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Departure This land had seen many changes in the sky and it was destined to see many more, but on this particular night, Xehanort felt that the sky looked more vast and glorious than ever before. It could just have been the emotional significance of the moment, but as he gazed up into the deep reaches of the beyond, he didn’t think the world had ever shown him a more beautiful sky. Skies were full of promise, Xehanort knew. Skies were something every world had in common. Dividing them, but also connecting them. Skies themselves were the limitless containers of limited worlds and Xehanort had long since grown tired of limits. The time had come to go further than the sky; to trek beyond its reach. No matter how beautiful it was, Xehanort needed to do more than look at it. The stars were out, each of different shapes and sizes but ever twinkling and shining as they always did and perhaps always would. They were so far away but Xehanort also knew that these too were never out of reach. Xehanort felt himself tingle with anticipation, knowing that he was finally about to close the gap forever. He felt almost more free than he did the day he left his boyhood home. In some respects, he had just travelled from one prison to another, but he had done so without any knowledge of what lay beyond. This time, he was truly ready. And this time, he would be alone. Xehanort stepped forward and continued down the steps, heading directly out of the castle that he had called home for so many years. To leave this way was a little riskier but to leave any other way felt wrong. Xehanort was determined to leave the Land of Departure the way he’d entered it, even if nobody was there to see it. Xehanort respected this world and all that it had done for him. It was a dignified way to see it off. The only sounds to be heard were his own footsteps; the night was still. Xehanort reached the bottom of the stairs and continued to the centre of the large round courtyard where he came to a stop. He let the moment sink in and in many ways felt relieved that everything was over, but still there was a strong sense of nostalgia. He had an emotional attachment to this place that would hopefully go away with time. He looked up at the boundless sky once again and let out a long cathartic sigh. “Leaving without saying goodbye?” Xehanort spun around in surprise to see who had spoken, but somehow he had still expected this on some level. He knew the voice and the face he turned to look at was just as familiar. It was impressive that Xehanort hadn’t noticed him and he’d been certain that nobody would be out here at this time, but of course, here he was anyway. Eraqus. Xehanort had to correct himself; he was Master Eraqus now. It was a new title they both shared after a long time spent preparing for it. He was sitting on the wall at an edge of the courtyard, his hands resting beside him as he watched Xehanort from a distance. He hadn’t spoken loudly, but the stillness of the night allowed him to be heard clearly. He was a young man in a white tunic that contrasted Xehanort’s dark clothes. His hair was black and wavy where Xehanort’s was silver and sharp. His grey-blue eyes gazed into Xehanort’s golden ones and as they did, Xehanort felt more distant from his fellow pupil than he had ever done before. Xehanort lowered his gaze to the ground, trying to mask any sadness he felt with indifference. “My mind is made up,” he stated bluntly. “Now that both of us have become keyblade Masters and you have been named our Master’s successor, there is no reason for me to stay here.” He raised his eyes again and looked back at Eraqus once more with a colder look. “My future is out there.” Eraqus looked back at him quietly for a moment before he broke out into a soft chuckle and hopped off the wall. “I never said I was here to stop you,” he said kindly. “I’m asking why you’re leaving without saying goodbye.” Xehanort frowned with the faintest hint of embarrassment and looked away while he paused to give his next answer more carefully. “…What good would that do?” he asked vacantly. “Come on, Xehanort,” Eraqus frowned and stepped forward, out of the shadows. “Don’t you owe that to me? We’re friends, right?” Xehanort turned his head further away from Eraqus. A sad silence took over the conversation while Eraqus sighed. Xehanort didn’t know what the right thing to say was and part of the reason he’d tried to slip away was the fact that he didn’t care. Or perhaps he just didn’t want to care. After all, the hardest thing about having a bond was letting it go. The land that Xehanort had seen as both a home and a prison was one thing. His fellow prisoner was another. It was as if Eraqus could tell what Xehanort was feeling. “And here I thought you didn’t like things to be easy,” he teased, the smile back on his face as he moved back into Xehanort’s field of vision and stood in front of him. Xehanort raised his eyes again to look directly at him; the two former students facing each other directly. Both of them became suddenly aware of how serious this all was and a few seconds went by while they simply looked at each other. One look that conveyed a lot more than they likely would have with words. Xehanort could see in Eraqus