A piercing scream of alarm rent the tunnel as Serenity leaned over the edge, clutching at the ladder's top and staring into the water below as it settled back down from the sudden blast. Now there was debris floating in the liquid, and some streams of blood, but no sign of Duke. Serenity's heart raced, not wanting to believe the inevitable. "No," she whispered. It had been horrifying when the people in the dining room had drowned, but still it couldn't compare with actually losing someone she had known.
Rishid looked away, feeling guilt overwhelm him. He had pushed Marik into the shaft when it should have been Duke's turn. On the one hand, he felt that he shouldn't have done so, but on the other hand, how could he have borne it if Marik had fallen? He knew such feelings were selfish, but he couldn't help it. Perhaps, he berated, he could have pushed Marik in after Duke and then he, Rishid, would have been last. But then, if he had perished, could Marik have been able to stand it, especially when he was so relieved that he hadn't lost his brother before? What was really the right thing to have done in a case such as this? Whatever it was, Rishid was certain he hadn't done it.
Tristan looked from the crying Serenity to the rushing water and back again. He knew time was short, but he couldn't bear for Serenity to be so sad. And was there a chance, even a slim one, that Duke was perhaps only stunned under the surface of the water? Tristan clenched his fists in determination before he pushed past everyone and came to the ladder where at the top, Serenity was still kneeling. Everyone else just stared, assuming that Tristan was going to offer comfort and never suspecting what he was actually up to.
"Hey," he said softly, laying a hand on Serenity's shoulder, "Duke might still be alive. I know it's not all that possible that he is, but I'm going to go down and look." As well as not wanting Serenity to be sad, Tristan knew that Duke was a friend—and that if it were Yugi or Joey or someone else, he would plan to do exactly what he was going to do now. He swallowed hard, hoping that he wasn't just going to get this poor girl's hopes up for nothing.
Serenity stared at him, trying to register his words in her mind. At first she couldn't say anything, but when he started to climb down the ladder, she gasped and cried out, "Tristan, be careful!" She didn't want to tell him not to go down, as she was clinging to a slight hope for Duke's survival, but she also feared the possibility of a second explosion. And the water was already nearly to the bottom of the ladder. They couldn't remain here much longer, but if Duke was possibly still alive, they had to find him. They couldn't abandon him to a certain death if he was still living.
"Tristan, wait!" Joey yelled, running over and reaching out for his friend. If Serenity wasn't going to protest, he would. What was the sense of going on a foolhardy mission when everyone else needed to get out? The longer they waited, the less chance they'd have. Duke was dead, Joey was certain, so they shouldn't keep fishing around for a corpse. And yet he knew that if Tristan didn't do this, Serenity might never get over the fact that they possibly could have saved the boy.
Tristan looked up at Joey but only kept going down the ladder as he did so. "Sorry, buddy," he said firmly. "I'm doing this, for Serenity's sake—and Duke's." If he's still alive, he added silently. "I won't be long," he tried to reassure his friend then.
Joey growled. "You'd sure as heck better not be!" he retorted. "There could be another explosion any time!"
Seto's eyes narrowed at the new delay—and, in fact, at the entire situation—but he allowed Tristan to go down. He knew very well that they had very little time, and that the chances of finding Duke alive were practically zero, but if Tristan could hurry, they should still be able to get away. He didn't want to have to lose one of the group's members, though he doubted they would all make it out alive. The most Tristan would find would be a corpse, if that.
Seto came out of his reverie to look down at a disturbed Mokuba. The child trembled, his eyes filling with tears, and then looked down, turning the locket about in his hands. "Do you think Tristan will find Duke?" he asked softly, the tears splashing down over the metal case. This was horrible! Mokuba only wanted this whole nightmare to end. He wished he could wake up and find that it really was only a very realistic bad dream, but he knew that wouldn't happen. This was reality.
The older Kaiba brother frowned. He wasn't going to lie or sugarcoat things with Mokuba. "No," he replied then, "I don't think he will. At least, I highly doubt he'll find Devlin alive. That explosion went off right where he was." He crossed his arms, watching Tristan disappear under the water far below them.
Marik made his way over to Rishid, his lavender eyes filled with both confusion and understanding. On the one hand, he was confused as to why the water had rushed through when there was only one more of them left. Why couldn't the water have come a few seconds later? But he did understand why it had been Duke who had fallen instead of him. He reached out, touching his brother's arm. "Rishid?" he said softly.
Rishid turned to look with guilt-ridden eyes. "I am sorry," he whispered. "I was selfish. I couldn't bear the thought of losing my brother."
