My Brother's Keeper

Chapter 19

Sora rushes down the steps and out to the courtyard of the castle. By now it's practically bear with all the guests gone and his father taking more than half the guards on the man-hunt for Roxas. Sora doesn't look back to see if Riku's there, because he knows he is. He had told Riku little about what's happening, but enough to help explain how Sora found out about his brother being kidnapped and alive. Sora only hopes that Riku can connect the dots on his own.

When the stables come into view, Sora finds Tula ready, stomping ready in the double-stalls. Sora hitches the horse as fast as he can. Riku climbs up on the horse next to him, still Sora doesn't make eye contact. He cracks the reins against Tula and he immediately thunders towards the gates and through the village. If there's one thing Sora knows how to do, it's ride.

Sora can only guess where the men have gone, or more rather where Roxas has gone. Seeing as how he can't go back to the mansion, a few of his hiding spots around the forest is an option; but Sora feels that he'd better take his chances with going the familiar route. He fears that Roxas might have for once just sprinted off in a blind panic.

As they ride, he hears Riku speak up. "So let me get this straight. When your brother was kidnapped by Xemnas, instead of being dead, he was raised by Xemnas to become this near perfect assassin, and driven to kill your father?"

"Yes, but when Roxas started to figure out the truth, about him, about his life, Xemnas soon caught on. He had one of his minions cast a spell on Roxas, some kind of cloak spell so that whenever Roxas was given an order, he'd follow it without question." Sora explains.

The two barrel past the gates of the village and out to the forest. Darkness has stolen over the forest so now all the trees are beginning to lose their brownish color, slowly morphing to black, as if they're rotting, but are still standing tall. Past the fifty yard perimeter, Sora searches the forest for signs of movement. It's a tangle of trees, undergrowth, and the husks of the piling of rocks with the mountains as a backdrop. All coated in the muted browns and rustic oranges of the fall and the drifting piles of silvery ash that reminds him of the Kingdom's fragility.

Sora's all too aware of in its depths, bandits, bands of lawless marauders pillage for goods they can trade at the city-states. Somewhere within it, Xemnas and his organization, seeking to devour what little remains of any stragglers that survive.

Sora doesn't care about any of it. He just wants Roxas to be safe.

"He's also the one responsible for the murder of your father." Sora continues.

Riku doesn't say anything. The pounding of the horse hooves soon becomes similar to that of a war drum, and Sora is uneasy waiting for him to say something; or perhaps he's just making sure Sora is finished.

"I'm not asking you to forgive, Riku. It wouldn't be fair, but I am asking you to understand." Sora says, he dares take a look back at Riku. "He didn't have a choice. He didn't have control. Please, just, know that."

Without a word, Sora turns back as they come to a fork in the forest trail. "Where do we go?" Riku asks. He levels up with Sora, and Sora keeps his gaze ahead.

"I recognize this place." He mumbles.

"What?"

"This is the path to Xemnas' house, that mansion. That's his headquarters." Sora says.

"Okay, but what about your brother?"

"We need to find a way to stop him, for good." Sora says, as he turns his head either way.

"What are you saying?" Riku ponders.

"We need to burn the mansion." Riku eyes Sora in surprise, but doesn't deny it saying there's a better way. "It won't be much of a difference if he can just come back to his house."

"But what about Roxas and his things."

Sora feels his plan deteriorate in authenticity as Riku reminds him of common sense things that Sora should have thought about, but didn't being too focused on rescuing his brother.

"Right. We'll have to deal with it later. Unless, you want to loot Roxas' rooms for things." Sora suggests.

"I won't know what's valuable and what's not." Riku denies. "Let's just focus on getting to your brother."

Sora nods and turns his horse in the opposite direction and they break into a run. The tree whiz by him and Sora. They're a blur of green, light brown and pale yellows. Even atop horseback, Sora can tell from the prints in the mud that they're on the right trail of his father and the men.

As they continue to blindly run through the black skeletal trees, their branches intertwining to create a cage-like structure around them, Sora keeps looking left and right, when suddenly his horse comes to a halting stop. Sora nearly flies off, but grabs the reins and grips the neck of the horse as it skids to a stop.

