Pebblefan: (Chapter 9) I love Jade as well, and it was a shame that I couldn't include her until Chapter 9, considering how cool she is. Though I did NOT research traditional methods of mindfullness— it did not come up directly in the fanfiction, so I just tried to write her as in-character as possible. I like to think that her calm attitude is in-part due to her eastern upbringing, but also because she's just so old compared to these hatchlings, and every emotion they're feeling, she's felt something pretty darn similar. So she knows how to help, and she knows that it helps to have one person be calm. And Dante is definitely a nervous cleaner. No one can convince me otherwise. I did not research how to clean an oven, but I read about it in another fanfiction.
Pebblefan: (Chapter 10) He really does see what he's done, although some people show it more obviously. Kain being one, and Sage being another. I guess that growing morals do come with some nasty side effects. Sorry, Dante. But at least he's getting along well with them, and he's starting to leave Talon's practices behind.
A/N: Hello! So, this is THE LAST chapter of "There's a Devil in the Church". To be perfectly honest, I didn't expect the story to take so long to update. But three months is NOT that bad. It hasn't even been a full three months. I didn't expect it to get so much feedback, either, and I thank everyone who gave me encouragement as I plodded through the haze and terror of editing. Especially these last few chapters, where first-draft me was an idiot.
Special thanks to Pebblefan and liekewiersema45 for favoring this work.
Anyway, enjoy the last chapter, tell me what you think, and check the post-chapter A/N for more info!
That was one of the things that Jade had started, along with dawn meditation. Right after dinner, they would all go to the living room and sit down. And reflect. Sometimes someone would voice a particularly troubling thought or question, but it was mostly silent between them for thirty minutes. Some people liked it. Especially Nettle. She was one of the people who would talk during it, usually about Remy, or sometimes Jem. Others people didn't like reflecting. Kain, for one, had started crying at one point, but still refused to say what was on his mind. Dante was still shocked that dragons could cry.
Dante wasn't fond of reflection time. His thoughts always led back to Talon. He wanted to hate the organization for what it had done. What was done to the so-called 'defects'. The breeders. The compounds of humans brought in unwillingly. Everyone around him did, but he couldn't find it in himself. The organization raised him, gave him a home. Didn't he owe them something?
But didn't he owe this underground as well? They saved his life. They opened his eyes. They gave him their friendship, something that he had never truly felt before outside of Ember.
Perhaps he had just sold too much of his soul to Talon.
"Thirty minutes," Jade said and stood. Dante heard a few loud breaths of relief and gave one himself. "If you have anything to share, I suggest you say it now."
Most people looked at Kain, but he stood and walked out before anyone could ask questions. He hadn't cried this session, thankfully, but the memory was fresh in everyone's mind. Sage followed close behind him, and then Hamsah and Astatine stood up.
"Anyone up for Monopoly?" Astatine asked. Dante nodded and made to rise from the couch, but Jade put a hand on his arm before he could get up all the way.
"I'd actually like to speak with you, Dante," she said. Dante looked up at her, and his brain went through the past few hours and any mistakes he could have made. He technically hadn't been allowed to go up to the roof with Kain, but he had been supervised for that. And no one had caught them.
He remembered back when he had reprimanded Ember for her midnight flight back in Crescent Beach. If she had felt anywhere close to where Dante felt after a month under supervision in the farmhouse walls, he understood why she had done it, and kicked himself for getting so angry at her.
Jade was still waiting for a response.
"Right. Of course," he said with a smile and forced himself to his feet. Everyone dispersed around the, either to their rooms or to the dining room, where they'd probably be fighting over Monopoly until midnight. He gave a seemingly light smile that didn't reach his eyes, then let it drop a moment later. "Is something wrong?"
"No. Nothing's the matter, and you're not in trouble," Jade said. He must have shown something on his face, because she smiled a moment afterwards. "All children have the same face, when they suspect that they did something wrong. Come, we can talk outside, if you'd prefer. Allow us some privacy from unwanted ears." There was a whispered curse behind Dante, and he turned around just in time to see Hamsah walk out from behind a high-backed chair, shooting a playful glare at him.
