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A Kingdom Hearts fan fiction story
by Aaron Bergman.

Disclaimer: Look, we all know what the deal with Kingdom Hearts is. It's a joint Squaresoft/Disney venture, and one company or the other owns rights in some fashion to every character in this story.

Part 3

"What the—"

Sora wasn't sure that he'd seen it, wasn't sure that he wanted to have seen it. It had been, after all, a mere shadow he'd seen for but a moment at the far end of a dark, dark tunnel, but—

But he couldn't simply walk away. He owed himself — he owed his friends — too much to do that.

So Sora ran down the corridor, being as quiet as he can, Keyblade in hand, hoping that he hadn't seen a Heartless stalking the tunnels of his benefactor. He turned the corner and nearly slammed into a door that blocked the tunnel off neatly. It was made out of a grayish metal, seemingly in several interlocking pieces. Sora glanced around and saw a panel of blinking lights set into the wall, but he had no need of that, not if he wanted to go in.

Sora thought about the warning the lady had given him — It could be dangerous if you were to try and open any locked doors you may find — then, he shook his head. "Man, she couldn't've known that the Heartless might be here. I can't let it slide, not here and not now."

He lifted his Keyblade up to the door and tapped it, once. The door grumbled metallically for several seconds, then slowly the interlocking pieces began to give way, sinking into the corridor walls. Sora blinked and shielded his eyes from the light inside the room, but once his eyes adapted, he saw…

"My ship!"

His eyes were so full of the gummi ship that had carried him to so many different worlds that he didn't notice the Heartless until he almost tripped over one.

Actually, Sora did trip over a set of blocks, wrecking a small tower that had been constructed from them. He stumbled for a few steps, windmilled his arms, and barely managed to keep his feet before spinning around. He brought the Keyblade to bear on the Heartless who'd almost tripped him, but it wasn't leaping to the attack.

All the Heartless did was glare up at Sora almost reproachfully, before putting its small hands on the blocks and slowly rebuilding the tower that had been there before Sora's feet had destroyed it.

Slowly, Sora lowered the Keyblade and looked around the room for the first time. And, for the first time, he saw the Heartless sitting and standing and walking, scattered throughout the room's expansive space. In fact, calling it just a room wasn't right; it seemed more of a grand hall, easily large enough to hold two or even three Gummi ships.

All of the Heartless were just the child-sized ones he'd known since that first, dreadful day on the island — since the nightmare before it, in fact — and all of them, every single one, had a toy.

And they were playing with them.

There was one Heartless with a cat's cradle, several with balls, two with little soldiers they were moving back and forth aimlessly, a number with blocks like the first he'd seen, even one off in the relative distance with a wooden sword that looked like the one he'd abandoned long ago for the Keyblade.

Something seemed subtly wrong with the all of them, however, aside from the outright weirdness of the Heartless playing with toys. It took a moment for Sora to see what that was, and when he did, he gasped in shock.

Suddenly, Sora jumped into the air as the lady who had rescued him spoke. "They won't play with each other any more," and her voice was a sinking pool of resignation with just a hint of desperation tinting it. "I've tried and tried, but they simply ignore each other and go by themselves again."

She sighed deeply, and now there was the sound of tears barely peeking out. "They don't even play with the toys. They're only picking them up and using them because I order them to."

Sora flinched and backed away from the lady, the Keyblade rising. "You order them to?" he said incredulously.

The lady didn't seem to notice the Keyblade, or even Sora's question. "Do you want to know their names?" she asked, the song almost friendly and somehow… dangerous. Without waiting for an answer, she began pointing. "That one was named Aryil, that one was named Gane, that one was named Thyme, that one was named—"

Slowly, as she continued on, naming each Heartless, her voice rose and rose, the song growing angrier and angrier, madness rising in it with each new name. It beat against Sora's body with physical force, sheer power hammering at him so hard that he was driven away from her despite his best efforts. He stopped moving, finally, when his back hit the hull of his Gummi ship, but it was rocking back and forth as the gale of her rage slammed into it. The Keyblade flickered out of Sora's hands and he pressed both his hands against his ears, trying to block out her voice.