what Eraqus could likely see in Xehanort: Their lives were about to become lonelier than either of them were used to. “The Master is going to miss you,” Eraqus said sadly. “I doubt that,” shrugged Xehanort. “Well, I’m going to miss you,” Eraqus smirked. “Yes,” Xehanort nodded slowly. “Though I can’t fathom why.” Eraqus laughed and then gestured over his shoulder, to the hills in the distance. “Come on, Xehanort,” he urged. “It’s our last chance. One more game?” Xehanort contemplated his offer and found himself unable to resist it. “All right” he responded, finally wearing a smile of his own. “One more game.” That was how the two of them later found themselves atop the hill where they used to train, on a flat area near the top where lampposts had been set up to light the surroundings at night. The night was no less still and the sky was no less clear, but all of that seemed so much less significant now. Xehanort and Eraqus were sitting beneath one of the lampposts, playing chess as they had done so before so many times. The game was still enjoyable and their usual conversation had been brisk, but even this had found itself amongst a certain stillness. Both men knew this would be the last time they would see each other in a long time, but neither of them knew how to make the moment count. It had been a while since either had spoken. Eventually, Xehanort broke the silence as he made his next move. “The Master was wise to select you as his successor,” he said quietly. “You were the right choice.” Eraqus glanced at him before returning his focus to the game. “Do you really think that lowly of yourself?” he asked while he contemplated. “No, you misunderstand,” answered Xehanort indifferently. “I don’t belong here. I need to explore and discover things for myself; I’ll never be satisfied without the answers. You were a more stable student than I, who could never live the way our Master did.” For a moment, something bristled in Xehanort involuntarily. It went unnoticed by Eraqus, but in that instant, Xehanort felt something he didn’t expect. Bitterness? Jealousy? Did a part of Xehanort want this life? Did a part of him resent his own heart’s longing for more? Xehanort couldn’t be sure. His ambition and curiosity almost defined him. How could he possibly resent that? What else could he want from himself? He regained focus and saw that Eraqus had already made his next move and was looking at him. “It’s because you always resisted the Master’s teachings,” he pointed out. “To be honest, I always thought you were better than me… At everything.” Xehanort looked at Eraqus in soft surprise; he’d never known Eraqus could feel that competitive towards him. Did Eraqus perhaps even look up to him? He was a couple of years younger than Xehanort, but that hadn’t made much of a difference in Xehanort’s mind. Still, if Xehanort was honest with himself, he’d always subconsciously felt somewhat superior to Eraqus as well. He chose not to say this and returned his attention to the chess board. “You were cleverer than me,” Eraqus went on, “more talented than me, stronger than me… You were the model student. You just couldn’t accept the Master’s teachings. It was your one flaw: You had to question everything. If you just had better judgement, it would have been you being named successor, not me.” Xehanort made his next move. “It is the role of a teacher to teach,” he responded evenly. “It is the role of a student to learn. You can’t learn anything if you never question what you’re being taught.” He straightened up, a sign that he was on the verge of a lecture. “I don’t think we should just accept that it’s our job to safeguard. Is that really all there is for us to learn? It’s too simple. There has to be more to this. More for us to do. More to see. Maybe there’s a way for us to make a difference to the state of the World. Find the truth amidst the legend. How can we do that by staying here as part of a stagnant cycle? That isn’t good enough.” Eraqus listened to him quietly while Xehanort spoke. In the game, Xehanort had him cornered with an excellent strategy and Eraqus was stuck. He was thinking very carefully about his next move while he let Xehanort talk. Moments of passion like this were rare, but they let Eraqus see a more thoughtful side to Xehanort and gave him much to think about. Xehanort stood up and held out his hand. There was a flash of light as a weapon appeared in his hand. It was metallic in an elaborate pattern with strange imagery etched across it. It stretched out like a sword with a round hilt enclosed around the handle where a chain dangled off the end of it. Xehanort’s keyblade. Most keyblades took a form that reflected their wielder’s heart, but the keyblades wielded by Master Xehanort and Master Eraqus were recently inherited ones. A parting gift, in Xehanort’s case. A piece of history to receive before he went out to make his own history. Xehanort held it up and examined it now. “The keyblade,” he continued. “Look at it. Feel it. What is its true purpose? What is its full story? To be a simple tool used to destroy darkness? It must be more than that. There has to be more to the story than what our Master has told us.” Now Eraqus stood up and there was an edge to his voice as he looked directly at Xehanort. “What