BioQuest: Sideways

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Elizabeth didn’t have an exact count on how many people from the Family were with Grace, but she believed Grace wouldn’t let harm come to them. Even if they didn’t agree to the truce, she’d keep the peace. Elizabeth had to believe that.

“I have considered your offer, but I actually come here with one of my own.” She holstered her weapon, hearing Diane doing the very same behind her. If anyone recognized her in connection to Ryan, they didn’t mention it.

“We’ve made a truce with Ryan,” she started frankly, hoping that honesty would earn her some leniency. Elizabeth saw anger come to Grace quickly, spreading to the Family with her like wildfire.

“A truce with that monster! Like he cares what happens to the good people of Rapture,” she scoffed. “Throw your lot in with him if you like, but we–”

“Grace, please hear me out before you decide. I implore you,” Elizabeth begged, trying to pull this back from the brink. She only had this one chance. “This is our opportunity to bring peace to Rapture for everyone.”

Grace shook her head, scowl unwavering. “Peace? That animal doesn’t want any peace.” Muttering agreement rippled through the group beyond her. “How can you tell me about peace with Ryan when he holds Dr. Lamb, the one who really cares about us little people?”

bioshock rapture family

“We’ll talk to him about Dr. Lamb,” Diane interjected, stepping up to stand beside Elizabeth. “It’s the only right thing to do.”

It was a tall order, but they had to try it. And the fact that Diane came forward… Elizabeth couldn’t be happier. Her friend was finding the self-esteem to be brave when she had to be.

“You do that,” Grace bit back, but at least her expression had softened slightly. “But you hear this, and you remember it well: his answer is ours.”

“I understand,” Elizabeth nodded, taking the unspoken command to leave. Diane walked alongside her in silence until they were far enough from the Limbo Room for comfort when the radio she carried crackled to life.

“Zur Hölle fahren,” came the first distant words, and Elizabeth’s heart froze. Gunfire followed while Diane scrambled to get the radio where they could both speak into it.

“Tenenbaum! Can you hear me?” Elizabeth waited for what felt like ages in static.

“Yes, yes, I hear you,” she snapped back. “Scheisse.” More gunfire burst in the background. “Fontaine was watching us. With you both and Booker gone, he attacked.”

atlas fontaine bioshock

“Oh, oh no,” Diane worried, her brows furrowing. “What about the girls?”

“And Jack?” They only just opened up to one another, finally starting to date. She waited for him to ask, why did she do that? What if he was–

“We pushed him back. They’re safe, but not for long.” Static punctuated her sentence and it was all Elizabeth could do not to run off without a word.

“We’ll be there soon,” Elizabeth promised, rushing ahead as Diane hurried to keep up.

– – – Back at the clinic – – –

The first thing she heard was Jack biting back a scream, and Elizabeth couldn’t hold back anymore.

“Lizzie, wait,” Diane tried to shout, breathless, but with no luck in stopping her.

“Jack, where are you? Jack,” she called again, running through the second set of clinic doors to see him breathless, pale, and sweaty, leaning again a counter.

“H-here,” he forced out, wincing.

“Fontaine used a command, one I need Lot 192 to reverse,” Tenenbaum explained from her lab area. “Ryan hasn’t delivered, so we would have to go and get the supplies ourselves. But he can’t go anywhere.”

“I can–” Jack cut off in a horrid gasp, gripping the edge of the counter he was against. “I can go. I’ve had worse.”

“You aren’t convincing anyone, Jack,” Elizabeth said, tempted to be gentler but knowing she had to be honest first.

“I need the dose, or I’ll die waiting here for it. My heart is stopping every–” He cringed, eyes shut tight for a few seconds. “It’s stopping too often. I won’t make it unless I go too.”


What do you want to do, Elizabeth?

