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The Fall

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            He was a child, wasn't he? That was one of many thoughts bouncing and screaming through his mind as the soles of his shoes slapped loudly against the marble of the castle's floors. Here he hadn't gotten his way, and his response to it was to abandon a fight and run away before he was defeated. He was such a washed up failure!

            How had it happened? It chose Sora. Sweet, stupid Sora who could never even manage to get used to their wooden swords. He was undefeated! Until today. He'd taken the Keyblade, proven himself the stronger, and been accepted. Yet Sora had robbed him of his victory, retaken the Key, and proceeded to overpower him.

            "Why? It was mine!" he thought, panting as he continued his aimless run. The last thing he'd expected from the empty chapel was a response. It stopped him in his tracks and made him realize two things; he'd vocalized his thought and that he wasn't alone.

            Two simple words rang out, "Know this." The voice was familiar, deep, rich, steady. Where had he heard that voice before? And why didn't it sound right, why was it seemingly coming from every direction at once? He looked in front of him, then whirled when he saw no one. Yet no one was behind him, either?

            "The Heart that is strong and true will win the Keyblade," the voice continued as Riku turned. It was seconds after he'd looked over his shoulder that something appeared; the source, presumably. But what appeared wasn't exactly a person. Partially translucent and ringed with a bluish cloud that reeked of Darkness stood a figure in a brown robe, studded straps crossed over its chest. The voice was unquestionably masculine, but the form didn't look quite human. It was hunched over heavily, nothing within its dark hood, and oddly amorphous in the shape of the 'body' beneath.

            Riku immediately, desperately voiced his fear, internally cursing himself for revealing weakness to this unknown apparition. "What? You're saying my Heart's weaker than his?" And he even feared the answer, subconsciously expecting a confirmation of it. The response was a bit more comforting.

            "For that instant, it was." Even though it wasn't a blatant confirmation of him being inferior to Sora, it still tore deeply that he'd been the lesser even for a moment. Especially in such a critical moment. His head snapped up as that voice continued. "However, you can become stronger. You showed no fear in stepping through the Door to Darkness. It held no terror for you."

            Riku could feel adrenaline starting to rush through him as the words continued. Approval, compliments, an offer that he couldn't refuse. Becoming stronger, turning the tides on Sora, regaining his rightful place as victor of their scuffles. At some point his head had bowed and the next words froze him completely. "Plunge deeper into the Darkness, and your Heart will grow even stronger."

            A soft gasp was his only reaction as silken words curled through his mind. Part of him was immediate in shouting 'no', the part of him that had grown into the control of Darkness. The part of him that Maleficent had taught. Her teachings, though blunt, callous, and acerbic were undeniable. Darkness offered power, boundless power, but using it took a toll on the Heart. The stronger one's Heart, the more they could command without harm. Overstep your limits, though, and Darkness would consume you, Heart, body, and mind.

            ...But he needed to beat Sora... And being stronger meant more options and a better chance of retrieving Kairi. That stupid brunet lug wouldn't manage after all, Keyblade or not. He wouldn't fall into Darkness like the others.

            "What should I do?" The words almost didn't feel his own as they fell out of his mouth, head still bowed and eyes closed. The logical parts of his mind were screaming that the risk was too great. But his Heart said otherwise. It could handle more Darkness! All needed to be made right in the power balance between him and Sora. And Kairi needed rescued.

            "It's really quite simple. Open yourself to the Darkness. That is all." A slow breath was taken in as he reached out to the Darkness that he had come to command. It should have been terrifying how quickly and easily it came to him. How much of it slithered around his body. As Maleficent's favorite place in the castle, it was one of the locations heaviest with the stuff.

            Now, though. Now it was even stronger, there was so much of it right here. And where usually it was indifferent, bowing to the command of one able to overpower it, this Darkness had purpose. It flitted around him, dancing close, seeming like it was focused on him and him alone. Like it wanted to be a part of him, to be commanded by him. It was almost alien, but other than this seeming desire it was just like any other Darkness.

            "Let your Heart, your being, become Darkness itself." The alarms in his mind were going berserk, every instinct of self preservation screamed its dissent, tried so very hard to stop Riku from heeding that instruction. But he did. He took the Darkness around him, only moving enough to finally lift his head and open his eyes. Huh. The apparition was closer now, mere feet away, and yet no more detail could be gleaned; at least not with the islander focused on heeding the robed figure's words.

