My Brother's Keeper

Chapter 18

Sora finishes off tying his arm in gauze, the blood already seeping through the material, as his father groans awake.

"Dad!" Sora exclaims.

After Roxas ran out of the castle, Sora would've followed if he wasn't concerned with the state of injury his father was in. Sora had managed to haul his father over to the couch located in the corner of the room. Axel and Demyx came into the room once they were sure that Xemnas' minions were clear of the castle. Axel said he's seen Roxas do worse when not mind controlled, the worst the King had was probably some harsh bruising.

The King pushes to a sitting position, holding his head.

"Dad?" Sora carefully speaks.

"Sora!" The King instantly gathers him in a hug and Sora sighs in relief, returning the hug without hesitation. Axel and Demyx stand around them, a weapon still one each of their hands. "Oh thank the gods! Are you alright, son? He nearly had you!"

"I'm fine, Dad but please you have to listen." Sora pleads.

"Men," The King says referring to Axel and Demyx. "If you'll excuse us."

Without argument, Axel taps Demyx's arm and with a small hesitating, Demyx follows Axel out of the room.

Then the King then gets up and walks towards the door. "Sora, I need you to stay here."

Sora leaps to his feet, already knowing his fathers' intentions. "No, Dad! Wait! It's not what you think!"

"I finally have that man's prized pupil in my grasp, and with it tonight I will avenge your brother!" The King argues.

"No! Dad, you have to listen!" Sora pleads.

Without bothering to turn around, the King shuts and locks Sora in the study. "What are you doing?!" Sora demands.

"I will not risk losing you to that man, Sora. I need you hear, safe."

"Dad, please listen to me, just listen, you can't!"

But his father is securing the door and already descending down the stairs. Sora calls to him, screaming trying to yell that it's his brother, but the King isn't' listening. He pushes through the doors to the courtyard where he finds the guests all rather in shock as Riku and a few of his guards come walking back into the courtyard.

"What happened?" he demanded.

"We spotted the perpetrator, the same one who murdered my father running out of the castle, but the slimy little bastard slipped through the gate and is now headed north." Riku informs.

"Alright, I'll take the guards and head him off. You stay here, and take this." he hands Riku the key to the study. "I have Sora locked inside."

"What?"

"I don't want to risk having him rush into battle if I shall be facing that monster of a man." The King barks. "Don't let him out, I need you and your remaining enforces to guard the castle and make sure the guests return home safe."

"Yes, your majesty."

From the shadows of the awning, Axel and Demyx gaze upon Riku and the King. They watch as he hands the key to Riku.

"What do we do?" Demyx asks Axel, the hood of his cloak creating obscuring shadows to hide his young features.

"We need to see Sora." Axel says, but then suddenly their names are called.

Both men look up to see the King approaching.

"I need you men with me." He demands. His voice is sharp with derision, but beneath it Axel hears the kind of fathomless grief that drags one under until they no longer care if they ever find the surface again. Axel can recognize the fury that drives him. Axel once used something like it as fuel to give him a reason to face one more day. To take one more step forward, even though it means leaving behind the life he once thought he'd have.

"What about Sora." Axel states, more rather than asking.

"I won't lose another heir to that monster. You once aided him, you should know Xemnas' maneuvers."

"The man is as unpredictable as mother nature." Demyx interjects. "We can only predict what we've seen, and each time, it's different."

"He'll have his men at the ready. The mercenaries are probably just his warning." Axel adds.

"Then I shall bring him my message as well. I want that man's head on a pike." The King growls.

The trembling starts in his fingertips and spreads up his arms, and soon his body is shuddering. Sora instantly begins to panic; but he can't panic now. Sora looks around the room and his eyes instantly find the poker to the fireplace. With quick feet he grabs it and charges and door. The poker sticks, but doesn't penetrate through the door. Sora wedges it between the crack and pushes forward hoping to pry it. But the poker only bends at a sharp ninety degree angle. Sora growls and chucks it across the room.