Riku stops next to him. "What's going on?"

"I don't know." Sora admits.

He watches as his stallion's ears twitch back and forth, narrowing in on a sound oblivious to Sora's ears.

Then that's when he hears the scream. So full of fear and pain it ices his blood. And so familiar, Sora tugs the reins harshly to the left, forgets about Riku or what lies ahead, only knowing he must reach him, protect him. Sora runs wildly in the direction of the voce, heedless of danger, ripping through branches, through anything that keeps him from reaching him. From reaching his brother.

Where is he? What are they doing to him?! he thinks.

Sora wants to cry out, but he can't from the fear that's swollen his throat shut. His eyes wide, they seem immune to the branches that cut into his face and arms, but they lubricate with tears. Nerves makes sweat runs down Sora's face. But he's getting closer to him.

He hears Riku calling him, but Sora ignores it. Finally he rips through a wall of rustic brown into a small clearing.

Sora looks around and finds the men and their troches, stallions and hounds surrounding into a circle. The dogs bark and over the heads, Sora can see a figure sitting on the ground, up against the trunk of a tree, holding a dagger with two arrows wedged into the lower end of his cloak.

"No." Sora whimpers.

He rushes forward, still not paying attention to where Riku is, if he was able to follow and keep up. Sora can see his father draw his sword, and approach Roxas, who he can see is holding a dagger, his uniform soaked through, the mask covering his face. He fears for the briefest moment for his father's life as he watches as Roxas begins to snarl beneath his mask, his eyes dilating once more. Still he makes no advancements towards Sora's father. Perhaps he's trying to fight off the spell.

Sora feels his body shudder at the sight of a burn wound at Roxas' shoulder. It would seem he had been pierced by an arrow, and with no other way supposedly, he had no choice but to cauterize himself. And as he watches Roxas' gaze shift towards Axel and Demyx, the beautiful sapphire blue becomes a cauldron mixture of pain, betrayal and hope.

Suddenly Roxas spins his legs out, knocking off the arrows that embed in his cloak and whirls upwards. But before he can charge, the men suddenly ambush him from behind and while one grips Roxas about his torso, a few more secure ropes around him. Roxas thrashes and begins to scream as the men unceremoniously shove him to the ground.

"No. Please." Sora hears Roxas plead.

Sora snaps the reins harder.

His father approaches, sword in hand.

Without a moment hesitation, Sora slings his bow up front and loads an arrow. As his dad brings it up high for the deathblow, Sora shoots. The shot reins true as he hears his father grunt in pain and the sword is knocked from his grasp.

All attention looks to Sora as he leaps off his horse with another arrow loaded. Riku rides up behind him, steadying his horse as he sternly watches Sora.

"Get back!" Sora shouts, it has such volume that and authority that the men of both kingdoms obey. Sora approaches with his arrow pointed directly at his own father.

Sora's stomach squeezes painfully as one hundred fifty-seven faces turn towards him. Roxas watches in shock as Sora comes to step between him and the King. Still fighting the urge to strike Sora down, Roxas blanks a few times and look up through his smattering of blonde bangs.

"That's my brother!" Sora announces.

Roxas can feel the words seeping into everyone's brains like water absorbing into a sponge. Several men lower their weapons, all eyes wide in shock. They shift restlessly, and people begin whispering to each other.

"Sora, what are you doing?" his father demands.

"Protecting my brother."

"Are you out of your mind?" the King denies.

The uncomfortable squirming in his stomach settles. A challenge is much easier to face than the expectations he had planned.

Sora takes a moment to look back at Roxas. His heart sinks. His arms are bound to his sides by thick ropes that coil his body like an anaconda. It leaves his neck exposed, and Sora can see Roxas still has the dagger in his hand. His eyes fiercely dilate as he tries to concentrate. Sora speaks his name without hesitation in front of the men.

"Roxas, are you okay?"

Roxas gives him a ghost of a smile, and the faintest laugh. "I could be better."

