Notes: Well, this is it,
the final chapter in the Paper Flowers trilogy. The characters
from the show are not mine, and all the other characters and the
story are indeed mine.
The snow had fallen unceasingly since the previous night. The crystalline flakes danced down from the gray skies, pirouetting into position upon buildings, trees, the dead grass, and all else as they blanketed Juno in their pure whiteness. It was not long before they had also covered all signs of the bloody battle that had taken place at the foot of the mountain—abandoned weapons and machines, severed parts of armor, and the trampled ground, all of which were stained with further evidence. For an observer who did not know, it might not have truly taken place at all. The snow added an eerie quality, as if saying that if something had gone amiss, it was far in the past and long ago forgotten. But those in the summer palace knew differently. It would be many ages before they could forget what had taken place.
The bodies of their dead had been received into the building. They were being kept in the dark basement in cheap wooden crates, waiting until the undertaker from Volker's village could be brought there with his assistants and his transports to remove them to the morgue. A memorial service would be held that night at midnight, in the town square. They believed in not prolonging the day of burial, especially when they were at war. It was not practical, nor did they feel it was respectful to the deceased.
Marik was determined to go, in spite of his injuries. He had received a serious sword wound to his leg during the battle, and he could not stand without assistance, nor put any kind of pressure on his affected leg at all. But he would use a pair of crutches, he had decided, and he practiced on them as Ishizu observed. It was a new and strange thing to get used to at first, but the blonde Egyptian was insistent.
"You are doing well, Marik," Ishizu smiled as her brother paused to catch his breath. She was sitting in one of the straight-backed, golden-lined, and velvet cushioned chairs in the suite that she and her brothers occupied, and trying to focus on the situation. She was finding that her concentration was drifting away more frequently, which she found to be exasperating, but not a serious concern. After everything that had happened, it seemed only understandable that concentrating on any one thing for long would be difficult. In addition, she had been suffering a headache all day, which she attributed to her lack of sleep.
Around her neck, the Talisman calmly glowed.
"I could do better," Marik answered, leaning on the wooden poles as many emotions crashed through his lavender eyes. There was frustration for himself, anger over the battle and its end result, and confusion due to many various things.
"Tell me, Sister," he said after a moment, "who won?" He clenched a fist. "The palace wasn't gained, so Colchis's men didn't win, but I don't feel like we gained the victory either. Look at everyone who died! And the people of Juno, by and large, will never truly appreciate or understand what's been done for them. They'll just go on their merry, selfish ways, as always!"
He stopped when he heard Ishizu give a soft sigh. Then he sighed as well. "I know you think I shouldn't feel this way, Sister," he said, "but I can't help it. It makes me so angry! So many people are sacrificing so much, and their efforts are rarely acknowledged or appreciated. Those they're struggling to protect just don't care!" This had always been part of his personality—his indignation over people's ingratitude. It was understandable, but it still worried Ishizu. In the past, those feelings had contributed to his path of vengeance against the Pharaoh.
"I know, Marik," Ishizu said now, struggling to fully come to attention and to phrase things as she wanted, "and to be honest, I know that it is greatly true. The majority of the people will rarely, if ever, stop to actually think about everything we are doing. But," she smiled gently, "we know that we are doing a good thing. And the people here whom we truly care about will appreciate what we are doing.
"And as for who has won . . . perhaps both sides have both gained and lost, in various ways. I believe I would call this battle a draw."
Marik was not satisfied. "And what about the leader of Colchis's army?" he demanded. "His body was brought here too. Why would Sapphire allow it!"
He watched Ishizu in concern as he spoke, seeing how the headache continued to bother her. She tried to hide it, but for Marik, it was obvious. He had suggested earlier that day that the Talisman was responsible, but to his surprise, she had denied the possibility. It would not have done this, she had assured him. It would assist them in their quest to bring peace to Juno. She had seemed to have forgotten entirely that the Talisman had been behaving strangely before it had taken its leave several weeks earlier.
