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For every ounce of light within a heart, there is a pound of darkness waiting to swallow it whole. It is up to the person whether or not they allow light to prevail over its contrasting enemy. Many find that it is hard to forsake the darkness within their own hearts; this is what, in the end, forces them to give in when the shadows and Heartless eat at the core of their worlds.
When a being succumbs to the darkness in their hearts, they transform into Heartless, the eaters of hearts; the destroyers of worlds. What also stems from this corruption is a Nobody, the shell of a person after their heart has been eaten away. Nobodies are the mere body and soul of a person. They have no hearts, and they are Nothing-- existing in a plane between light and dark.
But, to compensate for being shunned by both light, and by the world-and-heart-eating darkness, the Nobodies were much, much more organized and more intelligent than the Heartless. They attacked their targets with meticulous planning, and they strove to feel complete, to retrieve the hearts they lost due to the dreaded darkness. Because they had no emotions, they felt no remorse or guilt for what they did to others. In fact, most members of the highest order of Nobodies went so far as to mask who they really are by using residual emotions-- emotions they remembered having when they had hearts-- to pretend that they are normal creatures.
However, despite the fact that they were intelligently superior to the Heartless, the Nobodies-- particularly the members of Organization XIII, an order of the most superior and intelligent of all the Nobodies-- discovered that they were failing, miserably. After the failed attempt of domination of the Organization by Marluxia and the elimination of many, many members being the ultimate consequence of this attempted rebellion, the Organization was down to its last reserves, and it desperately needed some sort of hitch to ensure its success in gaining Kingdom Hearts. The Keyblade Wielder was not working fast enough for the taste of many members, and the treachery had gotten so thick that Xemnas would swear he could have someone knit it into a blanket for him.
They needed an Ultimate Weapon; a Weapon of Mass Destruction. They needed someone who would be accepted by both light and darkness-- a being of equal shades, a being of Ultimate Twilight that would be easy to control and, therefore, would not cause them any trouble.
There was, however, no such being in existence.
Said being would have to be created.
When the Land of Dragons finally yielded to the darkness, Liuan Bao was being lectured by her grandmother over after-dinner tea. She was wearing the traditional hanfu of the time period-- a beautiful hand-tailored garment forged from flowing silk, satin, and breathable cotton of white, sea green, and carnation pink, with hints of beige here and there. The sleeves of her garment flowed past her hands, flaring out like fabric bells. Despite her poor status, Liuan looked like a princess in the only outfit she had that did not have holes.
"So much darkness in your heart, little one-- it isn't healthy for you to feel the way that you do; to have so much anger and sorrow bottled up inside of you, no matter how strong your heart may be. You have to open your heart and allow light to flood into it, or else you'll never find love, life, or happiness." Liuan rolled her bright beryl eyes, huffing as she blew some flyaway ebony strands out of her eyes.
For as long as she could remember, Liuan had always had a peculiar amount of darkness in her heart. From the time she was a child, bad karma just seemed to sit on her shoulder, though what she did to deserve such treatment was beyond her. Perhaps she was just different; it certainly seemed that way since no one seemed to experience all the troubles and all the heartache that she had in her short life of only nineteen years. She was envious of everyone else because, in her jade gaze, they seemed to lead such perfect lives. Her parents had died when she was very small, leaving her in the care of her grandmother. They lead dreary existences, with her grandmother's health failing day-by-day. On top of a pittance-paying job, Liuan had taken on most of the housework. They had no other family to take them in and, although her grandmother was a well respected sage of the village, most people tended to avoid them and to not bother offering help, and only looking out for themselves, as was the nature of most humans.
When Liuan was fifteen, she had been brutally raped, beaten and left for dead. The police had done nothing, and the unborn child of the forced union had been lost through improper means, leaving the young woman with a gnawing, aching feeling in her gut. She was promptly given a bad reputation.
Even still, she had never once succumbed to the darkness within her own frame. Instead of venting all that she felt, she bottled it away, and surrounded herself with all things positive, despite the fact that she knew something bad would happen to eradicate any and all good feelings that she had. Her heart was strong enough to bear the load of a pound of darkness. It was the small glimmers of light that had been shed on her over the years that had kept the darkness at bay, but there was too much in her heart, way too much for it to be healthy.
"Why am I so different, grandmother? Why do I have so much darkness in my life? It's unfathomable that I'm able to live with such an extreme amount of it in my heart. Why do I continue to live?
"Sometimes I feel that life would be better if I just gave in to it, you know? The darkness can be your friend. Sometimes it's best to just hide in the shadows where no one can see you, ridicule you." Liuan had always hid her true emotions from her grandmother. She never spoke like this; never vented although she was more than just entitled to do so. Now that she was opening up, in a sense, it felt good. Having all that weight temporarily taken off of her shoulders was a relief from her burdens, though why she had chosen now of all times seemed a little odd to her. It was as if she were confessing for the last time, as if something was going to happen to erase everything she ever knew.
"Do not speak that way, my child," her grandmother consoled, reaching across their small table with her arthritic hands and clasping her granddaughters. "That kind of talk will be your downfall.