The pain of it was incredible, tearing at his ears and at his soul, and he moaned out loud, the sound lost in the lady's mad scream. Am I gonna die here? Does she even KNOW I'm here? What HAPPENED to her?!

Then, the lady stopped.

The ringing in his ears didn't stop for several more moments, but Sora didn't need to hear. Almost as though he were reading her lips, almost as though she were whispering into his mind, he heard her last sentence, the song muted and barely on the edge of sanity.

"At least, those were the names they once bore. They were… they were my children."

Sora took his hands away from his ears and slowly walked towards the tall woman. She looked at him, her grey eyes glimmering with sorrow and madness mingled together, then she slowly slid to her knees. Her eyes stayed on him, even as her knees gave way, and she asked him, "I… I did what I could to save them. Was that wrong?"

If Sora had thought he'd been shocked before, he'd been sadly mistaken. "W-what did you say?" He couldn't make his voice go above a whisper. A way… to save the Heartless? WHAT?

In answer, she put one hand down to her belt and pulled one of the small pouches that rested there free. Undoing the draw strings, she spilled some of what rested in there into her palm and held it out to Sora. Hesitantly, he looked.

At first, he thought they were small green gemstones, surely worth a lot, but not important — until one of the gems gave a flicker that made him take in a breath involuntarily. "Those are—!"

"Magicite," the lady said, then laughed shortly, bitterly, the song now almost… amused. "No, I don't know what they are, spirits of my people preserve me. I did what I could. I snatched these from the beings that tried to steal them from my children, hoarded them, and fled from my home when that vanished into the void, but… but…" Her face twisted. "I can't give them back!"

Angrily, she plucked one out from the pile that seemed no different from the rest and forced it into the forehead of the Heartless that still sat beside the door, unconcernedly playing with its blocks. For a moment, the Heartless seemed no different as the lady's hand withdrew from its body, then, suddenly, it twitched wildly, uncontrollably. It jerked to its feet and almost looked different for just a split second, almost looked like a real being—

Then, the sound of crystal shattering resounded through the room, and the Heartless sat back down and played with its blocks.

It didn't even look up as the lady's hand reached down and wrenched its head free from its body effortlessly. Both the head and body existed for several long seconds, long enough for the lady to bring the head up to her face and gently kiss the forehead, where the gem had been forced into it, then they both flickered into smoke.

Softly, she said, "And now, Aryil has died forever. Oh, oh, my dear girl, can you ever forgive your poor foolish mother?"

I trust that I wasn't the only one who stepped back in shock as Harle motioned her companion, the one she'd guided us to, to step out from the jungle and into our view.

After all, it isn't every day that one sees a wolf that stands taller at the shoulder than the woman who's scratching behind one ear! Even less often do you see a wolf with that shocking color of rust-red hair, with a streak of black which zigzagged down one side of the mane that Harle's hand had disappeared into. She smiled up at that grim face affectionately and said, "Everyone, zis is ze friend 'oo I know will guide us."

Rydia asked with a smile on her face, "What is his name?"

"Name? Name?!" Harle asked with a fine pretense of shock and anger, a pretense betrayed only by the twitching of her mouth's corners. "I tell you zis, mademoiselle, a true wolf 'as no need of such frippairies as a name!"

"Then what do you call him?" Rydia countered, and Harle laughed lightly.

"Ah, you 'ave caught me. I, at least, 'ave to give 'im a name, yes; else 'ow shall I know 'im from ze ozair wolves?" Harle waited a moment for that to sink in, then with a mischievous smile, she said, "I 'ave named 'im Wolf. A fine name, no?"

I groaned at the joke, if indeed joke it had been. The wolf turned his head enough to look at Harle out of one eye, a resigned air prevalent about him. Strangely enough, I took heart at his attitude. Obviously, if he could become inured to Harle's attempts at humor, then so could I.

Donald, as was his wont, cut straight to the chase. "Khan he twack the gummi ship?"

