Sora could feel heat radiating off of the sand through the soles of his shoes. Midday was the hardest time to travel through the desert since the sun was at its highest and the air around him swayed like an open flame. Despite the oppressive heat he clutched the robe he was wearing, pulling the hood over his head to shade his eyes and protect his skin from burning. From the soreness in his neck he noticed that he’d been looking down for quite a time while his thoughts wandered. “Riku,” he called out in a raspy voice, “do you think we should take a break?”
Riku paused to look back at him then again towards their destination, the summit of a mountain with a deep split down the middle of the peak. After swallowing he spoke in an equally dry raspy voice. “There are some ruins a little farther ahead. Let’s just, make it there. We can rest in the shade.”
Sora groaned but agreed without putting up an argument. Resting in the shade until the heat died down was definitely worth the extra effort, and it was nice to have a shorter goal in sight for a change, even if his head was starting to spin and his mouth felt as dry as the desert.
They trudged on until they reached the ruin which wasn’t much to look at, just a small corner of what used to be a room half sunken in the sand. There may have been paintings on the wall, but exposure to the sun and wind now made the shapes faded and formless. There were a handful of tall cut stones, dark in color, that poked out of the sand trailing to the building and in little clusters around the walls. They had seen them scattered randomly throughout the desert; Riku explained they were grave markers and Sora liked the resting spot significantly less.
Riku reached the building first, sitting down heavily against the wall and shutting his eyes for a moment while he waited for Sora join. The younger boy was just behind him and neither of them seemed to care about the sand his feet dragged or that their shoulders bumped he sat in the small space.
He took out his water bladder and took a swig before holding it out to Sora. “Here.”
Sora fingers twitched but he was reluctant to accept the offer. “You’ve been saving your water and not drinking, don’t think I haven’t noticed. You didn’t drink anything since this morning and now you just had a tiny sip.” He gave Riku a pointed look from beneath his hood.
“I’ll be fine. We’ll find more water soon anyway and you need it, you were starting to sway as you walk. Just take some.”
Sora let out a guilty sigh before taking the bladder with a quiet thanks. The water was warm but the moisture was welcome on his tongue. He handed the rest over to Riku only looking satisfied when the older boy drank the rest in two gulps.
The longer they sat the more they leaned into each other until Sora found himself leaning on Riku and after a few short minutes Riku’s face was resting on his head.
“We’re ‘lot closer than yesterday.” Sora mumbled into Riku’s shoulder, drowsiness creeping into his voice and slurring his words.
“We’re still a pretty good distance away.” Riku pointed out. “It’ll take a few more days or so before we reach the summit, and we still have the climb and that’ll bring on a whole new set of challenges.”
Sora nudged him with his shoulder. “Don’t be such a downer, progress is progress. We’ll make it together.”
Riku paused for a moment glancing down at Sora’s spiky hair before nodding, voice sounding relieved more than anything. “Yeah.”
They soon found themselves nodding off, too exhausted for conversation.
A figure stood before him robed in a luminescent white cloak that was pure white and ornately embroidered in gold. They leaned down to his level and though he could not see the figure’s face through the hood, the eyes that were barely visible were filled with empathy.
As the guide turned and looked off into the distance and he couldn’t stop himself from mimicking the action to see what had captured his guide’s attention so fully. He saw a mural, and what appeared to be simplified paintings of a distant time he never knew. He heard the sounds of birds and animals playing. He saw people prosper with abundant resources and plentiful food. He saw them want for nothing, until the resources came to an end and the fighting began. Their motivations changed from generosity to greed as the clear sky changed to storm. Black graves dotted the sand and time began to erase their legacy.
It was too much to bare. He wanted to look away, but the figure directed his eyes to another part of the mural. A simple painting of the mountain with light glowing from the peak. The light became stronger and brighter, to the point where the whole area around him was filled and he could see nothing else.
Sora woke up with a jolt feeling like his soul fell back into his body. He blinked, taking a minute to piece back together his memories of the last few days and calm his jack rabbiting heart. It seemed a few hours passed and the worst of the heat was over. A cool breeze returned and it did a lot of good helping him catch his breath.
“Another dream?” Riku spoke helping Sora sit up. A little wrinkle formed between his eyebrows in worry as he rubbed Sora’s back and felt him release some of the tensenes in is shoulders at the touch.
