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Fanfiction ► Remorse [KH AU]

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galactic cancer
May 17, 2007
The Land of Sand and Prisms
Wow, I haven't done much on this thread in a while. :x However, I've been working diligently. If anyone is still following, or would like to start reading, then here is chapter five for you guys.

V - Heat

Gabryl and Raimyd touched down a few minutes later, on a deserted sidewalk. The shadows cast from trees and buildings combined with the natural darkness, Raimyd‘s blonde hair being the only hint of light. The inn was in a very secluded part of town, and the branches above filtered out even some of the moon light. The forest extended far out down the street to their right, where a few cars could be seen coming and going, filling a quiet night with coughing exhaust. Down the other way was the more populated district, lit with neon signs and the glow from high windows. Gabryl looked up to the twinkling stars, feeling his wings meld into his body. There was a tingle that shocked his nerves, but it was much more subtle than he imagined. Raimyd went to the doors, pushing the gate open with a creak. The inn was like a ghostly monolith, pale and tall, foreboding, not at all symbolizing the haven it was for Gabryl. It was like a haunted house, spooky. Dangerous. Gabryl made the connection of this after-hours setting with the streets and alleys he would kill people in, often teenagers trying to find a faster way home running into the wrong crowd. He expected his impulse to go off, with such a sense of familiarity coming to him.

They made their way into the lobby, where the aftermath of the crowd had dispersed an hour before. A chair was knocked over, muddy footprints surrounded the front desk, and all but one man was left. All of the new tenants who had come from far away were in their rooms, sleeping, while those who had been there prior had gone out to get away from the chaos. There was an eerie atmosphere of peace. Ansem looked up, the old man seemed to have been in a shallow sleep.

“Yo.” Raimyd called, sliding an arm out of his jacket. “Ansem, where’s the girls?”

Ansem stood, loosening the scarf around his neck, and meeting them at the desk. He was handed the Keychain that belonged to the pair, and Gabryl had to stop his hand from pulling out the one he had found. It just felt right, he had thought, and felt like it was weighing him down like a brick, burning a hole through his jeans, and trying to wriggle its way out for all to see.

“Medea took Leyla,” Ansem began, stowing the Keychain in a drawer under the desk, “out to eat. After a while they assumed you two wouldn’t be back until late.” He peered at the time. “I suppose they were right. How did it go?”

“Oh, this kid,” Raimyd slapped a hand to Gabryl’s shoulder, making him lurched forward a little, “is a natural. Once he got the hang of it, flew around town some.”

The odd inspirational quip was strange coming from Raimyd, and it made Gabryl feel uneasy, if not a little confident. Ansem looked to Gabryl, walking back out from his post.

“Do you think you will be accompanying the group then, Gabryl?” He smiled. It was an alien smile, but comforting, as it seemed to be coming from a man who was wise, and very knowledgeable. A man that you knew did not smile like that very often. “After all.” Ansem continued. “You won that bet of your’s with Leyla. Earned your right to join them.”

Gabryl was too caught up in said smile, retaliating sluggishly.

“…Wait, what?”

“Medea informed me. I have to apologize if Leyla was harsh, but she is taking our collective loss the worst I’m afraid.” His smile faded back on, a mixture of smugness and entertainment. “I almost wished things didn’t work out for you Gabryl, again sorry, but the win might have put her in a better mood.” He chuckled, but it sounded hollow, unlike his very humane expression.

“Eh.” Raimyd sighed. “Give it a few months. I’m just hoping this little adventure will give her a good pick-me-up. Don’t need her bitching so much. Oh,” A more annoyed sigh followed, “I mean bitching more.”

“At least her actions are justifiable.” Ansem shot with a stern look. His brow loomed over orange eyes, casting a small shadow. They seemed to glow. He had either reacted to the offensive statement towards Leyla or the choice of words. “Time. That’s all she will need. A bit of positive reinforcement from our end will work wonders as well.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Raimyd was tired and did not want to go on debating what was eating his friend this week. He checked the clock himself, and stretched an arm out. “I need rest.” He pointed his thumb towards the stairs.

“Oh, right.” Gabryl said, glad to finally have something productive to mention. “Aren’t we leaving like, really early? I mean, how early? It’s already pretty late…”


“That’s…correct.” He waved at the two, and huffed, making his way towards his own room. It was great and all that they were taking some responsibility, especially Gabryl, but Ansem has the suspicion that he had missed out on some in-depth conversation. Perhaps in which he could explain what was making Leyla so upset, and what was driving her to that little extra bit of insanity. The events of tomorrow would change how she would feel in the long run though, he considered. No, it was more than a theory, but fact. Exactly. The way Gabryl would act tomorrow, or even survive for that matter, could very change the way things worked around their home.

That night, Gabryl dreamt again. It was the same dream from last night; that of his second Angel confrontation, with the same twist of getting vaporized in the end. However, there was another difference. The entire affair took place not in some abandoned living room, but in the air. Gabryl checked and looked around, at the ground, the rest of the sky, and in the middle, but it hardly looked familiar. Some cliffs, plenty of sand and rocks, but nothing that rang any bells. The setting did not have any effect on the outcome or occurrences during the dream though. Dream Gabryl woke up, dazed like every other time, the pain coming to his senses, just floating on the wind instead of a bloody armchair. And when the angel showed up it flew on its own gold-white wings, it went on about its normal business, speaking without acknowledging the new setting. The vaporization hardly had an effect on Gabryl, who was mystified, and wondering what it all meant.

Whether or not there was some in-depth, psychological meaning to it was beyond him, but it kept Gabryl up until the short hand on his complimentary cracked clock pointed to the four. He rolled over, sheets twisting, and pulled his pillow over his head, trying to block out the soft ticking which was beginning to bother him a lot. Every time he tried to not think about the systematic turning of gears, he ended up thinking about it more, and was stuck in some loop of pining over things that did not earn him any more sleep. A prolonged groan was muffled, and he hoped they would not have to leave for at least another hour.

There was a sharp knocking at the door.

Another, louder groan was less muffled.

“Wake up!” Rasped a very agitated voice. It clicked immediately to Gabryl that Leyla had taken the liberty to politely tell him they were preparing to leave. He sat up on his bed, pushing his hair back, and picked up his shirt, draped over the bed board. It was a little dirty from sweat, and smelled to reflect that. Thinking about looking for a washing machine in the vicinity, Leyla shouted again.

“Hey! You dead already?” She wanted to save that joke for later, but just was not patient enough.

Ugh. She would not leave until he got up, or gave some indication, and her confidence in him was a little more than jarring. Gabryl groggily went to the front of the musty room, making sure not to trip this time, and pulled open the door by its loose knob. Leyla was about the same height as him, so her dark eyes, in the middle of a low face, met him instantly.

“Yeah?” Gabryl asked. He had never been so direct, by not hiding his angered tone from her. He had forgotten to do that. He was pretty scared now.

Leyla’s eyebrows sloped down, and the corner of her mouth twitched.

“…Half an hour.” She spoke through clenched teeth, grinding a little between words. There was an outburst that desperately wanted to come out, but she held it back, and pulled the door shut, slowly. The lack of respect was sudden and annoyed her. Also, lack of decency, as Gabryl had yet to put on his shirt, and still held the wrinkled ball in his other hand. She would try to erase that image from her mind.

Gabryl sighed, trying to smooth the wrinkles out of his clothing. When that failed, he slipped it on and went for his vest, hanging over one of his chairs.

“Half an hour…” He mumbled, making sure he remembered. It was rare that Gabryl spoke to himself, but he was going to have to get used to having conversations, and thought he would practice.

“…Half an hour?!” Gabryl repeated, this time being much louder, and emoting surprise. He hated the way he sounded. More practice was needed.

“Half…an hour?”

“Half an…hour.”

“Half- Damn it, twenty minutes.”

Gabryl had not eaten an actual meal for a couple days, and coffee and ice cream could only give you so much energy. He was hoping there would be something he could share or scavenge downstairs. Patting down his insulated vest, he felt cozy, but it lacked a hood to ward off the cold from his ears, or even much of a collar for his neck alone. The button-down shirt under did not provide any warmth itself. It was once again approaching autumn, so he would have to get something new, maybe in another color. With others now able to see him, the purple decals appeared less and less impressive to him. Then again, who was he to conform-

“Shit, fifteen.”

Hurrying down the hall, he noticed how convoluted his language had become. The swearing he was prone to in his head was spilling out. He then became aware of the tightening spasms in his stomach.

“Food, damn it…Grr.” He would try to censor himself in the future.

Gabryl stopped at the balcony, and looked out to the lobby. It was dark, and the only light sources were a television with a flickering news anchor, the LED display on a clock hanging over it, and a few lamps and flashlights being used by Reapers, clustered around tables. A group in particular saw the red digits showing 4:21 and began packing up their various supplies. Maps, pens, and other items stuffed into a backpack. They seemed confident, but Gabryl could feel that they were nervous. Something in their eyes, faltering just the slightest, gave the impression of a heavily masked anxiousness. Even who appeared to be their leader, an older man with shiny, combed-back hair, was obviously apprehensive.

“Hey, Gabryl. Morning.” Raimyd said, speech obscured. He held two bagels, one on a finger and the other between his teeth. The former was stuffed into Gabryl’s chest, and Raimyd took a bite, pulling away his own from his mouth. “Carb up. Long flight ahead of us, and we gotta go fast.” He glanced at the Reapers who had packed up and left. “Damn, others are really getting ahead of us.”

Raimyd made the very bold act of actually jumping off the balcony, sprouting wings after crossing over the railing. The rush he normally felt from doing that had worn off a while back, though it still carried a relaxing sensation of weightlessness. That would, or at least he hoped, never leave him. It was a sliver of what could be considered “magic”, left in his depressing state. There would always remain something to be desired though, and Raimyd was riding on the possibility that he would find out what that was today. He was very excited about this day, in truth, and had been looking forward to it for quite some time, being picked up nearly three years prior by Medea. He had been dead five months before that. The original rookie of the team, as it were, the only difference being that Raimyd had experimented with his abilities, even if it was not all on purpose.

Flight, though attempted suicide. Later, he discovered the power of his Keychain while going out on a routine kill.

And now, with Gabryl, he felt some kind of kindred connection. He had no idea whether or not he just enjoyed having someone as inexperienced as he was, not too long ago, or if he wanted to live his training through Gabryl again. Maybe he just wanted to be a good friend, and have one in turn. Problem was, he had no idea how close a friend he could be with another. The lacking of a heart persisted. After all, Leyla, Medea…Lucre, all mentors to him, and he was the comic relief, the younger brother, in a dysfunctional family equation. How much did that mean in the long run?

It consistently bothered him. Was the doubt hindering him, or was it the physical incapability?


Raimyd snapped back to consciousness. His meandering thoughts had caused him to zone out, and now he was sitting on the floor, hands propping him up. The bagel had fallen from his mouth to the floor, too, which he did not bother to pick up.

“Raimyd.” Ansem bellowed. “I just came to send you four off, but I know you didn’t work so hard up to this day so you could rest.”

“R-right.” He shook the previous thoughts out of his mind. It was not the appropriate time to get distracted. After all of this was over, he would be able to lay in bed, sleep without a whim, and relax until another big event began to loom towards him. Raimyd steadied himself on one knee, recovering from his fall. Gabryl was standing next to Ansem, his neck and chin wrapped in a scarf he had borrowed form the innkeeper. The red did not go so well with his attire, but who was he to complain, the kid must be cold.

Kid; who was he kidding? Physically they were the same age, and if not for that, about three to five years apart?

“I got the Keychain.” Gabryl chirped, feeling important. He tugged at the soft wool, securing it.

“That’s cool. Um, you hold onto it for now, in case you decide to go off on your own again.” Raimyd dusted off his jeans went to the coat rack near the door. “And, you know, so you don’t get killed. We can probably handle ourselves better than you. Better we get caught chainless.” He pulled his heavy jacket off a hook.

“Oh, that’s fine.” Gabryl said, tucking it into his front pocket. Easier access just in case he needed it for whatever reason. Maybe he would unlock some special power of his own.

“Best of luck, and give my regards to Leyla and Medea too, they’re outside.” Ansem gave a wise smile that Gabryl recognized, and nearly smiled back before realization hit his head like a rock.

“Oh, um, jeez. It’s freezing out and they probably want to go-”

“No shit.” Raimyd pulled his hood up and yanked a drawstring. This had no effect as the elastic in the rim of the hood had been overused, leaving it loose. “Yeah, guess who’s gonna be ticked off.” He pushed open one of the doors, barely uttering a farewell.

“C’mon. Right, see you Ansem. We’ll be back in a few hours, blah blah, let’s go.”

Gabryl, frenzied, assured that he would be yelled at or shunned by the intimidating raven-haired girl, rushed along with him.

“Yeah, see you, oh and thanks for the scarf-”

The door was slammed shut.

Outside, the cool morning breeze, increasingly common at this point in late summer, was brisk on the face. It chilled the senses just enough, while staying wet with recent rain, so that it was refreshing. There was a low fog in the distance, but the kind of fog that you could never actually reach, that seemed to only hang there on the landscape just so that nature could let you know that yes, it is humid out there. The sky was a mix of gray and blue, but at this hour it was hard to tell if it was the sky itself or clouds. A few cars zoomed by to make it before the traffic light on an intersection turned red, and splashed up some water with a soft crashing.

Everything around them screamed that it was going to be autumn in a couple weeks. Gabryl pulled and tightened his scarf accordingly, and even tried to push it up to his ears, but it shifted down to his chagrin, slack over his shoulders.

“’Bout time.” Medea said, arms crossed. “Ya’ll have no idea how long we were waiting. Thought we were gonna get a head start this year.“ She went on mumbling incoherently. A brown, frayed jacket with long sleeves apparently warmed her enough. Leyla had donned a black trench coat, ugly and uncomfortable-looking. Gabryl thought that it took the snugness a little too far, and that it would make the wearer sweat far too much, the way it tightened around her sides and curves. He then figured that this conclusion on her clothing was constructed by his mind to distract him for any other, more primal reasons that he may be looking at her sides and curves. Fortunately she was too busy glaring at the ground to notice any looks.