Ishizu sighed again. "It was because he tried to help us in our fight, Marik," she replied, "and because he was Chris's and Alexander's father. Sapphire did have some concerns over whether Colchis's men might try to reclaim Dartz's body, but she has let his corpse be here because of these reasons that I have mentioned." She knew that Marik was not actually that upset over Dartz's body being kept there, but that he was taking out some of his frustration over other things. "I have heard," she added, "that Alexander and Chris are hoping that Sapphire will honor Dartz with the rest of our soldiers. He was always on our side, or at least, he seemed to have the same ideals as us."
Marik nodded slowly. "Do you think Sapphire will grant Alexander's and Chris's wish?" he asked.
"I believe she may," Ishizu replied. "She is meditating on the matter. But I do not think it likely that Colchis's men will want the body back so very much that they will attack us for it. They will have their own problems with which to be concerned."
She stood up abruptly. "And now, if you will excuse me, Marik, I am going to lay down for a while before we must leave for the ceremony." Her headache had increased, and her only desire had become to rest. She could only hope that she would be feeling better by nightfall, because if she continued to feel as terrible as she did at the moment, she did not know how she would even stand to attend the service.
Marik watched her go, frowning slightly. It was not like Ishizu to admit to needing rest. She had been acting strangely ever since the Talisman had claimed her, and Marik did not think it was a coincidence. He decided to find Rishid and speak with him about it.
Chris found Alexander sitting in one of the hallway's spacious windowsills, his wings spread and hanging limply around him as he intently pored over the open book on his lap. Every now and then a wing would twitch, either from reflex or because he had read something interesting. His ice-blue eyes clearly displayed his fascination with the topic, and Chris noticed other emotions as well—hope, dread, and confusion most prominent among them. He did not notice the apparent child's approach at first, but when Chris sat down in front of him, he looked up.
"Hi," he said softly, his normal cheerfulness subdued.
"Hi," Chris acknowledged, petting Skye's head as the wolf sat on the floor under the windowsill. "What are you reading?" Idly she thought how large and lonely the marble corridor seemed. Any echoes seemed to go on forever. It reminded her of the palace in Atlantis—and of a tomb. It made her ponder over how small and insignificant they truly were in the world.
Alexander marked his place in the volume with his hand while slowly turning the pages of it with his other. "It's about death," he answered, "and beliefs about it from all over the world." He had always held an unusual fascination for death and everything connected with it, but the reason for his current interest was obvious. Chris could understand, and she shared some of that interest now, though it was not as strong because of what she had already seen and knew.
Chris sighed softly. "Death isn't the end, Alexander," she remarked. She should know; she and Ironheart had perished ten thousand years previous, during the battle of Atlantis. And she had observed her father all throughout his ensuing exile, her heart aching for him and wanting to help him. She had tried, many times, but her words had never reached his corrupted heart. That had never made her give up hope, however, and in the end her efforts and prayers had been rewarded.
It did not seem that long since he had been released from the Orichalcos's control, but now he had finally passed on. She had to wonder why it had happened right at this point. They had just finally been getting to know each other once again. There was a part of her that cried silently that this could not be fair. And the other part of her said that it had been a long time coming and that he deserved the release. She felt so torn, and she could see that Alexander did not know what to think at all. The poor creature was bewildered by his own conflicting feelings, some different from her own, and some very similar.
"I know it isn't," Alexander now replied hesitantly, "but what comes next? It sounds like it's different for different people, so . . . what will happen to Dartz?" He closed the book sadly, and the dull, flat echo sounded as though he had shut a chapter of his life. Dartz, along with Alister, meant everything to him, and he did not know how to deal with life with one of them gone. He supposed that it had not even completely sank in yet. "I know Dartz did a lot of bad things, even though he thought he was doing what was right. . . . But he's been trying to make up for it!" He looked at Chris desperately. "I don't know . . . it just doesn't seem right, if that doesn't mean anything. . . ."
She smiled gently, laying her small hand over his larger one. "I think it will mean something," she answered. "I think it will be really important. And maybe . . ." Her voice lowered to an almost reverent tone. "Maybe he'll see Mother. . . ." Chris and Ironheart had seen Phiona during the time when Dartz had been wandering the earth, but for a reason unknown to all of them, she had not gone with them when they had been granted second chances after Doom. They had all been puzzled, and Chris had wondered if Phiona had remained behind, perhaps unwillingly. It had never made sense to her.