“It’s been a while since you had one,” with a little hesitance he prodded, “was it any different from last time?”
Sora shook his head. Some of the wet sticky spikes stuck to his forehead before he wiped them away. “No. It was the same guide again. Some kind of war, and the mountain with the bright light. We’ve got to get to the top. I think, I think the they’re up there, or something, I don’t know.”
Riku didn’t had vivid dreams like what Sora described. When he slept he was simply welcomed by a peaceful black oblivion until he opened his eyes. He didn’t know if the visions Sora was having were dreams or nightmares, but he knew he trusted Sora, so if Sora was going to the top of the mountain then he would follow at his side.
“Then we better make tracks.” He pulled Sora up by the hand and they set off into the desert again.
As the two made their way towards the mountain the sand became soft and fine. It glittered distantly in the light like gold sparkling in the sun, though the oasis they refilled water was infinitely more valuable than any gold or fancy treasure. It was also a lot more slippery they discovered as on many occasions they found themselves sliding down the dunes.
“It’s not so bad.” Sora laughed as he appeared to effortlessly glide down while Riku fell, again , but luckily caught himself on his knees. “You just kinda have to, keep your body low. And bend your knees when you feel the sand begin to give don’t keep them so stiff.”
“Easy for you to say.” He grumbled as he stood back up. How Sora made it look so simple was baffling since graceful was never a word he’d use to describe the boy- but here he was, shaking sand out of his trousers and still feeling some graininess in his mouth from the last two falls while Sora slid to a stop in front of him without giving it a single thought. “You’re lighter so you don’t fall as hard.”
“That’s a weak argument but since I’m feeling generous I’ll give you some advice.” Sora continued ignoring Riku’s groan. He made a swooping motion with his hand and spoke with an imperious flourish, “You’ve gotta be one with the sand.”
“Are you serious?” Riku asked with a dry expression. “I think you’re dehydrated again you better have another drink.”
Sora grinned as if he solved some grand mystery, “Nope! One with the sand. Don’t fight it on the way down just, let it do all the work.”
Riku snorted and yanked Sora’s hood down over his eyes. “Yeah alright teacher. I’ll keep that in mind.”
It did in fact become easier with Sora’s advice. With his knees bent and center of gravity lower he was able to maintain balance without much of a struggle. The sand was quick to give away but he got used to the speed and stopped fighting against it. At one point Sora glided down beside him and took a long obviously pleased glance at Riku’s new form as they descended together. He cleared his throat when they reached the bottom waiting for the praise he deserved.
“It was good advice alright, enough with the smug look.” Riku rolled his eyes but admitted. It did the trick and satisfied Sora enough as they climbed the next sand dune.
As they continued the ruins gradually became larger and more ornate the closer they got to the mountain. The larger structures that weren’t swallowed by the sand were beautiful and hauntingly empty. Sora realized the desert must have once been greatly populated to fill so many buildings. He figured he must have had parents, or came from somewhere possibly like this since some of the patterns on the walls were similar to the embroidery on his cloak, but all he could remember was wandering deep in the desert, finding Riku, and the dreams which finally gave them purpose.
“Do you ever think about who made these?” He wondered out loud as they crossed another bridge that was still in pretty good condition despite some tattered flags flapping sadly in the wind.
“Not really.” Riku shrugged.
“Some of them are so tall. I wonder what they were like before all that fighting happened. They’re part of our past after all, do you ever wonder about all that history and stuff?”
Riku sighed. He tried to keep the bitterness out of his voice but some of it still crept through making his words short and his throat tense. “It doesn’t matter. They’re gone. And they left nothing behind.”
“They left us.” Sora said with a hopeful note on the word us.
Riku’s face screwed up in tight frustration. All he had was the cloak on his back and Sora. The beautiful buildings with their towering stone bridges and decorative carved windows mocked him as they boasted a time they could have had if it weren’t for their ancestors folly.
“Yeah, they left us.”
Sora spun realizing he unknowingly stepped on a sore topic. “That’s not what I meant.”
Riku rubbed his face, wiping some sweat from his forehead and let out a rushed breath. “I know.” He said, regretting his words when he saw Sora’s look of concern.
