Chapter 3: Axel Last Stand

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Written by: Kanemaki Tomoco
Original Plan: Nomura Tetsuya and Nojima Kazushige
Illustration: Amano Shiro
Translations: Goldpanner
Copyrighted by Disney, Square Enix and Touchstone Pictures. No profits are gained from these unofficial fan translations.
Thanks to fellow fan-translator final-ace for providing the copy of this novel.

Inside the haunted mansion it was gloomy and quiet. In the centre of a dusty great hall lay something that looked like a broken model of a castle.

“There should be a computer around here somewhere,” said the King, checking his surroundings.

“Is that computer connected to the other Twilight Town?” asked Pence, politely.

“I would say so. And then in that town, there should be a path to the Realm of Darkness,” the King nodded.

Sora peered into the King’s face. “Did you hear that from Riku?”

“Sora, please excuse me already. Riku will be mad.”

Sora jumped up and down. “Yesss! That’s basically admitting it!”

In contrast to Sora’s very happy high spirits, the King sighed heavily.

The truth was, the King hadn’t exactly heard about the place from Riku, but Riku had told him that there was something in Twilight Town. The King thought that maybe Riku knew… that someday the promise he had made him would be broken.

“Let’s split up and search the mansion!” Hayner called out to everyone. Just then, Sora ran towards a stairway in the middle of the great hall.

“Sora!!” the King yelled from behind him, shocked.

“I think it’s… this way!” Sora yelled, climbing the stairs and running down a passageway on the second floor.

“Wait up!” cried Goofy, bumbling after him in a rush, and everyone else followed.

Sora was waiting at the end of the passageway, standing before a door.

“Hey, Sora. How do you know?” the King asked him.

Sora tilted his head. “Ummm… just kinda do, I guess?”

“Well that’s not knowing then is it,” Donald protested.

“But in any case that computer is just up ahead of here. I feel like it is,” Sora said, and he opened the door to the room.

Axel was waiting.

Inside the darkness of between, for Sora… for Roxas.

Saïx called me a traitor. Not that me betraying the Organisation is anything new, Axel sneered.

My betrayals started in Castle Oblivion. There, Marluxia and the others stole Sora’s memories so they could make him theirs. No one could have guessed what would then happen to Roxas, a Nobody born a special way when Sora, the true form, lost himself. No, maybe Xemnas knew what effect it would have, and Vexen and the others who tried to tell Sora about Twilight Town… or maybe all six original members of the Organisation. The Organisation is nothing but a patchwork crew… just a gathering of people who want hearts. Of course there was going to be friction between the new members like Marluxia and the six old members. See, there were even disputes within the group of members at Castle Oblivion.

But, so that Sora would not be erased… so that Roxas would not be erased, I took action. But, when I think about it now, maybe even that was me being manipulated in the palm of Xemnas’ hand.

Sharp pain swept through Axel’s body.

The wound Saïx had inflicted had been close to fatal.

“Hurry up and come, Sora…,” Axel muttered, looking up at the sky.

The door opened onto a landing with walls lined tightly with books. Beyond lay a staircase heading down.

“Here…”

Sora looked around the oddly familiar room. The square room, which looked as though it were being used as a library, was unnecessarily large. Thanks to the cold atmosphere, it was hard to believe this room belonged to the aging mansion.

“What’s wrong?” the King asked, entering the room after Sora.

“I’ve… been here before… right?” Sora asked Donald and Goofy.

Donald folded his arms. “Wak? I don’t think so…”

“Now that ya mention it, when we woke up, we came out in front of this mansion when we left the room, didn’t we?” Goofy said, thinking back.

“Yeah, yeah! It must have been then… huh?”

Donald hopped happily, but Sora stayed lost in thought, arms folded.

“But we’ve never been in this room,” Goofy pointed out.

“I’m sure… I’m sure, in this room…”

I feel like there was something really important but I can’t remember, thought Sora, frowning.

“Did you come here while you were asleep?”

The King’s words made the three of them look at him.

“…While asleep?”

