My Brother's Keeper

Chapter 17

Heart hammering, Sora runs. He throws open the study's door and charges inside, rushing the black-clad figure.

Arms raised, the intruder stumbles backwards, sprawling on the floor with a heavy clump.

Sora lifts the sword high over his head, preparing to bring it down like a sledgehammer. But as he rains it down, he hears the clang of metal and finds the perpetrator had blocked his attack with two daggers, then suddenly the blob of black lunges up bringing down Sora's rapier and Sora with him, pinning him to the ground.

Without pausing, Sora manages to grip one wrist of the perpetrator and throw him over, rolling so Sora has his hips straddled beneath him, grabbing the glint of light, which is the blade of one of the blob's daggers, and raises it above his head.

"Don't shoot!"

Sora stops short of striking, halted by the familiar voice as well as the wide blue eyes that now peer up at him from behind the black paint smeared around his eyes.

Stunned, Sora lowers the borrowed dagger.

"Wow," Roxas says, a nervous tremor in his voice. "Not bad. I see I taught you well."

Sora instantly gets up and takes a step back as Roxas hoists himself to his feet.

He dusts off his black leather armor, pulling down his mask and hood of his cloak of pure ebony. The charcoal around his eyes only enhances the sky blue of them, along with the small bits of his blonde hair poking out from the hood. Slung over one shoulder, the strap of a fully filled sheath of arrows blends in with his cloak. Roxas picks up the one dagger that got scattered across the floor from their tussle, Sora still holding the other.

Without caring, Sora drops the dagger and lunges for Roxas. Caught off guard for once, Roxas yelps as Sora wraps his arms around Roxas and squeezes so tight he feels like Sora's trying to break him in half.

"Oh, and now you're hugging me." Roxas squeezes his words out.

"Oh thank the gods you're alive! You don't come around, you don't write. I thought Xemnas had killed you, I didn't know what to think, oh and why are you here dressed like this?" Sora rambles.

"Sora, Sora, I'm fine." Roxas coos. "But I, I need to tell you something. Something important."

"Why? W-What's wrong?" Sora urgently asks.

"Sora!" Someone suddenly calls.

Both the boys freeze as they realize it's Riku's voice. Sora's about to turn to Roxas to tell him to hide, but as he turns, Roxas is already gone, his space now vacant.

Roxas is now crammed beneath the mahogany desk poised next to a fireplace along one wall. His feet braced against one end, his pack pressed to the other

"Sora!" Riku calls again, peering in through the door. "There you are, it's time to present you to the crowd."

Both Sora and Roxas' hearts skip a beat in unison. Sora swallows thickly.

"Don't worry about it." Riku gently smiles. He places a hand on Sora's shoulder and for the first time since he came to the kingdom after his father's death, Sora can feel a small sense of Riku's friendship once again. "You'll be fine. The guards will keep you safe from him."

Sora doesn't say anything. He simply lowers his gaze to the floor, carefully peeking over his shoulder. Roxas braces his hands against the top and side of the desk, but his right hand slips. The sound pierces Riku and Sora's ears, and both freeze.

"What was that?" Riku asks, his hand slipping from Sora's shoulder. He heads in the direction of the sound.

"Uh . . . Riku!" Riku turns as Sora wraps his arms around Riku's shoulder. Sora presses close into Riku's frame, and after a second of silence, he feels Riku return his hug. His arms wrap around Sora's lean torso compared to his. Sora stands on his tiptoes and nuzzles into Riku's shoulder. "I'm sorry." Sora mumbles.

Up until now, Sora hadn't taken the time to express to Riku his condolences about the loss of King Ansem, and the sudden burden of responsibility he has so suddenly taken upon. And he has yet to tell Riku that he had listen in on their conversation, but perhaps Riku ensuring him that the guards will protect him is his way of telling Sora about the reinforcements. And still he has yet to admit to Riku about listening in on the meeting.

"Thank you." He hear Riki whisper in reply. He pulls away and caresses Sora's cheek. "I promise I won't let anything happen to you."

Sora feels his cheeks redden as Riku's other hand reaches up and cups his cheek. Riku slowly leans in, and Sora's eyes instinctively flutter shut. As Riku's lips hover torturously over Sora's, there's a creak in the floor, and Sora's eyes snap open. He steps back.