“Better get going.” Leyla offered, wings appearing and unfolding. She gently fell backwards, toes lifting, and balancing on her heels for less than a second before making the transition to floating. Her eyes kept averting the others, though, and one could guess that even when she was high up that she only focused on the horizon, now bordered with a vibrant, orange line of sunlight. The others followed, and Gabryl did what he assumed would make his wings reappear. He took a step, and intentionally tripped right over.

And indeed, before his nose could smash against the ground, Gabryl began to levitate on an odd angle. A very unnoticeable tingle was all that gave any indication of his wings actually sprouting out of him, making the whole ordeal feel much more natural. It was very freeing. He flapped a few times, which to his delight was as natural as waving his finger, as if the new appendages had always been there.

“Gabe, let’s go man.” Raimyd called from above. Leyla was the first to take the second step; gliding up a little, then letting her wings stop supporting her long enough to fall about ten feet, suddenly shooting off in front of her. Gabryl raised himself to their level, and watched. It was as if she was falling up. Raimyd confirmed his theory, scarcely. “See, flying for us is like a defense mechanism. All you gotta do is control…” He flipped backwards, and took an upside down dive. Without warning he whooshed back up, wind streaked hair making the insane words match the speaker.

“…Control how ya screw up!” He smiled, and climbed higher, preparing to repeat himself for extra speed. Medea had already performed her own variation, and rushed off. Gabryl looked down, feeling dizzy, and shyly tired to do it himself. As it turned out, intentionally trying to fall to your death was not that easy.

He succeeded in taking the energy from one wing, but then found himself hanging on one. It was as if his body just would not let those wings relax. Raimyd grunted and whacked his head with the back of his hand.

“Hurry up, just fall. Nothing to it. Long as you know you’ll be okay it shouldn’t bug you much.”

Gabryl sighed, shivered from a gust of wind, and tried again. He closed his eyes, imagining the blood or whatever draining from his wings to the rest of his body. Just going numb, not being able to react, he would obviously just fall. Then, he would bring them back to life and get on with his adventure. Opening his eyes, Gabryl say that he was looking up, lying on his back, drifting down. That is good, he gathered. Gabryl let his wings curl over the sides of his body, making him thing and without wind resistance. Appropriately, he fell faster.

“Good!” Raimyd cheered, letting himself tumble backwards and join him. “Now just let your wings catch you!”

Gabryl had little to no idea what he meant by that, so he just opened his wings, curving them in a way he knew would make him fly up. He made a distinct swoop, coming in an arc over a few cars, and found that he had acquired quite some speed in doing this. It was speed that felt like it was wearing down, but definitely the kind affected by gravity and all. Gabryl soon came to realize that he was, in fact, falling sideways. Raimyd caught up with him soon, his own wings wide and fanned out. His feathers were thicker than Gabryl’s, and his flaps were longer and fewer in between.

“And, when you want to go faster, just drop again.” He demonstrated while almost hitting a street lamp, which he advised Gabryl not do. Though he did once.

Gabryl had to make full use of his newfound ability to speed up, too, because the group was in quite a rush to make it to their destination while daylight was young. He gritted his teeth, lips pursed, quickly falling and rising every few minutes. It was hard to keep up with the others, and he worried that he trailed a little more behind them every passing second. To compensate, Gabryl flapped with more strength, which he noticed no one else was doing, and there was an increasing burning feeling gathering at his spine, where his wings protruded. Whimpering, he eased the wing movements, only to slow down.

A cycle of which continued for about forty minutes.

Though it was not as if there was much else to do than concentrate on one’s own repetition. The landscape surrounding them for miles was pretty, yet dull; green, sloping hills stretching out, with small amounts of vegetation. Still, even that was beginning to whittle out. The grass was yellowing at this point, and dispersed in patches, the brown earth showing underneath. Rocks and small mesas were visible far away, none of which were in any kind of interesting shape. Some of the closer ones cast strange, pointed shadows from the sun behind them. Gabryl mused how convenient it was that they leave early, since the sun would not be in their eyes while departing.

However, the boring, jagged line on the horizon finally produced something different. Amongst the strange figures standing up, said rocks and such, there was the slightest indent, as if the ground was opening up. Gabryl wondered if this was any indication of them reaching their destination, and looked to Raimyd, who hovered a little higher than himself. He brushed his blonde hair out of his face, letting it streak behind him, and squinted.

“Is uh…” Gabryl gagged, going into a coughing fit, wind rushing down his throat. He cupped a and over his mouth, and raised his voice. “Is this where we’re going?”

There was no verbal response, but Leyla, in the lead, slowed down, getting the rest to do the same. Gabryl felt the heat in his joints subside, and for the first time since he had left the ground he noticed the overtaking sleepiness that seemed to accompany flying so often. His hand went from his mouth to his eyes, and he rubbed them. The cool air on his face felt refreshing, at the least, when it was not asphyxiating him.

The sun has risen more, illuminating more of the towering figure ahead. It was definitely tall, full of dimension, with some very intricate decoration. Gabryl’s jaw dropped a little more as they came closer. What he was looking at was not some an entirely noble monastery of a base, or some discrete place for the Angels to call home, but a…

“A castle?” Gabryl said, surprised. In the middle of a barren wasteland. A number of towers rose up from the ground, made of monstrous architecture, most of which had to have been physically improbably, and supported by something magical. There were white and periwinkle walls, sturdy throughout the test of time, and enormous, rusty pipes jutting out at odd angles. The scale of course, was still incredibly hard to take in, even at their distance, and their closing in on it was not putting anything into better perspective. Gabryl could tell that Leyla was trying to find a place to land, her head turning rapidly. She was definitely in for a challenge, as there was an impossible amount of ledges and platforms on the castle exterior. Balconies off of towers, gaping windows, and staircases that spiraled out of the building and back into it. Leyla tipped to her right, gliding, and led them to a platform that was much lower down.

And did the castle go down. As if the scale was not agonizingly huge from ground level, Gabryl was now aware that what he thought was a hill or ridge, was in fact the drop off point of a cliff. A very, very steep cliff that extended around the wide circumference of the castle in a circle. It went at least as deep as it extended above the crater. His stomach lurched when the change in altitude hit him.

“What is with this place?” Gabryl asked. His voice echoed downward, making reality slap him in the face once more.

“Hollow Bastion ain’t the most welcoming place, Gabey.” Medea said back. She smiled, and flew up to Leyla’s side. They whispered and nodded their heads a few times, pointing into space and what must have been suitable landing spots.

“I’m turning it on. Tighten up.” Leyla said. Raimyd grabbed Gabryl’s arm and pulled him behind the girls, heads almost at their ankles. Their pace slowed, dying down to a hover.

“She means the invisibility.” He whispered to his ear. “We’re gonna go in at some point and hurry in and out. Really pretty easy. They know where the Keychains are from last time.”

“Oh, nice.” Gabryl said, absent-mindedly, gazing up and around. There was water falling from the castle, thin waterfalls, not the most common sight. He was a little taken back by this. Behind them, more rivulets spilled over the cliff, pouring into a dark lake much farther down. Mist billowed out of it in wispy clouds, obscuring Gabryl’s vision slightly, but passing out of his way for the most part. He watched the cool vapor pass back up, as if retracing its previous journey, and curl back over the cliff edge and towers. It was like this was the very source of the early morning haze, conjured only to hide this behemoth of a building.

Gabryl wiped some sweat from his forehead, and drifted after Medea, who was scouting out an opening that resulted from the damaging of a wall. She pulled out a folded, yellowing piece of paper and inspected whatever had been scrawled and doodled over it. Gabryl tried to interpret what was on it, only for it to be stuffed away when Medea recognized a particular pipe. There was even still that water dripping down to the right of it. She waved a hand, and the group ascended.

Gabryl felt, once again, the abrupt feeling of coming into contact with solid ground. It was as if the planet was an magnet that had been switched on without warning, sucking his feet flat on the ground. It was also that that moment that he noticed how incredibly liberating flying was, since it was like escaping from gravity itself. He took a dazed step, wings folding and eventually disappearing without his notice, and stared up as he took a few steps. Yeah, this place was just as demeaning standing right up to it, from below, especially the one tallest tower. Gabryl could see that, constructed behind a mess of cogs and rusted metal, was a large heart-shaped symbol. As strange as it looked, he dismissed it for an emblem of the Angels.

“The stairs on the right, and…then a left.” Medea said, twisting her finger in an imaginary map. They navigated stairway after stairway before coming a corridor leading to the depths of the castle. There was the faint sound of dripping ceilings and the smell of copper. It would be pitch-black if were not for a few candles hanging off the abnormal walls, constructed of metal poles and bars and piping. The boys were less inclined to enter. Both had pictured the Raid to be more action-packed, though safe, but not so distressing. The adventure to Hollow Bastion was a very romantic ideal; stealing Keychains for the good of their kind, escaping oppression and the like. This just felt dirty and unnerving. The entire heroic fantasy, really, was deconstructed.

It was a good thing they were all wearing some form of boots or heavy shoes, as the water was almost up to their ankles, and sloshed around higher. Gabryl brought his arms around himself, and pulled at his scarf. He thought that they were going deeper and deeper, into the cold heart of this place. Was that symbolic of the Angels? Then again, did they have hearts to compare to begin with? The frigid water, chilling his toes, pushed him away from his thoughts. Some of it was seeping into his shoes, and though inevitable with this much water to trudge through, he kicked at it, and spat.

“When are we going to get out of this-”

A body in front of him halted in its tracks, and lashed around. Gabryl’s stunned lips were met with a finger.

“Shhh.” Leyla hissed. Her orange eyes seemed to dim with her wish for subtlety.

Raimyd and Medea stopped, deathly still.

“Just because we’re invisible doesn‘t mean they can‘t hear us.” She said in a hushed tone. Her front teeth where pressed together so much that it must have been painful, and she flexed her ears, listening. Gabryl figured now was not the time for a remark that would inevitably be interrupted.

Silence, along with the typical gloomy ambience, followed.

“And that goes for all of us.” Leyla continued, turning, and slowly raising a foot. “There will be other Reapers getting here at any time. Don’t interact. They’re stupider than us, they’ll just mess it all up.”

Gabryl forgot that he was trying to hold back.

“But what if they need help? I mean, isn’t it all for the same cause?”

Leyla traced a hand along the wall as she attempted to find the opening to another corridor. Medea took out her paper again, holding it to the scarce light to assist.

“No.” Said the former. “We’re getting Keychains for Ansem and everyone else back home. The ingrates coming in from out of town are doing god knows what.” She slowed at an opening in a wall of pipelines. It was narrow. There was a red valve sticking out of one pipe that she looked over closely, before nodding to Medea. “…We’re at least trying to help some people, or doing it the right way. No one else can just disappear like us. Moment someone knows about this Keychain, they’ll either want to join up, or kill us for it.”

It had not occurred to Gabryl that the Keychain in their possession was so powerful, and that they were actually doing some sort of good, or that there was a moral standard for them to begin with.

“So, what constitutes one of the ‘bad guys’ then?” He asked.

“Well,” said Raimyd, taking over the answering, “it’s more the way they do it. Everyone wants to get rid of the Angels, but they want to outright slaughter them. Bunch of radicals.” He stumbled on a crack in the floor, and recovered, grunting. “They stockpile these things, using them for the sheer power. Probably want to just nuke the place with them alone. Not as classy as us.”

“Don’t be so modest, Rai.” Medea called, stopping at the end of the constricting passageway. She took a few timid steps, until the tip of her boot found the edge of a pipe. Another, more confident step had her dropping a few feet with a shallow splash. There was less water on that level, which made it seem like a much better place to go when your shoes are waterlogged. Gabryl went after Raimyd, landing in what was actually a puddle formed from the residue of the pipe they had just jumped over. What there were standing on now was a solid, stone floor. The candles on the wall were in higher number, too.

“We’re almost there.” Leyla called, landing behind them. She took the liberty to sail over the water. “We can actually see how well furnished they are too. It‘s a little nicer than here.”

Logic told the boys, having not traversed the complex insides of the castle before, that the Angels had to live in a better-looking place than a building constructed of pipes and damp plaster. In actuality, the plaster behind nauseatingly-colored wallpaper was fairly wet throughout the new, brighter hallways they explored. Water spots clearly visible, and the smell reflected on that. Other than the candles, there seemed to be some other light source, a natural one or coming from another room.

“Least they take better care of this place than the basement.” Gabryl said, putting his hands in his pockets. He felt for the point of his Keychain, making sure he was safe, and sighed. It really only depended on whether or not Leyla was holding onto her own. Still, he liked feeling his own; that warmth he first noticed was not just his imagination, but was there any time he touched it. Probably some kind of magic. It did not matter to him where it came from though, it was just good to feel in such a cold, dripping dungeon.

“No, this is the basement.” Leyla corrected, and then turned her attention to Medea. “…Left here. Remember the door at the end?”

Gabryl sighed again, this time in a more dejected manner, and tried to take in the bleak scenery. Maybe someday he would get to lead a Raid, and bring up directions. A sort of glamorous, hero life, he thought sarcastically. A few days ago he would never have thought he could be any semblance of a hero.

The left taken was followed by a right, which opened into a rectangular clearing. A Few other halls branched out from it, none distinctive of leading to a ‘Keychain room’. A few pipes popped out of the ceiling, and a whole section of wall was horizontally laid copper tubing, dripping and steaming. It gave the impression that the entire castle was just a thinly veiled skeleton of piping. Leyla and Medea went directly to a hallway on their left.

“Here, cause it turns-”

“Yeah, straight path to the room.” Leyla completed.

“We made it?” Raimyd asked, sounding a little excited.

“Mmhmm.” Hummed Medea, glad to have reached this final stretch.

As Leyla had said, there was but one last, long hallway around the corner. A simple, tall door was at the end of it, with a line of light bold at the bottom. Leyla walked at a slower, more cautious pace than she had been already, a hand extended towards the doorknob far earlier than it needed to be. She wanted to be careful. If for any reason she needed to open that thing fast, or beckon her weapon, the she would be ready.