Outside he hears his father and his men rally their horses. He quickly rushes to the window and peeks out, but can't see from the sprinklings of early raindrops. He tries to see through the murk, but can only make out the small yellowy dots of torches in the men's hand, and the muffled thundering of hooves.

Sora takes the poker once again and jabs it through the glass, making sure to knock out all of the bits of glass before bearing his head towards the window. The pounding of hooves is nearly deafening and he watches as his father leads the pool of guards through the gates. Sora's heart wrenches as he sees Axel and Demyx riding behind his father, at the front of the pack. He believes that they're going to help simply to protect Roxas, so he uses that reasoning to ease the weight, but it only means that he's alone here, with no one to help break him out. And with his lockpicking skill only at a below novice, he is stuck in the room with no knowledge of who has the key.

As the men ride over the stone bridge and into the forest, Sora can't stop the image of Roxas dying at the hands of his own father. For one terrible instant, his father's face blurs and bends until Xemnas stands before him, his sword dripping with Roxas' blood in a river of crimson that refuses to stop no matter how hard he begs.

Sora collapses on the bay window seat and falls to his side, sobbing into his hands.

It's better to scream than cry, so he screams and pounds his fists into the cushioned seat. His hands bounce off, but he pounds again, so hard that his knuckles throb.

Somehow he pushes himself to stand and faces the door once more. He kicks at it, his feet bouncing off, but he pounds again and again, then pulls back and throws his shoulder into the wall. The impact makes it crackle across his chest.

Then the crazy idea hits him. Sora takes a still glowing bit of log and hurries it to the fire. Sora gently sets the log to the door, and the corner slowly begins to tickle with flames. Sora presses it closer, feeding the flame and soon the corner is covered in fire. The flames lick their way up the bottom and side of the door.

It isn't until it reaches the doorknob does Sora realize his stupidity. He can't open the door now. The knob will be too hot. The pain in Sora's arm throbs and he needs to lean against the wall to help suppress it and breathes. The worst thing that can happen to him now is he dies in the fire. Sora presses his forehead to the charring wood, the heat braising his chin, and laughs. That's the worst thing he can imagine. His laugh turns to a sob.

If he refuse to give up now, he can still save his brother, but sometimes it isn't fighting that's brave, its facing death you know is coming.

Suddenly as he slides to the floor, ready to admit defeat, he hears his name called.

"Riku?"

Sora scrambles to his feet and peeks out through the keyhole. Gods be praised, he finds Riku coming up the steps.

"Riku!"

"Sora?" he hears his muffled voice come through the wood. "Are you alright?"

"No!" Instantly snaps. "You need to let me out!"

"Wait, wait Sora calm down." Riku coos trying to see what it is that's making the boy so panicked. But his eyes soon widen at the sight of small wisps of smoke billowing up from below the crevice of the doorway.

"I can't! I need to get out of here and stop my father!" Sora shouts.

"Your father is only looking out for you. You want to try and stop him from killing his greatest threat? And what are you trying to do?! Kill yourself?"

"I'm trying to stop him from killing my brother!"

The ground raced by beneath Roxas' pounding feet, the chilled autumn air stinging his lungs. As he ran, Roxas feels his body enter that uncomfortable place of being warm on the inside but cold with sweat on the outside. He knew he'd pay later for not having warmed up or anything before launching straight into a full-out run. His arms pumping at his sides, he continues. He glances skyward. Through the smattering of clouds, three early night stars shine in the deepening blue, but it isn't completely dark yet.

His path narrows to a single, twisting lane of asphalt. Rows of trees and thick underbrush emerge on either side of him. The farther into the woods he runs, the denser the surrounding trees grows.

Overhead, the interlocking patchwork of hanging boughs work to transform his pathway into a darkening tunnel. Through the lacework of limbs, thick clouds inch by. Darkness creeps in around him, spreading its fingers through the trees, working to smear them into a single black blur.

