Xehanort had been raised on a world called Destiny Islands, a small island world surrounded by ocean. (I did claim last time that Eraqus was also born on Destiny Islands, but I’m no longer sure that I was right about that. Xehanort, however, definitely spent his youth on the islands.) Through his childhood and early adulthood, he spent much time gazing out at the sea, yearning to leave this tiny world and see the rest of the universe beyond. At some point, through methods unknown, he made it happen.
Xehanort and Eraqus were both Keyblade wielders, or Keybearers, and both trained to become Keyblade Masters. In the years after the Keyblade War, the worlds slowly rebuilt themselves from the light in children’s hearts, and the Keyblade Masters became a small order of guardians tasked with protecting the worlds. When Eraqus passed his Mark of Mastery exam, he became the steward of a world called the Land of Departure. Xehanort, meanwhile, became a Master and spent much of his life thereafter travelling the many worlds, learning as much as he could about everything that there was. He gathered enormous knowledge about light, darkness, the nature of hearts, and his particular subject of interest: the Keyblade War and Kingdom Hearts.
At some point, Xehanort decided that the balance between light and darkness needed redressing. There was just too much light, he was convinced, and the best way to reset things to their natural order would be to summon Kingdom Hearts and cause another Keyblade War. After all, the first Keyblade War erased the world that existed before it, and from the ashes arose all of the worlds that there were in Xehanort’s time. It was a perfect method of restoring everything to factory settings, a complete fresh start.
The best, if not only, way to bring about the second apocalypse Xehanort felt the universe needed was to unlock the enormous power contained within the almost deity-like entity known as Kingdom Hearts, and the key to unlocking Kingdom Hearts was the legendary original Keyblade, in the image of which all others were made: the X-Blade. (As with the title of Kingdom Hearts X, the X is in fact not the letter ‘x’, but the Greek letter ‘chi’, pronounced either ‘kye’ or ‘key’.) But how to recreate the X-Blade? That was a practical concern, to be sure, but the important thing was that the X-Blade became Xehanort’s goal.
When Xehanort told Eraqus of his plan, Eraqus was none too happy about it. He tried to convince his old friend that this was an insane plan, and eventually they came to blows. Xehanort used the power of darkness, which he had gained his knowledge of on his travels, to scar Eraqus, a scar he would bear for the rest of his life. The two parted ways, for the time being.
Xehanort had grown old by this time, and had come to two realisations: firstly, that he needed a way to extend his life, so as to ensure that he would survive long enough to see his plans come to fruition; secondly, that the way to forge the X-Blade was through a conflict of pure light and pure darkness. In a neat attempt to kill two birds with one stone, Xehanort took on an apprentice named Ventus. His plan was to train Ventus to be a Keyblade wielder powerful in the darkness, who would fight one of Eraqus’ apprentices and cause the light-dark conflict that would generate a new X-Blade. That done, Xehanort would then take Ventus’ body as a new vessel, extending his own life.
Unfortunately for Xehanort, Ventus was a bad choice. He was neither willing to accept the darkness nor (in Xehanort’s estimation) strong enough to cause the required explosion of dark versus light, or to be a new host body for the old Master. So Xehanort changed his plan.
Using his Keyblade (the very same Keyblade containing the Master of Master’s Gazing Eye, the blade taken by Luxu and passed down from master to apprentice) and the arcane knowledge he developed over a lifetime of travel and searching, Xehanort extracted the darkness from Ventus’ heart and created a new being from it, a person of pure darkness named Vanitas. The process left Ven with a heart of pure light, but a broken and failing one. For some reason – pity, perhaps? – Xehanort (now wearing a black coat much like the one that the Master of Masters and Luxu had once worn, a cloak allowing its wearer to pass safely through the Corridors of Darkness as a means of travelling from one world to another) took the comatose Ven to his childhood home, Destiny Islands, intending to leave him there to expire in peace. Ven’s heart, in pain and fading away, reached out and found a new heart, a child’s heart that had only just come into existence on the islands. That heart belonged to a boy who would grow into a young man named Sora. Sora’s heart allowed Ven’s to take refuge in its light, joining itself to Ven to heal him. Heart mended, Ventus awoke and summoned his Keyblade.
Ventus’ unexpected survival was a surprise to Xehanort, but he realised that the boy could still be of use. If Ventus could become of equal strength to Vanitas and the two could be made to battle each other, then that would suffice as the conflict of pure light versus darkness that Xehanort desperately required in order to forge the X-Blade and unlock Kingdom Hearts. Since he couldn’t train Ventus himself (he would be busy training Vanitas, and bringing the two up together was a sure-fire way to ensure that Ven’s heart of light would be snuffed out by Vanitas’ darkness before his plans could come to fruition), he left him in the care of Eraqus.
Xehanort and his old friend had sort of made up by this time, if only because Xehanort was exceptionally good at feigning and lying. He tricked Eraqus into believing that he was a changed man, one who regretted his earlier actions, and won back Eraqus’ trust. That done, he handed Ven over to Eraqus, who already had two other apprentices, and left to secretly prepare Vanitas for the battles to come.
Ventus would become close friends with Eraqus’ two existing apprentices, Terra and Aqua, and their stories, which really amount to just a series of absolutely terrible decisions, are recounted in Birth By Sleep. And that’s what we’ll talk about next time.