"Um . . . may-maybe not now." He stutters. "I'm, nervous, you know? And I don't know if this'll . . ." he points with interchanging fingers at him and Riku. "But I'll be sure to look for you at the party."

Riku looks to him dazed momentarily, before chuckling and releasing a breathy laugh. He approaches Sora quick enough to take his chin and peck a soft kiss on his lips. Sora doesn't stop the reddening of his cheeks as he stares at Riku's eyes.

Riku kisses his forehead. "Okay. I'll see you at the party." He then brushes past Sora and leaves the study, shutting the door quietly behind him.

Sora stares vacantly at the door for a moment before the thump behind him startles him. He turns to find Roxas sitting atop the large desk, an elbow hooked around his knee. His mask and hood covers his face once again. He arcs an eyebrow at Sora.

"At least it was my creaking and not my vomiting that spoiled the moment." He pesters.

"Oh shut it." Sora sneers. "So, what was it you wanted to tell me?"

Roxas pushes off the desk to stand and starts to rub his hands together in a form of nervousness. "Uh, well it's a little hard to explain."

Axel stands with Demyx tucked away in a corner, dressed in the finer clothes of the nobles, sipping on a glass of wine while brightly colored dresses flutter out as the men spin the woman on the dancefloor. Demyx nibbles on a chocolate filled biscuit, moaning in pleasure at the exquisite taste. Axel approaches and taps his shoulder.

"Any signs of anyone yet?" he whispers.

Demyx shakes his head and heavily swallows his stuffed mouth. "Nope. Will anyone come? I mean, they believe, Jesse is here."

"I doubt Xemnas would miss the execution of the King." Axel remarks. "Be vigilant."

After Roxas had returned to the mansion after he and Axel talked in the treehouse, Axel returned to the castle to look after Xion. Sora was nowhere to be seen, probably swamped with duties and fittings for the party. Axel feels guilty at how worried Sora must've been. Then hours before the party, Sora had paid a visit to their bed chambers. "I want you two to protect and watch my family. They mean more to me than my own life, as am I to them. Please, protect them. You were with Xemnas' organization, hopefully you can be predictable." Sora had given them orders to protect the family, and protect they shall.

Only now with Sora out of their sight, Axel and Demyx can't help but worry.

Then Riku walks back into the ballroom, shutting the ebony doors behind him. Axel doesn't pay much attention to it, but keeps it in mind.

The trumpets sound and the Harold steps up to the throne chairs. Axel weaves his way through the crowd and up to the front. Demyx follows, to people away from him. The Queen arrives from the right in a beautiful purple gown, her hands folded in front of her. She smiles as the guests bow.

Then the King arrives from the left. He wears a black suit with gold rope epaulettes and a red medal about his neck. His pants are red with black boots, and white gloves on his hands. His crown around his head. All the guests bow lower and slowly raise their heads as he motions them to.

"My honored guests, I want to thank you all for joining us in celebrating the coming of age of my son, Prince Sora. No one is more proud, and more honored than I am to have him as a son . . ."

As the King gives his introductory speech, Axel notices shadow movement on the wooden floor. He peers out of the corner of his eye. He signals to Demyx who nods and keeps his gaze forward.

He can hear the click.

An arrow shoots vastly towards the King. Axel is already in front of him, and drawing a sword, knocks the arrow to the side. All attention is drawn to Xigbar as he loads his crossbow again, and next to him is Larxene who leaps off the architrave, diving for the crowd.

People scream and scatter as guards pour into the room. Two already escorting the Queen out.

Demyx immediately begins to run for Xigbar, who loads up his bow and shoots at least five arrows at Demyx. Demyx dodges nimbly, leaping and flipping across furniture and up onto the architrave and draws two sharp daggers.

Xigbar crouches to one knee and aims again, firing still. Demyx jumps forward, knocking aside all of the arrows, and as Xigbar reloads, Demyx rains down, swiping his daggers in an X. Xigbar leaps back, flipping in the process and coming up and shooting instantly.

This time the arrow narrowly misses Demyx's hair as he weaves down and lunges for Xigbar. Demyx instantly spins knocking aside Xigbar's weapons with his right hand, bringing his one leg up to keep it there, while using the other to ram into Xigbar's diaphragm. Xigbar grunts and Demyx grins as he feels the air leave his chest. Still as Xigbar tries to jab Demyx, Demyx simply weaves in and out like a snake.