As her mouth suddenly twisted downward into a frown, Harle said, "Merde! You do not believe zat I would, ah, drag you all the way out here for not'ing, do you?"

With a flurry of placating gestures, Donald hastened to add, "I-I-I whas juzt whondering!"

Her arms crossed over her chest and she looked at the mallard with that feminine stare of utter disapproval that Donald knew so well from his days with Daisy. She let him hem and haw for several moments, her foot tapping, then Harle threw her hands up in the air. "I give up. You will not believe Wolf can do such a thing until you zee it for yourself!"

Rydia stepped between Donald and Harle, her hands held up as though afraid she'd have to separate them. Her scowl disappearing into a wry smile, Harle said slyly, "And for ze second time today, you spoil my fun. Ah, Rydia, 'ow iz a woman to do any teasing with zem being near a person such as you?"

The green-haired woman opened her mouth to reply, but before she could say a word, the ground started to shake under our feet. At first, it was just a slight rumble, barely shaking the branches over our heads, but all too quickly it rose to as great an earthquake as any I'd ever felt.

The ramshackle huts that so many had just tossed up in the village simply collapsed in on themselves, sending great piles of dust into the air. From the village came many cries of agony, as people trapped under what had been their huts proclaimed their injuries. Even the trees creaked and protested, dancing back and forth in such a way that all of us stepped away, lest one or more choose now to fall on top of us.

What was worse than the quake, what set our nerves on edge and our hair on end, what made us all cringe and cower in near terror, was the scream.

It started low, just like the quake, and rose to a crescendo that matched the earth's worst trembles. Even now, it makes me shiver to remember the emotions contained in that wail of doom: self-loathing, pity, sorrow, hatred, and above all of them, a sense of bitter vengeance, as though the screamer knew that what he raged against would destroy him, would crush him like a bug, would never even notice his existence, and he didn't care.

The scream cut off sharply, and the earth quieted just as suddenly. All of us gaped at each other for nearly a minute, trying to recover—

Then, the first Heartless appeared in that burst of foul smoke that I knew all too well.

It was of a kind that I'd never seen before — a floating round ball, with what looked like short streamers of hair floating from its back. It was red shot through with purple, with black eyes that glared around, looking for that first life to steal.

It died as giant spikes of purest ice pierced its body, flung from Rydia's hand.

Even as more Heartless appeared, flickering into life around the village, they died at the hands, spells, and weapons of people struggling from the collapsed huts. Indeed, these people bore a deep hatred for the beings that had destroyed their worlds, and it showed. A quick glance at my companions showed that the only ones without snarls of rage were me, Donald, and — Harle?

The fool-clad woman looked at me, her eyes wide and sorrowful, and then looked away from the village and at the mountain. "Ze scream, it venez from zere." Her accent seemed thicker now, as though she weren't concentrating on the words she said.

I realized that she was right. "Shucks, should we go t'the mountain then? These folks here seem ta have t'Heartless under control."

All of them looked at me for a moment, and both Rydia and Bart seemed inclined to say something, but they both closed their mouths. Donald was the one to speak. "I don' whant to sound like a bhroken reckord, but what about Sorah?"

"The Welcoming Green is on the way," Bart said, then added grimly, "If your Sora didn't have nothin' to do with this, I'll eat my whips."

No matter how many times someone near me does it, I'll never stop being impressed by a leap of intuition. I mean, how do they do it? How do they see two facts, two separate questions altogether, and unite them into a single answer? It croggles my mind, and no matter how many hours I spend carefully pondering it, I don't think I'll ever understand it.

But regardless of how he'd come up with it, my mind built a tower of speculation on his cloud of intuition. The mountain was the only place that could possibly hide our gummi ship; surely someone from the village would have wandered across it if it had been lying in the jungle. Likewise, they would know everyone who lived on the island… unless that person hid somewhere, like in a handy series of caverns.

But without a bit of proof, all that was a lot of weight to dangle from one mighty thin string. So, the first order of business was to find that proof, and there was one place to do that for sure: this strangely-named Welcoming Green that I'd heard so much about and had, as of yet, failed to see.