She had led them to a location that had little to no resemblance to what else they had seen of the castle. The room they entered was circular, and looked as if it had gone untouched for years. Still, electrical lighting was functional, coming from a lamp attached to the ceiling, and numerous glowing, glass, cylindrical canisters stationed against the wall. Shelves and cabinets were lined with long-forgotten books, and it was all so dusty that prominent footprints were visible on the floor, as if it was snow. Leyla, eyes darting around to scout out danger, went down on one knee a moment later. After pressing a finger to one, particularly large footprint, she lifted it and inspected the residue. Hardly any. Either a previous band of Reapers had arrived earlier, or an Angel was recently browsing around. The former was unlikely.

“Alright, let’s get this over with.” She said, standing. Medea went to the door, shutting it silently, and leaning her ear up against it. Leyla made sure she was securely on guard, and went to the other side of the room, walking around an old desk. It looked unstable, and a few documents were hidden by dust.

“Stash as many as you can on you, we don’t want to weigh ourselves down, and I’m sure a few others from the inn will be using bags later on, for our benefit. That way we‘ll at least get some…” There was a notable lack of feet shuffling on old carpet.

What had gathered the attention of Gabryl and Raimyd, were the hundreds of Keychains adorning the arcing wall. More than a handful on a single hook, which were tightly packed together and went from the floor al the way up. The Keychains, in al their different colors and shapes, each found a little bit of light to have gleam off of them.

“Hey!” Leyla snapped.

“…Huh?” Gabryl said, coming to first. It was almost incomprehensible to her how shocking it was for Gabryl to see so many Keychains in one place, or to know that so many could exist. They were a sign of freedom for him; freedom that was stripped away, that he never had the chance to revel in. “Oh, right.”

“We’ll go sightseeing later.” She whispered, hushing her tone for the sake of their guard. Leyla slid a whole row of Keychains off their metal hook, and let them fall into her pocket before moving onto another bunch. There was a profuse amount of jingling in the room..

Raimyd could fit multiple handfuls into his oversized coat, which Gabryl had trouble shoving some into his front vest pockets. He was accustomed to wearing tighter clothing, and wished someone had told him to wear baggier pants. Five items in the last pocket he could manage later, Gabryl zipped three pockets closed, with some difficulty. He checked on the others; Raimyd trying to find the shiniest Keychains he could, while Leyla was just switching stations with Medea. That gave him some free time for sightseeing after all.

His first item of interest was, of course, the glowing containers. There was one next to where he had already been standing, casting a pinkish glow on the metal. He felt that the light was in fact, familiar. Gabryl leaned over, and touched the glass. Warmth. The liquid inside the canister, also pink, bubbled gently. Gabryl thought it looked relaxing, even hypnotic. His eyes shifted to the wall behind it, where the shadow of the liquid danced and flickered because of the bubbles.

Which is what spurred the memory. The pink color of the liquid was definitely the same as the hearts he collected. Gabryl smiled, tapping the glass, and shook his head. No, it’s just a coincidence, he considered. Right. His eyes drifted once again to the wall, though the thought would not leave his mind. After all, the color emitted to the wall looked extremely similar to the glow on the brick, after he killed that couple. Gabryl was in a trance, checking the liquid, the light, and the mental image. Focusing more, trying to make that image solidify in his mind’s eyes…then his two physical eyes strained when something seemed to appear in the pink solution.

He tapped it again, as if that would make whatever he saw come closer. Was it an animal, maybe? Some kind of crazy fish? No, it looked inanimate, and long in form. Gabryl made a double take, squinting, hoping that a bubble would move out of the way to give him a better view. For a moment, he thought he saw a Keychain floating aimlessly. The small emblem was yellowish, with some organic curves; conical, even. Any time that Gabryl would recall the shape he saw, it brought up the image of wind or something wispy. At that moment though, he was just surprised, and wondered why he was seeing a Keychain here. What made it so special?

Abruptly, a hand gripped his shoulder. Gabryl jumped, expecting to be vaporized, only to feel that the hand was shaking slightly in anxiousness. He saw Raimyd behind him, eyes stalking deep behind his hair, now more unkempt and hanging to his nose. Pressure had certainly reached down his throat and squeezed his stomach hard.

“Come on, dude. Just gotta get home now.”

“Uh…” Gabryl stammered, looking past him at the girls, standing ready at the door. “…Alright.”

He really had a thing about keeping Keychain-related secrets to himself.

They left the room as close as possible to the way they had discovered it. The door was shut, and empty hooks had been covered by other chains. Their footprints in now way stood out from the others. Leyla went ahead to check around the corner, into the larger room, while the others waited halfway down. Gabryl made sure to make his distance from her as short as possible, in case, for whatever reason, an Angel were to materialize between them. It may have been a paranoid idea, but not exactly implausible, which was what frightened him the most.

Leyla slowly brought a hand up, nearing shoulder height, and each of the others started to shuffle over. Her head bobbed around a little, searching every corner of the room and into the various hallways. She did not, however, notice a hall that was almost directly adjacent to the one she was looking out of. Nor did she hear faint footsteps and clamoring over the hiss of steam. Because of this, she was not prepared to see a body fly suddenly out of the unseen doorway, and slam against the opposite wall. Gabryl, Raimyd, and Medea were, by effect, completely unaware as to why Leyla had seemed to freeze in fear, and cling to the wall she was up against. Their minds could only wander in the fraction of a second before they heard said body dent the wall it hit, and no doubt crack a few bones. They joined Leyla at the opening to the room, having to remind themselves they were invisible to prevent them from running away as fast as they could.

The man, who had been jettisoned, most likely against his will, was peeled off the wall from gravity, and made no attempt to break his fall. A thin trail of blood seeped out from under his face. Gabryl could easily recognize him as a person who had given up hope, and knew their fate. Their fate to die.

In his still rigid, right hand was a stout rod of metal, and the left had his fingers tangled in a mess of familiar black metal scraps, which while sharp, looked like they had been bent up and torn apart. Gabryl, wondering why he would be holding these things, came to a dumbfounded realization that they were his Reaper weapons, only trashed. The scythe cut short and gauntlet eviscerated, even though Gabryl had not once seen his own get a scratch.

His wings were bloodied as well, and even though all four felt some impulse to call out, and make him get up or fight back or retreat, there was this despair that told them that it was all over. Because, each one of them were thinking the same thing Gabryl was, and the reasons as to why this man had been beaten so badly, his equipment all but destroyed, and seemingly lost all hope. It was simple logic. They wholeheartedly expected the footsteps coming from the hallway the dying man had flown in from, as was it expected to see a taller, older man in black garb and white wings. The Angel had his own signature weapon at his side, a key-shaped sword, menacing even in its odd purple color. Defiantly sharp, no doubt with some supernatural powers of its own.

Gabryl looked up the long black coat the Angel wore, studded with silver spikes at the shoulders and waist. He noticed a lengthy ponytail, graying like the rest of the hair on his head, bounce between his sickeningly pale feathers. The Angel spoke as he stepped with a calm demeanor, cracking his neck.

“Well, well, kid. Not every day I get that kind of excitement. Gotta thank you for it.”

Admittedly, Gabryl thought, his voice was quite young for how he looked so far. Not every old guy with gray hair had that kind of tone.

“Shame you have to…leave so soon, though.” A chuckle followed, and one could tell that he was smirking sinisterly. The Angel bent over, and used his free hand to hold the Reaper up against the wall by his chin, grating his back against the crumbling plaster, finger and thumb digging under his jaw. Blood was spattered under his nose, forehead, and even clumped up in his hair. His breathing was harsh, audible from where Gabryl was standing, crouched, peeking around the corner. From where he was, Gabryl could see that his hair, messed with caked blood, had at one time been combed neatly back.

That was when he noticed that the Reaper he had seen at the inn earlier, who had left before them and seemed so prepared, was the one being murdered at this moment. Gabryl saw him gagging, coughing, such was normal human reflex in this situation. However, it was like he was not trying to breath consciously. Like he wanted to die before that Angel could do anything to him. Before he could get any pleasure out of it.

The Angel looked at his weapon, and lifted it. Flipping it in one hand, twirling it in a circle expertly, it landed with its pointed tip right on the Reaper’s temple. The hilt of the blade glowed with white and purple light, pulsating. Gabryl was impressed to recognize a Keychain on its end, and realized how stupid he was to have not put one and one together with his prior experience of having Keyblades shoved right in his face. Said Keychain glowed the brightest, like a little star, and seemed to be pouring all the energy inside of it to power the rest of the blade.

Gradually the majority of the weapon went fluorescent, up to the three spokes that gave it that key-like look. There was a small hiss as the heated point pressed harder to the Reaper’s head, and the Angel cocked his neck once more to make it crack, an unseen grin widening.

Gabryl felt his insides churn, the feeling from his limbs draining, as the Keyblade was now white-hot. A few things were numb. He could feel the heat in front of him, his mind spacing out, and Gabryl began to wonder if he was slipping into another dream or not. Gulping, he assured himself that this was real; he was going to watch another Reaper die, without being able to do anything. In fact, Gabryl almost missed it happen, busy getting sick from the sheer notion of murder. There was a flash of light, a beam going straight out of the Keyblade’s tip, and an alien kind of sprinkling, splattering sound that could only be described as very vomit-inducing. The kill was quick, mostly painless, and decided the moment the Reaper had run into the Angel.

The Angel then turned, tossing away the corpse that he was holding by a bloody stump. It evaporated into a cloud of black and purple smoke before hitting the ground, a light clinking noise coming from a Keychain that hit the ground. Gabryl focused on it, and at first reasoned that it must have been what he was holding to keep him unsuccessfully safe. He just then became aware of how grateful he was for the cloaking device Leyla owned, in her far more useful Keychain. Gabryl felt a chill in his shoulders, shuddered, and slowly began to stand. His legs wobbled. Raimyd grabbed him by his scarf immediately, snarling his neck, using better judgment to not gag for air.

Having thrown away his late victim, the Angel egotistically turned on a heel, brandishing his weapon before having it disappear in a blaze of white. It turned out that his face, like his voice, was also deceiving of his age; which, while obviously old, was battle-scarred. There were a few bold, red scars running over his cheeks, the boldest one being jagged and running up to his one uncovered, yellow eye. There was an eye patch over the other, which Gabryl imaged was there for more than treating a lazy eye.

He whistled a little, and soon decided that there was no more reason for him to stick around. He would go out, maybe sit atop his favorite tower, and keep an eye out for more of those little Reapers to pick off.

Which he did, teleporting away in a white flash. It still took a good couple minutes for the Reapers to move a muscle and resume normal breathing patterns, though, afraid that there would be another Angel right behind them, or that this one would have just remembered he dropped his wallet and had to come back at the worst time possible. And, while highly unlikely, they were not about to take chances. Raimyd finally let go of Gabryl, who pulled the scarf so that it was no longer restricting his trachea, and made sure to whisper next.

“Do we go now?”

Medea nodded, and took lead, checking out a few of the open halls. There was one she knew was a straight path to the outside; a platform directly under the front gate. This was where they had planned to escape from, in case of an emergency, sparing the stealth tactics. She considered this to be one of those hectic situations, as the Angels would be on the watch.

“It’s right down this way.” She told them, waving from down in the darkness.

Leyla made a few hurried strides, wings flourishing out. Gabryl jumped a little, missing a step from surprise. He did not think that the door was too far away, and that she was preparing this early. She must have been worried.

“T-take the back, guys.” Leyla said, breathing hard. She was not even running, let alone walking at an insufferable pace. Gabryl only thought he heard her stammer.

The next ten minutes filled each of them with anxiety, not all handling it in the same way. Medea crept on her toes, neck twitching at the sound of every drop of water hitting the ground, and flinching if something ever touched her. Every time there was a sizable opening to the side, she slowed, stuck her head around the corner, and when it was clear, carried on as if it never happened. A few feet back, Leyla remained reserved, and arm held up to her chest. Her mouth stayed slightly agape, a thin mist flowing out, and exhaling with mumbles. It was quiet enough that Gabryl and Raimyd, behind her, did not hear. Gabryl tugged at his scarf periodically, nervous, while the latter stayed half-turned, making sure nothing was following. When the minutes were over, a light source became evident, larger pipes casting shadows upon the walls. Twenty steps or so later, there was a distinct rectangle of almost alien brightness, which was ironically only the sun.

“Medea, s-see if it’s clear.” Leyla commanded, pressing her wings the side of the doorway. She gave a harsh sigh.

Gabryl leaned against the opposite wall and sighed as well, satisfied that what he believed was the hard part to be over. He wiped his nose, running from the cold, wet atmosphere, and stumbled standing back up. He could tell that made his wings come out due to a small tingle, but did not really care to check. Rather, he was watching the woman in the front of their party leaning out the opening in the base of the castle. She watched silently, making sure no one was hiding anywhere with some Reaper-sensing equipment and Reaper-blowing-up gun, and once she was sure no one was there, gave a thumbs up.

Gabryl let Leyla go outside first, and was about to start himself when he heard something scrape along the metal in the hallway behind them. Then, some deep, growling sound.

“Shit, down!” Raimyd yelled. His arms went out, and he lunged forward, pulling Gabryl down with him. There was a very out of place heat rising behind them, and a red glow exploding. The was a crashing noise, something hitting the wall to their left, and a sharp hissing as a pipe burst open with a spray of steam. Raimyd grabbed Gabryl by the back of his vest and shoved him forward.

He tumbled out of the castle, hitting the metal floor outside hard. He shouted in pain, trying to find the sky so he could get to it. Instead of seeing the sky above him, Raimyd flew over his collapsed body. His expression was stressed, and he looked right down at Gabryl, stopping himself in the air to grab him once more and drag him along. Gabryl tripped over himself as he tried to recover, skidding on a knee, then a hand, and finally running along. The scraping he had heard before was louder now, and there was a definite roaring this time, too, as it cawed out from the depths of the hall. He never looked back, and ran, head spinning, off the edge of the platform. Something hot and crackling passed by his head again as he dived. Fire?

Gabryl tried to summon his wings at least twice before he remember he had them out already, and found himself suspended in the large crater the moment he remembered. He was floating on his back, choking. Raimyd had pulled on his scarf too much, and, kicking furiously Gabryl yanked at it enough that his windpipe was free.

