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Chapter LVIII: Shallow Grave Psyche

Back and forth Riku went from the forests neighboring the garden back up to the roof. It was getting late. Instead of taking in the sunny rays, Riku faced the phosphorescent moonlight. A whole day has passed and he has gone nowhere. Besides speeding through the surrounding forests from time to time, Riku stayed on the roof of Balamb Garden, doing nothing but sifting through his thoughts. Occasionally, he would hold out his Keyblade and stare into the mystic blade.

Leon remained inside the garden, but he kept Riku in his view and periodically glanced in the Keyblade-wielder’s direction. He knew that even if Sora and the others continued to lock away the darkness from other worlds, it would still happen. Eventually, the Heartless will reach his world. Leon leaned back against a wall and looked out the window again. He wondered if Riku was waiting for something; wondering whether the young warrior was strategizing or waiting for the Heartless themselves. After another silent hour passed, Leon decided to let Riku take care of things himself and departed his post.

At the same time, Riku opened his eyes and left his thoughts. He looked into the skies, past the clouds, and towards the moon’s brilliance. Riku wiped his face down with his free hand and slid off the roof and drifted down through the trees below.

I will keep moving, Riku ultimately told himself. He made certain of it by swearing that he would not stop until he locks the world’s keyhole. Every world has a keyhole. No matter how big the world, I will find it.

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Sora, Kairi, and Phil sat by Meg’s side the entire time. Every second that passed dwindled down Meg’s chances for survival. As much as Sora wanted to deny it?Meg was slipping away. All of them were completely silent. Not even a single breath could be heard. Sora and Kairi sat side by side, gently leaning on each other while they watched Meg, hoping for the best. Phil had one hand resting on top of Meg’s hand. Every few minutes he would pat the young woman’s hand just to make sure she knew that they were all still with her.

“She’ll make it,” Kairi kept whispering in the softest voice possible… more for herself to hear. “She’ll be fine.”

Sora did nothing else but nod every single time Kairi said those words. He had to keep his own hopes up as well. He continually tried to cast Cure on Meg, even though he knew it would not work. Sora permanently stopped trying when he felt all his remaining energy slip away. He gave it his all. He sat there, panting and sweating cold sweat, just watching Meg’s breaths become more and more shallow as time continued to run out. Sora, Kairi, and Phil… they could not do anything, but watch…

When Phil began to shake his head, Sora’s felt his ears pop, his throat squeeze shut, and his gut wrench. Kairi put a hand over her mouth, shut her eyes, and turned away from everyone and everything.

“No way,” Sora murmured in a raspy voice.

Phil stopped patting Meg’s hand and let out a disheartened sigh. He then took both of Meg’s hands and placed them, one over the other, across her motionless chest. Kairi glanced over just once, but quickly gasped and turned away once again. Sora could not do anything else but stare. What will Hercules do?

“What can we do?” Phil said sadly.

Right at that moment, neighing could be heard just over Thebes’ seashore. Sora looked up and guessed correctly: Hercules, riding Pegasus, finally returned. Following right behind them, however, was the Celsius. Sora quickly stood up, thoughts rapidly racing through his mind. What would he ask? What would he say? I’m sorry, Hercules? King Mickey, what happened with you guys? No… Hercules, she’s… she’s…

Sora kicked a nearby rock as hard as he could. It flew straight into a partially collapsed building, making a loud cracking noise as the rock split into many pieces.

“Meg!” Hercules cried out as he leapt off of Pegasus’ back. “Meg! Meg. Meg… No…”

The white winged-horse landed softly and sputtered silently as he lowered his head in gloomy stillness. The Celsius landed quietly as well, followed by the slow, noiseless footsteps of Mickey, Donald, and Goofy exiting from the ship. Each one of them had a different expression on their face. Mickey appeared wholly stricken with grief. Donald hung his mouth slightly ajar in complete shock. Goofy eyes were drooped, and held his hat to his chest as he made a small, sniffling noise.

Hercules was in a category of his own. As he approached the unmoving Meg, his face tightened with overwhelming emotions. Devastating heartache. Interminable anger. Paramount confusion. Sora, Kairi, Mickey, Donald, Goofy, and Phil all retreated back a few of feet around Hercules to reserve him space with Meg. They all stood equidistant from him as the despairing hero tenderly lifted his loved one into his arms. He kept shaking his head in disbelief, forcing Kairi to look away once again. No one said a word for a period of time.

“Meg, no,” Hercules whispered persistently.

“I’m sorry, kid…” Phil stepped forward. “There’re some things you just can’t change…”

Hercules squinted his eyes and looked away from Meg’s face and towards the sky. He then looked directly into the horizon far beyond the shoreline.