"You are destined for something great, something that will make it seem as if the darkness in your heart had never existed. Just be patient, Liuan; it will come sooner than you expect. Just know that the path to Paradise leads through Purgatory. There will be trials for you to face, but I promise that you will find all that you have been searching for." There was a strange glimmer in her grandmother's grey eyes that suggested the old woman knew a lot more than she was letting on. Liuan knew not to press the matter at all. The elder woman was quite proficient at masking information and denying accusations. Sometimes Liuan wondered if her grandmother had prophetic powers.
The nineteen-year-old reached up and pulled her hair out of the bun her grandmother had meticulously styled it in, allowing the strands to flow down her shoulders like a waterfall of obsidian, framing her lean, heart-shaped face artistically. There was no denying that Liuan was a mockery of all things aesthetic, resembling a melancholy porcelain doll with eyes chiseled out of pure jade, skin as creamy as fresh milk, and lips as full and pink as carnations that were anticipating the day where they blossomed. Her hair was darker than the night; darker than the creatures that were slowly and inconspicuously devouring the core of the world she lived in. But men didn't want he-- she was a spoiled commodity.
She drained her tea cup, and set it on the table with a gentle thud. "I'm going to bed now," she informed in a yawn as she stood up and performed a feline-like stretch which made her toes curl blissfully. "It's been a long day." She bowed to her grandmother humbly, giving her a respectful kiss on the cheek. "Have a good night, grandmother. Don't stay up too late."
"You too, child." Liuan turned and meandered back to the one bedroom in the house. She had turned so quickly, she didn't see the shroud of sorrow that draped over her grandmother's eyes. "Be safe, Liuan, wherever your journey may take you."
She tossed and turned in her sleep, whimpering softly as memories from her past plagued her dreams vividly, causing her emotional and psychological pain; causing more darkness to seep into her heart. She pushed the sheets off her weakly; she buried her sweat-covered face into her pillows, the expression contorting into one of agony.
Outside, the wind released a feral howl, as if coinciding with her nightmares. The small house that they lived in creaked and leaned under the force. Lightning flashed outside, followed by an earth-quaking clap of thunder. Liuan's hair bristled as her sleep-fogged eyes snapped open. She sat up, her arms shaking violently. Slowly, she brought up one of her hands, and speared it through her mussed hair. She panted and closed her eyes, pulling up her knees to rest her head on them in her fatigue and anxiety.
Lifting her head, she shifted her gaze to her grandmother's bed, only to find that the elderly woman wasn't there. Liuan stood up and peered out of the window to see that a familiar and dimly lit light was emanating from the tiny shack that served as a home to their ancestors. Her grandmother was in there worshipping, even as a storm raged on around her. Strange there would be a monsoon, considering that it was the wrong time of year, but Liuan had no time to think of such things; she had to retrieve her grandmother before the weather became worse.
She grabbed a heavy blanket to shield herself and, eventually, her grandmother from the rain. Crossing over and out of the room towards the front door, Liuan braced herself for an onslaught of wind, rain, and Mother Nature's many other elements.
The door flew open before she could touch it. It became detached from its old hinges, and flew off into the wind.
'This is more dangerous than I first believed,' she thought to herself, starting to panic. She forced herself to stay as calm as possible as she covered her head and body with the thick blanket and dashed out into the violent storm. The wind immediately pushed her back.
"Grandmother!!" she shouted, knowing that her voice would be stolen by the cold, invisible hands that prevented her from moving. She pushed against it, taking one slow step away from the house, followed by another. Too determined to retrieve her grandmother to worry about the storm, she slowly fought her way towards the shine, beating back the wind that attempted to prevent her from moving, and threatening to swallow her up whole. "Grandmother!"
Feeling as if her head had been connected to marionette strings, Liuan looked up, only to see something horrible: a large, swirling wormhole of darkness, and out of this vortex poured forth hundreds upon hundreds of shadow-like creatures Liuan had never seen nor heard of before, and they were being led by a leviathan of their own kind.
Liuan's scream was lost to the wind as she found strength in her limbs to run forward. Dozens of those creatures popped up out of the ground and seemed to glide against the wind except being pushed away by it.
"Grandmother!!" she screamed, forcing the door to the shack open. "We have to get out of here. There are strange demons afoot." The door allowed itself to be pushed back. Liuan entered the shack only to find it empty.
Her grandmother wasn't there.
The strange creatures came in. They had followed the scent of a darkness-infested heart. Liuan released a war-cry as she swept at them with the blanket, backing up towards the wall until she could move no further. Glancing to her left, Liuan noticed a battle sword that was owned by one of her warrior ancestors. Wrenching it off the wall, Liuan immediately swung up upwards in a diagonal, readying herself for an attack and getting used to the feeling of the weapon in her hand at the same time-- she had never held a sword before in her life and, although it almost felt right in her grip, there was still something about it that made her cringe.
