***TRIGGER WARNING: This chapter contains themes of violence, blood, and mortality. If any of these things make you uncomfortable, please be advised before reading. It is the only chapter in the story that will be this strong, so it is not receiving an M-Rating, but if you believe this is too strong, I will change it. ALSO, if you cannot read the chapter due to the themes, please let me know, I will happily write you a summary so you can still read the rest of the story***
NOTE: This is the third story in a trilogy, following True Friends and Third Beginning. If you have not yet read those stories. I would highly recommend reading those first. In the last few chapters of Third Beginning, Hinata and James are captured by the Organization and taken to a experimental facility on Kamino. The Organization's reasons for capturing Hinata are still unknown. Shortly after their capture and the experiments started, everyone begins showing signs of forgetting Hinata. Sam and Riku are on their way to Kamino to rescue James while Ben tries to convince them they also need to save Hinata.
The Forgotten Traveler
Dark clouds covered the sky, rumbling with thunder and illuminating as streaks of lightning crackled across it. Hinata stood on top of a hill, staring up at the growing storm with a sense of calmness in her heart. A smirk tipped at the corner of her mouth as the wind whistled past her ears. She looked around at the garden that surrounded her, the familiar sight of her homeworld. The petals and leaves of the flowers began to shred apart from the storm, twisting through the air towards the sky, before disappearing in the darkening clouds.
A spark of dark energy erupted above Hinata, causing her look back up to see a blackened aura forming in the air. Blue and purple hues mixed in, swirling together as it created a larger and larger orb of pure darkness. The storm grew in intensity as the orb formed, sucking in everything around it, destroying the world piece by piece. Hinata watched, looking back to the flowers to see them wither and melt into a black sludge that dripped towards where she was standing. Her smirk grew as the darkness pooled around her feet and the world around her wisped away into nothingness. The moment everything was black-leaving nothing but Hinata standing in a void-a flash of light encapsulated her before vanishing in an instant. Suddenly, she found herself back in the garden with the storm once again forming, replaying the entire scene in front of her as if in a loop.
In the back of her mind, she knew something was off. Something was wrong, yet it also felt so right. Seeing everything crumble away, melting back into the same darkness that created it, it stirred something unfamiliar in her heart. She reached forward, plucking a white daisy from the flower bed. She twirled it between her fingers, watching as the petals fell off one by one before crumbling away as if it were made of ash.
"Why am I enjoying this?" she finally asked herself, unable to keep the grin from forming on her face.
She looked up, seeing the orb forming above her as everything faded to black. Closing her eyes, she waited for the flash of light to reset everything. Even through her shut eyes, she could sense the intensity of the light as it covered her, but when it vanished, she wasn't in the same place. The murmuring of voices surrounded her, their words muddled and unclear. She tried to move, but her arms were strapped down by cold metal clamps, making her heart rate accelerate as she realized she had been dreaming.
"I believe the subject is awakening," Cavuk's calm voice were the first words she understood as she forced open her heavy eyes.
Her vision was blurred and her head throbbed, yet she felt nothing else. Even as she struggled against the metal clamps, she felt no pain or discomfort-only undeniable fear and rising anger.
"Where am I?" she demanded, ignoring the way her voice cracked from being used unexpectedly. "What's going on?" She blinked rapidly, desperately trying to get her surroundings to clear up.
She realized she was back in the same room she had been to before. Cavuk stood beside her, looking her over with its large eyes as it prodded with an IV embedded in her wrist.
"Should I sedate her again?" Cavuk asked, slightly turning its head.
"No," Vexen's voice caught Hinata's attention. He stood by the wall of computers, typing in notes on the large keyboard that covered the desk. "I believe she's ready."
"Ready for what?" Hinata asked, growling as she pulled against the binds that strapped her to the chair. "What the hell do you want with me?!"
"She is more spirited than the others," Cavuk commented, stepping back to allow Vexen through.
"Indeed she is," Vexen smirked as he came into full view. He watched as she continued to fruitlessly struggle against the binds and nodded. "Stronger as well. She just might be the one."
"The one for what?!" she bit, hissing as the binds began cutting into her skin from her strain.
"Do you know who you are?" Vexen asked in a calm professional voice.
"What-" She paused for a moment before asking, "What sort of question is that?"
"Well?" he asked in return.
Hinata opened her mouth to tell him off, but something in her mind seemed to shut down. As if she couldn't fully control it for a moment, she heard her voice reply, "Hinata."
"Hmm," he hummed as he glanced over to Cavuk with a smirk. "And do you know why you're here?"
"I-" She began to speak, but hesitated, not wanting to say the words that she knew she was about to say. "I-I'm here… to serve the… Organi- No… NO that's not right…" She shook her head, her chest heaving as a yell escaped her. "STOP!" she screamed, pushing against the metal clamps, feeling the warmth of her blood dripping down her hands as the metal dug into her.
"Sedate her," Vexen looked over to Cavuk, stepping back. "I'll prepare another serum."
"NO!" Hinata cried, arching her back as tears stung her eyes.
Her hands clenched tight at her sides, her nails digging into the arm rests. A spark of darkness sprouted in her heart, bringing the same sensation she experienced in her dream. It pulsed a powerful adrenaline through her, magnifying the rage and fear inside her. She darted her eyes to Cavuk, seeing him preparing a shot to sedate her before bringing her gaze to her bound hands. A coat of blood covered them, dripping from the chair to the pristine floor. She wriggled her wrists, barely wincing from the sting as she realized she was able to move just a little bit easier from the viscous liquid lubricating her skin and the metal. With a cry, she yanked back her arm as much as she could. The metal grated against her skin, but her hand slipped through.
"Vexen!" Cavuk exclaimed, startling as it realized she was free.
Hinata pulled her other hand free and grabbed a green serum vial on the tray beside her chair, plunging the needle into Cavuk's neck. The Kaminoan stumbled back, its eyes immediately dilating as it fell against the wall with a yell. Hinata looked down at it as she saw the serum begin its reaction. A smirk curved at the corner of her lips as she saw the familiar look of horror in its large eyes as memories flooded Cavuk's mind.
A sharp dagger of ice whizzed past her and crashed into the wall. Hinata darted her gaze over to Vexen who stood by the door, ice shards spinning around him as he glared back at her. "You won't accomplish anything by fighting back," he pointed out as he slowly began to circle her. "Not if you value the life of your friend."
Holding out her bloodied hand, Hinata summoned a spiral of water. "As long as I get to gut you and everyone else in this sickening place, I don't think I care," she replied with a tinge of disgust in her voice as she began to mirror his footsteps, circling him as well.
"That is a rather violent thought," Vexen noted as he reached back his hand towards the keyboard in front of the computers. He clicked on a red button and spoke, "Reinforcements to the-"
A dark flame to his gut cut him short as he doubled over with a cry of pain, black smoke wisping out of him and spilling onto the floor. Hinata stared at her hands, not knowing where the flame had come from. Her breaths became shallow as her heart pounded in her ears. She looked back up, seeing Vexen struggle back to his feet from the unexpected blow. Seeing the twisted look of pain in his face caused her heart to swell with a sickening sense of satisfaction that both pleased and unsettled her. Holding out her hand, a dark purple flame engulfed it and she examined it for a moment, the swell in her heart matching the flickers of the flame. The sense of power pulsed through her veins in a way she had never experienced. She walked forward with a slow step.
"This must be what Darkness feels like," she nearly purred the words out as she watched the flames flicker.
"You're not-" Vexen grated out, shooting out a mist of ice in an attempt to quelch the flame. "You're not ready…"
"Ready, really?" She asked with a scoff as she easily dodged the ice and reached down, grabbing him by his collar. Pulling him to his feet, she pushed him against the desk, holding up the dark flames threateningly. "Ready for what exactly?"
Seeing the opportunity, Vexen grabbed her wrist. A freezing white mist emanated from his fingers as he froze her arm. She yanked away with a cry of pain and looked down at the ice forming on her forearm. Growling, she glared up at him and outstretched her hand, shooting the flame towards him. He tried to summon up a wall of ice but wasn't quick enough, yelling out as the fire impacted the same spot on his gut. He fell to his knees, broken cries escaping him as even more smoke seeped out of him, becoming thicker.
"Huh," she scoffed, feeling the same swell in her heart from before as she added, "I sort of expected more from an Organization Member-even if you're only a Replica."
"W-what are you doing?" Cavuk's weak voice caught her attention. The creature was lying against the wall, sweat gleaming against its silver skin as the effectiveness of the serum was already wearing down.
Without even glancing its way, she sent a flame towards it, smirking at the yell of pain in response as she knelt in front of Vexen. "Now, do you want to tell me what you really want with me?"
"Y-you're not the one-" He struggled to speak, his breaths shallow. "Not the one we want."
With a sigh, she slung her head forward. "Not the one, huh?" Shaking her head, she looked back up at him and suddenly reached forward, clutching his collar again. She stood up, dragging him with her. "Couldn't have made sure of that before you put me through hell?!"