The guests scream frantic.

Axel pries a shield loose from one of the knight statures posted on guard in all four corners of the room, and uses it against the many of Larxene's deadly daggers. Her skill with them almost legendary, especially one for her age. She flings five in each hand, and Axel manages to block them all. Though several ricochet off the metal, a select few stick into the shield, one barely scrapping against his nose.

"How long can you keep that up?" Axel hears the King ask.

"How long do you need?" Axel shouts over the guests as they're frantically filing out of the ballroom.

"Enough to find my son!"

"No!" Axel denies. "I can't let you out of my sight! Any chance he has, even the slightest, he'll take!"

"I need to find my son!" The King orders. "I won't lose another one to that maniac!"

If only you knew. Axel shakes his head and sighs in aggravation. "Go! Peruse you're son! We'll keep them busy!" as if on cue, Axel ducks his head as a dagger whizzes by, and launches his own at Larxene, as she tries to dodge, Axel chucks the shield at her, and it clocks Larxene in the jaw. To make sure she's out, Axel runs over and slams the hilt of his dagger into the side of her skull, rendering her unconscious. "Demyx, with me!" Axel shouts, drawing one of many throwing dagger clipped to his belt and chucking it towards Xigbar. It sticks to his back and Demyx slams his foot into the side of Xigbar's head.

Several soldiers file into the room ones neither of the men recognized. Assuming they're hired mercenaries for Xemnas, they both decide the best penalty is death. Demyx is quickly behind Axel. The mercenaries attempt to flood the room, but they are held back by the two men. Those in front battle with Axel and Demyx, but their movements seem slow compare to the grace of their opponents'. The King thought they'd struggle against the mercenaries' heavy armor, but the two former members' serrated daggers slice through the mail as if it is butter. The metal melts and smokes purple after each cut, helpless before a powerful magic.

The two men hold strong, but they are pushing back a river of only daggers. Five die at their feet, but the rest press forward, shoving aside their dying comrades. As the mercenaries spread out to surround them, the two assassins flip back and away, their bodies curling around sword strikes as if their bones are water.

"Run, man!" Demyx shouts. The King sprints down the hall and into a long corridor. He glances out the rows of windows, his heart shuddering at the sight. Pouring through the front gates in frightening numbers are various mercenaries wearing the organization standard. With his wife safe and evacuated, The King checks the closest rooms near the ballroom.

"What? That's crazy." Sora denies as Roxas had told him about the cloak spell Xemnas had Zexion cast upon him.

"I know it does, but I'm not kidding, Sora. This is serious." Roxas argues. "If I see the King or any recognition of him, I become a monster. I have no control." Roxas emphasizes. "I'm a danger to both you and out father. You have to get your court mage to help me."

Sora nervously ruffles his spiky hair. "I'm afraid my father sent her with our general of the guard to heal wounded soldiers."

"Fuck."

Screams can be heard down the hall.

As the boys pace the room together, the doorknob to the study rattles. Both boys look up in unsison.

The King pushes through the door and makes direct eye contact with Sora.

"Sora! Oh thank the gods you're okay!" he breathes. "We need to get out! There's -"

Then King's eyes drift over Sora's shoulder, and Sora feels a chill as he knows he sees Roxas, but dressed in the armor of his guild. His father instantly glares.

"No. No, no!" Sora blocks the path between his father and Roxas, holding out his hands. "Dad, please listen! This isn't what you think, this is -"

Sora looks over his shoulder to Roxas, about to smile, but his voice catches in his throat; seized into silence as he watches Roxas' eyes dilate, the pinprick of fear at their core expanding, consuming the blue of his irises until nothing remained. Nothing except for two black coin-size holes. The charcoal pain around his eyes darkens along with his entire uniform.

Sora feels a tremble start all over. He reaches for him but stops short as black wisps of cloudlike ink whisper out from behind his shoulders. The darkness surrounds him. Sora watches as Roxas' lip contorts into a vicious snarl, and draws his dagger spinning it between his fingers before raising it above his head.

"No. No, no, Rox -!"

He charges for the King.

For an instant, Sora flashes back to the marketplace where Roxas charged to two men after being in shock of the death of his fellow comrade Luxord. He was screaming, and his pain was emotional. He had no control. Just as he does now. Waves of shadows that roll off his body like smoke from a fire.

