Notes: Okay, first thing I'd like to apologize for taking so long to get this chapter up. School's just been a ROYAL pain in the backside lately, and I only just managed to get two projects that were due on the same week done. I'll try to get back in the swing of things, but it might be difficult…still, I'll try!

Ir's just…my sister is in the hospital right now and school's not going easy on me either…I'd like to personally apologize to Captain-mad-dog-van for taking so long to get this chapter out since I wasn't able to do so when I promised.

Disclaimer: If I owned Kingdom Hearts, there would be Riku plushies for everyone! (Mainly so that they would be loved to death by the rabid fan-girls!)

Darkness was already seeping into the city like a deadly toxin, consuming all in its wake…it wouldn't be long before the city was completely taken by the heartless…it was only a matter of time before revenge would be at hand…Ansem's betrayal would finally be repaid in full.

The black-armored entity of darkness soundlessly walked down the corridors of Hollow Bastions citadel, despite the metallic appearance of the metallic and spiky armor that covered it from head to toe, the dark entity would have been smirking in satisfaction and anticipation if it had a mouth!

Things were going so smoothly…Maleficent was fulfilling her role well, the heartless were growing stronger with every heart they took, and it wouldn't be long before "Lord Ansem", as the pathetic populace of the city had called that straw-headed, want-to-be scholar, would be found and dragged before him.

It would truly be a night to remember…

'Lord Umbra…'

The heavily armored being of darkness halted in the citadel's corridors and turned around to see one of the many shadow heartless that it had summoned for Maleficent to command in her assault on Hollow Bastion standing there with a small door of darkness dissipating behind it. The rather diminutive creature had called to him through his link with the realm of darkness itself, addressing him by his name…whatever news it had must have been incredibly important…

'There are three hearts approaching the city…one of the bears the scent of-,'

The following word was unpronounceable by any "human" tongues, but it still caused Umbra, a lord and master of darkness itself, to step back in shock. Throughout all of his planning and machinations, THAT name was not one that had ever factored into his plans…not when he infused the witch "Maleficent" with dark power, and not when he had ordered her to take Hollow Bastion…

If…if HE was going to interfere with Umbra's affairs for whatever reason, the repercussions for the lord of darkness would be severe…

'…Try to separate them…I will determine just what our guest of honor is up to…don't interfere under any circumstances unless I give the order…'

The heartless didn't waste time bowing to its lord and master before it faded away into a dark door to do as it had been commanded, no doubt gathering a small army of its fellow in order to actually be able to accomplish the task in question…the heartless had learned the hard way that humans were far from defenseless when faced with only one or two lesser shadows…

Umbra stood alone in the corridor for several more seconds before he slowly turned around and resumed his walk deeper into the heart of the citadel.

"Now…where did you try to hide it, Lord Ansem?" The being of darkness muttered mockingly to itself as it began to vanish into the blackness of the hallway…what was once a glorious and beautiful place of security was quickly being consumed and warped by darkness, growing bleaker and darker with each passing hour…

Maleficent was probably having the time of her life…she did seem to have a rather odd thing for thorns and briars, judging from the way she was warping the citadel with her powers…

A small set of yellow eyes watched the three travelers that Lord Umbra had warned about as they approached the gates of the fallen city, blissfully unaware of how quickly it had fallen to the army of darkness when it materialized behind their weak walls of wood and stone…all that stood between the three humans and the embrace of darkness was a closed gate, and that could easily be opened by any one of the heartless currently observing them…

Two were male and the third was female…the first of the males had an unusual hair color, it was a whitish-silver, and the other had hair the color of dirt, and equally messy! They were both clad in the same kind of metal skin that the soldiers inside the city wore to try to shield them from the claws of the heartless and its fellows, not that it had done them any good, so the third traveler, the female, must have been of some importance…

As they drew closer, the heartless and its hidden fellows were able to better "see" their hearts and the "scents" they gave off…

The boy with silver hair had a moderate amount of darkness in his heart…but it reeked of potential! He wasn't like most humans who simply allowed darkness in their hearts for power or because they cared nothing for their fellows…no, this human boy had true strength and power in his heart…he would make an excellent servant of the darkness when he was turned!

