Chapter One - Awakening
She lay on a cool, flat surface; a solitary platform, brightly coloured like a stained glass window. Alone in the darkness, this circular object shone brightly. It was this glow that intruded on the girl’s sleep. Her face was screwed up against it. Slowly, her eyelashes fluttered open for the first time. She focused on the light through strands of golden hair. She lay there for several minutes, unsure of who she was or who she had been before. Before what? All she knew was that she was brand new, a creature greeting the world for the first time. In this form at least; any recollection of what she might have been before was currently eluding her. She stopped trying to grasp at it and resigned herself to just staring into this beautiful light, a small, unquestionable proof of her existence.
She began to come to herself as she blinked two tears out of the corners of her eyes. She had been staring into the light for too long. She sat upright, brushing them away and realising that the light was part of a larger design. Her eyes traced every line in the ornate platform, which joined to create the image of a young girl with cherry red hair, similar in size and stature to herself. Shakily, she got to her feet. The girl was shown sitting against the circular frame, surrounded by a border of sea shells and flowers. Behind her was a castle with many irregular turrets and towers, set against a fading crimson sky. She walked around and around, examining every inch. The structures were carefully outlined and very geometric in design. The light that shone through the coloured sections made the whole image light up like a tiffany lamp. But besides its beauty, the image stirred something more inside her. Familiarity, warm and comforting. Yet she could not see how this could be possible; after all it had only been moments since she had come into existence at all.
The sudden feeling of fear that had crept up on her took her by surprise. Perhaps it was the crushing darkness that even the bright light of the platform could not illuminate. Or perhaps it was the possibility of a forgotten existence, floating out of her reach. What had happened to this girl? Suddenly she wanted to be away from this place. She looked up into the nothingness above, a small fretful cry beginning in her throat. She looked around anxiously, as if a way out might materialise before her. She stumbled to the edge of the platform, her legs unused to abrupt movement. There was nothing, just further darkness to fall into. She stared into it for a moment, as transfixed as she had been by the glowing light. Her chest tightened and for a moment she felt she could not breathe. This endless darkness, and the thought of being consumed by it, scared her even more than the idea of being trapped on the platform forever. She backed away from the edge, to the very middle of the platform and sank back into the curled position she had awoken in, tears falling fast onto the tiffany-patterned glass. Then another voice cut through the silence.
“Don’t be afraid.”
The voice was quiet and comforting. Her cries caught in her throat and she fell silent, listening again for the disembodied voice. A memory, glowing dimly in the recesses of her mind, like the embers of a dying fire. It made her feel less alone.
“So much to do, so little time...” said the voice, “first, get up.”
She wiped her face and got to her feet obediently. She knew that wherever the voice was leading her, it would be away from harm. Someone was taking care of her.
“Don’t be afraid.” it said again, and she felt her fear leaving her. She felt stronger. “The door is still shut”.
“Now step forward, can you do it?” The girl closed her eyes and stepped forwards, letting the voice guide her.
“You can find the way,” it whispered, “all you have to do...is remember.”
The girl closed her eyes and allowed her mind to relax. She was only just realising how peaceful and still this place was. In the complete silence she began to understand, this was some kind of rite. Her passage into the real world. She knew there was a world beyond this; she could remember it. And although she was not sure of the extent or origin of her memories, they were growing clearer by the second. At first just sounds and flashes of colour, then half-remembered speech and blurred faces.
“So Kairi’s home is somewhere out there right?” she remembered a boy saying. The rest of the conversation was lost to her, but she clung on to the name.
Kairi. That’s right. “That was my...her name,” said the girl. Before she had time to try and differentiate her own existence from Kairi’s, she felt the glass between her feet crack. She was falling away with the shards, down into the darkness that had frightened her so much before. She knew however, that no harm would come to her. The voice was leading her to the next trial, meaning she had succeeded the first.
“Don’t be afraid,” said the voice again.
“I know,” the girl thought.
When her feet gently touched the glass surface of a second platform, she knew that all fear had fallen away with first. She immediately straightened up to examine the new platform. This one glowed a sky blue colour, and depicted a young boy sleeping against the circular frame, as Kairi had been. In his hand he held a large golden key. A keyblade. He was encircled by many tiny crown shapes and set against the vast blue ocean.
“Power sleeps within you,” the voice prompted, “if only you can remember it.”