The shadow creatures approached her, their antennae swaying back and forth as they followed the scent of her heart. She swung the sword down, vanquishing three of the demons coming at her and sending them all to Diyu-- to Hell. The dozens of remaining creatures stepped back a few feet before approaching once more, hungry for the heart in her chest. They began to climb up her legs en masse, applying weight on her limbs, draining the strength from her muscles as they raced to reach her heart. Liuan's knees buckled beneath her, swaying underneath the weight and the dance of the antennae. She collapsed into a kneeling position, forcing a lot of them to melt back into the floor in order to avoid the blow of her joints. Many were crushed simply by the weight of her body falling to the floor. It also gave them an opportunity to climb up her arms, so all her limbs were held down while they sniffed and probed.
And that's when the first one reached her heart. It began to jitter in excitement, like molecules in heat. Its short, stubby arms reached forward, and it buried the tips of its claws into her chest. Pain immediately racked her body, even though the creature did not physically pass through her body. To her, it felt as if her aura, her ki, was being ripped apart slowly. She arched her back, a tear of agony slipping down her face. The torment-- whether physical, spiritual, or even mental-- reminded her too much of the time she was violently raped; reminded her of what it was like to have herself stretched past the extreme. Considering that, perhaps the torment she felt as the shadow creature, the Heartless Shadow, was a mixture of the aforementioned traumas.
She gasped and stiffened up as the claws latched onto her infected heart, and ripped it out with sick squelching, cracking noises. The Shadow made a noise of triumph, alerting to its brethren that it had obtained the heart. It jumped down off of Liuan as her body convulsed. She collapsed onto her back, arching her back in pain. Her limbs shook dangerously; her body grew cold.
It seemed they spoke to her, whispering gentle, almost kind words to make her relax and fully succumb to their endeavors:
"Please, don't fear us. We are darkness; we are your friend. We do not want to hurt you. We merely want you to be with us, where you belong...
Her body grew lax as one of her last breaths as a human passed through her lips. As the other Heartless began to surround her body, and send her into the depths of darkness, the Shadow lifted her delicate, pink heart to its mouth, sinking its teeth in as if it were a piece of ripe, juicy watermelon. It devoured her malice-infested heart, transforming it into one of its own, though a bigger version-- a Darkside.
But Liuan did not see this. Instead, she saw perpetual darkness surround her as her body and soul were cast into complete Nothingness, and as the Land of Dragons was sent to reside in End of the World.
Cold-- it was so cold; freezing. And, yet, it wasn't for she could not feel a thing. There was just darkness, and numbness. There was just the odd, sudden knowledge that she was not corporeal. There were just flashing images in her head of a life that wasn't hers-- the tragic life of a woman who resembled a fragile porcelain doll, with locks spun from obsidian and eyes chipped from the smoothest jade.
'She's not me... Is she?'
Part of her wished that this life she was seeing was hers-- even went so far as to believe it was so. A sad life would be better than nothing at all; existing in tragedy would mean a lot more than existing, or not existing, in Darkness, in Nothingness.
Then again, floating through the shadows wasn't so bad. No one was there to taunt and dehumanize her, and nothing had really changed. She was almost as alone as she had always been.
'Aren't I?' It was so cold; so numb; so utterly dark, dreary, and disparaging. Her disorientation was unfathomable; trying to distinguish her frail, lithe form from the darkness that surrounded her was trivial, and she floated within it aimlessly. She conformed with the creatures of the dark: the shadow creatures, the Heartless. She was not one of them, and yet she was one of them because she had been brought into the darkness by them.
'What's real anymore?' And then, suddenly, a burst of murky light filtered in through the darkness in a perfectly straight, vertical line. It widened as if a pair of double doors were being pulled open. The luminance, despite its gloom, burned her unconditioned pupils, yet she was drawn to it like a moth to a flickering flame. It called to her, beckoned her, encouraging her to fight against the darkness that attempted to pull her back into conformity.
A hand reached out for her, groping around in the abyss. She felt herself becoming heavy and physical as her body broke itself away from the shadows and, when he hand touched the one reaching for hers, a sense of warmth filled her entire body. It was then that she needed the light, or some murky form of it. She needed contact with someone else besides the Heartless. She allowed herself to be pulled away. She allowed herself to be pulled into the light, into the stark white room that lay on the other side of the door that was equally as cold as the darkness from the other side.
The portal closed. The woman slumped to the floor, naked, shivering, perplexed, and frightened. She curled up into a fetal position, her teeth chattering cruelly in her mouth. Her flowing hair acted as something of a covering for her nudity, but only just-- her mane only extended to the middle of her back, meaning that the length was enough to cover her breasts, and not much else. She curled her body up tighter, even as a blanket was thrown over her to keep her warm.
"Little One, what is your name?" a deep, masculine voice asked. The woman looked up, squinting against the assaulting brightness of the room to see who was speaking to her. A man was hovering over her. He had sharp, golden eyes; a stoic face filled with lethargy; and dark, hoary locks that caressed his shoulders and neckline in fragile, feathered layers. His bangs fell on either side of his face, giving it a strange, alluring shape. He was tall, about five feet, eleven inches, and had a bit of a muscular build that did not do a thing to take away from his elegance. She felt as if she could see through him-- he was solid and transparent at the same time. She could see his aura, his qi-- a bright, silver haze clinging to his body like a second skin; she could see the organs in his body, pumping, feeding his shell the life it needed to go on without a heart. The blood teemed inside his veins, rushing to everywhere and nowhere in the same instance. Her eyes caught the patter of his skin, the jigsaw of his wrinkles, the trail of his pores.
