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KH: Soul Crossed Chap 7 part 1

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Kingdom Hearts: Soul Crossed




Chapter 7: Betwixt and Between



Radiant Garden


The trek back to the castle was haunted by a dour mood.  The trio trudged back through the Bailey, depression filling their souls and worry clinging to them like wet clothing.  Riku stared straight ahead, and he seemed to only react to changes in the terrain.  He still had out The Way to Dawn, though he held it so loosely that it appeared he might drop it at any moment.  Roxas was the opposite, his Keyblade at the ready, and he twitched at the slightest movement when he wasn't eyeing his two companions to make sure they were alright as often as he dared to make sure neither of them broke down.  However, there was a haunted look behind his eyes and kept glancing at Riku as if afraid of him.

Namine stayed between them, her head down.  If she hadn't been flanked by the boys, she didn't know where she would have ended up, and she wasn't sure it would have mattered to her anyway.  She clutched the Ink Caster close to her, holding it like a lifeline.  All she could think was that this was all her fault.  They'd been so close to reuniting, within feet of making Kairi and Sora whole again, and she'd failed them.  Now they're both gone.

She had to believe it was just gone, despite the pit in her stomach that thought otherwise.  It was as if by not thinking of them as dead, it wouldn't be so, but she knew the idea was at the forefront of all three of their thoughts.  She couldn't feel Kairi anymore, and though it had happened before, it felt different this time.  Where Kairi's absence had been felt before, now there was just a dead spot in her mind, and she couldn't bring herself to tell either of the boys that.

She knew why she didn't dare say anything to them.  It was because she'd been too weak that they'd lost them in the first place.  Too weak to keep the portal open.  Too weak to defeat the Whimsy that threatened all their lives.  And too weak to reopen the portal afterward and rescue two of the most important people in her life.  Roxas had tried to comfort her after it happened, telling her she'd done all she could, but it sounded hollow to her ears.  Riku had hung just far enough away, sorting through how he felt.  He'll probably blame me when he returns to his senses.  Not that I'd blame him for doing so.  She couldn't even look at him as they headed back, not after she'd cost him his two best friends.  Roxas kept trying to find something to say, but each time the words died on his lips.  There weren't even any Heartless attacks on the way back to distract her from her pain as they'd seemed to vanish.  So she just kept putting one foot in front of the other as she drowned in sorrow.

A burst of darkness drew her attention from the nasty thoughts plaguing her and she swung out the Ink Caster, ready for any kind of fight, but it was just Riku sending away The Way to Dawn until he needed it again.  They'd finally reached the castle town and Namine took a step back out of fear, not ready to face the look on Aerith and Leon's faces when they heard the news.  Roxas gripped her shoulder, a gesture that was meant to bring comfort where there was none, but it was enough to keep her going forward.

She spent the entire trip through the town trying to find some silver lining or hope to give them, but there was none to be had and everything she thought to bring up sounded more feeble than the last.  When they reached the castle, the guards let them in without incident and they were walking to the main hall much sooner than Namine would have liked.

Leon and Yuffie were in the throne room with Aerith when they arrived, with Yuffie giving some kind of report that bought Namine a momentary reprieve from having to tell them the bad news.  Yuffie was bouncing on her toes in excitement, chittering on about some news that Namine couldn't hear at first while Aerith listened intently.  Leon sat a short distance away, leaning up against a pillar with his arms folded and eyes closed.  None of them seemed to acknowledge they'd returned.  "...and then Leon found there was more to the tunnels.  There was a hidden pathway that led down, possibly all the way under the city!"

Aerith nodded.  "I want you to show Cid where these tunnels are.  We may need to set up more defenses there.  We may not be the only ones that know they're there.  It might be how the Heartless got into the city."

Leon cleared his throat, though his eyes never opened.  "Our guests have returned," he said before straightening up and looking their way.  Namine gulped and trembled.

"Welcome back," Aerith said, turning to Yuffie.  "Please send down our new arrivals before heading to Cid."