Roxas slows to a stop so he can catch his breath. He leans forward, clasping his knees, his own huffing all but reverberating in the silence. He glances over his shoulder at the darkening stretch of road behind him, black like a ribbon of ink.

Quiet.

Everything around him stands really still and really . . . quiet.

Something else feels wrong, and it isn't just the stillness.

Since he has stopped running, the air around him has seemed to compress, to grow denser. He can't explain it, but it feels as though the night itself, unnatural in its calmness, has begun to move in on him, to close in tight. The black trees with their skeletal arms tangled in a silent fight for space, he can't help the sudden feeling that, somewhere among them, something watches him, waits for him to move again

He listens.

Nothing but the silence grows, feeding on itself until it becomes a dull roar in his ears.

Just when he starts to think that listening to the eerie nothing might be worse than actually hearing something, a hushing sound – a fast whoosh – breaks through from the line of trees at his right. Roxas jumps, an ice pick of hear stabbing him through the middle so that, for a moment, he forgets how to breathe.

Whatever it was had been big. As in person big.

"Who's there?"

Skoooshh!

Roxas whirls. This sound had come from the trees directly across the road. It comes again from behind. He hears the pop of a branch and the crush of dry leaves. He spins in a circle, and despite the cascade of sudden noise, the rustling and crackling, he can't sense so much as the slightest movement in any direction.

Roxas feels his throat constrict and his chest tighten. His heartbeat speeds to triple time. He turns and breaks once more into a run, taking the dirt trail as hard and as fast as his legs would carry him. His palms, cold and sweaty, tighten around the straps of his dagger hilt, and he feels his sheath of arrows pound against him.

Then slowly the roar of men and pounding of heavy hooves reaches his ears. Roxas shivers. It felt as though he's being hunted by two deadly predators, fearing which one will have the worse death to it.

He can't stop now. They'll follow. They always follow.

His breathing becomes ragged, and his left side aches as if his dagger is lodged within. A few time he had shifted directions, but only to avoid the hills that surround the area. A river is near. He can use it as he must.

This is probably the only time he's glad that Xemnas' kept himself in such great shape. Running from guards seemed like a usual thing, only this time, Roxas did fear for his life, as he's running from not just the guards, but more he fears of what lies in the shadows.

The river ran south from the mountains, passing west of the King's castle and looping a quarter of a mile from the Twilight Kingdom. Despite his aching sides, weak legs, and ragged breath, Roxas manages.

The sound of the hooves draws near, and then the barking of dogs. No wonder they've kept on his trail, the one thing Roxas can't elude, is his scent.

"Damn hounds." Roxas cusses under his breath. Already a stitch the size of a softball has begun to knot itself in his side. He blocks out the pain, pushing through.

He can't stop to scream, but he can't keep going like this, either. His lungs sting from the cold while his sides ache with stiffening pain. Dizziness wafts in around his temples, but he wouldn't stop now. Somehow, he knew that if he could just clear the river, he would make it. He'd be all right. The river is wide, but not deep. They'll cross, but slowly. The hooves and plate mail hindering them.

He stumbles, scrambles, and runs even as his body begs him to stop.

Rest on the other side, he reasons with himself. They may be here at any moment.

As if on cue, an arrow whizzes by his shoulder. Roxas turns and first spots the dots of yellow and orange in the distance. The roaring of men, barking of dogs, pounding of hooves.

Life or death.

The water comes up to his neck, and it is shockingly cold. Roxas' lips turn blue, and his teeth chattering. He tugs itself along, although he can no longer feel his legs, despite the cooling relief it does for his flaming muscles. He dreads the coming feel of open air, but a dim part of him is certain it's still warmer than the water.

A minute later he emerges on the other side. Roxas takes a few steps before crumpling to his knees, doubling over with his arms crossed before his chest. He tries to speak, but his shivering is so severe he can't make the words. Shadows still curl off his body, moving sluggishly as if they too are affected by the cold.