Alexander tilted his head to the side. "But what if Phiona was brought back too, and she's just been somewhere else?" he mused. It was something else that had been considered, and Dartz and the others had looked for her, without success. Alexander did not think Dartz had given up on that idea, but the mint-haired man had not known where else to look.
"Maybe," Chris said slowly, "but then why didn't she come to find us?" Her shoulders slumped.
Alexander did not have an answer for that. He set the book aside and moved closer, gently pulling Chris into a hug. "I never really realized how much it hurts when someone dies," he said quietly. "It always seemed like such a beautiful thing to me, to be free of suffering and pain, to move on to something better. . . . I don't know why, but I have these funny memories about being around death a lot, and I wonder if maybe I've felt this way because of that, the life I don't remember anymore. . . ." He swallowed hard. "Even if it is beautiful, it's also really hard on the ones left behind, even if the dead person doesn't have to be in pain anymore. . . . I only realized that yesterday, when Dartz . . ." He trailed off, feeling tears pricking his eyes. He felt as if he had suddenly grown up a lot since then. It was a strange feeling, one he was not certain he liked.
Chris hugged him back, snuggling against his dark shirt. "I'm glad he didn't die alone," she whispered. "Grandfather and I didn't find him until he was already gone. . . ." She smiled up at him gently. "I think it meant a lot to Father, to have had you there with him. I know he cared about you a lot, even though he never said so."
Alexander smiled shakily. "I know it too," he proclaimed. "He let me stay, even after my wing got better. . . ." He sighed again, turning to gaze out the window. "I . . . I just hope that wherever he is now, he's happy. . . ." He brought his wings around, enfolding Chris within them as well as in his arms. Dartz had told him to look after her. It had been his last request. And Alexander would do everything in his power to fulfill it.
Chris relaxed into the softness of the wings. "I hope so, too," she answered.
The night was dark and overcast, and snow was still descending heavily and steadily from the thick clouds. It was not an ideal time for a memorial service, but the citizens of Juno were determined to go ahead with it anyway. The fallen in battle deserved to be honored, and the weather did not seem as though it would get better any time soon, so the funeral would take place as scheduled.
To those who did not understand, it seemed strange to have the body of the opposing side's commander included amongst those who were being remembered. But he had strived to assist the Queen's side, for reasons that most of them still did not comprehend themselves. The Queen had granted the earnest request of his loved ones to have him remembered along with the other soldiers being honored, and to be entombed in one of the mausoleums there. She felt that it was the least she could do for him and his family, who had been, and were, allies.
She was still quite weakened, but for the time being her headaches had subsided. As she stood to deliver the eulogy, she drew assistance from a brass cane with a golden head shaped like a swan. Her beautiful, dark blue hair cascaded down her back and over her shoulders, framing her face. Shadows cast by the torches hid her eyes, which were flecked with sadness. She gathered her thoughts, taking a deep breath before speaking.
"What can be said for these brave soldiers by the people whom they are giving their lives to protect?" She gazed out at the mourners, her heart going out to each and every one of them. "We can't know all the thoughts and intentions of their hearts. We can't understand the extent of the pain and the fear they must have felt. But we know that they fought valiantly for this land's—this people's—freedom. We owe them all an immense debt of gratitude, one which can never be paid in full. The best way we can honor their memory is by keeping their cause alive. We must continue to fight for Juno's liberation, and never give up until it's achieved."
Alexander looked down at the stones of the elevated square where they were all gathered. He shifted, his mismatched wings drooping, as he looked to where Chris was stroking Skye's fur and trying to blink back the tears in her eyes. Then he looked to Alister, who was standing on the doppelganger's other side. The redhead's expression was impassive, though Alexander doubted that Alister actually regretted Dartz's passing—unless he felt sympathy for Chris and Alexander, and Ironheart. The creature could easily imagine that.
He cast his gaze to the other side. Seto's expression was just as mysterious, or moreso, and Mokuba was standing next to him, biting his lip. The child obviously felt uncomfortable, being there. Alexander wondered if Mokuba had ever been to a funeral, or if this was his first time, too. Alexander was not sure that he liked the fact that his own first one was so personal to him.
