When Sora next opens his eyes, there are stars above him.
This initially makes a modicum of sense, right until he realises that it actually doesn’t.
He seems to be lying on his back, judging from the general feeling of his body, so what he should be looking at aren’t the stars, but the boards and support beams crisscrossing his bedroom ceiling as he lies on his bed. With that said, he is propped up against something, lying on a surface that is distinctly more solid than any bed, and the stars are directly above him, only partially obscured by some distant structure.
Blinking, he pushes himself to sit up further to look around, setting his hands on the cold floor, and realises he’s actually in an outdoor passage of some kind, with a wooden fence covered in faded posters at one end, and a corner leading elsewhere at the other. A few crates and barrels complete the picture: it’s an alley.
He gets to his feet, paying only the slightest notice to how he’s not wearing his nightclothes anymore, and steps out of the alley into a street. His first impression is that it’s a very closely-built place, with lots of large two-storey buildings. All the architecture is foreign, with timber frames, cobblestone walkways and high tiled rooves. It’s night, but it’s also very bright lit, thanks to the various lamps lining the paths; some iron gas lamps with crooked poles, and others strange, squat green things that don’t quite match the rest of the world.
He carries onward and, past a few buildings, encounters a set of steps leading down to a plaza. A huge border wall frames the far sides, with a set of double doors in each one. Some of the buildings here have bright neon signs, of all things, labelling their businesses: the huge barn is apparently a jewellery and accessory store, and a little shop tucked into the corner boasts the generic name of ‘Items’. One building has a menu posted outside, and the largest one has an open ground floor with café tables distinctly visible.
A signpost points with gloved hands in the cardinal directions, ‘South’ pointing towards the larger set of doors. To the other, eastward gate, the sign above declares
in capital letters.
Sora walks down the stairs and approaches the café, only to notice that it is completely empty. The lights are on, and the candles on the tables are lit, but the bar is unmanned, and there are no patrons. He waits for any noise from upstairs, but there’s nothing.
Come to think of it, it’s rather quiet in general. The town is very brightly illuminated, although not to the extent that it would blot out the stars, but the place is deserted, which seems odd for such a nice place at any hour of the night. Sora guesses that the townsfolk might be asleep, but every window he’s seen has been bright so far.
Maybe they’re all afraid of the dark?
No, thinks Sora, that’s ridiculous. There has to be another reason.
He exits the café and, after some deliberation, makes his way over to the southern doors. They are further inset than the eastern doors, with some stained-glass windows on either side that are too high and opaque to see through, and a sign directly above offers the message “See you Again!!” in blue font.
Curious, he pulls them open, and then gasps.
Through the doors, the floor simply stops. The paving cuts off with a stone edge. But there isn’t a change of ground, because there isn’t a ground beyond the paving.
It doesn’t fall away into a pit, either. There’s no gaping abyss right before him. There’s no ground in the distance. There isn’t even a horizon to be seen. In fact, there’s nothing but the dark night sky wrapping all the way around the doors, the distant stars shining away without a care, and for a moment it seems to wrap around Sora too.
He steps back, noting how the night reaches for his feet, and closes the doors, letting the world burst back into light behind him. He turns and wanders back in the plaza. The candles in the café are flickering back to life as he walks past, up to the blandly-labelled Item Shop.
The door opens into a room rather than a void. The interior is still dark, and there’s no light switch, but the bottles gleam from the open doorway, making them easy to pick out. There’s no-one inside; only his shadow lying on the ground.
Sora turns away and runs to the jewellery store, and then to the bars, and then through every visible door he can find. Each of the shops is the same—empty and dark despite the orange of their windows. A few plain doors don’t open, but there’s no noise from inside when he knocks or calls. The east gate has a padlock bigger than his head, so he doesn’t need to test it.
The streets form a loop around the accessory shop, so it hardly takes him very long to sweep the place, and by the time he ‘regroups’ in the plaza he’s discovered a few things of interest:; another set of doors at the North end labelled ‘Second District’ (locked); a safe sitting out in the open (locked); a postbox with a mouth and tongue in place of (insulted). Still, he hasn’t seen another person yet.
He does see he’s left all the doors open, though, and sheepishly walls back to the jewellery shop to close them.
As he walks up to the store, he notices a shadow in the doorframe. Suddenly he’s curious—is it another person? Maybe a shopkeeper wondering why somebody ding-dong-ditched? This is the shop with the bell, so if the lights are on upstairs it was only a matter of time before somebody came down to check—
No, false alarm. It’s just his shadow that he left behind in the shop.