Sora faintly smiles, and he sees Roxas' eyes widen. Bad. Right as Sora goes to turn around, he's met with the hand of his father as it harshly shoves him aside. Sora crashes into the muscled body of his own guards.

The King advances for Roxas, raising his sword. With a primal howl, Sora brings his foot up, ramming it between the legs of the man holding him. Before he can utter a high-pitched scream, Sora then proceeds to grab the man's wrist, and vault his body over him. Sora then ducks low spinning and throws a draws a sword from a belt strapped across the back of his waist.

Lunging forward, Sora steps in between his father and Roxas, blocking his brutal attack. The men gasp and awe as Sora snarls at his father.

"Sora!" the King says in shock.

Without a word, Sora pushes off his blade, spins low and jabs his elbow into his father's side before whirling and swiping at his one ankle to knock him back and his spine slaps into the ground.

"You will not kill my brother." Sora darkly snarls to his father.

The King scooches himself back, slightly gasping. Then suddenly nearly half of the torches blow out. The wind seems to grow colder as the moonlight is suddenly deteriorating by clouds. Dark clouds cover the sky, and a chilly breeze is blowing, carrying hints of the storm to come. Roxas calculates no more than ten minutes before a fierce round of early spring rain hits, reducing visibility to nothing. Everyone begins to look around, cautious, weapons drawn but the grips on the ropes holding Roxas don't loosen.

"How sentimental." A deep ominous voice speaks.

Sora and Roxas go rigid. A dark foot steps out from the shadows.

First his hood, then the shadows soon release him. Like a thick fog, they receded from Xemnas, a few clinging wisps slithering over his shoulders and arms. He wears black wrappings, only how they're under a dark black plate mail that glows a deep purple like the armor has absorbed the flames of hell and now pulsate with the beat of Xemnas' heart. Still the armor fits him as it accentuates his curves and elongates his torso.

Darkness creeps in around him, spreading its fingers through the grass blades, working to smear the ground into a single black blur. Xemnas' cloak stretches back over the green and brown-patched grass, darkening its stretch behind him, black like a ribbon of ink. His weapons hidden by waves of shadows that roll off his body like smoke from a fire.

"A father and his sons. This is my lucky day."

Everyone's eyes fall to Xemnas, and soon more blobs of black seep and spread out around the men. Roxas can see Saix on Xemnas' immediate left, Marluxia on his right. Branching out from them, a wounded but still standing Xigbar next to Saix. Then Larxene next to Marluxia; Xaldin and then Zexion and Vexen.

At the sight of them, Roxas snarls. He tries to find a loophole and redirect his possession to the man who gave it to him.

"You." Xemnas points to Roxas, and Roxas feels his heart jar in his chest. A second after his finger points to Roxas, there's a whoosh of air and suddenly his hood is down around his shoulders. Another whoosh and his mask is yanked off. "You disappoint me."

"Go fuck yourself!" Roxas spits.

Not knowing why, his head turns to the King, who now lays sprawled on the grass, his eyes softening into a soft glisten like moonlight on water. He gazes at Roxas in complete shock, and probably regret. Roxas' blonde hair exposed, the flames exaggerate their tone to mimic a golden halo, his blue eyes burning with their own fire, but it's as cold as artic ice. The men begi8n to murmur around in shock and gasps wave over the crowd. Sora still stands in front of Roxas, wielding his sword.

Xemnas' cold gaze slips to the King, still sprawled on the ground. "It's time I finally end you." He says.

"No!" Sora's voice finally speaks. He steps forward. "You're battle is with me."

"You are beneath me boy."

"You should never underestimate your opponent." Sora quotes.

"My grudge is with your father."

"Now your grudge is with me!" Sora demands.

His voice so deep and domineering that it shocks everyone to think that he's the same charming prince that always has a smile on his face. Most thought he'd be the kind of King to establish a treaty rather than battle. This Sora, this is a similar version of Jesse. And while it pains Roxas to think that, it gives him a sense of, pride. He's toughened Sora.

"You took my brother away from me. Stole him away and raised him as your own. Turning him into your own personal weapon! You deprived him of a childhood, deprived him of friends, a life! No man could ever do that to any son. Only a monster, and he is no longer part of your lair anymore!"

