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Chapter LXI: A Hero's Rebirth

“What’ll we do? What’ll we do?” Panic yelped as he sidestepped out of the reach of Sora’s slashes. “There’s more of them than us!”

“Quit your yammerin’!” Pain grumbled in response. The moment he dropped his guard, Kairi released a ball of flame out of her Oathkeeper. “Oof!”

As Pain was blasted into the rocky wall, Panic began to show more fear and anxiety than he did throughout the duration of the battle. He transformed back into his measly, impish form and hurried over to his comrade. All that showed after the smoke cleared from Kairi’s powerful Fire spell were two twitchy pink feet dangling from a hole in the wall.

“Pain!” Panic exclaimed as he started to yank on his friend’s feet. “Don’t worry, buddy! I’ll get you outta there!”

Pain let out an odd muffling sound, as if he was swearing behind all the rubble and dust. Sora simply stood where he was as he idly watched the scrawny green imp attempt to pull his comrade out of the wall. What a joke, Sora mentally remarked. He called off his Keyblade and turned back to Kairi, who was also standing her ground right behind him. Donald and Goofy still had their respective weapons drawn and were beating off the last of the Shadow Heartless that remained in the vicinity.

“Where’s King Mickey?” Sora asked after he noticed the missing member of the party. He scanned the area again, but there was no sign of the mouse king anywhere.

Kairi turned around and looked to Donald and Goofy, who in turn spastically inspected the locale—though they couldn’t spot anything besides what Sora did already.

“We lost him again!” Donald babbled so quickly and vociferously that it was nearly incoherent.

“He probably went on to catch up to Hercules,” Kairi suggested wisely. “I think we should, too. Right, Sora?”

“Right,” Sora agreed immediately. He checked on Pain and Panic again. The results were pleasing, as the two demons did not progress at all. Pain continued to protest while Panic was nearly out of strength trying to yank his blubbery friend out to freedom.

“Come on, then let’s go!” Donald quacked heatedly as he led the charge deeper into the Underworld corridors.

Just as their group departed, Panic finally managed to dig Pain out of the rubble. The two demons listened until the footsteps faded out and glanced at each other.

“You think we stalled them long enough?” Panic asked in a worried tone.

“Oh yeah,” Pain snickered. “We took off a good twenty minutes or so?”

“Eesh, it felt like an hour to me,” Panic moaned. “My back is killing me—“

Your back?!” Pain bellowed. He elbowed Panic right in the back, inducing a yelp from the green imp. “You don’t have the right to talk about ‘pain!’ What about me?!

“Okay! Uncle!”

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Hades paced around in fury, his flaming hair spontaneously turning a blistering red. The Three Fates, Atropos, Clotho, and Lachesis, absentmindedly stood by while watching the God of the Dead curse and complain. The river Styx glowed eerily nearby, the souls of the dead crying out in damned states. Every few moments, the familiar face of a soul swims by, much to Hades’ spite.

“We were so close! So close…” Hades spat. “We tripped the finish line. Why? Because our little nut Meg has to go all noble—”

The wall near where Hades was pacing around suddenly blew apart, catching the ruler of the Underworld off guard. As he quickly regained his balance, he felt his fury rising again as he witnessed his three-headed guard dog leashed by Hercules.

“Where’s Meg?” Hercules asked calmly, but threateningly.

“Oh, look who's here,” Hades said just as calmly to the Three Fates as well as to himself. “Wonderboy, you are too much—”

And as quickly as the force of the charge blew him back, Hades found himself lifted into the air by the collar, looking into the eyes of a beyond-outraged Hercules.

“Let her go,” Hercules said slowly, this time with an added hint of threat.

“Get a grip!” Hades spat as he slapped Hercules’ muscular arms away. “Come here, come here. Let me show you around.”

Hercules carefully eyed Hades as his so-called uncle led him around the nearby vicinity. The two of them stopped at the edge of the river Styx. Hercules eyes widened at the sight of all the tormented souls that swam in a constant, eternal loop in the deathly river.

“Hmph. Well, well,” Hades commented as the figure of Meg drifted by fleetingly. “It's a small underworld after all, huh?”

“Meg!” Hercules gasped. He reached into the river to attempt to drag Meg’s soul out to him. However, the river was made up of an aura composed of pure death. Hercules yelled out in alarm and watched as his living hand morph into a near skeletal form when it touched the river. Much to his relief, his hand quickly returned to its original shape when he pulled it back.