And, looking at his chest, she could see a vortex of darkness replacing the organ he was missing-- the one that he craved the most: his heart.
She blinked up at him, her perceptive jade eyes devoid of all emotions, and damn near lifeless. She had no idea where she was, how she had gotten there, who she was. All she knew was the white walls, floor, and ceiling of the room were starting to burn her pupils, and that she remained cold despite the fact that she was covered.
And that this man's eyes reflected how she felt, or didn't feel, inside.
"Little One," he repeated soothingly, holding out a hand to help her stand up. She secured the blanket around her frame before taking what was offered and climbing to her feet. Her knees felt as if they had been fashioned out of water and nothing more, but he kept her standing easily with little use of his upper body strength. She leaned against him for support. "What is your name?"
She smirked at him, a fake expression of residual emotion, and cast her eyes down as she mused over the question. A name flashed in her head, one that began with an 'L.' It quickly dissolved away before she could wrap her tongue around the letters and allow the moniker to slip from her lips. In its place came a new name-- what seemed to her to be a stronger, more suitable name.
She returned her gaze back to the man's face, and whispered the four words he had been waiting to hear:
"My name is Xiùlán."
"Hey, Demyx!" Axel greeted as he meandered into the Melodious Nocturne's room. Demyx was fiddling with his water sitar, attempting to fine tune the extraordinarily large instrument, which also served as his weapon in battle. Axel's flaming, spiky red hair gleamed in the soft, nautical lightning of Demyx's room, giving it somewhat of a purple tint as the light blue mixed with the crimson. His bottle green eyes twinkled with residual curiosity and playfulness over the navy blue, triangular tattoo markings. Axel was the behind-the-scenes trouble-maker of the entire Organization. He tended to play sides behind Xemnas's back, and Demyx was the only one who knew about it simply because Demyx did not care. As long as it didn't come any where near him. Demyx did not like fighting, and tried to avoid it as often as he possibly could. All he wanted to do was sit in his room and play his sitar late into the night, manipulating water with each pluck of the strings.
He looked up at his fiery-spirited companion, blue eyes tinted over with lingering weariness and suspicion. His dirty blond hair was given a greenish glow in the blue lighting. The effect of the lamp made it seem as if the two were underwater. Demyx was one of the few who had actually taken the time out to decorate his room, mainly because the white made his eyes hurt. It consisted of brilliant azure hues that illustrated his appreciation for the element of water, with turquoise walls, a navy blue comforter, and sky blue carpeting.
"What is it?" he asked, turning his attention back to his instrumental weapon. "It's not another mission is it?"
"Nah! As if Xemnas would pick you to go on a mission! You're lazy and good for nothing!" Axel commented back in good spirits. Demyx snapped his head up, his face contorting in an expression of argumentation.
"I am not lazy! I just don't feel like being bothered."
"Now that's just going too far. I do what I need to do when it's necessary. Have you forgotten that I've already fought the Keyblade Wielder?" Demyx's chest seemed to puff out in pride as he said this, though neither his face nor his eyes showed such an emotion.
"Have you forgotten that I've had several encounters with him already?" Demyx seemed to deflate. He sent the Flurry of Dancing Flames a glare before returning his attentions to his instrument. Where Demyx was skilled in water manipulation, Axel was just as talented with fire. His weapon consisted of a pair of chakrams-- flat metal rings with sharp outer edges-- which he set on fire in battle. It was funny that they were close friends, or as close of friends as one could get in an Organization that was full of group and individual agendas, and controlled two opposing elements. Demyx had quickly taken Roxas's place after Axel had realized that attempting to get his first best friend back was hopeless. They had been inseparable ever since.
"What did you come here for? I know it wasn't just to berate me because you would have left already."
Axel shot Demyx a wry, cunning grin. "There's a new Nobody recruit in the Organization, and it's a woman." Demyx snapped his head up. Axel's replicated grin seemed to grow wider under the flickering azure luminance, until he looked like a damn Cheshire cat. There hadn't been a new female Nobody in the Organization since Larxene, who had been in cohorts with Marluxia to take over the Order. "I heard she's a babe, too."
"Who'd you hear that from?" Demyx said, tilting his head to the side slightly.
"Luxord, who heard the news from Xigbar, who heard it from Saïx, who saw her with his own eyes."
"And you believe this gossip train because...?"
"What reason would they have to lie?!"
"Hmmm... let's see," the Nocturne began sarcastically, "Luxord loves to gamble. Gambling requires lying every once in a while in order to win. And he also likes to play games. Have I missed anything?"
"The point." Demyx sighed and shook his head, once again fiddling with his sitar. Axel scowled slightly, and pulled the instrument away. "Aren't you the least bit curious?"
"Meh. I'm fairly apathetic about the situation."