Sora went deeper into thought.  I don’t know what it was, but I feel like there was something really important. It was painful… and sad… what was it?

Hayner, who had been listening to the four of them talk, cut in.

“Right now it’s more important to go help Kairi, right?”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Sora nodded, and he ran over to a door on the other end of the room and opened it.

Kairi sat on the floor hugging her knees, as Pluto licked her cheeks.

“I wonder if he was okay… Axel, I mean.”

Pluto snuffled in answer.

“He’ll come and help me, for sure.”

Kairi buried her face in her knees.

He’ll come and help me for sure. Axel will… Sora will, Riku will… everyone will. But why are they keeping me trapped here?

Twice now I’ve seen Axel get wounded for my sake, right in front of my eyes. I couldn’t do a thing. Even though Axel’s saved me over and over again…

Over and over?

I’ve only met him twice. When that man grabbed me, and again just now.

Why do I feel like he’s helped me out over and over again…?

In the room on the other side of the door a massive computer was fixed.

The King ran over to the computer. “This is it!”

Donald peered worriedly at the keyboard. “How do we use it?”

“Leave it to me,” said Pence, who had been silent up until then, and he started tinkering with the computer.

“Hey, Sora,” said Goofy, putting his face near Sora’s ear.

“What?”

“That there computer looks a lot like the one in Hollow Bastion, don’t it,” said Goofy, and Donald nodded too.

“Really…?”

Even as Sora stood there tilting his head, Pence was typing something on the Keyboard.

“Ah,” said Pence.

Hayner went over to him. “What’s wrong?”

Pence threw up both hands, at a loss. “I can’t go any further without a password…”

“Any ideas?” asked the King, who had been watching over things worriedly at Pence’s side, turning to Sora and his friends.

“Sora!”

“Donald!”

“Goofy!”

They said, taking turns to finish telling Pence the password of the computer at Hollow Bastion—Radiant Garden.

Pence shook his head. “Doesn’t look like it.”

“A hint… a hint…,” mumbled Donald. “Wak!” he cried, thrusting a hand into his pocket.

He took out the photo.

“The photo!”

Goofy folded his arms. “That was the only hint… wasn’t it…?”

“Wa-wa-waaak!” Donald screeched, hopping in the air. “The sweet and salty ice cream!”

“You mean the sea salt ice cream?” Sora checked.

“There was an ice cream left with the photo, your majesty,” Goofy explained to the King, who was looking worried.

“Ansem the Wise sure did love ice cream…,” Mickey told Sora and the others, folding his arms.

“…Sea salt ice cream…?”

Pence entered the password into the computer.

“Bingo!”

Light shot out of a machine in the middle of the room.

“Let’s go,” said Sora.

“Leave this side to us,” Hayner called from behind him.

Olette had been silent up until now. “Take care of Kairi, okay,” she said.

Sora turned and showed her his smile.

“Understood!”

Then, Sora and his friends jumped into the light.

The scene spread out on the other side of the light was exactly like the room they’d just been in.

Sora tilted his head. “Huh? Are we back in the same place?”

“Wak!” Donald jumped in the air, pointing at the computer. The computer, which was exactly the same one that had been in the room just before, had been destroyed by someone.

“…Roxas,” Sora murmured. He walked up to the smashed computer and touched the cracked monitor.

I remember. Roxas destroyed this computer with the Keyblade right here.

He was sad… and in pain, and he was angry. He couldn’t forgive them for it.

For what?

I don’t know… I still don’t know.

Sora closed his eyes, hand resting on the monitor.

“Sora?” the King called, worriedly.

“This is the other Twilight Town… Roxas’ Twilight Town,” Sora said, clearly.

“There should be an entrance to the Realm of Darkness here somewhere,” said the King, and Sora nodded and started walking.

I also know where that entrance is. It’s in the next room… that square room.

Opening the door to the room, they could see a black, gloomy hole-like thing in the corner.

“This is it…”

Sora stared vacantly at the dark-coloured hole.

“Here we go,” said the King.

Sora nodded, and took the first plunge into the hole.

Feeling space ripple, Axel looked up.

