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Chapter XI: Fear in the Clearing
At dusk, the atmosphere appeared as dreary as it did the previous night. Sunlight did not break the dark clouds that bound the skies like dense cobwebs. Sora, who only slept for a few hours, continued to keep watch over Kairi and he up until the time of dusk, when he heard Kairi stir.
“Ugh, this is morning!” Kairi exclaimed, evidently upset about the gloomy skies again. “I’m definitely not used to this. I’ll do anything to see some sun right now.”
“Morning, Kairi,” said Sora behind her back. “I was waiting a while for you to finally wake up.” Sora thought that after the fire burned out, the chilliness would have woken Kairi, but she slept soundly.
Kairi stretched her arms and legs. “Good morning, Sora. Did you catch any sleep later on last night?”
Sora shook his head. He kept watch all night. That unusually small, and strange, Heartless nabbed at his mind the entire night. He had encountered and noted many, many Heartless varieties (and a majority of them already odd enough), but he had never seen a Heartless that peculiar before. It seemed to have generated an aura that interfered with Sora’s very mind…
Sora whipped out his Oblivion Keyblade and Kairi did the same, holding dearly onto her Oathkeeper. From beneath the ground, a small, black portal opened and two enormous yellow eyes peered out. Sora winced as the same tiny Heartless crawled out of the ground and started feeling around with its two antennas.
“Aw, look, Sora. He came back to you,” Kairi giggled. “Maybe he likes you.”
Sora seriously doubted that proposition. “Well, Heartless are all the same to me, so this one’s going down!” He lifted his Keyblade and began his slash.
All of the sudden, in a mere matter of milliseconds, the tiny Heartless increased about a hundred times in size. Instead of appearing cute, the creature rose and stood on two legs, shrunk its eyes to match its now proportional head size, and transformed its overall physique now resembling a human’s. Sora had his weapon hung in midair, his eyes focused on the transformation before him, completely in awe. The Heartless finally stopped increasing in size, though already about three times the height of Sora, but in another split second, wings started to sprout from its back, and its claws lengthened.
Sora snapped out of his trance and recalled his Keyblade.
“K-Kairi, I think?Run!” he yelled as the Heartless creature began to rise into the air.
Kairi was confused. Indeed the creature was humongous. It appeared terrifying, with its massive wings, claws, and eerie yellow eyes, but Kairi knew Sora would not run away for no reason. Something must be troubling him. What’s going on? Kairi thought.
But that was a question she had to save for later, as she felt Sora grab her hand and yank her forward. The two of them sprinted across the clearing, Sora panicking and Kairi feeling more and more worried and concerned every passing minute.
The monstrosity that took flight was not even chasing the two. When it reached a certain point in the air, it melded into a dark portal and vanished into the clouds. Kairi took this moment to talk to Sora.
“Sora, stop. Please stop. That thing’s not following us anymore.”
Sora stumbled into a halt and let go of Kairi’s hand.
“I have no idea?” Sora said, panting. “?what the heck is going on. That Heartless… I don’t know why, but it creeps me out so much. Every time I see it, including the tiny version last night, I feel my skin crawl and I start sweating and… Ugh, it’s annoying. Whenever I’m ready to take it out with the Keyblade, I feel my mind just… twisting?”
Kairi interrupted him by hugging him tightly. “Are you okay now, though? I was kinda worried when you just started panicking and stuff.”
Surprisingly for him, Sora actually did start to feel better. His mind was more at ease and his body was not as tense as before. Too many weird things are happening, Sora noted.
“Thanks, Kairi. I’m much better now,” he said, smiling his awkward smile. Somewhere in him, he hoped Riku wasn’t right about Kairi. What will that do to his and Kairi’s friendship?
Kairi smiled back. “Good. Shall we keep walking then?”
Sora nodded and the two friends left the edge of the clearing and entered the next seemingly abandoned village.
Little do the two know that the beast was actually the Heartless commander they were searching for.
Syx hissed quietly as Sarlix entered the scene.
