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Chapter VIII: Back to a Battered Home
Launched. The Celsius blew past the hangar’s exiting gate. In a moment, the Highwind promptly followed. Both Gummi Ships then broke off in opposite directions?one heading to one world, the other heading to another. Chip and Dale waved them off; then the two small chipmunks retreated back into the hangar and quietly locked the gates. They have their job to do now. They must keep up their surveillance, which will be twice as hard as before?for there are two, instead of one, Gummi Ships to monitor this time.
The Highwind is a small, basic Gummi Ship designed to simply fly through the voids between worlds. However, the Highwind still enjoys an arsenal of accessories ranging from bullets to bright lasers, powerful boosting engines to energy shielding. Thanks to Sora, Donald, and Goofy from their previous adventures, the Highwind was significantly upgraded into a more potent fighting aircraft.
Sora sat himself in the center, manning the controls of the ship. On opposite sides of him were Riku and Kairi, Riku focusing on the weaponry systems and Kairi conducting the navigation. Though Kairi tried her best to keep watch, occasionally objects on the radar confuse her.
“Sora, there are a bunch of dots nearing the left of the ship…”
Riku got up from his seat and walked over to Kairi and analyzed the radar.
“I think we’ve got some trouble, you two.”
Sora took command. “Alright then. Get the weapons ready, Riku. And our destination to Destiny Islands are set, right, Kairi?” Kairi nodded. “Okay, let’s go.”
A dark fleet of Heartless aircrafts loomed in the corners of the void, gradually approaching the Highwind. The waypoints to Destiny Islands have been plotted, so all Sora had to do was pilot the Highwind safely through the enemy fleet. It was not surprising for Sora to keep a calm exterior look during the chaos. Heartless attacks in between worlds were almost daily annoyances when Sora was traveling with Donald and Goofy. As for Riku, he was naturally used to chaos and combat. With ease, Riku carried out his duty and exterminated numerous Heartless crafts with mastery of the Highwind’s weapon systems. On the other hand, the evidently non-warrior type Kairi held steadfastly onto her seat and had her eyes tightly shut.
“You’ll get used to it, Kairi,” Sora joked.
“You better! We’ll be going through a lot of these battles from now on,” Riku joined in.
Kairi scoffed. “I’m not scared.”
“Then why are your eyes closed, Kairi?” Sora asked.
“Ugh, Sora, keep your eyes focused ahead, will ya?” Riku groaned.
“There’s too many bright lasers firing out there,” responded Kairi.
“Well, either I defend us or we go crashing,” Riku countered.
Kairi opened her eyes and crossed her arms. “These Heartless don’t seem that hard to beat…”
A single laser from the Highwind easily dissipated any targeted Heartless craft. And with Riku’s excellence at shooting, the trio easily warded off the enemy attacks. By the time the Highwind broke through the first main Heartless division, Sora pulled the trigger and the Gummi Ship accelerated at maximum speed into the void, too fast for any Heartless ship to pursue. Sora and Riku slumped into their seats, both heaving sighs of relief. Sora put the Highwind on autopilot as he turned his seat around to Riku, who was sitting a little further back to his left.
“So how do you like these Gummi Ships, Riku?” inquired Sora.
“They’re okay. Could’ve chosen a better name than ‘Gummi’ though,” Riku said flatly.
“I think these ships are cool, Sora,” Kairi said.
“Haha, thanks, Kairi,” Sora said, briefly glancing at her. “But Riku here doesn’t!”
“I said, ‘they’re okay!’”
“Oh, man. I can’t win against this kid…” Riku grumbled quietly to himself.
“What was that, Riku?”
“Hey, guys, I think that’s the islands…?” Kairi whispered.
Approaching the sight of Destiny Islands, the trio shuddered at the view. A dark, stormy cloud enveloped the once cozy paradise. The Highwind broke through the dark clouds and landed on the storm-torn beach. Aside from the dark smog and eerie atmosphere, chaotic maelstroms by the shorelines wreaked havoc across the piers and bridges linking the islands.