"Aww, but I wanted to hear what treasures they might have found."  Yuffie's bounce in her step had lessened, but she still hurried out to do as Aerith told her.

Leon glanced at Aerith, smiling a little.  "Seems someone is getting used to being in charge."

Aerith glowered, a look that did not fit her face well.  "Someone had to, Leon.  The Queen is gone.  Ansem is gone.  Edgar, who has the most ruling experience now, is too busy dealing with Kefka and Figaro to help out.  Cid's getting too old, and he was always better with his hands than people.  Yuffie..."  She trailed off for a moment, as if trying to find the right words to use in front of them.  "She's better off staying with her strengths.  Tifa took off after Cloud and hasn't been seen since, and you declined.  What was I supposed to do?  Say no and let some of the chaos that was going on continue?"

"..."  was Leon's articulate response.

Aerith turned away, the frustration in her sigh evident.  "I know you've had difficulties dealing ever since Radiant Garden fell, but that was a long time ago.  And despite what you may think, this has been hard on me too.  I never wanted to lead, Leon.  I was content to have a carefree life.  But fate doesn't always give people a choice, so I've done what I had to do."

"I didn't know." Leon said.  "I just didn't want people always looking to me."

Namine shifted, a little uncomfortable being here and hearing all this, but she didn't know where to go.  Leon and Aerith had stopped their conversation, Aerith still upset at Leon, but she said nothing more and let the tense silence hang.  Thankfully, the doors to the throne room opened, letting out the uncomfortable setting with the entrance of Yuffie as well as the trio of Mickey, Donald and Goofy.

Mickey saw Riku and rushed forward, hugging his friend as hard as he could.  "It's good to see you too," Riku said.

Mickey composed himself quickly as he dropped back down to the ground.  "You had me worried.  The Heartless have been swarming between worlds, and when I heard you dropped out of sight..."

"Aw, we knew they'd be alright," Goofy said as he ambled up, "These three are stronger than that."

Donald folded his arms and tapped his foot.  "Where's my ship?" he demanded of Riku.

"Donald!" Mickey chided.

"What?  They're fine and I want my ship back!"

"It...uh...it crashed in the desert," Riku said, embarrassment evident on his face.

"WHAT?!" Donald yelled, hopping up and down, the magician's hat flopping back and forth on his head, threatening to fly off at any second.

"Relax, Donald.  Get a hold of yourself," Mickey said, putting himself between Donald and Riku.  "I'm sure we can repair it."

"Yes, I'm sure I can get Cid to work on it.  It is one of his specialties," Aerith added, her calm demeanor piercing through the magician's tirade.

Donald tried to stay mad, but the calm look on Aerith's face reduced it to a small grumble.  Finally, he turned to Riku.  "He better, or I expect you to get me a new one."

"Yeah..." Riku said, though he looked a little pale.

"Now that everyone is here," Aerith said, "I would like you to relay what you found in the Great Maw."  Namine gulped, realizing there was no more delaying this.  She dug her foot into the stone, not sure how she was going to break this to them.

To her surprise, Riku stepped in before she could get started.  "The light drawing in the Heartless was from a portal being used by Sora and Kairi.  But before they were able to get through, a large Whimsy attacked.  It destroyed the portal, and though we tried to stop it, it was too powerful.  It got away from us.  We tried to restore it, but it wasn't there any more and neither were they."  He choked up a little at the end, and Namine put her hand on his arm.

A soft gasp ran through the room.  "Gosh, what do you think happened to Sora and Kairi?  Do ya think they're alright?"

Riku shrugged.  "I don't know.  Several Whimsies ran in before the portal was destroyed.  We don't know what happened inside after that."

Silence hung in the room for several seconds before Goofy piped up.  "This portal you talked about.  Was it made of darkness like the ones them Organization XIII fellers used?"

"No, it wasn't anything like that," Roxas said.  "It was colorful like a rainbow or a sunset.  I've never seen anything like it before."