Sora had almost reached him. His shouting could be heard from far away.

“Riku! Kairi!”

Axel slowly made his way towards Sora’s voice.

I can hardly feel the pain in my body any more. I don’t think it’s because the wound is healing… it’s just because I’m getting close to fading out.

At that moment, Nobodies materialised, blocking the way between Axel and Sora.

“…Freaking Saïx…”

Those Nobodies have to have been sent here by Saïx. Whether to dispose of me or to get in Sora’s way I don’t know.

Axel could hear the voices of Sora and the others as they fought Nobodies in the distance. He took one deep breath, and squeezed his chakrams tight.

Then he leapt.

“Don’t stop moving! The darkness will swallow you up!”

Sora and the others looked over at the sound of Axel’s voice. Right in front of their eyes, Axel sent some Nobodies flying.

It’s too late to start saying I don’t want to kill Nobodies. The outcome is the same either way.

“Go!” Axel shouted, turning to Sora and his friends. They stopped moving and stared at Axel.

“Why?”

“What do you need a reason for, I said go!”

Axel batted aside the Nobody twining up his arm and threw a chakram at it.

Yeah, who cares about the reason. I don’t know what it is.

Just as he was trying to control his harsh panting, the Nobodies regrouped around Axel.

Pain zinged from the wound Saïx gave Axel, and he fell.

Sora ran over and knocked the Nobodies away. “Are you okay!” he asked.

Axel looked up at him. “I kidnapped Kairi, but she got away. After that, Saïx caught her. He’s a member of Organisation XIII. Got it memorised? So hurry up and go help her!”

Just then, a Nobody pounced on Sora.

“Get out of our way!”

Sora’s Keyblade flashed, and the Nobody vanished. Axel stood up slowly, and readied his chakrams, back-to-back with Sora.

Sora was sweating lightly, and Axel could feel the warmth of his back.

It made him think of Roxas.

Sora leapt, and at almost the same time, Axel flew, chakrams in hand. Donald fired magic, and Goofy ran all about.

No matter how many they felled, Nobodies kept appearing, pouring forth from somewhere.

I remember fighting alongside Roxas just like this. I wanted to fight like that again.

I should have said so much more.

I wanted to say so much more.

I wonder why I can feel something like this when we Nobodies don’t have hearts.

This wound Saïx gave me is at its limit now. Any more than this and I don’t think I’ll be able to move.

“Think I’ve had enough of being on their bad side,” Axel said with a smile. Sora peered at his face and smiled back.

“Feeling a little R-E-G, R-E-T?”

It was Axel’s turn to look back at Sora.

“Nah? I’m tough,” he said. “Watch this!”

There was no longer any need for hesitation, escaping, or wavering.

It’s all… for Sora’s sake, for Roxas’ sake… for everyone’s sake.

Axel made a huge jump, throwing himself into the centre of the horde of Nobodies.

The Nobodies should vanish.

They should go back where they came from.

Where we came from… if that is by Roxas’, by Sora’s side, I’d be happy.

Axel opened both arms wide and looked up.

Give me… your last strength.

Share with me your last strength… Roxas.

Flames surrounded Axel, becoming a gigantic wave that scorched away the Nobodies.

“Wow!” Sora yelled—and then he ran over to Axel. Axel no longer had the strength to stand, or hold out his arms. Ember-like fires smouldered around him.

“You’re fading away…”

Sora dropped to his knees, and searched Axel’s face.

“Well, that’s cause I put my entire being into that attack. That’s the way it is.”

One side of Axel’s mouth curled up in a smile as he looked up at Sora.

Ahh… my eyesight’s going, too.

“I say that even though, well, Nobodies don’t have beings. Don’t worry about it—look, go to Kairi.”

Sora stared fixedly at Axel.

“Oh, I forgot. I’m sorry I did such a nasty thing to her.”

“If you think so, then apologise to her yourself,” said Sora, sounding angry.

“No can do… My heart wouldn’t be in it. I don’t have one…”

Axel laughed.

