem said excitedly.
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah… There's someone in particular I really hope you meet… Here…” Ansem produced the envelope and gave it to Kairi. “Hang onto this. When you get to where you're going, give this to their king, alright?”
“Alright, Uncle Ansem…”
“Alright, now you need to get dressed! And to pack whatever you want to take, okay?”
“Okay!” she said, obviously excited as children tend to get when they go somewhere new.
Ansem left the room, and walked out to the balcony of his bedchambers, where he'd ordered the craft be delivered. He finished tweaking what needed to be tweaked, set the coordinates for the Destiny Islands, and started it up.
When Ansem returned to Kairi's room, he found her dressed in a white shirt and baby blue skirt, and was carrying a small leather rucksack, packed full of clothes and toys. He never noticed how much she looked like Dalaar… But that did not matter to the experiment.
“Are you ready?” he asked, smiling broadly. She grinned and nodded. He held her hand as they walked down the hall, into Ansem's bedchambers, and onto the marble balcony, where Kairi's destiny awaited her.
“Now, don't forget, look for the Keyblade Master, alright? And it's very important you do not touch any of these controls, alright?”
“Alright! Uncle Ansem… I love you! And I'll miss you! And, and, and… I'm really scared…” the little girl said. Ansem smiled warmly as he helped Kairi into the craft, which strongly resembled an egg, with a door. As Ansem got Kairi situated within the flying craft, fastening her in, in case of a crash, tears slowly slid down Kairi's cheeks.
“Hey, don't be scared! You're a big girl! And big, brave girl! And besides… I'm positive we'll see each other again,” Ansem reassured, kissing the girl on her cheek.
“Goodbye, Uncle Ansem!”
“Goodbye, Kairi… And good luck…” Reaching inside, Ansem pressed a button marked “Launch”, and closed the door, waving to his niece. Ansem took a few steps back as the egg slowly ascended from the balcony, and was catapulted into the sky. Ansem watched for a long time, until the gummi craft was no longer in sight. That was when she showed up.
“Do you regret sending off your only blood-kin?” the woman asked.
“No… It is for the sake of knowledge…” Ansem replied, still looking at the sky.
“Ahhh… I suppose you want to know who I am…” The woman said, looking up at the sky, which had began to darken.
“It would be a nice gesture…”
“I am Sorceress Maleficent- the one who will be conquering your world now,” the woman replied, smirking as much as one could.
“Ahhh… Yes… Rather than a battle of which I would surely disintegrate, I am giving you my world. I have done all I can do bound to this mortal coil…. I only ask one favor of you.”
“And what is that?” Maleficent asked, intrigued.
“Tell my people that I disappeared. Don't tell them where I am going…”
“Are you afraid they will follow you?”
“No. I am afraid they will achieve an astral state before I. Leave me in peace, and I shall give you this world.”
“Hmmm… A bargain… Yes… Alright. We have come to an agreement, King Ansem. I will seize this world in the name of darkness. I bid you a safe journey.” Ansem nodded, and left the sorceress alone on the balcony.
And he walked. And rowed, and walked some more. Ansem found himself back at the memorial of Tetsuya Nomura, the Hollow Bastion's first king. He gave a slight nod to the degraded memorial of the king, and Ansem jumped over the cliff, plunging into the everlasting darkness below.