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Chapter XXIII: The Search

Maleficent oversaw everything. She created mirror-like screens that projected views through the eyes of her minions. Four magical screens were created, each bound to the sights of Sarlix, Xymgrel, Syx, and Grymox. It seemed like her Nobody commanders were smarter than they seemed. Instead of picking fights with the warriors of Midgar, they instead lurked in the shadows and played the role of the hunter. The only scene Maleficent was interested in was the one of Sarlix. It displayed Sora’s mind trounce quite clearly. Even though Sora and Kairi were able to escape, Maleficent did not worry too much about that issue. She had faith that the Keyblade-wielders would not be able to defeat her two Nobody commanders and two Heartless commanders.

Through the screen of Xymgrel, Maleficent caught the sight of Mickey, who was charging towards Xymgrel, trampling over both Nobodies and Heartless.

Mickey found Xymgrel, and his first plan was to simply stop Xymgrel from doing whatever he was plotting on doing in the Radiant Garden. Mickey lunged at Xymgrel with his Keyblade fully extended, his eyes gleaming with determination. Both swordsmen clashed their weapons together. Xymgrel put on a mocking smile and Mickey continued to push forward. The deadlock seemed to be frozen in time as neither fighter made a move to progress or retreat. Around them, Nobodies and Heartless creatures patrolled and snuck around corners and bends.

Suddenly, Xymgrel felt two individuals land heavily behind him. In a second, he felt hard metal on both sides of his head. Barrett and Vincent stood on both sides of Xymgrel, their weapons loaded and cocked. Mickey smiled; the stalemate no longer existed. Xymgrel lowered his weapon and chuckled.

“So, which one of you should I take first…”

“Who said you can talk?” Barrett grumbled. He pushed his gun hand harder into Xymgrel’s face.

Mickey called back his Keyblade. “Xymgrel, please. It doesn’t have to be this way. You can fight on our side. And join your other half and become complete.”

Without responding, Xymgrel sank into the ground via a black portal. Barrett and Vincent shot relentlessly at Xymgrel’s fading figure, but accomplishing nothing. Barrett cursed and transformed his gun back into a mechanical hand.

“Who the hell is that guy?” Barrett asked flatly.

“That was Xymgrel,” Mickey answered. “He used to be called Gylmer, and that was when he was a good guy. Then this sorceress named Maleficent, who’s the real reason why the Heartless and Nobodies returned, used her power and brought out the darkness that existed in Gylmer’s heart. Now he’s split into two dark beings. One is Xymgrel, the Nobody we just saw, and Grymox, a terrible Heartless beast.”

“Brought out from the darkness of his heart, huh,” Vincent remarked. “And what exactly did he mean when he said ‘which one of you should I take first?’”

“Gee, I dunno,” Mickey said, scratching his head. “Whatever he meant, you guys have to watch out. Xymgrel said he had a job to do.”

“If that creep is here, then that must mean that girl Nobody must be here too,” Barrett declared.

“Yup, she is,” Mickey said. “She’s Sarlix. Silra was her original name. She used to be Gylmer’s coworker, that is until Maleficent came and manipulated the darkness in their hearts.”

Mickey was immediately on the move again. “Warn the others of Xymgrel and Sarlix. Careful fellas, those two hold dark powers that should not be underestimated!” he added before disappearing into crowds of Nobodies and Heartless clusters.

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Sora ran into Tifa and Aerith while on his pursuit for Sarlix. Both women did not have a single scratch on them, but both of them appeared somewhat tired. Sora was no longer plagued by exhaustion since he found a new reason to continue fighting. Not today, Sora. I’m not here for you, Sarlix said to him. Although the numbers of Heartless and Nobodies were declining, Sora knew a greater danger now existed. Whatever or whoever Sarlix was trying to find, it would not bring fortune to him and the others. It was now the most crucial time to act.

“Sora, what is it?” Aerith asked.

Sora spun around to meet Tifa and Aerith.

“There’s this Nobody leader, Sarlix, who’s here right now. She’s here for something… or someone, I don’t know. We have to find her before she?”

“Before she…?” Tifa repeated in question.

“Argh!” Sora groaned. Sarlix was clawing his mind again with the same magnitude as the last mind attack. Sora collapsed onto the ground and screamed.

Tifa and Aerith were utterly stunned by the sudden horror that befell in front of them. Sora suddenly appeared ragged and completely worn out, like his strength and vitality were suddenly ripped away from him. Aerith spastically tried casting Cure on Sora multiple times, but to no avail.

Sora was still conscious so he attempted to provide as much information to Tifa and Aerith as fast as possible.

“Cure won’t work, Aerith. T-this isn’t an injury. Sarlix, the one I was telling you about, ugh… she’s the one that’s doing this to me. She’s the M-mind Keeper… with the p-power to manipulate the minds of her victims… argh,” Sora choked out. “She’s really dangerous… g-gather everyone and warn them! I’ll be okay after a bit… I’ve endured this… ugh, b-before.”

Aerith nodded and cast her Planet Protector spell around Sora. “Here, this should keep you safe from any attacks for a bit.” She and Tifa then quickly, though a little hesitantly, ran off to find the others.

Sora kept one eye open, as he remained watchful of his surroundings. He had lost track of time ever since we was struck again by Sarlix’s mental attack. Gradually though, the torment subsided and Sora struggled to get back on his feet and regain his balance. Somewhat weak from the attack, Sora staggered as he walked in the direction of Merlin’s house. He had to make sure Kairi was still safe…

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Kairi observed her wound slowly heal. Eventually, nothing more remained but a thin line that resembled a faint scar. Kairi sat up from the couch and looked around the room.

What do I do now?

