In that one moment, there was nothing. And yet... there was everything.
There was not one single tremor of anticipation in the calf muscles of the Zillas that surrounded their foes so completely, nor even a shiver of fear running down the humans' spines. The crackling of the fires that struggled to keep up their existence in the piles of rubble that had once been proud skyscrapers seemed suddenly muted; not so much as a hiss escaped through the teeth of any creature present. It seemed impossible for such a huge assembly of destructive power not to simply unleash waves of death to forever scorch the world, let alone be so silent, and so still. No motion, no sound - nothing.
And yet... it was exactly because of this great Nothing that Everything was able to thrive. For right then, right there, all hung in the balance.
Resolute, unvanquishable, numerous as grains of sand on a beach, stood the entire Zilla army, the most formidable force the planet ever had and ever would see. Greater even than the Gyaos swarm that had besieged Kyoto five years before; powerful and clever though they might have been individually, add more numbers to them and one would find that their proportional effectiveness dropped exponentially. In 1995, Gamera faced off against just one Super Gyaos, and he would have been vanquished if not for the rejuvenating properties that flame had on the terrapin and the inner strength of the human he was bonded to. By contrast, in 1999, in downtown Shibuya he engaged two Hyper Gyaos simultaneously, both of which were even larger and more powerful than their predecessor, and walked away with no more serious injury than a shallow cut on his arm. And the invading Xilians, for all their talk of exterminating humankind, had in fact wiped out less than a quarter of the world's population. The humans may have been temporarily beaten back, but with time to organize themselves, would the scattered pockets of survivors not have united and eventually taken back their planet?
But the Zillas were different. While individually, each was a cowardly weakling who could be brought down with a few mere missiles, the presence of others gave them new strength. They abandoned their urge to flee before an enemy and instead used those same abilities to wreak havoc on a foe, multiplying their effectiveness through coordinated teamwork and sheer ferocious instinct. And when the immediate battle was won, their offspring would do what the Xilians couldn't; dig down to where mankind had taken root against the onslaught, and destroy it from the inside.
And standing against them, the world's single last hope, that one flickering candle that just barely continued to hold back the impending darkness, was the minuscule band of valiant defenders. A mixed group of humans, two of them the soldiers that had helped turn the tide against the alien assailants that threatened to destroy all human civilization, and the remainders the facilitators of defending the planet from the more minor threats that, left on their own, would have slowly but surely chipped away at the world's resistance until it crumbled. The Guardian of the Universe, maintainer of the throne while its master was absent, making sure that no threats that exploited its absence would ever triumph. The spiritual counterpart to the throne's master, protecting the world on a constant basis from the combined weight of the small, constantly moving pieces in the game of domination of the globe, its position in the final battle tragically ironic due to the fact that it was being forced to battle with its own blood relations. The heir to the throne, now underdeveloped, out of place, wounded, and the most vulnerable to attack. And the throne's owner, the King of the Monsters, a living vessel of unimaginable fury and unbreakable will, dedicated to blasting all that threatened it and the planet's continued survival out of existence.
There the two forces stood, motionlessly opposing each other, silently daring the other to make the first move. They were like statues crafted by an ancient warlord, locked in combat stances for eternity, all the while the dangerously thin thread that kept them from leaping at each other and staining the ground with the other's blood threatened to snap. In that moment, time itself paused to observe the two sides of yin and yang pushing against the other, each trying to reduce its opposite to powder, before the true battle commenced.
And then the moment was broken.
Though there were less than three hundred Zillas present, it seemed like a thousand furious howls crying for fresh blood ripped through the air as the Zillas all charged. The sheer combined force of all their footfalls resembled nothing so much as a raging earthquake, instantly knocking all but the kaiju and Ozaki off their feet.
The mutant couldn't afford to waste any time considering if he could do it, despite his inner doubts about it when his crewmen met their deaths. He immediately summoned up all the power he could manage given the circumstances and simultaneously formed a shield around the humans and used a surge of kinetic energy to knock a Zilla coming straight at them aside. He could neither acknowledge its death, reduced to a mass of churning blood, flattened tissue, and crushed bone by the weight of its brothers trampling it, nor take a moment to rest - he had shove aside his exhaustion and force himself to deflect the path of yet another Zilla, even as he was blinded by the wall of flame blasting forth from the Zillas' jaws.