I don’t have a heart, and… I don’t have a being, so… why am I doing this? It’s just too funny. It’s simply because I felt like I had a heart. Even though the heart is something that we can’t have no matter what… well, not without Kingdom Hearts.

“What were you trying to do?” Sora asked.

Axel was silent for a moment. Then he said, looking up into empty space, “…I wanted to see Roxas.”

Just that.

“I… liked him.”

I liked him, just that.

“When I was with him, I felt like… sort of like… even I had a heart…”

Axel closed his eyes for a moment. It feels a little like I have Roxas right by my side. Very near… somewhere very close.

“You make me feel it too. The same…”

Axel turned his head slightly and looked at Sora.

“Kairi’s in the castle dungeon. Go.”

Axel lifted a hand and opened the darkness of between. It really was his very last strength.

“Axel…”

I can hear Sora’s voice.

There’s no strength left in my whole body.

If I ever wake up again… I’d be happy if I could see Roxas.

Because I wanted to see Roxas again. Just that.

Nah, I’ll see him for sure.

Roxas… hey, wake up. You’re really there, aren’t you?

You promised me we’d meet again in the next life… right?

Cause we’re best friends, aren’t we.

And then, Axel’s figure faded away.

A promise…

That we’d meet again… in the next life.

We promised.

I remember.

I remember our promise.

Leaping into the world on the other side of the dark hole Axel had opened up with his last—a huge heart-shaped moon floated above them. The King stood there, bathed in its light.

“Your Majesty…!”

Sora and the others ran over to him. The King turned and opened his arms in welcome.

“You guys disappeared, I was so worried,” he said.

Sora and his friends exchanged glances, then they all bowed their heads.

I don’t know why it’s so sad… to see someone from the Organisation go.

Something was stirring and clenching incessantly in his chest, and Sora bit his lip.

“Did something happen?” the King asked.

“Axel helped us,” Goofy replied, downhearted.

“I’ve met him myself. Where is he now?” the King asked, leaning forward.

“…He went down helping us,” said Sora, head still bowed.

“No way… that’s just…”

The King bowed his head, too.

“Even though he… was a Nobody, and part of the Organisation…,” Sora murmured.

“He helped me one time before, too,” said Goofy, sadly.

The King turned his back on Sora and the others to look up at the heart-shaped moon. “…Maybe he was helping us all along, that Axel.”

That moon looked down on shining neon and crowding buildings.

Sora looked up.

“We have to help Kairi.”

“Let’s go!”

The King broke into a run, heading for the huge moon. As Sora and his friends went to chase after, Nobodies appeared, blocking their way.

“Sora!”

Sora turned towards the shout to see Nobodies attacking Donald and Goofy.

“Donald, Goofy!”

Sora went to run to help them, but the world around him quivered.

“Huh?”

Sora turned instinctively to find a man in a black coat had appeared there beneath the skyscrapers, and was slowly drawing nearer beneath the skyscrapers. Light gathered in the man’s hands, and then something appeared—

“The Keyblade?!”

The man charged straight at Sora, Keyblades in hand. Sora blocked them as they came slashing down at him.

“Who are you?!” Sora yelled.

I never thought the Organisation had any members with Keyblades.

“A resident of the darkness,” said the man, swinging a Keyblade down again, but Sora knocked him back.

“You’re not… Riku??”

“Riku… I took down someone with that name once,” the man told Sora, then he jumped and smashed his Keyblade into Sora.

Riku was taken down??

But there was no time to ask. The sound of metal clashing on metal rang over and over, and then the two separated to a safe distance apart.

“Tell me why you were chosen,” the man said in a low voice, charging for Sora’s chest.

This man is stronger than anyone I’ve ever fought. Yeah, probably even Riku.

Sora’s Keyblade went flying. Sora made a dash for it as it hit the ground, but the man beat him to it, planting himself firmly in the way. Despite the man already having a Keyblade in his hand, he gathered up Sora’s too, staring down at him.

Sora made a noise of frustration.

I can’t beat him. He’s overwhelmingly strong. But, I can’t lose in a place like this. I’m going to help Kairi—and meet Riku.