Roxas' hands touch the grass, his fingers digging into the earth.

"Naruta." He hisses. Purple fire erupts in front of him. It burns bright, then fades to the size of a man's head. The fire will bring them to him. But he doesn't have a choice. He can fight the men. He cannot fight the frost.

Roxas looks back to the river. Others would see nothing but dim starlight, but Roxas' eyes see fast better in darkness. The entourage approaches. Half a mile away, perhaps farther. He has enough time for warmth.

"Everyone has abandoned me." he whispers to himself. My soul is already doomed to the abyss. What does one more broken law matter?"

With his back to the fire, Roxas watches, his eyes adjusting to see the crowd standing on the other side. For a moment, the hooves stop, and the men quiet.

"You are determined, servant of Xemnas." He hears the king shout.

"I am fervent." Roxas shouts back. "But you understand so little of the irony that is at hand."

"When you are dead, I will cast your body in the river." The King shouts. "The fish will nibble on your eyes and worms will feed on your guts."

"I shall not fight, my king. It will not be honorable. Not for me. I refuse to cut your flesh with my dagger."

The King and his men laughed.

"Be warned, noble King. There are much worse things in the shadows than I. Both you shall face if you dare take a step. Do you still desire to cross?"

"I am not your only adversary. King Riku has commanded your death and the vengeance of his father. We will cross, and we shall burn your head and leave your body for the wolves."

"Then the die is cast." Roxas swallows heavily.

He pushes to his feet and glares at the King and his men.

"Roxel Rolfelta!"

Immediately water erupted from the ground as if it had thrown up its contents and shifts the river. Roxas runs.

His head suddenly begins to throb. This time he can feel change coming upon him.

Riku unlocks the door, only to save Sora from the suicidal fire he had caused.

But before he could ask Sora what was wrong, Sora barrels past him and down the hallway. Sora pushes open the door into his fathers' armory and retrieve as much as he believes he can carry. He quickly fastens into a leather armor layered with chain mail for protection of his vital organs. He quickly fastens two sheathes of arrows to his back, two serrated daggers, one short sword and a belt of throwing daggers Roxas personally gave him.

As he goes to exit the room, Riku stands in the doorway, confusion on his face. Sora looks him square in the eye.

"Get out of my way."

Riku stays silent.

"It has a lot of explaining, but unless you're going to help me, get out of my way." Sora growls.

Riku stands for a moment, and Sora places his hand on the hilt of his sword. Then with a blink, Riku steps to the side and smirks.

"The horses are ready."

Sora gives him the briefest smile before barreling out the door, Riku on his heels.

Grunting, Roxas holds his head as the throbbing intensifies until his eyes sting from tears. His entire body stiffens, and suddenly burns, like he's stepped into a pile of coal beds. Like from before in the upside-down room he was dragged in, his body begins to feel like his armor is stinging like freshly cut open wounds. His head swims, light and dizzy and free.

His eyes focus in and out and he watches as black dots swim into his vision, but he can't remember getting anything his eyes.

Without another moment, he turns and bolts for the forest. In no time his head begins to throb with the rapid beat of his heart. Soon blackness is all he can see, but somehow he still manages to navigate his way through. But the pains seem to reimburse tenfold as Roxas sprints through. He hears the splattering of water.

Roxas' stomach lurches, and as he glances around for a way out, he spots the dogs seemingly already ahead of the marauders.

Dizziness wafts in around his temples, but he wouldn't stop now. His muscles ache. His stomach churn. His head throbs. Everything hurts.

He can't breathe anymore.

Roxas knows that the more distance he can put between his father and the men, the more control he will have. He needs to keep moving.

Out of the corner of one eye, he thinks he sees the edge of a dark something. Then there's another at his left. Figures, tall and long, rush through the black gate of trees on either side of him, their movements too fast. Impossibly fast.

