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Chapter XXIV: Another Round

“Huh?” Sora asked.

Xymgrel leaned on the hilt of his sword and sighed. He appeared equally exhausted Sora and Kairi. He cleared his throat and scratched his head nonchalantly.

“What did you mean by that…?” Sora asked again. No matter what the situation was, Sora did not trust Xymgrel at all.

Xymgrel picked up his sword again and rubbed the blade with his index finger.

“I meant what I said. I hate Maleficent. Look what she did to me. I led a decent life that I never would have given up. Then all of a sudden she comes around with her dark magic, pulling the darkness out of the depths of my heart. Did you think I wanted to be this way? Sure, I became stronger and I acquired new powers, but I don’t care about that…”

Pausing for a moment, Xymgrel paced around aimlessly and recalled all the Heartless and Nobodies around him so that only he, Sora, and Kairi were standing in the alleyway. Sora and Kairi were still suspicious of Xymgrel’s intent, and in addition, they were somewhat confused.

“Listen,” the Nobody commander resumed. “I’ve been trying to find these… ‘Reports’ of some sort that Maleficent stole from the museum I used to work in. I know they hold information about the Heartless and the Nobodies, which can prove to be quite useful in the hands of different people. At the same time I’ve been trying to fuse with my Heartless half so I can become complete again. Trust me, I really don’t want to fight. I certainly can. But I don’t want to. It’s not in me.”

Sora gave a thought to Xymgrel’s words, though still remaining on high alert. Kairi was equally vigilant and continued to clench her Keyblade firmly.

“Whose side are you on…?” Sora asked apprehensively. Honesty, he had no idea anymore.

A short silence followed before Xymgrel answered. “No one’s.”

“What about Sarlix,” Sora thought out loud.

Xymgrel shrugged. “All I want now is knowledge of my being. That is all.”

He faded into the darkness before Sora and Kairi could assemble any further thoughts or comments. The two friends glanced at each other in search for answers.

“Well,” Sora started. “I dunno where this is going.”

“Where what’s going?” Kairi asked.

“This whole situation. The two Nobodies that look like as if they came from the organization, Maleficent’s Heartless, everything.”

“I think we’re winning though,” Kairi remarked.

“I think so, too.”

“So if we just keep up whatever we’re doing right now, we should be able to get back home soon.”

“Yeah?”

A burst of flame materializing in front of Sora and Kairi caught the two Keyblade-wielders by surprise. Both Sora and Kairi were blown back by the force and landed next to each other against a cemented wall. Soon, Maleficent’s form began to appear through the green flames and Sora felt his anger return. He stood up and pulled Kairi up with him, the two of them staring directly into Maleficent’s wicked eyes.

Without muttering a word, Maleficent threw her arms up in the air and encased the alleyway in a shroud of shadows. Sora and Kairi stood their ground as they awaited whatever Maleficent was channeling with her spells. Soon, yellow eyes started gleaming in the dark shroud until the alleyway became an eerie yellow. As soon as a new mass of Heartless began to emerge, Sora and Kairi started to step back away from Maleficent’s hellish aura that summoned the incoming Heartless. More and more Shadows, Neoshadows, Soldiers, Armored Knights, and many other land and aerial varieties of Heartless poured out from the darkness. Sora and Kairi were now faced with more enemies than they could possibly have a chance of handling. Turning to flee, the two friends could hear Maleficent’s cackling laughter.

“Run, you fools! I have yet to deal with all of you! Run while you can!” Maleficent howled.

And they had no choice but to run. Speedily, Sora and Kairi shook off Maleficent’s pursuing Heartless and safely escaped the dark alleyways.

“Sora, I saw everyone else before coming here,” Kairi said, while running alongside Sora.

“Really? That’s good. We need to find them?” Sora paused. “Say, Kairi, what were you doing out there anyway?”

“Duh, I was looking for you, Sora,” Kairi responded, rolling her eyes. “My wound’s all healed too, so I figured it’ll be better to go look for you instead of sleeping on a couch while everyone else could be in danger.”

Sora smiled amusedly at how Kairi said everything with one breath. It was like she already had those words planned, knowing that Sora was going to ask her what she was doing out in the open.