Without waiting for him to respond, she summoned a spiral of water and slung him across the room, crashing him against the thick window that overlooked the combat arena. A loud crack of the glass muffled Vexen's gasp for air as he collapsed to the ground. Thick, black ooze spilled out of him, dripping between his fingers that were clenched over his wounds. He rasped out a breath, trying desperately to summon enough energy for a spell, yet only a few mere snowflakes floated around him. He looked up at Hinata through half-lidded eyes, the corners of his vision blurred and beginning to tunnel.
Hinata glared at Vexen crumbled on the ground, watching as his life slowly drained out of him. She swallowed hard, unable to tear her eyes away as her heart fluttered with anticipation. Back in the far reaches of her mind, there was a faint voice, a bell trilling a warning and a concern. Something wasn't right. Merely hours ago, the thought of enjoying seeing someone's life fade away would have sickened her to the core. Instead, she found her lips curling into a smirk as she stepped towards Vexen with a slow, deliberate step. She knelt down in front of him, staring into his clouded eyes.
"This could have all been avoided," she spoke with a soft toned voice, dipping her fingers into the black sludge that was seeping through his fingers. She watched the sludge mix with her own blood as her smirk grew. "All you had to do was leave me alone."
"You can kill me, but," Vexen choked out with a breath, "you'll never escape. You're not-"
"The one, I got it," she sighed, finishing his thought for him. "Oh, and thanks for the permission to kill you." She looked back at him with a fake smile. "I was already going to, but it's nice to know you want it."
"We put too much Darkness in you…" he creaked out, shaking his head. "The next one will be… will be better."
"Oh please," she sighed, about to stand back up before she felt a sudden spark inside her. She paused, hearing a dark whisper inside her heart. She took in a sharp breath from its instruction as she darted her eyes to Vexen's. Her hand shook as she reached forward and wrapped her hand around Vexen's pale neck. She felt his weakened pulse against her palm, making her heart twist with a mixture of disgust and delight, as a purple aura began to surround her.
"W-what are you doing?" Vexen asked weakly as thicker flakes of snow fell around him, mixing with the sludge and blood on the tiled floor. He brought his hands to her wrist, summoning the last bit of energy to freeze her arm.
Hinata ignored his pitiful attempts of defense as her eyes narrowed in concentration, following the instruction of the dark whispers in the depths of her heart.
"No, no, stop!" he begged, watching helplessly as the aura covered his own weakened body.
The small amounts of life he had left were pried from inside him, and melded into Hinata. The sneer that curled her lips was the last thing he saw before his body erupted into a cloud of smoke, disappearing completely.
Hinata let out a startled breath as her hand fell slack and she scrambled back, her heart pounding in her ears. Getting to her feet, she stared down at her hands, trying to get a grasp on what had just happened. Tears welled up in her eyes as snow fell around her, cooling her heated skin.
"What have I done?" she cried, stumbling back into the computer desk.
The snow fell harder, beginning to coat the ground, covering up the evidence of her deeds. She brought her hands to her mouth, wanting to scream as she tasted blood on her tongue. Despite it all, despite the horror in her eyes and the voice in the back of her mind screaming her transgressions, her heart was swelling with gratification. An inexplicable sense of enjoyment and achievement was flowing through her, congratulating her for taking a life. With a shaking breath she looked over, noticing Cavuk's lifeless, burnt body slumped on the floor. She had taken two lives in a matter of minutes.
They deserved it…
You did the right thing…
The Darkness in her heart whispered temptingly, its words making her stomach drop and flutter with excitement all at once. Taking in a shaking breath, she clutched at her stomach, tasting the burn of vile in the back of her throat.
"What did you do?!" Larxene shrieked out, startling Hinata out of her thoughts as she looked over to see the blonde standing at the doorway, daggers already summoned and sparking with electricity.
Abruptly, the remorse in Hinata's consciousness dissolved and was replaced with a commanding Darkness. The falling snow froze in mid-air, transforming from soft flakes to orbs of solid ice as Hinata turned to face Larxene.
"The same thing I'm going to do to you if you don't leave me the hell alone," Hinata threatened. The orbs of ice surrounding her once again transformed into sharp diminutive daggers, each one aiming directly at Larxene.
Larxene's eyes narrowed, shifting her weight as she noticed the ice daggers. "You absorbed his power, huh?" She smirked. "You might not be as weak as I thought-too bad I can't let you live."
Hinata growled, clenching her hands at her side as each and every dagger shot towards Larxene. With a laugh, Larxene disappeared in a flash of lightning and reappeared right behind Hinata, hitting her with a bolt of electricity. Hinata cried out as she flew forward, streaks of electricity coursing all over her body.
"You're going to have to do better than that," Larxene sighed, pretending to admire her nails as she goaded, "even if you are only a puppet, I expected more."
Bracing her hands underneath herself, Hinata rolled back to her feet, sending a dark flame towards Larxene, which was easily dodged. Hinata yelled out as she started circling Larxene. "Just let me leave! I know I'm not the one you guys want!"
Larxene laughed, "Is that was they told you?"
She brought up her hand, surrounding it with a bolt of electricity before disappearing in another flash of light. Hinata spun around just in time, grabbing Larxene's arm as she appeared behind her. Larxene hissed and pulled back, her hands sparking as she struggled to get out of Hinata's grasp.
"Then tell me what's really going on!" Hinata demanded, a freezing mist emanating from her hand and slowly frosting over Larxene's arm.
Larxene slashed forward with her daggers, slicing them across Hinata's cheek. Hinata fell back, clenching her hand over her cheek as blood trickled between her fingers, down her arm.
"I don't have to tell a toy anything!" Larxene bit, shaking her arm to warm it back up. "You really think you're that special? When I kill you, we'll just make another one!"
Hinata scowled, angry tears stinging her cheeks. "What the hell are you talking about?!"
"You're a glitch," Larxene continued to goad, a smirk tipping the corner of her lips as she realized she was hitting a nerve. She summoned her daggers in both of her hands, hurling them towards Hinata.
Hinata gasped and shielded her face with her hands. She closed her eyes, waiting for the impact, but instead, she heard several solid thuds. Easing her eyes open, she saw that a thick ice shield had appeared in front of her, with each of the daggers impaled inside it. A chill spread through her heart. Larxene's eyes were widened, her mouth agape.
"How did you do that..?" Larxene muttered, before shaking her head and exclaiming, "You just got his powers! How did you-"
Before she could finish her words, a shard of ice whizzed past her, making her spin out of the way. Electricity sparked around her as she turned back to face Hinata, yelping in surprise from the sight of Hinta only inches away, holding Larxene's own daggers. Without hesitation, Hinata grabbed Larxene's hand and forced it against the wall before stabbing one of the daggers straight through it, pinning her to the wall.
"What the hell is wrong with you?!" Larxene shrieked, tears stinging her eyes as electricity sparked uncontrollably around her. Grabbing the dagger, she pulled it out of the wall, black sludge oozing out of her hand. She looked down at it, broken cries escaping her, before Hinata wrapped her hand around her neck, pushing her further against the wall.
"Unless you want to end up like Vexen, you better tell me what's going on!" Hinata threatened her, her grip around Larxene's neck tightening considerably. Electricity sparked around them, coursing over Hinata's body, but her focus was zeroed on Larxene, as if she couldn't even feel it.
Larxene gasped for air, her wounded hand limp at her side. Her other hand wrapped around Hinata's wrist, sparking, yet seemingly having no effect on her. "Let go of me, you bitch!" she barked.
"TELL ME!" Hinata ordered once again, a purple aura faintly surrounding her body.
Larxene gulped, feeling her life diminishing at a lethargic pace. Her heart rate began to slow, her vision blurring as she glared back at Hinata's icy gaze. "Y-you… you aren't who you- who you think you are…"
Hinata's eyes only narrowed further, the aura growing in power. "You're going to have to do better than that."
"L-look at the computers… the-the surveillance," Larxene coughed.
Keeping her hand tightly clasped around Larxene's neck, Hinata glanced over at the surveillance. She looked them over, the monitor showing her cell catching her eye. James sat against the wall, head leaned back as he slept and his fingers lightly running through Hinata's hair as she laid on his lap, battered, but also in slumber.
"Why are you playing a recording?" she asked, looking back to Larxene.
Larxene choked as she struggled to take in a breath. Her fingers wrapped around Hinata's wrist went limp, all the color and strength drained from her body. With glazed eyes, she looked over at the monitor, mumbling, "That's not… a… recording…"
Hinata's eyes widened, her stomach dropping as her breath fleeted her lungs. Her eyes darted around the room, trying to make sense of what she was hearing. Larxene's weak laugh caught her attention.
"You feel it, don't you?" she coughed and wheezed as Hinata tightened her grip around her neck. "R-realizing, you're not… not the real thing." Her vision was almost completely gone, everything around her turning to black. With a last whisper she added, "You really are… just a toy…" Larxene collapsed into a cloud of smoke.