Axel rolled his eyes. "That's because you're a Nobody. We don't feel anything."
"Where is she staying, anyway? Where's her room?"
Axel growled slightly. "She's staying in Xemnas's room. Lucky bastard!" Demyx frowned.
"Do you think they're...?"
"What? Fucking? Doubtful. As if any sane woman would want Xemnas. He's about as interesting as a cold fish. Now, me on the other hand-!"
"You're not that much interesting than Xemnas is." Axel gaped in him in incredulity.
"Me, not interesting? Please. I'm probably the most interesting Nobody within this entire Organization," he claimed, folding his arms across his chest. Demyx rolled his azure eyes, and stood up.
"Fine, since you're not going to leave me alone until we go investigate this rumor, let's go. This better not be some sort of ruse to get me to go on a mission." His black coat flared at his booted feet, swaying with every step he took.
"It's not, you big coward!" Axel exclaimed, throwing his arms up in the air to emphasize his point. His hands clapped on his thighs as he allowed them to drop. They left Demyx's room, stepping into the harsh, white hallway of The Castle that Never Was. The florescent lightning of the passageway illuminated Axel's vibrant red locks, giving the starkness a splash of moving color.
"So where should we look first?" Demyx asked, glancing around as they came to a crossroad in the hallway.
"We could always go investigate Xemnas's room," Axel suggested with a sly grin.
"It would do you no good," a deep, British accented voice informed them. A man with short, neat white-blond hair, with a beard and mustache combination to match stepped out of a room. His Arctic blue eyes shone with a slyness-- the eyes of a gambler. His ear and cartilage piercings gleamed in the light of the hallway as he approached his two comrades.
"And why is that, Luxord?" Axel asked, his eye twitching slightly.
Luxord smiled. Had they had emotions, Demyx would have labeled it as a lecherous smirk. The gleam in the Gambler of Fate's eyes brightened. He nodded his head in the direction of the women's bathing facilities, which had only been used by one other female in the entire existence of the Castle that Never Was. "Because she's taking a shower, trying to cleanse herself of the darkness she had been floating in for who knows how long."
Axel and Demyx made eye contact with each other briefly, seeing the same false sentiments reflected in the other's occuli. Smirking, Axel turned on his heel and lightly jogged towards the bathroom with Demyx following closely.
"You're the best, Luxord!!" the Flurry of Dancing Flames complimented over his shoulder. Luxord chuckled and walked off, his arms crossed tightly against his chest.
"Oh," he said, "I know."
Xiùlán rubbed her fingers across the expanse of her scalp lethargically, allowing the hot water flooding from the showerhead to assault her nude body. Her normally milk white skin was flushed a delicate shade of pink underneath the attack, yet she did nothing to change her position. The water was actually quite soothing with its scalding tendencies.
Her face was utterly blank, not reflecting the roaring whirlwind of thoughts and questions that flustered her mind. She couldn't remember a thing up until the man, Xemnas, pulled her into the light. All she saw when she called up her memory were fragmented images of a life she may or may not have lived, in a world she may or may not have ever grown up in.
He had told her that she was a Nobody, the mere shell and soul of a person whose heart had been stolen by the '"wretched, unintelligent Heartless," as he had so eloquently phrased it. The images, he said, were possible residual memories left behind by her heart.
He said that he would be performing a number of physical and psychological tests on her to make sure that she was up to the task of helping him to secure Kingdom Hearts. It was standard protocol-- all of the Nobodies in Organization XIII had had to have these tests done. There was nothing to worry about, not that she could worry if she truly wanted to.
But even if she didn't have her emotions, or her memories, the tests still struck a disquieting cord within her. Something about what he said just didn't seem right, but she was unable to place her finger on it. Maybe once she had met the other members of the Organization, things would start to make a lot more sense to her.
Somehow, though, she doubted it.
Sighing, Xiùlán allowed her hands to drop from her scalp as she tipped her head back into the rain of the shower and allowed the shampoo to rinse from her mane. Slowly, the ivory bubbles dissolved away to reveal locks of the softest chestnut, with natural highlights of a lighter hue nestled into random strand clusters. The water rushed into her ears, clouding her hearing briefly. She sighed once more, this time in contentment; the sensation of drops of water crashing into her scalp was just short of pure heaven. For the first time since she had arrived in The World that Never Was, Xiùlán allowed her body to relax, becoming almost pliant, boneless. She licked the dewdrops off of her lower lip, her tongue bouncing at the taste; her stomach gurgling slightly.
She was hungry.
Xiùlán straightened herself and turned around, allowing the water to hit every inch of her body one last time before she turned it off. Pushing back the curtain, she groped blindly for a towel, her fingers hitting and sliding off of the rack. Opening her eyes, she realized that there were none anywhere in the facility, and the blanket Xemnas had given her was gone. She blinked around for a while before fully stepping out of the shower and slowly walking towards the door. On her way, she paused in front of the fogged, vanity mirror. Xiùlán tilted her head to the side in curiosity, and leaned forward against the marble counter of the vanity sink. Reaching out, she pressed the palm of her hand on the looking glass, and swiped it across in a messy diagonal.