“Well, good job keeping an eye on Sora and his friend, Syx,” Sarlix said. “Although you did scare him away by transforming. And that girl… every single time she shows any support for Sora, my spells seem to be neutralized. Hmm, interesting. Oh well, that was a minor setback.”
“You were the one that scared him away with your filthy mind games,” Syx said telepathically in a deep, nightmarish voice. “I would’ve grabbed him then and there?”
“Why didn’t you then?” Sarlix questioned.
“Unlike you and the rest of the Nobodies, we Heartless fear and hate the Keyblade. You may get struck by a Keyblade and survive with mere physical wounds, but we Heartless are scarred by its blade…”
“Huh, I didn’t know that until your mentioning just now,” Sarlix added in a sarcastic tone.
“You dare mock me, Sarlix?” Syx growled. “Your cheap mind tricks cannot work against the non-living.”
Before Sarlix could open her mouth for a counter-remark, the dark iron gates to the room Syx and she were in opened and in came the evil sorceress Maleficent and her two guests. Sarlix could recognize one of the guests.
“Maleficent, you’ve brought guests,” Sarlix noted.
“Yes,” Maleficent responded sinisterly. “Ones you may be familiar with…”
Sarlix strode over to Maleficent, leaving Syx in her original spot, still seething and growling.
“Hmm, Gylmer. You seem… different,” Sarlix murmured.
“As do you Sil?”
“No, no. There is no Silra. Like there is no Gylmer, I assume. You can call me Sarlix now.”
Xymgrel snuck a vindictive look at Maleficent and then eyed Sarlix carefully.
“Right then,” Xymgrel sighed. “There is no Gylmer… Then you can call me Xymgrel.”
“Xymgrel, huh? Interesting,” Sarlix remarked as she turned to face Maleficent. “You do know he still hates your guts,” she whispered by her.
“But of course,” Maleficent hissed. “I took away his will and freedom. You, on the other hand, were just… curiously cooperative. I still wonder why you submitted so willingly.”
Sarlix thought for a moment, choosing her words carefully. “I had nothing to lose. I had nothing more to give up. My life was bound to that hateful museum. Gylmer, though, had everything to lose. I could name some, like his yearning for knowledge, his passion for working and researching, and as you mentioned, his will and freedom. I can almost feel bad for the guy if I still had a heart.”
Maleficent smiled crudely. “I’ve come to learn that Nobodies only seek to reunite with their lost hearts? Your Heartless is right behind you. You can easily slay her and take your wandering heart. Why don’t you, Sarlix?”
Sarlix was growing tired of the questions that tested her loyalty. “Because, Maleficent?and you already know the answer to that question?if I decide to kill my Heartless and complete myself with my missing heart, I know you will most likely track me down and repeat the painful process which you dealt onto me already. Besides, I lack powers in my human form.”
Maleficent smiled again. “Good answers, my pet.”
Sarlix rolled her eyes in antipathy and turned again to Xymgrel.
“You might as well get used to her,” she whispered into his ear. “You have powers now. Isn’t that so much more exciting than just sorting out books and artifacts in the museum, hmm?”
The Temple Key Museum swarmed with Heartless armies, its walls tainted with dark magic and its halls carpeted by creeping Shadows. The museum on Costa Island became Maleficent’s stronghold, her private domain where she may hatch all her diabolical plans.
Selphie, Tidus, and Wakka hid together in an abandoned hut. In neighboring huts and buildings, the rest of the villagers from the northern and eastern coasts gathered in search of safety. There were no Heartless around the village, which was a huge plot of land; the village covered almost a hundred-fifty acres.
Yet, Tidus and Wakka dared not venture out into the open, no matter how valiant or action-hungry they may be. Besides, Selphie, Tidus, and Wakka only recently bumped into each other when everyone was trying to evade the Heartless swarms. It has been a long time since the three of them spoke to each other. Though that was the case, none of them forgot about their friendship. Tidus, along with a few adult villagers, gazed out of different windows for signs of movements.