The second boy, the one with hair that spiked out in every direction, was far less appetizing…in fact; he was outright revolting to the heartless! There was such a miniscule amount of darkness within him…it was almost nauseating to just be even remotely near him! How could such a misshapen creature possibly posses the will to live without the rapture that came with the darkness?! Within itself, the heartless could feel the urge to leap down and expose the poor boy's heart to the darkness rise to the surface, but it and its fellows were able to contain themselves…Lord Umbra's orders came first, they would just have to wait until the travelers entered the city and then descend upon them before the human realized what had happened…they would have to be quick so they would be able to get back into position in order to separate Umbra's "old friend" from his two traveling companions before he could reach the gates…

It never occurred to the single-minded heartless that it was odd for two groups of three travelers to be reported to be arriving at the same gate…it never paused to think that, perhaps it was making a mistake in assuming that this trio was just a completely ordinary group of humans.

Finally, the heartless tore its view away from the almost sickening sight of the brunette boy and looked upon the female with mild interest…she would probably have a mediocre amount of darkness in her heart, or just be a spoiled brat like all the other women and girls who were apparently part of the "high" society of the humans.

It couldn't have been any more wrong…

The heartless would have let out a shriek if it had a mouth. The girl with auburn hair was completely different than her two companions! Her heart was…utterly devoid of darkness, it was almost painful to just look at, much less even imagine removing it! And her "scent" it was…familiar…of course! The female reeked of the heart-scent of Lord Umbra's enemy! But…how was that possible?

Was it…possible? Could the human female perhaps be Lord Umbra's foe's…what was the word…daughter?!

No…she looked far too human for that to be correct…her heart may have "smelled" like a different being altogether, but she was obviously a human female!

The heartless's eyes narrowed as it "felt" several mental calls from its nearby comrades. Yes…it was agreed by all…they would split up the entire group and try to claim their hearts…if the female was a normal human, then they would have nothing to fear, and if she was indeed what they thought she was…well, then their failure wouldn't harm Lord Umbra's plans.

The brunette was knocking on the gate now in a rather immature and pathetic attempt to open it, despite the fact that it was still rather dark outside…now was the perfect time to carry out Lord Umbra's orders.

The shadow heartless stealthily crept towards the gatehouse, completely unnoticed against the still-black sky…

"Sora, for the last time, that's not going to work, they won't open the gate for you just because you tried to annoy them to death," Sora heard Riku call out to him as he finished yet another round of knocking. He was beginning to think that his best friends was right…maybe forcing him and Kairi to trek that one more mile to finally reach the city gates was a bad idea after all…

"Aw, c'mon Riku! At least he didn't want to just sit around watching grass grow unlike certain boring people around here…" Kairi giggled as Sora ahead Riku let out one of his signature "hmphs" that he used whenever he didn't feel like arguing or debating with someone. He could hear the auburn-haired girl walking towards him even as he lowered his hand to his side and took a step away from the gate. "So…would you mind if I asked you something, Sora?"

The brunette turned to face Kairi, mentally dreading what she was going to say…almost every "conversation" she had had with him always ended wither forcing a blush upon his cheeks and then giggling in her near-heavenly manner. He may have had a reputation for being gullible, but even Sora was able to pick up on the fact that Kairi enjoyed embarrassing him!

"Um, sure…" he replied, already apprehensive of the auburn-haired girl. Women have always been mysteries to men, and Sora was even more clueless about the inner workings of their minds than the rest of his fellow males…what hope could he have of anticipating Kairi's words and then coming up with a reply witty enough to reverse their positions, to make HER the one to flush with embarrassment!

"Don't worry, it's nothing bad…" Kairi cooed after a light round of giggles as she took one more step towards Sora, causing him to back up against the gate in an almost subconscious act. "I'm just curious about this city…I've heard some very interesting things about the ruler…Lord Ansem?"