– – –

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Have a Good Scare

“Weeeird!” Demyx squeaked, twisting around and bending his arms to look at the fins sprouting from his limbs. Thin fog sat close to the ground in the graveyard and Jack o’ lanterns were skewered on wrought iron fence posts over the headstones. A grinning scarecrow pointed further into the world where Xigbar was assigned with Demyx to scope the place out. This was his first big mission without Vexen nagging him— or instructing, he called it. Not that it meant Xigbar was about to give blondie a break.

“Hey, ‘s no big deal.” Xigbar shrugged it off. “What, this your first transformation?” He nodded to Demyx, a smirk on his face. He could feel stitches pulling on his skin, but it didn’t hurt a bit. So he was some kind of Frankenstein’s monster and Demyx was a creature from a lagoon. If nothing else, at least the sneaky little slacker would get a chance to be scary for once in his life.

“Uhh… Yes?” Demyx frowned in confusion, but that got him standing still for a change. Sure, Xigbar recruited the kid for the cause, but even he had his doubts sometimes that he was really cut out to wear the cloak. Not that it mattered much in the grand scheme of things, anyway. And hey, Xigbar liked having someone fun around for once. The others were so uptight all the time, and when he ran out of munny to lose to Luxord (and steal back later), Demyx was always right there and ready to prank and be pranked.

“Ha! What’re you asking me for?” He shook his head, chuckling. “Don’t you know for sure?”

“Well, yeah, it’s just, couldn’t we go a place that’s less…” He tugged at the tattered, faded shirt hanging loosely over his scaled skin, eyeing the area now instead of dwelling on his new form.

“Less what?” Xigbar knew the answer, but he had to lead the kid on. Where’s the fun in not doing that? For a guy told all the time that he didn’t have a heart, Demyx sure gave the best reactions to his feelings. If people took him more seriously, that might’ve been a problem. Lucky for the both of them that he did barely enough to not be turned into a Dusk, then.

“Ah, y’know, it’s kinda…” Demyx dragged it out, leaning to look past Xigbar into the dark, shadowy town through the iron gate. “Kinda scary here.”

“Scary? As if!” Xigbar turned around, waving over his shoulder as he went ahead toward the town. “You don’t even exist, remember? Not like you can die again, Dem. What’s to be scared of, huh?”

Demyx groaned, shuffling along in awkward steps. He was never a graceful guy, but from the sounds of his steps, the transformation really screwed up his stride with all those fins made for swimming, not walking. “Fiiiine. Just a quick look, yeah? Then we run back and RTC?”

“Nah, we gotta get the whole job done right.” Not his favorite thing to do either, but what can you do? “Check your little card— says we gotta team up, infiltrate the world, and get intel. Maybe you like Saïx yelling at you all the time, but I didn’t sign up for that.”

“Okay, okay,” he begrudgingly agreed, trotting to catch up with Xigbar. Demyx was even quiet for almost a full thirty seconds when he found his nasally voice again. “Do you, uhh… D’ya hear that?”

Xigbar stopped, focusing on their surroundings when he heard a tune in the air. “Singing?” Of course he noticed the music before Xigbar did.

“It’s our town, everybody scream,” shrill voices sang, but even Xigbar was running into trouble placing exactly where the singers were. “In this town of Halloween!”

Whisps of white blurred around them and Demyx let out a shriek, bubbles forming and dissolving as he realized the ghosts already took off again. What, was Xigbar s’posed to pretend he didn’t see that? Turn a blind eye? The bad joke to himself just made him laugh harder.

“C’mon, man,” Demyx whined, rubbing his arm self-consciously. He really was a terrible swamp monster. “You’ve been laughing like that forever…”

“Exaggeration, much?” It’d been, what, maybe a few seconds. Not Xigbar’s fault he was self-conscious about being a scaredy-cat. “‘Sides, you’re in for a lot worse than that. You hear them over your squealing?”

“H-hey, it’s not a squeal, it’s— Enngh, never mind.” Dem caught sight of his smirk and dropped it then and there. He knew a losing battle when he saw one, even if he always just ran away from ‘em. “They sang about a town of Halloween, so that’s gotta be here. I mean, just look at the place. Spooky.”