Sora instinctively draws his rapier, despite it being useless for battle. He goes to block Roxas' strike for his neck, but instantly feels Roxas kick him in his side; hard enough to knock Sora out of the way and into the wall. Pain ruptures his spine and travels up to the back of his head.

"Sora!" he hears his father cry.

Roxas spins and lunges for the King, to dodges to the side, but Roxas whirls low, jabbing his elbow in the King's side before placing himself in front of the King and ramming his head upwards, nailing the King in the jaw. Without pausing, Roxas grabs the King by the back of his head and hauls it down while drawing his knee upwards. Roxas then grabs the King about the neck by his elbow and rotates chucking him over to the desk, and kicking him so harshly in the stomach that the desk dents.

Sora pushes to his feet and without a weapon charges for Roxas. He doesn't know what he'll do, but he just has to stop him. Survival. That's all that matters.

Roxas can easily sense him coming and whirls around, grabbing Sora's wrist and pressing a hand to Sora's shoulder, knocking him into the nearby bookshelf. Many dark colored tomes fall to the floor. Sora feels a pain crackle along his skull and the room blurs. Roxas yanks Sora off and spins and kicks Sora in the stomach. Sora still has enough sense to roll up onto his hands and knees.

"Father and son?" he hears Roxas say. His tone deep and throaty, and Sora can hear his lips are in a smile. "My lucky day."

Sora frantically looks all around and manages to garb an abandoned dagger on the floor. But just as he's picked it up, Roxas knocks into him again, this time bashing into a wall, and tries to wrestle the dagger out of Sora's grip. Sora fights him with all his remaining strength and tries to call to his brother.

"Roxas! Stop this!"

Roxas ceases his tugging for a moment, and in that moment Sora loosens his grip. Roxas the yanks the dagger easily out of his hands and punches Sora square in the jaw. Sora falls to the floor.

Still Sora struggles to his hands and knees. Roxas draws a short sword from its sheath and as he's about to strike, he leans his head to the side and feels a books whiz past his head. The King lashes out in a single smooth motion, the blade bathed gleaming in the light. Roxas falls backwards, his spine arching and his knees bending. After the sword passes harmlessly above him, he snaps forward lunging with her blades, swinging them in a dance that is beautiful to behold. The King wields his sword with both hands, needing the grip on to hang on when Ro9xas smacks it aside with his blades. One scrapes against the King's plate mail and catches in a crease while the other gouges the flesh underneath the King's chin.

Sora hadn't seen his father fight before and could tell he was well experienced; but compared to Roxas, Roxas is like a ghost. Nearly every swing his father makes seems to cut air. Blood splatters across the uniform on his chest. His wrist has been cut, though Sora has no clue how. The King steps back and thrusts. Roxas parries with his left hand, then steps forward and slashes his father's right wrist. Desperate, the King twists so the blow strikes the thin pauldron atop Roxas' shoulder. It did, and the pain is brutal, but the deep bruise is far better than the gash it would've given his neck.

"Dad, no!" Sora screams. As if striking a flint inside his chest, Sora's next words come out angry. "Don't hurt him!"

Sora grabs the dagger once more and runs in between Roxas and his farther as Roxas raises his dagger. Dora doesn't see the dagger go in, but feels it. Pain spreads through his arm, and there's a heinous twisting sensation before he can feel the ripping sensation. The ripping of his skin, tissue. Sora screams in pain as warmth runs down his arms and fills his hand. He somehow turns to face Roxas who only continues his onslaught by punching Sora left and right, blood smearing on his knuckles. Sora can feel a stream run down over his lips. Bloody nose. Then with another kick, he's out of the way.

His father cries for him, and Roxas only spins the sword in his hands. The King lunges again, but Roxas sidesteps grabbing the King's forearm and jabbing with his opposite elbow. The King stumbles back and into the wall. Roxas slams his knee into the side of his head and the King is finally unconscious.

Sora shakily pushes to his feet. Out of his blurry vision he sees Roxas spin the sword in his hand, carefully approaching the King. Sora quickly mumbles a healing spell and feels his body lighten. When he pushes himself up, he sees a pool of blood where he was lying. Still he can only manage to sit upright, standing would be to challenging.

Sora pleads to Roxas. "Roxas!" He sees Roxas merely glance over his shoulder. "Roxas, stop!"