Marik was leaning against the stone wall, his crutches propped next to him. Rishid stood by him, making certain that he did not over exert himself. And Ishizu alternately looked to them and back to Sapphire, apparently feeling responsible for all of their conditions. Geates' Talisman was still around her neck, and it calmly glowed and sparkled from the light cast by the flames.
After a moment Alexander leaned over and snuggled Alister from behind, laying his head against his charge's shoulder blades. Alister stiffened briefly but then started to relax, having grown more used to the other's need to show affection. He could feel the vibration of Alexander's wings as they fluttered slightly, and he wondered whether the creature was more fascinated or saddened by the event. Most likely it was a combination of both.
"Where do you think Dartz is now?" Alexander asked softly, his voice barely discernible.
Alister grunted. "I wouldn't know," he said flatly. "I've given up trying to figure out things like that." He had known Alexander would get around to asking him that eventually, and he wished he had a better answer for the innocent creature, but he did not.
He glanced around at the other mourners. Valon and Raphael were not there. Valon, with the extent of his injuries, was back at the palace—and complaining, which was probably a good thing. Raphael had opted to stay behind with him, to make sure that he did not try to do something foolish, such as get up. Alister did not doubt that Valon was capable of attempting something like that, and only hurting himself worse in the process. That was all they needed right now.
Alexander sighed quietly, shivering as the snowflakes continued to fall around them. It had been snowing ever since the battle had ended and the Talisman had been recovered, which was strange. But Ishizu said that it was the Heavens' way of acknowledging their pain, and the majority did not bother to think more about it, whether they agreed with her or not. Alexander did not know what he thought about it, but he did continue to ponder about it, as he was prone to do.
Alexander looked up at Alister again. "You don't think that he would end up in Hell, do you?" he said softly, his eyes wide in shock and worry.
Alister sighed, realizing that the creature was not going to let this drop. "I won't deny that part of me wants to say Yes," he replied, and then Alexander sighed. "But . . . I and the others did his bidding and believed in his ideals. So in the end, maybe we're as bad as he was. I don't know what will happen to him, or to us, for that matter."
Alexander looked bewildered. "But if all of you are trying to do what's right now, doesn't that count for something?" He wrapped his wings around the other, wanting to keep him warm. Alister looked so cold standing there in that coat with the midriff shirt showing, not that he would ever admit it if he was. And even though Alexander was upset, he still considered that his first priority was always to look after his charge. Now he had more than one, he thought, as he glanced to Chris again.
Alister grunted. "I'm really not the person to ask." His faith had been shaken so much since his childhood. He felt weary and exhausted, and very unqualified to answer Alexander's questions. He wished Alexander would go to someone else, someone who was confident and sure of the answers, someone who would tell the doppelganger everything he wanted to hear. Alister could not lie and say something he honestly did not know or understand.
The doppelganger frowned. "But I don't know who else to ask. Ironheart doesn't seem to really like me, so he might get mad. And I don't want to scare Chris or make her worry, if she hasn't thought of these things. . . ." He snuggled more, watching in fascination as several white doves were released into the steadily-falling snow. He wondered if they were supposed to symbolize peace and hope, as his book had mentioned was the case in various cultures.
"She probably has," Alister said flatly. "You know she isn't as young as she looks, and even if she was, children often think of things that adults are amazed at." Such as you always do yourself, he added silently.
"That's true. . . ." Alexander felt silent then, just digesting everything that was taking place.
Marik crossed his arms, still leaning against the wall. "It's all well and fine, to honor the dead, but what if we can't protect Juno?" he said to Rishid. "Colchis is still loose. We have the Talisman, but it was causing the destruction in the first place. It probably won't behave now. And Ishizu has been acting strange." He shivered, glaring at the snowflakes. Their sister's odd behavior had only increased, it seemed, since she had woke up.