“Oh, so you do listen?”

“Huh?” He tried playing innocent, scratching his cheek absently and avoiding all eye contact. As if that was gonna make him more believable. “Umm. Sometimes.”

“Uh-huh, sure,” Xigbar dismissed with a sneer. He could taunt Demyx about that all he wanted on this mission, but they did actually have work to do before the day was out and Saïx had a fit. Xigbar outranked him and all, but he was easier to deal with once he had what he wanted. “Alright, time to dig up some intel. Fear’s a good emotion to keep folks in check, so I betcha Lord Xemnas will love hearin’ about this.”

“Yeah, probably,” Demyx agreed half-heartedly, kicking a pebble along the graveyard pathway. “He already scares me a lot, an’I… Xiggy?” When the musician kid wasn’t looking, Xigbar used his powers to teleport himself behind him. No harm in a little prank, right? ‘Course not. “Haha, reeaally funny, you… Ya got me.” Man, that nervousness was too real. The little water spout actually liked him, imagine that! He wasn’t gonna last long in the ranks at that rate.

Xigbar teleported himself behind Demyx this time and whispered, “Gotcha.”

“Eek!” Demyx elbowed him in the stomach, hard, and Xigbar coughed out a laugh.

“Look at you! Got some fight in you after all, just gotta scare it outta you first.”

“Wha? Me?” Demyx gestured to himself, panic in his amphibious eyes. This world really went all out on the transformation bit, not that it did a damn thing for the kid. “No, no, no, I just… It was instinct! C’mon, can’t we just look around and, I dunno, not scare me?”

“Ha! Not a chance. I’m just blending in, Dem,” he teased, empty friendliness and sarcasm giving his words an edge. “You really oughta do the same or they’ll find out you’re chicken.”

Demyx’s brow furrowed again and he stuck his tongue out, touching the end of it. “Ennnh, I bi’ my tongue!”

“Not even listening to me, what’re we gonna do with you?” He clapped Demyx on the back once, walking ahead. “I’ll show you how it’s done.”

“Really?!” Demyx brightened from his voice to his eyes, a light chuckle not far behind. So easily pleased, so easily scared. He had a heart, alright. Just a matter of time before he pieced that little fact together, but that was a problem for the future. As if he’d even act on it— this was Demyx, the king of lazing around in closets, the Grey Room, and anywhere he thought he’d get away with it. Even if he figured out part of their scam, it’s not like he was gonna do anything about it. “Hey, thanks, Xiggy!”

“It’s my job, Dem,” Xigbar reminded him drily. “Just be glad they sent me along to help you out and not cranky, old Vexen.”

Hearts’ Reunion: Zemyx

“I’m sorry you had to see me that way, Demyx,” Ienzo explained. It wasn’t much of a greeting for their agreed upon “chat” in the labs, but it had to be said sooner rather than later. Demyx seemed uncomfortable in the moment between Ienzo and Ansem the Wise, and it took Demyx speaking up for him to even realize that. Ienzo shook his head at such a serious oversight. And to think he believed he’d improved so much in understanding social cues since recompletion. He was proud of it, even.

“Nah, it’s no big deal,” Demyx dismissed with a wave, or as much of one as he could manage with two cups in his hands. Thick straws jutted out of the plastic film covering them and dark spheres sat at the bottom inch or two. Ienzo eyed the drinks, glancing up to Demyx questioningly. This was not part of their plans for this reunion and he couldn’t resist his curiosity.

A trait Demyx knew well from his regular visits to see him in the castle labs. He avoided his missions at all costs, but Demyx certainly always found time for social calls… Which led to their friendship and eventually evolved into something quite a bit more despite their lack of hearts. Pushing that thought away for now, Ienzo drew himself back to the present and willed his mind to stay on track.