He gasped, searching the valley for the others. Said gasp was from his sudden intake of oxygen, and from seeing that Raimyd, not too far away, higher up, was busy fighting something. The something in question looked like an oversized bird, brown, with strange, frayed wings. It pecked and clawed and Raimyd relentlessly, cawing in rage. Raimyd, fighting back, had brought up his scythe; crescent-shaped, extending off both sides of the shaft. It was intimidating, and allowed him to swing it around fluently with its perfect, sharp curves. Bringing it over a shoulder in an arc, he sliced off a wing of the creature, sending it plummeting to whatever laid below. Black fluid spurted out, evaporating almost immediately. Raimyd gripped the pole of his weapon tightly, hunched over, breathing hard. Fighting while flying was never something he took so seriously, and gravity was more of a bitch in the air.

Gabryl consciously flapped his wings, climbing the air to get to safety. His eyes searched the landscape for someone who was not preoccupied in a battle, and failed. For as Gabryl reached the edge of the crater, peering over it carefully case something bigger and meaner was on the other side, Leyla and Medea were very clearly caught up in a fight of their own.

One stood while the other flew. Medea held her ground, one arm extended towards a horde of the murderous, bird-like beasts. With her palm extended, a blast of what looked like wind shot out of her hand in a huge gust. Magic…maybe a Keychain or something? The feathered monsters were tossed around by the wind, some blown back into the crater. Gabryl figured they would not be gone for long, though, but Leyla did too, and she swooped down from her position over Medea, with her jagged scythe held back, ready to strike. She descended, swiping without hesitation, and Gabryl saw a cloud of black smoke rise from below. Somehow she had successfully destroyed a good number of them, with frightening accuracy. Leyla’s apparent skill in total was scary enough on its own. First pinning him in a fraction of a second, then going insane on a flock of demon geese. Christ.

“Wait!” Gabryl said frantically to himself, checking his sides. There were no monsters chasing him, so he climbed up. “There’s…there’s nothing after me. Kay, so I could just…”

The opportunity seemed pretty flawless, but it was this strange thing in the back of his head, something he believed were called morals, that prevented him from just flying away. It did not help much that he had learned a little while ago that not just did Reapers stick to their code of helping others, but that he was in the most good-doing group of all.

“Um, geez.” He paced, bounding to his sides on his heels, and sometimes leaving the ground. “They don’t need me, right? I’d weigh them down. Maybe I can just get home from here, it’s only…” His head went up, and he looked desperately at the sun and the direction the castle was facing, bringing up images of what everything looked like when they were flying here. “Yeah, that way!”

Gabryl was not entirely sure. He also had no time to contemplate, because an eye-piercing shriek filled the air soon after he decided to ditch. Gabryl brought a hand to one ear just to make sure there was no blood, and after seeing that there was none, ditched.

It was no problem to get into the air, and speed up, as Gabryl was constantly falling over. He let himself have control over the contorted joints in his wings, pushing them up and down, feeling sweat beading up. Flying was hell, and now he was even lacking invisibility to hide; what if an Angel came out of nowhere, flying right beside him, and vaporized him? His dream from last night came to mind, and his jaw locked shut.

Also, there was a tugging on his left leg that was driving him just a little extra insane. Gabryl looked down, in hysteric shock, to see a pair of talons lodging themselves right into the fabric of his jeans.

“Gwah!” He exclaimed, falling, rolling over himself. He was on his back, his leg being weighed down by the creature, and his arms flailing. The damn thing came out of nowhere! Gabryl kicked and tried doing all sorts of aerial tricks; loops and twirls, but it would not come loose. Then, Gabryl began to notice pain in his leg, realizing that it had taken a hold on the limb itself, and any further attempts to shake it off would probably result in him loosing a good path of skin. He seethed at the thing, and brought his left fist around in a hook. Instinctively, he kept punching when that did nothing, the other hand wrestling the claws out of his leg.

The creature itself fought back by peck at the constantly incoming fist, pecking and trying to uproot fingers. It was beginning to lose sight in its right eye, and cawed out in agony, clutching onto its perch tighter. Gabryl, however, was close to snapping one of those skinny legs off, almost growling in anger. Losing focus on his actual navigation though, Gabryl began to skid onto the dusty, rocky ground, his shoulder grating lightly on the dirt until he came to a rock, sticking out at an odd angel. He swore when he hit it, feeling more of his body get punctured, and hit the ground full-on. Gabryl rolled backwards, stomach flipping, and heart nearly coming up his throat. He coughed, the wind knocked out of him, and struggled to stand, wincing when he put weight on his injured leg. It was bloody, and the jeans were torn and mangled from the bottom of the leg to the thigh.

However, the demonic bird that had caused this damage, a Heartless in fact, was not yet dead, though was much more dazed. It croaked roughly, and restlessly flapped its wings in an attempt to get back to its feet. The thing would not give up attacking the man, as that was its nature.

But, the one bad eye did not see the very vengeful, confused, and tired Reaper come at it with a shiny scythe, and part its skull in two. That was the Reapers’ nature.

“Damn…son of a…thing.” Gabryl muttered, using his scythe to hold him up. He leaned, gathering his breath, and finally looked up. Hollow Bastion was the monolith it had been before, only faded, and like a bold shadow on the horizon. Specs, that were his friends on the other Heartless, could be seen by the fixated eye. However, even a bad eye could see the hulking figure looming much closer, and much farther away from the castle. The figure that had followed Gabryl since he left.

Gabryl craned his neck slowly, impressed by the sheer coincidence of how much he was going to die right now. Then he thought how dumb that sounded, but did not really care, because he was going to die a lot.

He turned hopeless, hobbling, using his scythe as a cane. His stamina was depleted, and there was no way he had enough control to just trip over voluntarily. Gabryl coughed, and turned around. This new Heartless was enormous compared to the others. It was, actually, pretty much the same as the other birds, only bigger, and colored differently. The huge, draconic bird was a sickening shade of green, and shook the ground when it landed. Gabryl sighed, and shook his scythe, as if to threaten the thing.

Rather than cower, the Heartless opened its mouth, pink tongue flicking, and the endless opening that was its throat glowing red. The air around its head waved, heating up, and Gabryl braced himself to be barbequed. A fireball rocketed past him, hitting the ground, and setting it on fire. Two more followed, creating a few pillars of bright orange that whipped, crackled, and formed one large ring around Gabryl and the Heartless. Apparently, it was the nature of that Heartless to play with its prey first.

Gabryl fell to his knees, and dropped his scythe. Sand spread out around his fingers, and he gripped it, watching it slip through his fist. In a moment such as this, one would normally see their life flash before their eyes, or have some life-altering realization before never having to think again. Gabryl, however, was still pretty dizzy from Raimyd throwing him out of a building.

The heat around him increased, and more sweat dripped from his brow. A large, monstrous claw stomped on the ground in front of Gabryl, and flexed; taking a hold by grabbing the ground just like he was. Damn, it was hot. So. Hot. The fire was growing unbearable, but at least it would be over soon.

Over soon.


Something clicked. If there was one thing that Gabryl had figured out, it was that death was hardly an escape, and had brought him more sorrow and depression than anything in the world. Gabryl stared at the dirt with a hollow expression, but then looked up, seeing the hawk-like eyes of the Heartless staring right back. It was then that Gabryl did indeed have his own epiphany, his mind clearing up. Death, the end, the unknown; he was already in it. He was already in the Hell that those nut jobs who attended the Chapel Hearts feared they would go to. The fire and intensifying heat around him only solidified this fact in a twist of irony. Gabryl stood up, staggering, feeling a spike of pain in his leg that crawled up his back, but holding up his scythe freely now.

His scratched chin lifted, and he faced the Heartless without fear.

“Alright you little…big, thing.” He shouted up to it.

It tilted its head, smoke lifting from the corners of its mouth.

“You…you are gonna die. I am not going back. Not gonna be in hell forever you bitch.” His voice was much stronger, invigorated by his will to live. He also felt it would be offended by calling it a bitch.

Offended or not, he had to win.


galactic cancer
May 17, 2007
The Land of Sand and Prisms
Three months later, here we are. Been working on this constantly, just in small amounts, and I'm terrible at doing the actual typing part of writing, heh. Nomination inspired me a little, though, so enjoy the new chapter, and remember I'm always working on this in some way.


VI - Change

That may or may not have been an understatement, but Gabryl was suffocating under the intensifying heat. The ring of fire that caged him, forcing him to face the giant Heartless head-on, made the situation just slightly more hectic. His wings were sore, and those claws would swat him from the sky at a moment's notice. He would have to fight this out on strength alone. Gabryl's survival hinged on the fact that he could hold out physically, maybe until help arrived, or if the beast tired out.

It took a step forward, growling, towering above him. Gabryl realized that the last option seemed far less likely.

"Yeah, you- you damn bird!" He called up to it, growing delirious. Pushing himself onto his knees, then his feet, Gabryl winced in pain. The gash left by the smaller Heartless was exposed, and stung from air, blood making dark spots in what remained of his pant leg.

Disregarding his pain, Gabryl limped, and lunged for his scythe. It lay on the ground only a few feet away, but taking too long to get there could mean getting his path blocked. Not looking up once, he hit the ground once more, this time with his arms extended. The metal shaft was firmly in his grasp, but the Heartless had a hold on it too, between two talons.

"Let…go!" Gabryl pulled and yanked at it, but the creature was stronger. Balancing on one foot, it held Gabryl and his useless weapon up, opening its maw in preparation to eat. It was glad to have such a helpless prey, and the possibility of a fresh heart. At least it would be disappointed.

Thrashing his good leg, Gabryl glared at the Heartless and spat. There was his rage, his motivation, what he needed to rely on. Logic would not help him out of here, after all; he was in a new world where more things were possible. There had to be more than one way to get out of Hell. And so Gabryl made one up. His darkness welled up, his Reaper instincts, until it focus directly into his left fist. Letting go of his scythe with that hand, the darkness pulsated and throbbed in his wrist, then knuckles, until his fingers were coated with the sleek, opaque solution of dark energy. Like countless times before, his gauntlet formed around the digits, his own claws of their own design protruding from the tips. With the routine sensation of them forming, Gabryl did not even have to look, before he plunged them into the underside of the Heartless' foot.

It shrieked in pain; the weapons Reapers were equipped with were beyond deadly, and meant to penetrate things much tougher than flesh. Black liquid, some alien blood, spurted out, and the Heartless wailed, tossing Gabryl aside to tend to itself. He smirked in triumph before landing flat on his back.

However, he would not have long. It was just a small wound, no matter how painful. Gabryl scrambled up, crawling a good distance before getting to both feet. He had been thrown away from he fire, which he noticed was pretty far, and Gabryl knew that he had likely received some brain damage from it. He assumed that was why he could not think straight. That and the severe loss of blood and general trauma in other places.

Suddenly, a familiar, monstrous roar shook the rocks under him, telling Gabryl that time was up, and he better be two steps away from the inn or his comrades. Facing his fear once more, Gabryl turned and saw the Heartless descending, meekly landing on only one foot, limping towards him in the same fashion he had been using to get away. This time, the beast would not take the chance of more pain, and began smoking at the mouth. Gabryl knew that this was not a good sign, and that long-range fighting had him outmatched. Hardly a match to begin with. He tried to turn and run, but there was too much heat in his leg. Burning, stinging…wait, no, that was the wrong leg.

Ignoring his impending doom for a second, Gabryl looked down at his thigh, expecting to see a new injury. To his surprise though, was a glow emitting from beneath his clothing. It was a round shape that he remember putting in there hours ago.

"What…Keychain?" He jammed his hand into his pocket, retrieving it, and almost dropped it. The trinket was blazing hot, enough to burn it if he did not keep moving it from one hand to the next. "Why are you…oh, shit." A loud cawing broke his fixation, and Gabryl looked back up at the enemy he had almost forgotten; its neck was arched and jaw dropped. Orange flames were swirling, and being spewed out of its mouth. Not one, but three or four fire balls were homing in on Gabryl. He could not escape these, and he knew it. All Gabryl knew to do was brace himself for the impact, and hope that having his skin fried off was not enough to kill him. Desperate, he held his hands up, crossing them over his face.

The flames came, engulfing him, leaving only a silhouette behind a red, blazing veil. The pain, the feeling of your self being charred up and reduced to black ashes, was something that Gabryl expected. It never came, however, and this confused Gabryl, who finally built up enough courage to lower his shaking arms. Swirling masses of orange and red was all that met him, giving off immense heat, the air around him quivering in waves and the heat enough to suffocate him. The inferno that had been sent to destroy Gabryl had stopped, frozen, right in front of him. No, it stopped around him, affecting all outside of the diameter of his height. Gabryl checked around himself with a very stiff neck, only standing up straight when he was sure that the fire would not lash out at him. He had thought he would die exactly how many times in the past couple days? This particular encounter was just too close for comfort.

Then, he noticed a different feeling. It was pain from heat, but different, in that it was afflicting his palm, and only that. Gabryl realized that this did not make a lot of sense considering that his hand was closed, but he looked at his clenched fist, opening it- his Keychain was bright orange, searing his skin. Cursing, he quickly pinched the end of the chain and held it up that way to avoid any more injuries.

"You doing this, little guy…?" He inquired the object. As if in response, the blaze receded from behind him, an noticeable gush of cool air bursting on Gabryl's back. The fire had moved. "Okay.," He spoke, to himself this time, "I hope that wasn't a coincidence."

And as if on command, the fire pushed itself forward once more, coming down over Gabryl's head and going no higher than his shoulders. In fact the entire blaze, which had once covered him completely, had condensed itself into a large, floating sphere. The Keychain had not just saved Gabryl from being toasted, but could manipulate fire itself!

With the wall of red gone, the Heartless, still in its previous spot, could see that its meal had not in fact been properly cooked. Finally disgruntled by this point, it opened its maw and began to cook up another fireball. Gabryl promptly freaked, realizing that if he had no idea how he had stopped the attack the first time, it was very unlikely he could do it again. Brining up his Keychain, he shook it, swung it in a small circle, even blew on it to try and cool it down. Anything, he hoped, that would activate some power to stop another attack.

Apparently, he did something right eventually. In the middle of Gabryl's attempt at wringing out any existing heat from his Keychain, burning his fingers in the process, his own conceived fireball hovered up a feet, gradually, until it was twice as high up as Gabryl was tall. Gabryl saw the Heartless ready to strike, and frantically waved up at his creation, shouting expletives and jumping on his undamaged leg. Fortunately, it listened, and zoomed off, hastily, without even having to speed up. It simply fired itself off, in a perfectly straight line, arcing only when it came close to the Heartless. Gabryl's successful counterattack flew right into the monster's mouth, connecting with the other fire, and exploded on impact. There was no time for reaction, and the volatile collision tore the Heartless to smoky pieces, which in turn went up in blacker smoke moments after.