"Let's go!" I declared, and started off.

Sora didn't want to interrupt the lady — almost didn't dare to interrupt the lady — but now he could feel something wrong with this place, as though something had been awakened. It was a disgustingly familiar feeling, one that seemed to ooze along his bones, one that crawled along his skin, one that sat in his belly like a leaden ball of acid.

The first time he'd had this feeling, Sora had written it off to nerves — the evening before his world had been sucked into nothingness. The second time, he'd been too shocked by the sight of someone losing his Heart right before his eyes to note it coming over him again.

The third time, however, in Wonderland, Sora had learned exactly what it was: A warning that the Heartless had come to this world. The feeling faded quickly, but it was always reliable.

The only weird thing was that there were Heartless right before his eyes; why hadn't he felt anything until this moment?

Tentatively, Sora said, "Lady, I—"

"My name," she said distantly, "is Terra." There was no song in her voice now, not merry or sad, and that made Sora even more uneasy.

"Terra, there are Heartless in this world. I gotta find the Keyhole and seal it against 'em, before they destroy it!"

"You can…" Slowly, mechanically, Terra looked up from the palmful of gemstones at Sora. "Do that?" Her face was blank, empty as a china doll's.

Sora nodded, and a shadow of something passed over Terra's face. "Where were you?" she whispered softly, slowly standing up, then her fist tightened, sending gemstones spraying everywhere.


This time, instead of being unfocused and undirected, her scream of rage was directed solely at Sora. At the last moment, he tumbled out of the way, and the scream hit the side of the gummi ship. It shrieked as it scraped across bare rock, shoved by the sheer force of her anger. Sora shuddered. If that'd hit ME…

Terra turned to face him again, and he saw it.

The crest of the Heartless, that appeared everywhere they went, had been emblazoned on her forehead. It glowed with a pure radiance, and as though the radiance were wind, her bangs were bouncing and flying away from her face, adding an even more eerie frame to the still-empty doll's mask she was wearing.

She lifted one hand, and the Heartless in the room ran for a door on the far side of the room, dropping toys everywhere in their haste to get away. "You won't have my children!" Terra exclaimed hatefully, the tone frightening from someone with no expression.

Terra dropped the palm so that it faced Sora, and — he hesitated. She was the woman who had saved him, held him while he wept for friends dead and friends he feared dead. She was the woman who had tried to kill him. She was surely mad, and not responsible for her actions. She was a slave of the Heartless, and Sora knew that he had to destroy her.

The conflict in his mind was so great that he'd only started to move before a burst of lightning crackled from her hand, catching Sora in mid-jump. He flew backwards, and impacted the rock wall with a bone-breaking crunch.

Despite the pain, Sora rolled out of the way as she sent another black-tinged lighting bolt at him, then jumped out of the way as the very stone underneath him erupted into flame. He got close enough to throw his Keyblade and did so, but it bounced from a shield she put up just before it would have impacted her.

After it reappeared in his hand, Sora leapt in almost next to her and used it to direct a cone of ice at Terra's back, but she whirled around and flung up both her hands. The ice stopped in midair and then flew back at Sora, stinging him with razor-sharp shards.

Defiantly, he swung the Keyblade at her. The first hit impacted her stomach with a shock that resounded all the way to his shoulder. The next, she blocked with her forearm. The next, she grabbed the Keyblade in mid-swing, and Sora's eyes opened wide in shock. She can't do that!!

It felt as though it were rooted in rock, so firm was her grip. He made the Keyblade vanish and slid away, just in time; Terra just barely missed seizing him in her free hand. Remembering how she'd held the Keyblade, Sora knew that despite her slender-seeming frame, she could have torn him apart with just those hands.

Well, crap. He ducked behind a stalagmite and winced as it was blown apart. I'm gonna have to run, won't I? I'm just not GOOD enough to face her down alone. Fruitlessly he thought, I wish that Donald or Goofy were here…


To be continued.

Chapter 4
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