Roxas merely turns back and slowly raise his sword. "The burden of death approaches!" Roxas shouts.

"Roxas, no! NO!"

This time Roxas cringes at Sora's shriek. Then he lowers his arm, and holds his head. Sora feels a flicker of hope spark in his chest. Roxas waddles back and forth for a few seconds before shaking his head and completely lowering his weapon. Sora relaxes as he turns to him.

"Sora?" Roxas' voice quakes.

Sora looks to find Roxas' eyes normal, but for the first time, childish. He shakes as he holds his weapon, his eyes like that of a scared child. They begin to water.

"Sora, w-what . . .?" he begins to as, but stops when he sees the gash on Sora's arm, the blood drying at his nose and the forming bruises about his cheeks. Roxas begins to shake more as he agonizingly looks down at his hands. Sora's blood is smeared across knuckles and long the hilt of his dagger. Roxas comes undone, just like before in the marketplace. "No. No, no, no, no, no."

Sora pushes to his feet. "Roxas. Roxas it's fine. It's okay." Roxas looks to Sora and his arm, the blood streaming down, older drips already drying. Roxas shakes his head and takes a step back. Sora springs to his feet. "No, no, no. Roxas it's fine. I'm fine." Sora tries to coo. "It's nothing."

Roxas shakes his head, tears streaming down his cheeks. He backs out of the room.

"No, Roxas wait! Roxas!"

Roxas runs out of the room and down the long corridor. There's the sound of a scuffle that draws Roxas' attention to the ballroom, but he doesn't stop running. He only sees the brief flash of red and bodies on the floor.

His cheeks are hot and wet with tears he didn't feel beginning. He would clap his hand over his mouth to stifle his scream, but with his dirtied hands, he lets it howl through the halls of the caste.

His mask still covering his face, and hood over his head, he bursts through the large doors and into the courtyard. There the guests are gathered around the fountains and scattered about with guards standing practically shoulder to shoulder bordering the room.

Immediately the guests closest to the doors look and the women instantly scream. Roxas still remembers the blood on his hands and his weapons still drawn.

"Someone help!" A woman in an orange dress screams. "Assailant!"

The crowd erupts into the screams as Roxas looks around, and then charges forward, sheathing his weapon. The crowd parts for him, guests practically leaping out of the way yet their eyes cling to him as he passes. As he heads for the main gate, he suddenly leaps to the side as a dagger ticks to the spot where his foot was seconds ago.

Roxas lands on his toes gracefully and keeps his hand on the hilt of his sword. He looks up and sees Riku standing with a few guards of his kingdom behind him. In his one hand is a tapering sword, the hilt bejeweled. Roxas almost wants to laugh at how he could possibly think that something so fancy could possibly be a good weapon.

"You!" Riku's eyes filter to hatred. "Murderer!" he practically screams.

Roxas instantly spins on his heels and bolts for the doors. Guards ready themselves, but Roxas throws two dagger, end over end they spin until the hilts knock into their heads. Throwing a third, Roxas jabs the mechanism controlling a drawbridge that leads out to the main atrium of the village. Then as Roxas hears several guards gaining, he breathes heavily and pulls a small ball from his belt. Roxas whirls around and throws the ball at the guards. It explodes with a brief bright flash, and smoke clouds up around them.

The crowd continues to scream and it filters out to the village as Roxas sprints through. Throwing one last dagger, the mechanism shrieks and screams, shutting the rustic gates behind him.

"You slippery little whore!" one guard shouts.

"Come back and fight you cold-blooded coward!"

Hidden in the shadows, Roxas breathes heavily through his mask. He sobs into his hands, the scent of crimson making him feel sick. He looks at his hands and shakes uncontrollably. Shouts start to rumble from behind him, growing in volume. On shaky legs, he hauls himself to his feet and stumbles a few times before continuing to run through the village and through the main gates of the outer wall.

With both the organization and the castle guards of two kingdoms after him, his instincts are the only thing he can trust. He tries to keep the image of Sora out of his mind.

Maybe Lexaeus was right. Maybe he can't abandon what he's always known.

Escape. That's all that matters now.

He needs to escape.

Tears still streaming down his cheeks, a scream still clawing at his throat, Roxas sprints through the village, pushing aside anyone in his way and into the forest beyond.

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