“Yes,” he said, while gently lowering Meg back onto the ground. “I can.”

“I’m sorry, Hercules,” said Sora as the heartbroken hero stormed right past him.

“Don’t be, Sora,” Hercules answered immediately. “No one’s at fault here but one god…”

“Kid,” Phil wheezed. “Don’t tell me you’re gonn?”

Hercules leapt onto the back of Pegasus and patted the magnificent horse’s neck.

“Yes, Phil,” Hercules responded seriously. “Don’t talk me out of it. Let’s go, Pegasus.”

Knowing exactly what Hercules’ plans were, Pegasus took off into the sky and rocketed away from Thebes in a blink of an eye.

The entire time that he looked at Hercules’ aggrieved face, Sora could not help but speculate what he would do if he was in such a situation. He wondered. For a moment, he looked in Kairi’s direction. The only girl he was ever close with. What if? Sora asked himself. But before he could finish such a thought, let alone answer it, he violently shook his head to rid himself of such negative thinking. Kairi watched him with surprise and concern at the same time.

“We need to go after him before he gets himself into trouble,” Sora proposed.

Kairi nodded in agreement, prompted by the support from Mickey, Donald, and Goofy. Only Phil shook his head in disapproval.

“He’s gotta do this on his own, boy. You’re in no position to hold him back.”

“We’re not going with him to hold him back,” Sora defended himself. “We just need to make sure he stays okay?”

“No?” Phil stated absolutely.

“Why not?” Kairi butted in.

“One word!” Phil yelled out. “Hero! He’s a hero. The kid’s gotta do this on his own.”

Donald raised his index finger to count one and snuck a glance at Goofy. Goofy took a moment to take in what Phil just said and also raised an index finger and counted to one. Both of them opened their mouths, but spoke no words. They were taken by surprise to hear that Phil actually counted his words correctly this time.

“Then he’ll do it on his own,” said Sora. “But that’s no gonna stop me from following him.”

“Just what makes you think you can do that?” Phil argued.

Sora grasped Kairi’s hand and lifted it into the air. He used his other hand and pointed to Donald, to Goofy, and to Mickey.

“Why? ‘Cause we’re all friends here,” Sora replied.

“Friends help one another,” Kairi replied as well. “Even in the darkest of times.”

“Just like we did many times before!” Goofy answered.

“We stick up for each other and make sure we’re all safe!” Donald quacked enthusiastically.

“We’re each other’s light,” Mickey said with a smile. “When the goin’ gets tough, we look for the light.”

Phil massaged the back of his neck and let out a heaving sigh. Who can stop the great force of camaraderie? Surely he could never interfere, nor should he ever even think about it.

“I guess the kid’s pretty lucky to have you guys behind him,” Phil finally said with a smile. “Well, go after him then!”

Sora and Kairi both smiled blissfully. Immediately, Mickey, Donald, and Goofy all rushed back towards the Celsius, soon followed by Sora and Kairi.

“Hey, now!” Phil called out before Sora and Kairi boarded the Gummi Ship. “Bring him back in shape, alright? He’s got stuff I’ve never seen before. He’s a natural! Ya hear me?”

Sora gave Phil the “okay” sign with his hands.

“You sure you don’t want a ride?” Sora called back.

Phil shook his head and winked. “Just tell Hercules to pick me up later.”

Sora chuckled. He gave Phil one last wave goodbye before closing the Gummi Ship doors behind him. Once he heard the door click shut, Sora leaned against the cool metal and pondered. Ever since Kairi and he took in the sight of Riku’s lifeless father, he had thought about the concept of death. Now just realizing and taking in the image of the sheer stillness of Meg, the thoughts pounced back into his mind, nearly shattering it. Sora wanted to stop thinking about everything for a moment?at least for a moment to ease up and organize everything in his head. Compared to his previous adventures, this one grew steadily more and more fatiguing by the day?mentally and physically.

Only a few feet away sat Kairi. She could tell just from Sora’s posture, his slightly flimsy slouch, his blank look on his face, and the way he leaned partially on his right arm against the ship’s door, that he was caught between lost like a small child, and troubled thoughts of a loner trapped in a foreign society. Though he was only a few feet away, Sora seemed miles away to Kairi, and such a perception bothered her. Without thinking otherwise, Kairi reached over and clutched Sora’s dangling hand and pulled him away from the door, beckoning him to sit down beside her. Idly, Sora followed through and quietly slumped down into a seat next to Kairi.

“It’s pretty cold,” Sora murmured.

Kairi did not know if Sora was directing that remark towards her to for himself, but she stayed silent, though attentive.