“I just wasn’t really sure how to handle it. And, uhh, the others might’ve caught on if I dragged my feet.” After a thoughtful pause and a pout, he laughed. “Eventually. And Vexen, man, he is a terrible liar! He’d probably get me into more trouble with whatever story he cooked up.”

Ienzo chuckled at the thought. Even could keep his fair share of secrets, but it’s true that he had insufficient skills in impromptu lies. Given time to plan, at least, Even could deceive as well as any of them. But he had another question to address. “Demyx, what are those…?” He pointed to the cups and Demyx started as if he had completely forgotten they were there. Perhaps he had.

“Oh! Right!” He offered one to Ienzo, smiling from ear to ear. “You gotta try this! There’s a world out there with this stuff called bubble tea,” he answered with a shake of the cup he held out. The black orbs in the bottom jostled about to demonstrate his point that they were the reason for the name. Rather, Ienzo presumed that was the case. “I wanted to surprise ya, so I went with something I thought you’d like.”

“Thank you, but,” he trailed off, folding his arms as he examined the drink. “What is it, exactly? You’ve brought me a fair share of tea, but never anything like this.”

“I found it out—” Demyx cut himself off with a grumble, frowning. “Doing stuff.” Ienzo raised an eyebrow at that. Had Demyx taken up pretending his missions with the Organization didn’t exist? They were both well aware that he’d been deceived back into their ranks, so there was nothing to benefit from acting as though that wasn’t the case.

“It’s tea with some flavored milk, sugar, and they let you put a buncha stuff in it. I stuck with the classic chewy tapioca because the popping boba has this little flim that gets stuck in your teeth, and it’s just kinda weird. Still fun, though, you gotta try that next,” he ended through a giggle.

“Well, thank you,” Ienzo accepted, taking the cup from Demyx. “And now that we’re… getting to chat, I have some questions for you.”

“Huh?” Demyx fiddled with the straw in his cup, angling for the tapioca. “Umm, sure. Shoot.”

“The time at the castle… When we were both with the Organization, I…” Ienzo idly moved the cup around in his hands, busying himself to steady his mind. “Did it mean something to you?” It came out harsher than he meant it to. But what other way was there to ask and get an honest answer?

“You mean dating?” Demyx had a sip of his drink at the single worst time for Ienzo’s nerves, meeting his distressed gaze over the tea. “Aaah. I mean, sure. Even if it was in secret and all, like you wanted, I really lo— Sorry, sorry. I really like you.”

Ienzo sighed in relief, but it seemed there were more problems to resolve. “You can say love, Demyx. And I’m sorry I told you that you couldn’t before. Without believing I had a heart, I…” He shook his head, staring down at his untouched tea. “That was in the past, I suppose.”

Demyx watched him hopefully, brow furrowed but his smile intact. “Right, gotcha. I, uhh, I love you, so yeah, it, umm, it meant a lot to me, Zexion.”

“Please, call me Ienzo,” he diverted, not prepared for his confession even though he had prompted it. “I acknowledge that I am responsible for my actions as a Nobody, but I am using my human name now, and I… I love you as well.” To preoccupy himself, Ienzo finally had a sip of the tea. “Oh, this is delicious.”

“Ha! Called it!”

Pawns on the Board

KINGDOM HEARTS HD 2.8 FINAL CHAPTER PROLOGUE

Staring out the window at Kingdom Hearts and its pale glow, Xemnas reflected upon the current status of his plans— and the pawns in them. The greatest among them were a select few Organization members who believed they had greater significance on the chessboard. Those who aimed to prove their loyalty in earnest. Zexion, of course, was perhaps even more dedicated to Xemnas than Ienzo had been to Ansem. The thought brought him a biting satisfaction that could be likened to happiness.

Of course, Lord Xemnas knew they had an ability to regain their hearts should one pursue it. By convincing them that this was beyond their grasp without his aid, he controlled all the Organization members. A heart did not need to be complete to be receptive to seeds of doubt or empty convictions. Though they still lacked their final member, the certainty with which those already present held to this falsehood would be the only requirement to convince Number XIII of its veracity as well.