She stared at the woman who could only be herself, eyeing her feathered, chocolate tresses, now matted and sopping wet from her shower; her cold, jade eyes that harbored no emotion-- only the signs of an incomplete soul with a white, curlicue tattoo branching out from the outside corner of her right eye. The skin of her shell was pale, even when flushed; the breasts were high, lush, and firm, but not spectacular in any other way with pale, honey and rose tinted nipples. She realized that she was a young woman in the prime of her youth: young and fertile. Her legs were long, giving the illusion that she was tall, when she was, in fact, a mere five feet, five inches. Her stomach was flat with a scar running down on the right side of her navel, from the top of the small basin down to the beginning of her hip bone. She wondered if it was significant.
Sighing and knowing that she couldn't possibly stay in the bathroom all day, Xiùlán strode over to the door and wrenched it open. Her conscience screamed for modesty, as she was still stark naked, but her mind did not compute the order. She walked down the hall, her head held up proudly and swinging back and forth as she looked on either side of the hallway, wanting to memorize every inch of her new home. The water droplets from the shower ran down her body in miniature rivers to pool at each foot step, trailing her path for two curious Nobodies to follow her, both of them gaping at her blatant nudity.
Coming to a crossroad, she pursed her lips and looked around. Xemnas had shown her the way to the bathroom, and she hadn't necessarily been paying attention at the time, too enraptured with her new, stark white environment. So, needless to say, she was...
"Lost?" asked a smooth voice. Xiùlán whipped around to see two men in black cloaks, one with flaming red hair and the other with more subtle blond hair. She could tell just by the grin on his face that the ruby-haired god had been the one to question her actions. Her beryl eyes flickered between the two before she nodded slowly, warily. She looked like a cornered, skeptical animal.
Axel's grin widened. "Hey, you're new around here," he commented, pretending as if he knew nothing about her. He was good at pretending; after all, he was a Nobody. He watched as she once again nodded, this time taking a clumsy step backwards. "Aw, don't worry. We won't hurt you or anything; we just want to help you. We are comrades after all." His gaze dropped down to her exposed chest briefly before Demyx nudged him in the ribs and stepped forward.
"My name is Demyx, the Melodious Nocturne. This guy," he jerked his thumb over his shoulder at the red-head, "is Axel, the Flurry of Dancing Flames." Demyx gulped slightly, finally realizing the extent of her nakedness. He immediately regretted helping Axel with his scheming, but planned on rectifying it. With fumbling fingers, he unzipped his black cloak and slipped out of it, leaving himself feeling a might bit exposed in only a ribbed, black tank top that accentuated his surprisingly powerful arms and broad chest. He handed her the coat, which she put on quickly, nodding her thanks.
"So, what's your name?" Axel asked, his tone the epitome of the disappointment he couldn't feel.
She zipped up the coat before glancing at him and answering softly, "My name is Xiùlán." Her voice was light and soothing, like a midsummer night's breeze.
"That's pretty," he commented lightly. She tipped her head to the side in response, then began her trek once more. "Hey, hey, hey. I thought you said you were lost"
"I am," she replied, not bothering to stop. The two men jogged to catch up with her. Axel shackled her upper arm, causing her to stop.
"Well, if you're looking for Xemnas's room, you're going the wrong way. Got it memorized?" Xiùlán quirked an eyebrow and nodded in response. Axel's attitude was implausible-- he acted as if he had emotions, and was so good at it that, for a second, Xiùlán found herself believing that he did.
He snaked his arm around her shoulders in an almost protective manner. "Stick with me, girly, and I'll take you to wherever you need to go." Xiùlán pulled herself out of his grasp, glaring at him softly.
"I'll follow you so long as you don't touch me," she retorted, folding her arms. Axel's face went slack before his grin returned, accompanied by a lazy shrug.
"Fiesty, I like that."
The comment was promptly followed by two pairs of eyes rolling in their sockets: one pair jade, the other azure. Axel didn't see the response to his comment as he turned on his heel at the same moment. "Follow me," he ordered before briskly walking down towards Xemnas's room. Demyx fell in step next to Xiùlán, who was walking with her head slightly bowed, as if in prayer.
"I'm sorry for him," he apologized as he watched her. Xiùlán shrugged her shoulders, not bothering to make eye contact with the Melodious Nocturne.
"I find it a bit hard to care, in all meanings of the phrase."
"I know how that is."
They soon found themselves in front of Xemnas's set of double doors. Xiùlán stepped forward and pushed them open with a gentle shove.
Grinning from ear-to-ear, Axel bowed to her and said with obvious sarcasm, "This is where we leave you, mi'lady." Xiùlán rolled her eyes, and disappeared behind the doors. The apparatuses shut with a small click, leaving Axel and Demyx alone in the hallway. The pseudo-jovial look on Axel's face slipped to the floor, leaving only a mask devoid of all emotion behind. "Ya know, I feel sorry for her." Demyx blinked in confusion.
"Why? What's there to feel for her?" They began their trek back down the hallway, walking side-by-side.
