What if the Heartless didn't nicely explode into bits of munny, bubbles and HP orbs? What if, after surrendering their hearts, the Heartless rotted where they were defeated?
There was one left. Donald called it a 'Shadow', and it reminded Sora of a cockroach he had cornered in his room when he was eight. The Shadow only had four legs instead of six, but it twitched and rocked on its legs in an insectoid way. It was very small, only coming up to Sora's knees, but had huge yellow eyes. Its face reminded Sora of a jack-o-lantern's, like someone had chiseled a hole for light to shine through from the inside. Sora swore he saw the eyes flicker; the light was dying inside like an old bulb. There was a feral hunger in those eyes; the Heartless needed something to sustain its inner light, and eyed Sora like Pheonix Down.
Sora swung, and slashed the Shadow on the side of its head. It wheeled from the hit, sinking back into the ground where Sora couldn't get it. Sora followed the Shadow, knowing, like a whale, it had to come up for air eventually. Antennae appeared first. Sora raised his blade for a vertical strike.
A bolt of lighting fried the air around Sora's nose. Sora toppled backwards, keyblade fumbling into his lap. From behind him, Donald gave a victory cry and twirled his staff. The Heartless dissolved into a puddle of oil at Sora's feet.
"Is that all of them?" Sora did a quick pan for a second wave, shooting Donald a glare while rubbing his nose.
"Looks like it," said Donald with an arrogant flair. "We'd better start cleaning up."
They were in Traverse Town, 3rd District. Sora had stumbled upon Donald and Goofy a short while ago, and had consented to join their party. Sora needed to find Riku and Kairi, and Donald and Goofy had interworld travel at their disposal in return for Sora's assistance-it was a nice compromise. Donald and Goofy seemed to have more experience than Sora in actual combat, and decided that securing the different districts of Traverse Town would be a nice warm-up for their new hitter. Sora still wasn't used to fighting Heartless, and didn't have a feel for Donald and Goofy's style of combat yet (Donald did almost fry him a moment ago).
"So...what are they?" Sora asked, the eyes of the defeated Heartless fading into the puddle.
"What're what?" quipped Donald, irate and jabbing at the remains of a Soldier: a knight's helmet dripping with black ooze.
"Heartless. What are they?"
Donald didn't answer right away, focused on opening the Solder's helmet without getting the ooze on his staff.
Goofy answered instead. "They're the bad guys. They take people's hearts."
Sora clamped his hand over his chest. An image popped into his mind of a hoard of Shadows crawling over his opened torso like ants.
Sora gulped. "Hearts?"
"Yeah. Hearts. That's why we gotta stop 'em," declared Goofy. Sora had to admire the knight-or was it captain of the king's guard? Goofy had a good heart, far purer than Donald's at any rate, and Sora could sense the stalwart faith Goofy had in his cause. The knight might not have understood the cause of his crusade, but his heart was in it.
"So...uh, what should I do to help?" Goofy and Donald were already into their work, and Sora wanted to rub his greenhorn feeling off as soon as possible.
"Well, ya see how when we beat them they melt into this black stuff," Goofy gestured to the various puddles created from their battle. "Well, you have to..."
"Poke at 'em."
Sora laughed. "What?"
"You gotta get the hearts out. Otherwise, the Heartless will reform again."
Sora shrugged. Seemed like a reasonable explanation. Sora looked at the puddle at his feet. It was spreading thinner, and he could detect a noticeable bulge in the middle. Sora looked around at the others. Donald was using the butt of his staff to roll a helmet out of a puddle, and Goofy had found a stick somewhere. Sora looked down at the keyblade in his hands, and wondered if the goop would rinse off his blade. Were the Heartless water soluble? Were they toxic? There were already stains from the battle on the keyblade's handle-a couple of drops at the tip couldn't hurt.
Sora squatted, making sure there was enough distance so that the expanding puddle wouldn't touch his shoes anytime soon, and prodded at the bubble in the puddle. It gave a half-hearted slosh, and began to roll. Sora rolled it in a circle, controlling it with the tip of his keyblade. Tiring of the game, Sora tapped it once. Twice. Four. Five. Six.
"C'mon. Pop already," said Sora impatiently.
Sora slammed his keyblade on top of it. There was a sickening squelch, and ink droplets splattered his face. The goop was cold, and putrid. It reminded Sora of a fish liver that Riku had thrown in his face once while gutting a catch.
Once, on Destiny Islands, back when he and Riku were obsessed with proving their masculinities by gross stunts in front of Kairi, Riku caught a net full of fish and showed Sora and Kairi how to gut them. The fish were Butterfish, hand-sized and silvery. Sora remembered heaving the net onto the sand, and watching the fish flip and flop, like newly hatched butterflies. Then Riku scooped up one of the fish, took out a pocket knife, and in one quick flick cut the stomach out. A green-yellow liquid sloshed out between Riku's fingers, and Riku proudly presented Sora and Kairi and hand-full of fish organs, glistening in the sun. Riku then handed him a fish and a Swiss knife. Sora remembered the flop of the fish against his grip, and the hard plastic of the tool in his other hand, covered in grime from Riku's handoff. Somehow, Sora thought the fish knew the end was coming, and stared teary-eyed at its executioner. He dropped both on the sand, and Kairi ran away when Riku offered her a fish and knife. Such cowardice, in the eyes of little boys, was expected from Kairi, but Riku deemed Sora's refusal unacceptable. He flicked a liver at Sora, catching him on the cheek, then laughed as Sora scratched at the slime on his face. Riku ended up gutting all the fish that day. Riku always had what it took, the inner mettle, the necessary callousness and the cruelty to take to survive. Sora could never find it in him the savageness to pluck the wings off a butterfly, or burn the antennas of an ant.