This fact brought Xemnas to consider his most determined pawn of all. Saïx was a relatively unexpected addition to their ranks, as was Axel. Unlike his former companion, Number VII instantly set to proving his worth within the Organization upon becoming a Nobody. Lord Xemnas saw it in his eyes— a resolute conviction so intense that its origins could only have been a memory from his old life. There was no finer motivation for Saïx himself to build his heartless non-existence around, and no better instrument for Xemnas to manipulate him with.

“Lord Xemnas,” the subject of his thoughts interrupted. “I have compiled the mission reports for your review.”

“As expected,” Xemnas responded, turning to face the self-appointed administrator of Organization XIII. It was convenient that he had done so. The members who had an inclination for order and paperwork managed to have even less patience for underachievers such as Demyx and could not be troubled to maintain the digitized filing system Saïx had arranged for their archives. Yet by far, the finest attribute of Number VII was his readiness to understand and excel at any expense.

“Before you begin,” he started, talking decisive steps towards his protégé— or perhaps project was the more suitable term. “I will impart another lesson to you. Though we lack hearts ourselves,” he stated to reinforce the myth, addressing both himself and Saïx in a fluid gesture. “Each of us recalls the memories of possessing one.”

“I understand,” Saïx acknowledged. His intense watchfulness fixated on Xemnas, the golden hue of his eyes and jagged scarring representing all that Saïx was willing to sacrifice for these fragments of knowledge.

“Your aptitude for injuring a heart,” Xemnas began, each word weighted and precise. “Will prove to be invaluable in realizing the future we desire.”

Saïx nodded, his grip tightening on the reports almost imperceptibly. “I would do anything to secure our goals.”

Lord Xemnas knew fully that this was not the whole of the truth. That meant little to him in the strategy for this piece on the board. Saïx’s blindness to his own readability that made his manipulation that much more rewarding. Every Nobody to don the cloak had been instrumental in creating the mental prisons they confined themselves within. Few were so rewarding to lead ever deeper into imprisonment as the Luna Diviner.

“Good,” he answered, pausing. “Bear in mind that you have tremendous power over those with hearts or even those who succumb to illusions of their former heart.” Lord Xemnas recognized a shadow of a smile in Saïx’s expression and continued on. “Pain, doubt, insecurity… Knowing which emotion will lead to which action will be of great use to us. How else would one direct the pawns to precisely where they must go to secure our hearts?” It was but a moment that Saix permitted his gaze to rest on Kingdom Hearts beyond Xemnas, and yet, it betrayed more still of his aspirations. Despite all his pretense in acceptance of the shattered void where his heart once resided, Number VII longed for its return. Truly, he was an ideal pawn that would sacrifice it all for hollow promises in return. “Refining your skill in manipulating hearts… This is the lesson I will impart to you time and again in preparation of what is to come.”

“Yes, Lord Xemnas,” Saix agreed without hesitation.

 

Guiding Light: SoRiku & TerraVen

sora riku soriku kingdom hearts

Returning to Ventus and Aqua was more than Terra ever hoped for. He truly thought he’d never be at their side again, never to train or sit beneath the same stars. But here he was after training with Aqua and Ventus, taking a seat outside the café in Twilight Town like any normal person would. They were there to get ready for the coming battle against Xehanort, but… Terra couldn’t resist a smile, however small.

“Terra,” Riku interrupted his thoughts. He had a hand of the back of the chair across from Terra and he gestured to it with his free hand. “Mind if I join you?”

“Of course not.” Seeing Riku grown up was… Time was hard to keep track of after all Terra went through. So he was careful to look at Riku as naturally as he could, not showing any disbelief he might be feeling.

“I’ve been meaning to talk to you, but it’s been—” Riku shook his head and Terra nodded. He knew all too well what Riku meant.