"You dare challenge the most feared man in all of the Twilight Kingdom?" Xemnas knarls through grit teeth.

Sora surprisingly snickers. "You speak as if the title holds honor."

This names Xemnas scowl. If there's one thing he cares about, it's his reputation. "I will fight. But not with you."

Xemnas raises his arm, palm up and instantly Larxene, Xaldin and Marluxia approach, their weapons leading. Sora doesn't even flinch as Axel and Demyx launch forward, their daggers whistling in the wind. Axel dives for Larxene and rolls to one side, lashing underneath her handful of daggers at her closest ankle. Blood sprays out and Larxene only grits her teeth and growl. The sounds of Demyx's battle ring out.

Smoothly he glides through Marluxia scythe and Xaldin's lances. Xaldin's lances pierce nothing but air as Demyx weaves and dips and twirls. Soon, Marluxia's weapon is dropped and Xaldin has nearly run out of lances to throw. Demyx's hands are a blur as he slashes left and right at Xaldin. Xaldin soon falls to his knees, Demyx still rotating around him. One dagger suddenly embeds in the direct center of Xaldin's throat and then Demyx leaps high and dive-bombs towards him, his second dagger embedding in his chest.

Demyx then kicks hard, leaping into the very center of Larxene, Marluxia and Vexen advances. They turn on him, their weapons seeming large in the small space. Everyone watches as the men twirl like dancers, their daggers punching through creases in the light leather armor. Axel jumps and kicks away Vexen's shield, and slams into the chest of Marluxia. As he rolls to the ground, Demyx's daggers cut his neck once, twice, three times. Blood splatters across the grass.

With Marluxia struggling, Larxene and Vexen, their arms and legs bleeding from several deep cuts, try to stab Axel and Demyx as they dance. Their weapons strike air. Demyx rolls off and onto his knees, then kicks back landing a few steps in front of Sora. Axel slides between the two, and this time his daggers find open spots just above their greaves. To make sure they stay down, he twists the daggers when he pulls them out. One dead and two others crumpled to the ground, Axel leaps flipping back and lands smoothly next to Demyx.

Xemnas shows disconcerted as Axel and Demyx spin their weapons; Axel with a smug look on his face.

"Such a shame to see that skill go to waste." Xemnas snarls.

"It's been wasted in the walls of that façade." Axel retorts.

"Fight him face-to-face. Stop hiding behind your minions, you bastard!" Roxas wriggles as he shouts to Xemnas.

Xemnas looks to him and Roxas returns his gaze with ferocity. Xemnas can see Roxas' eyes dilating every ten seconds. Xemnas grins. "You try and fight the urge, Roxas. But we both know it's pointless. You want to kill the King. Just let go."

Roxas squeezes his eyes shut and struggles. "Never." He screams into grit teeth.

"Men!" The King suddenly shouts. "On him!"

Then at least two handfuls of men charge forward. Saix, Xigbar, Vexen and Larxene who holds her side, spin their weapons and hurdle forward. Over in the shadows, Demyx looks and sees Zexion shifts his gaze downcast. Demyx fists his hands and carefully steps back. He manages to catch Zexion's gaze. When they meet eye contact, Demyx gives him an inconspicuous nod of his head. As the men charge, Demyx takes steps back disappearing into the crowd. Axel does the same, but as he passes Sora, he feels Sora take his hand.

"You need to get to the mansion." Sora instructs.

Axel looks to him, but Sora keeps his gaze ahead. Xemnas' eyes flick back and forth as numbers of the King's men die at the blades of his three, soon to be four. Axel looks to him and Sora nods, without another word, besides a hand brushing Roxas' hair, his cape flapping behind him, Axel disappears into the shadows in the direction of the mansion. Xemnas didn't seem to, thankfully notice.

Strangely, despite the temptation, Sora's fear for Roxas, for his father and for himself, roots him in place and keeps him from moving forward. Suddenly the king draws his blade and charges for Xemnas just as Xigbar had struck down a soldier. Xigbar goes to strike, but an arrow pierces his chest. It doesn't kill, but plows him to the ground. For a moment, several heads shift to Demyx with a loaded bow, before he disappears into the shadows once more.