Marik smiled sadly. "I know," he replied. "But Rishid. . . . I'm afraid that I would have done the same thing if there was a chance that I'd lose you or Ishizu if I didn't." He hugged Rishid lightly, trying to reassure him that he wasn't angry.
Ishizu walked forward, taking Rishid's hand. "You could not have known Duke would fall," she said gently. "You were not trying to do ill to him or to anyone." She ran her fingers over the back of his hand. "This was simply a tragic accident."
Rishid watched her, not speaking. At last he replied, "But it is still because of me that Duke has perished." The guilt continued to wash over him.
At that moment there was a sound. The Ishtars looked up as Tristan appeared at the top of the ladder, looking as thought it was a huge strain to get up. On his back he was carrying a limp body. With one hand he gripped the wrists firmly so that it wouldn't fall, which meant he had only been climbing with the other hand.
Joey gasped, his eyes widening as he ran back to the edge. "You found him?!" he cried in stunned shock.
"Yeah," Tristan replied in irritation. "Take him so I can get up!"
Quickly Joey grabbed the lifeless body, becoming creeped out as blood ran down over his hands from wounds in Duke's back. He could hear Serenity screaming somewhere behind him and running over.
"Duke!" she wailed, gripping Joey's shoulder from behind.
Tristan now stood up, safely on solid ground again, and went over to Joey while everyone else looked on. "I found him under the surface, near the bottom," he said solemnly. "But I wasn't expecting to find him in the condition I did."
Joey, assuming that Tristan meant finding him "all in one piece," just nodded and said, "Yeah . . . I wasn't expecting it either." He shifted, wondering what they were going to do with the body. How would they drag it all the way outside . . . if they ever made it outside, that is. It seemed that they would have to leave it here.
Or at least that's what he was thinking until Duke groaned weakly and slumped back. Then Joey yelped in shock, almost dropping the injured form.
Serenity's eyes brightened in awe. "He's alive?! He's alive?!" she exclaimed hopefully, feeling her heart levitate.
Tristan nodded, taking off his jacket and wringing it out. He had to smile in spite of himself when he saw Serenity's joy. "He's hurt pretty bad, though," he remarked. "I think we'll have to make some kind of stretcher to carry him."
Seto, overhearing, immediately fell to looking for something they could use. But even as he did so, he felt concern and an almost desperate sense of their lack of time come over him. They would be going through several more levels and almost assuredly be climbing up into various places. How would they manage to take Duke on a stretcher through all of that? What if there were more ladders to go up or narrow spaces to get through? And yet he knew they couldn't abandon him, not when he was alive. If he was dead, Seto would figure they would have to leave the body. "How badly is he hurt?" he demanded.
Tristan sighed. "Well, I don't think anything's broken," he replied. "But he's got some pretty bad wounds and he's dazed." Seeing that Duke's blood was on his hands, he tried frantically to wipe it off. He hated having another person's life force all over his flesh, even if it wasn't his fault that it was there. Wearing someone's blood just gave him a disturbed, eerie feeling.
Marik looked at Rishid, smiling gently at his elder brother. "He'll be alright, Rishid," he said quietly. But he could see that, even though Rishid was more at peace now, he was still upset at his role, however unintentional, in what had happened to Duke. The man acknowledged Marik with a slight smile and then looked over at the others.
"I will watch over him," Rishid spoke up now. "I am strong. I can carry him on my back without the aid of a stretcher." He wanted to make up for what had happened. Surely he could do that much. He could carry Duke the rest of the way through the ship. He prayed that harm would come to none of the others along the way, especially not to Marik or Ishizu.
Seto considered this for only a moment. "Fine," he growled. "But somehow his wounds will need to be treated first." He could only hope that someone had a first aid kit. The last thing they needed was having Duke's wounds getting infected.
"I'll do it," Serenity announced then as she stepped forward. Slowly she took a small box out of her pocket and knelt down by Duke as Joey laid him down. The girl tried not to gasp in horror at the sight of the slashes on Duke's back. Biting her lip, she set to work cleaning and bandaging the injuries.
Seto now took to surveying their surroundings, trying to figure out the right decision on where they should go next. They were on a wide platform, where on one side was the dropoff with the ladder and on the other was a narrow walkway with another drop to its right.
Seto turned to see Téa standing next to him. The girl touched his arm gently, looking up with tired blue eyes. "What do you want?" he demanded of her. He didn't feel like having a lecture now. He knew Joey wasn't happy with Seto's leadership and he doubted Téa was, either. After all, she was one of Yugi's little cronies too. They usually all banded together with their opinions.
But Téa merely smiled at him. "How are you holding up?" she asked kindly.