"Colorful....like a rainbow..." Mickey muttered, pacing for a second.  "Oh no."

"What is it?" Namine asked.  

"That sounds like The Heart's Paths."

"The Heart's Paths?"  Goofy asked, turning to Donald.

"Never heard of it," Donald responded.

"You wouldn't have.  I only heard about it when I was training under Master Yen Sid.  It was another way to travel between worlds.  They were used by Keyblade wielders in a time before the Keyblade War.  A Keyblade wielder could use the strength of their heart to create a path between two worlds.  A path that was made entirely of light.  The Heart's Paths itself was where this light would pass through.  Many used this way of moving between worlds because it allowed them to travel faster than the Lanes Between, so they could get to worlds quicker to protect them from Darkness."

"That sounds pretty useful," Riku said.

Mickey shook his head.  "That was the idea, but the use of them was abandoned after several Keyblade wielders were lost.  You can't have light without darkness, and a realm like the Heart's Paths, where so much light converges, is swimming with it.  And because the path you create is tied to your heart, you're in more danger from the darkness than the Lanes because not even armor can protect you.  If the path of light is ever destroyed, the travelers will plunge into the darkness unprotected."

Namine gasped and choked back a sob, guilt wracking her as she turned to Roxas.  He comforted her as she shook.  "Is there any chance they're okay?" Roxas asked.

Mickey couldn't hide the sorrow on his face.  "I don't know.  I could ask Master Yen Sid..."  He trailed off, not wanting to take away all hope.

Silence returned, save for Namine's crying, until Riku broke it.  "What about Restin?  Did you find out what he was up to?"  It sounded like he was straining to say anything at all.

"Well, I don't know why they attacked you, but I did learn that they've been traveling to several worlds.  They seem to be looking for something, but whatever it is, I don't think they've found it yet.  Cid was looking into it with Tron while we waited for you."

"Good, I want to see him as soon as possible."  Riku turned, heading for the doors.

"Riku..." Mickey said, hurrying after his friend and stopping just behind him.  "You don't have to...I mean..."

Riku didn't turn around.  "I can't just wait around and hope.  I made a promise..."  He stopped, clenching his fist.  "And I intend to keep it.  If...if they're alive, Sora will protect Kairi.  And if not...stopping Restin is up to me."

"Us," Namine said, pushing away from Roxas and standing on her own again.  Everyone was staring at her, but she bit her lip to keep her resolve.  "We said we were in this together and that hasn't changed."  What Riku had said struck a chord with her and she knew she had to stop wallowing in her guilt.  She had to do something, even if it only meant fighting in honor of Kairi's memory if she was truly dead.

"You need us," Roxas added before Riku could say anything.  "You don't need to always be the lone wolf.  Besides, I want another crack at him myself."

Riku stared at them, his expression as neutral as she'd ever seen it.  Namine tried to silently will him to let them come along.  She needed to make up for her mistake.  But there was something in his eyes she'd never seen before.   "Alright, let's go then."  Namine relaxed, letting out the breath she'd been holding, relief filling her.

"Okay," Mickey said.  "Donald, Goofy and I will meet with Yen Sid and try to find out anything we can for you before joining you.  We'll keep in contact with you through the gummi ship."  

Leon motioned for them to follow him.  "Cid's this way."

As they followed Leon, Namine caught up to Riku, falling into step with him.  "Thank you for covering for me," she whispered.

Riku shrugged.  "I didn't.  I told the truth.  I said it was the Whimsy's fault, and it was.  You did your best to stop it.  We all did.  You can't ask more than that."  He paused, then smirked.

"What?"

Riku smiled.  "Just remembering something Sora and Kairi kept trying to hammer in my head.  Funny that it takes something like this for me to get it."  The smirk vanished, his eyes haunted again, and he coughed, then glanced at her.  "Anyway, it's you two that deserve the thanks.  I thought I'd be out on my own again."