            As Riku began to draw the Darkness closer, into him, the barest trickle of power came in before halting. At first, he thought it had been a sham, a lie, that this power didn't exist. After a moment of his temper rising, he realized it was as if something was blocking him from taking in any more. The explanation was revealed surprisingly quickly.

            He hadn't ceased his pull on the Darkness, and as more was drawn to him, a mystical green fire began to curl around him. Cool, ethereal, at first strong, but soon fading. And as it faded, the more Darkness was able to enter him, the faster he could take it in. His anger peaked when it clicked.

            Maleficent! The faerie had woven her magic around him, creating a shield between him and the Darkness. A shield that stopped him from absorbing more than a set amount. Of course she did, to keep him weak, stop him from being a threat! That was the only possibility, that conniving witch.

            That rage was what burned off the last of the barrier around him, an icy cold feeling flooding into his body. In moments the chill had spread from core to extremities. His eyes focused as the sensation lit every nerve with cold, yet at the same time none of them. The chill was in his Heart. And that figure was closer, now, a foot away. And still it had no features. It was also getting even closer.

            It never reached out, never lifted its arms, never offered any body language. No, it was expressionless as it breached Riku's personal space. Hunched over as it was, it was shorter than Riku but it didn't move with the lurching or hobbling gait one would expect from its shriveled posture. In fact, it didn't have a gait, moving closer with no breath, no motion at all, just floated unerringly, unnaturally towards him. And the closer it got, the stronger the Darkness was around him, the more came to him, more even than he called.

            He expected it to stop before it reached him, and when their distance was mere inches apart and it still didn't slow, he suddenly felt a wash of terror. It wasn't going to, it was honed in on him, and he did not want it to touch him. Immediately he rejected the Darkness, took a step back. Or... No, neither of these things happened. The Darkness did not heed his command to depart, still flooding into his body, not even abating the slightest despite his full power turned to eject it from his body. Was this actually Darkness!? It felt like it, yet instead of a mere element, now, it had feeling, emotion. Hunger, malice, possessiveness. And that attempted step back? As soon as his muscles tensed, his body was struck with a rigor even colder than before, the Darkness within him freezing him in place.

            Riku wasn't even able to scream as the unfamiliar emotion flooding through him turned into satisfaction and the wraith contacted him. It was ethereal, moving into his body, instead of brushing against him. He had thought the Darkness had been cold before, but this was pure, unnatural ice that spread in an instant from the point of contact with the figure before him. But his body wasn't cold. The ice didn't touch his nerves, it raced through the filaments of his Heart, cold, yes, but so very much worse than just physical ice.

            That horrible, cold feeling only lasted for a matter of moments. He felt something brush up against him, something inside of him, and with it came the realization that it was another consciousness slipping into his body. Then, in an instant, nothing. His vision went black, all feeling departed from his body, all senses immediately ceased.

 


 

 

            He was dead, he thought to himself. Then he realized he couldn't be dead; he was still thinking, still fully mentally aware even if his senses registered nothing. After a moment that seemed an eternity, he began to register sensations once more, slowly returning to him.

            The feeling of falling was the first thing he recognized, though air wasn't rippling around his body; it was his sense of balance, a pull of gravity that made him realize it. Soon after, the other senses returned. His sense of smell registered the stench of Darkness stronger than he had ever smelled it before. On his skin, there wasn't air but a coolness that was uncomfortable but not outright freezing. Faintly, the sound of waves rang into his ears, like a far away ocean that was drawing closer. His sight was the last to return, in a place so unnaturally dark it was almost a surprise when grey clouds began wisping around him, growing in brightness the further he fell.

            His fall lasted several long minutes, or no time at all; his sense of time had not returned. A look beneath him and he saw the ground rushing towards him, black sand and black rocks shot through with veins of blue-purple that most reminded him of bioluminescent fish from back home. Aqua eyes closed, then, as he waited for the impact with the sand that would finish him off.

            When the impact never came, he opened his eyes again. His fall had slowed and he was floating downwards now, very near the ground. With a twist of his body he was able to reorient to bring his feet under him, and they touched down lightly on the sand until he was comfortably standing.

            A frown crossed his features as he looked around at the strange place he was in. It was lit as if in a deep twilight, a sun in the distance in the process of setting, a bright blue-white that didn't seem to cast as much light as it should. The beach itself was oddly familiar, the sound of the waves lapping the shore just like home. Rock formations arched over the water in a way that almost reminded him of the trunks of curved, interwoven palm trees, though they were the same veined black stone.