James startled awake with a gasp, his eyes darting around the cell as he slowly remembered where he was. Letting out a breath, he leaned his head back and stared up at the ceiling. He had been there for hours and the Organization had yet to do anything with him. His head throbbed and chilled goosebumps covered his skin, but on his lap there was an unfamiliar yet welcomed warmth. With a slight frown tugging at the corner of his lips, he glanced down and was startled to see a girl resting on his lap. When he saw his fingers intertwined with her red hair he inhaled, sharply pulled his hand away, and then looked her over.
Her clothes were ripped and bloodied, showcasing dark swollen bruises and bandages wrapped around various parts of her body. Something about her made his heart flutter, yet he couldn't seem to put a name to her face. Ever so slowly, he rested his hand along her warm cheek, running his thumb along her skin. The action caused her to stir as she leaned into his touch and winced her already shut eyes.
Yawning, she fluttered her golden eyes open, meeting her gaze with James. A sad smile tipped her lips as she asked, "Are you doing alright?"
"Y-yeah," he stammered, the butterflies in his chest flurrying in a frenzy. Swallowing, he darted his eyes away for a moment before asking in return, "H-how about you?"
"I've been better," she admitted with a light, bitter laugh, closing her eyes once more as she brought her hand to her face.
James looked back at her, examining her as she slowly woke up. He lightly chewed his tongue, trying to find the words to say to her.
Moving her hands from her face, she caught his stare and gave him a look. "What's wrong?"
His eyes darted to hers as he opened and closed his mouth a few times. He rubbed the back of his neck and chuckled, "I, uh, I was just wondering… Who are you?"
Her eyes narrowed in confusion as she pushed herself to sit up, wincing from the pain. She looked him over before laughing a bit awkwardly. "What do you mean?"
"I mean," he averted his gaze, feeling ashamed, yet he wasn't sure why, "what's your name? I don't think I've ever seen you before."
"James… Are you feeling alright?" she asked, lifting her hand to his forehead.
His cheeks warmed from her gesture and he reached his hand up to hers, moving it away from his face. He kept his hand clasped around hers in his lap with his eyes trained on them. "I… feel like I should know you," he admitted, clearing his throat as he instinctively ran his thumb along her hand. "You feel familiar, but, " he brought his gaze back to hers, noticing tears glazing over her eyes, "I have no idea who you are."
She inhaled sharply, averting her gaze as her heart twisted. "They really did it…" she muttered breathlessly. "They made you forget…"
"Forget?" he repeated. "What do you mean?"
She shook her head, closing her eyes as she tried to explain with a shaking voice. "Um… Did Sam ever tell you about a girl named Namine?"
"You know Sam?" he asked, getting a nod in return. "Oh… Well, um, yeah. The name sounds familiar. What does she have to do with this?"
"Namine is a Nobody with special... powers, I suppose you could call them." She pulled back her hand from James, wrapping her arms around herself. "She can change people's memories and affect their hearts, as long as they were connected to Sora. But for a while, she was in the Organization's custody and Vexen did experiments on her so he could replicate her powers and use it on someone else…" Her voice trailed off as she stared at the ground. "And… I suppose he was successful… Considering you don't know who I am."
"Why would he do that though?" James asked, not completely sure he fully understood what she was saying.
She shook her head again. "I'm not sure. I'm not sure of any of their motives with me right now…"
"You must be pretty important if they're making people forget who you are," he surmised, looking her over. "How do we know each other? Were we captured together?"
Taking in a deep breath, she brought her knees to her chest, resting her chin on them. With a soft voice, she explained, "I met you and your sister a little over a year ago on Montressor. I came to your guys' shop to build a custom ship for me." Taking a moment to wet her dried lips, she then added, "And yeah… We were captured together. You were surprising me with a model ship of the Highwind when Bane attacked."
"I told you about my model ships?" he asked, almost petrified. The tone in his voice brought a slight smirk to Hinata as she nodded. "Heh," James let out a puff of breath, his face warming. "We must have been close then…"
"We are…" she mumbled, burying her face in between her knees as her throat constricted with emotion. "You really don't know who I am?"
"I'm sorry…" His heart lurched as he heard the strain of tears in her voice. He reached forward, running his hand along her shoulder and arm, hearing a faint whimper escape her from his touch. "Were we... uh, together or something?"
Her eyes opened immediately as she darted her gaze to his, tears glistening in her eyes. A slight blush crept onto her cheeks, as she shook her head, "No, I mean… you wanted us to be, but uh, I was, or am, with someone else… but um, we are really close friends."
He sighed as he softly ran his thumb along her shoulder, before bringing his hand back down to his side. "How did this even happen? How could I supposedly forget one of my best friends?"
"I'm not sure how," she admitted, running her hands up and down her arms as if trying to bring some semblance of comfort to herself. "I'm not even sure if it's reversible. Or if it's spread to everyone that knows me, or if it's just you..." Riku flashed into her thoughts, making her heart twist. "I sure hope it isn't everyone…"
James was about to respond before the hum of the power in the base whined away into nothingness. It was a sound they barely noticed, but as it winded down, all the lights around them darkened, turning off completely.
"What's going on?" Hinata asked, her heart rate increasing as she looked around in confusion.
As if in reply, the faint hum of the power returned, turning the lights back on, but much dimmer and with a red hue. A loud metal latch unlocked before the door to their cell slid open. James scrambled to his feet, running towards the newly open doorway and peeking out. All the doors throughout the hallway as far as he could see were now open as well.
"I don't know what happened," he whispered back to Hinata, "but it might our only chance to get out of here." He looked over his shoulder at her, seeing her struggling to her feet. "Come on, we need to hurry." He turned around and rushed towards her, catching her as she stumbled forward.
"Going as fast as I can," she muttered, leaning against him for support as he led her out of the cell. She looked around at the reddened lights, feeling uneasiness settling in her gut. "Something's not right…"
"I know, but we can't just sit there in our cell," James retorted, suddenly moving his arm under her legs and lifting her off the ground. Hinata gasped and tightened her arms around his neck as he carried her. "It will be faster this way," he explained with a whisper, his face warming.
Hinata silently nodded as she looked in the newly opened cells as they passed. Various kinds of Heartless wandered around the rooms, no doubt experiments for the Organization Replicas, yet they completely ignored James and Hinata as they passed. It was as if enough of their previous mind was left to know that they weren't the enemy.
"Which way?" James asked, slowing to a stop when the hall branched into multiple directions. He looked down each of their options, all of them seemingly identical to him. "There has to be a way out of here, right?"
"Go left," Hinata told him, weakly pointing the way. "There should be an elevator not far down from here."
James nodded as he complied, going as quickly and as quietly as he could manage. Having Hinata in his arms barely seemed to affect his speed as he went down every path Hinata pointed out. Heartless began to roam the hallways, still ignoring Hinata and James as they, too, searched for a way out. They heard random screams and clangs of metal echoing down the halls, occasionally seeing a Kaminoan in a lab room trying to keep back the Heartless attacking them. Hinata tightened her hands around James, feeling sick to her stomach at the sight.
"This is horrible," she whispered, burying her face in the crook of his neck, trying to drown out the sounds.
"I know," he agreed, finally coming to a stop in front of the elevator. "But we're here."
Hinata looked up, patting his shoulder so he could let her down. She stumbled towards the polished door, looking at the holographic control board attached to the wall beside it. "We need to go up," she told him. "But I'm not sure how many levels…"
"I'm honestly surprised you remember even this much," he commented with a quiet voice, scanning his eyes around them to make sure no one was coming towards them. "Just pick a floor and we'll go from there."
"Alright," she nodded, interacting with the control board. "We're on floor 15B," she mumbled to herself. "I'm going to guess we should go to the first floor above the basement. We'll at least get to see the windows at that point and gauge where to go from there." She pressed a few buttons before a cheery chime rang out and the door slid open.
Hinata clung to the door frame, limping inside as James gave one last look around them before darting in. The lights flickered as they entered and the door closed. With a low rumble and shake, the elevator began to ascend at a sluggish pace. An arrow indicating the floor number slowly inched towards the next level.
"Can't this thing go any faster?" James demanded, aggravation obvious in his voice as he paced back and forth with his hand ruffling through his hair.
"I-it's probably due to the power outage," Hinata speculated, her voice quivering as she leaned against the wall, her hand wrapped around her waist. Her expression was twisted with pain as she glanced down, seeing a dark red substance seeping through her shirt and showing between her fingers. She took in a sharp breath, averting her gaze and meeting her eyes with James' worried ones.
"What did they do to you?" he asked her, the slightest bit of shaking in his voice. He walked towards her and gently moved her hand away from her waist, seeing the blood staining her shirt. He gulped as his stomach dropped, seeing a gash along her side that had reopened from their escape.
"Experimented on me…" she whispered, yanking back her hand and covering the wound. "I'll be fine. Just need to get you out of here."