“Crazy, I know. It still doesn’t feel real some days.” He knew Aqua felt the same sometimes, but she worked through her troubles in her own way. And it didn’t work the same way for Terra. In the short silence afterwards, he had time to wonder why Riku wanted to talk— and he was sure it had to do with his own fall to Darkness. “I heard about what happened with you, Riku. I’m just glad you found your way back to the light. I took too long, but… I came back because of Ven.”

Riku breathed a laugh, a sure sign Terra hit the nail on the head. At least for one of the thoughts weighing on the younger Keybearer. “And Sora helped me.”

“The two of them are amazing, aren’t they?” He’d also heard of Sora protecting Ven’s heart while he slept and recovered, so he had to believe the bright-eyed friend of Riku’s was a lot like Ven. “Shining on everyone they meet like a million lanterns.”

“Or all the stars on a clear night,” Riku added, lost in his own thoughts for a second. A shadow crossed his eyes and his brow furrowed before he looked Terra in the eye. “When you were in the Darkness…”

“Every light I saw, I thought it was him.” In just a glance, Terra could tell Riku had the same experience when he was overcome by Darkness. They were alike in more ways than one, but to think he had to go through that alone across strange worlds, wishing he had the person he loved most at his side… It was all he could do to encourage Riku now. “Even when it wasn’t him, just the thought of him…” Terra trailed off, resting back against the chair. “I lost my body, my friends, and my home, but they couldn’t extinguish my heart.” He put his hand over his chest, continuing. “And it’s all because of Ven. I have him to thank for coming home.”

Riku smiled, propping his elbows up on the table between them. “We only met for a short time, Terra, but I knew we had a lot in common. I just didn’t know it was being lucky enough to have someone so bright to guide us home when we’d lost the way.”

“To have them love us.” Terra smiled at Riku’s surprise. He saw the moments Riku shared with Sora, and he recognized their bond as the one he shared with Ven. Even now, Terra was surprised himself that Ven asked him out. Maybe it was selfish, but he said yes because he couldn’t bring himself to say Ven could do better. “That’s another part that doesn’t feel real. But I’ll do my best to deserve it. To deserve him.”

BioQuest: Meet the Family

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Hearing Booker out about the plan to save McDonough, Elizabeth planted her hands on her hips thoughtfully. “Can you do that on your own?”

And Booker scoffed, wrapping up his work on his gun. “Of course. I take plenty of jobs like this.”

She couldn’t stop a smile at how proud he was of it. A far cry from when they first met and he talked like a ruffian who went about killing people for sport. …Which was not as far from the truth then, Elizabeth supposed, and pushed that thought aside. “Just… Please be careful, Booker.”

booker dewitt bioshock.jpg

“I should say that to you,” he shot back matter-of-factly, holstering his weapon and turning to her. “The Rapture Family was unhinged before Lamb was imprisoned in Persephone. Now?” He shook his head. “They’ll be in a rage the second you even ask about making peace with Ryan.”

“Which is why I’ll strike a deal, and I won’t go alone.” Her smile took on a smug edge, which Booker answered with a sigh. Elizabeth hoped he’d finally come to accept or at least resign himself to the fact that her mind was made up. “I’ll take Diane with me.”

bioshock diane mcclintock.jpg

“Diane?” His skepticism was clear as day, of course, and he evidently wasn’t alone in it. Diane fumbled with what she had been doing, managing to avoid dropping anything– narrowly.

“Me? Oh, Lizzy, I’m flattered, but I don’t know,” she started, worry taking over her expression in a pout. “Jack taught me to shoot and all, but do you really think I’m the right one for this?”

“Yes, I do.” Elizabeth insisted, sure and correcting. “You’re like them, Diane. Ryan promised everyone on the surface that they’d have a better life in Rapture, and now they’re trapped down here. They’ll listen to you because you understand what they’ve been through like no one else can.”

“If you say so, it must be the case,” Booker agreed, his cynical frown softened by a hint of trust.

“Well,” Diane thought out loud. A smile snuck up on her and she drew herself up. “Well, alright then. I’ll just be a second.”