She had two choices. One would be to rush out of the house and continue to fight alongside everyone else. The other choice would be to follow Sora’s orders and stay…

But he did say to stay until my wound healed. My wound is healed isn’t it?

Yes, she was certain Sora told her to simply stay until she was fully recovered. But there was another condition to be met: Sora also said he would be right back. Kairi checked a nearby clock.

7:42 P.M.

The last time she checked, it was about two hours ago. Now Kairi was becoming increasingly worried. Would she stay and risk the likelihood of Sora being in trouble? Or would she leave and risk missing Sora’s return? A tough decision, but Kairi decided to go and find Sora herself. If Sora was safe and returned to the house… At least he would be safe, Kairi thought. Logic triumphed and Kairi hastily raced out the door and onto the silent streets.

It was aggravatingly silent. Kairi remained wary and paid close attention to any movements around her. She slowed her footsteps and inched along the walls. Seeing that there were neither Nobodies nor Heartless about, she sped up her pace and sought higher ground. Her only useful skills right now would be those of her senses.

Climbing over a stone wall, Kairi stood on a ledge and scanned the first borough as a whole. All she saw were a fewer number of Nobodies and Heartless scattered all over the borough and the continuous battles. Analyzing the scenes more intently, Kairi found Cloud, Donald, and Goofy in one spot, still fighting, but with considerably less energy. A few buildings away, Kairi saw Barrett and Vincent sprinting over to Yuffie and Cid. Barrett and Vincent said something to Yuffie and Cid that triggered some sort of alert of shock. Whatever it was, the four of them continued on their path, slaying Heartless and Nobody forces along the way. Kairi then found Tifa and Aerith running towards everyone. They seemed panicked, and the first party member they ran into was Mickey. The three of them then bumped into Cloud, Donald, and Goofy. Again they joined together. Kairi kept watching and found the group joining with Barrett, Vincent, Yuffie, and Cid. The entire group was now only missing Sora and Kairi.

Kairi turned her attention away from the group and tried to search the borough for Sora again. The sun was quickly setting and the amount of available light was decreasing. Kairi had to examine the streets, corners, and alleys closer than she normally does until her eyes began to ache. There were no hints of signs of him. Resisting panic attacks, frustration, and sheer off-the-scale anxiety, Kairi jumped off the ledge back onto the first borough streets. Slowly, the sunlight faded and Kairi found herself on the verge of tears as she began to wander aimlessly.

“I swear, if he’s hurt, I’ll never be the same...” Kairi sobbed quietly to herself.

Wiping away a couple of loose teardrops, Kairi gathered up her strength and walked deeper into the dark alleys.

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Out of feelings of urgency, Sora cleaved through the remaining numbers of Heartless and Nobodies that he ran into on the way back to Merlin’s house. Only terror surged through him when he noticed that the front door was wide open. He was certain that he locked the door when he left the house. If it’s open… then that must mean someone must’ve unlocked it from the inside and?

He sprinted into the house and checked around the living room.

“Kairi,” Sora yelled out loud. He waited for the response and yelled her name again. Again no response came to him. “Man, why did you have to leave?”

Immediately, Sora bolted out the front door and into the dark streets. The sun had set and the moon was rising into the sky. He admired Kairi’s bravery in charging alone onto the streets. He wasn’t even certain if Kairi’s wounds were healed or not. Sora knew Kairi was never a girl who easily took and followed the orders of other people, let alone his. Recovered or not, Sora knew he had to find Kairi as soon as possible. If he runs into Mickey, Donald, Goofy, and the others, it would be in his favor. Sora didn’t care; he would be satisfied as long as he finds Kairi.

Periodically, a few Shadow Heartless would rise onto the surface to attack Sora. To the Keyblade master, the Shadows were nothing more than common pests. With one, clean horizontal slash, Sora could take out as many as a dozen Shadows. The routine was performed several times as Sora dashed through the borough in search of Kairi.

Where are they all coming from? Sora thought in question, as the Heartless number seemed infinite.

Suddenly, Sora heard a high-pitched scream sounding directly ahead of him. Distressed and alerted, Sora ignored the Shadows that continued to pile around him and leapt onto the closest building in front of him. And there he saw her.

Kairi seemed to be surrounded by a cluster of peculiarly looking Heartless and a squad of Berserker Nobodies. Sora has never seen those Heartless before, but he knew the giant Berserker Nobodies were a force to be reckoned with. Standing near the Heartless and Nobody group was an inscrutable figure in a black cloak. Sora had a good idea who it was, or who it may be. He jumped off the building and landing into the Heartless swarm.

Kairi let out a yelp as Sora suddenly landed next to her, but her fright instantly transformed into gladness and relief. She hugged Sora purely out of liberation from her binding worries. Sora slashed at the mysterious Heartless creatures and pointed his Keyblade at the cloaked figure. He charged a bolt of flame and cast his Fire spell at the figure, forcing the hood to fly back to reveal Xymgrel.

“You!” gasped Sora.

“I think this is the first time I’ve met the famous Keyblade-wielder,” Xymgrel wondered as he landed in front of Sora after dodging the Fire spell. “Honestly, I don’t see why everyone makes such a fuss over a key-shaped sword.”

“I think you know why the Keyblade is such a big deal. Or has Maleficent told you nothing yet?” Sora muttered. He hated these Nobodies that resembled the members of Organization XIII.

“Maleficent… do you even think I’m working for her? I probably hate her just as much as you do. This is all her fault anyway.”

Maleficent heard every word. Her magic screen focused on Xymgrel glowed red and shattered. Her hold on the Nobody was weakening as Xymgrel’s already unclear loyalty continued to slip away. Maleficent scowled irritably and vanished in an explosion of green flame.

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