Rishid sighed. "We can't give up, Brother," he replied. "We have to keep hoping and striving toward Juno's freedom. As for Ishizu . . . yes, I have been concerned as well. She has been under a lot of stress lately." He glanced discreetly towards the woman, who was gazing off into the sky with a thoughtful expression. Subconsciously she touched the Talisman around her neck.
"It's not just a lot of stress!" Marik retorted. "She wouldn't even give Sapphire the Talisman!" He gestured at Ishizu and the pendant, his concern and confusion clearly flashing through his eyes. "Sapphire is the one who's supposed to wear it and guard it. What's Ishizu thinking, Rishid?" He frowned more. "She didn't act like she was keeping it because of the worry that it would make Sapphire even more sick. She acts like she doesn't even remember that it's causing the destruction!"
Rishid shook his head. "I wish I could say that she is just tired," he sighed, "but I'm becoming increasingly concerned that the Talisman may be affecting her mind. We can't forget how it suddenly went to her as soon as she came to us. It was as if it recognized in her something that it liked and wanted." Around them, the villagers began to quietly sing a dirge. Not knowing the words, Rishid and Marik did not join in, but they did listen in between their conversation.
"We have to get it away from her!" Marik said firmly. "That's the only thing that makes sense. It's only going to hurt her more the longer it stays with her!" He clenched a fist, his upset eyes becoming obscured by his flying bangs. But his feelings were still obvious.
"I would like to, my brother," Rishid answered then, "but she may not even allow us to take it." He reached into his pocket, feeling the smooth crystal of the object they had been bestowed. They still needed to learn the secret of it. Perhaps it would be the counter to the Talisman's damage. And it probably would not work, at least not to its full capacity, without the aid of the other two pieces.
"That doesn't mean we shouldn't try!" Marik retorted indignantly.
"Of course, Marik." Rishid looked out at the other mourners, watching as each lit a candle in turn. It was something those people had all done before, at other funerals. He and Marik had each one as well, and Rishid reached for his, which had been set on the wall. "We will try," he agreed firmly as he struck a match.
It was strange, what happened then, and beautiful as well. The snow continued to fall, but the clouds over the square began to part slightly, allowing the moonlight to shine down. The beams rested upon the people, the sarcophagi, and on the Kioli and their chariots gathered around, giving each, as it were, a gentle halo. Then Kade, who had come over to Marik, gasped and pointed.
"There's people in the lights, Mister Marik!" he exclaimed, his eyes wide with awe.
Marik looked up with a start. "People?" he repeated in disbelief, looking to the nearest beam. Then he stiffened. "It's Paul," he remarked softly, taken aback by this development. He did not know how to react.
Rishid started, staring, and then heard Ishizu give a small gasp as well. "Adelpha," she breathed, gazing ahead at another beam.
Everyone else was noticing the phenomena as well. All around them, they could see the spirits of those who had fought for Juno—both in past times as well as right now. Arvin was there, much to Volker's amazement, and so were the soldiers who had assisted in the battle at the mountain.
Sapphire observed all of this in astonishment. She was happy for all those who were seeing loved ones, but she herself felt a certain disappointment at not seeing the one whom she longed for. Then her eyes widened in shock as she felt the warmth of a hand upon her shoulder, followed by a loving embrace. Tears filled her eyes as she whispered the name of her beloved.
Chris sniffled, straightening up as she brushed away the tears that had gathered. Then Skye came to attention, barking cheerfully, and she heard a voice that she had longed to hear even just once more.
"Father. . . . Chris. . . ."
Ironheart drew a sharp breath, and Chris whirled around, tears filling her eyes. Dartz was standing there, in front of them, looking as they remembered him. He seemed calm and at peace, and he smiled gently at his biological family before looking around to see Alexander running over, his eyes wide with awe and hope. Dartz reached out, laying a hand on the doppelganger's head, and Alexander looked blissful once again.
"Dartz," he whispered, tears filling the ice-blue eyes and spilling over. "You're okay! You're okay. . . ." Knowing he could not hug the other, Alexander fell to his knees, leaning into the warmth he could feel from the man's spirit. His wings spread joyously, and he could hear Chris and Ironheart coming over as well. It only lasted for a moment, but Alexander savored it, becoming lost in it, and for him, it became a precious eternity.