James looked up at her, seeing the tears welled up in her reddened eyes. "Experimented how?" he asked softly. "Were they trying to turn you into one of those creatures?"
She shook her head, "No, I don't think so anyways." She took in a sharp breath, trying to restrain the emotion choking in her throat. "They, um… They'd put this weird serum in me that would make it where I couldn't feel any emotion or pain, and, uh, then they'd put me in some room and pit me against Organization Members until my body couldn't take it anymore." She swallowed hard, averting her gaze as her body began to tremble. "Then they'd stitch me back together and do it all over again…"
She closed her eyes as she felt James' warm hands on her shoulders.
"And the worst thing about it…" she added, her voice shaking uncontrollably. "Whatever they were putting inside of me… it made me enjoy it. I liked the fighting and everything they were doing to me. The more of that stuff they put in me, the more I wanted to do it…" Tears strained her already quivering voice. "It scares me so much…!"
James stared at her at a complete loss for words. His mouth was dry and his stomach knotting. The thought of her being forced through that made him sick. He scanned his eyes over her, realizing exactly where she had gotten each and every bruise and cut on her body. Taking in a long breath, he finally replied, "It's not your fault…"
"I know…" she nodded, using the back of her hand to wipe away a stray tear.
"Do you have any idea why they were doing that to you?" he asked.
"No," she bitterly laughed. "I don't understand any of this… Why they went through so much trouble to get me here. What they want with me… It doesn't make any sense."
He downcast his gaze, before asking the question he was sure he was going to regret. "Why did they even bring me here?" He met his eyes with hers when she didn't reply right away. "It was to keep you in line… wasn't it?"
She slowly nodded, noticing his skin paling as a wave of dread washed over his eyes. "I, uh, made them promise not to hurt you if I went along with whatever they wanted…" she confessed, her heart twisting as tears glazed over his eyes.
"Why would you do that?" he demanded, slightly shaking her as emotion strained his voice. "Even if we are supposed to be best friends, why would you put yourself through that for me?"
"James," she cried, cutting him off, "the entire reason you were even captured is because of me. This has nothing to do with you, but you got dragged down with me. I wasn't about to let them hurt you! I-" Her voice cut off as her throat constricted with tears. Taking in a sharp breath, she finished, "I don't know what I'd do if something happened to you. Especially if it was because of me."
He shook his head as he let her go and turned around, running his hands along his arms. "So you basically went through hell to keep me safe, and I can't even remember who you are…?" Spinning back around to face her, he added, "Right?"
"I-it's not your fault," she assured him, trying to step forward before James rushed forward and grabbed her shoulders to keep her in place. "They did something to make you forget. It's not like you wanted to forget about me."
He scoffed, looking away as he dropped his hands from her shoulders. "I'm such an idiot…" he muttered harshly under his breath. He buried his face in his hands, taking in a deep breath to get a grasp on what was happening. Lowering his hands, he kept his gaze downcast as he whispered. "I'm… really, really sorry for all the pain I caused you. And," he looked away, his stomach twisting, "I know that can't change anything and it doesn't do much to make you feel better, but… I am." He brought his gaze back to hers. "And, I'm sorry I forgot." Lifting his hand, he brushed the back of his fingers along her cheek. "I know you're special to me. I'm not sure how, but my heart knows it." He chuckled, "As lame as that sounds."
"N-no, it's fine," she assured him, reaching her hand up to his. She strained a small smile. "Knowing that… it does help a little bit."
"Once we get out of here, I want you to fill me in on everything I forgot, alright?" he told her with a stern, yet kind tone in his voice.
Her smile diminished as she avoided his gaze. His own smile faltered from her reaction and he tilted his head to the side a bit, before the elevator suddenly jolted to a complete stop. He caught himself from falling on top of Hinata from the reverberation, his hands on either side of her on the walls. The lights above them flickered and the floor beneath them creaked.
"Something's wrong," Hinata whispered, looking over James' shoulder at the the floor diagram. The arrow was stuck between two floors, tremoring between them.
James pushed himself off the wall and went towards the display. He pushed the open door button, yet only a low beeping sound responded. He pressed it a few more times in succession. "Come on, come on," he pleaded under his breath.
A loud creak startled him back as the door barely cracked open in the center, sticking in place. The opening was just wide enough for James to fit in his hands. He braced himself and forced the door open, his voice strained with grunts and sweat beaded on his skin.
"Just how strong are you?" Hinata asked with a bit of admiration in her weak voice as she saw him prying the door open.
He let out a constrained laugh, fitting his body into the doorway. Leaning his back against one side of the door, he used both hands to keep the other side open. It constantly fought against him, striving to close back up and seal them inside. The door was open just wide enough to show that they were indeed between floors. The opening to the above floor was visible, large enough for them to crawl up to.
"I-I know you're in pain," he told her, his voice tense and breaths laboured. "But can you climb up? M-maybe open the door with that control board."
"Good idea," she concurred, forcing herself forward.
Her legs faltered on the first step, making her stagger and let out a weak whimper of pain. Shaking her head, she stood back up straight, ignoring the discomfort as she leaned her arm against the wall to support her weight. She made it to the door and carefully ducked under James' arms bracing it open. Taking in a deep breath, she jumped up, grasping the edge of the ledge that led to the above floor. The door leading into the hall was opened, sparking as if from a malfunction. She let out a cry as she pulled herself up, feeling numerous wounds tearing open and her muscles quaking as they threatened to give out.
She scrambled onto the floor, blood dripping onto the polished floor as she struggled to the control board. Up on her knees, she desperately pressed buttons on the holographic board, until she heard the mechanical whir of the elevator door opening completely. James fell back with a sigh of relief before climbing up onto the ledge. Hinata dropped to the floor, back leaned against the wall as she tried to regain control of her ragged breaths. She closed her eyes, feeling James as he came to sit beside her.
James glanced over at her, knowing she had to be in immense pain. Deciding to remain silent, he examined the floor they were on. The lights were still reddened, just as they had been on the floor they were on originally. Heartless roamed the halls and an alarm was blaring and echoing, mixing with the yells from Kaminoans and the clanging of metal. A few Heartless eyed them as they passed, but none of them took the time to actually attack.
"Those things are different from the ones on Montressor," James spoke up, his voice breathless. "Probably because of some sick experiments these guys have been doing on them…"
Hinata didn't reply, her breaths still audibly weak as she leaned her head against his shoulder.
James glanced up at the top of the elevator doorway, seeing an engraving that read 3B. "We're close to the first floor," he told her. "Hopefully we can find some stairs to get there…" He glanced over when he only heard Hinata whine dismally in response. "I'll carry you again, don't worry. Once we get out of here, we'll get you fixed up. I promise." He kissed the top of her head without thinking, but Hinata was in too much pain to really react much.
"You should… just go without me," she breathed, her voice barely audible over the blaring sounds echoing around them. "I'm just… going to slow you down."
"Don't talk like that," he ordered her, pushing himself to stand back up. Bending over, he put his arms under Hinata and hoisted her off the ground, ignoring the blood staining his clothes. She bit back a cry, burying her face in the nape of his neck as he stood back up straight. "I'm getting you out of here whether you like it or not."
"Maybe," she spoke up, her quiet voice muffled against his neck, "you can find one of those serum vials to give me-"
"No way," he interrupted her, his voice stern. "Not a single drop of that is going into your body ever again."
She fell silent as he went forward. He blindly walked through the halls, making sure to keep them out of sight as much as possible from the Kaminoans.
"You'd think the Organization guys would be all over us," he whispered to Hinata as he checked every room for a stairwell.
"...They probably don't know where we are," she mumbled, reaching one of her hands to his wrist where a black bracelet was braided with purple beads. "Because of the bracelet I made you."
James paused, "Wait… I remember that. Or, at least I remember getting it and knowing what it does. You made it for me?" The corner of his mouth tipped into a smirk as he felt Hinata nod. "So I guess not all my memories are gone-not completely anyways."
"That's good," she mumbled in response. Her eyes suddenly feeling heavy as her consciousness began threatening to leave. Her hand around his wrist fell limp, her breathing slowing as her body began going numb.
"Stay with me," James warned her, shaking her in his arms in an attempt to get her attention. "We're almost out of here. I just need you to stay awake, alright?"
She was silent for a moment, blinking slowly as her mind took a moment to register his words. "...Mhmm…" was all she could bring herself to say in response.
James tightened his arms around her as he turned a corner, coming to an abrupt stop. A pulsating black portal appeared out of the ground in the center of the hallway. It flickered and changed shape as if it weren't made with a solid connection.
Hinata gasped when she saw it. "No, no," she shook her head, her voice shaking. "Go back."