"Remember a few weeks ago when Xemnas was raving about how we were failing, and that he wanted to run some experiments on the next Nobody who came into our midst? Well, Xiùlán is that next Nobody."
"What do you think he's going to do to her?" Demyx inquired, his brow furrowing.
Axel sighed. "I dunno, but he had a Darkside Heartless captured and brought in the other day. It's down in the basement now. It must have something to do with that. I suppose we'll see soon, whether we like it or not."
"What's there to like? We're Nobodies. We don't have the required equipment to like or hate anything."
"Well, I suppose that explains why I don't feel bad for taking all the towels and that blanket out of the women's bathroom."
The tests that Xemnas had mentioned were, in the great scheme of things, the simplest tasks Xiùlán thought any person-- or Nobody-- could be asked to do. The physical exams included testing her strength and endurance under harsh conditions and training her in the special powers she gained when her heart had been torn from her body and soul. Like Zexion before her, some of Xiùlán's preternatural abilities derived from one of her senses. While his had been the scent of smell-- able to, even over great distances, identify individuals by their scent and to sense when they die by noticing their scents fading-- Xiùlán had gained the ability to sense the life force in people, as well as detect whether or not they had a pure heart, a heart shrouded in darkness, or any heart at all. She could read a person's emotions-- residual or otherwise-- and even what they were thinking, just by examining their aura. Each emotion had a different color; every word, a different electromagnetic frequency.
The undisclosed amount of time blending in with the darkness also gave her the power to blend into her surroundings, much like a chameleon. It occurred with a mere touch of a certain object, and the thought of becoming one with her environment. At first, it was highly uncontrollable, with her flesh involuntarily camouflaging into anything she touched. This gained her the title of "Number XIV: The Oracular Shroud."
The psychological evaluations consisted merely of questions and conversation between herself and the Superior of the entire Organization, though many of the questions and phrases were standard and repeated every day.
"How are you today?"
"Do you remember the purpose of our Organization?"
"Are you willing to serve the Organization unconditionally?"
"You are to serve the being who is stronger than you."
"The wielder of the Keyblade is our enemy, but he is also our key to gaining Kingdom Hearts. We may only spur him along until we receive what we want. We cannot dispose of him until the end."
In short, Xemnas was brainwashing her, and Xiùlán chose to believe every word that passed through his thin lips because she knew nothing else.
Her temporary chamber was a room built for observing patients, complete with the standard two way mirror, through which Xemnas would visually evaluate the actions of his little experiment. Xiùlán believed that she would be there for the rest of her existence as a Nobody, or until Xemnas diagnosed her as fit to help fight.
And then, one night, he came for her.
Xiùlán's eyes immediately snapped open as she sensed a familiar aura and thought pattern approaching. Wincing at the harsh light that flooded the room, the newest member of Organization sat up slowly, tossing her arms up into the air as she yawned and stretched.
"Xiùlán, come with me-- I have one more test for you before you are ready." She frowned, but relented and clamored up to her feet, her extrasensory eyes fogged over with obvious signs of fatigue. It was hard to fall asleep in a room where the lights were constantly blaring down upon oneself.
She followed him out of the room, running her hand against the wall and fiddling with her powers absentmindedly. The two of them made their way through corridors, passing door after door, room after room. Xiùlán could only wonder what lay beyond those doors, what lined the corridors she had never been through, what was kept on the floors above her head and below her feet.
When they passed a window, Xiùlán became frozen in her steps. Her beryl eyes grew wide as she peered out at what she saw. A large, dark city lay before the Castle that Never Was, filled to the brim with the tallest buildings she had ever seen before. In the middle stood a massive, tall tower that was illuminated with a sea green glow, making it stand out against the dark around it. It struck her as being something of a guardian tower for the city, watching over the residents of the World that Never Was as they passed through the dark of perpetual night that overlay the world.
"Xiùlán, it's imperative that you keep up with me," Xemnas called out over his shoulder. She turned to see that he had stopped, and was watching her intently, as though afraid he was going to lose her in the maze that was the Castle. Xiùlán strode over to him within the breadth of three steps, and soon stood next to him, waiting for him to continue to lead the way.
She followed him onto the Crooked Ascension, which took them down instead of what the name implied. It served as something of an elevator, though it was merely an expanse of hallway that was able to move between floors, so one would not have to take the long way to where they wanted to go. It seemed the traveled down for ages, passing one floor after the next. Xiùlán watched as Dusk and Samurai Nobodies meandered up and down the halls, keeping sentry watch over their shunned and semi-dysfunctional kingdom that sat in a world between the dichotomy of light and dark. The sight struck her as strangely and tragically beautiful, but she wasn't sure why. Perhaps it was because this was her home, or as close to one as she could possibly get with her heart and most of her memories missing. Her stomach clenched at even the passing thought of her memories, as if it was glad she was no longer her true self. As for what she personally believed, she was apathetic either way.
The elevator ceased its movement. The two intelligent Nobodies clamored off of it silently. They were deep in the bowels of the Castle, and Xiùlán could already tell that not many ventured down into this part of their abode.