            Looking behind him didn't look anything like home, though, a wasteland of tumbled rocks that faded into a cloudy fog not far away from him. He could breathe, was the next thing that really struck him, but the air didn't feel normal. It stank of Darkness, but it was uniform in its cool temperature and seemed to have no weight at all. Everything about this place was some level of 'wrong', everything save for the sound of the black waters lapping at the shore.

            For an unknowable period of time, he stood alone on the beach, before walking towards the water and standing with the short waves splashing against his shoes. Through them he could feel how cold the water was, but just like the air it had an odd weightlessness to it. It was heavier than the air, but not near as heavy as water should be.

            Suddenly, he was aware of another presence with him, familiar in an instant but hard to place as to why. He whirled around to find a figure behind him. It was the apparition, he knew the moment he laid eyes on it. But its appearance was utterly different. This was a man, fully solid now, tall and imperious behind him, his lips curved in a satisfied smirk, his eyes wide and intense.

            He truly wasn't sure how he knew this man and the apparition were one and the same. He was much taller than the hunched figure, stood straight, and was dressed entirely differently. The skin that wreathed his muscular form was a rich, dark brown, much darker than the tans he'd seen on his fellow islanders. In contrast, his long, slicked back hair and eyebrows were shock-white, no other body hair showing on him.

            Instead of the brown robe, this figure wore black pants and boots, a white undercoat with black buttons and straps that only covered his lower abdomen and left the skin of his upper abdomen and chest bare. Over it all was an open, ankle length, two-layered coat. Its primary color was black, but had an overlay of white that was strapped on up the chest and to what appeared to be grey, armored pads on the shoulders. It was hemmed in gold, and the inside was a rich red color. It was held in place by a Heartless symbol that appeared to be attached, resting just over the man's heart. Flared white gloves topped off the ensemble, going all the way up to the elbow.

            His face was youthful, perhaps in his early twenties, but somehow seemed to carry a level of maturity far beyond mere appearance. But his most striking feature was his eyes. They were a vibrant orange that would look most at home in the embers of a fire. The way he looked at Riku was some mix of knowing and outright amused, and he didn't speak as he crossed his arms, simply standing on the sand some distance away from the islander.

            Riku just stared at him, before he started to feel angry once again, snapping out to the figure. "Who are you!? What are you!?" His hand clenched, trying to call forth Soul Eater in preparation for a fight. The sword gifted to him by Maleficent did not heed his call. A flash of fear began to war with his anger, then, as he realized he was not going to be able to defend himself. Somehow he knew, unerringly, that what stood before him was much more powerful than he appeared. That was an unsettling thought, considering the other man was over a head taller than him and was more muscular.

            The response he received was a low, rolling chuckle and a slow shake of the head, pale hair flowing in the weightless air and vibrant eyes closing. When those eyes opened again, a wide smirk had curled across his features and he wasted little time in speaking, "Perhaps you should have asked those questions before you heeded my instruction to give yourself to the Darkness. A mistake, on your part, but quite the boon on mine, Riku." He said the young man's name oddly, drawing out both syllables with an infinitesimal pause between them. His tone contained a knowing familiarity, as if everything about the islander was bared to him.

            A frustrated sound broke from Riku, then, further anger flashing across his features. "Just answer me!!" he snapped out, not caring for the man's words, his familiar tone, or anything at all about him. Somehow he knew this figure, but he had no idea why, no idea how. He'd never seen him before, that much he was sure of. There was no way he could forget someone with such unusual features; he also would have remembered his ethereal, cloaked form as well. Neither of them gave him any information beyond an unsettling feeling that he did know the man.

            It was even more frustrating when he didn't immediately receive a response, a pause drawing out before, finally being broken. "Are you sure you want the answer to those questions? Perhaps you would be better off not knowing. It might break your pitiful little mind," he spoke in a voice that seemed to permeate Riku's body and slowly soak through his mind like molasses. "Or for you to know how long I've been with you."

            Once more it was fear and anger that flashed through the paler man, anger at his question being dismissed, at being treated like a weak, fragile child, at being outright insulted. But also fear, because he knew full well that the final statement was likely true; he wasn't sure he wanted to know how long the tall figure had been aware of and around him to be able to gain the familiarity he spoke with. That didn't stop him from biting out a response of, "Of course I want the answers! That's why I asked."