The three friends disembarked and summoned their Keyblades. At the moment, there were no Heartless warriors in sight, but the trio remained vigilant.
“I wanna find the leader in charge of this invasion. Every single Heartless here’s going down!” Riku roared as he charged into the nearest town.
“Riku!” Sora and Kairi called for him to stop, but with no success. The angered swordsman heard nothing but the voice of his own will.
“We have to go after him. Things don’t seem to be in our favor,” Sora noted. Kairi nodded and the two of them pursued Riku, who was slowly disappearing into the abandoned town.
It was a town that Sora rarely ventured into in his life on Destiny Islands. He has been to the majority of the towns and villages, but this town, Korale, lies in the heart of the southern coast. Sora and his friends live on the northern coast. Though they often travel to the southern coast, the trio entered Korale only a couple of times, usually to purchase supplies or due to the purpose of other errands. It was once a peaceful, sunny town like all the other towns and villages of Destiny Islands, but now Korale appeared desolate. It was fogged and abandoned by all its denizens.
Sora, though unfamiliar with the layout of Korale, led the way with Kairi following closely behind him. Indeed it was a gloomy sight; the huts and few buildings were torn down, some plundered and ravaged, while others were piles of smoldering ashes.
“Sora, I’m scared,” Kairi whimpered quietly.
Sora offered his hand behind him. “Here, just follow closely,” he said.
Kairi clung to Sora’s offered hand and the two friends found themselves surrounded by flaming orbs. Sora browsed the surroundings again, but unluckily he lost sight of Riku, who probably speedily crossed Korale already. Sora felt the grip on his hand tighten as Kairi inched ever closer to him for protection. The flame orbs that surrounded them were unnatural, somehow forming a perfect circle around the two friends. Sora cursed himself for lacking the ability to cast magical spells.
You still can, I’ll help.
A familiar voice resonated in Sora’s mind. For a brief moment, he felt Roxas’ faint presence as he unconsciously murmured the Reflect spell.
“Kairi, quick! Dive through those flames,” Sora shouted. Kairi looked puzzled. She glanced at the beaming, fire orbs and then glanced skeptically at Sora. “Just trust me, Kairi.”
Kairi leapt forwards towards the flaming orbs and Sora muttered the Reflect spell, directing it around Kairi’s body. Kairi let out a yelp as the orbs next to her exploded into grand conflagrations, yet she sustained no injuries. The orbs closed in around Sora, but with another Reflect spell, Sora dove through the orbs the same way, also sustaining no damage. Kairi grabbed Sora’s arm to help him off the ground.
“We have to run, Sora. There are two red Heartless flying toward us?I think they’re the ones that made those fire orbs!”
Pivoting, Sora turned to see the two particularly recognizable Crimson Jazzes. These colossal, flying red Heartless mages are capable of releasing fire-element mines that explode on their enemies. Sora knew how to defeat these foes, but he feared for Kairi’s safety.
Kairi waited for Sora to run with her, but Sora shook his head and said, “No. We can’t outrun these guys. They’re fast, and they’re dangerous. Please, just stay put and out of sight…”
Sora took a single leap to face his two opponents, awaiting their attacks. As soon as the Crimson Jazzes began channeling their orbs, Sora assumed his battle stance in midair. When the explosions started, Sora initiated his retaliation. Kairi was still in the open, kneeling, but her eyes were shut. Luckily for her, the Crimson Jazzes had their attention focused on Sora alone. In a matter of moments, the myriad retaliating strikes from Sora cleanly removed the two Crimson Jazzes from existence, with Sora himself safe, unscathed, and unharmed in any way.
“Kairi, didn’t I tell you to hide or something?” he smiled as Kairi sat up and opened her eyes. “At least you’re still okay.” He offered his hand again to Kairi and pulled her to her feet.