Seto grunted, masking his surprise. "I'm fine," he responded. "It seems like you should be asking Devlin that question. He's the one who nearly died."
Téa sighed. "You look worn out," she remarked. "You've been working hard."
"I've been leading everyone on a quest that most present, if not all, believe is suicide," Seto retorted. "I imagine the others are waiting for me to give up so that someone better suited can take over," he added with an air of sarcasm.
Téa bit her lip. "No," she said softly, "we don't want that. You're. . . ." She paused, searching for the right words. "You're really courageous, Kaiba. All this just to get us out safely. . . ." She had been wanting to talk to him and tell him this for quite some time now, ever since she had seen his stricken eyes after the people in the dining hall perished. Seto had been trying so hard to do what was right in this situation, but it seemed that so few realized it or even cared much if they did. Téa wanted him to know that she recognized what he was trying to do and that she appreciated it.
Seto turned to look at her, something unintelligible flickering in his eyes. Annoyance, perhaps? Or was it just surprise? "I'm doing it for Mokuba," he growled. "If anyone else wants to tag along, that's their business. I won't stop them."
Téa frowned, reaching up to lay her hands on his shoulders. "That's not going to work with me anymore," she said firmly. "I saw how hard you worked to get everyone to come with you. I saw the horror in your eyes when you heard those people drowning." She looked into the blue orbs, now seeing slight discomfort at being found out. But that didn't stop her from continuing. "I know you're a good person, Kaiba. Nothing's going to convince me otherwise."
Seto grunted, turning away. "Keep on thinking that if it makes you feel good," was all he would say.
Mokuba smiled a bit as he watched them converse from a distance. "I think Téa really likes my brother," he remarked to Marik, who was standing nearby. "I just wish he wouldn't always try to hide it when he's trying to do something good. It's like. . . ." The boy paused, attempting to think of a good comparison. "It's like he's afraid of what will happen if he lets it get out that he's a nice guy . . . like he thinks the world will end or something." He frowned, looking down at his shoes. Seto hadn't always been this way. Oh, he had never been very open with his feelings, but there was a time when it wasn't this bad. This had only started after Gozaburo had taken them in. Mokuba had watched his brother change into the apparently cold-hearted and ruthless businessman that he was now. And yet he knew that Seto's heart was actually a diamond in the rough. Seto was, indeed, a good person, just like Téa was certain of.
Marik laid a hand on Mokuba's shoulder, smiling down at the child whom he loved as a younger brother. "Maybe for your brother, that's how it actually seems," he replied gently. He himself had felt similar to that during Battle City. He had felt that he had to be ruthless and cruel in order to accomplish his goal of destroying the Pharaoh and that if he let his true, good side shine through, everyone would know that he was afraid. And he hadn't wanted anyone to know that he was afraid. So he had bottled his feelings up. But Rishid had seen through the mask, just as Mokuba and Téa saw through Seto's.
Mokuba looked wistfully over at the duo as Seto walked away from Téa. "Yeah," he agreed softly. "I guess it really does. I think it's 'cause of some stuff that Gozaburo did to him." His blue-gray eyes became sad. "Seto never talks about what happened to him with Gozaburo, but I know it was awful. I used to hear a lot of yelling and swearing and . . . slapping." The child swallowed hard as the painful memories resurfaced again. "And the servants talked a lot about the things they had seen Gozaburo do."
Marik, seeing how sad Mokuba was becoming, and knowing that they needed to be on their way as soon as Serenity finished bandaging Duke's wounds, gave a melancholy smile. "Don't think about it now," he advised. "It's the past."
"I know," Mokuba agreed then, "but . . . what happened then changed my brother for good." He looked on as Seto called orders for everyone to follow him down the narrow pathway and he had to wonder if Seto would forevermore appear cold and callous on the outside.
"Your brother's good heart still shines through," Marik told him kindly before his attention was captured by Boyer and Ishizu. The man was embracing Ishizu around the waist from behind, whispering something in her ear. Ishizu's eyes flickered briefly, as if stunned and happy by what had been said, but then she looked down and away, her eyes clouded.
Narrowing his eyes, Marik went over closer. "Is he bothering you, sister?" he asked, clenching his fists and trying to look as menacing to Boyer as possible. If the man was doing something that was making Ishizu upset, he would have to learn that not even Hades had a fury and passion like that of a protective brother's wrath.
Ishizu looked up immediately, relief shining in her eyes. She was grateful for the interruption, though she was certain she could handle things if she suddenly found that she had the overwhelming feeling that she shouldn't stay with Boyer. At any rate, she didn't think it appropriate for him to be saying and doing the things he was, considering the circumstances. "No, Marik," she said softly. "I am alright." His words still echoed, unwelcome, in her mind. I love you, Ishizu, more than anything. I want to marry you someday. But she had detected a hint of smoothness in his tone, as if these were words he had said many a time before and to many a woman.