It was well into the night and the streets were dark. Not a single streetlamp was lighted. The only source of light that was available for any traveler was most likely the moon. Still, the moon itself was not bright enough to illuminate the entire town. Sora and Kairi struggled to find their way around the borough. Some time passed before either of them spoke again.

“Sora, I’m getting a little worried. It’s really dark. How are we gonna find everyone?” Kairi asked.

Sora gave the question a thought. Sure it was dark, but Sora wasn’t letting that bother him. “Don’t let the lack of light bother you, Kairi. If we have to, we’ll find everyone by looking for the light in their hearts. That always works for me.”

“Looking for the light in their hearts?” Kairi repeated curiously. “How do you suppose to do that?”

“I dunno,” Sora proclaimed humorously. “It just works. It always worked for me. I mean, that’s how I found you before.”

“You mean, like before? I thought you found me because I screamed,” Kairi giggled.

“Well, err?that definitely helped me find you,” Sora stuttered while scratching his head. “But I meant like… always. Every time I wanted to find you, I looked for the light in your heart.”

“Do you think I have a ton of light in my heart?”

“Of course, that’s what makes it easy to find you!”

“Yeah right!” Kairi laughed. “I remember it took you forever to find me the first time, on your first journey.”

“Actually, I already found you,” Sora effortlessly countered to Kairi’s bemusement. “Your heart was in mine, remember? So I kinda already found you, I just didn’t know it.”

Sora winked to show that they both know he was right and Kairi blushed. Yeah, he’s right, Kairi noted to herself. Luckily for her, Sora couldn’t possibly notice the redness in her cheeks in the dim light.

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All of them: Mickey, Donald, Goofy, Yuffie, Cloud, Tifa, Aerith, Cid, Barrett, and Vincent all stood on the ledge linking the first borough with the bailey with their weapons drawn. Each warned the other of the impending threats, of the two Nobody commanders that have landed in the Radiant Garden. The only group members that could identify Sarlix and Xymgrel were Mickey, Cid, and Barrett. The others have never seen the Nobody commanders before. Donald and Goofy, however, could only recognize the black, mysterious cloaks donned by the Sarlix and Xymgrel, the same outfits the out-of-existence members of Organization XIII wore.

The giant party only awaited two more people before they take action in cleansing out the Radiant Garden. Sora and Kairi’s whereabouts were still unknown, and with the Heartless and Nobodies still lurking in the shadows of the town, the group became more and more concerned.

Mickey, Donald, and Goofy stood under the arch that loomed over the stairway between the first borough and the bailey. Donald had his wand extended towards the night sky, the tip of the wand glowing with a bright light. Occasionally, some Heartless and Nobody warriors traced the light to the party, but were easily slaughtered. Surrounding the perimeter that the party camped in were Cloud, Barrett, and Vincent. Cloud had his sword ready in his hands while Barrett and Vincent both had their guns locked and loaded.

Yuffie kept a sharp lookout, as she stood high above on a pole that reached high into the sky. She sought movement, any movement that resembled the footsteps of humans. Her headband flapped loosely in the air as the gusts of wind increased in strength.

“Yuffie, any luck?” Tifa yelled from below.

Yuffie shook her head as she continued to study the streets. Where could they be?

Before she knew it, after what seemed like hours of excruciating staring and watching the gloomy streets, Yuffie noticed two humanoid figures walking astray. Sora and Kairi. Yuffie leapt off her lookout point on the pole and aimed to land by the two friends. On the other side, Tifa and Aerith were calling out in question, but Yuffie ignored the voices and strove to catch up with Sora and Kairi before she loses sight of both of them.

Sora and Kairi both whipped out their Keyblades in defense when they heard Yuffie’s landing behind them, thinking it was perhaps a Heartless or a Nobody. Relieved when they found themselves looking at Yuffie’s happy-go-lucky face, they called back their weapons.

“Now what’s the point of being a ninja when you can’t even sneak up behind two kids?” Yuffie groaned. Then she laughed, more at herself than at what she said.

“Phew…” Sora sighed. “You did give us a surprise though!”

“Yup, that’s what ninjas do,” Yuffie affirmed. “Catch people with the element of surprise. Like I, the?”

“?Grand Ninja Yuffie. I know, Yuffie,” Sora cut in, chuckling to himself.