Before he could move, the portal disappeared, leaving a girl in its wake. Her hair was as red as Hinata's, undone and messy, falling around her face with black sludge crusted along its ends. Crimson and blackened blood was splattered over her, dripping from her fingertips. Electricity crackled sporadically around her, overpowering and shattering the ceiling lights as flakes of snow softly floated to the ground. Her golden eyes glowed as she looked the two of them over, a scowl on her dried lips and thin lines of blood falling from the cuts on her cheeks.
"What the-" James began to say, his voice quivering at the sight.
"Put me down," Hinata ordered him.
"Do you know her?" he asked in disbelief.
"Just do it, please," she whispered.
As she stood on her own, she wobbled weakly, trying to support her own weight. Leaning against the wall, she carefully stepped forward.
"You're… a Replica, of me… right?" Hinata asked, trying to bring as much strength and confidence to her voice as she could muster. The familiar sense of adrenaline began trickling through her, making it easier to ignore the pain of her irritated wounds.
The girl simply nodded, twitching her head as her chest heaved with ragged breaths. She darted her eyes between James and Hinata, clenching her hands closed as if struggling to hold back.
"The power outage," Hinata continued, not tearing her eyes away from her Replica, "was that you?" She received another nod in response.
"How did you manage that?" James spoke up, lifting his hands in surrender when the Replica focused her attention on him. "What about the Organization guys?"
"I-" she opened her mouth to speak, her voice quivering with intense emotion. "I killed them."
"Y-you what?" Hinata froze, her heart dropping. "Why would you do that?"
"Because of what they did to me!" her Replica cried out, tightly shutting her eyes and biting the inside of her cheek. "I'm not-" Her voice choked as tears stung her eyes. "I'm not just some toy to be played with!" She let out a strong yell, slamming her fist against the wall and startling Hinata. "But THEY made me like this!" Opening her eyes, she glared at Hinata, clawing her hand over her heart as she explained, "I am filled with so much Darkness! I can feel it inside me, telling me what to do, and I hate it!"
Hinata put up her hands, her heart pounding in her ears as she attempted to calm her down. "I-it's alright. We'll find a way to get it out, Riku-"
"Riku's one of the reasons I was even created!" her Replica interjected with a hiss. "All of your disgusting friends are to blame for this!"
Hinata's breath choked in her throat as she darted her gaze over her shoulder. "James… Get out of here."
"What?" he asked, his own voice shaking. "I'm not leaving you."
"James-" Hinata repeated his name, taking her attention away from her Replica for only a moment before being bombarded by a sudden icy blast of wind that toppled her to the ground. She gasped as she was forced down, helplessly watching as James fell back, slamming his head on the tiled floor and falling limp. "No!" she cried out breathlessly, pushing herself up to her knees in an attempt to crawl towards him.
A hot, bloodied hand grabbed the back of her neck, forcing her back. Hinata yelped as she was hoisted off the ground and slammed against the wall. Her Replica slid her hand to the front of her neck, barely allowing any air to get through as she glared at her weakened eyes.
"Don't-" Hinata pleaded with a weak cough, her feeble hands wrapping around her Replica's wrists. "Don't do this-please."
"I am going to kill every single person that had a part in creating me," her Replica confessed, her voice low and quiet. "My entire existence is hell, and if you had just stayed in your room at the mansion like a good girl, none of this would have happened!"
"F-fight against it…" Hinata breathed out, gasping her breath as her vision began to blur. "Y-you don't have to-to do this…"
Her Replica scoffed, tightening her hold around Hinata's neck. "The only time I feel alive is when I'm killing someone. Feeling the life leaving their body has been the most amazing experience in my life, and that's with your memories included." She shoved her harder against the wall, making Hinata cry out. "But it's the moment they're gone that I'm reminded what a weak, close-minded child I was made from. I HATE my entire existence the moment their bodies go limp because of your stupid moral code! Giving into the Darkness is the only time everything feels right, but the moment it's gone, I have you screaming in my head what a disgusting monster I am." She choked down her rage, the tears on her cheeks blackening as she added, "But that will change once I destroy everything that made me this way. Then no one else's voice will matter."
"N-no," Hinata breathlessly sobbed. "T-that won't work. You-you have to know that…"
"Do I?" she asked, a faint smirk tilting at the corner of her lips as a glowing purple aura surrounded her body. She closed her eyes, taking in a deep breath as the aura surrounded Hinata. She felt the pure energy melding into her, rebuilding her adrenaline and fluttering every nerve in her body. "This is familiar, isn't it?" she asked Hinata, her voice almost wistful. "Being choked by someone you thought you could trust? Sort of a fitting end..."
Hinata struggled to take in a breath, feeling her own life fleeting piece by piece. The corners of her vision blurred and blackened as she stared at the monster in front of her. Memories of her life floated across her mind. She saw Riku, his sweet smile and his comforting arms that had wrapped around her more times than she could count. Her heart plummeted, realizing she would never get to see him again. Never get to hear his voice or his laugh, or the way his breath would hitch every time she told him she loved him. Closing her eyes, she imagined him in her thoughts, making sure he would be the last thing she saw if she was about to truly die.
"NO!" James' yell pierced through her mind as the tight grip around her neck was suddenly gone.
Heaving for breath, Hinata collapsed to the ground, finally opening her eyes to see that James had shoved her Replica to the ground. "J-James-" she wheezed out, coughing out splatters of blood on the floor.
"I promised I would get you out of here." James knelt down, wrapping her arm around his shoulder.
"N-no, James," Hinata shook her head, pulling back from him. "Get out of here, please, while you still can."
The Replica yelled, electricity sparking around her before shooting it out towards James. It crackled over his body as he fell to the ground and let out broken cries of pain.
"Stop!" Hinata begged, she crawled in front of James, trying to protect him as her Replica stalked towards them. "Just let him go, please!" Her hoarse voice cracked as tears streamed uncontrollably down her cheeks.
Her Replica held out her hand, summoning a thick, sharp blade of ice. Grabbing Hinata's shoulder, she pulled her back, throwing her against the wall. "You want him to live? Fine!" she growled. "I'll go after him after I'm finished with you." Pulling back her hand, the shard of ice went with her.
Hinata averted her gaze, her lip quivering as she awaiting the final blow. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw James beginning to stir once more. She opened her mouth to tell him to stop, but was too late as he grabbed her Replica's foot and pulled. The Replica released her hold on Hinata, turning her attention to James as Hinata fell to the ground.
"James, run!" Hinata tried to yell, her voice barely audible from strain and tears.
He barely glanced over at her, taking his attention from the Replica for just a moment. Noticing someone standing over him, he looked back up, just in time to see the shard of ice impaling his stomach.
"NO!" Hinata screamed, everything around her slowing as she watched the dagger plunging into him.
His eyes widened, his mouth falling agape as he tried to cry out, yet only a fleeting breath escaped him. He could see the burning rage and pure hatred in the Replica's eyes, before it suddenly washed away to a overwhelming dread in her entire being. She stumbled back, her hands slipping off the embedded ice dagger as her eyes took in what she had just done. James lay on the ground, stabbed by her own doing. His blood was already dripping onto white tile as he gasped for breath. Hinata sobbed uncontrollably as she frantically clawed her way over to him.
As the Replica stared, she felt the burn of vile return to the back of her throat, her vision tunneled towards James' dying body. Her body began to tremble, her skin paling to an unnatural color as she fell to her knees and clawed her hands into her hair, digging her nails into her scalp until she was sure she'd broke skin. A curdling scream escaped her as a dark sludge surrounded her, covering her until she disappeared completely.
"James, no, no, please, no," Hinata wept, tears dripping from her face onto James' heaving chest. Her hands ran over his face and down to the dagger lanced into his stomach. "I-I don't know what to do!"
"I-It's alright," he coughed, blood dripping down the side of his mouth. "I… I can barely feel it."
"Doesn't mean you aren't losing a lot of blood," she countered, her voice and body trembling. She looked between his paling face and the dagger, trying to figure out what to do. "This is all my fault," she sobbed. "I-I did this!"
"Hinata, don't," he pleaded weakly, bringing his hand up to her face. "Don't… don't you dare blame yourself…" A frail smile curved his lips as she leaned into his touch and ran her own hand along his. "...I thought- I told you, to stop doing that…?"
She darted her eyes to his. "You did…?"
"When… when we first got here," he reminded her, coughing again.
"You… remember that?" she asked, her stomach flipping as she felt his blood seeping through the fabric of her pant legs. She did her best to ignore it, focusing her attention on his face.
"Yeah." He tried to chuckle but choked on the blood building in the back of his throat. He coughed, wheezing for a moment before quipping, "Turns out I just needed a stab to the stomach to remember."
Hinata strained a smile, but it only made her sick to hear his words. She kissed his hand that was against her cheek, closing her eyes and trying to take in every positive thing she could.
James smiled from her gesture and looked down at the dagger in his stomach, seeing the blood for the first time. All at once, the entirety of pain crashed over him, making him tightly shut his eyes as his breaths became even more ragged and forced. "God, now I feel it!" he groaned and slung back his head, struggling not to yell and sob at the same time.