"Why?  Did you think we'd hide here while you went off to fight on your own?  You don't know us as well as you think."  Her stern look changed to one of mischief.  "Roxas can be quite stubborn when he wants to be.  You should know that as well as I."

"Just about my promises," Roxas chimed in as he caught up to them.  He paused, looking like he was gathering his thoughts.  "Look, I know we aren't going to replace Sora and Kairi..."

"Nor would we try to," Namine added quickly.

"But you could use someone to watch your back until we find them, and I think we've proven we can be trusted to do that."  Namine noticed that Roxas sounded more confident that they would be found.  She wished she could voice the same.

Riku nodded.  "Then let's go.  I plan on making sure Restin pays for everything he's caused so far."

Cid gave a gruff hello as they walked in, stopping his conversation with Yuffie.  Yuffie squirmed, obviously wanting to know what they'd talked about, but Cid talked over her.  "Well, if it ain't the rescue squad.  Coulda saved ya the trouble of comin' down here though.  We haven't had a blip on yer friends in some time."

An uncomfortable silence followed and Yuffie looked at Leon, her usually happy demeanor deflated by the mood.  "Wh...what happened?"

Leon coughed, looking at Cid instead.  "What about Restin's activity?"  His avoidance showed that he wanted this to be a conversation for later.

Cid raised an eyebrow, but was wise enough not to ask.  He just turned to the computer, typing in a few keys, and a large map of worlds appeared on the screen.  "This Restin guy and some people we think work for him have been popping up like daisies.  But lately, they seem to be looking at these three worlds pretty heavily.  Dunno what's there, but whatever it is, they haven't found it yet, cause they haven't left.  Tron seems to think whatever they're looking for is connected to this, an item that went missing from the castle vault a couple of weeks ago."    A six-sided stone object with strange markings on both the outside and the face of the stone interposed itself on the screen, the image rotating in front of them.

"What is it?" Namine asked, though she got the feeling she'd seen it before.

"Dunno," Cid said.  "The King said he knew it was in the vault and that he was warned to make sure no one got to it by Master Yen Sid, but that he never got told why.  Just that it was dangerous.  As far as the records we have go, someone left it in the vault before the Keyblade War with explicit instructions that it never be removed or used for any reason.  Thieves broke in a couple of weeks ago, and the King is certain Restin is behind the theft."

"I wonder what is so important about this item that he would risk breaking into the castle to get it.  I mean, what do they mean by 'dangerous'?" Roxas mused.

"Hell if I know.  I just tell what I learned."  Cid grunted, typing in a few more keys.  "Also, we picked up strong darkness coming from these worlds as well."  The map returned with a different set of worlds highlighted.  "It don't seem to be Restin and his men, so I'd watch it because it means someone else is taking advantage of Restin causing chaos.  And to top it off, the damn Heartless are swarming up everywhere."

Leon frowned.  "I'll let Mickey know about this."  He turned to Riku.  "I hate to say it, but the worlds Restin is attacking might have to take priority.  Can you handle it?"

"Just give me the coordinates.  We'll make sure they don't get what they're after," Riku said.

"Okay, I'll upload it to the gummi ship I'm loanin' ya" Cid said.

"Already done," came a mechanical voice.  Namine glanced around, a bit startled at the new intrusion.  "Although, the gummi ship is not in ideal condition..."

"Dammit Tron.  I told ya," Cid said, arguing with the machine, "that ship is sturdier than most newer contraptions.  The Highwind ain't never let me down before."

"According to the logs, the ship hasn't flown since..."

Cid punched a key, grumbling under his breath and the voice went silent.  "Stupid know-it-all computer program.  Should never have installed the voice synthesizer."  He turned to them.  "Don't you worry.  She may have years on her, but she's battle-tested and one of the best maneuvering ships out there.  You'll do just fine."  Roxas looked ill, and Namine felt the same, remembering their last gummi ship flight, but Cid paid neither of them any mind.  He punched in a few more keys, then got up to lead them out to the hangar to show them what the Highwind looked like.  