“No, no, no. Mustn't touch,” Hades chuckled amusedly at Hercules’ dumbfounded look. “You see, Meg's running with a new crowd these days. And not a very lively one, at that.”

Hercules continued to follow Meg’s soul with his eyes as Hades rambled on. What could he possibly do? He had to think. There was probably no way that Hades would allow him to leave the Underworld in one piece. What would a true hero do?

“You like making deals,” Hercules suddenly spoke. “Take me in Meg's place.”

“Oh,” Hades grunted in surprise. He thought for a moment and mumbled to himself, “The son of my hated rival trapped forever in a river of death…”

“Going once!” Hercules shouted.

“…Hmm. Is there a downside to this…?”

“Going twice!”

“Okay, okay, okay, okay,” Hades muttered impatiently. “You get her out—she goes, you stay—“

After the first “okay,” Hercules was already preparing to dive into the river Styx.

“Oh, you know what slipped my mind?” Hades called out, though already out of Hercules’ hearing range. “You'll be dead before you can get to her. That's not a problem, is it?”

Hercules swam deeper as fast as he could, albeit he could feel every drop of strength he had in his body getting sapped away rapidly. His once bulging forearms and biceps promptly shriveled as he prolonged his stay in the river of death. When Meg’s soul was in sight, Hercules proceeded to speed up and grab her. If only his body allowed him to. Though his mind told him to speed up, and though adrenaline filled every nerve and remaining muscle fiber in his body, Hercules found his speed gradually decrease instead of increase.

The eldest of the Three Fates, Atropos, unveiled her dirty sheaths. In the meantime, her sisters, Clotho and Lachesis prepared Hercules’ life thread. Once a mortal’s life thread gets snipped by Atropos’ sheaths, the life—any life—young, old, healthy, or sick, will face death. Quickly unraveled and spun, Clotho stretched Hercules’ thread out so Lachesis could measure its length. With a nod of approval, Clotho pulled the tips of the thread apart as tightly as possible and faced Atropos. The eldest Fate brought the blades of the sheath closer and closer to the thread…

Just down the river, Mickey plastered himself against a thick pillar, observing the entire scene. As soon as he realized that no matter what the outcome, neither Hercules nor Meg could leave the Underworld if the Three Fates cut Hercules’ life thread. In an attempt at sniping, Mickey unleashed a bolt of lightning towards Atropos’ sheaths. Of course, the Fates were not human, thus Lachesis immediately summoned a magic wall to deflect Mickey’s Thunder spell.

“Nuh-uh,” Lachesis screeched, shaking a bony index finger at Mickey. “You mustn’t disrupt the fate of any living being. What is their destiny, they cannot prevent from happening.”

Mickey saw one good thing that came out of his failed attempt to stop the ritual. Atropos was momentarily distracted, pulling away her sheaths for a moment. As soon as she realized that she was in no danger, however, she advanced on Hercules’ life thread.

Hercules felt the tips of Meg’s fingers. This is what a true hero would do, he told himself. A true hero will put others’ lives before his. The innocents’, the fairs’, and the meeks’ will all be saved before he saves his own…

Atropos aggressively jammed her fingers together to end Hercules’ life. Mickey looked away when he expected the worst. He could hear Hades laughing a laugh of victory.

“Oh?” Atropos gasped when the thread did not cut. Lachesis tilted her head in question.

“What’s the matter with these scissors?” Lachesis spat, as she tried to cut the thread herself.

“The thread won’t cut!” Clotho sputtered as she stretched and retracted Hercules’ life thread—which was now emitting a bright, radiant glow—back and forth, trying to snap it herself.

Mickey wanted to cheer out loud, but he did not want to be seen again by anyone, let alone Hades.

“Your Majesty,” someone whispered behind Mickey.

Mickey looked behind him and was reassured by the presence of Sora, Kairi, Donald, and Goofy. Without delay, he shared with them what had just happened, everything from Hercules’ deal with Hades, up to denying the fate that had supposedly been dealt to him.

“Everyone controls their own destiny,” Sora stated as-a-matter-of-factly.

“T-this is—this is impossible!” Hades sputtered in total confusion and anger, his normally blue hair blasting into the air in furious red, orange, and yellow colors. “Y-you, you, you c-can't be alive! You'd have to be a, a—“

“A god?” Sora, Kairi, Mickey, Donald, and Goofy all said simultaneously, as well as two unexpected guests, Pain and Panic, who managed to enter the scene at the last moment on the opposite side of this Underworld sector.