"Oh no, James," Hinata's eyes shot open, making her once again frantic as she ran her hands to the dagger. "What should I do?"
"Pull it out!" he begged her, borderline writhing.
"I-I can't!" she sobbed. "You'll bleed out without it."
He let out a disgruntled cry of pain, "You really think I'll make it even with it in?" His words came out in a slur.
"Don't say that," she scolded him, wrapping her frail hands over the rounded base of the dagger. "B-but alright," she stammered, looking down at him before she pulled upwards.
James yelled out, clawing at the ground as Hinata tried to pull the ice shard out of him. She was barely able to inch it upwards before her hands gave out. She tried again, but her grip slipped, slicing up toward the sharpened sides and gashing her palms. With a hiss of pain, she pulled her hands back to her chest, feeling the warm blood trickling out of them.
"I-I can't," she softly sobbed, feeling James' weak hand along her knee.
"I-It's alright," he assured her, his words still slurring together. "I can't feel it much anymore… I think… I'm getting better."
She shook her head, a bitter laugh finally escaping her as she brought her eyes to his. "We both know that's a lie."
He swallowed hard, cringing at the taste of blood on his tongue. "I… never thought I'd go out like this…"
Her heart stopped for a moment, realizing what he meant. Shaking her head, she forced a smile. "Y-you're not going out. Sam and Riku will be here any minute now, and they can heal you right up."
James faintly shook his head, "No… I don't think they will…"
Hinata wet her lips as she shook her own head and sobbed, "I'm not going on without you."
"You can," he retorted, his breaths slow and painful as the light in his eyes dimmed, "and you will…." He looked up at the ceiling, closing his eyes, as he added with a whisper. "The Hinata I know… wouldn't let this get her down."
Hinata stared at him, completely helpless as she watched the blood from the dagger spilling out of him. His chest continued to rise and fall, its pace slowing with each passing second. A numbness began to envelope her heart, her head clearing of thoughts as she realized that neither of them were likely to make it out of there. Looking at her hands, she saw the blood trickling down her wrists and her arms, yet she couldn't feel the sensation. Taking in a deep breath, she lowered to the floor, leaning her head against James' chest and listening to his slowing heart.
Everything around them seemed to freeze. The blaring alarms and the screams were drowned out, or perhaps they had fallen silent. Heartless were nowhere near them, as if already knowing they weren't welcomed there.
"I won't leave you..." Hinata whispered to him, closing her own eyes as she focused on his heartbeat.
"I know…" he whispered in return, his voice barely audible, but she could hear his words rumbling through his chest. "I… I love you…"
Her heart twanged, despite the overwhelming numbness as she ran her hand along his side. Her tears soaked his shirt as she replied with a soft whimper, "I love you too…" She wasn't sure if he had heard her, as his heart had stopped beating.
Sam rushed to the door of the ship, hearing it let out a loud hiss as it slid open and lowered a walkway onto Kamino. A light rain had begun to fall, the sound of the drops pattering against the buildings mixed with the roaring waves of the water crashing around her. A warm hand on her shoulder caught her attention as she glanced over and saw Jim beside her, gun slung over his shoulder. She sent him a strained smile before looking back at the towering facility.
Through the windows, she could see reddened lights and the occasional Heartless crawling along the walls. The sight made Sam sick to her stomach as she thought of her brother trying to survive in that frenzy.
"If James is here, we'll find him," Jim spoke up, running his thumb along Sam's shoulder as he walked forward. "Where should we start?"
"I believe the swiftest course of action would be to split up into search teams," Amelia suggested, coming off the ship with sizable plasma guns strapped to her sides and slung over her shoulders. "The quicker we find James, the more likely it is we will find him alive and well."
Sam bit the inside of her cheek, fighting back the urge to charge blindly into the facility. Looking over her shoulder, she saw Riku coming out of the ship with Jack and Ben in tow. "How do you want to do this?" she asked him, the urgency obvious in her voice.
Riku looked at the facility, feeling a sense of familiarity about it in his heart, yet he couldn't place why. He blinked before diverting his gaze to Sam and replying, "You go with Jim and Amelia; I'll go alone." Without waiting for her to respond, he walked forward past the group. "Call each other if we find anything."
"W-what about us?" Ben spoke up, rubbing his hands together as Jack floated around him with his ears flat upon his head.
"Stay with the ship," Riku advised him without bothering to glance back at them over his shoulder.
"Yeah," Sam added with a bit of a scoff. "And make sure not to fly off until everyone is on board this time, alright?"
"But we could help!" Ben exclaimed, looking between the group as they walked off without saying anything in return. Letting out a long sigh, he ran his hands over his face. "We have to help somehow, Jack… If they don't know who Hinata is anymore, what if they try to leave without her?"
Jack floated forward a bit, growling about the group leaving them behind. Turning around to face Ben, he let out a string of adamant barks that caught Ben's attention.
"Go by ourselves?" Ben asked, his eyes widening, "But we don't know the first thing about fighting!" His hands fidgeted in front of him. "A-and what about the ship? Riku told us to stay-"
Jack interrupted him with a bit of a growl.
"Well, yeah, I know he doesn't remember Hinata," Ben agreed, his fidgeting increasing. "But-" He paused as Jack added something that made Ben's eyes brighten. "You know? You're right!" He pounded his fist into his open hand. "We might be Hinata's only hope, we can't let her down!"
He turned and scurried back onto the ship, grabbing a small leftover plasma pistol and communicator left on the table. As he reemerged, Ben clipped the communicator to his chest and spun the gun on his fingers with a determined look in his mechanical eyes.
"Come on, Jack!" Ben exclaimed, running towards the facility with Jack in tow, barking excitedly.
The moment they burst through the door, a Corridor of Darkness appeared, leaving Riku in its wake. A stern expression was on his face as he stared at the duo with his arms crossed.
"Oh, uh, Riku," Ben stammered, slowing to a stop. "Uh, we-uh, wanted to make sure we looked for Hinata, too, so-"
"Come on," Riku sighed, motioning his head to the side as he turned and began leading the way.
Ben nearly jumped for joy, before scurrying after him. His excitement was short lived, however, as they were quickly met with a group of Shadow Heartless. Riku took care of most of them, summoning Soul Eater and slicing through them with ease. The rare few that managed to make it past him were soon shot by a blast from Ben's newly acquired plasma pistol. His shots were shaky and occasionally missed their mark, but he managed to take them out. As the last one exploded into a wisp of black smoke, Ben stood proudly, beaming at Riku when he glanced back at them over his shoulder.
Riku smirked at him. "Good job, you can actually fire a gun."
"See? I'm not completely useless," Ben spun the gun in his hand, yelping when he accidentally bonked his head.
Jack barked and floated on ahead, his nose twitching as if he was picking up on a scent. He barked over his shoulder, making sure the others were following. Ben ran after him with Riku walking behind. He kept Soul Eater at the ready and scanned each room they passed, his stomach knotting at how much blood and chaos they were simply passing. Strange aliens he had never seen before were hidden away in many of the rooms. Some were curled up, scared for their lives, while others lay limp as Heartless danced around the room. They passed a few labs, their doors pried open and all the testing tubes for live subjects shattered.
"What happened here?" Riku spoke up, bringing his attention to Ben and Jack up ahead of him. "What even is this place?"
"I'm not sure," Ben replied, also unsettled by the carnage. "I just hope Hinata and James are alright."
"Yeah…" Riku replied, quickening his pace.
Jack came to a stop in front of a malfunctioning elevator door. The control board sparked and the screen fizzed in and out of existence. The doors were stuck in a loop, opening and closing, with the cheery chime ringing over and over again. Riku looked down the elevator shaft when the doors opened, seeing the elevator jammed a few floors down.
"Down here?" Riku asked, glancing over at Jack, who nodded and barked in response. With a sigh, Riku backed up and scanned their surroundings. "There has to be a stairwell around here somewhere."
"Why not jump?" Ben asked, running forward and jumping down the elevator shaft before Riku could even begin to react.
"Wait, no!" Riku called after him, wincing at the loud thud of metal when Ben landed.
"I'm OKAY!" Ben called back up, his voice echoing up the chamber. "This was farther down than I expected!"
Riku grumbled under his breath as he waited for the doors to open before jumping down himself. He used a bit of magic to slow his fall, landing on top of the elevator with a soft step. Jack floated down beside him, barking softly at Ben with his ears flattened on his head.
"What? It wasn't dangerous," Ben whispered back. "I would have been fine even if the elevator did fall! I'm a robot!"
"Just, be quiet," Riku interrupted, waving him off as he looked at the opened doorway where the elevator had jammed.
Smears of blood were dried against the white floor, standing out against the otherwise spotless hall. Riku jumped into the doorway, turning and noticing the floor sign that said he was on 3B. Making a mental note of it, he looked at the ground, seeing the smears of blood along the floor and the bloody handprints by the control board on the wall.