A strange thud and a boisterous roar emanated from a room closed with two white doors. Xiùlán slowed her movements slightly, blinking and tilting her head in confusion. Her gut clenched once more, her body's natural call of warning as she neared the room with Xemnas. She wasn't sure if there was anything to fear-- not that she could truly feel it-- but she knew that, even if there was, there would be no sense in her running away in cowardice without trying to understand who or what lay beyond those doors.
Xemnas, sensing Number XIV's slight hesitation, reached back and shackled her wrist with his broad hand, pulling her forward, wanting to get his experiment done and over with. If it was a complete success, there would be much triumph for his fair Organization, and Kingdom Hearts would surely be theirs for the taking. He pushed open the doors, and dragged Xiùlán inside, so she could face the caged beast on the other side of the apparatuses.
She stiffened upon seeing the beast in the cage. It was as if someone had scooped up a large handful of darkness and had molded it into a shape that vaguely resembled a human figure. It had a large, broad chest; long, swooping, and massive arms that tapered into hands which, in turn, tapered into clawed fingers. Its hair was stringy and wild, resembling dreadlocks around his beady, crimson-tinted eyes. It thighs were just as gargantuan as its arms, yet his legs ended in strange squiggles for feet. In the middle of this creature's abdomen was a large gaping hole cut into the shape of a heart, as if that's where the creature's vital organ had been ripped out and had forever left its imprint in its abdominal cavity. It stood at an incredible height that Xiùlán could not even begin to estimate.
"Do you know what this is?" Xemnas asked softly as he released her wrist and looked over his shoulder at her. Xiùlán shifted her beryl gaze to her superior, and nodded slowly.
"It's a Heartless, of course, a Pureblood due to the lack of an emblem on its body. The heart it came out of must have been riddled with darkness." Xemnas smiled coldly, and turned to face her all the way. "And do you know why it is here?" Xiùlán shrugged, but seemed unable to look away from the creature. There was something familiar about the beast of darkness that made her skin crawl, and she longed to caress the stolen heart inside its body, the one that rested just above the large, gaping hole in its abdomen. Her eyes took on a crazed look of hunger-- something she did not feel that strongly.
"Not quite." Xemnas gestured to a chair that looked as if it should be in a doctor's office. "Please, sit down. This will only take a few minutes." Xiùlán did as she was told, managing to move without taking her eyes off of the Darkside Heartless. Xemnas watched lethargically before reaching over to the medical table, and picked up two syringes. The one in his right hand was filled with a light, airy liquid. It looked a lot like cream, but had something of an ethereal glow to it that Xiùlán found aesthetic. The syringe that sat in his left hand, however, held the opposite of the first inside its belly: dark, murky liquid that seemed to crawl up the sides and thrash about in an attempt to free itself. While the right syringe held liquid calm, the left contained dark, watery chaos.
She gasped as she felt something tighten around her wrists. Looking down, she realized that leather straps had been applied, possibly to hold her in place but for what purpose was beyond her. Xemnas, meanwhile, was at her feet, shackling her ankles as well.
"What is the meaning of this?" she asked, her voice taking on the mask of anger. Xemnas straightened up and blinked at her.
"So you don't thrash about. This will probably bring you an unbearable pain for a few moments." He flicked the top of the needle on the black syringe, depressing the plunger a little in order to push the air out. "Oracular Shroud, do you remember your life before this?"
She shook her head. "I can only call up bits and pieces. By the residual emotions I have, I can tell that I led a sad and sorry existence."
"Something that would cause one's heart to be... filled with darkness?"
Her eyes widened before returning to their normal circumference. "Why, yes." She struggled against her bonds a little. "Where are you going with this?"
He busied himself with sterilizing her upper arm, preparing the flesh for the intrusion of not one, but two needles. The bitter sting of rubbing alcohol hit her nose fiercely, making her eyes water in contempt. When he was finished, he readied the needle right over the sterile patch of skin.
"Xiùlán, this Darkside Heartless was born from the darkness in your own pathetic heart, and now I will be returning a bit of that darkness back. To counterbalance this procedure, I will inject you with the liquefied light of Kingdom Hearts. Do you understand?"
"Yes but... why?"
He jabbed the needle in her arm and injected the liquid. Her eyes widened in horror as the darkness began to course through her body, tearing away at her insides with the brutality of a piranha. Her pupils contracted in pain as a wail found its way up from her larynx into her mouth and through her lips. She thrashed about in her seat, struggling to get free, to get away so she could claw at herself, at her pain. Her body began to heat up; her bones shifted and contorted within her frame as she physically began to change. Xemnas, noticing the haste of the effects of the darkness, quickly injected the essence of light into her body, which would dampen the pain, or so he hoped.
She broke through her bonds and collapsed from the chair onto the floor. She curled up, much as she had when she had been pulled from the darkness. Her body contracted in pain time and time again as she cried from the agony, her eyes burning in her skull. She could hear the sickly sounds of her bones crunching within her; could feel the action taking place. Her organs rolled around in her abdomen as her morphing bones jostled them cruelly.
And, above all this noise, Xiùlán somehow managed to hear one final explanation:
"Because we are losing the war for Kingdom Hearts."