Gabryl watched in shock and awe, not noticing his Keychain die down in color and temperature. He was occupied with the glorious sight of his enemy being blown to bits, which gave him a calming satisfaction. Knowing you were not being hunted down anymore has a tendency to do that to you. He smiled a little, before falling backwards, grunting when his backside hit a rock, and doing it once more when his torso flopped down hard. His chest moved up and down, going to a steadier pace only after minutes had passed. That was when his eyes began to shut, and he saw a shadow flying overhead, blocking out the sun for a split second. He helplessly flailed his arms, but need not worry, as the figure above had already saw him, and made his way down to carry Gabryl to a place to rest.

The Inn at the outer limits of Twilight Town was not usually well-lit, mostly due to expenses and lack of working lighting fixtures, but during the night following the Raid there was no extra effort given to keep the halls and lobby illuminated. Said lobby was dark, the candle-burning chandelier pushing some shadows away, while the only electrical-based lights were the LED clock and a computer screen on Ansem's front desk. He was busy filing the usual bills, and Leyla had pulled a chair up to the opposite side, leaning onto the desk on her elbows, lazily complaining about her day. Ansem used the opportunity to get a word in when she paused to take a breath mid-rant.

"You know." He chuckled, bringing his hands form his keyboard. "It is shame he made it out alive, I'm losing too much on giving out rooms."

Leyla sighed, digging a nail into the wooden arm of her chair. She had tried to put it off as long as she could, but the number one thing on her list of things to ramble on about was the new blood, and how deceiving his abilities were compared to what appeared as utter hopelessness.

"I mean shit. I found him how many days ago? Didn't know how to fly or probably even fight, then the kid takes down a Tailbunker?" She was plenty shocked, but angry.

"Perhaps he just has some misplaced potential." Ansem commented, closing out his programs with a few clicks. "I recall you being quite the timid one when you first showed up."

"Yeah, well." Leyla spat, standing, and crossing her arms defiantly. "I had help! Good help, at least. Luke was always there, then you got Medea in, and…" She paused, searching for another name in her memory.

"Mm?" Ansem inquired. "Not as if much has changed. Gabryl can educate himself here with the same group of friends you did, essentially."

Leyla was visually displeased with his choice of words, and turned around quickly, head bowed. She mumbled, or just growled, for a few seconds before pacing to the other side of the room. Ansem watched her fade into the shadows, and rolled his eyes. She was becoming much harder to handle, and he would not be able to keep up such a pleasant persona for her at this rate. He could sympathize to only a certain extent. As he made his way towards the stairs, she stomped back into view, arms uncrossed and stuck to her sides.

"He isn't my friend, for one."

"Of course."

"No. And it won't be the same. He's stupid, I wasn't. I…we had potential, not this kid."

"You keep calling him that, though he must be around your age-"

"Stop that. Don't ignore the problem."

Ansem sighed and started to climb the staircase. In a rare case, he was getting the smallest bit annoyed, and was glad he did not hear a second pair of footsteps behind him. Leyla remained on the ground floor, picking at the wooden railing. There was a periodic, light, cracking noise from sound of her nail between his steps that told him she was still there.

"I'm not ignoring the problem." He called down to her, though not loud enough as to wake his customers. "The dilemma is that you haven't warmed up to change yet, and it is having a negative effect on all of us. Particularly you."

The soft sound of wood splints being peeled ceased when he stopped speaking. Ansem had to look back down just to check that Leyla had not left. Her shadowy form was still visible from the light of his desk lamp, that he left on. Content, he crossed the balcony, heavy eyes only widening to check that he had reached his room. His hand grabbed the doorknob, and he turned it, only to hear Leyla rushing to the other side of the lobby, closest to him. She whispered up to him.

"I'm going out."

Her hushed voice made it hard to read her tone. It was like she was just trying to be silent, but there was something held back. That was hardly surprising, but Leyla was often more reserved, and never came close to cracking when it came to digging up shells of emotions. These after-hours outings had become an expected occurrence, though he had no idea where she went. Ansem heard her go for the door, solemnly, and he peeked his head over the railing.

"Don't talk to any strangers."

"Man, he bleeds a lot."

"Wasn't very warmed up to fighting, was he though? Give him a couple more times in the field and he won't go off like a hose."

"Ew…still looks nasty. Remind me to watch out for those things."

Gabryl felt something disturbing the wound on his left leg. Tugging at the limb, the sting of air hitting the open gash, it was all discomforting, but not something to go unnoticed. First of all, last his memory could recall, he was in the middle of a desert. Where he was felt much more comfortable, soft, and air-conditioned. The latter felt best on his burned portions of skin.

"…Hey." He said, tiredly, propping himself on one arm. Slowly, his eyes opened, so he could see the source of the voices, and his surroundings. It was his room at the inn, most notably his itchy bed, laying perpendicularly on it with the bottom part of his body hanging off. The pillows his back was supported by felt infinitely better than any rocks though, and he was thankful. Gabryl tried to pull himself upward, but felt that his leg was being held. Medea looked up at him from his damaged shin, she was sitting on a chair at the edge of the bed not against the wall, a roll of medical gauze, his leg on her lap and wedged beneath her elbow at the knee.

"Careful Gabe." She said sternly. The pet name did not seem to imply any motherly nature, as she was holding his leg fairly tight. Raimyd, seated at the room's table, tossed a balled-up mass of bandages on the bed. Gabryl picked it up and looked at it, wincing. It was decorated with blotchy patterns of dark red ad brown, his own blood. That was from the last attempt to fix his leg, not too long ago.

"Ya know." Raimyd droned, putting his feet up on the mattress. "I figured we start to bleed less once the healing picks up."

Gabryl was clueless and he had just started talking.

"But, like, you're gushing the stuff. Haven't you been dead for a while? Never get in a fight?"

It was a stupid question, but of course Gabryl had been involved in fights. His form of weapon meant he would always deal with reaping hearts from stabbed, impaled, or otherwise run-through victims. It was inevitable that a knife knick him or some piece or machinery take a small chunk out of his arm. Long as he disinfected it and left his injuries alone for a couple weeks though, it was fine. Not every day giant birds try to eat you though.

"Enough, Rai." Medea said, not even looking up to acknowledge his rudeness.

"What? I mean if I stabbed you, barely anything would come out-"

"I said shut it."

"Wait, wait, wait." Gabryl intervened frantically. "How long…was I asleep? Do…do I have anemia now?"

The other two rolled their eyes, and Medea started wrapping the fabric firmly around his leg. Raimyd got up and came to the bed, tossing the old bunch of bandages into the plastic garbage bin.

"Nooo." He said. "We can't die conventionally, right? I'm just sayin' that your body gets accustomed to the change after a while. Doesn't work the way it used to. Bleeding less, yeah. You sleep less, too. Eventually we really turn into the 'undead', heh."

"That doesn't sound too…great." Gabryl did not care much for turning into a zombie.

"No biggie." Medea rationalized, pointing to the half-covered injury. "Look, it's already starting to work. I swear we could see down to the bone before. Something like that doesn't get better in a few hours."

Gabryl tried to lift his limb, feeling some strength return but unable to bend his leg without experiencing some pain. He figured that some connecting muscle was torn.

"I'll just stay off it for…a few hours? How long was I sleeping, anyway?"

Medea tightened the gauze, then clipped it with a small metal pin. She wiped her hands off on her pants and got up. Raimyd turned his head towards the clock, running some numbers in his head.

"Uh, les'see. Came back around noon, and it's just real early in the morning now, so." He gave up out of exhaustion. "Hell, it's tomorrow."

"…Thanks." Gabryl said, flatly, checking the clock himself. He could tell it was dark from the window, but he had only assumed it was the night of his fight. Apparently it was a good while later, a quarter past three in the morning. Almost a full day since he took off before. "Uh, think I'd prefer to get up, had enough sleep for today."

He shifted to a more composed position, and Raimyd offered his hand to pull him up. Balancing on his right leg, Gabryl limped towards the door, stretching his arms. Medea had opened it already and was standing in the silent, black hallway.

"Thanks guys." Gabryl said, a little meekly. He was surprised how used to this new crowd that he had gotten that he would ahead and be so polite. "Feel kind of restless. Might go outside or something."

"Aight man." Raimyd replied, walking alongside him. His own room was in the hallway parallel to the one they were in, across the balcony in the lobby. Medea waved goodbye as she headed in the opposite direction. "Got your chain?" He added on, smirking. Gabryl smiled to himself.

"Couldn't forget it now." True enough, he was aware of the piece in his pocket continuously since his waking up. It was in the side of his trousers that had not been shredded, so there was no worry of it falling out of any holes.

"Cool. Would suck to lose you like that after a day like this."

"Don't worry about it. Feel like I could take on an Angel anyway." He waved his hand through the air in a meek punching motion.

"I'm sure they'd do more than just cut you up a little, heh."

"Yeah, but I think I'd rather die then have to get cut up a hundred times more like this."

Gabryl lurched forward with an misplaced limp, and they both chuckled.

"Could be worse, meh." Raimyd said off-handedly. It sounded like some hypothetical, reassuring comment, but something in his tone made Gabryl curious.

"Mm? Ever get hit worse?"

Raimyd shrugged. They turned the corner into the other hallway, and slowed. His room was only the second one on the right.

"Guess you could say that. Happened not too long ago, actually."

It was still dark, with no one around. Raimyd scratched his arm through a tight sweatshirt, and crossed his arms over his stomach. Being in a building where a large amount of people stayed did not restrain him from pulling his shirt off. Gabryl had to adjust his eyes to his pale skin, but the abnormality that he was meant to see stuck out immediately.

His left arm, from his shoulder to the back of his elbow, was undoubtedly scarred and burned. A rim of brown, charred skin surrounded the area of a large, sickeningly white patch of what used to be the dermis. Raimyd winced a little, as did Gabryl, when he flexed the arm, showing it off. It was en eerily unnatural looking injury, and the fact that Raimyd looked at it so calmly, made Gabryl think it was not even real.

"Shit, Rai, I…where did that come from?"

Raimyd looked his critical burn over a few more times, brushed it off, and looked up.

"Yesterday, when that Heartless snuck up on us. Pushed you out of the way, remember?"

He did very well. If it was not for that, Gabryl's whole body would probably look like that arm.


"Can't believe it, too. We should've seen that thing coming a mile away. Kills me. Ugh. Someday we'll find Keychains with a GPS on it or something…"

"You should probably cover that."

"Huh? Oh, right. Was gonna when we got back, but Medea insisted we take a look at you. She didn't want to just leave you alone, but she wanted someone to talk to."

"Oh, sorry. Didn't it hurt a lot, though?"

"Somethin' like this? Nah, the nerves got all burned off. Just bugs me a little around the edges."

Raimyd pulled a key from his pocket, and clumsily guided it to the keyhole on his door. He pushed it open with a creak, and tossed his sweatshirt in. The thump it landed with made it seem like he just threw it on the floor.

"Have fun." He said, walking in. "Don't hurt yourself anymore."

"Aheh, sure." Gabryl said back. Before he could close the door, though, he felt the need to add on. "And uh, hey, thanks for taking a bullet for me then, I guess."

Raimyd looked over his shoulder, and blinked.

"No problem, it'll get better. Besides, I'd rather get a few hundred burns then get killed."

He closed the door, having said his farewell. Gabryl stood for a minute, bounding on his foot to keep some pressure off the other. Raimyd had saved him from being fried and took such a hit, yet held no ill will towards him for it being his fault. Was he being kind, or did he seriously not care about the third-degree burn that had gone to the bone? Regardless, Gabryl and his little claw mark suddenly felt very insignificant.

Insignificant enough that he felt like he was not even in enough pain to limp anymore. After all, Raimyd showed no signs of agony or a want to apply anything that would repair his arm. Sure, they had said Reapers heal faster, but being injured like that had to hit your pride at least a little. Grating his teeth together, Gabryl took full steps using his left leg, evening going as far as putting extra weight on it. It hurt, but then again it could have been worse, and he found enough humor in his situation to grimace. Pride; now there was something he needed to build up. Without it people like Leyla would keep hating on him.

Gabryl could just forget about that now, though. He knew a good place to relax, and going outside meant he could just fly, without having to punish his leg from loss of confidence. It was a physical relief, and calmed the mind as well. At this hour in the morning, there would be nearly no one out. Sure, some cars might be headed towards the train station, in an attempt to catch a ride to work, but the sidewalks would be empty, especially in the park and near the Chapel. That was where he intended to go.

Birds chirped and cawed, their black, darting figures almost lost against the dark purple sky. Gabryl kept his eyes glued upwards as he floated towards the Chapel Hearts, not worried about crashing into anything. He held some slight disappointment that no one was around; he could go for one of those ice cream bars. The night sky was slowly morphing into that of the morning, indicated by a pinkish-red splatter on the horizon far away, past the Chapel, dispelling the darkness. The sun would rise directly behind the clock tower. At least it would not get in his eyes while he sat up there, pondering over his experiences and maybe taking a nap. Sure, he felt energized form his prolonged sleep, but it still did not feel quite right to be up at this hour. Happy not to take the dusty, old, and most likely unsafe stairs, Gabryl took his time flying up. A chilling breeze blew right into his face shortly before he reached the ledge under the clock, and gave him a soothing sensation that almost made him fall backwards. The seasons were changing quickly over the past few days. Less than a month and it would be winter.

Gabryl let himself rise above his destination before landing flatly on one side of the uppermost level of the tower. He walked carefully around the corner, to let his legs dangle off the ledge like he had two days ago with Raimyd. Only problem was that he would not be as alone as he thought he would this time around. It surprised Gabryl to see a person sitting in his place already, hunched over, long hair blowing in the persisting autumn breeze. Gabryl heard the person sigh before he could even tell who it was, and ironically it was that sigh that enlightened him a moment later.

"Oh, hey." He said to Leyla, clearing his throat and leaning on the wall. He felt like taking a place next to her would be too bold.

She sighed again, heavier, probably because he had bothered to say something rather than just jump off the building.