Jack floated in and sniffed the blood, his ears and tail lowering as he whimpered.
"Is it James'?" Riku asked, noticing Jack shaking his head while Ben clarified.
"It's Hinata's…" Ben's eyes dimmed blue as he looked up at Riku. "We have to hurry."
Riku nodded, turning around and scanning the area. Drops of blood scattered the floor, leading further down the hall and turning towards the left. Without consulting the others, he began following the trail. Jack flew on ahead, turning down the corner and barking to let the others know where he was going. They encountered a few more groups of Heartless, but took them out with ease. Jack possessed a select few, using them to tear apart other enemies with an agitated vigor. The moment they were gone, Jack would continue on without waiting on the others. They went on for a few minutes, until they heard Jack suddenly let out a wailing howl up ahead. Ben sprinted ahead, turning the corner and immediately dropping to his knees at the sight. Riku wasn't far behind, freezing when he saw Hinata and James limp on the floor, covered in blood. A melting ice dagger protruded from James' torso, its cold water mixing with the viscid, red pool on the floor.
His stomach flipped, his vision focusing to Hinata, even though he had no idea who she was. Tears welled up in his eyes, his heart twisting in a way he had never experienced and hoped he would never have to again. With slow, heavy steps, he approached them, his footsteps seeming to echo in his ringing ears.
"This is all my fault," Ben cried, drops of oil spilling from his eyes. He buried his face in his hands. "I told James to go help Hinata… I was so worried… B-but I never-" His voice broke into a sob, his words becoming intelligible.
Jack lay on top of Hinata, his head nuzzling against her and licking her shoulder, as he whimpered helplessly. Riku lowered to his knees, pushing back the hair from Hinata's face. He swallowed hard, feeling his throat constricting with overwhelming emotion as he looked her over.
"What did they do to them…?" he asked, his voice soft and shaking. He placed his fingers along Hinata's neck, noticing the darkened bruises in the shape of a hand. The sight made the knots in his stomach tighten, before he felt a soft heartbeat against his fingertips. "She's still alive," he informed the others, instantly noticing both Ben and Jack dart their attention to him.
Jack's ears perked up as Ben scrambled over, his eyes scanning over Hinata. "You're right! Her pulse is weakening, but you can fix that, right?"
"I can heal some of it, at least stop the bleeding," Riku replied, his heart fluttering with a bit of hope, even though he wasn't exactly sure why. Turning his attention to James, he placed his fingers along his neck and waited. The hopefulness in his chest flitted away when there wasn't a single heartbeat in response. His hand dropped to the floor, his jaw clenching as he grated out the words, "He didn't make it."
"What…?" Ben asked, averting his attention to James and scanning him. His brightening eyes fell back to a deep blue, oil welling up inside them. "B-but that can't be right. Hinata would never let anything happen to him!"
"She might not have had a choice," Riku replied, glancing over at Hinata, noticing all the gashes and burns along her body.
Ben swallowed hard. "We have to tell Sam."
"I know…" Riku agreed, placing his hand on Hinata's shoulder out of instinct as he pushed himself to stand. He forced himself to turn away, as he pulled out his communication device and pressed the call button. Before it could get to its second ring, Sam picked up the call.
"Did you find him?" she asked, her voice frantic and shaking. "I don't know what shit went down here, but I'm worried as hell about him! There's no way he-"
"I found him," Riku interjected, his voice breaking, making him clear his throat.
A grin immediately appeared on her face as she let out a breath of relief. "You did? Oh, my god!" she laughed. "Where is he?! Is he alright? Let me talk to him!"
Riku opened and closed his mouth, averting his gaze from hers. His tongue seemed to swell in his mouth as he couldn't find a single word to say to her. He shook his head, making Sam gasp as horror filled her eyes.
"W-wait, where is he?" she asked trembling. Tears welled up in her eyes. "Riku, where is he?!"
Riku swallowed, his own hand beginning to shake as he forced the words out, "He's… on 3B…"
Before he could get anything else out, Sam cut off the call. Riku let out a shaking breath once she was gone, wishing he had been more straightforward. He ran his hand over his face, trying to get a hold of himself.
"Riku…" Ben's weak voice caught his attention. "Hinata needs help, or she's not going to make it either."
"Yeah…" Riku nodded, turning around and forcing himself back to them.
He knelt down beside Hinata, grabbing her shoulder and pulling her back from James. Her clothes were ripped and stained with a mixture of her own blood and James'. Even with healing her, there was no telling of the infections she could get. Open wounds scattered her body, but the fresh ones along her palms caught Riku's attention the most. He grabbed her hands with a soft touch, feeling them in his palms. Focusing on the gashes, a green mist began to emit from his fingertips, melding into her hands. He watched as her skin reformed, the blood washing away and revealing soft pink skin. Releasing her hands once they were healed, he went to healing various wounds that caught his attention. As he healed the dark handprint along her neck, her eyes suddenly shot open as she took in a long deep breath.
Riku jumped back as she sprang up into a sitting position. Her head throbbed, her vision blurred, and her heart pounded strongly in her ears. She placed her hand along her heart, trying to piece together where she was and what was happening.
"You're alright," Riku spoke up, making her whip her attention to him.
She gasped, her eyes widening at the sight of him as she scrambled back.
"Hinata!" Ben exclaimed, catching her attention. He put out his hands towards her, as he calmly spoke, "It's alright. It's Riku."
Hinata blinked, her mind finally registering what was happening. "Ben…" she softly said his name before looking back at Riku. He stared back at her, fighting the urge to conceal himself under the hood of his cloak. She swallowed hard, feeling the sting of a sore throat. "Riku…?"
He silently nodded, his own heart racing as her eyes filled up with tears and a slight smile tipped at the corner of her lips.
"You actually came," she breathed out, tears barely straining her voice. Shaking her head, she looked back to James, limp on the floor. Her smile diminished, then asked, "Is there anything you can do for him?"
Riku shook his head. "N-no." He cleared his throat as she looked back at him. "I'm sorry, he's-he's gone."
She shortly nodded, biting the inside of her cheek as warm tears slipped down her cheeks. She looked back to James, placing her hand along his shoulder. She felt a wet tongue and glanced over to see Jack floating in front of her. His ears were lowered, but his tail wagged as he nuzzled against her. She hugged him tightly, allowing him to shower her with doggy kisses.
"What happened?" Riku spoke up.
Hinata paused, her eyes downcast to James as she opened her mouth. "There was a Rep-"
"JAMES!" Sam's cry echoed around them, as she appeared from around the corner and sprinted towards her brother. She slid to her knees beside him, cupping his face in her hands as tears streamed down her cheeks. "God, no, no, NO! SHIT!" She shook his shoulders, trembling, "James, come on, don't do this to me, dammit!"
Amelia and Jim ran up from around the corner, slowing to a stop at the sight. Jim fought back the urge to throw up, his stomach flipping at the heavy, metallic scent of blood in the air. He forced himself forward, kneeling beside Sam and placed his hand firmly along her back in an attempt to calm her down. Amelia walked around them, glancing over Hinata as she also knelt beside James. She placed her hand along his neck, her ears flattening as she didn't feel a pulse.
"Sam…" she softly spoke her name.
"Don't say it," Sam sobbed. "Please, he can't…"
"He's dead," Amelia finished, knowing she needed to hear it.
Sam shook her head frantically, "No, no, he's fine. He's just unconscious." She grabbed the crystal out of her arm, feeling it powering down. She placed the crystal by the ice shard, which was almost completely melted away. "Come on," she whispered, her voice shaking. "Come on, please."
"He's gone, Sam," Riku spoke up, the stern tone in his voice returning. "There's nothing we can do."
"What do you know?!" she cried, glaring up at him. "Did you even try?"
"I can't bring people back from the dead," Riku told her, shaking his head. "No one can. I'm sorry."
Sam stared back at him, her lip quivering as she realized he was right. With a cry, she threw the crystal down the hall and collapsed over her brother, crying into his chest. Jack flew off to retrieve the crystal as everyone fell silent.
Hinata watched Sam breaking apart, her own heart sinking. She could feel everyone stealing glances towards her, their eyes filled with uncertainty and suspicion. Swallowing hard, she reached her hand forward towards Sam's arm. "Sam, I'm so sorry…" she whispered, emotion straining her voice.
Sam smacked her away with a snarl, glaring up at her with angered despair glowing in her tear-filled eyes. "DON'T YOU DARE TOUCH ME!" She scrambled to her feet and clenched her hand at her side. "How the hell did you make it out just fine, and he doesn't?! This is YOUR fault!"
"Sam, that's not true!" Ben exclaimed, jumping to his feet.
"Isn't it?!" she yelled. "She's the one that told you to leave the moment the ship was done, wasn't she? The one that somehow made it out of this in one piece while my own brother is dead?!"
"Sam," Jim whispered harshly, as he stood and grabbed her arm. "This isn't the time. Don't jump to conclusions."