"Yeah, privacy would probably be good. Though I feel it would be unwise to go on another walk."
"You said it was worth it last time," Jade pointed out. "But no matter. Let's go out to the porch— there's a chair, so you can sit."
Dante nodded and followed her outside and onto the faded porch. He opted for standing, leaning against the railing as he looked out into the cornfields. The sky was a painting of orange, pink, and blue, casting everything in shadows. Who knew that he could gain such an appreciation for the outdoors when he was barred from it.
"You are still unsure of your place," Jade said after a silence.
"Can you blame me?"
"No. There were many times that I was unsure of my path, back in China," she said. "Part of me says, even now, that I should not be aiding these Westerners in their war."
"I feel like that would be counterproductive."
"But I was raised to avoid wars. It was not in place to fight them, so I stayed silent through all of the ones that I've lived through," Jade said. "I've lived through a lot, and over the past few months, I've begun to wonder if I could have changed any of what happened. Now that I can't, I wish that I had done something."
"I'm… sorry," Dante said. "But what if it was China, or— or the other Eastern Dragons that had attacked another people? Even if you were there and you knew it was wrong, could you bring yourself to turn your back on everything that you knew, knowing that you could kill people that you… cared for?"
"That is an interesting question. One that I cannot answer," Jade said. "But who do you care for more? The people in Talon, or your sister? Or this underground?"
Dante swallowed. "I don't know."
But did he really, truly care about the people in Talon? He was only well-liked in Talon because he was a good chameleon, and the moment he failed, he knew people would turn on him in an instant. The people who he felt closest to back there were Mist, who went rogue, and his bodyguards. One of which was dead.
And Faith. He could have felt close to her, he knew that he could have, if she had been given a bit more time. Selfishly, he was relieved that he didn't hadn't gotten attached before the incident.
"Talon gave me everything. And I gave Talon… everything. I barely know myself without it," he continued. "I'm not like Ember. I can't just forget everything and leave it behind." Can't I?
"You have more in common with Ember than you think," Jade said.
"You really think so?"
"You both share a tough strain of stubbornness, for one," Jade smirked. "And the both of you love the other, even after what happened between you." Dante looked down at the wooden railing, and traced the grain with his finger instead of answering. "She does love you, Dante. That never stopped."
"I don't deserve it."
"I don't think that love is ever about whether or not anyone deserves it. Neither is forgiveness. But…" she gave a sigh, and Dante finally looked away from the railing. "There is something about her that you should know by now." Dante felt his shoulders tense at Jade's words. "It might have been wiser, or perhaps more fair, to tell you earlier, but Ember said that you'd take it badly, so we kept you in the dark. You needed to focus on your recovery in the beginning, and as time went on you still needed to regain your bearings in the underground. And frankly, you may not have believed us any earlier than now."
Dante remained silent. Waiting.
"She created the both of you as vessels," Jade said. Dante's chest went cold, for a moment he forgot how to breathe. Vessels? "If she died, you were meant to rule Talon as her successor. But she wasn't supposed to die. Ember was created to be her true Vessel, so she could transfer her conscious into Ember's body when her own became too frail. Ember's mind would not have survived the procedure."
"I'm sorry, Dante. But that's the truth. Ember— her soul, her thoughts, her morals— would have died. She nearly did, when you first brought her in. She was only made to extend the Elder Wyrm's life."
"You were her backup, in case it didn't work. She never intended for you and Ember to rule together."
It couldn't be true. The Elder Wyrm had told him that he and Ember would rule Talon together, she looked him in the eye and told him. He had done everything to ensure that his sister was safe, through his entire life. The Elder Wyrm had to have another explanation, one that didn't involve killing his sister. There had to be something else.
"Dante, do you need to sit down?"
Dante covered his mouth, feeling tears prick at his eyes. He had already done so much for Talon, he had killed rogues and innocent civilians, but he couldn't have brought his own sister in for execution. There was another explanation somewhere, or Jade was lying, or anything. The other option… was that he had helped…
He opened his mouth, but no sound escaped.