"Why," Leyla began, monotone, pausing to take a deep breath of the cool air, "here?"

Gabryl rolled his eyes, feeling strangely used to her brand of insults. He started to walk over.

"Seemed like a nice place."

There was no change in her expression. Her orange eyes were deep, and Gabryl expected they were thoughtful in their own way. She eventually turned, barely, not moving a strand of hair that laid over her lips.

"Was a little more peaceful, until you came."

"I'm sure it was."

Taken back by his response, Gabryl kept his gaze downward, to his right, not letting any eye contact happen between them. She was trying to put him down, yeah, but for some reason Gabryl felt like he could put up with it, or even say some shit right back at her. That energy he felt before was still inside him; he said before that he could take out an Angel with that surge of strength. Leyla would have to do for now.

Leyla huffed out of discontent. eyes narrowing. She looked forward sternly. Gabryl decided to push the conversation on.

"Do you have some sort of problem with me?"

She still kept her increasingly hostile, yet reserved, stare on the buildings in the distance.

"What," Leyla said in an unnaturally flat voice, "ever gave you that idea?"

Gabryl brought himself to sit quickly, landing on the ledge with one of his knees folded to his chest. He rested an elbow on it, and looked directly at her. Leyla caught the challenging expression, and remained half-turned.

"If you're this way all the time, I doubt you'd be keeping the friends you have now."

He hit a nerve. Leyla's left hand gripped the stone that they stood on, grating the hard surface with her nails through the leather glove. Gabryl felt his blood run cold, realizing that he may have gone to far and just pissed her off too early. No build up; angering her right now was way too irresponsible. Yet, Leyla controlled herself.

"…and it is having a negative effect on all of us. Particularly you."

She really had not always been like this. Leyla was not always the most pleasant person, but she was fully aware she had become more intolerable in the past few days, possibly even before that.

Gabryl was thinking less, and acting more out of fear of being scolded, or mutilated.

"I didn't do anything- at least on purpose. Am I messing up now? Tell me that. Let me fix it or something." He was beginning to clench his jaw just as much as Leyla had. "Don't you think I'd rather not have to deal with this shit? Rai and Medea took me in fine, the hell is up with you?"

Leyla opened her mouth to speak, but all that came out was a sharp croak form the back of her throat. She had no idea what to say anyway, but hoped her brain would impulsively put together something. Gabryl, however, was a lot quicker on the draw.

"If we didn't see each other much then it'd be different, but…we're almost friends or something, aren't we?" Gabryl felt a muscle tighten in his neck, frightened over use of the word. "I mean, through everyone else. We live close, apparently hang out in the same places, same sky over our heads right?"

His head was thumping very fast. Too many things being said at once. Gabryl paused to catch his breath, and he saw Leyla hunched over further than usual, biting at some of the material of the glove on her other hand. He was afraid he had said too much, or too harshly, but was constantly reminded how spiteful she had been to him in the short amount of time he knew her. It felt so unforgivable.

"I…" Was all she could get out before Gabryl continued his rant.

"Was it…that guy? That guy who died before you-" He scowled, "attacked me? I had nothing to do with that! He was your friend or something right, and you take that out on me?"

He was shaking. There was no feeling in one of his hands, and his feet were numb. Some wind blew, brushing both of them, and it sounded louder than the previous gusts. Neither knew if it really was or if it was just the silence between his outbursts.

Gabryl has hardly noticed how Leyla seemed to deteriorate into some curled-up mess as he was shouting. Like a child being yelled at, afraid to say anything. He would say she looked like she could be sobbing if he did not know they were unable to. The tip of her thumb was in her mouth, damp from chewing and minor sucking. He was genuinely surprised that Leyla would even allow herself to look that way in front of him, as she had appeared as this intimidating, authoritative, generally violent figure. None of that was there now. He had succeeded in breaking down the person who had been messing up his new haven, but it really did not feel as good to him as he thought it would.

"I didn't mean to do anything, don't act like I did!" He said, voice beginning to weaken. Gabryl noticed how clammy his forehead had gotten, and knew that he would not be able to say anything more without repeating what he already yelled. He just wanted to make a point, not seem insecure.

Which Leyla had not begun to see him as. She knew he was right. Nothing was really his fault, except for being someplace at the wrong time. Bad timing and incompetence- she stopped her train of thought and took a deep, shuddering breath. It concerned her that said breath had been too loud, or just obvious, and would make him think she was weak and helpless just because someone had raised their voice at her. No, she was better than that and knew it. Normally she would be shouting right back at him, but some semblance of feelings or bits of emotion were block everything. It literally made her sick, especially since she knew none of it was real.

"Y-yeah." Leyla stuttered, trying to form a coherent sentence. There was too much going on in her head, she felt feverish and distant. Gabryl noticed how flushed her cheeks were and gulped.

"…Yeah what?"

Leyla bit on her thumb harder, wishing the pain would snap her out of her bemused trance.

"You- you weren't meant to be there."

Another breeze tussled the trees below, cool enough to soothe Leyla's cheeks and keep Gabryl from passing out. The confrontation had a heavy toll on both their minds.

"Mmisn't fair fer you." She continued, gnawing further on the leather. Thinking she sounded too kind she removed it and revisited her words. "Isn't fair for either of us. Them either, those other guys."

Gabryl hunched himself over, like she had before nearly curling up. There was suddenly a lot more guilt pressing on his back; he thought that he was too timid to ever make accusations like that and live to reflect on it.

"No, look, I really don't-"

"Shut up." Leyla snapped. She had no intention of letting him apologize after that spontaneous lashing. Nothing stopped her from offering her side of the story. "You just said I overreacted to everything, and wouldn't drop it. Yeah. But…there's more to it than that."

"I figured." Gabryl said, half to himself, scratching his head. The mood had somehow lightened. "All of you guys seemed to like him anyway, and I guess you didn't want him replaced."


"Well you're not very subtle in the first place."

Neither said anything for a while. Orange and pink light from the sun started to creep over the Chapel and its tower, above them, and render a few stars unseen. People could be seen in the park now, couples walking and health fanatics jogging in sleeveless shirts in the autumn chill. It made Gabryl rub the one leg that did not have the pleasure of being warmed by bandages, revealed by burned clothes. The sound of birds became much more evident, as did the cars engines that drowned them out.

Both sat in darkness even with the awakening town, the Chapel Hearts aligned perfectly with the sun and a shadow showing no signs of disappearing until noon. It made them feel colder, and farther away from the people, much more than any normal day. Each had reasons not to return to the inn, and not to leave from their spots. Perhaps some pride, or the human want to have each others company. All they felt was that they were stuck.

"Was he, uh, was he really that special to you guys?" Gabryl said, an hour of the atmosphere bored him senseless.

Leyla glanced at him, then in the opposite direction. She breathed deeply again, like she had when disturbed by his shouting.

"He was. Really. We don't exaggerate anything about him."

Gabryl could not find words to form a response, he suddenly felt as if he would be disrespectful if he was not careful. He watched the trees, crowned golden by the enveloping sunlight, begin to rustle, signaling more wind. He braced his bare arms against the cold by crossing them, feeling the bumps forming. Leyla turned to him again, wondering why he had not responded, to see him in this shivering state. Staring at his mouth, expecting words to come out soon, she saw his jaw twitch. He was cold and his teeth had just begun to chatter in the slightest, so she looked away. There was this strange level of reverence she had gained for him in a short amount of time. Something in her did not was to tarnish it.

Gabryl noticed her head turned abruptly when his teeth first clacked, and realized he had stopped speaking in his wane. Using a hand to stroke his cheek for warmth, he decided to make what embers remained in the conversation to heat up.

It seemed appropriate to address the obvious.

"Were you two, close?" He asked.

"Heh," Leyla chuckled, in a single short sound, "closer to each other than anyone else, I guess."

"Oh." Gabryl said, looking off to the side. He had started to get that idea-

"No, idiot." She shot at him, seeing his blank expression. "He was my brother."

Gabryl smacked himself in the head mentally. It was rude of him to make the assumption, really, but it was surprising that she read him that well.

"Can't expect romance to even work in the first place…never mind." She rolled her eyes, and placed her hands on her lap. "We were close, though. Um." She cleared her throat. "We uh, died in the same accident."

Gabryl kept nodding, legitimately interested. Leyla was taken back by the attention she was receiving in recalling her sibling. She had no exact idea why she was opening up so much, but it helped. There was definitely a weight lessening its hold on her, so she would go with it.

"He was older, like a year, helpful. That kind of stuff." Yeah, was not get that personal with Gabryl. "Medea and the others always liked him. Nothing really not to like I guess."

Her audience nodded, taking in her words like ambrosia. Gabryl has getting that warm feeling of acceptance in his stomach again, and it was comforting. Then he remembered that he was still very cold and a mental warmth would not be doing anything to help him.

"He just…tried doing too much about a year ago." She saw Gabryl shaking, which was actually easier to spot than Gabryl had thought. "…And uh, yeah, he left the other morning and I went after him and, yeah." Leyla pulled the silver Keychain out of her pocket, and let it hang in front of her eyes. "We shared it. I was stupid that day. He left without it, and I went after him. How did I not die? And then you're there, with the same chain, heh." She gave an almost scary laugh with a sarcastic smirk.

Gabryl watched the Keychain too, dangling in the breeze. This was something he realized for a while; both the brother and sister would be dead if he had not been there, who knows if Leyla would have run into someone else in time. After all, that Angel had been right on top of them.

"I guess we should've just both died, just like how it started."

They both stared into the park. Leyla had been recalling her brother for longer than it felt like. She had some trouble remember things, likely she was too clouded by grief to bring up those memories immediately.

Twenty minutes later, more wind convinced Gabryl was going to catch pneumonia. Leyla finally had to pay mind to his shivering as she went to pull her hood up.


"What was your first clue?" He said, sniffing.

"I bet he had something that fits you." Leyla told him, standing. "You can borrow some pants or something, at least." She motioned to his legs.

"Oh, th-thanks." It felt weird to him that the stammering was genuine.

"I mean damn it, I've seen more of you in the past two days than I ever wanted to in my life…" She put her hand over her eyes as he stood up. "Yeah, I'm sure he wouldn't mind."

Gabryl nodded, and tried to straighten his icy limbs. It was difficult and he had forgotten he had a limp from his gash. As a result he tripped, floating gently by his wings, a foot still touching the ledge of the tower. He glared at the ground, nauseated, realizing he was more accident-prone dead than alive. Leyla joined him in the sky, transitioning to flying without a hitch, nearly walking into the air.

"How am I even alive." Gabryl asked to himself, out loud. Hell he could tell he had caught some terrible cold already by the mucus sloshing around in his forehead.

"Well, you're already dead once." She grabbed his arm and yanked him up, albeit a touch violently. That was the kind of joke from him she could laugh at, if she felt close enough to show such an emotion. She was still beating herself some for smiling just barely before. "I don't know, learn from your mistakes or something."

"Yeah, 'stop falling off buildings' was something I never got quite right before I died either."

"Is that some kind of ironic joke about you?"


Truth be told Gabryl just said something he thought was funny and went on with it. If it made him seem more interesting though, then who was he to complain.

The pair ascended and flew back towards the inn, taking the same path Raimyd had escorted Gabryl on a couple days back. The high viewpoint had such an amazing effect, from seeing the patterns roads made and the now ant-like train, to the mere, long shadows cast by the buildings. This time Twilight Town was just waking up however, changing in different ways, the color scheme alone from the rising sun making it look like a new place.

"Gabryl, one more thing, then I'll cut the depressing crap."

Oh boy he was glad to hear that.


Leyla sped up, coming right to his side. She pushed her flowing hair out of her face, on the other side of her head, and made what seemed a serious attempt to coax a truthful answer from him. She was even the slightest bit refined in her speaking.

"You said you were there when Lucre died, right?"

"I um, saw it, yes."

"Did he, before that happened," her eyes met his for a second, as if to sincerely ask, "say anything? Like, mention me or anyone else or just, something."

Gabryl felt bad about his answer, but also felt horrible in his realization that she really had no idea what went down when her brother was killed. He was just an eyewitness to the event, maybe a grave robber to some extent, but that was it.

"Oh, eh. Not really, no. I didn't really get to know him or anything…I just kind of saw it."

Any ounce of hopefulness hat had managed to fill Leyla's face went away.

"I was just watching. I found the Keychain when it happened, but we never really spoke. I would have, it's just…"

"No, don't worry." She said. "Might be better that way, or something. I don't know."

He tired to usher in some of that good, morbid humor again.

"Besides, if we had the time to have a conversation, that Angel would have had time to kill me too." He gave a small smile, wanting to cheer her up without sounding like he was taking humor out of the worst kind of situation. Feeling his secret, that black Keychain he found on the smeared concrete, did not make him anymore lighthearted.

"…Yeah." Leyla said, coughing. "Yeah, you're right. If you guys ended up talking I wouldn't know anything."

Gabryl nodded, and stretched his back, folding his arms behind his head.

"I don't want to be a placeholder or anything, though. I appreciate being let in."

"Don't worry, you're not about to be the next Luke."

Her head was turned when she said that, and the wind at this height, at their speed, muffled her words mostly. Gabryl was unable to tell if she was trying to be funny. He pretended she had not said it.

"Mmhmm. Nice to make friends after all this time. You guys are tight, wish I had that before."

Leyla remained turned to her left, even though her neck was cramping up. She felt a little overwhelmed. Not by how peaceful she had managed to be with someone she previously despised, and maybe a little form talking about Lucre, but mainly from what Gabryl had said. Friends. Collectively. She looked ahead to the inn, homing in on it. That was where they all lived, collectively, she and her friends, and her brother before. Now he was here, not taking his place, but starting something new. With all her might she would remember that.

She did not look at Gabryl in the eyes again that day, and went directly to her room upon arriving. Leyla finally fell asleep around ten in the morning, sprawled uncomfortably on her bed, words having repeated themselves on her lips, not leaving, until she slept. What she had been told before was correct, though accepting proved difficult.

"He's my friend now, damnit, he is."


galactic cancer
May 17, 2007
The Land of Sand and Prisms
And...half a year later. God dammit.


