Note: It's hard to believe that this story has finally come to an end. And a rather shocking end at that. But the end of this story doesn't mark the end of the characters' adventures. The sequel is waiting in the wings, and I've been preparing for it all along the way and dropping hints. Thanks to everyone who has showed interest!
The flight back to Domino City was mostly silent. No one knew what to say. Anything they could think of seemed irrelevant. All were thinking of the horrors they had witnessed and had been unable to prevent. Duke was dead. And even when Helmos finally told them that those within the temple had been Vivalene and Dartz, it did not change their opinions of how horrible it had been for them to die in the way that they had. They were too sobered to think otherwise.
The wounded were tended to. Most of the party had sustained some injuries, though some were worse off than others. Seto had his doctors look at both Tristan and Siegfried in the small infirmary he had built into the plane. Tristan's lacerations had been cleaned, stitched, and bandaged. Siegfried had regained consciousness and appeared to have a mild concussion, but he would recover.
Yugi, sitting by the window as night fell upon them, shut his eyes tightly as the tears began to emerge again. When he thought of what had taken place on that island, his heart broke all over again. He could not stand it. People had died. He had wanted to think that they could save Duke, but they had failed. Serenity was right—none of them had been strong enough. Duke had needed a help that not one of them had been able to give to him.
Téa gently laid her hand on his shoulder, startling him. "Yugi," she said softly, her eyes sad though she was trying to be strong. "I feel like crying too."
He looked up at her. "We failed, Téa!" he cried, clenching his fists. "What good did going there even do? We couldn't do anything!"
Téa struggled to find an answer, but she had none. Perhaps Yugi was right. Perhaps it would have been just as well if they had not come and had not seen the horrors that they had. Then they would not be so haunted. Then she would not have to watch her childhood friend's heart shattering into tiny pieces.
Silence again reigned for several moments, and then Raphael spoke. "If we hadn't come, and you heard about the collapse later, you'd always regret not having been here," he said quietly.
All of those in the room started and looked over at the blonde man and at Alister too, who was nodding.
The redhead slowly removed his sunglasses. "Raphael's right," he said quietly. "You would have always wondered if there had been something you could have done. Now, at least, you know there wasn't." His gray eyes were tired. He had seen so much destruction in the past, during the war. Seeing more just made him feel numb. He had no more tears to spend.
Yugi and Téa looked at each other and then at everyone else. Yugi slowly nodded in understanding. It did not ease his pain any, but it did make sense. He would have regretted things even more if they had not come. The bikers were right.
Valon watched them, thinking again of the few memories he recalled—mainly, that of Alister going mad from the Orichalcos. What if his story had ended as tragically as Duke's? It could have. Alister had been poisoned against his will, just as Duke had. Both of them had fought diligently against the Orichalcos's powers, all that they could—with one difference. Alister had won, while Duke had failed. What had made the difference? Had Duke's failure come solely from the fact that he had been poisoned for a longer period of time? Valon frowned. That was possible, he supposed, but somehow he did not think that was it.
And there was something else he wanted to know. He looked over at Raphael. "Hey, Raph?" he said quietly.
The blonde looked down at him. "What is it?" he asked.
Valon bit his lip, unsure as to how Raphael would react to what he was about to ask. "How do you feel . . . y'know . . . about that Dartz guy being dead?"
Raphael shut his eyes tightly. He had been trying to find the answer to that question ever since he had found out that Dartz had been involved. They had not undergone the confrontation he had thought they would, but was it a relief—or a disappointment? Had some part of him wanted to see Dartz again, for reasons of closure? Did some small part of him even still care about the man, despite the immense betrayal he had suffered? He recognized that he had never fully known Dartz. What he had known had been a lonely, disillusioned soul, twisted and manipulated by the Orichalcos. He wondered if somewhere in his heart, he could find room to pity Dartz . . . or even to fully forgive him.
"I don't know," he said at last, his voice rough yet honest. "I don't know."
Valon nodded slowly, not pressing him further.
Night swiftly descended upon the rubble as well. The crimson light of the sun had faded, but the stones were still stained red, at least in the mind's eye of several people. It was a graveyard, the tombs unmarked but obviously there. And yet, it still held its surprises.
Several stones fell away as a hand clawed desperately for the surface. It was cracked and bleeding, and flailed about as its owner realized that freedom would finally be achieved. The hand grabbed more stones, shoving them away, and then mint hair broke the surface. The locks swept around the figure's face and down the ragged clothing upon the raw back as the weary man struggled to get completely on top of what had nearly been his grave.
Dartz bent over, coughing repeatedly from the debris surrounding him and that he had been unwillingly breathing in. The Seal of Orichalcos had protected him and Vivalene somewhat as the building had collapsed in. Nothing solid had been able to penetrate, so the broken-up rocks and stones had bounced away. The Seal had acted as a bubble around them, even after the upward beam had faded, and when Dartz had regained consciousness after an unknown period of time, he had been alone and the bubble had been fading. He had heard voices calling out to him as he had woken up—those of his family members, or at least of some of them. He had not heard Phiona.
