The Dark World didn't change much, Ignus decided as he scanned the gray stone around him. Veins of indigo crystals glowed dimly, giving just enough light to cast shadows across their path. Ignus paused as Riku stopped walking.

"Something the matter?"

Riku shook his head.

"You need a break? We've been walking for…actually I don't know how long. We can stop."

"No, just…I've been here. I should know this place. But that all seems like another life." Riku stared off into space.

"I'm not surprised." Ignus walked back over. "With all the time that's passed, everything you've done since the last time you were here?" He laid a hand on Riku's shoulder. "You grew up fast. Maybe too fast."

"I remember my first time here. I was so scared." Riku let out a small smile. "But now my doubts and fears are gone. If anything, I feel exhilarated. And it's not because of the darkness in me, I know too well what that rush is like. This is different. And it's not adrenaline either. I know Aqua needs us…but I'm ready. I'm in control now. Maybe it's because you're with me this time."

Ignus shook his head. "It's not me, Riku. You're the one that's changed. You got stronger, you got control of yourself. You managed to save your friends and right your wrongs. You conquered the darkness, both inside and outside you. You found a way to let your love spark your strength."

"What?"

Ignus continued walking as Riku followed. "Sometimes…you can get stuck on a person. Focus on them so much that all you can feel is what you feel for them. Nothing else matters. Nothing else is even there. You have people for that now, Riku, people you love who drive you past your limits, leaving you no room to doubt yourself. It gives you the strength to protect what matters."

"Is that it?" Riku mused. "'Strength to protect what matters.' It reminds me of a promise I made."

"Promise? Who to?"

"Just someone I once met. Can't tell."

Ignus snorted. "Sounds like a good memory."

"Yeah. While we're reminiscing, does any of this look familiar?"

"Well, sort of. But the realm of darkness was never very big for variety. It's a little hard to identify any landmarks. It might have changed too, since I was last here with…with Aqua."

"Yeah, it's different from what I remember." Riku agreed.

"Might also just be that you're a foot taller." Ignus bumped Riku with his shoulder. "I can still feel Aqua's heart, faintly. We're moving towards it. But as we get closer, it doesn't feel clearer, I feel…it's like static. Some noise or interference in the feeling of her heart."

"You mean-"

"No. Not her. She's too strong for that. It's probably just a result of being down here." Ignus shifted his shoulder, releasing the tension he'd started to recognize as anxiousness. "Either way, we're getting close. Let's keep moving."

Riku and Ignus kept walking until they reached the end of the cavern. It opened up to a beach, with a clouded light casting shadows of the arches of jagged rock sticking out of the water like grasping fingers.

"This beach…" Riku muttered.

"It's gone."

"What?"

Ignus knelt and pressed his hand to the sand. "I'm positive she was here. Her trail leads right up to here, but then it stops. It's not the interference either, the feeling just ends." He gently closed his eyes.

Riku looked around. "I've been here too. With Sora. This is where we found our way back to the realm of light. Hey, maybe Aqua did, too!"

Ignus shook his head slowly, standing and brushing the sand from his hand. "If she were in the realm of light, she would have come to find us, or we would have found her at this point. She's got to be somewhere deeper in the darkness. Maybe that's what that interference was. I'm not even sure we could dive that deep-"

Whatever Ignus was saying was abruptly interrupted by a small pack of Heartless growing out of the sand in front of them. Riku turned to see more on the other side. The pair were surrounded in an instant. Riku and Ignus stood back-to-back as Ignus finished the Oath of Spark.

"Riku, be careful. We're on their home turf and they're more powerful here. They can do stuff you wouldn't believe."

"What do you mean?"

The Heartless all ran past them, not touching either of the keyblade wielders. The dark creatures dove into a clawing puddle, then exploded up into a spiraling tower.

"Stuff like that." Ignus grumbled. "Be careful using your darkness techniques. They'll be strong, but they'll also be way harder to control. You'd be giving the darkness around you an easy path in."

"Meaning no Inferno?"

"Exactly." Ignus smirked at Riku. "Stay on your toes. Come on, let's go!"

(Fight Scene Song: Resist and Bite)

The demon tower burst as Riku blasted it with another lightning spell, Heartless falling all over the place and fading. Riku had barely managed to breathe before more began to rise out of the sand. He heard a sound and turned just as the new tower engulfed him.

"Riku!" Ignus shouted, turning. He gathered his power as the tower swung for him next. He met it with a charge, Spark extended, and a cry bursting from the bottom of his lungs.

"Firaga!"

A trio of fireballs leapt from Spark and the tower exploded, dropping Riku to the ground. Ignus stood over him until the last Heartless faded, then turned him over and felt his pulse. "Cura!" Spark gave off a green glow that moved to Riku before Ignus let the keyblade vanish. Riku awoke after a moment. Ignus offered him a hand.

"You alright?"

Riku took it and sat up. "I think so. Where'd the Heartless go?"

"I burst the tower with one of my attacks, and they spit you out. The rest just sort of vanished. I don't know if they're really gone, but we probably bought ourselves some time."

"Thanks, I owe ya." Riku got to his feet.

"We'll add it to your tab. You're still not invincible, Riku. As much as you may feel like it."

"Are you all right?"

"Just a little drained. But I think we have another problem…" Ignus passed Riku his keyblade.

Riku inspected the weapon. The grip was familiar and the eye stared blankly as always, but it definitely seemed lighter. Looking up, he realized it was missing the top third of the blade.

"They're stronger than we expected. We should head back to Yen Sid's and regroup. It's not safe down here, especially if you don't have a keyblade."

Riku looked down at his broken weapon. "But Aqua's…still down here, alone. Facing enemies like that. What if she's feeling as scared and alone…as I felt the first time I came here?"

"Trust me, Riku," Ignus seemed to deflate, "I don't need you to remind me of that."

"How long are we supposed to keep her waiting in this awful place?"

"Not a second more than we need to. But she'd never forgive us if you lost your life trying to save hers. And besides, we may not even be able to without you. She's strong. She'll hold out."

Riku walked forward and stuck his weapon into the surf. "Can't use this keyblade anymore. Might as well leave it here. For the other me."

"I'm sure he'll appreciate it." Ignus smiled. "And I think he'd be proud of you for moving forward."

Notes:

Resist and Bite: watch?v=iGtEH1i78sI