if there isn’t, Xehanort? What if you’re wrong? What if you go out there and when you looking for answers, there aren’t any to find?” Xehanort looked back at him curiously. “It will still be better than staying here and never knowing for sure.” Eraqus scoffed and walked away a few paces before rounding on Xehanort again. “You don’t trust people! That’s your problem. You never talk about where you grew up even though there’s apparently nothing to tell and you won’t even give the one who taught you everything you know about the keyblade the benefit of the doubt when it comes to what you know about it.” “I never talk about where I grew up because there’s nothing to tell,” Xehanort replied with a hard voice. He let the keyblade vanish, deciding it would be wise to continue this conversation without it. “And the Master is wise. I am grateful to him, truly, but he cannot know everything there is to know and how will I know if he’s wrong about something unless I test what he’s taught?” “So what are you going to do?” Eraqus challenged him. “Turn to the darkness? Become the very thing we’ve been trained to stop? The Master warned us about these things for our own good!” “Did he!?” Xehanort challenged him back, anger slipping into his voice. “How do you know he’s trying to protect us and isn’t just too afraid of something he doesn’t understand? What if it’s something helpful? What if it’s something powerful? What if it’s something that could give us the whole truth?” Xehanort’s frustrations rose and suddenly he was almost shouting. “Why are you so afraid of the darkness!?” There was a long pause while the two young keyblade Masters stared each other down. Eraqus was taking his time before he gave his answer, allowing the two of them to calm down. The silence was deafening and Xehanort became aware of how loud his breathing was in contrast to it. How had he come this close to losing his composure? And more importantly, why? Looking straight into Xehanort’s eyes, Eraqus replied. “Because I’m afraid I’ll lose you to it,” he said sadly. Xehanort’s resolve melted. He lowered his gaze and turned away vacantly. He couldn’t get through to Eraqus’ absolutes and in his heart he could now see why Eraqus had them. Fear and love. It was an overwhelming pity and Xehanort felt shame for the differences between him and Eraqus. Xehanort had always scoffed at the proverb that “ignorance is bliss” having no greater disdain for anything other than ignorance, but he was faintly aware of a mild desire to know the bliss behind that phrase. To be someone who didn’t seek answers all the time. To be more like Eraqus. It could never be, of course. It wasn’t in his nature nor was it in his heart. Xehanort would always be a seeker of darkness while Eraqus would be more suited for the role of guardian of light. That’s the way things were. Right here, in this moment, Xehanort hoped with all his heart that this divergence in destiny would never divide the two of them more than it had been doing now. Xehanort moved vaguely back to the board and sat down. He needed to distract himself and saw almost immediately that Eraqus had only been pretending to be stuck. He’d already made his move that had not only accounted for Xehanort’s trap, but set up an excellent counter, leaving Xehanort low on options. Xehanort had never seen it coming. “I daresay you’ve become better at this,” Xehanort murmured. Eraqus returned to the board but didn’t sit down. He just smiled at Xehanort despite clearly having no joy to express. Xehanort merely reached forward and made the final move. “Stalemate,” he declared. “An unsatisfying conclusion to a never-ending battle. A fitting result for the end of my time here, wouldn’t you say?” Eraqus just stared at the board in disbelief, which made Xehanort almost want to grin. “Do you ever run out of contingency plans?” he asked with a smile. Xehanort shrugged. “I guess I’ll find out once I’m out there,” he surmised, looking up at the sky. “Speaking of which, I should probably go now.” Eraqus’ posture fell slightly but he made an effort to keep smiling. “Take care of yourself, Master Xehanort. You’re going to be a great Keyblade Master.” Xehanort looked at Eraqus fondly. “As will you, Master Eraqus.” He turned to go. “Wait, Xehanort.” Eraqus called to him. Xehanort stopped and turned his head, waiting to hear what he had to say. “Just tell me, just once. I need to hear it from you.” There was something strange in Eraqus’ voice. “We are friends, right?” Xehanort turned around to face him properly, surprise written across his face. He just looked at Eraqus, who nervously looked back. “I just…” Eraqus continued. “I can never really tell what you’re thinking or feeling and… We don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things and… you don’t…” he trailed off and saw Xehanort still staring at him in bewilderment. Eraqus sighed in frustration and walked over to Xehanort. Xehanort felt his wrist being taken as Eraqus pulled it up and put something in his hand. “It’s just a gift,” Eraqus told him. “A keepsake. Something for me to give you before you go. You don’t have to keep it; in fact, you can throw it away if you want. Maybe I’m not your friend, maybe you don’t even like me, but I’m just giving it to you because you’re my