Godzilla and Zilla Jr. stood back to back, firing their breath weapons at the incoming horde and sweeping their heads in wide arcs to thin the enemy forces as much as possible while staying on the alert for the Zillas that attempted to leap directly into their midst, as smoke began to pour out of Gamera's arm and leg holes. Many of the Zillas unleashed their own oral weapons as soon as they were in range, turning the air in front of them into a rushing sea of fire. The two braced themselves for its impact, but it never came; with an upward, two-armed sweeping gesture from the Guardian, the flames flew over their heads. All of it collected into one concentrated stream that went directly into Gamera's mouth, and at that instant, as if he had been waiting for exactly that to happen, he took off, the interior of his mouth still burning that fierce shade of orange.
Gamera hovered directly over the center, spinning so rapidly that only a smoking white-orange blur was visible. Even as more fire erupted below, all of it diverted away from the defenders and into a barrier than spun in sync with the shell. The trace of orange that came from Gamera's mouth steadily brightened over a period of several seconds as thin streams of fire from the ground-based wall traveled into the sky to be absorbed into his body until the entire structure was gone, by which time the kaiju's airborne form looked like a flaming halo. And then, just when it seemed that the light couldn't get any brighter, a stream of plasma balls, like bullets from a machine gun, launched in rapid-fire sequence from the hole where Gamera's head was concealed. They rained down on the entire army in every direction, blowing scorched body parts of the Zillas into the sky and gouging huge craters in the earth.
But though dozens of them were killed by the hand of Godzilla, Junior, and Gamera, their lives taken by hot plasma and their scorched remains crushed by their brothers, it seemed that two more charged forth for each one that fell. Like floodwater rushing from a broken dam, they continued to close in on the group of defenders, until they were so dense that even the overlapping fire provided by Godzilla and Junior were not enough to keep them from coming into melee range. Minya screamed especially loudly as Gamera landed and the three boxed him in, shielding him with their bodies, as the army reached the center.
What might have seemed to be chaos in Captain Gordon's eyes when he battled the group of seven Zillas in Osaka was nothing compared to this. This was not the same battle as what had started when Godzilla had risen out of Tokyo Bay. Now there was no pause in the onslaught, no combat tactics, and no sense of what was going on. It seemed that with every second another Zilla landed a blow, every second the heat from a fire blast stung their skin, every second yet another one squeezed into another attack position. There were times when the kaiju found it more beneficial to fight with their eyes shut; they presented a major weak point, and the Zillas were so thick and so numerous that seeing them wasn't required.
The defenders didn't even have to time their attacks right, nor aim their breath weapons when their assailants grew too thick around them and they had no choice, even at the risk of accidentally harming Minya in the process. One punch was guaranteed to to knock down at least one Zilla, and those that fell down rarely got up again as their packmates trampled them as if they were already no more than corpses. A tail swipe, for those that could perform it, might take down as many as four at a time. And a beam weapon with a long enough sweep and enough energy behind it could sometimes kill over half a dozen.
Likewise, the Zilla army possessed none of the strategy and coordination that they had while fighting individual enemies in small groups - and they didn't need to. All they needed was more bodies to throw at the defenders, steadily weakening them until their exhaustion overcame their determination and they could be safely picked off one by one. They may not have had individual strength or any intent or method of preserving those lives as their foes did, but they had something far more useful to them, and that was numbers to spare. If a Zilla inflicted just one wound upon one of the enemy kaiju before its life was extinguished, then that was a sacrifice worth making.
The humans, or some of them, were playing their part as well. While the majority of HEAT was reduced to pressing their hands against their ears and praying that the next second's events did not include being stepped on, Monique used her Tachyon laser rifle to assist Captain Gordon and Nick, both of whom were unloading the remaining power charges in their maser rifles into the distracted Zillas' unprotected backs, as Ozaki covered their frontside. While three infantry-based weapons were not strong enough to defeat a Zilla unless it continued to take fire for an extended period of time, more than one time the monsters spun around to see what was biting into the backs of their legs, only for a well-placed attack from Junior or Gamera to down them permanently from behind.