Hercules emerged out of the river Styx, his whole body restored to its divine characteristics. From head to tow, he glowed brilliantly, a sight that Sora, Donald, and Goofy had never encountered during their past adventures to this world. In Hercules’ arms was the soul of Meg, fragile and motionless. He was without emotion on his face, not happy, angry, or sad.

“Hercules, stop! You can't do this to me! You can't—“ Hades was cut short when the passing Hercules jabbed his powerful fist right into the middle of Hades’ face. Sputtering, Hades tried to resume negotiations with Hercules:

“Fine. Okay, listen. Hah! Okay, well, I deserved that… Herc, Herc, Herc. Can we talk? Y-your dad, he's a fun guy, right? So maybe you could put in a word with him and he'd kinda blow this whole thing off, you know? Meg, Meg, talk to him, a little schmooze—“

The whole attempt was negated when an enraged and annoyed Hercules wound his arm back and struck a devastating blow across Hades’ face to silence him, sending the God of the Dead soaring into the air and directly into the river Styx.

“Ew! Get away from me! Don't touch me!” Hades roared as he tried to keep his head above the death waters of the river. The souls that had been swimming in the river for countless eons swarmed Hades, dragging the ex-ruler of the Underworld deep into the river, his voice of protest gradually fading away. “Get your slimy souls off me…! Ooh, ah—“

“He’s not gonna be happy when he gets outta there,” Panic whimpered.

“You mean, if he gets outta there,” Pain corrected his friend.

Panic gave those words a thought and smirked in satisfaction. “If… if is good…”

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All at once, when Hercules blasted through the walls of the Underworld with Meg in his arms, Sora and the rest of the party quickly turned back to where they came from, vacating the accursed Underworld. For the most part, there were no drastic threats that hindered them, aside from a few varieties of leftover Heartless. Once they caught the glimpse of light peeking through the Underworld entrance, they ignored all the pursuing Heartless and dashed for their exit.

The Heartless that roam the Underworld dared not to step into the light, which was blinding to all of them. With no other choice, they slinked back into the darkness of the Underworld, allowing Sora and the rest of the party their safety and their freedom. With sighs of relief, the group collapsed onto the sandy terrain, much to their joy after traversing through the clammy, damp, and moldy environment in the Underworld.

Hercules, on the contrary, did not waste any time enjoying the sunlight and the different earth. He blew out a strong whistle, which swiftly called upon Pegasus to the scene. He placed the near weightless soul of Meg near Pegasus’ sturdy neck and comfortably boarded himself.

Sora and Kairi watched as the silhouette of the flying horse vanished through the clouds. Mickey, Donald, and Goofy already embarked on the Celsius, waiting for the two young warriors to step onboard as well.

“What I would do to be like him,” Sora commented, more to himself than to anyone else.

“You’re already like him,” Kairi said encouragingly. She lightly nudged Sora’s arm. “C’mon, let’s catch up to him.”

“Hah, what am I saying,” Sora said with a grin as he followed Kairi back to the Celsius. “Everyone’s unique. I should just be me.”

“Got that right,” said Mickey. “Let’s get goin’ everyone—“

“Look!” Donald quacked excitedly.

“Sora, look!” Kairi called out, pointing to the entrance of the Underworld.

Luckily the Gummi Ship was still on land. Sora quickly leapt out with his Keyblade in hand and faced the Underworld’s entrance. Slowly, the shape of a keyhole appeared before him.

“Er, how come now it appears?” Goofy asked, scratching his head in bewilderment.

“It’s time for the Underworld to sink back to where it came from,” Mickey answered. “Hmph, under this world. Where it belongs.”

As soon as the keyhole came fully into view, Sora positioned himself directly in front of it and carefully leveled the tip of the Oblivion towards it. A magical beam shot out and entered the keyhole. A click, and it was done.

Sora climbed back onboard the Celsius and nodded to Mickey. In a moment, they took off into the sky, back to Thebes, where Phil was surely there, waiting and taking care of Meg’s lifeless body.

Looking out the windows, Sora and Kairi watched the entrance of the Underworld explode with a thunderous crackle, with pillars of smoke and smog streaming out of it. The rocky makeup of the entrance collapsed, with the entire mass of land there sinking into the earth with it. As the Celsius soared further away and the smoke and smog dissolved into the air around it, Sora and Kairi smiled together at the conclusion of the Underworld’s vanishing act.

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