He almost sighed in relief, she seemed genuinely curious.

"Yup, that's him!" Sora cheerfully replied, confirming Kairi's guess. "I'm not sure just how many of them are true, but there have been a lot of…rumors going around about him that have made most of the other lords suspicious of him…" his tone was beginning to change after the word "rumor"…the brunette didn't want to wind up giving Kairi false information or spread any false rumors, but he knew that she would just probe him sooner or later for more answers.

Even he could tell that simply securing a safe-haven for Kairi wouldn't be enough…he and Riku would be stuck with her for a long time yet.

Still, Sora wasn't quite sure how to continue…he hadn't really thought of where he would take the conversation once he confirmed Kairi's suspicions, and judging from her curious expression, she wouldn't take "I don't know much about Ansem or the city of Hollow Bastion" as an answer…

"Really? What kinds of rumors?"

Sora desperately tried to fight off the urge to gulp. He wanted to be able to answer Kairi's question, but there were so many different rumors, and one of the first thing he'd learned as a young boy was that most of the tales weather-beaten travelers told were inaccurate at best…and the last thing he wanted to do was give Kairi a negative view of the father of the person that he and Riku thought would be able to help her!

"Er….well…um…there was…and then…" he stuttered, unsure of just what to say.

"Some people suspect him of having turned to black magic in the past," Riku stated bluntly as he approached Sora and Kairi.

Instantly, the brunette felt a wave of gratitude towards his best friend.

"Ansem denied it, of course, and no solid proof was found, but that didn't stop people from suspecting…"

"Is that so?" Kairi asked, slowly peeling her eyes away from Sora to face Riku. "So, people think that he's a criminal simply because he employed someone who isn't rich or enrolled in an academy to treat his son?" Sora could see Riku's entire body freeze up for a second as his eyes seemed to widen just a tiny bit in annoyance.

"No, that's not what I'm saying. There was just this time a few years back when there was a-," Sora felt a sudden pressure on his back, letting out a yelp of surprise that interrupted Riku's explanation. The massive wooden gate behind him was slowly opening, allowing entrance to the city.

"Heh, they opened it for us after all, Riku!" Sora looked over his shoulder at the silver-haired boy with a slight smirk on his face as he put his hands behind his head and began to walk forward into the city. It may have been a bit on the immature side, but it just felt too good to get back at Riku to not flaunt being right for once! He could hear Kairi snicker a bit behind him as Riku growled in irritation, further adding to Sora's rising sense of satisfaction.

He could hear his two companions walking up behind him as he entered the city, it was more or less just as he remembered it. There were numerous houses, shops, and other such buildings around a fortified citadel where Lord Ansem and his family stayed, unless something happened that forced the general populace to fall back into it.

"Hey, Sora…does something seem a little…off to you?" Riku seemed apprehensive as Sora turned to face him, his green eyes were scanning the surrounding buildings as though an ambush could come from them at any time.

"No, not really…why do you ask?"

"Well I…" for once, Riku seemed at a loss for words, and that alone was enough to make Sora nervous. Riku was easily the single most confidant individual he knew, the silver-haired boy almost never doubted himself or showed the slightest bit of hesitation. For him to even sound apprehensive was almost unheard of…and over a mere hunch as well. "I don't know…something just feels wrong…there aren't even any town guards around here, it's like the city's deserted!"

"Sora…he's right…something's wrong, I can feel it…" Kairi said, looking around before turning her gaze back to the brunette. He could see an emotion in her eyes he had never thought the half-demon capable of…fear.

Now he KNEW that something was wrong!

Sora and Riku both drew their weapons as they took several hesitant steps deeper into the city. Despite their gut-feelings, the fact was that they had no other choice…they couldn't just leave Kairi behind, and Roxas was the only person either could trust to help them. Judging from the way that Kairi walked behind them both, eyes scanning the alleys and buildings for any sign of trouble, she had arrived at the same conclusion.