Sora saw the flicker of emotion and smiled softly. He knocked Riku on the shoulder with his fist jostling the boy out of the downward spiraling thoughts. “It’s no use getting upset at something that we don’t know the whole truth about. We just have to keep going. If you keep dwelling on the bad things, that’s all the journey’s going to be.”
Riku looked at Sora surprised at his words. “When did you get so wise all of a sudden?”
“Oh come on,” Sora scoffed puffing out his chest, “I’ve always been wise. You just took too long to notice.”
“Just like you noticed you’re about to go down hill?” Riku grinned and gave Sora’s chest a push with his fingers, tipping his friend backwards.
Sora squawked and grabbed the end of Riku’s cloak cutting off the older boy’s laughter as he too lost footing on the sand. The hill began to slope dramatically and it seemed there was no end to their decent as they righted themselves and slid down the monster of an incline.
Wind rushed passed them which felt amazing as it cooled them off and filled their cloaks with air. They weaved in and out of crumbling arches trying to impress the other by threading through the narrow gaps or leaping so they can skim the top. Riku had a good amount of speed which allowed him to rush down the mountain but Sora was never too far behind and had better mobility.
They rushed through a long open hallway with an empty city to view beyond the pillars. Sora kicked off of a stone and Riku watched as he shot into the air, red cloak billowing around him, legs curled tight as he rose. The world slowed down for a moment, and he couldn’t help but notice how the sun in its golden hour gave Sora’s skin a warm copper tone, his eyes took on an indigo hue in this light. He thought the boy would keep rising, that the sky would become his new domain, before Sora extended his legs and touched the ground again just a few feet where he was and nearly throwing him off balance in the process. He flailed a little to keep himself upright and hearing Sora’s goofy laugh the spell broke and time was back to speed.
Riku leaned down further, picking up even more speed and suddenly their downhill slide turned into a race. The slope became steeper, the air rushed passed them tugging at their cloaks, the buildings were blurs as they shot down. Sora was the first to notice that the hill sank down into the earth in a sudden pit and before he could call out a warning they were both falling into a dark chasm.
When Sora came to he thought it was night. He looked up expecting to see stars and a large moon overhead, but instead over tall stone walls he could faintly see the remnants of twilight draining out the sky. Looking around he realized they were in a cave of some kind. Small slivers of light managed to illuminate the area but he couldn’t see much of what was ahead. There were strange ruins here too, but nothing like what they had seen above. They were small and cylindrical, almost like long cages.
Riku groaned and sat up not far from where Sora fell rubbing the arm that took the brunt of the fall. Luckily the sand was softer down here too and cushioned his landing so it was only sore. He blinked adjusting to the darkness quickly and looked in the direction of Sora’s voice. “Hey. You alright?”
Sora didn’t answer. He stood up and walked a quick circle looking at the walls and back up at the darkening sky. “It’s, dark in here.”
“Yeah. Looks like this cave is pretty deep.” Riku noticed the architecture down here as well. A couple of oddly placed arches and walkways were scattered around. The ceiling was held up by thick stone pillars that sunk deep in the sand and looked to be in excellent condition despite their age. He supposed without the wind or sun there was nothing to weather them down. “Looks like there are a lot of support beams though so it should be safe. There’s probably a way out if we go further in.”
“It’s really dark.” Sora repeated seeming to not hear what Riku said.
Riku watched as Sora tried to get a grip a small bit of stone that jutted out and was just big enough for him to cling one hand to before it crumbled away when he put too much weight on it. The rubble spilled out of Sora’s hand and he immediately started patting the wall again for something else to latch on to. Riku walked towards his friend who was desperate to find a way out. “It gets dark in the desert too.” He reminded.
“This darkness is different. Th- there are no stars in here.” Sora took a step back, eyes darting to each thin beam of light that barely illuminated the depths. “There’s no promise of the sun in the morning. I can’t see the mountain.”
Sora turned back to the wall to try and climb again but Riku grabbed his wrist. He slipped his hand into Sora’s and pulled it away giving it a squeeze.
“We’ll go fast. We’ll go straight through the cave and be out by morning how does that sound?”
The hold on his hand was firm and the tightness squeezing around his heart began to uncoil while his friend kept him steady. Riku’s eyes were patient but determined and just like that a little switch was flipped inside him, reassuring that it would be alright. He nodded and after taking a few calming breaths and returned the squeezed before letting go. “Okay.”