"Sora! Let it go!"
"Huh?" Sora looked down, and saw something struggling up from the muck, pinned down by his keyblade. Sora lifted up his keyblade, and watched a blue crystal heart fly up into the sky, unencumbered. It was beautiful. Sora was expecting organs and blood like in his biology class, or pus and slime like when he squished bugs at home. Who would've thought that the twitchy, insect-like Shadow had a crystal heart inside it?
"Where do they go?"
"Back to wherever they were taken, I guess," said Goofy. "With every Heartless we defeat, someone, somewhere out, in another world maybe, wakes up."
"Mmm. So we're like heroes then?"
"Yup. Just about."
Sora smiled, then noticed something was stiffening the skin on his face. He wiped the back of his hand across his face, smearing goo over his cheek. It began to dry and cake. It was very close to his mouth. "Donald!" Sora screamed. "What do I do? What do I do?"
Donald scampered over, and regarded Sora as a doctor might a car accident patient. Sora tried not to panic, while Donald eyed him like a specimen in a bottle. "We don't know what goes into making a Heartless. Don't eat it. Don't inhale it. Don't get it in your eyes. Might cause blindness, or worse, death."
Sora gulped and tried not to blink. "This stuff wash off?"
"Who knows," replied Donald in a doomed tone. "Find out." Sora's eyes began to itch. He wondered if the Heartless goop would sink into his skin, stain his face, and poison him.
"C'mon Sora. Here. Wipe that stuff off on my old sleeve here. Even if it don't come off, I got tons of this stuff back home." Goofy swabbed Sora's face like a doting parent. Donald waddled away with a disgusted snort.
"Don't mind Donald. He just likes knowing ahead of time what's going on. The king caught him by surprise with this here mission," whispered Goofy behind his hand. Sora nodded with a knowing smile.
Sora tended to a few more puddles, liberating hearts from the muck they were immersed in. Somehow, as time went on, the puddles became more like human viscera, and the popping sounds became more sickening. After three hearts Sora deeply regretted his attention in anatomy class and vomited in a corner.
Sora plopped himself in a corner, too sick to continue. Something began to sting his nostrils. What was that smell? Alcohol? Formaldehyde? Sora looked over one of the puddles and saw the air above them waving like a gas flume. Rotten eggs crept into the air. Sora pinched his nose, but his eyes continued to water. The Heartless were dying, rotting away like discarded corpses. All of the puddles were beginning to run together, converging into a large black lake that reeked of sewage. A few helmets and flicking eyeballs floated in the center, swaying like buoys.
Goofy sauntered over from his finished corner, covered in grime like a car mechanic. "What's the matter, Sora?"
"Nothing. It's just that."
"Now don't you worry yourself about the killing stuff," Goofy read his mind. "These here Heartless aren't really alive, and they hurt people. We hafta protect people against them by beating them, and freeing their hearts. Ya see?"
"Yeah...but, it's so gross. I did a dissection in the last days of school before summer, and that's all I can think about right now. The smell. The sounds. The feel of it."
Goofy nodded. "Well, it's best not to think about it. Ya do what ya hafta do. Donald! You done on your end?"
A pink heart fluttered into the sky. Donald waddled in later, an entire arm covered in slop.
"Gee Donald, what happened to you?"
"I leaned too far and fell in," Donald muttered sheepishly. He flashed the other two a look when they started laughing. "Well, let's get this over with."
"Get what?" asked Sora.
The end of Donald's staff began to glow. The light was white, then quickly shifted to orange, then red. A small fireball shot out of the tip. Another. And another. The lake caught like oil. Amid the crackle of the flames, Sora heard a high pitched whine, like a scream.
"That's it. We just torch them, and they don't come back?"
"We don't know," said Donald dismissively. "Burning it makes that black stuff go away-best way to get rid of it. We don't know if that stuff will stain or poison if we let it sit for long enough."
"The Heartless. They don't go away nicely, do they?" Something about the process seemed overly barbaric to Sora. The dead always left a grave, a monument, a sacred realm, something. To leave without a trace, even the enemy, seemed painful. "Are we going to have to do this after every battle we fight?"
Donald rounded on Sora. "Look, this isn't like your playground back home! These are real fights, and in real fights your opponent doesn't just go away all nicely. There's no garbage can to throw that squashed bug; we can't just flush them away like goldfish! This is what happens to the dead when no one preserves them," Donald huffed. "I'll meet you guys at the Gummi Ship," he muttered as he stomped away.
"Don't let Donald get to ya," said Goofy apologetically. "He's just weirded out by this stuff. We all are."
Sora nodded, feeling the drops of Heartless remains drying on his arms. Maybe things wouldn't always work out nicely. Maybe bad things wouldn't dissolve completely, even after being solved. A little bit of the battle smudges the landscape; that taint remains, no matter how hard you scrub and scrub. Sora wanted his island, where all bad things ended in a satisfying conclusion and never came back. Sora wanted things to end like the fights he had with Tidus, where after a beating the boy would rub his head, get up and walk home for dinner. Why did those Heartless have to melt into yucky puddles? Why did they have to smell so bad? Why couldn't they just pop away after taking too many hits?
Sora wondered if the fumes generated from the fire were noxious. Did enemy soldiers bury the dead of their opponents after battles?
Hope you enjoyed. Just toying around with an idea. Let me know what you think.