His father lunged, his sword thrusting straight for Xemnas' neck. Xemnas bats it aside with his own, then sweeps his right foot around in an arc. The King leaps over it, his knee ramming forward. Xemnas' head snaps backwards as the knee collides with his face. Blood instantly begins splattering across the grass.

To everyone's surprise, Xemnas goes on the defensive. The King's sword slashes and cuts, and despite any openings he might have seen, he refused to try for them. He parries and spins, slowly weaving his way around the space. He's mocking the King almost, setting aside his blades and showing how his skill means nothing to his level. The King crosses his sword and blocks a sudden vicious downward chop. His elbows shake at the impact, and while he is momentarily distracted by the closeness of Xemnas' face, Xemnas successfully trips the King with a kick. Before he even hits the ground, Xemnas grabs the scruffs of fabric by his neck and chucks him across the grass, clobbering his back into a tree.

"No!" Roxas screams.

Xemnas approaches, spinning his short sword in dizzying circles. But as he's about to deliver the deathblow, an arrow knocks it out of his hand. Xemnas whirls and snarls as Sora shoots another arrow. Instantly, Xemnas draws a short sword knocking the arrow aside. Xemnas charges. His dagger eager for blood now. Sora leaps, slamming his shoulder into Xemnas'. Grunting in pain, Xemnas whirls. When he ducks from Sora's high kick, he finds a dagger waiting for him low. Xemnas twists, but not fat enough. The sword slashes across his shoulder, tearing one a huge gash in his shirt. Blood pours down his arms, the pain terrible, but he never lets that stop him.

Sora has just scored his first true hit. That is enough to boost anyone's confidence, and for a moment, Roxas fears that is Sora is his most vulnerable, his confidence soaring with the minor victory.

Xemnas' feet whirls about him, his left arm flinging his cloak upward to hide his movements. Sora loses his balance and falls to one knee, letting out a small cry from the harsh landing. Xemnas' cloaks whips Sora's face, and when he pushes back to see, Xemnas is there, his fist leading. He punches Sora's throat with all his strength.

Gasping for air, Sora falls back, holding his dagger out in a meager defense. Xemnas cuts his knuckles to weaken his grip then spas the dagger away. When Sora falls back onto the grass, Xemnas leaps on top of Sora; his daggers curls around Sora's sides, slicing into flesh. Blood spills down Sora's ribs, across his tunic and pants. Screaming in pain, Sora tries to roll, but Xemnas pins his shoulders down with his knees, twirling the dagger between his fingers.

"No!" Roxas screams. "NO!"

Roxas howls into the night, his eyes dilate into black coin-sized wells and he springs up ripping free from his rope imprisonments. The remaining men holding him go flying and Roxas manages to swipe a sword and dagger from the debris of steel and men fumbling to the ground.

Twirling a blade, Roxas flips the blade outward, chucking it, not even looking where it land before he snatches another from a man dead with Larxene's daggers. The blade lands in the chest of Vexen and he falls to his knees as Roxas idly runs by him. Spinning the borrowed daggers, Roxas spins the two between fingers before hurling them at Larxene and Marluxia. One lands directly in Marluxia's chest, Larxene blocks the other one, but Roxas leaps high, and manages to slice at her throat. Pushing off, Roxas rolls to the ground, coming up on one knee and charging right for Xemnas.

Roxas instantly rams himself into Xemnas' side, not even caring if Xemnas stabs him while Roxas is close. But he doesn't, instead they roll over one another and Xemnas kicks Roxas off the moment he fan grip the ground. Roxas flips into the air landing smoothly as he was taught.

Xemnas draws his sword and lashes out in a single smooth motion, the blade bathed in a silver gleam. Roxas falls backward, his spine arching and his knees bending. After the sword passes harmlessly above him, Roxas snaps forward, lunging with his daggers. One scrapes against Xemnas' plate mail and catches in a crease while the other gouges the flesh underneath Xemnas' chin.