"Hrm? What was that?" Kairi's voice echoed throughout the night, nearly causing Sora to jump in surprise. While her voice was normally beautiful to hear, the air of suspense that coiled around the trio was enough to make even it sound like a lethal threat when first heard.

"What was what?" he asked, turning to face the auburn-haired girl while looking around out of his eye's corner.

"That," Kairi pointed upwards, toward what seemed to be the roof of one of the countless buildings nearby, there truly seemed nothing extraordinary about it. "I could have sworn I saw something move…maybe I should check it out?" her voice was hesitant, unsure if her suggestion was a good one, and Sora couldn't blame her for it.

"No, we should stick together!" Sora fiercely pounded his chest with his left hand, visibly surprising Kairi with his sudden fire…and the way he carelessly raised his voice to anyone or anything that may have taken offense to their presence. "If we split up, there's no telling what may happen!" She to take his words well, even if they were rather uninspired and cliché, but a wicked grin soon materialized on her lips as she took a step towards the brunette, seemingly gliding along the ground as she did so.

"Why Sora…" she cooed so softly that the young knight wasn't sure if he was having a twisted daydream, a product of overactive hormones, or not. "I had no idea that you were so concerned for my well-being…" he gulped, but his legs refused to take a step back as Kairi all but invaded his personal space with her usual smirk. Sora could feel the heat rise to his cheeks as her warm breath caressed his face; she was so close to him right now…it was difficult to tell whether or not pulling away was the best idea about now. The urge to simply bask in the beautiful girl's presence forever was overwhelming, even dominating as he felt her take yet another step towards him, leaving barely half a foot between them.

"K-airi, w-what are you-?!" he stuttered, unable to form an intelligent sentence as Kairi merely smiled at him.

"Nothing at all, would you stop being so paranoid?" She giggled, only slightly relieving him of his nervousness. Sora was certain that he saw Riku rolling his eyes and muttering to himself…maybe he WAS a little paranoid after all. Riku wouldn't have let her actually do anything, and yet Sora had almost fainted from embarrassment! But, that was probably why Kairi continued to toy with him like this whenever she got the chance…she obviously enjoyed tormenting him!

"Don't worry, I'll be fine, you of all people should know what I can do in a fight!" The auburn-haired girl spun around with a flourish, her horns and wings growing out of her once more as she accessed her demon half.

Despite her fairly ornate clothing, Sora was barely able to see Kairi as she flew up to the roof-top, but then, she had proven to be fairly stealthy during their first…"meeting".

"Sora, keep your guard up!" The brunette nearly jumped out of his skin as Riku hissed furiously from behind him. He only nodded quickly in reply and raised his sword up once more as they both turned away in order to guard each other's backs. As blunt as he might have been, Riku never failed to keep Sora focused on the task at hand whenever he got side-tracked by something…it was one of the reasons they made such a great team, they naturally covered each other's weaknesses.

Sora wasn't sure how much time passed as he and Riku both strained all of their senses to pick up even the slightest sign of trouble, but it seemed to drag on for an eternity. It was almost unbearable…everything seemed to be perfectly safe, and yet there was just…something, a base instinct perhaps, screaming that something was wrong…horribly wrong…

The brunette could have sworn that the shadows around him and Riku were moving, but every time he focused his sight on one patch, it suddenly seemed to become perfectly still…was he overreacting? Maybe he was just seeing things?

Suddenly, a female scream shattered the silence that had enveloped him and Riku like a dark blanket. The voice was familiar, it was Kairi's!

Sora heard Riku spin around to face the direction the terrible sound came from as he did the same, instantly freezing at the sight before him. Kairi was on the roof right next to the one she had been investigating before, and so were several small creatures that seemed to be made of living shadow. They only came up to about knee-height, but their claws seemed unnaturally sharp, and their yellow eyes glowed like lanterns in the darkness. Somehow, they seemed to have managed to get the drop on Kairi, she was more or less surrounded as more and more of the strange creatures seemed to materialize out of nowhere on the neighboring rooftops, as well as the one she was on.