There was nothing to say.
Dante didn't remember the rest of the night except in faint blurs at the edge of his mind. He knew that he had managed to get back to his room, that no one tried to come in, and that he had cried more than he thought possible, but anything beyond that escaped him. By some miracle he managed to sleep, curled up on Ember's bed, wrapped in blankets as if they could protect him from what he had done.
He wanted Ember back with him. Ask her for help. Guidance. Make sure that she was still alive.
When he woke up in the late morning, he didn't attempt to get up. He wanted, in some part of his mind, to do something, to move around and feel productive and not think about what Jade had told him. But he stayed in bed, wrapped in blankets with his knees drawn to his chest, lost in his own head.
He was still trying to find a way around it.
Jade could be lying. It could all be a ploy to get him to turn on Talon. But it made sense. It gave a reason as to why the Elder Wyrm made him leave right after he brought Ember in, even though he had the best chance of controlling her. Why Doctor Olsen would never meet his eyes when he mentioned Ember. Why Ember had always, always been favored when they were younger.
Why the Elder Wyrm even cared for Ember's life when she had an extra heir.
That was the most sickening thought.
The more he thought, the more unavoidable the conclusion was. The Elder Wyrm had used him to help kill his sister. She never intended to hand over the empire to him. She had tried to kill his sister. He could have killed his sister. He was a pawn. He was a goddamn pawn. He would never have made it to the top. He would never be free.
Or could I be?
The underground wasn't an option for him— he had mutilated and killed them with his vessels without a second thought, and he couldn't come back from that. Not permanently, at least. But he wasn't going back to Talon. He could move to a different country someplace so far off the grid that Talon wouldn't come looking for him. Remake his life, away from the politics and the power struggle and the war.
But the war will never be over.
He was born into it, and he knew it. He had fought it on the sidelines, playing god with the vessel's lives. He had been pulled to the opposite side, the losing side, by Cobalt's underground, and they weren't about to let him leave. If he did run, the war would eventually catch up to him.
And maybe he didn't deserve to leave the war yet. He still had so much to make up for, and so much to prove to the underground that he… he was attached to. He couldn't see them as numbers anymore, like on the Night of Fang and Fire. He saw Hamsah throwing Uno cards at Astatine, and Kain trying to teach him how to make breaded shrimp. He saw Ember, his best friend, his sister, sitting next to him through the pain and the fever, refusing to leave his side even after he had abandoned her over and over again.
And it was Talon that told him that they were his enemy. They had lied and lied and lied again until he could barely tell which way was up, even after a month in the underground. They had told him to kill. He had pulled the trigger, but they had told him to. He had sold his soul to Talon for nothing. They used him, and he had let them. He had nearly killed his own sister for them.
No more. He didn't belong to them. He didn't owe them his loyalty.
He was going to burn Talon to the ground.
A/N: And I can finally write these words: THE END
In reality, I started this in early March, (Yes, I started this before Inferno came out) so you can imagine my bittersweet relief that it's finally over, and I can continue with other stories, other characters, knowing that in ONE universe, Dante got to live. I'd like to thank you again for reading and joining me on this journey. Especially those who Favorited and/or reviewed. I love you all, and I would have been much more sad without you.
Which comes to the . . . decision.
I have made the executive decision that this as good a place to end as any. Dante has turned against Talon, he's seen the error of his ways, all that jazz. The story ends with a promise. HOWEVER, there's also, obviously, more that can be written in this universe. So the question is: should I write another installment and make this into a two-part series?
Well. That answer is...
After several weeks of thinking it over, I have decided to write another installment. Title is to be determined, and I don't know when I'll start posting— I have a life, and a lot of other stories to write— but I will eventually come back to this AU with a living Dante, and let him work alongside the underground, repair his relationship with Ember, and maybe forgive himself. And yes, I promise not to kill him in the next installment, either. That is the ONLY promise that I'm going to make.
Pebblefan: The whole crying thing is something that Dante's still getting used to. Thank you for your advice!