Our hearts are connected. Whatever distances may separate us, no matter how far we roam, we are never apart.
I will fight for your honor; or maybe I already have it. I will give you my heart; but has it not always been yours?
The stars are not so unreachable as they say: They are just worlds waiting to be touched. We'll reach them together.
It's amusing how the strangest things will come back to you at the strangest times. Take, for instance, these words:
"All imbalances must be destroyed."
My mentor's last words to me before Lydia and I set out for the light realm, where we belonged. This was the memory that came to my mind as pain pervaded my body, radiating from the blade imbedded in my back. It was twisted in its place and ripped free, and all I could do was recall that statement as I groaned and gasped and crumpled.
A high, feminine voice tinged with malice whispered, "Die for me, my sweet, as you always swore you would do."
She stepped out from behind me, brandishing her keyblade. Silken hair of ebon cascaded around her shoulders, crowning her graceful figure. She was my shadow, but she looked nothing like me. She resembled more closley the girl standing nearby, looking on in horror. Her own shadow--my own semblance--stepped into the light. A smile played across his features.
"Foolish Mike," he chided. "You should have been watching behind you."
Lydia regained her wits. Her face contorted in fury. "I'll destroy you both for this!"
Idalyx rolled her eyes. "Do you really want to fight me again? I certainly don't want to fight you. We're too wearyingly equal. It gets tedious."
Lydia took a ferocious step forward, hissing, "Then I'll make it more interesting for you."
But Kexim stepped between them. He lifted his dark echo of my keyblade into Lydia's face. "Want to see how equal we are?" he menaced.
Lydia raised her blade to Kexim's. "Gladly."
He hunched his shoulders and said grinningly, "This is a match I've been waiting for."
The cry was mine. Before either could strike, I gathered every last ounce of energy in my body and hurled myself at Kexim. At my command a portal appeared to the dark realm and, our limbs interlocked, he and I fell through it.
The light realm vanished and we plummeted into darkness. I knew Lydia could handle Idalyx. Even as I felt my heart fading, my strength ebbing away into my Nobody, I knew Lydia's tenacity was insuperable. I just hoped that I was right. . . .
I turned to her Nobody, falling beside me--and not a moment too soon. I raised my keyblade and caught the blow from his just as it was about to land.
"You think I'll be trapped here?" he snarled. "You've only delayed me. And when I get back, I'll steal her heart, just like Idalyx is already getting yours. And what are you going to do about that?"
I did the only thing I could do. I closed my eyes. . . .
~ * ~
It was to my shock that my eyelids opened again and light poured into my retinae. When I sat up, the pain was gone. The wound in my body had healed, somehow. My mind brimmed with questions. Where was I? Where was Kexim? How was it I was not dead? When my eyes adjusted, I looked around myself in bewilderment; a survey that answered this last query and raised two more.
Idalyx lay on the floor nearby, fading. Her life force was draining into me. This was Lydia's doing--but how? And where was Lydia?
I peered into the darkness. And then I saw her. In an instant I got up and ran to her side. She was writhing about and moaning, clutching at her sides. I shook her gently and tried to help her up. She continued to cringe and quiver in my arms.
"Lydia! Lydia, what's wrong? What's happened?"
She choked, "K-kexim!"
Immediately I understood. All imbalances must be destroyed . . . suddenly the words had a much graver meaning.
But balance wasn't my concern. "Lydia! Fight him! Don't give in."
"I--I can't!" she gasped. Tears flowed freely down her cheeks. She looked up at me. "Mike, I--" But a screech split her words as another spasm shook her body.
I rocked her in my arms, trying to think. Kexim would kill her if I didn't do something about it. But what could I do? How could I stop him? How could I save her?
Only the same way she had saved me. And there was only one was I could do that, I realized.
Swallowing hard, I put her down and rose to my feet. I didn't bother to ask myself the difficult questions: Would it work? Could I do it? Was I brave enough? For Lydia's sake, I had to be. It was the least I could do; my heart had always belonged to her, anyway.
I stepped over to where my keyblade lay and picked it up. For a moment, only a moment, I almost didn't want to do it. But I remembered the words: all imbalances . . . And when I looked down at Lydia . . .
There was no choice to be made. I inverted the blade and plunged it into my chest.