As he speeds up, so do the dappled forms.

They seem to multiply as, out of his periphery, he spots yet another. This one glides away from the others to rush along the group of trees directly beside him. It moves through the trees, through undergrowth, dashing over the dry ground – a rippling form. Roxas risks a quick glance, head-on, but sees nothing, only blackness and tangled branches and stillness.

Roxas breaks through a clearing, the moonlight the only thing that penetrates the blackness of his eyes. He pushes through, running fast than he's ran before.

He suddenly hears the air whistle.

The pain is sharp and sudden, beginning in his shoulder and spreading outward with fiery fingers. A scream escapes his throat, and he falls, his cheek scraping the blades of grass. Without stopping, Roxas scooches himself up until he's concealed halfway beneath the shadow of a large oak.

Roxas looks down and finds an arrow has penetrated his shoulder; the head poking out just under his cheek. He manages to pluck the head off and tuck it into his belt. Frowning, Roxas tries to reach around and pull the shaft from his shoulder, and feels a sharp pain.

They will find him if he does this, but he needs to be as ready should he have to face his father.

Gritting her teeth, Roxas carefully reaches around, trying to keep his injured shoulder steady, and grips the fletchers. Roxas screams into his teeth as the pain races through him, making everything go black for a moment. But he keeps pulling, as quick and hard as he can, until the front end sinks back into his chest.

Roxas gags, grasps the head in his fingertips, and pulls one last time. This time, the arrow comes free. He forcefully coughs a couple times, but nothing comes up, so it didn't pierce his lung. The arrow is smeared with his blood. He ignores the blood running down his chest.

With the men distracted enough, Roxas took the arrow head in hand again and repeats the fire spell. This time the arrow head glows a high magenta before settling into the normal colors of a fire. The steel broadhead glows as if breathing inside and Roxas reattaches it to the shaft. He takes a deep breath and swears as he can only pierce his chest.

Waving it in the air a few times to attempt to cool it down, Roxas turns the head towards his shoulder.

This is the only way, he reasons with himself. Let them come. Perhaps they will even think I'm dead.

With a deep breath and a burst of adrenaline, Roxas stabs the steaming arrow head back into his shoulder.

He screams.

His howl, primal and fierce, pierces the nighttime silence. He strains against himself, his hair whipping at his face. But he keeps a strong grip on the arrow head and counts over his screams before yanking the arrow out again. He chucks it aside and suddenly his scrams turn into weeps of pain. He grips his shoulder once more and soon slowly subsides to deep raspy breaths.

Removing his hand he finds it dry; no blood, but the smell of charred flesh is enough to make him nauseous. He leans his back against the trunk of the tree and lets tears escape his eyes, cutting trails through the dark paint on his face.

The roars of the men come soon. They're closing in on him.

Roxas whimpers as he scrambles to his feet. Through panicked breathes, he only turns to face the foliage of the trees, when two snouts baring sharp teeth burst from them. Roxas instinctively leaps back, yelping as the dogs lure him more out in the open. Roxas pushes to his feet and is about to run but then a wall of fire cuts him off, men running in front of it as an extra wall.

Roxas skids to a stop and scrambles the other way. More men block him. Soon he feels like the prey being closed in by a pack of wolves.

Roxas' jaw clenches tight. "Stay away from me!" he shrieks, drawing his dagger with one hand.

The air whistles and two arrows lodge themselves into his cloak, pinning him to the ground. All around him, the men on horseback draw up to the clearing. Their torches causing Roxas to squint and cringe at their shouts. The men surround him, their weapons drawn. None approached, all waiting for their master.

The King approaches and leaps off his horse. "It's time I rid the world of you pests." His voice is overwhelmed with rage.

Despite wielding the dagger, Roxas can feel tears streaming down his cheeks. "No. Please." He begs.

The King draws his sword.

Father.

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