Everything about the image was so familiar. She was sure she had spent time with this boy; laughed, ran and played together with him for years. And there was something closer, a more immediate memory.
“A princess?” and she knew it was the boy’s voice she was remembering, “Kairi’s a princess?!” Sora had fought with the other boy, defended her and then taken his weapon. She remembered the fear and desperation she had felt as the boy had driven it into his own heart. But what had happened then? That was the point at which her memories of the boy ended, her connection to him severed. But she knew now that these were not her memories. They were Kairi’s.
“Sora.” she whispered into the darkness.
And the darkness responded, swallowing the platform around her. The moment Sora had been destroyed; that was when she had been created. She had fallen, like she was falling now, into the darkness. It had felt like drowning.
“The door is still shut,” said the voice.
When the girl opened her eyes she found she had reached the next platform; the next person she had to remember. A withdrawn looking boy with blond hair was pictured in front of a desolate wasteland of crumbling sandstone. This lonely setting was less comforting than Sora’s island or Kairi’s castle. The memory was not rising to the surface this time, though she felt strangely drawn to him. She crouched down and placed a hand on the glass of his face. This memory was buried deeper, in a more distant past. She let her mind wander to that barren wasteland; the masterless keyblades standing as a reminder of a terrible war waged years in the past. He had been in the middle of it all, this boy, and the battles around him had damaged him greatly.
She felt a great ache inside of her. Both Sora and Kairi had lost their hearts, and she was coming to understand that his had been lost too. He had been damaged before even that though, and it was this that filled her with pain. She and him were one and the same; both damaged, incomplete. She wanted, more than anything in that moment, to be close to the boy in the glass. But he, Sora and Kairi were all in a place where no-one could reach them now. She was still curled over the outline of his face, her arms wrapped around her knees, as she struggled to form a name.
“V-’ she mumbled, almost inaudibly, “Ventus.”
Instead on an onslaught of oncoming darkness, she felt warmth on her skin from a bright light, shining down on her like a spotlight. She quickly rose and braced herself, her hands curling into fists. Instead the small circle of light moved from beneath her feet and over the edge of the platform, illuminating a spiral staircase that had previously been cloaked in blackness. It was made of the same stained-glass and the small light made the multicoloured shards glimmer almost ethereally. She could now see that the platforms were atop colossal pillars rising from unseen depths, beautifully decorated with ornamental glass circles. She looked around expectantly, waiting for a reassuring word from her disembodied guide, but none came. Still, the only way was up, so she claimed the stairway, carefully looking anywhere but down.
Rather shakily, she stepped onto the final platform. There was no sleeping figure portrayed in this one, only three decorative hearts. They were all intertwined, each beginning in the centre and spreading outwards, so that together they looked like the petals of a flower. But the thing she immediately noticed was a large door, standing behind the heart petal directly opposite her. She ran towards it and immediately shook the handle. It was locked. The sound crashed around in the silence.
“Don’t forget, you have the power to lead others,” said her guide, “But first you must find the way yourself.”
“But there’s nothing here,” she replied, bemused. She had presumed the hearts were just there for decoration and hadn’t thought that there might be a meaning to be drawn from them too.
“Look closer,” said the voice.
She obediently approached the heart ahead to her left. Up close, the glasswork was even more intricate. The hearts were entwined with ivy, coloured a delicate shade of crimson. She ran her fingers along the outline of the heart but drew back as the image began to change. The glass beneath her fingers had begun to glow brightly as if lit up from below. As she watched, a small light rose out from the solid glass and hovered before her. It floated a few inches in front of her face and then rose higher above her head. She watched in awe as it gleamed in the darkness above. She knew this presence. It was Kairi’s heart.
“Kairi!” the girl yelled, reaching out her arms to the light. But Kairi’s heart did not respond and just floated above, as if waiting to be joined. The illustration it had emerged from was still glowing slightly. She then immediately knew what she had to do. She ran to her right to release Sora’s heart as well. She ran her hands once around the outline of the glass image and watched it light up at her touch. Sora’s heart too rose out of the glass, paused before her contemplatively and then rose to meet Kairi’s above her. Without hesitation she crossed the platform to the heart closest to the door. She touched the glass and watched as the damaged heart rose out to meet her. His heart lingered for longer than the others at her level, before joining the other two.