Before Roxas can finish the kill, Xemnas rams an open palm against Roxas' chest. The strength with him, Roxas flies backwards, a shock wave of sound explodes from the contact. Roxas rolls, shadows splashing off his body and lying like deep puddles. His feet touch ground, he spins, crossing his arms, and vanishes in a puff of smoke.

A long shadow stretches from one side of the clearing to another, and out of that shadow steps Roxas. His feet slam into the small of Xigbar's back. He cries out in pain as he stumbles forward, his crossbow shooting behind him blindly. A dagger strikes Xigbar, cutting a thin but bloody wound across the back of his head.

Roxas grabs his wrist and rolls so Roxas' back is on the ground and wraps his legs around Xigbar's forearm. Without hesitation, he jerks his legs, hearing a snap and Xigbar's scream of pain. Spinning his weapon, Roxas rams the butt of his dagger into Xigbar's head, knocking him unconscious.

Throwing another dagger at Xemnas, when he blocks it, Roxas' knee slams into his stomach. Xemnas falls forward, avoiding the vicious thrust aimed between his collarbone and neck that would have surely finished him. The dagger strikes his armor. Sparks shower to the ground. Roxas' dagger dulls.

Roxas had heard about Zexion enchanting their weapons, but didn't think it to be true. He had always assumed it was his skill, and not to undermine his talent and training, it did make things easier.

Roxas' dagger dulls. When he spins, thrusting it forward, Xemnas twists so Roxas ends up stabbing directly into his thick breastplate. The dagger explodes into shards that it Roxas' hand. Blood soaks his leather gloves.

"Yield and I will be merciful." Xemnas says, as he goes on the offensive, slashing back and forth with his blade. Roxas ducks, shifts, and leaps away like a dancer, each cut passing close enough to burn more of his armor. When Xemnas' sword stabs forward, it should have pierced his heart. Instead he cuts smoke, for Roxas is gone.

Anticipating an attack, Xemnas goes to strike the King, cutting the air between him and King. Roxas is suddenly there, his foot outstretched for a kick, but again, Xemnas' sword passes through only smoke.

Something sharp pierces his side just above his belt. Warm blood pours down his thigh. He feels it twist and the pain doubles. Then with one sharp strike, he backhands Roxas, sending him skittering across the grass, landing a few feet in front of Sora; who struggles to push to his arms and knees.

"Foolish child. I taught you everything you know! What hope can you possibly hold to defeat me?" Xemnas mocks.

Xemnas' arm twitches forward and grabs Roxas' hair, Xemnas punches him left and right, causing blood to drip from his nose.

"Roxas!" Sora screams.

Xemnas is more skilled than him, but not by far. Just as he said, he taught Roxas everything Roxas knows, but he didn't teach Roxas everything he knows. Still with extra training with Axel and Demyx, Roxas has a few tricks up his sleeves.

Roxas lunges and once curved blade parries his attack, the other slipping downward so Roxas might impale himself from his lunge. Twisting his body, Roxas angles his knee before getting harmed.

Without a word, but a snarl, Roxas swirls, his cloak whipping out in chaotic fashion. The men and Sora watch fascinated. Roxas spins faster, faster, his cloak a blur, his hands hidden shadows of death. Waiting, Xemnas feels like prey mesmerized by the dance of a cobra, though part of it is professional interest. Perhaps the boy has had too much time on his hands. Such a dance, he had to learn it. He has to master such a skill. Xemnas steps forward, then immediately pulls back, a dagger slicing just above his head.

Xemnas steadies his sword and stabs a random spot. Roxas bats it aside, pulled out of his dance and thrust where Xemnas is. Xemnas leans to the side, but Roxas draws a hidden blade from the hilt of his sword. He slashes left and right, Xemnas batting each aside, then Roxas goes to tackle Xemnas, but Xemnas vaults him over his shoulder and slams Roxas to the ground.

The King shakes his head and brings his hazy gaze up to see his son battling the leader of the shadowy assassins. Sora still on the ground in a pool of his own blood.