Oddly when he let go he missed the warmth and reassurance Riku gave him with a small touch, but having him close by was also comforting.
Inside the cave the sand took a pale white color. Small silver beams of light guided them down long corridors, and the rocky walls began to look more like the inside of a large sunken temple than what they initially thought was a cave.
Sora stuck close to Riku as they walked and if Riku noticed the closer proximity he didn’t mention it. Since it was cooler they kept their hoods down and as they passed through a beam of light Riku’s fair hair and white cloak appeared to glow. It made him smile and chuckle a little, when Riku asked him what was funny he shook his head and kept the observation to himself.
They passed through the third threshold of a long hall when Sora noticed something glinting in the distance, two tiny specks of twin yellow light.
“Riku wait. Do you see that?” His hand slipped out of Riku’s, which he didn't remember grabbing, and ran towards the dancing flicker of yellow. “I think I saw something move.”
As they approached the odd little light, more yellow dots blinked and lit up. Sora gulped when he got close and saw the darkness take shape into eyes, bodies, claws of black creatures writhing together, climbing on top of each other rising in a tower turning slowly to face him.
They twitched and spasmed and the lights turned red. Riku pulled Sora out of the way as the tower lunged.
The tower barely missed them, they were quick on their feet and ran as fast as they could. The mass of creatures took after them slinking low to the ground and swiveling like a desert snake. It twisted and spat creatures at them as if it were one giant monster itself rather than many climbing and crawling over each other to get them.
Sora looked back to get another glimpse at the horror chasing them. His cloak got snagged by a grasping shadow but Riku yanked it out of its grip and pulled Sora harder to keep up with his pace. The two slid in unison in a dip underneath one of the broken hallways which slowed down the tower. It jammed itself through the narrow opening like sand in an hourglass.
They ran into a circular room with large unlit paper lanterns hanging from a high ceiling and a spiral staircase circling a wide pillar in the center. At the top of the staircase Sora saw a door that was slightly ajar with a sliver of sky peeking through. He pointed up to draw Riku’s attention to it and they took off. They circled around and around the stairs, lungs heaving for air and hearts feeling as if it were about to burst. As they neared the top the demon tower burst into the room and tore after them. It climbed up the side of the tower smashing the stairs as it rose.
Riku looked at the door. It was tall, white, and had three heavy latches on the inside. Once Sora was safely outside he began to pull the door closed.
“What are you doing?!” Sora grabbed the door in panic, stopping Riku from shutting it fully.
“It locks from the inside Sora, this is the only way!”
Sora began to wedge himself back through the door. He grabbed Riku’s wrist and started pulling, shouting with a mixture of anger and fear. “No! We’re going to the top! Together!! Now get out come on!!”
Riku looked back and saw the creatures spilling over the edge of the platform. Sora managed to fit his head and shoulders through the opening and was struggling to get back inside. He looked, really scared. Riku thought about Sora’s smiling face as they slid down the sand, the way his freckles scrunched on his nose and eyes lit up in mirth. His heart was racing, but he was also filled with a sense of peace. With his free hand he brushed Sora’s bangs out of his face and pressed his lips to his forehead. He would do anything to protect that smile, give everything.
The younger boy paused his struggling and looked up confused. Riku smiled and said softly, “I’m sorry.” before pushing Sora and slamming the door shut.
As the warmth from the kiss faded, so did all his other senses along with it. He couldn’t feel the nip of the cold air around him or the ache of his fists as he pounded at the door. He couldn’t hear the sound of his voice shouting Riku’s name over and over, begging him to come back. And he didn’t see the dark edges of exhaustion creep into his vision until it was too late and his consciousness was stolen away from him.
He was small and shivering as the figure sat beside him. It called out to him, using a name he didn’t recognize or care to answer. When the figure called again he looked up. The mural was back. He saw two small figures walking through the desert, sliding past the ruins, going through the cave, but only one emerging and climbing the mountain.
“ No! ”
The figure startled at his exclamation and looked at him sadly.
He stood up turning his back to the mural and stared at the guide defiantly. “There has to be a way to get him back!! I’m not going to the summit without him!”