Sora looked up at the man with a glare, and in that moment, the man’s Keyblade burst into light and vanished, and then it was gripped in Sora’s hand once more.

“What?!”

Sora surged to his feet, and sent the man’s Keyblades flying back. The Keyblades fell from the man’s hand to the ground, turned into light and vanished.

“I get it now, Sora,” said the man without turning to Sora.

His hood fell back, and from behind he seemed to a blond-haired boy.

“Just what I’d expect from my…”

The man—Roxas—turned to Sora, and vanished.

The sun was setting over Twilight Town. Roxas sat on top of the clock tower, staring vacantly at the sunset. He liked this place, where he could look out over the whole town.

Finally awake?” came a voice. Roxas looked up.

“Axel—”

Standing there was his one and only best friend—Axel, holding two sea salt ice creams.

“Nah. Maybe this is falling asleep. Soon enough we won’t even be able to talk consciousness-to-consciousness like this,” Axel said, sitting down next to Roxas and handing him an ice cream.

“I’m going back… back to my original form, aren’t I,” Roxas asked.

Axel took a bite out of his ice cream and gazed out at the sunset without answering.

“I’ve always wondered. Naminé said it, too. Roxas… you have a heart, don’t you? And, I wonder… do people like Naminé and me… really not have hearts?”

Roxas looked down, biting his ice cream like Axel.

“I… I don’t know, either. Sora will find the answer,” Roxas replied, taking another bite of his ice cream.

A sweet and salty ice cream.

An ice cream I was always eating here on this clock tower like this with Hayner and the others. And… with Axel. I ate ice cream here with Axel.

Did I have ice cream here with Hayner and the others because I ate ice cream here with Axel, or—was it the other way around—I can’t really tell.

“But I’ve started thinking, maybe the heart isn’t something you can see, but something you feel. If that’s true, then… Nah. I’ll leave it there.”

“Huh? Why right at the important part?” Axel asked. From beside him, Roxas watched the sun sink.

“Sora… will find the answer. He’s me, after all.”

Roxas smiled.

“I guess you’re right. Hey, still got it memorised? When we first met, the day you got a new name, we watched the sunset from here just like this,” Axel said with a smile. Roxas have a small nod.

I didn’t think I’d get to have ice cream with Axel again like this one last time. I didn’t think I’d get to see the sunset from here again like this.

The sea salt ice cream is as salty and sweet as ever.

And the Twilight Town sunset is as gentle as always.

No matter how sad… or painful… things are, its light is always gentle, Roxas thought.

“I gotta go soon. Sora’s waiting.”

Roxas got to his feet.

“Ah. I guess you’re right.” Axel turned away from Roxas, his shoulders shaking. “…This ice cream’s so freakin salty…”

If I didn’t have a heart, then what are these feelings packing my chest full right now?

Sadness… happiness?

I don’t really know… maybe not knowing is the heart.

“See you later, Axel,” Roxas said. Axel looked up at the words.

That’s a promise.

Just like we promised to meet again in the next life, we’ll make one more promise.

“See you later, partner.”

Roxas returned Axel’s words with a smile, and faded away. Slightly after, Axel faded, too.

“Sora!”

“Huh?”

Sora looked up at the sudden shout.

“Are you okay?”

He turned to find Donald staring worriedly at him.

“What happened to me?” Sora asked.

“I don’t know. You vanished, and we fought some Nobodies…,” said Goofy, and Sora listened and looked up at the skyscrapers glittering with neon.

“Oh okay… That guy said he took down Riku.”

“Who said it?” Donald asked, moving closer to Sora and peering into his face.

“What do you mean who, that guy in the black coat,” said Sora, still staring up at the skyscrapers. It was Goofy’s turn to peer at Sora.

“Do you think Riku was taken down?”

Sora nodded. “…Yeah.”

There’s no way Riku could be taken down. But… that man was strong. Maybe… then…

“Well if he had a black coat, he must have been from Organisation XIII. He was trying to trick you, Sora,” said Goofy encouragingly.