friend.” Eraqus smiled despondently. “You always have been.” Xehanort looked at the gift and felt himself gasp. It was a seashell. “Don’t ask me how I got it,” Eraqus told him, backing away slowly. “But I know that you came from a place with a beach and I figured I’d give you something to remember it by. Then again, you never seemed to miss your home, so I guess it was a dumb idea. I just thought if you ever wanted to look back instead of forward, you could…” he trailed off again and turned away. “Forget it.” He started to walk away. “No,” Xehanort said. “Huh?” Eraqus turned back to Xehanort in surprise. In that time, Xehanort closed the gap between them and had put a hand on Eraqus’ shoulder firmly. “No,” repeated Xehanort. “We aren’t friends.” Eraqus’ face fell and he gave a nod of affirmation, as though he had expected this. “Oh,” he said quietly. “I see.” Xehanort reached over with his other hand, placing it on Eraqus’ other shoulder and looked into his eyes. “You are my brother,” he told him. Eraqus’ eyes widened and his face froze as he registered what Xehanort had said. Xehanort smiled and spoke gently. “You are the only friend I have ever had and you will always be my little brother. If I haven’t done enough to show that, I am so sorry, but it will always be true. No matter how different we may be, no matter where we may go or what we may do or even how we may change, you will always be in my heart.” Xehanort let go of a stunned Eraqus and put a hand to the plate of armour on his shoulder. At once there was a flash of light and he became clad in his keyblade armour, covering him from head to toe. It was heavy and strong, offering protection from both physical blows and the darkness of the lanes between worlds that it was designed for. For now, Xehanort would continue to bear it to start his journey. He turned away and headed for the broken bridge. It had a few names among the residents of this world, but Xehanort and Eraqus had always known it as the broken bridge. It was a stone structure that jutted out from the hilltop before falling away to the ground before. The keyblade wielders in training would use it to practice summoning and using their keyblade gliders. How long ago that had been for Xehanort. It almost felt like his infancy. He walked to the edge of the broken bridge and gazed at the horizon. Now he was definitely ready. “Do yourself a favour and get some students!” Eraqus called to him as Xehanort summoned his keyblade. “If there’s one thing you’ll be good at, it’s teaching. Besides, you shouldn’t be too alone. Get someone to challenge you for a change! See how you like it!” Xehanort glanced back at Eraqus and saw he was grinning happily. Though Eraqus couldn’t see Xehanort’s face through his helmet, he smiled at his old friend one last time before opening a portal in the air and transforming his keyblade into the glider that would carry him through it. He had meant every word that he’d said. Even now he held Eraqus’ shell in his hand and clasped it tightly. He took one last look back at his brother pupil while he waved Xehanort off. “Goodbye,” Xehanort whispered. With his adrenaline pumping, he shot his glider forward into the pathway and departed the Land of Departure. He never looked back ever again. ------------- This is a short story I wrote for the giveaway contest. I always enjoy writing little bits and pieces and contests like this are fun opportunities to get creative. It's a story from Xehanort's perspective, which I tried to keep as accurate to the games and characters as possible. I tried to throw in little nods to the series as a whole with it but also try and accurately represent how an encounter like this might have gone. Xehanort is such an interesting character to write for, especially when exploring his emotional side, which would be more apparent in a younger less knowledgeable version of him. The relationship between him and Eraqus is as interestingly tragic as it is underdeveloped and I wanted to give their past together a little love. I hope you enjoy the story. ------- Xehanort Report 8 My brother pupil Eraqus thinks only in absolutes. He has persuaded himself that light is the only way, but forgets that light cannot exist without shadow. I believe a balance of light and darkness is what sustains our World, but too much of the darkness has been stamped out, disrupting that balance. Someone must tear down this tyranny of light and reorganize the World around the darkness which then creeps back in. Eraqus and I did not see eye to eye. I left, and wandered the World. This was perhaps the first time I felt truly free since that day I departed my boyhood home. But free to do what? I had already shown the Mark and become a Keyblade Master—but having been passed over as Successor, all that remained to me was the road of teacher. Ordinarily, Keyblade Masters take pupils under their wings, malleable minds in which to impress the precepts of the Keyblade wielder and keep our profession alive for generations to come. Was my time drawing to an end, then, after all I had accomplished since casting away the place of my birth? Surely waiting for a quiet death would not do, not when there was still so much I needed to see for myself. Powers help me, I thought, my body is so old…