— Outside The Limbo Room —

“It’s closed,” Diane whispered as Elizabeth put her hand against the door. She’d never been to the Limbo Room, but she heard of it from plenty of their patients back at the clinic. It provided a lot of solace in these dark days– and now it had closed its doors.

“Well now,” a woman’s voice cut through the stale air, and Diane stood beside Elizabeth with her hand on her holster. “What’ve we got here, gents?” A few men, sickly with splicing, trailed after her. They either had wrenches or pistols, but all of it was bad news. It was four against two.

“Brunette looks like the pretty one Atlas tol’us about,” one of the men said through a dark laugh. And shortly after, a gunshot took him down.

The reaction was immediate. Atlas’ people went on alert to find out who attacked them, conveniently forgetting about their original targets. Diane shot one and Elizabeth, the other, but the woman escaped in the scuffle.

“She’ll be telling Atlas, no doubt.” Elizabeth turned to the voice to see Grace reloading. “I can’t stand all this violence, but these brutes give us no choice.” She gave Diane a skeptical glance, but in the end, she settled on smiling at Elizabeth. “Have you considered my offer, then?”

Gradually, Elizabeth became aware of people from the Family also standing guard with Grace. They nodded or didn’t acknowledge them at all, but… Elizabeth had received far less friendly invitations.


What do you want to do, Elizabeth?

– – –

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A Way Out: KH Vanitas Drabble

vanitas xehanort kingdom hearts

He’d learned that he existed, but not why. Just the simple act of having a face instead of being red-eyed darkness was so agonizing, Vanitas nearly passed out. “Weak,” he hissed to himself, pacing again on the dead sand of the Keyblade Graveyard.

Master Xehanort sent Ventus away, just as Vanitas insisted. He couldn’t even suppress his impulse to hurt Ventus or maybe even kill him for being the original heart he was torn from. And at the same time, he missed having the blonde boy nearby.

Stupid. Vanitas scowled, and a few Unversed appeared. He couldn’t control them either half the time. All the time. Was there anything he couldn’t mess up? He should be part of Ventus, back where he belongs, instead of — whatever passed as his miserable existence.

More Unversed appeared in swirls of darkness. “Tch.” Vanitas walked away, but they followed and tumbled over each other. Anxious. Afraid. Sad. Lonely. The stupid expressions right on their dark faces. If you could even call them faces.

A monster spouting monsters, futureless and worthless without Ventus. He wanted to be back with his brother in the Land of Departure. But Vanitas couldn’t be there, and he didn’t want to be here. Everything was so pointless.

“Stop it!” He called on the Keyblade and it came, one thing he could manage. Whirling around, he cut through the Unversed trailing him.

Vanitas felt every cut in his body, in his heart, and the pain and despair fed into more Unversed, and he kept going, he couldn’t stop, what else could he do? Exhaustion and agony finally caught up with him… Hours or minutes later, it didn’t matter.

The Keyblade disappeared and Vanitas dropped to his hands and knees. Sobs shook him, ragged breaths escaping, and he clawed at the sand. He hated this. Himself. This place. Everything.

“Vanitas,” Master Xehanort interrupted neutrally. “There is a way out for you.” Vanitas looked up, dirt and tears staining his face. “To achieve salvation, you must unite with Ventus and become the χ-blade.”

He smiled, and Vanitas dragged his tired body to his feet. “Don’t you want to return to him?”

“I can go back to Ventus?” He wanted to. Vanitas didn’t want to be alone anymore. He wanted to have a purpose. Most of all, he was done hurting like this. “I’ll do it.”

“Good,” Master Xehanort observed. “I will take you on as my apprentice. When you know all you need to, only then can you become whole again.”

Vanitas breathed shakily, a weakened tremor running through him. Of course — he was too weak to be with Ventus. Master Xehanort would break him in, make him good enough to go back. And this pain could all be over. “I’ll do anything. Just you watch.”