VII - Plans

It is said that even in a heart teeming with light, justice, and good emotions, there will always be a speck of darkness dwelling in its deepest confines. Being purely light, while perceived as something righteous and positive, is unnatural for any living thing. The Reapers of Twilight Town, living in a particular building, knew this as fact. The distinctive magic and abilities used by the Angels made this apparent; something seen as “good” used to destroy and oppress. And kill. And drain the very hope that was all they had left.

The reverse was true as well. A heart stained by evil could never blot out that last bit of light. The potential of light is infinite even with the darkness surrounding it. One person who knew this best was the Archangel, having learned with decades of experience, just how tortuous that light could be. That tiny, infinitesimal remain in the heart can tear one to shreds, light or dark, good or evil. It can be unexpected, and with unprecedented results.

And just like the hearts of man was Hollow Bastion. The old castle, a silent sentinel among the flat landscape, which housed far more secrets than one could ever imagine. Secrets that nearly brought it to life. In its depths, beneath the endless hallways and odd, was a very plain, but very different room. Blindingly white, cylindrical in shape, the stark cleanliness made it unbelievable that it was located in a building so scarred by time. More perplexing were the individuals present in the room, seven of them, all seated in towering thrones. Each of the chairs were white as well, with the only real contrasting color in the room being of those sitting. Five of them were dressed in black cloaks, tightly bound to their bodies by studded belts and padding. The gothic style was uniform for Angels, as were the white, feathered wings on their backs.

Three of the cloaked figures had their faces concealed by hoods. Another, head uncovered, tilted his head towards the throne to his right. It was far taller than his own, but the height was justified, as it was the throne of the Archangel, the very leader of the gathered Angels.

Said lesser Angel pulled himself from his reclined position, and ran a hand through his graying hair. He was disappointed to have left the scene of the ‘battle’, as he was having such a good time offing any Reapers unfortunate enough to wander into his path. He had hoped to take out more than ever during this Raid, but of course, a meeting was called to interrupt his pleasures.

“So,” he called up, “what gives?”

The Archangel looked down, hollow eyes observing the subordinates through a black visor. One distinguishable thing setting the Archangel apart from the others was a suit of armor that covered their body entirely; a number of obviously old metal plates, mail underneath clacking with every slight movement. Both intimidating and curious with extraneous parts jutting up from the helmet. It was an odd choice of wardrobe, though it made the wearer very safe in battle.

“The reason, Braig,” The Archangel responded, voice flat and booming, “is that I felt a presence here.”

None down below looked very impressed. Surely their leader was already aware of the Reapers’ invasion. They had known in advance for weeks.

“…A particular one.” The Archangel concluded, accenting surmountable distaste at their reactions.

“Oooh. The experiment reached your expectations, Superior?” Piqued one of the hooded Angels. His elbows were propped on his arm rests, fingers weaved together below his chin. He had an icy tone; sinister, and ecstatically cunning.

“Yes. The plan is finally coming to fruition. There is little time left before my goal has been reached.” The Superior then looked across the room, the black glass of the visor settling on another throne. It was far lower than any of the others, and its occupant was different as well, being the only person other than the Archangel not wearing the usual black cloak.

“My apologies, Vanitas. It is ‘our’ plan, after all, is it not?”

The oddly dressed Angel kept his helmet on, avoiding the eyes of his peers. Vanitas nodded a little, head leaning on one hand.

“And I have the utmost confidence that all will go to your accordance, Superior.” Added on the very eager Angel from before.

“Should all the pieces fall into place, yes.” The Archangel sighed, raising a hand. “And your part has been played, quite well. I believe what matters at the current is Ienzo’s progress.”

The second Angel without a hood shifted in place, crossing his arms as the party’s attention was brought to him. He brushed a length of silver hair that hung in front of his eye out of the way. It fell back as he began to speak.

“Due to the recent…intrusion. Yes, Superior, I was able to gather data.”

“On that other specimen?” Sneered the shrill, hooded Angel. “A waste of time.”

“Even, if you would be so kind.” Ienzo said through his teeth. “I’ve been able to deduce a significant change in psyche. Some sort of, if you’d pardon the choice of words, emotional change.”

“Why does this matter?” Asked the Archangel. “Do you believe that one of them feeling something that resembles emotion could mean harm?”

“Superior.” Ienzo began. “While I am ever-so pleased with Even’s success in the replica department, I believe that there are certain limitations. They cannot be trusted to such an extent. Our goal should be taking advantage of a natural being, something or someone already on the inside. We manipulate that and half of the work is done for us ahead of time. Odds of failure are comfortably low.”

Even was on the edge of his seat, fingers curling over the arm rests.

“Inconceivable! What I’ve managed to create is a much more controllable variable.”

“It is unstable. Uncontrollable. The previous time this technology was used it-”

“Both of you.” Sighed another hooded Angel. “Completely underestimate the power of a heart, you know.”

“Ah, but that isn’t what we’re dealing with, is it? Not a true…” Even looked towards Vanitas, who sat quietly, watching the two quarrel. “Not normal beings, am I correct?”

“You are correct, in that.” Said the Archangel, growing tired of the feud. “But, neither of you are completely aware of what you are delving into. You must take into account the level of unpredictability. A heart is not something you can ever take a complete hold of.”

“Superior.” Even pleaded, struggling to make his point, and ignoring the piece of advice. “What makes this project so special, you see, is how intricately we were able to manufacture certain elements, what strings to pull, you know this! If it were not for your input, this project would be impossible.”

The Archangel nodded continuously. “Yes, yes. We discussed this earlier. That is why I am allowing you to put our experiment into the field.”

Even was taken back, but delighted, a devious smirk forming on his face. Ienzo, however, was ready to stand in his seat. His eyes, one still covered by hair, were wide in rage and disbelief.

“But, Superior, I have data regarding the work I’ve completed. If you’ll only see what I’ve been able to accomplish in testing, surely you can reconsider.”

His leader looked upon him, and Ienzo was, to an extent, worried he acted to rash.

“You feel as if your own experiment will yield useful results?”

“Yes, Superior.” He was nervous now, knowing that this was the point of no return. “P-prior research h-has proven this.”

“And, should I allow this to continue, will your plans not interfere with my own?”

Ienzo blinked, and looked to his left, to the third hooded Angel, the tallest and bulkiest of those in uniform. A couple of short nods were exchanged.

“…None whatsoever, Superior.”

“Very well then. You have my permission.”

The room went quiet. One Angel was thrilled, another outraged at his leader’s carelessness. A third just wanted to leave, maybe take a nap. The Archangel did not really care or notice any of these attitudes, and only leaned forward, gold-tinted wings stretching out.

“Even, later we will arrange the conditions for the experiment to be released.”

The scientist Angel nodded, and disappeared as a bright column of light took his place. The light died out a moment later, throne empty and unscathed.

“The rest of you are dismissed. Vanitas, remain at the castle until tomorrow. A few tests need to be run regarding the new creation.”

The helmed Angel lowered his head, acknowledging with some half-nod, and teleported away from the white room in his own flash, followed by Braig and the two other hooded Angels. Only Ienzo remained, who began to raise his own hood.

“You’re certain your plan won’t intervene?” The Archangel asked, catching Ienzo by surprise.

“Oh, ah, yes.” Ienzo said, clearing his throat. “You’d be surprised, in fact, of the precautionary steps I took. If they were in the same room together, compromising interactions would be at an improbable.”

“Interesting.” Stated the Superior. There was momentary silence. “I imagine you were hasty and have already begun work?”

Ienzo felt blood go to his cheeks, his bluff having been called.

“Ahem, well, Superior, things have already started rolling, yes, but I assure you this had was not me acting out of line. The seeds that have been planted have not ended up this way by my hand. My test subject, that Reaper, has been a pawn for the last few years and has been completely oblivious to it.”


Raimyd heard the squeaky hinges on the front door that signaled its opening, and winced when sunlight suddenly gushed into the lobby. Mornings were not exactly his thing; that gross, orange dawn always made him want to return to bed.

Those that caused this small moment of discomfort for Raimyd were of course acquaintances of his, meaning he would be sucked into conversation with them while his head was still groggy. The newspaper held in front of his face did nothing to trick Leyla, who took the seat across from him. Gabryl followed, seating himself between the two of them at the round table.

“So, you guys enjoy your morning stroll together?” Raimyd asked, the first resentful comment of the day. He set down the paper, half a bagel had been concealed by it, slathered in jelly.

Leyla stared at it, then crossed an arm over her own stomach, showing hunger, perhaps even as a way to ask for some baked goods of her own.

“Well, really, half of it was flying.” Gabryl quipped. He had come to realize that the heaping amounts of sarcasm exchanged around his new home required he start being a smart ass as well. But, much to his dismay, the other two Reapers just saw it as him idiotically stating something. Maybe he needed to be a higher-class sardonic.

“Lot more empty this morning, you notice?” Raimyd said, glancing around the room. A handful of Reapers were lounging around, but all were in low spirits. They sat in clusters, in tattered clothing, with solemn expressions. It was the polar opposite of the loud, quarreling crowds that had filled the same room twenty-four hours earlier.

“It’s just been a day. Few guys might be coming in late, or sleeping now. I would be.” Leyla reasoned, though she was not too sure herself.

“Mm, we’ll see.”

“Why, are you implying anything?”

Raimyd sighed heavily, leaning his head back, and letting it hang over the back of his chair.

“Not…really. I mean, what’s there to be suspicious about? That all of them are dead? If we made it out then plenty of others should be fine.”

“I thought we were smarter.” Gabryl said, a little quieter than he would have liked. He felt as if he had said something appropriate, and was hoping for a positive reaction, but there was only an uncomfortable silence. Raimyd rolled his eyes, while Leyla leaned forward, looking Gabryl over for a moment before starring at the ceiling.

“But it helps them having giant birds chase down anyone, I guess.” He added, forcing a smirk.

“Yeah, Heartless are a problem too.” Raimyd nodded, “‘specially since they started popping up around town, like that one the other day. Can’t have those things wrecking too much havoc around here. Last thing we want is for them to take out too many of us.”

“Why?” Gabryl asked. He felt a little dumb asking why it was bad for his fellow Reapers to get clawed to pieces, but it seemed so strange that Raimyd would care in the first place.

“We-ell.” Raimyd began, clearing his throat. He apparently took the question well. “Death by Heartless isn’t a natural way to go. They themselves are just corrupted hearts, the leftovers of anything we don’t harvest in time.”

“And Reapers are their favorite food.” Chuckled Leyla.

“They got this instinctual hatred for Reapers, which is why the Angels use them as bodyguards. If that Neoshadow back there got to you, their darkness would’ve turned you into one of them. That’s all they do; eat and multiply.”

“Eat and…multiply?” Gabryl wondered, blinking. He looked back and forth between them. “So, what, if we’re not killing anyone then they do instead?”

“Pretty much it, bud.”


The shock set in for Gabryl when he thought back to that week of fasting from killing. All of that pain he felt, for his will and remorse of taking lives- was it all for naught? Those creatures were just taking his place, and doing even more harm.

“Well!” He shouted, making the other two jump. “Well…that isn’t right. They’re just making things worse, and if they make more Heartless they’ll keep doing more and more damage. Why can’t we do something about it?”

Raimyd rolled his eyes, and took a bite out of his breakfast.

“They make our jobs easier.”

“No they don’t.” Gabryl argued. “They just make more monsters that’ll try to kill us.”

Another bite of his food, and Raimyd sighed. As if he had some kind of philosophical, insightful reason to bolster his point. Something that might change Gabryl’s mind if he told him, if only his priorities were not preoccupied with eating. However, right when he had swallowed the last bit of his meal, Leyla managed to usurp the conversation from him.

“Could be a fun way to spend a night, you know, hunting for a few of the things.” She offered. Gabryl nodded rapidly; it was weird for her to be suggesting some form of recreation, but it was an idea that was in his favor for once.

“Yeah. I don’t know, I could get better at fighting maybe?” He added on.

“Sure. C’mon, Rai, give him a break. I did see you slacking back at the castle before.”

He groaned under his breath distastefully at the comment, and shifted in his chair.

“Can I go back to bed for a few hours, at least?”

Leyla stood up and walked around the table, lightly slapping him on the side of his head with the back of her hand as she passed. Again, to his distaste.

“We’ll leave at dusk, how’s that? You can sleep all day.”

“I do like the idea of being nocturnal.”

“So do I, I wouldn’t have to see you all day.” She let the corner of her mouth jut up in a smirk a moment before she turned to Gabryl. “Let’s let him rest. I’m gonna go tell Ansem that we’ll be leaving later.”

Gabryl bid her farewell, then Raimyd, and rose to leave to his own room. It occurred to him that he had an injury, and had been awake since before the sun even came up. Sleep sounded pretty good to him.

Fast forward, twelve-ish hours, Gabryl had spent most of the day napping, regaining his energy and training his wings to hold him in the air long enough to balance out his limping. Those new appendages were of such convenience outside of regular transportation- though he had a knack for knocking things over and clipping a few feathers indoors.

“Gabryl.” Raimyd called, knocking on his door. Gabryl knew it was almost time to leave, and he was just trying to neaten his room, to relieve it of that musty feeling. But even some heavy sweeping left the place dreary.

“Ready, ready.” He called back, closing his closet. He was checking a few old cracks and cleaning out spider webs. Gabryl then appeared from his room, wings folded vertically, so as to not bump them on anything more than he needed to, and pulled the door shut along with him. ‘So is it just us or- Ow!”

Raimyd blinked. “Jeez, what is it, your leg?”

Gabryl grunted, opened his door a tiny bit, and quickly yanked the tip of his right wing out. He slammed it closed, glaring at it.

“It’s uh…yeah, my leg. It’s nothing. What’s with your, um, injury-thing?”

“Covered it up, no big deal. Starting to get the feeling back in it.” He lifted his shoulder some and rotated it, wincing. “

Raimyd turned, and lead the pair to the lobby. Through the windows, Gabryl could tell it was turning out to be a beautiful evening, with the sunset Twilight Town was known for beginning to shape up. Long shadows were cast outside, and the clock tower in the distance was a black rectangular blob.

“There you are.” Leyla said, arms crossed, legs pressed together and knees locked Surprisingly, she had not been standing like this to look more intimidating but because of the ensuing cold. Autumn was close, or maybe it had already started.