Or, so it looks, at any rate, before it rises and scuttles off in the form of a strange creature. Sora, backing up, vaguely recognising its shape—its pudgy body, its long, kinky antennae, its beady yellow eyes— it’s a demon bug, like the ones he’d met before.
Realising what happened the last time he’d met these beings, he confidently closes his eyes and holds out his hand.
A few seconds later, he’s tackled to the ground.
The bug sits atop him, claws aimed for his eyes. A widening shadow on the floor beneath him sprouts arms that take hold of his limbs. Panicking, he writhes, struggling against their grasp. A bug’s head emerges from the ground next to his ankle—he kicks at it, causing the arm to release his leg; he kicks off the arm on his other leg and musters all his strength to tear his wrists from their captors, then takes off running up a street, hoping as he passes the open door of the restaurant that he might, if he gets sufficiently out of sight, lose their interest.
Turning behind the jewellery shop, he stops to catch his breath, staring at his hand. The sword didn’t come. Is it because he hasn’t heard the voice yet? Does he need that voice to use it? There’s no time to think about it, so he shakes his head, and steps forward, across a shadow with blinking eyes—
He jumps back, pressing against the wall, and a strange chittering noise immediately calls his attention from behind him. He very quickly glances back, then does a double-take and looks again.
His jaw drops. The wall is covered in them—the demon bugs, half-submerged in the wall, crawling around the corner with their arms reaching out to catch him again. Before they can, he immediately flees around the corner, causing himself to pass by another door. Out of the corner of his eye, as he runs, he can just see more of the bugs pouring out from the darkness of the interior.
By the time he has gotten back to the main plaza, a veritable wave of black and yellow has built up behind him. He careens to the east gate for a second before spotting the padlock on its surface again. Bitterly, he remembers the other exits are also all shut.
There’s only one that’s open, and with more regrets than he expects from dream, Sora runs for the south gate.
The doors fly open in front of him, and the ground fails underneath his feet the moment he crosses the threshold. He drops, latching onto the edge at the last second, even though it seems like he’s grabbing onto nothing, and hangs there one-handed.
A few seconds later, a torrent of black falls directly in front of him, obscuring his vision of the stars. The yellow eyes disappear into the distance and the sky darkens after they are gone. He stays there for a few moments, staring up at his fingers in vague expectation that more dark claws will grab at them.
They don’t, and he breathes a sigh of relief.
Then white fingers grab them instead.
Before he knows it, he’s hoisted up over the edge of the world, and dropped unceremoniously on his back. The gate is closed as he gets up and turns to greet his saviours.
“What’s the big idea!?” says the sailor suit-donning duck that pulled him up.
“Gawrsh,” says the behatted dog man accompanying him, “that was dangerous. Are you okay there?”
Sora takes a second to just absorb the fact that he’s actually found other people, even if they’re not necessarily people, before responding, “I-I’m okay. I think…”
“Do you have any idea what you were dealing with!?” the duck rasps angrily. “You coulda been killed! Or worse!”
Sora glances back at the doors. “Um—”
“The Heartless don’t play around! If they’d gotten you, you woulda lost your heart!”
Sora blinks. “…What are you talking about?”
“What am I—” The duck jumps up and down. “Whaddaya mean, what am I talking about!? What are you talking about!?”
“Gee, Donald,” says the dog, “I don’t think he knows.”
Donald hesitates, and then suddenly squawks a long “Whaaat!? You gotta be kidding me…” he mumbles. (Spits? He’s very raspy).
“Uh, listen,” Sora pipes up, “I just woke up here, and then I had to fight a bunch of monsters, so, I dunno what I’m supposed to know but, whatever it is, I dunno. I mean, probably. I dunno.”
Bill still hanging open, Donald turns away and begins to walk off. “We don’t have time for this—come on, Goofy.”
Goofy, or so the dog-man seems to be called, raises a finger. “Uh, I don’t think we should be leavin’ ‘im alone…” Still, he begins to slowly follow, looking over his shoulder at Sora with a doe-eyed expression.
“Hey, wait, uh—” Sora reaches out a hand after them. His fingers, once outstretched, begin to wrap around a manifesting hilt. “Huh?”
Goofy does a double-take. “Would ya look at that!”
“Come on, Goofy! Uh, Goofy?” Donald twists around, only for his bill to fall open a second time.
“That’s it!” he shouts, closing the distance again. “That’s the key!”