            A derisive snort was the initial response, before the figure opted to answer. "My name... Is Ansem. The Seeker of Darkness." As he spoke, his arms uncrossed, spreading with palms up. His features once more flashed with intensity, and that smirk had never left them. Smug. Riku finally decided that was what that smirk was. That was the smug smirk of someone who had no fear of the person before him because he had already defeated him.

            The islander did not get the chance to snap out his question again, mouth opening and a breath drawn before he was interrupted. When the figure started speaking again, his mouth clacked shut, lips drawing into a thin line. "As to what I am? You would not even begin to comprehend it. It would be simplest to say I am a Heartless, but it is such a bare designation that it is almost incorrect. An unbound Heart, free to travel the Darkness at will, to command it, and with the power to command any creature of Darkness with a mere thought. Heartless, yes, but those who have fallen, as well." Finally, he moved from where he stood.

            Riku blinked slowly as he attempted to understand what had been explained. A Heartless, but not? And how could he control the Heartless so easily? Even Maleficent, the strongest wielder of the Darkness he had met had to actively assert control over them, had to exert her influence to command the force itself. His confusion lost him precious seconds, still strangely infinite, in realizing that Ansem was now approaching him. Immediately he moved to jump back and ready himself for an attack, but his feet struck something behind him and he toppled backwards, landing prone in the chill water with a splash and a shout of surprise.

            Ansem was over him in an instant, seemingly having phased from his slow walk a distance away to immediately in his face. The intensity in the ember eyes that were now far too close to him bordered on manic, as did the grin that was twisting the man's face just enough beyond human possibility to be uncanny, unsettling. "Witness, child, the extent of my power," was uttered with force, one gloved hand snapping up to Riku's chest, clawed over his heart. It pressed down, but the fingertips didn't contact his skin. It was just like their contact before, when the apparition slid into his body with no resistance. This time, though, the contact of the rest of the figure kneeling over him felt entirely solid.

            It was cold, it was wrong, and Riku immediately yelled out wordlessly in fear and attempted to struggle away. It was for naught, though. Those fingers continued their trip inside his body, as if ethereal, icy cold rippling through his being without chilling his physical form. Once the palm reached his chest, it touched with the solidity of the rest of Ansem's body, the ethereal fingers clenching tight around... Something. Riku continued to struggle, but that grip anchored him as if those fingers were solid within him. Pain flooded through him in a way he couldn't even describe.

            Ansem's face moved yet closer to Riku, their noses almost touching, as the man spoke once more. "Allow me to demonstrate," was said with purpose, and even through the pain and confusion he realized that no air puffed from Ansem's mouth. He wasn't even breathing. That was the last thought he managed before he was being lifted up by the hand embedded in his chest, an agony tearing through him worse than before.

            He was barely sensate enough to realize that Ansem was still kneeling over him, hadn't stood, and that he was being pulled to, and then phasing into, the body above him. Tears sprung from his eyes as they connected and yet didn't all at once. It was very soon that Riku blacked out from the pain and the horrific feeling of becoming one with something utterly inhuman.

 


 

 

            When he came to, he realized that he was in his body again. He could feel the strange, ribbed dark suit Maleficent had created for him tightly clutching his body, air in his lungs and on his face. Sight and sound had returned, as well. He was standing before the emblem doorway in the deepest part of the castle, where the Princesses of Heart were kept imprisoned. Maleficent stood beside him.

            Immediately he turned to her, mouth opening to speak as he realized her barrier before hadn't been to weaken him, but to protect him. Yet, like before when he had attempted to reject the Darkness and flee, nothing happened. His mouth opened on its own, "So, I see the path has emerged at last." A sick realization settled within him; that was his voice, but he hadn't spoken. And echoing in a duotone with his own was the deep, molasses voice of Ansem. He had felt his mouth move, the air move through his throat, the vibration of his speaking. Every sensation was bared to him, but he was acting without his own control.

            The voice spoke once more, but this time it was in his mind, a ripple of amusement trailing through him as it spoke. "You see? I command those fallen to Darkness, Riku. And you? Have fallen. You are nothing more than my puppet, now, my vessel." A sneering laugh tore through him next, "Do enjoy the show as I end all that is dear to you and plunge the worlds into Darkness by your hand."

            All at once, Riku wanted to cry, wanted to throw up, wanted to thrash around and struggle. He couldn't do anything. The scream that welled up inside of him wasn't able to escape his body. It wasn't even loud enough to drown out the wicked laughter that rang through his mind.