"Sora, Riku!" she cried out, her voice cracked with panic, as one of the creatures lunged for her with its claws flexed. Kairi raised her leg in response, aiming a kick straight at the little monster's head before it could reach her, sending the creature of shadow flying backwards off the rooftop. Several more of the creatures instantly leaped to take their fallen ally's place while even more swarmed around behind Kairi, trying to cut off her escape routes.

"Kairi!" Sora yelled back to her as the monsters began to charge her. He ran towards the house as quickly as his legs could carry him, not even thinking about what he would do once he actually reached the structure. There was no way that he'd be able to simply scale it, especially in his armor, and the chances of the shadow-monsters just leaving him alone if he did try to climb were remote to say the least.

"Wha-, what are you doing?!" the brunette abruptly spun around as he heard Riku shout, a note of panic in his voice. Even more of the small monsters had appeared out of nowhere, cornering the his friend against the side of another one of the houses as even more seemed to materialize out of the shadows in front of the gate.

They were trapped…there was no way out!

Sora stood in shock as numb fear took hold of him. This had all been his idea…it was his fault that Kairi and Riku were in danger! His grip on his sword tightened at that thought, fear, grief, and anger all flowed through him like a river. No! He wouldn't let any harm come to either of his friends! He had gotten them into this mess, and he would get them out of it!

The brunette let out a yell as he charged towards a small group of the shadow-creatures that was advancing towards him, standing between himself and Riku in the process. Sora he seen firsthand how powerful Kairi was…he didn't want to leave her on her own, but Riku needed him more at the moment. Out of the corner of his blue eyes, Sora could see Kairi keeping her attackers at bay with her fire magic and occasional physical strikes. The creatures of darkness were keeping too much pressure on her to allow her to simply fly away, but she was safe for now, unlike Riku, who was desperately lashing out at all in range just to keep some breathing room.

His defense wouldn't last much longer…

Sora plunged his sword towards the leading shadowling in a thrust. The blade entered the creature's round head with about as much resistance as a training dummy. It only seemed to blink for a moment, seemingly not realizing what had just happened, and then…exploded into what looked like a black mist of some kind.

Just what were these things?! How did they get into the city?! And where were all the people?!

Whatever the living shadows were, they didn't give Sora any time to think as they began to circle him, more and more of them emerging from seemingly nowhere. The creatures seemed bored, somehow…their movements were jerky and erratic, but they seemed to be moving with deliberate slowness, as if the impossibly spiky-haired brunette before them posed no threat despite having just slain one of their comrades!

Sora's eyes rapidly darted from creature to creatutre as he struggled to maintain his composure. He shouldn't have let his emotions get the better of him and charge in…he should have thought before he struck, and now he was surrounded because of it…still, there was nothing to be done about it now, he had to help Riku before he was overcome! It was all so overwhelming…the guilt of leading his friends into this trap, the pressure of trying to redeem his mistake, and having to devote every ounce of his attention to his surroundings to block any attacks from his foes as they circled him, probing his defenses for weaknesses to be exploited.

Sora was far from a master tactician or a veteran warrior, but even he could recognize such a basic tactic!

His fear was ever-present and foreboding as it threatened to simply explode to the surface…the shadowlings seemed to be all-too aware of the terror they inspired despite their small size as they flexed their razor sharp claws in unison, each was clearly eager to leap upon him…

"Sora, above you!" Riku's voice broke the brunette's almost zen-like state of concentration as he tried to keep up his iron-tight defense. He looked up in time to see Riku slaying one of his numerous opponents with a horizontal slash and yet another of the creatures leaping up into the air.

It was different from the others, it was more toned and muscular, and its antennae were far more prominent and wild-looking as time seemed to move in slow-motion for Sora as it fell towards him, claws ready to pierce and tear into him.