As the bubble had faded away, he had managed to begin digging his way out of the mess. There had been less for him to do because of the dome he had been in, and now he was at last free. The air whipped against his face, blowing his hair back.
This mission was a failure, he thought to himself as he sat upon the rocks. Again the duel ended in a draw . . . if it ended at all. But if it didn't, how did I escape? And where did that woman go? There were so many unanswered questions. And it seemed eerie in a way, to be sitting on top of what had used to be the Orichalcos temple. The ancient force had destroyed the building, with the lightning's help, and yet it had also protected Dartz. He found it all very ironic.
Then he saw the beams of light floating up from all around him. He was confused at first, especially when he heard laughing and happy voices from within the spheres, but then he realized. More of the souls had been set free. It had happened after all. Perhaps the destruction of the temple had brought it about. He supposed he would never know. But they were free—free to return to their bodies and continue on with their lives and their families and their friends. And was he mistaken, or did some of the souls cry "Thank you!" to him? He did not know that he was deserving of it, but they called it anyway.
Dartz watched the souls' departure with a mixture of relief and triumph. Perhaps now the other souls, the ones he had taken throughout the centuries, would leave him in peace. Doom Reborn's plans had been stalled for an indefinite amount of time. And he would see to it that Doom Reborn would not keep hold of the company that he had once worked hard to build. Paradius would indeed rise again, but it would be different than it had been in the past. No longer would it be a front for an organization that captured souls. It would simply be a legitimate company, and he would use it in order to support his family.
His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of flapping wings and a splatter of blood that rained onto the stones near him. Stunned and confused, the golden-eyed man looked up and then quickly had to dodge both another spray of blood and a strange creature that was plummeting to the ground. Dartz remained in the corner, around a pillar that was still half-standing, and shielded his eyes until he heard the thump a few seconds later.
He dared to look up. Laying on the stones in front of him was what appeared to be a humanoid with two wings sprouting out from his back. Slowly the thing pulled itself to its knees, appearing to be slightly dazed. It blinked, brushing fiery red bangs out of its ice-blue eyes, and seemed at first not to notice the blood coming from its shoulder and from the torn, feathered wing on his right. Dartz could only continue to stare. Instead of two angel wings or two demon wings, it possessed one of each. It was wearing a tight-fitting turtleneck shirt and pants, both black in color and both showing off its unusually lanky form. Two purple belts were around its waist, one obviously a mere decoration. Its hair was shaggy and fluffy, hanging to about partway down its neck.
At last Dartz managed to find his voice. "Who . . . what are you?" he demanded, glaring at this strange apparition.
It focused on him and grinned, showing pearly white teeth that seemed to be slightly fanged. "You're Dartz," it mused in a soft, smooth voice, unlike anything the Atlantean had ever heard before. And yet, there was something familiar about it. . . .
The mint-haired man's eyes narrowed. "And how do you know this?" he asked, deciding that the thing must be a male. He could see the outline of a man's chest through the skintight shirt, and the voice had possessed a certain masculine quality.
Now the creature reached up, clapping a hand over its wounded shoulder. Its angel wing was spread out, limp and ragged and hanging onto the ground, while the demon wing was folded neatly on its back. "He doesn't like you," it said in that quiet tone, as if in deep contemplation. "That means I do like you!"
Dartz watched in distaste as blood continued to drip down from the wounds and onto the broken rocks. He moved away before it could spill onto him. "What are you babbling about?" he growled, slowly standing and taking several cautious steps forward. The thing appeared to be badly injured, so the former king of Atlantis was desperately hoping that it would not be a threat. I had thought my adventures were over for the night!
"I hate what he loves," was the simply-stated reply, "and I love what he hates."
Dartz was only more confused than ever. "Who?" he demanded. "I would advise you to speak plainly, if you wish to receive medical help." The helicopter he had used was still there. He could see it vaguely against the night sky. It was a relief to know that he would still be able to escape. And it appeared that he would have to take this strange being with him. What was it? Was it some secret weapon that Doom Reborn had been planning to use? In any case, Dartz was determined to find out.
"I'm not mortal. Medics can't help me." The creature purred, struggling to get back up. Its torn wing threw it off-balance, causing it to collapse back to the rocky ground. It seemed not to care. "That doesn't mean I can't die, though," it announced. "But if I die . . . part of him dies as well. I don't want part of him to die . . . I want all of him to die! I want to kill him. He wants to die. I want to fulfill it."
By now Dartz had just about lost all patience with the absurd thing and its nonsensical statements. "What manner of beast are you?" he snapped, finally drawing near enough to examine the tattered wing. The tear was near the top, going horizontally through nearly a third of the appendage. In addition, the bone in that area was crushed and broken. The creature's right hand was still clapped over its shoulder, so Dartz was unable to see the extent of that injury. He did not even understand how it had gotten wounded in the first place. "Were you one of the trapped souls?"
"I was trapped," it answered, and to Dartz's absolute shock, it moved closer and snuggled next to him. "I'm Alexander. You set me free."
Dartz felt extremely put out, not to mention baffled. "Oh lucky me," he muttered, as Alexander closed his eyes in contentment.