But it was a different kind of pain. It didn't feel like dying, this time. This time it felt like a heartache; a bittersweet feeling of mingled pain and relief, fear and comfort, joy and sorrow. I felt myself falling; only I didn't feel the floor beneath me. I just kept falling. And I could have sworn that, before the world went black, I saw my heart floating away from my body, drifting off to attach itself to the nearest source of life. . . .
~ * ~
This time I expected to open my eyes, and I did. An endless void of darkness stretched all round me--except straight ahead. There I saw light, untempered and pure, in its most potent state: the heart.
But the heart before me was throbbing in great agitation. The light was obtunded. Purple veins were creeping their way through it like a spider making a web, diverging from the blade plunged into its center.
"Get away from her heart." The order was calm and quiet, though it was like a thunderclap in the silence of the void.
Kexim started in surprise. When he turned around, he instinctively drew his keyblade from the heart to direct it at me. "H-how did y-you get here?" He quickly steadied himself with a breath and smirked to cover his discomfiture. "You've come to stop me, have you? Come on. We've been through all this before."
"That's true. We're an even match. It's always been a battle, between the two of us, that can have no victor." Now I smiled. "But this time, I won't let you win."
"Oh, you won't let me. Well, that changes everything," he fleered. "Am I to understand you were holding back before?"
"Lydia can only have one shadow, Kexim. And she deserves a better one than you."
"And where do you expect to find one of those?"
"I'll just have to be that shadow myself."
Kexim scoffed. "Are you really as foolish as that? You exist. You can't be a shadow. You have your own heart."
"I know. That's why I gave it up."
Kexim's eyes widened. "Did you really? Well! . . . then you're even more foolish than I thought."
"You would never understand, Kexim," I replied. "How could you? You've never had a heart. You've never felt love."
The wide eyes narrowed to slits. "That's not true!" he hissed. "It only shows how little you understand!"
His weapon arm was shaking. I could have sworn I saw something glinting at the corners of his eyes. Tears? Was that possible? Perhaps it was. . . .
"Idalyx," I murmured.
"She destroyed her!" Kexim bellowed. "Your Lydia--destroyed my Idalyx! And I--I loved her!" His grip tightened on his keyblade. His knuckles became white. "She'll die for what she did to her!"
I took a step forward, reaching a hand toward him. "Kexim," I pleaded, "Listen to me. You thought you loved Idalyx--but you couldn't have. Don't you see that? You can't feel anything. You're just deceiving yourself. All you ever felt was a shadow . . . a shadow of how Lydia felt for me; how I felt for her. You don't know what real love is. But I still remember it."
I moved closer. "I can still taste it, Kexim. I can still remember--I can remember what it was like. . . . Please, don't destroy that. If you ever thought you cared for Idalyx--think of how I care for Lydia." I took another step. "Please. Stop this."
Kexim lowered his blade, brow knitted in confusion, a deep frown on his lips. He took a hesitant step--then another. He came nearer and nearer. He was only a few feet from me when he halted. Precipitately he threw his head back and cachinnated. Like a man gone insane he laughed himself hoarse, doubling up, nearly falling over in his mirth. When at last he could straighten body and face, he cast me a derisive grin.
When he spoke, his voice was thin and strained from the laughter. "You fool! You idiotic fool! You want me to sympathize with you? You expect me to relent? Why should I? Out of the kindness of my heart?" He spat out the last word with particular vehemence and scowled, as if it left a bitter taste in his mouth. "Or had you forgotten? I don't have one. But how could you forget? You don't have one either!" He raised his keyblade. "So come on, then. If you're so anxious to fight, let's have it out right here, a fight to the finish! I never existed, and now you don't exist, either. I've always wondered if nothings actually die, or if they only sort of vanish." Another laugh shook him. "Let's find out!"
He lunged at me, riving the air with his keyblade. The weapon I lifted to defend myself was not my own; it was the mirror image of Lydia's. It was the keyblade that had belonged to Idalyx. Now I was truly a shadow.
As our sabers met, Kexim stared. I saw something stir behind those eyes; but it was distant and almost unreachable. It flickered, then died, and a fire sprang up in its place.
Kexim raised his keyblade and brought it down toward my head. I raised my own to parry and swung it round at his head. He blocked and swept it around his head for a diagonal slash. I deflected the blow and riposted. He diverted it to the side and thrust his blade at my head. My nose quivered in the rush of air that accompanied my narrow counter.
