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Chapter LI: Night of the Cursed

Though it was early in the day in Riku’s world, it was late and dark in Sora and Kairi’s world. Judging from the sounds around them, it must be around midnight. Kairi was armed with the Oathkeeper, which, capped at the tip with a small flame, acted as a light source (the dim moonlight was barely sufficient). The directions that Pacha gave them were fairly simple. They were to follow a dirt path, one used by most traveling traders or merchants, which crisscrossed through the outer edge of the jungle, across a river, and to the perimeter of the palace.

Before long, Sora and Kairi arrived at a wooden bridge extending about twenty feet across a gorge. Below, the sounds of the river’s rapids could be heard. According to Pacha’s directions, they only need to cross the bridge and continue on the dirt path before arriving at the palace. The only problem was?the bridge seemed… unstable. With Kairi’s dim fire, the bridge could be seen swaying with the slightest breeze. What will happen if two people step onto it?

“You wanna give it a shot?” Sora asked Kairi.

“Just as long as we aren’t gonna be forced to jump down,” Kairi responded.

At the first plank, Sora already felt the wood crack and split under his shoes. Gently, he inched forward and forward. Kairi followed closely behind, holding onto the thin rope railings. Both of them wondered how other travelers fared taking this path. As a result, picturing other travelers making it across the bridge without any disastrous effects eased their minds. Still, hanging a hundred feet above a roaring river on a swinging, wooden bridge doubtlessly triggers apprehension. Sora felt a bead of sweat slide down his face as he felt the wooden boards creak under him. Periodically, Kairi felt herself freeze on the spot, just waiting for the bridge to collapse. But with each passing false alarm, the two shuffled on.

Then it rained. After what seemed like an hour, Sora and Kairi found themselves barely halfway across the irritating bridge, more and more drenched by the minute in their newly washed clothes, cold, stiff, and losing patience. And just like a snap of the fingers, the planks under Kairi’s feet snapped into splinters, causing Kairi to slip and fall through the bridge.

Sprawling for hold, Kairi dropped her Oathkeeper to the river and hung onto the side of the bridge for dear life. Sora, wild with panic, tumbled back and clasped onto Kairi’s wrists.

“Hold on,” he said as calmly as possible. “I gotcha. Just hold on!”

“Sora, please don’t let go.”

“You’re okay,” Sora whispered. “Let’s?”

Before Sora could pull Kairi up from the gap, Sora felt the planks under him creak, crack, and finally… shatter. Still holding onto each other, Sora and Kairi both plummeted through the broken bridge into the raging river.

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“Do you think those kids are alright?” Pacha mumbled to Chicha, who was pretty much asleep next to him.

“…Who…? Ours?” Chicha mumbled back. “Pacha, go to sleep…”

Pacha sat up. “No, I mean those kids who stopped here today. I wonder if the path’s safe at night?”

Chicha sighed. “If you’re so worried, it won’t hurt to check around. Just hurry back if you do…”

“You’re right, I should go check. At least up to the bridge,” Pacha replied to Chicha, who was snoring already.

Quietly, Pacha put on his poncho, cap, and sandals and slipped out of the cottage.

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“Hang on, Kairi!” Sora yelled above the roaring rapids. It was many times louder here than it was a hundred feet up in the air. “Kairi, can you hear me?”

Kairi nodded spastically.

A remnant of the broken bridge drifted past Sora. With a quick grab, he hung onto the giant piece of wood and helped Kairi onto it. As the currents continued to pull them downstream, Sora hung on to the board’s edge. Kairi was in a daze; nonetheless, she hung on just as tightly.

Who knows, Sora and Kairi could be carried in the right direction, or just as likely, the opposite direction. Their only concerns at the moment were to stay alive and hopefully reach dry land at some point. However, their fortunes were nowhere near in sight as crashing water could be heard only a few yards away. A waterfall? Sora peered over his shoulder to analyze the situation. And yes, indeed, they were approaching a waterfall.

Meanwhile, Kairi shook her head lightly and opened her eyes. A cross look on Sora’s face worried her.

“What’s going on, Sora? Oh no…”

“Yeah.”

“A waterfall?” Kairi asked. “Are we about to go over it?”

“Yeah,” Sora responded.

Kairi winced and shut her eyes again. Instinctively, she made a grab in the air and clasped onto a recalled Oathkeeper. She mumbled random spells: Blizzard, water, even gravity. But the most she could do was turn a few areas of the river to ice, incapable of rendering the massive waterfall into an icy slide. With water, Kairi could only go as far as to channel a few streams into the air, completely irrelevant as to saving them. And gravity… Kairi did not know how to handle the gravity spell and the experimentation was fruitless.

Seeing Kairi’s attempts, Sora pulled out his Keyblade to try any possible method in rescuing the two of them before they plunge over the waterfall. Blizzard. Water. Gravity. Sora tried and tried, but did little more than what Kairi had already strove to do. In a few seconds, Sora found his own eyes shutting automatically as he felt the piece of the bridge, himself, and Kairi fall.

Crash. From the roaring torrents, Sora and Kairi blacked out.

They drifted again, this time in calmer waters, downstream until the two of them, still clinging onto the broken piece of wood, reached a dirt shore.

And hour passed.