Instantly, his reflexes took over, doing what his mind couldn't. His blade rose to meet the dark being in mid-air, neatly cutting into its side and sending it flying into the mass of lesser creatures that surrounded him, creating a hole in their previously impenetrable barrier.

"Sora, run!" Riku yelled as he desperately fought back against the horde that threatened to overwhelm him.

"Wh-what?!" Sora couldn't believe what he was hearing…Riku wanted him to run, to just abandon him and Kairi?!

The silver-haired warrior seemed to realize what was going through his friend's mind even as his defenses began to crack underneath the relentless pressure that the monsters assailed him with. "We'll be fine, we can take care of ourselves, just get out of here!"

"But I-!" Sora was at a loss for words, unsure of what he to do or say. He couldn't just leave them behind, but Riku was right, this was his only hope of escape, however slim it might have been…

The brunette furiously clenched his fist and nodded before spinning around and rushing through the hole in the ranks of the shadow-monsters, striking several with his blade to keep them back in the process. The way out of the city was barred to him, the gate was teeming with more of the creatures, and the hole he had created in their lines pointed away from it anyways…the only way he could go was deeper into the city.

Sora could have sworn he saw Riku shoot him a small smirk before turning his attention back to his own battle.

He could hear at least some of the shadow-monsters as they pursued him, their claws against the paved streets were a very distinctive sound, but he couldn't tell precisely how many were chasing after him, though it was obvious that the majority were focusing their attention on Kairi and Riku.

Sora ran almost blindly through the streets for what felt like an eternity as his pursuers chased him tirelessly. He could feel his own sword and armor weighing him down, stripping him of his energy when he needed it most. He had to lose them somehow…he was gaining distance on them, but not quickly enough!

Sora's eyes scanned his surroundings as best as they could in the inky blackness of the night as he sped through the street. There was an alleyway just to his left! It wasn't an ideal hiding place by any measure, but the sounds of his pursuers' were fairly distant and it was still quite dark! Sora had nothing to lose by at least trying to hide, if he continued to simply run like this, he would surely tire and falter!

He quickly dashed into the alleyway without a second thought, crouching down into the shadows as best as he could with his sword at the ready in case they discovered him. Time seemed to creep by slowly, every second felt like an hour as sweat began to trickle down Sora's forehead as he tried to stay as still as possible, looking for even the slightest sign of discovery.

Nothing happened...he could hear nothing in the dark night as he slowly stood up from his uncomfortable crouch and lowered his blade. The silence was as terrible as it was wonderful…it may have meant that his pursuers had either given up or passed by unseen in the shadows, but it also meant that one way or another Riku and Kairi's battles had ended…Kairi were both extremely skilled fighters, but…his optimistic nature was failing him for once…he had seen how they were struggling with their foes as he ran to escape his own.

He had abandoned them…when they needed him the most, he left them!

Suddenly, there was a faint flicker of movement behind him, a light sound as someone, or rather, something moved behind him. Sora spun around in time to see a clawed and shadowy arm lunge for him and enter his chest. He could barely believe his eyes as it literally tore through his armor and flesh as though it were nothing and yet not one drop of blood was spilt, nor did he feel any pain from it. Instead, Sora felt his entire body freeze and stiffen to the point where he could barely move his head.

A low gasp escaped his lips as he felt his chest and insides tighten unpleasantly…whatever this thing was doing to him, t wasn't for his benefit. Slowly, Sora forced his head to look up the length of the arm, noticing that it was human-sized unlike the other creatures'. The darkness cloaked his assailant, but there was one feature he could made out…

Two horrible, glowing yellow eyes that were level with his as they seemed to stare into his very soul.

Sora open and shut his mout several times, but now words came out as his body began to go limp and his vision darkened…he was fading away…he wouldn't be able to stay conscious much longer.

Riku…Kairi…he had failed them…

Okay, I REALLY would like to apologize for taking so long to get this one out, but like I said, my life's been turned upside down recently…I know it's not much of an excuse, and part of it is/was my laziness, but could you please forgive me for making you wait so long?