“And you know, neither of us saw anyone.”

“What?” Sora asked, surprised at Donald’s words.

How could they not have seen anyone?

“You must be tired, Sora,” said Goofy.

Sora looked back up at the skyscrapers without answering.

“Well, we better go look for a way into the castle,” said Goofy.

Sora nodded. “You’re right… we have to help Kairi!”

At last he started walking again.

Just then, Donald rushed away.

“Huh? Hey, Donald!” They chased after him, to find the King standing there.

“Your Majesty!”

The alleyway ended in a sheer cliff. Beyond that cliff… floated a giant castle, right below the heart-shaped moon.

Sora stopped still and looked up at the castle.

“A dead end…?”

“There’s always a way,” said the King, looking up at the castle too.

Deep inside the castle that Sora and the others were gazing up at… was Kairi. Pluto sat beside her, as if to protect her.

What on earth should I do…

Hearing footsteps drawing near, Kairi looked up. Saïx was standing on the other side of the bars of the cage.

“What are you going to do with us?” Kairi burst out, and Saïx narrowed his eyes at her.

“You are a tool for making Sora angry,” was all he said, then he vanished from view from the cage bars.

“What do I do… If I stay like this, then Sora will… and it’ll be my fault…,” Kairi murmured in a small voice. Just then, Pluto barked at the far wall of the cage.

“Huh?”

Kairi stood up instinctively. What she saw there was a hole that looked just like the one Pluto had come out from before… the darkness of between.

“Come here!”

She could hear a girl’s voice coming from it. A blonde girl in a white dress appeared from inside the darkness—Naminé.

“Who are you?”

“Believe in yourself. Come on—hurry!”

Naminé reached her pale hand out of the hole. Kairi put her own hand over it. Light wrapped both of their bodies and beamed into the sky.

Kairi looked worried. “You…”

“It’s okay,” said Naminé, smiling. Then, the light that had beamed from the two of them enveloped the world.

“Sora!” Donald screeched.

One corner of the giant castle floating above their heads was covered in light. Then, light beamed from the Keyblade as if in answer.

“Maybe…”

Sora raised his Keyblade skyward. The light shooting from it became a path to guide Sora and his friends to the castle.

“Kairi… I’ll be there soon,” Sora murmured, gazing where the light pointed.

Kairi and Naminé dashed down the castle stairs.

It’s still… okay, Naminé told herself as she ran. I still haven’t faded away. It’s still okay.

The two of them came to a halt.

“Naminé… we were looking for you.”

Standing in their path was Saïx and some of the Nobodies he commanded. Naminé glared in silence at him.

“Not so easy, Kairi. You can’t go back,” said Saïx, and he held out a hand to her. “But I’ll take you to see Sora.” Kairi hid her hands behind her back in refusal. “Don’t you want to see him?” Saïx asked.

“I do. So much. But not with you around,” she said, readying her stance defensively—and Naminé mirrored her.

“If I had a heart I’d be laughing so hard right now,” Saïx spat, and just then, the Nobodies behind him were wiped out. Saïx turned to find a man clad in a black coat, blade readied. The man’s face was completely hidden under a hood.

“You—Didn’t Roxas take you down?” Saïx spat at the man.

“I’ll leave the rest to you… Riku,” said Naminé, and the black-hooded man nodded—Kairi stared at him. The man ran at Saïx, and pinned him to a wall.

“Pff…”

Saïx opened the darkness of between against the wall and vanished right into it. The man went to jump into the darkness after him, but Kairi charged towards him.

“Wait!” she yelled, and Pluto ran at the man too, tail wagging. The man shrank back without thinking, the darkness closing up in front of him. Kairi moved slowly towards the man, who was frozen as if bound hand and foot.

“Riku… I missed you.”

Kairi put her hands on the man’s hood. From under it appeared Xehanort—no. Riku, in Xehanort’s form.

“Why?” she asked, but Riku just gazed at her.

At that moment, space warped. Kairi and Riku turned instinctively to see Naminé and Pluto vanish right before their eyes.

Continue to Chapter 4: Meet Again

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