She gazed up at the three lights, floating like fireflies over her head. The whole thing was becoming clearer by the second and she was beginning to understand everything in their presence. The door was still not open; just releasing them was not enough. She had to ‘find the way’ to guide these hearts back to where they were supposed to be. She thought back to the memory of Sora attacking himself with the keyblade. Now his reason for doing this was clearer and she understood, perhaps better than Sora himself, exactly what he had done. Sora had realised that Kairi’s heart had found shelter in him during the destruction of their island. He had intended to release it using the keyblade said to unlock peoples’ hearts, even if it meant destroying his own. But he was unaware of another heart which had found solace in him. Perhaps he had forgotten, he had been very small when they had joined. Ventus’s heart, lost in his battle against a dark entity, had wandered through the darkness until he had found Sora. They had met before, by chance, and his heart had seemed a safe familiar place to return to. The three hearts had been released, and now here they were before her.
How much time had passed since the Keyblade had entered Sora’s body? Hardly any in relation to the girl’s time spent here, it would seem. The fates of these hearts were currently in the girl’s hands. Firstly, she would have to fulfil Sora’s wish of restoring Kairi’s heart. She knew his heart would not be content until hers was safe.
“Kairi,” she called up to the light, which paused while the other two continued to float around. Slowly, it descended to her level. The girl held out her hands as if to hold it and the heart floated in the space between them.
“Kairi,” she said slowly, “Sora needs you to wake up. Do you know where to go?”
In answer the light floated away from her, high up into the darkness and out of sight. She was anxious to be certain that Kairi had reached her body. Certainty was granted a moment later, by allowing her conciousness to become one with Kairi's. Their connection was strong.
She was watching Sora fall from behind Kairi’s eyes. Kairi stumbled clumsily to her feet, calling his name. A deep red stain was spreading over his chest as she clutched his body, lowering it to the ground. His eyes had fluttered shut and his chest was rising and falling only weakly. Even as she held him he was beginning to fade away, an uncontainable light that was slipping through her fingers. His body broke into a thousand particles of bright light and disappeared before her eyes. She stood and watched the last sparks of life flicker and die.
“Sora? Are you really...” Her hands were still outstretched for him. “No, he can’t be,” her voice rose to a cry, “I won’t let him go!”
Back in the darkness, Sora’s heart was responding to Kairi’s voice, which was reverberating in the empty space above the platform. He was surely wondering as a heartless now, with no purpose, feeling or sense of self at all. That was how it ought to be; but the girl felt that this was not quite what had transpired. She sank back into Kairi’s thoughts to watch everything unfold.
The seeker of darkness, Ansem, had revealed himself.
“So you have awakened at last, Princess,” he said as he emerged from the shadows, “The keyhole is now complete. You have served your purpose. But now it’s over.” Kairi took a step backwards as the man approached her. Donald and Goofy raised their weapons defensively.
“Don’t make another move!” Donald commanded.
“Do you think we can stop him all by ourselves?” Goofy whispered, hiding behind his shield.
“I don’t know,” Donald replied.
But Ansem had faltered, his movement constricted by another powerful force.
“Impossible...” he breathed. In front of him materialised Riku, translucent and glowing brightly. His arms were outstretched, blocking Ansem’s path.
“No. You won’t use me for this!” he cried, his voice constricted with the effort required to keep Ansem at bay.
“Riku!” said Kairi, confused and shocked by his sudden appearance.
“You’ve got to run,” he yelled, “The heartless are coming!”
Kairi paused, unwilling to leave Riku, yet acknowledging the fact that his attempt to save her would be futile if she did not. She nodded once and ran from the room with Donald and Goofy, the tell tale sounds of the heartless emerging close behind them. They stopped running when they reached the hallway, pursued by one solitary heartless. Instead of attacking, it just stood motionless, looking up at Kairi.
“Confounded heartless!” Donald shouted, clunking it on the head with his staff, “Get outta here will you!”
“Sora?” Kairi whispered, “Is that you?”
The heartless just gazed up at her vacantly. Before she could say another word, several more heartless rose up out of the ground around them. Donald and Goofy immediately ran into the thick of it, weapons haphazardly raised. Kairi stood ready in front of Sora’s heartless.
“This time, I’ll protect you.” she said. This heartless’s behaviour in comparison to the invariably more hostile heartless surrounding them made her sure that it Sora. The heartless were edging closer to them and then, as one, pounced.