The figure also stood up, and though they stood well over his head making him crane his neck to keep eye contact, he didn’t back down or waiver.
“I’m not going without him.” He repeated, eyes welling but he wiped the tears away quickly not wanting his resolve to be questioned. “I don’t care how long it takes, I’m going back and I’m finding him. N-nothing up there is worth it if he’s not there too.”
He reached out and gripped the figure’s soft glowing robe, scrunching the fine material between his fingers. They took a step back as if they didn’t know what to do but did nothing to break his hold. He sank to his knees and brought the cloak to his face, squeezing his eyes shut forcing the tears to come out harder.
“Please,” he begged unashamed, “please help me find him. I can’t do this alone, give him back.” He whispered softly like a prayer.
Sora woke up from the vision startled and out of breath as usual, but unlike all the times in the past, there was no firm hand rubbing his back or comforting words coaxing him out of his panic; even through the dreamy haze he missed it so much. Once he was able to gather his wits he stood up with unyielding resolve.
The door lead out to a platform overhanging a cliff, so he would have to explore as much as he could around the rocky sides to see if he could find another way in. He couldn’t believe how much height they climbed while they were in the cave. He supposed there was a bit of an incline as they wandered, and the staircase was very tall, but he found himself about one third of the way up the mountain as if he was just plopped there. The wall around the door had no windows so he began to walk along the path sticking close to the mountainside.
For the first time in his life he experienced snow. It wasn’t at all what he imagined it to be, not runny or gritty but cold and oddly crunchy underneath his feet. He scooped some up to place on his bruised knuckles.
He wandered around all day climbing down difficult paths and exploring as much terrain as he could. There was no way back inside and the walkway he followed continued upward. On the second day Sora wondered if he would be able to deviate from the path climb down rocks to find the pit they fell into, start from the very beginning. The sun began setting when he decided it was time to find another nook to sleep in to stay out of the wind and chill for the night. He dragged his feet around a corner when he saw a patch of snow ahead lit up by warm light. By fire light! He couldn’t believe his eyes as he ran towards it tripping a few time on his own feet, hope rising up in his chest. It came out of a square room carved into the stone and in the corner of the room his heart swelled to bursting upon seeing who was tucked away huddled around a lantern.
“RIKU!!!” Sora ran into the room, knees giving out when he was close enough and throwing himself on his friend. His thoughts were one continuous loop, It’s Riku! Riku’s here!! as he clung to the other like his life depended on it, laughing and crying and all too happy to be embarrassed. Two and a half days of worry and agony melted away when he felt Riku’s arms wrapping around him bringing him closer.
“SORA!?” Riku responded just as shocked and relieved. He patted Sora’s shoulders and face, making sure he was really there and not an illusion his imagination conjured. He felt the warmth of the other boy’s cheeks on his hands and counted every freckle on his face. Sora was here and shaking in his arms and his own hands trembled as he held him.
Sora buried his face in Riku’s shoulder and let out a sob, speaking between heaving breaths. “I’m so glad you’re safe. I was so worried. I’ve been searching for you for days! How did you get out?” He couldn’t describe the sensation of reuniting as anything other than feeling whole again.
Riku gently pulled away so he could hear Sora properly, thumb tracing away the younger boy’s tears as he spoke. “I jumped off the platform after I locked the door. It jumped too, but the metal from the stairs caught my cloak before I hit the floor, it wasn’t so lucky.” He chuckled and wiped Sora’s runny nose with his cloak. The tears kept flowing and Sora began to hiccup as he tired himself out by crying. “Then I just walked and, I don’t know, my heart lead me here.”
With the stress of finding Riku gone and exhaustion settling in after his flood of emotions, Sora sagged deeper into his arms. He pressed his face into Riku’s chest, memorizing the smell and feeling Riku’s breath hitch a little at the action. He felt Riku’s hand stroke his hair, hesitantly at first but gradually more sure. “Can we stay like this a little longer?” He whispered.
Riku nodded and clung tighter.
When dawn came, Sora and Riku left the room to make their final ascent up the mountain. The warmth and safety was a little hard to leave behind, but they’ve never been closer to the top and whatever awaited them was nearly in their grasp. Sora hissed a little when Riku grabbed his hand. The older boy soften his hold and looked at the fading yellow bruises.
“How did this happen?”