“Sometimes I feel that fighting along, fighting hard… just isn’t enough,” Sora continued. He inhaled a short breath of air and exhaled it quickly, like a sigh and an inverted gasp combined. “People are dying, Kairi.”

Kairi dipped her head a bit, uneasily, taking in those unusually serious words coming out of Sora. Never in the past did she ever hear such a serious, solemn voice that was so terribly uncharacteristic of Sora. Yet, when she tried to respond, she couldn’t. So Sora went on.

“Remember Riku’s dad?” Sora asked, in a nearly inaudible whisper. Kairi felt herself shudder at the image of Riku’s father, just lying there, cold and empty. “Many people back home, maybe… we don’t know. Now Meg. Your dad, Kai?”

“My dad’s not gone,” Kairi cut in, almost too sternly. She held her breath and held back for a split second after hearing her own voice. “He’s not. He’s still out there… somewhere…”

“I know he’s not gone,” Sora said quietly. “But he’s lost, like you said, ‘somewhere.’ And who knows how many people from the worlds we visited and worlds we haven’t visited yet have disappeared or… died?”

“Please stop,” Kairi gasped in a pleading voice. She placed on hand on Sora’s and gripped it tightly. Sora looked down and said nothing. “Why are you being like this?”

Sora continued to stay silent. He closed his eyes and breathed slowly and subtly. He felt empty.

“Why,” Kairi inquired fretfully. “Why are you talking like this, Sora? You were never like this… why now? What’s wrong?”

“Everything,” Sora answered quickly, directly, quietly, and simply. “It’s too much.”

Kairi looked towards the Gummi Ship’s cabin at Mickey, Donald, and Goofy, who were all focused on their individual duties. She then turned back and stared straight into Sora’s deep, blue eyes.

“Sora… you’re not giving up are you?” Kairi asked. “Not after everything? You and Riku have both been through a lot more than I have, and I know that. But you can’t be giving up, can you? Tell me you’re not, Sora…”

Kairi’s grip on Sora’s hand tightened much more, to a point where even Kairi furrowed her thin, elegant eyebrows from the pressure. Sora gazed back into Kairi’s own blue eyes.

“I’m not,” Sora said at last. He tried to smile, but failed miserably, as it turned out to be a crooked mess between a grin and a twisted half-frown.

At least Kairi saw this as a good sign. She bent over and gave Sora a tight hug and held the both of them in that position for a period of time. Sora still remained silent, but he placed one hand around Kairi’s waist and left it there.

“Are you okay now?” Kairi asked as sweetly as possible. She finally let go, but she was worried beyond reason. Sora was her anchor here; out in worlds she could never have dreamed of visiting, surrounded by threats that could materialize out of anything and anywhere. If anything happened to him, she could not imagine what could she possibly do in response. “At least say something normal now…”

“What’s not normal about me?” Sora asked in a clueless voice.

Kairi grinned enthusiastically at this and gave Sora another quick hug.

“The next time you feel like talking about stuff like dying and giving up,” Kairi rambled, shaking her index finger in front of Sora’s nose. “I’ll smack some decent sense into you!”

Kairi playfully flicked Sora’s nose and sat back.

“Never said I was givin’ up,” said Sora, gently tapping his nose in response. He leaned over and teasingly flicked Kairi’s ear. “That’s the last thing on my mind, no matter what I’m thinking.”

Kairi smirked as she covered her ear from future flicks. “That’s good,” she said.

Sora sat quietly for a minute, sorting his thoughts out again. He was slightly more at ease now, though. Whatever Kairi said to him had helped, further solidifying the fact that Kairi was worth much more to the Keyblade master than just a combat partner?much more than what Sora had already realized.

“Thanks, Kairi,” Sora said quietly. “…thanks…”

“You’re welcome, Sora,” Kairi answered back. “Just don’t make me worry like that again. I’ll grow white hair…”

Sora ran one finger through Kairi’s silky red hair. Kairi naturally tilted her head in Sora’s direction, however delicately.

“Nah, that wouldn’t look too great on you,” Sora joked.

“Duh,” Kairi scoffed lightheartedly.

Sora felt a lot more relaxed with each passing minute. It was a great feeling for him, as if his whole body, his whole mind was being refreshed and rejuvenated. No matter what thoughts may have ran through his head before no longer seemed to have any lingering presence in his mind anymore. But for some time afterwards, Sora thought about Riku. Without someone like Kairi beside him at all times, Sora felt that he probably would collapse at some point, defeated. Who does Riku have to help him? Sora wondered about his best friend’s faring. It was better than thinking about mortality, as long as he kept his thoughts about Riku positive.

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