Namine held back, something tugging at the back of her mind.  Cid had called Tron a 'know-it-all' and she wondered if Tron might know something about the Heart's Paths that King Mickey did not.   She reached out and pressed the button Cid had before.  "Hello?" she said, glancing around.  She wasn't truly sure where she should be looking to address Tron.  "Tron?  Are you still here?"

"Indeed I am." the computerized voice came back.   Namine jumped, still not used to having a voice come from all around her.

"My name is Namine.  I have a question for you."

"User Namine is not recognized."

"I...I'm a friend of Sora," she blurted out, not really sure why she said it.

"Sora..."  Namine didn't think it was possible, but the mechanical voice sounded melancholy.  "Please ask you query.  I will aid any friend of his."   

Namine let out a soft sigh of relief.  Somehow, the computer had encountered Sora in the past.  Lucky for her.  "Do you have any record of the Heart's Paths?"

"I do.  That information was stored from a previous User."

"Is there a record of anyone surviving a collapse of the path?"  Namine shifted from side to side, hoping it was a positive answer.

"One moment, User Namine, while I research your request."

Silence descended in the room and Namine folded her arms, holding each one with the opposite hand.  After a minute, Tron came back.  "I have the requested information, User Namine."  There was a momentary pause as the screen flickered back on and a picture of a young woman appeared on the screen.  She had fiery-red hair that was thick and hung down to the middle of her back.  It was held in place by a green ribbon that was wrapped around it going down and then crisscrossed back up.  Her eyes were a similar shade of green, but her gaze was hard and piercing.  Unlike other women in Twilight Town, she wore loose trousers in a pale brown, tucked into knee high brown leather boots, and fastened up the sides with tiny gold buttons. She wore a flowing white blouse, with wide sleeves laced tight to her wrists. Atop the white blouse, she wore a long, dark-green vest. It swooped down from her shoulders to button below the bust, down to the hip in a line of tiny gold buttons. The vest came to a set of points, one over either hip, before curving back to drop into a single, long point in the middle of the back, that hung to just below her buttocks. "Lorelei Woodans, Keyblade Master.  Born in..."

"No, Tron." Namine said, holding her hand to her forehead as she looked down.  "I don't need all her information.  I just need to know how she survived."

"One moment please."

"Namine!"  Roxas yelled.  "You alright?"

"I'm fine!" she yelled back.  "Be there in a second!"       

There was a soft beep returning Namine's attention to Tron.  "Unknown.  No record was ever input about her escape other than she did once.  The only records I have on her after that incident is on what led to her banishment."

That caught Namine's attention.  "What?  Why was she banished?"

"Individual listed as lost to darkness.  Destroyed three worlds before being banished to another plane.  Led to the banishment of Eran Dawnstrider, Keyblade wielder."  An image of a young man with short black hair and hazel eyes popped up on the screen next to Lorelei.  His outfit was simple like Lorelei's.  A plain white shirt with a brown vest in the same style as Lorelei's as well as black pants that looked like they were of an expensive fabric.  There was a different air to the way he looked, like he was more regal.  "They were from the same world.  Eran led his people toward the darkness in an attempt to retrieve her.  The plan was ultimately foiled by two budding students of Master Yen Sid."

Tron kept going, but Namine stopped listening.  Her eyes were locked with those hard green eyes staring back at her.  

"Is there anything else?"

"N...no.  Thank you very much Tron."  The screen fizzled then went blank, which Namine was grateful for.  She couldn't take the gaze of that woman any more.  Fear crept in and Namine fled the room.  She hoped there was some other way, because if what she heard was their only chance, she'd only see Sora and Kairi again if they were consumed by darkness.


*******
Chapter 7 of Soul Crossed is finally here...in two parts because DA says the text amount is too large >.< Anyway, here is the first part and the commentary will be with part 2.

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