When Gabryl saw her shoulder jitter a little he realized that he actually had never known when the seasons changed, exactly. It may have just been a cold day in the Spring.

“Huh, didn’t pack a change of clothes with you, I see.” Leyla commented, motioning towards Gabryl’s shredded trousers. He just wobbled on his chilled legs and rubbed his hands together, wishing that he did.

“No problem, I got some extra clothes for you. I like to keep a few high-quality articles of clothing lying around.” Raimyd offered. Leyla started walking down the sidewalk, brushing her hair over her ears for warmth.

“Sure, if you like loads of khaki and shitty camouflaged jackets.”

“Hey! I said it was a gift.” He shot back. It really was the umpteenth time he had told her.

And while it was a visually off-putting jacket, Gabryl hoped he would get to wear something like it soon. Perhaps a chance at some Heartless target practice would heat him up, too. The stroll to the park was silent, but full of anticipation that managed to warm Gabryl’s bare legs. Cheeks flushed, he asked them,

“So, do you guys have a place in mind? Those things even have a favorite place?”

“Well, wherever there’s people.” Raimyd explained. “But they like to spawn in dark places. That’s why we’re going out to the forest on the edge of town.”

“And cut them off before they go out…?”

“Gabryl, relax.” Leyla said, stopping. They were standing on the curb before a street, one of Twilight Town’s trams making its evening run. She turned to him, with a disapproving expression. “You’re starting to obsess.”

“So what?” He asked, bewildered at her lax attitude. “These things are going to do probably twice the killing we would. That’s too much, that’s stupid. Why should we let that happen?”

The traffic light on the opposite side of the street changed color, and they walked across; the tops of trees were visible around the next corner.

“Because it’s a natural order.” Raimyd explained, strolling along. “It’s the way things have always been, and you never saw any problem when you were alive, right?”

“I…guess not, but-”

“Exactly, you didn’t.” Leyla said. “Because there is a balance that exists. The Heartless and what they do are what assure things don’t get chaotic. You know that Chapel Hearts religion?”

They had reached the next block when the asked, and Gabryl was a little busy peering into the dark mass of trees close by.

“Um, yes, I guess I do.”

“They say that we, the living, and everything you can see here is made up of light. People, mostly their hearts, contribute to the light in the world. But you can’t have light without darkness,” she pointed to the long silhouettes at their feet, “there’s always going to be a shadow cast because of that light. That’s the Heartless. They feed off of us, yet we need their existence to survive.”

The group came to the forested area, where the town’s noises were less prevalent. Gabryl distanced himself from his friends, facing a thick tree trunk. He kicked it once, then twice, then sighed.

“So there has got to be thousands, or millions of Heartless to match all of the people in the world? Even the dead ones like us…I just can’t imagine-”

“Mm, no.” Leyla interrupted. “I said that the Chapel believes that ‘what we can see in the real word’ is light. We’re invisible to them. Reapers are different then people. Our hearts, they’re not…they’re not all there. We lack the light that hearts give us, leaving darkness in place of it. We‘re almost like Heartless; their darkness overpowers the light they steal from normal humans.”

Gabryl licked his drying lips, and turned a little, away from the force of an oncoming breeze.

“You’re saying we’re like Heartless? Like those things that mindlessly attack people?”

“No.” She corrected. “Almost like them. We’re still our own kind of being. We have our brains, the ability to make lives for ourselves, it’s just that no one will ever really know. We’re nobodies.”

And it was hearing this from someone else that made Gabryl feel, even in his new life with friends and a home, like he was the loneliest person in the world. It was not as if he ever thought that way, about never being known and the like, but it was hearing someone confirm it that almost freaked him out. Like if someone had told you that your nightmares were real.

“Way to make the guy feel down, Ley.” Raimyd said, frowning at her. “Gabe, let’s go, you and me, take out a few of these things. It’ll be fun, not like hanging out with this girl.”

Leyla scowled, but she let Raimyd lead Gabryl away, into the forest, without stopping them. Perhaps she had laid it on a bit too thick. It had not been her intention at all to scar him with the reality of their position, especially since they had gotten along so well just earlier that day. Perhaps she would have to remember how fragile his naïve Reaper mind was. He was like a baby to her. A really whiny one, with questionable fashion sense.

“Hey, uh, will Leyla be okay on her own?” Gabryl asked, snapping out of his depression. It just occurred to him that she was alone in this apparent birthing place of Heartless.

“Oh, sure. She’s always been a good fighter, especially on her own. Probably wouldn’t even call for help if she had to face two of those big bird things that attacked you, heh. She can be pretty cocky, you know.”

Gabryl cracked a smile, and brought a hand up to hide it, pretending to wipe his nose.

“Who, her?”

“Hell yes, all the time, especially back in the day. Always been best when she was out on her own, though. Still, I can’t even believe we’ve been out this long without her bragging.”

They both broke into smiles this time, illuminated by the small blaze in Raimyd’s hand. He had placed the red, spiked Keychain on his palm and let it ignite into a contained fireball to give them some light and warmth. It added a cozy feel, but before either could enjoy it Raimyd closed his fingers into a fist, extinguishing the light. He was suddenly very quiet, in such a foreboding way that Gabryl did not need to be told to not make a sound, and brought his scythe into his right hand with a quick swishing noise. Gabryl had never noticed the strange shape of his partner’s blade; it was unlike his own in that it was a wide crescent shape, extending from each side of the shaft at equal lengths. He could not see many other irregularities in it, though the shade from the canopy combined with the late time of day made it impossible to see the dark metal. All Gabryl realized he could do was bring forth his own scythe and prepare for the worst.

Some leaves, possibly above them, shook in what definitely did not feel like a gust of wind. It was too abrupt. Raimyd turned, weapon held out at his side, his back hunched over as if he was ready to lunge at whatever may come at him. Gabryl began to turn as well, but more rustling, from the ground this time, distracted him and drew his eyes back around to their front. His eyes were immediately drawn to the ground; leaves moved, yes, but large indents accompanied the displacement, like footprints.

“Watch it,” Raimyd hissed, “it’s invisi- buwh!” Before he could get more than a couple words out, he was hit squarely in the chest and sent flying into a clump of bushes.

Gabryl slashed out wildly with his weapon, hoping to catch whatever-that-was at least a little. But the blade made contact with nothing but air, and Gabryl felt his stomach lurch, fearful for not knowing where his enemy was.

“Huh? Where…?” He turned around, then the other direction, and then back to the first, mumbling to himself. “I…Rai! Where is it?”

“The eyes glow!” He shouted form the darkness. “Look for them!”

“Eyes…okay, right, where are the eyes- Gah!”

There the eyes were, not too far from where he stood in a sweaty shock. The two eyes, yellow and rolling in unseen sockets, darted bizarrely in his direction, prompting Gabryl to take a step back. The eyes glowed brighter, almost doubling in size before they discharged all at once; the glows projecting themselves at Gabryl as two beams.

“Lasers what?!” He yelped, jumping to his left. He landed on the ground just as the blasts fizzled into the leaves where he once stood, leaving a plume of smoke. Clambering back to his feet, Gabryl slashed, again, and fruitlessly, into nothing. He gritted his teeth and kept turning to find the assailant, but there was no more sound. Had the Heartless left? He had to assume it was a Heartless. Crap, could it possibly not be one? What else could it be? Gabryl became more conscious of his sweating.

And then, finally, what sounded like footsteps. Gabryl pulled his scythe-wielding arm back, prepared to strike out at his side, when a red light came out of nowhere in place of the two familiar orbs he was expecting.

“Watch it!” Raimyd shouted, conjuring a ball of flame in his hand. He whipped the fire across the forest clearing, and hit a tree trunk. Gabryl could hear him growl through his teeth, and he threw a second fireball. It must have missed whatever he was aiming for, because Raimyd cursed under his heavy breath. “My aim, I hate it!” And for the third attempt, a larger, even brighter flame ignited in his tightened fist, which he threw with gusto. The larger area must have done something, because this time the projectile stopped before hitting anything, or at least, anything they could see.

“Finally.” He sighed, exasperated.

Whatever he had hit was moving, fast, running in circles and shrieking in this alien voice. Raimyd took the Keychain and thrust it into Gabryl’s hand, patting him on the shoulder before he began to run at the Heartless.

“Give me back up if it does anything…!” Raimyd called, and with that he jumped up, straddling the monster’s neck. The damage had distracted the Heartless to turn visible, making this an easier task. The thing they fought looked like a lizard of some kind; Gabryl assumed a chameleon due to the obvious. Its thick, curled tail thrashed wildly behind it, which must have been what knocked Raimyd out of sight before, and it hissed and roared and made all sorts of sounds a reptile should not be making.

The fire began to die down with Raimyd’s presence smothering it. A sizzling and very perturbed chameleon-Heartless felt like changing its target to the Reaper it could get its creepy hands on. Gabryl saw its eyes begin to glow again, so he was ready to dodge the incoming attack. Or, at least the one he was expecting.

What Gabryl did not expect was the Heartless opening its maw and assaulting him with an impossibly long tongue. The sticky, elastic organ launched itself from the Heartless’ mouth in less than a second, and all Gabryl could do was struggle when it wrapped around his arms. He felt the tongue getting reeled in by its owner, immediately increasing the worry that he was to be eaten. Raimyd could do next to nothing, as he was currently attempting to put the chameleon in a headlock to prevent it from doing even more harm. All that was left, Gabryl figured, without access to handheld weapons, was the magical piece in his hand.

Oh well. It was set yourself on fire just a little or get digested. Great. At least one of those involved him living a little more.

He closed his eyes, trying to tap into the power like he had down only days before. He felt a heat rising up in his arm, and then his shoulder- Was he on fire? Gabryl did not feel like looking very much, what with it being his arm on fire, but he had to make sure he was taking that step towards not being eaten.

His eyes opened. There was fire, but not a lot. He worried; he was starting to get yanked ff of his feet by the pull of the tongue.

“No, no, no, no. Not…eating me! Get off!” He twisted around, but was stuck. It was funny, he mused in the most inappropriate time, how he had always been told the tongue was one of the strongest muscles in the body.

But, right, bad time to be thinking about trivialities. What he needed was a way out of this. He needed to move his arms, just grab on to something and tug back, but how could he do that? He was trapped, this was it. The terrors of dying and losing what he had gained began to sink in, just like they had back at the castle.

As Gabryl worried more and more, he felt something inside of him tugging- not as his body, but at something in his chest. He gasped, feeling like something was digging through him, like a worm through an apple. It made him feel nauseas, and his vision started to blur. What Gabryl was able to see, however, was something coming close to the length of tongue still between him and the Heartless. Something large and black, with digits, like a hand. It descended upon the stretch of pink before him, grabbing it tightly within its grasp. He heard the chameleon squeal as it happened, meaning he was not just getting delirious.

However, before Gabryl could find out what it was, or where it came from, another shadow came down from above. This one was smaller and faster, and carried with it a long, sharp object. Before the figure hit the ground, the Heartless’ tongue had been sliced in half. It squealed louder than it had before, more in pain than distress. It jumped up and down vigorously before flopping on its side to the ground.

“Yes!” Raimyd yelled, sounding very much elated. “Die, thing!”

And after a few very generous blows to the head, the Heartless was evaporating into a black mist.

Gabryl was sitting on the ground, now very cold even after being on fire. The figure that had come down before, which he now recognized without his head spinning, walked over and offered her hand.

“You alright?” Leyla asked.

Gabryl took her hand and grunted as he stood up.

“Leg bothering you?” She was being weirdly kind.

“Not really, I guess.” He has to admit it he was experiencing the effects of that accelerated Reaper healing. “Just, almost being someone’s dinner rattles you up I guess.”

She seemed entertained by the statement, perhaps getting used to Gabryl’s brand of hopeless-trying-to-be-funny humor. Therefore she did not think it would hurt to smile a little, and she did.

“You’ll be fine. Speaking of which, I haven’t had dinner yet, you?”

Gabryl had not eaten…anything. For some time.

“I guess I could eat.”

“Man, me too!” Raimyd announced, leaning on his scythe where the Heartless had been slaughtered. His clothes were terribly burnt and torn, but he looked like he did not notice or care. Both Gabryl and Leyla found this odd.

“The damn coat still looks good though, damn.” She whispered to herself.

“Is the coat bad for some reason?” Gabryl inquired, with justified curiosity.

“That thing is,” She rolled her eyes, “well, I’ll tell you later. Long story.”

“Oh, alright.” People keeping promises to him made him feel delightfully like he was in the loop.

The sun had set by this point, leaving the forest almost pitch dark and, logically, full of more Heartless. For this reason they hurried out of there, to the safety of the outskirts of an urban city at night. They walked leisurely to a restaurant or café or whatever was on the way and cheap.

“Thanks for helping me out back there, Leyla.” Gabryl said, breathing in the cold nightly air.

“Well I felt more than obliged.” She responded, scoffing jokingly.

“But, hey, can you show me how to do that sometime?”

“Do what?”

“The thing you did, to get rid of the…thing.”

She looked at him, raising an eyebrow and then lowering it, and making a show of doing so.

“I jumped.”

“Yeah, and the other thing.”

“Using my scythe to cut the tongue?”



Gabryl felt very stupid all of a sudden and also felt like the feeling was warranted.

“If you wanted to get better and jumping around trees or something, it’s really more about flying. I don’t think there’s a lot I could tell you, uh.” She scratched her head, completely unaware of what he could have been asking about.

“Oh, um, yes, thank you.” He was suddenly bluffing. “I will be sure to do that.”

“Okay, good for you.”

The awkward levels rising, they mutually decided to cut off the conversation. Gabryl felt fine, though. If he was not pretty sure that she was his friend then there would be grounds to worry, but he was in a fine position to mess things up.

“Nice.” Raimyd said to the two of them looking down the street. “That place I like over here is still open. You would love it, Leyla, it has these great…”

The ensuing conversation faded in Gabryl’s ears. While he did feel strange about the failed interchange he just went through, it did leave the question as to what that hand thing was, and where it came from.

Alaude Drenxta

\+The Devil's+/ .{Advocate}.
Apr 9, 2005
My house?
I'll be taking up the task of critiquing this story. ^^
Beginning with chapter 1;

Chapter 1 - "Impulse"

--- To be completed, I'll pm you when it's finished, wanted the post up so I could edit as I go.
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