“Sora!” she screamed, throwing her arms around his heartless, her eyes closed tight.
The other girl opened her eyes to see Sora’s heart rising as Kairi’s had. He did not need her guidance; Kairi’s voice was enough to lead his heart through the darkness.
“Go, go!” she encouraged, smiling up at the light, getting smaller and smaller above her.
She felt Sora’s warmth as he reappeared, returning Kairi’s touch.
“Kairi, thank you,” he said quietly in her ear.
From here, the girl could see everything so clearly. She thought she could have watched the whole world go by if she only had the hearts to connect her to it. They were safe. But one heart remained, and she knew he would be the hardest to save.
Ventus’s heart lay comatose in the Chamber of Awakening in his old home, the Land of Departure. His heart had been lost, as had those with the power to restore it. She did not know where Terra and Aqua were, only that they were in no position to help, otherwise they surely would have done so. Who could have imagined that his heart would find its way to Sora? Or perhaps, her eyes widened as it dawned on her, it was because Ven had found Sora that any of this had happened in the first place. The keyblade didn’t choose Sora, Ventus did. Or could it be the same thing? The girl shook herself; these were thoughts to be saved for later. For now Ventus needed her to save him.
But how was she supposed to do that?
The light slowly drifted down towards her as she held out her hands to receive him. He hovered gently between her fingertips, and she couldn’t help noticing that his light seemed slightly dimmer than Sora and Kairi’s.
“What can I do?”
Her first thought was Sora; Ventus had existed within him harmoniously enough until now, why not just send him back? But no, Sora would have to willingly accept him into his heart again, and he was currently facing a daunting enough battle as it was. He was preoccupied with the struggle against Ansem, and there was already a lot resting on the outcome of that battle.
“We could wait,” the girl suggested, sitting down in the centre of the platform, hugging her knees again, “until Sora can take care of you again.”
The light followed her down and hung in the air by her head. But Sora hadn’t even known of Ventus’s presence, how was he supposed to find the Land of Departure? There was no way for her to reach him.
“What about me?” she said, turning to the light suddenly. But the heart drifted a short distance away from her.
She had been doing so much thinking about all of them, that she had completely forgotten about her own condition. She was a derivative of Kairi’s heart, created when it had left her body during the destruction of Destiny Islands, and given form when released from Sora’s heart. Kairi should have been destroyed when her heart left her body, but she was not an ordinary girl. As a princess of heart her body remained within the realm of light, though in an unresponsive state. Any other heart would have given way to a heartless when destroyed, but Kairi’s heart contained no darkness, and so did not. It was not until Kairi’s heart had spent time within Sora that it could give birth to another being; a shadow of her previous existence. This being had no heart of her own and it was unlikely that she had the capacity to sustain one.
“No, that wouldn’t work either,” she frowned, “But you could still come with me!”
For the first time, the girl was thinking to her future, to the world beyond this place. Now that Sora and Kairi were returned to their selves she had to save Ventus. If that mission lead her into the world past the door, then so be it. She had found a reason to exist. It was this knowledge that opened the door.
A crack of light split through the centre of the door.
“We can go together?” she asked the light. The heart stayed close to her as she walked towards the door. With her hand outstretched to it she suddenly paused, hearing a small clunk of glass behind her. She turned and saw that a small round table had risen from the centre of the platform. On it was a tiny glass jar, clear, unlike the vibrant pillars, but decorated with a single embossed heart on one side.
“There will be times when you have to fight,” said the disembodied voice, who had remained silent throughout the girl’s final trial, “And times when you have to hide.”
Both the girl and the heart knew immediately the reason for the glass. With this small container the girl could keep him with her at all times, and keep him hidden. She didn’t like the idea of him being trapped in the glass for too long and promised,
“I’ll let you out whenever I can.”
The light drifted amiably into the glass and allowed her to stopper it shut. Slowly she turned and approached the door, jar held safely in her hands. She stopped in front of it, and took a deep breath.
“Don’t stop walking,” said the voice, “and don’t forget, you have the power to show them the way.”
“Thankyou,” said the girl, “let’s go, Ventus.” She pushed on the wood of the door and the strip of light grew wider, until the door swung open to reveal a blinding light. It hurt to look into it, but she couldn’t look away. With Ventus’s heart clutched safely in her fingertips, she took her first steps into the real world.