"She was barely alive when we found her," Riku clarified, stepping forward as Hinata downcast her gaze in silence, tears soaking her cheeks. "If I hadn't healed her, she would have been dead in a few minutes, just like James."
Sam shook her head, anger snipping at the back of her throat. "Lucky her," she sneered, holding out her hands at her sides. She pulled away from Jim, looking down at James' limp body once more before turning away. Shaking her head once more, she let out a breathless sob, "I can't be here…" She walked away, forcing her heavy feet to move before she completely shattered.
"I-I'm sorry," Jim quickly apologized to Hinata, keeping his eyes averted from James. "She doesn't mean it." He then ran after Sam, making sure she wouldn't be alone.
Amelia watched the couple leave before she brought her gaze to Hinata. "What happened?"
Hinata forced her eyes up, reddened and weak. Licking her lips, she tried to explain. "Th-there was a Replica of me… I-I think the Organization made it, but there was something wrong with her…" She felt Riku kneel on the other side of her as she continued. "Um… there was a sudden power outage over the entire facility… A-and it let James-" She choked on his name, her eyes darting to his body. Her throat constricted as she looked away. "I-I can't… I'm sorry, not yet…"
"I understand," Amelia sighed, standing up. She looked over the scene, her ears flat against her head. Letting out a sigh, she told them professionally, "We need to get James' body back onto the ship. I believe I saw a large tarp on the ship, perhaps that will work to cover him."
Hinata shook her head, "Oh God…" Amelia's words made her feel sick to the stomach. With a low whisper, she sobbed, "I'm so sorry… Sam's right, this is all my fault…"
"No, it's not," Riku assured her, getting to his feet and looking to Amelia. "Get James back to the ship; and you, Sam, and Jim can get back to Montressor."
Amelia looked between him and the others, "And what about you?"
Riku glanced down at Hinata, staring at her for a moment before replying, "I have a feeling DiZ is going to want to see her. So I'll take care of her." He looked back to Amelia. "I'm sorry the mission didn't work out."
Shaking her head with a slight sigh, Amelia admitted, "The results were admittedly… far less than what we hoped for... But, we carry on. At the very least, we can bring him home for a proper burial. Sam will recover… the first death of a loved one is never easy…" She averted her gaze for a moment, a sadness flashing over her eyes before she darted her gaze back to Riku. Clearing her throat, she gave him a slight bow of her head, before turning and walking away to retrieve Sam and Jim.
Once she was gone, Riku looked down to Hinata. "Can you walk?"
She glanced up at him and weakly replied, "I-I think so…" Ben came up beside her and helped her to her feet. Her legs wobbled, but she was able to stand. She glanced down at James, still not fully registering that he was gone. As Ben led her forward, she kept her gaze on James until he was out of sight. "I promised I'd get him out of here… no matter what…" she whispered to Ben, feeling his metal hand tightening around her shoulder.
"It's not your fault," he told her.
"They don't remember me, do they?" she asked in return, feeling the dread filling her heart.
"No… they don't," Ben hesitantly replied. "I don't know why…"
Hinata's heart twisted as she looked up, seeing Riku walking a few steps ahead. He had no idea who she was. The overwhelming numbness that had begun setting in when James was dying once again pulsed inside of her, enveloping her. She downcast her gaze, feeling Jack landing on her shoulder. She only looked up once Ben came to a stop, realizing that Riku had led them into a room. It was filled with chairs, all facing a single wall, as if it had once served as a classroom of sorts. She frowned at the sight as Ben led her to a chair to sit. Riku sat backwards on a seat not too far from her and pulled out his communication device. He glanced up at her as he put in a call.
"You alright?" he asked her.
She averted her gaze from his, slowly shaking her head without saying anything in response.
DiZ's hologram appeared in the center of the device before Riku could respond.
"Riku, I do hope you have some good news," DiZ greeted, his voice hesitant as he clasped his hands tightly in his lap.
"Not… exactly," Riku rubbed the back of his neck. "We found a girl named-" He looked up at her, as if trying to make sure he got her name right.
Hinata's heart tightened as she told him softly, "Hinata…"
"Hinata," Riku looked back at DiZ. "Ben seems to know her but-"
"Is she alright?" DiZ stood up, almost startling Riku from his reaction.
"Uh, yeah," Riku replied, looking between DiZ and Hinata as she also got out of her seat. "You know her?"
"As do you." DiZ narrowed his gaze at Riku before he gasped softly. "They wiped her from your memories…"
"But-" Hinata came into view, standing behind Riku. She steadied herself by keeping one of her hands on Riku's shoulders. "You remember me?"
DiZ stared back at Hinata, swallowing hard as he actually appeared to be the slightest bit uneasy. After a moment, he nodded and simply replied, "Yes, I do." Before Hinata or Riku could ask why, he quickly added, "I will discuss the possibilities of why this might be when you return." Clearing his throat, he went back to business. "But, before you return… we must discover why they pursued and captured Hinata in the first place."
"They went after James..." Riku began to clarify, but as the words left his mouth, he instinctively knew they were wrong. "...Right?"
"James was taken as leverage…" Hinata whispered, correcting him. "They promised not to hurt him if I did what they wanted."
Riku nodded, taking a moment before asking DiZ, "Why would they wipe her from our memories?"
"That is precisely why I need you to figure out what they were conspiring," DiZ explained. "Even beyond what they were wanting to achieve with Hinata, it is obvious that this facility is the home to many experiments, and I would like to know what."
Riku sighed and nodded. "Alright, I'll look into it… What should I do about her?"
Hinata slipped her hand from Riku's shoulder, feeling a sense of cold indifference from him that even pierced through the numbness around her heart. She looked away, noticing Ben looking at her with blue eyes. He knew exactly what she was feeling.
"Bring her back here, of course," DiZ answered him, with a firm and harsh tone in his voice. "You may not remember her, but she is an incredibly important part of your life. Keep her safe." Without waiting for his reply, DiZ cut the call.
Riku frowned as he put the device back in his pocket and stood back up. "Any idea where we should start?"
Hinata nodded, pushing her hair behind her ear as she downcast her gaze. "There's a lab where they experimented on me a few floors down... " She wrapped her arms around herself and took in a deep breath, "It had a lot of computers in there with surveillance footage and documents."
Riku nodded. "Good call."
"Do... " Hinata forced her gaze back up to him, seeing him staring back at her. Her throat constricted as she forced the words, "Do you really not know who I am…?"
He licked his lips as he reluctantly shook his head. "I don't… I'm sorry."
***Author's Note: Thank you so much to everyone for reading! We have begun the third and final story in this trilogy, and it is definitely a doozy. I have been dreading writing this chapter for years now… James has always been so incredibly dear to my heart, and the mere thought of making everyone forget who Hinata is broke my heart.
Everything about the Organization's motivations and plans for Hinata will be revealed in the next chapter. I know I said it'd be this one, but I didn't want to slam a 30,000+ word chapter on you… or my poor editor. There's a reason for everything they've done and I have been really looking forward to getting into it. A majority of the next chapter will be thoroughly explaining everything and it's more than just wanting to make a single Replica. Although, let's face it, she's insane.
I know this chapter was intense, more so than any of my previous chapters. For one, I really wanted to make sure I got the point across of just how messed up this Replica is. Her mind, her heart, and everything in between is messed up. She really is like a majorly messed up glitching program, that's unpredictable and dangerous. Another reason I wanted to go down the more intense route with this chapter was because of how integral these events will be to the entire story. So I apologize if it is too much for some, the rest of the story won't be THIS intense. But it will be getting darker than the two previous stories.
And before we end this first Author's Note for Forgotten Traveler, I want to say a bit about James. It broke my heart to do this to him. He has been such an integral part in my stories and has blossomed in so many ways, that I wish I could still explore. He was so protective of Hinata and Sam. Even when he couldn't remember Hinata, he was still going out of his way to protect her. He might have been a shameless flirt, but he also had such a loving passionate heart. When I first decided that he was going to be my first casualty in the history of my writing… it was really hard to swallow. It was shortly after he had even been created. Hinata hadn't even left Montressor yet.
My husband and I were discussing Forgotten Traveler and outlining the details that needed to be foreshadowed in Third Beginning. And my husband just sort of threw out the idea that James would die and how that would affect Hinata and Sam… and I almost started crying right then and there. I vetoed the idea pretty immediately, but it stuck in my head for days. No matter how I spun it or tried to work around it, it had to happen. I've known it was coming for over two years now, but that didn't stop me from breaking down the moment I wrote that his heart had stopped. I've lost a lot of people in my life-a lot of amazing, wonderful people. And the moment I typed out those words, it felt, in that instant, like I had lost someone dear to me. So, don't worry that I took this lightly, or that I just wanted to shock everyone. This has been something I've stewed over for two years now. It has importance, there is a reason. And he did not die in vain. I promise.
That being said, Rest in Peace James Ainsworth, you were such a treasure in my heart. And I will always miss you. ***