"Don't I have the right to be worried about a lovely woman?" Boyer said smoothly to Marik as he slowly released Ishizu from his grasp. "Especially after what happened to Mr. Devlin. . . ."
"I worry about her, too," Marik replied coldly, determining that he didn't trust Boyer at all. Silently he vowed to keep watch on this strange person.
Serenity leaned back as she finished cleaning the wounds Duke bore, worry and concern in her eyes. "How did he get these?" she wondered softly, seeing a bit of blood showing through the bandages. But it didn't really matter how he had gotten them. It only mattered that Duke would survive and be alright. He hadn't regained consciousness since he had been rescued, though he had shuddered several times while Serenity had cleaned the slash wounds.
"We have to go again," Seto announced loudly, stepping over to them. "I just looked over the edge. The water's more than halfway up. If we go right now, we might still have the advantage." He looked down the pathway grimly, his eyes narrowed. They were going to need all the time they could get. . . .
Serenity stood up shakily. "Alright," she managed to say.
"Hey, he'll be fine," Mai said reassuringly, laying a hand on her shoulder as Rishid carefully lifted Duke onto his back. "He's come through this much."
"Yeah . . . I know," Serenity replied quietly. "But I still worry."
"You care about him a lot, don't you, hon?" Mai remarked as they all started walking forward. She smiled slightly at Serenity's naive innocence.
Serenity nodded slowly, her hazel eyes sad. "I care about him more than anyone could ever know," she admitted. Especially Joey. She loved her brother dearly, but she knew he would likely go ballistic if he knew how deeply she cared.
"He seems like he has the hots for you, too," Mai said in reference to Duke. "Not to mention Tristan feels the same." She shook her head in amusement. "Now there's a lovesick pig if ever I've seen one."
Serenity blushed a deep crimson.
"Hey," Téa exclaimed suddenly as they passed through the doorway and into another room that looked almost identical to the previous one—narrow walkways and all, "there's people over there!" She stared at the approaching group with awe. They weren't they only ones alive on the ship! Téa had hoped that there were other survivors, but as their journey had progressed with only the finding of one—Mai—she had started to lose that hope.
Yugi, who had been alternately distressed and happy at the events, perked up with wide eyes. "This is great!" he said with enthusiasm. "They can come with us and we'll all get out!" He hated the thoughts that there were other people who might wander aimlessly and never get out. But now that they had stumbled upon each other, surely the outcome for these people would be different.
Seto scrutinized the new group briefly before going over to the man he had determined was the leader. "How many are in your group?" he demanded coldly. It looked like more than fifty, but less than a hundred.
"Seventy," came the response from the equally cold man. "We're going to the captain."
Seto was appalled. "Everything below us is underwater," he cried. "You won't be able to get off this level unless you come with us."
The man grunted, not liking being challenged in front of the people he was leading. "And you have a better plan, boy?" he snapped.
"My brother is Seto Kaiba!" Mokuba said indignantly, stepping forward. "He's not some stupid teenager!"
Seto laid a hand on the child's shoulder gently. "The only way out is to keep going up," he said firmly. "Once we get to the hull, we'll have to cut a hole in the ceiling and escape through that."
"That's suicide!" the man yelled. "You'll never manage to do that!"
Joey, who was getting fed up, found himself going over. "Hey, it's a heck of a lot better a plan than yours! Kaiba's right about everything being underwater." I can't believe I'm supporting Kaiba. But he's right about this.
"You must come with us or you will all perish!" Yami Yugi said sternly, speaking up after having been silent for some time. He had been observing everything in approval, pleased with how Seto was handling things but now irritated by these people's stupidity.
The man only grew more angry. "I know what I'm doing," he growled, "and I won't be led by some teenage kid!" He turned to go with his group, his vexation building when he heard a flurry of doubts expressed among the people he was leading. They couldn't turn against him now!
Seto's lip curled in frustration and disgust. "If you're that determined to die, don't let me stand in your way," he snapped. Téa laid a firm hand on his arm, silently willing him to calm down.
In the end, it mattered not what any of them said—the stubborn man set out with his group again, heading down a dark pathway that would eventually lead back downward to their deaths. Seto looked after them, his icy blue eyes reflecting none of his inner distress but all of his frustration. He had failed again. Before, he hadn't been able to convince the people in the dining room to come with them and they had all drowned. Now this man wouldn't listen to reason and he was going to be the death of all those other people, simply for the sake of arrogance and pride! What was the matter with him?! . . . What was the matter with them?! Why would they continue to follow him like that?