I kneed Kexim in the ribs and he staggered. I raised my blade over my head. Before I could strike, he lunged. I had to twist my body to catch the attack in time. He pulled back and swung again, and again, and again. He had me stumbling backward, barely able to maintain defensive maneuvers, much less offensive.
Then I tripped and fell on my back. His blade plunged toward me. I raised my own in time to knock it aside. I kicked out at his knee and he reeled.
Back on my feet, I cast a barrage of icicles at him. He dodged to the side and hurled a fireball. I deflected and summoned a bolt of lightning, which struck his uplifted keyblade. It absorbed the surge for him to redirect it at me. I dodged to the side. Then I hurtled toward him.
The conflict continued. We matched one another blow for blow, parry for parry. We both knew what the other was about to do before the other did it. At one particularly heated point I barely raised my keyblade in time to block a wild swing, deflect it with its own momentum, and make a counterattack. He flicked the thrust off to the side and made a riposte. I brought my blade across my body to push his off to the side, where our blades locked in a tense struggle as we lowered into each other's faces. Then we fell apart, chests heaving.
"Is that--all--you've got?" Kexim taunted. "You're--slipping! Without--your heart--you are nothing!"
I didn't respond. I knew this was getting us nowhere. He was right; my advantage in the past had always been my light. Now I was only a shadow. Only . . . a shadow. . . .
"Then maybe," I cried, half to myself, "maybe I need to borrow someone else's!"
I dropped my blade and turned. And there it was; the light I needed, though it was rapidly darkening. I ran headlong toward it. I heard Kexim following behind me.
I arrived first and threw myself into Lydia's heart. For a moment I hung there, as if stuck halfway through a gelatinous wall. Then I sank into it; it absorbed me. It began to glow brighter. I heard nearby a deep scream and, more distant, an alleviated gasp. I felt a gentle warmth where the empty cold had been in my chest. I smiled as everything became lighter. . . .
~ * ~
Lydia was climbing to her feet. I offered her my hand and helped her up. She looked dully up at me, dazed. With a start everything rushed back to her.
"Mike! What happened? Where's Kexim? Why did he stop?"
I staunched the questions with the flat of my hand. "You first. How did you defeat Idalyx?"
She looked at me in puzzlement. Presently her face cleared. "Oh--oh, yes. Well--I knew I couldn't win. We were too evenly matched. Everything she did, I knew she was going to do; and everything I did, she knew I was going to do. She thought like me--so instead of thinking like myself, I thought like you."
"In one of my more clever moments, maybe."
"But what did you do? What happened to Kexim?"
My shoulders rose and fell. "I only did what you did for me."
"No, actually. You did. Kemix is gone."
"But how? I felt him--it was like my heart was being stabbed from the inside. And then it stopped. What did you do?"
"I went to him and stopped him. But it was actually your heart that did it."
She put a hand over her chest. "You went--to my heart?"
I nodded. "In the end your light was too powerful for him. He underestimated you."
"But how did you get--inside?"
"I lost my shadow. You needed a new one. So I became it."
"But how did you do it?" she pressed.
"I gave up my heart."
She put a hand over her rounded mouth. In her shock she did not speak; then, "You gave it up--for me?"
"I had to. It was always yours to keep." I turned away. In dull, insipid tones I whispered, "I loved you."
"'Loved'?" she repeated. Sadness choked her voice. "You--you can't feel anything any more. You can't . . . can you?"
I shook my head. "I can only remember. It seems like an old dream, or a distant memory. It doesn't feel real anymore. But all I can tell you is how deeply that heart cared for you, Lydia."
I felt her hand brush my arm, then tighten, and pull me around. I looked down into her tear-stained face, with its shimmering eyes and glowing smile. How I yearned for that same feeling to be ignited . . . but I could feel nothing.
"You gave me your heart. . . ."
Her hands pressed against my chest for balance. She stood on tiptoe, tilted her head back, and whispered, "The least I can do to thank you is to share mine."
And she pressed her lips firmly against mine. I wrapped my arms around her and let her kiss me. And somehow, somewhere deep within my body, I felt a little glimmer--just a faint little glimmer--of light. . . .
~ * ~
Sincerely, Nuile: Lunatic Wordsmith