“How do you think?” Sora muttered petulantly. The bruises hurt, but they didn’t compare to the pain of knowing Riku was in danger just beyond a door where he couldn’t follow. “You wouldn’t open the door.”
Riku’s face fell in guilty realization. He dropped Sora’s hand looking away from the boy. “It’s not like I wanted to leave you, I just had to make sure you’re safe. I’m sorry you got hurt anyw-”
Before he could finish his sentence a ball of snow smashed into his face, some of it making its way in his mouth melting instantly and cutting off his words. He spluttered and blinked the snow out of his eyes, staring at Sora as if the boy sprouted another head.
“You’re apologizing for this on top of trying to save my life ?!!” Sora shouted gathering up even more snow for a bigger ball to launch. “I can’t believe you!”
“Wait Sora! Let me explain!!” Riku raised his hands to block the larger snowball being thrown at him. The majority of it got blocked but he shivered as some of the powdery snow managed to sneak up his sleeve.
“No way!” Sora shouted switching techniques from snowballs to simply hurling sloppy handfuls of snow. “No apologies! Just don’t do it ever again!! You’ve gotta promise right now I wanna hear it!”
Riku laughed balling up some snow himself and began to throw back. “What if there’re more creatures?”
“Then we face them together!” Sora grinned hearing Riku’s familiar laughter. He missed the sound so much it distracted him enough to take a couple of snowballs to the face and chest before he ducked out of the line of fire and hid behind a boulder for cover as they kept coming. He counted another six snowballs hitting the boulder and after the last one he waited for a suspiciously long moment of silence before peeking around to see what Riku was up to. When he didn’t see the other he stepped out further to get a better look around and squacked when a huge pile of snow fell on his head knocking him down. Half buried, he poked his head out of the snow and mocked glared at his friend who stood on top of the boulder beaming like he was king of the mountain.
“Alright alright, we’ll stick together.” Riku hopped down and helped Sora up. He chuckled when Sora shook his head sending a spray of snow out of his spikes. Sora was happy again. There wasn’t a trace of fear or sadness on his face but a playful smile lighting up his face as there always should be. “Hopefully there won’t be any more monsters on this trip.”
“Yeah, for your sake. Because if you try that again I’ll save you only to beat you up, got that?” Sora grabbed Riku’s hand, chilly from the snow but he didn’t mind. He laced their fingers, liking the way their hands locked together.
“I get the feeling you’d be worse than that demon tower.” Riku snorted.
“You know it.”
They began to climb along the side of the mountain, the wind became harsher the higher they rose, especially when they had to walk between dips and trenches of the mountain. It knocked Sora down a couple of times sending him head over heels in the snow. Riku stifled his laugh as Sora ran to duck behind a pillar as the wind picked up threatening to send him tumbling again.
“You don’t get to laugh.” Sora said once the wind died down and he was able to be heard above the howling. “You’re heavier so you don’t get knocked down as easily.”
“Sounds like a weak excuse to me.”
“It’s a perfectly reasonable excuse!!”
Riku laughed at when Sora made a frustrated pout. As funny as it was to see Riku fall on the dunes Sora was at least kind enough to help give advice to help him out. There was nothing he could do about the winds though besides bide his time and race from pillar to boulder trying to gain some ground. At least Riku followed behind and ducked with him so he wouldn’t feel so silly.
Just as the racing and doging began to tire him out, they finally made it to a flat plane right before the last hard incline to the peak. Sora sighed in relief at having a bit of flat land to walk on. They were so close he didn’t want to stop so the lack of incline was heaven to his weary legs. Looking up he saw the moon, a large silver disk almost blending in with the pale blue sky. They were so high it was hard for him to catch his breath and the deep intakes of air didn’t entirely fill up his lungs.
While Sora focused on the moon Riku looked towards the end of the plane and saw two large black figures startling contrasting against the snow. They were human in appearance but frightfully tall with black tendrils obscuring most of their face and cascading down their shoulders like hair. They moved slowly, as if unsure about the steps they were about to take or their purpose on the mountain. But Riku also saw the black clawed hands and beaming yellow eye. He pulled Sora down behind some cover and made a shushing motion with his finger.