“You took my line, Sora…”

Kairi stifled a laugh at Yuffie’s flabbergasted expression that seemed more exaggerated out of sarcasm. Sora smirked proudly.

“Anyway, where are the others?” Sora asked.

Yuffie pointed to the ledge that was high above them.

“We should hurry then. How long have you guys been waiting?” Kairi asked.

“We lost track of time,” Yuffie admitted.

“We definitely should hurry. I think a big battle’s gonna start soon,” Sora mumbled, recalling the sight of the massive Heartless army summoned by Maleficent.

“A ‘big battle?’ Umm…” Yuffie wondered. “How big?”

“Bigger than the one we fought earlier today and the one we fought here on my last journey.”

Yuffie pondered a moment and then yanked out her oversized shuriken, twirling it between her fingers with proficiency. “Alright, then let’s get ready for some fun!” She darted ahead of Sora and Kairi and got a running start back with the rest of the group.

Fun?” Kairi asked Sora.

Sora shrugged. “That’s Yuffie.”

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“Yuffie!”

Barrett and Vincent had their weapons aimed at Yuffie for a brief moment before realizing that it was her and not some wandering Heartless.

“Geez, don’t scare us like that. We coulda shot at ya!” Barrett grumbled.

“Well, it’s a good thing that you thought before you acted this time!” Yuffie countered.

Vincent closed his eyes and shook his head. “Did you find them, Yuffie?”

Yuffie nodded enthusiastically. “And they said that there’s gonna be a huge battle coming up soon. We should prepare ourselves right away.”

“How do you suppose we do that? We’ve got nothin’ with us here,” Barrett mentioned.

Out of nowhere, Yuffie tossed out a few spherical objects that were met with Barrett’s blank stares. Even Vincent was somewhat surprised at the sight. The orbs glowed with a peculiar radiance, along with emitting an aura of vitalizing energy.

“Err… does Cloud know you have these?” Vincent asked amusedly.

“Seriously, girl. Does Cloud know you took his materia?” Barrett repeated.

“Shh,” Yuffie whispered, putting her index finger to her lips. “He’ll appreciate the fact that I snuck some out anyway. We’ll probably need it.”

“Materia, how long has it been since I last seen or… touched these,” Vincent wondered.

“Who knows,” Barrett responded. “I haven’t touched these in a long while either?”

“Barrett! Vincent!” a voice called out from behind them.

“Oy, look, it’s the Keyblade kids,” Barrett chuckled.

“We have to hurry,” Sora said, ignoring Barrett’s comment. “We saw them coming, they’re heading this way?what… w-what are those?”

Sora was gazing at the little piles of materia that Yuffie scattered across the floor. Sora picked one up to examine it more closely.

“Careful with those. Each materia provides a different power when equipped,” Vincent said.

“Materia?” Sora asked.

“Right. These little balls are made from spiritual energy from our world. Like Vincent said, each of these materia provide different powers for whoever uses them,” Yuffie explained. “Let’s clean this up.”

Sora, Kairi, Yuffie, Barrett, and Vincent each grabbed a few materia orbs and headed up the stairs. However, they met Cloud on the way, who was patrolling the perimeter for the last hour. He seemed to be in a hurry, as he was not walking, but slightly jogging. He stopped, though, when he bumped into Sora.

“Cloud!”

“Sora. We need everyone up immediately. There’s a giant army approaching?”

Cloud paused and looked at the spheres cradled in everyone’s arms.

“Hmm,” he continued. “The materia I gathered?”

He asked Sora to toss him one of the materia.

“Seems like someone was flipping through my things…” Cloud casually commented, looking directly at Yuffie.

“Cloud, don’t you think it’ll be a good idea to use these against the Heartless and Nobodies?” Yuffie suggested.

Cloud sighed and did not respond. He simply turned towards the stairs and made his way up to the ledge where everyone else was waiting. Barrett, Vincent, and Yuffie followed, subsequently by Sora and Kairi. Mickey, Donald, and Goofy were at the end of the staircase, with Donald’s wand still discharging flashes of light. Sora and Kairi stopped to give the three Disney Castle denizens a greeting.

“Did Cloud tell you guys about the army approaching?” Sora asked Mickey.

“Yup, he did. And we better get ready and stand together. That way, we can surely take ‘em all,” Mickey declared.

“They’re here!” a voice called out.

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