Two, three hours passed.

Sora gradually woke up to the sounds of rustles, queer noises, and something pecking at his head. It was still in the middle of the night, with the moon still high in the night sky. I thought I was out cold for much longer than this… Sora thought. He wondered if he went into the next day. Probably not. He waved off a bird (a crow, perhaps) that was pecking fervently at his head.

Nearby, Kairi was still knocked out. Sora slid by and checked on her condition. Kairi was barely breathing. Her pulse was slow and she looked gravely pale. Unnerved, suddenly fully aware of where he is, how he arrived there, and the immediate situation around him, Sora vigorously, though gently, pushed on Kairi’s chest, hoping to ease open her windpipes. The process did not please Sora, due to the fact that the results were barely noticeable. Kairi remained unconscious. Left with no other choice, Sora gently lowered his face towards Kairi’s…

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Pacha felt his back stiffen as his eyes took in the sight. The dirt path he told Sora and Kairi to follow was visible and easily seen. However, as it neared the gorge, Pacha glared at the bridge’s spot?or the spot where the bridge was supposed to be. Pacha looked down the gorge at the dark river below and shuddered.

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A few minutes later, Kairi coughed and coughed herself to consciousness, followed by a spastic inhalation of long-deprived oxygen. Sora could only sit by and hope she was faring well. As soon as the coughing fit ended, Kairi sighed and looked longingly at Sora before collapsing on his chest in exhaustion.

“That was… not fun,” said Kairi, her voice still shaky from the chokes.

“Nope,” agreed Sora. “But we’re okay, right?”

Kairi nodded. Something in their surroundings bothered her. Something in the trees.

“Sora, I think we’re being watched…”

Sora alertly scanned the area. The Oblivion released a small sparkle of light.

“Heartless,” Sora muttered.

“Cure,” Kairi called. “Ugh, it doesn’t help with tiredness… only with physical injuries.”

Sora shook his head and continued to examine the environment, from the trees, to the rocks, to the shoreline, the river, to the sky. There must be something nearby, or else the Keyblade would not shine. The only living beings in the area only seemed to be Kairi and he and… some nearby crows. Sora looked towards a gathering group of crows that perched on a nearby deciduous tree. With a closer look, Sora noticed that more and more crows were gathering around them.

“Aaawk,” one crow screeched hoarsely.

What are they? Sora wondered. These “crows” had glowing eyes; some yellow, some red, and some eerily white. All were reasonably large. Then, one of the birds stood out.

“That’s… Maleficent’s crow!” Sora cried out and shot a bolt of lightning at the crow with his Keyblade. “She can’t be here, can she?”

Kairi carefully stood up and blocked off a flock of angry crows retaliating from the lightning bolt. Each knocked out crow dissipated. Heartless, Kairi noted to herself. Big, ugly, Heartless crows.

Sora, annoyed with the sheer number of Heartless crows, fired off a strong series of thunder spells, wiping out most or all of the demented crows. All but one: Maleficent’s crow. Before Sora could point his Keyblade at that crow, the bird let off a chilling screech, transforming all the leftover black crow feathers into revived Heartless crows. What started off as fifty or so crows now became a daunting two hundred or so Heartless crows.

Maleficent’s crow seemed to be laughing; its unbearable, swaggering shrills were more than enough to force Sora and Kairi to cover their ears.

“That bird is cursed,” Sora quietly, panting from fatigue. “We have to get away.”

Before Sora and Kairi could turn to the nearby forest, Maleficent’s crow let out another chilling screech. In a moment, two jaguars from the trees dropped in front of Sora and Kairi. Both felines had the same glowing eyes as the Heartless crows did. The Heartless jaguars, unlike the pesky crows, posed as serious peril for Sora and Kairi.

“We have to run,” Sora whispered to Kairi again.

The jaguars entered a pouncing stance.

“How can we outrun them?” Kairi whispered back. “Where will we go?”

Sora made a strong, horizontal slash at the pouncing jaguars, knocking both a few feet away.

“Go!” Sora yelled to Kairi.

Both of them quickly made a dash into the forest. Behind them they could hear the fluttering of wings and feathers, the chilling screech from Maleficent’s crow, and the rapid poundings of paws on dirt. Sora led the way, leading Kairi and him through a tangle of vines, broken branches, and loose roots. When they came upon a ledge, not too high but not too close to the ground below, the beatings of giant crow wings became louder and louder. Sora grabbed Kairi and leapt off the ledge, with Kairi screaming all the way down.

Without losing a moment, Sora bid Kairi to keep moving. Snapping back to her senses, Kairi stood back up and continued on with Sora. They dashed through the open meadow, past a field of llamas and alpacas, past a lone barn, and finally…

“Sora!”

“The palace!”

Just beyond a hill was the palace. Apparently, Sora and Kairi took a long route to the palace. Instead of a straight dirt path, they took a water route around the region. The sounds of wings, crow screeches, and pouncing jaguar paws slowly died out, ensuring that Sora and Kairi were now beyond the detection and reach of the cursed Heartless creatures.

Dawn was breaking; the sun could be seen rising above the eastern grass-covered hills. Sora and Kairi, through a considerably more difficult night than what they had imagined, in due course reached Emperor Kuzco’s palace.

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