Roxas instantly brings his hands up still holding the dagger, to block Xemnas. But with one hand Xemnas pushes Roxas' hand aside and stabs Roxas in his same shoulder wound left by the arrow. Roxas' horrid scream echoes in the air.

"No!" the King cries.

Grabbing Roxas by the wrists, Xemnas who has a harsh smile on his face fling Roxas through the air, Roxas' back slamming into the hard-packed solidity of a stone obelisk.

Knowing it hadn't been there before, Roxas pretends to play unconscious as his eyes flick around. He finds Demyx and Zexion, crouched on a tree branch. Zexion holds a small book about the size of his open hand. Demyx manages to catch Roxas looking at him and kisses the blade of his dagger.

Zexion's fingers waver over the pages before him before he brings his finger to his lips, folding them in. Then as if he's blowing a kiss, Zexion blows and a faint stream of lightly tinted purple, sparkling mist twirls towards Roxas. It carries on the winds and reaches Roxas with tentative wisps. Roxas feels the mist enter his head and feels almost as if it's cleansing his mind. It feels like a fog clearing, he can think more clearly. Shaking his head he looks behind him at the towering stone.

Roxas feels his heart jar. He looks around and finds no one else has noticed the rock that seemed to materialized out of nowhere. Roxas pushes to his feet as he hears the obelisk crack. As the plan forms in his mind, Roxas hears a yelp come from ahead of him. He turns to see Sora trying pathetically to scooch back from Xemnas as he darkly approaches with his blade. Sora's hand desperately digs around the grass for something and shakily pulls up a bloodied throwing dagger. Xemnas kicks Sora's hand aside with one foot, the other slamming into Sora's stomach. Sora curls into himself, heaving for breath.

Roxas pushes to his feet and fumbles to his belt. He only has a handful of throwing daggers left. Snatching the bloody blade embedded in the chest of a soldier, Roxas slips it into his belt as he runs to Xemnas.

Pushing off his feet, just as he's about to strike Sora, Roxas jumps and lands on his back, coiling his legs around Xemnas' waist and gripping the top of his hair. Yanking his head back as hard as he can, he steers Xemnas away from Sora. Whipping out his dagger, Roxas uses his other hand to stab Xemnas in the chest, running pure adrenaline, not caring if his strikes kill Xemnas on the spot; partly because he knows it won't.

Wrenching his head away, ripping a handful of hair out, Xemnas headbuts Roxas, then grabs him from behind the head and hurls him over. Roxas instantly rolls out of the way of Xemnas' sword as it drives into the ground. Roxas hurries around him Xemnas charges, dodging last minute he pounds into the rock.

Roxas barely gives him a chance to recover before he draws his hidden blade and stabs Xemans in the sternum. Roxas can feel the blood seep through the wound and gather in his hands, but he doesn't care. Leaving the knife in place, Roxas begins punching Xemnas left and right, Xemnas able to land a few of his own good hits though Roxas doesn't feel it.

What he does feel is a warm trickle as it streams from his nose and down his chin. As he knuckles sting and smear, Xemnas grabs his next perusing hand and punches Roxas square in the jaw and kicking him back so that when he slides, he lands next to Sora. Sora coughs and blood droplets spill from his lips.

Roxas' heart sinks. Xemnas might have pierced a lung. It isn't fatal. Not yet.

"Sora." Roxas whimpers. Sora looks to him, and still seems to give a smile that isn't forced.

"Roxas."

For once Roxas realizes that they are brothers. Both of them, bloodied and bruised, they huddle on the ground, cloaks covering them, weapons near chipped from fighting.

The two brothers scoot closer to one another as Xemnas groggily pushes to his feet. His eyes narrow on them, no longer full of morbid playfulness or cryptic mirth but genuine malice and hate.

"You," he seethes. "This is all because of you! I am tired of you! It ends . . . now!"

Xemnas rushes them and the brothers sprawl against the ground as his shadows grows long over them.

Faintly Roxas hears a crack and chip.

Xemnas raises his arm, sword gleaming.

All Roxas can do is gather Sora in his arms, under his cloak, covering Sora's face with his hands and wait for the deathblow to rain down.

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