The couple of villagers were shocked to find two teens wandering past the huts, in open air, vulnerable.
“Hey, you two!” one whispered out a broken window. “Are you kids crazy? You could get seriously hurt out there!”
Selphie was half asleep when Tidus started shaking her.
“Huh… uh, w-what is it, Tidus?” Selphie asked, half mumbling.
“It’s Sora! And Kairi! They?” he yelled, almost too loudly before Wakka held him down to the floor and covered his mouth.
Selphie was ecstatic; she couldn’t believe her eyes. Ever since the Heartless began invading the islands, she had not seen Sora and Kairi anywhere. But where’s Riku? she mentally asked herself, taking notice of Riku’s absence.
“Kairi!” Selphie yelled out to her friend.
“Selphie? Sora, look! It’s Selphie!” Kairi cried gleefully.
The villagers opened the moderately sized hut’s door to the two travelers. Kairi and Selphie embraced each other for a brief moment before Tidus and Wakka appeared before them.
“Hey, it’s Sora! Long time no see, man!” Wakka said, patting Sora on the back.
“Wow, Sora,” said the young Tidus. “You look pretty spiffy. Much stronger than I remembered you from before.”
“You guys actually remember me?” Sora asked quizzically. He turned to Kairi. “I thought everyone forgot about me.”
“Everyone’s memories seemed to be restored. Didn’t Naminé regret working on your memories? Well, she fixed yours up and I guess everyone else linked to you in any way had their memories of you fixed up too, like me,” Kairi suggested.
Wakka scratched his head. “I dunno what Kairi just said, but I gots a good feelin’ that she’s right!”
Selphie chuckled. “Yeah, I remember you now, Sora.”
“And I still remember you, Selphie,” Sora responded.
“But tell me,” Selphie said, changing her tone. “Shouldn’t Riku be with you two? He always is… isn’t he?”
“Yeah! Riku! He’s like my idol. Hey, Sora, don’t you remember before last year, we all used to look up to Riku because he was so strong?”
Sora simply nodded and turned to Selphie to break the news to her. “Riku was captured,” he said, shaking his head in disappointment. “But Kairi and I will find him.”
Selphie, Tidus, and Wakka looked at each other. “How will you do that?” Selphie asked.
Sora gestured to Kairi. The two of them stuck out their hands and their respective Keyblades formed. Sora grabbed the Oblivion’s hilt and swung it fancily for a brief moment.
“With these,” Sora started. “Keyblades. The creatures that are on our islands are called Heartless. And the only weapon capable of destroying them for good are Keyblades.”
“Sora’s the one that’s been fighting these creatures and the powers of darkness all this time,” Kairi mentioned, smiling, with a hint of showing-off. She twirled her Keyblade just as fancily as Sora did. “This time I’m helping him out.”
How things have changed, Selphie thought.
That is awesome, Tidus mentally remarked.
Whoa, Wakka thought, utterly awed.
Sora and Kairi looked around the hut and then glanced into the neighboring huts and buildings. The villagers seemed safe at the moment, to the two’s relief. Kairi caught the sight of a woman in a plaid, cotton dress…
“Sora, I think I see your mother,” Kairi said.
“Oh. That’s good, at least she’s okay.”
“Don’t you want to greet her? To let her know that you’re still in good shape?”
“We have a job to do right now, Kairi. A job that my mom won’t approve of, for sure.”
Kairi nodded. It was probably best for them to simply keep moving on and end the Heartless threat on the islands as fast as possible.
“Okay. Then let’s move on, Sora,” Kairi said at last.
“Right,” Sora answered, nodding in agreement.
They were about to exit out the door when Selphie, Tidus, and Wakka came up to them again.
“You two leavin’ already?” Wakka asked.
“Yeah, I’m afraid we have to, Wakka,” Sora responded sadly.
“Well, be safe on your journey, Kairi?and Sora,” said Selphie.
“We’ll do our best,” Kairi said, as she and Sora turned the doorknob and made their exit.
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