"It's time to move on," he said finally, turning back and heading up the pathway that he had been leading his own group across. If Mokuba's remembrance of the ship was correct, they should be finding a trapdoor in the "ceiling" very soon now. When they did, Seto would climb through it and see whether the way was passable. On the other side should be the beginning of the end . . . and their salvation.
"What about those people?!" Serenity cried in alarm. "We can't just leave them!" She looked over at Duke's unconscious body, sickened by the whole mess.
"They made their own decision, just like the people in the dining hall," Seto retorted, his voice clipped with disgust. "You can't reason with people like that and you can't force them, either." Mokuba swallowed hard, his blue-gray eyes filling with tears as he walked close beside his brother.
Before long they reached the spot that Mokuba had described. Seto ordered everyone to stop, turning his attention to the trap door in the ceiling. It was open and he was certain he would be able to climb up to it easy enough. There was a crate he could stand on. The part that might be slightly hard would be getting everyone to wait for him.
"I need to go up there," he said solemnly, looking at each member of the small group, "alone." Carefully he explained what he needed to investigate and why, adding that Marik would be left in charge of the others while he was gone.
But Joey stepped forward to stand nose-to-nose with his sometimes enemy, glaring with flashing brown eyes. "Are you saying we're just supposed to sit here and wait while you go roaming around up there?!" he cried, gesturing wildly. "What if the water reaches us before you come back? Or what if you don't even come back?!" He was decidedly not happy with this plan. They had all come this far. Now all of them should go up in the trapdoor along with Seto. There was no telling how long he could be gone or how long the water would hold back!
Mokuba immediately pushed in between them indignantly. "Of course Seto would come back!" he screamed, clenching his fists. "He'd always come back!" His heart raced. He wasn't sure he liked the plan either, though he would defend Seto's decision to use it. But he didn't want to be left behind, worrying about his brother. He wanted to go along, where he could be certain of everything that would happen.
"That's right, Wheeler," Seto agreed frostily, "I'd come back, though I'm sure you'd be perfectly happy if I didn't." He half-turned. "And just in case that does happen, I'm setting a time limit. Anyone who has a watch, look at it now. In fifteen minutes from what your watches say, I'll be back. And if by some chance, I don't come back, I'll leave it to my second-in-command to decide what should be done next." He had been carefully figuring this plan out in his mind over the past few minutes. It seemed the only thing they could really do.
Joey backed off slowly, frowning with suspicion. "Alright, Kaiba," he said in frustration, "go ahead and go." He went back to where Serenity was standing and put an arm around the girl protectively. He would see to it that nothing happened to his sister.
"Why, thank you," Seto muttered with dripping sarcasm. As if I need his permission. Purposely he went over to the crate and began dragging it over until it was directly under the trapdoor.
"Wait!" Mokuba cried, running over and grabbing at his brother's coat. Seto turned to look at him expectantly and saw that the child was about to cry. Quickly he kneeled down, laying his hands on Mokuba's shoulders.
"You heard what I told Wheeler," he said quietly. "And I'm going to do everything I can to get back like I've promised." He looked into the glistening blue-gray eyes firmly. "Do you understand, Mokuba? I won't let anything happen to you or to the others. You'll all get out."
"But you have to be with us!" Mokuba sobbed, his body shaking. "Seto, I want to come with you! I can't just stay here, wondering if you're even gonna come back! We . . . we've always been there for each other. It can't just all end like . . . like this. . . ." He sniffled, clicking his locket open to reveal the picture inside. "Remember, Seto? The lockets . . . they've always been special symbols to us. They hold the keys to KaibaCorp, the computer data and stuff. But . . . but the real keys are us, Seto! You and me. KaibaCorp wouldn't exist without you. . . ." He looked down at the floor, tears now emerging from his eyes.
"You know I can't stand crying," Seto remarked quietly, but it wasn't a reprimand. Gently he brushed the child's tears away and tilted his chin so that he was looking up once more. "And you know I'll come back, if I can. And I will. In the meantime, I know you can be strong, Mokuba. If there is something bad up there, the last thing we'd need is to both encounter it." He straightened up slowly. He had to go now if they were to have any hope. . . .
And Mokuba realized this. While the others looked on, he threw his arms around Seto tightly in a hug, which Seto returned. But all too soon Seto broke away, resting his hand briefly on Mokuba's head before climbing onto the crate and then ascending into the trapdoor. Everyone there, especially Mokuba, would be waiting breathlessly to see if he would return.