“Sora, I had no idea how you…”
Sora let loose a chuckle and ignored Kairi’s astonished remark. “It’s nothing, really. C’mon, we have to find Riku. Who knows what kind of trouble he might’ve run into.”
Riku’s first thought was to cut through the vegetation that divided the northern and southern coasts of the islands. From there, he will first travel to his home to investigate his, Sora, and Kairi’s village. However, on the way, Riku couldn’t help but notice the lacking of Heartless. Before the trio departed, there were hundreds, perhaps thousands of Heartless creatures wandering and pillaging the islands. But now, Riku has not seen even a single Heartless. Where could they all be?
A moment too late as Riku realized that either he or Sora and Kairi were being watched; a dark puddle formed underneath his feet and dragged him into the darkness.
Sora and Kairi quickened their pace. Riku left no footprints or hints as to where he headed, leaving Sora and Kairi confused and idealess. If Sora learned anything on his past adventures, it was to think promptly and efficiently. As a result, Sora leaned on the wall of a ruined hut and pondered for a minute. Kairi, on the other hand, took the time to examine the immediate environment. Charred. Trampled. There was no paradise left. Even mere icons of paradise, like coconut trees and lush vegetations, were ripped to shreds, blazed, or simply mangled. There was one enormous coconut tree that survived and was unscarred…
Then Kairi had an idea. She made her way to the tree and began to climb. The ridges on the tree trunk made it easy for Kairi to maintain her balance and grip, so she made it to the tree canopy in little time. Though continuing to devise some workable plan, Sora watched Kairi make her way to the top of the tree, wondering what she was up to.
“Kairi, what are you doing up there?” he asked. “You’re gonna get yourself in danger! Try to stay out of sight!”
Kairi slightly ducked behind the giant leaves.
“This is probably the highest point on this side of the island. I think we can see for a few miles from here. Maybe we can find Riku from up here and maybe even a safe path to travel on.”
Sora left his spot and climbed up the tree just the same. He analyzed the surroundings and approved.
“Yeah, you’re right. This is a good spot. But…” he squinted his eyes. “I don’t think I see any signs of Riku, or any of the other townspeople.”
Joining in the investigation, Kairi scanned the island. Since most of the island was completely out in the open due to it being burned, crushed, or razed, searching for any signs of life was not supposed to be a difficult assignment.
“Maybe everyone’s hiding in the buildings,” Kairi suggested.
“Maybe,” Sora responded. “We’ll just have to see for ourselves, I guess.”
Before the two could make their descent, more airborne Heartless appeared. Sora looked down from the tree and found his eyes met with the glowing yellow eyes of Shadows and Neoshadows. They were surrounded: by land and air. The Shadow Heartless began their ascent on the tree trunk and Sora and Kairi were faced with another predicament. Sora stood up with Kairi clung tightly onto him.
“Sora, what are you doing!” she cried.
“Well?we don’t have any choices do we?” he said.
“W-what are you planning on doing…?”
Sora smirked a bit. Kairi looked as if she was on the verge of fainting.
“We’re gonna have to jump.”
“Oh no,” Kairi moaned. “You did not just say we have to jump.”
“Yeah, we’re gonna have to jump,” Sora repeated.
“But we’re about sixty feet in the air! We’ll be shattered into pieces?”
“Close your eyes then,” Sora said as he bid Kairi to hold on tightly (as if she weren’t already). “I have a good feeling about this.”
Kairi winced and tightened her grip around Sora. “Really? Well, I don’t.” She screamed as Sora made a long leap off the coconut tree.
The airborne Heartless accelerated after the two friends while the Shadows and Neoshadows left the base of the tree in chase. Sora himself had his eyes closed. Before Kairi and he landed on the hard ground, a dark puddle, similar to the one that swallowed Riku, opened up beneath them. Sora and Kairi continued to fall, through the air, through the ground, and into the darkness.
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