Sora paled when he saw the figures in the distance. The field of snow was wide, definitely big enough for them to silently creep around without being noticed, but his shaky hand gripped Riku’s sleeve. Suddenly his head felt like it was in a bubble and he saw many tiny clawed hands grasping for his cloak, unblinking yellow eyes flash and spark red as they chased him, felt the pounding in his legs as he raced up the stairs and heard the words I’m sorry echoed in his mind.
“Sora, hey!” Riku saw the lost gaze in Sora’s eyes and whisper shouted as he gripped him by the shoulders. “I’m not going anywhere.” When Sora blinked and seemed to recognize him and where they were he gave him a quick nod and gestured with his head away from the dark figures. “If we stay low they won’t be able to see us, we can go around them. There’s a break in the gate over there, that’s where we’ll go, together.”
“W, we can do it.” He said weakly, as if he didn’t believe his own words. Riku laced his fingers with his own and Sora firmed up his resolve, knowing he wouldn’t go back on his promise.
They kept a wide breadth around the two pacing figures effectively staying out of their sight. Every once in a while one would slowly turn its head in their direction and they would duck down, Riku using his white cloak to cover them both and blend into the snow until it turned and carried on its pacing. Once they were close enough that they were sure they wouldn’t be caught they raced to the opening of a broken gate and arrived at the final ascent to the peak.
The final climb was by far the most brutal. Sora braced himself against the rushing wind and cutting ice. For all the urging his dreams gave him, it seemed like the mountain didn’t even want them there as a storm form above their heads sending thunder crashing around them adding another layer of adversity. Every step was excruciating, any skin exposed to the air felt like it was being sliced into and he could barely keep his eyes open through all the cold. The wind was like a wall knocking him down over and over until finally, he didn’t have the strength to pick himself up. He sighed in the snow, closing his eyes to rest for a moment.
He looked up when he felt Riku lay down next to him. “K-k-keep g-going. I-I’ll c-c-c-catch u-up.” He shivered so hard everything ached.
“Sora.” Riku said in an even voice. “If you stay down you’ll freeze. Come on, get up.”
Sora looked at his friend. It was a struggle to see him in the flurry of white, he could barely make out two green eyes staring at him. “A-aren’t-t-t y-y-you c-cold?” He managed to say between clattering teeth. His tried to focus harder on Riku but his vision began to waver and Riku’s edges began to dissolve.
“Sora,” Riku repeated, brushing a strand of hair out of Sora’s face with a heartbreaking smile, “I never made it out of the cave.”
His arms were stiff, but he slowly brought them up, placing his hands on Riku’s chest and tucked his head underneath Riku’s chin. Riku was real, he didn’t want to hear this. He could feel his arms around him. His voice was a whisper, barely audible before being carried away on the wind. “N-no.”
“You’re here! Y-you’re real a-and h-he-re w-with m-m-me and w-we’re g-g-g-goi-ng t-to the t-t-top t-t-geth-er.”
Riku held him, tears finally spilled out of his eyes, flowing down but never falling on the snow. “You can make it. Please keep going! All this time, after everything we've been through, and you’re so close. You’re almost there! Come on, Sora.”
Sora touched his face with trembling fingers but couldn’t feel the wetness. He was so tired and miserable, but there were no more tears of his own left to shed, and any that came out would probably freeze. He leaned forward and placed a small kiss on Riku’s imaginary lips. “I c-can’t. E-even i-i-if th-th-this is f-f-fake, I-I’d r-r-r-rath-ther b-be here.”
“I-it’s okay.” Sora sighed, trying to burrow his face in Riku’s chest but felt packed snow instead. “I love you.”
When Sora opened his eyes, the storm was gone. He was floating over the mountain and though the wind carried him he felt no biting chill. In fact the side of the mountain seemed to be transformed from icy and desolate to beautiful and shimmering. The snow looked softer than ever as it gently floated down like little white flower petals. There was running water cascading down from higher peaks creating rainbows in the sunlight giving the mountain a splash of color, and if he listened carefully he could almost hear music in the air.
He slowly descended on the cut peak, the sides of which formed two walls creating a path to the other side where a bright light shone.
A figure stood at the other end, backlit so he was hard to see at first. As he approached he recognized the familiar silhouette, the dazzling white cloak, a handsome confident smile, and a hand stretched out for him to take.
He grinned and ran forward to meet him.