Still, this could only go on for so long. Even for a kaiser, and even with the half-second breaks he received in between telekinetically shoving a 40,000 ton mutant lizard out of its path, the amount of exhaustion on behalf of Ozaki was rapidly taking its toll.
"Brace yourselves!" he screamed over the raging maelstrom of combat noise surrounding them before, with a single reverse twitch of his arm, he sent all of them flying backward and into the protective ring formed by the defenders just as a huge reptilian foot plowed through the ground they had just been standing on. Pausing only to make sure nothing had broken when they hit the ground, those with weapons returned to firing them between their allies and at the Zillas, while Ozaki's body began to glow orange as he concentrated on replenishing his energy. He again experienced that same feeling of supernatural awareness - it was almost like seeing, but like everything that he 'saw' was, in however small a way, linked to him somehow. And that was how he perceived his allies' intent.
It happened at the exact same time: Godzilla was spun around by the force of his own tail swipe, the same happened to Gamera when he stabbed a Zilla with his elbow spike through its eye socket, and Junior whirled 180 degrees so that an incoming Zilla was stabbed by his dorsal fins through the heart before it could do more than let out a squeak. At that moment, all three of them stood facing each other, as streams of blood ran down their bodies and their foes surrounded them just as surely as they had when the final round had begun. And when their eyes all met, something was communicated by Godzilla to his allies. Ozaki had no idea what nor how it was expressed, but he knew that whatever and however it was, it had happened right then through their eye contact. Junior and Gamera's faces both immediately morphed as much as possible for their anatomy into expressions that plainly said, "Don't," but Godzilla's stayed fiercely resolute as ever. Then the moment was gone, the defenders' expressions returned to their grimly determined state, and Ozaki knew that whatever plan Godzilla had just given them was going to be executed now.
Until this point, Gamera had been diverting part of his attention to redirecting the constant walls of flame into thin, concentrated beams that shot directly back down the throats of the same Zillas that had produced them, burning through their throats and leaving them to suffocate; any of the attacks could potentially pass between the defenders' bodies and hit Minya. But now all of the fiery blasts instantly shot upward, collecting into a rapidly expanding fireball that rotated ominously in the center of the dark sky. The Zillas' eyes gleamed wickedly in the orange glow. The flaming sphere continued to grow larger and larger, like a balloon being fed helium, until-
The humans' only warning was a crackling whoosh the fireball unfolded into a dome that settled over them like a vast tent, barricading them from the attacking Zilla army. The only thing that penetrated the wall was more than a dozen dying screams accompanied by a corresponding number of blackened bodies of Zillas that had been too late to avoid ramming themselves directly into the flames. This brought them little comfort, however; immediately, it felt like they were in an extremely hot sauna, and all the fire was burning their oxygen supply fast.
As if he had been rehearsing the timing, Junior moved beside the humans and lowered his torso parallel to the ground. Behind him, Gamera was doing the same thing to Minya. With the promptings of, "Go, go go!" from Nick, they began climbing on the monster's back. While his triple rows of dorsal fins seemed relatively smooth when viewed from a distance, up close they could see that they and the points where they connected with his spine were covered in small pits and bumps - extremely reliable, if not comfortable, hand- and footholds. Minya used what seemed to be the majority of his remaining strength to clamor up on top of Gamera and wedge his fingers underneath the scutes on his shell.
When everyone was aboard, Junior, to the extreme displeasure of Craven, rose up to his full height. Likewise, Gamera braced against the ground with his arms, tucked his back legs into his shell, and turned on his rear jets in preparation. All heads turned to Godzilla, who was standing firm as stone. The dome of pure flame silhouetted his form while simultaneously illuminating it, giving the kaiju a truly godlike air. Even Gamera and Junior seemed slightly in awe.
The King turned to each of them in turn, sending them messages so plain he might as well have spoken in plain English, except that mere words could not express the emotion that shook them to their cores.
First, he gave a nod to the humans on Junior's back: Thank you for defending my son.
He shifted his gaze so that it rested on Junior. His nod said, Thank you for fighting alongside us.
He turned to Gamera and gave another nod: Thank you for turning the tide.
His last was for Minya. For the first time, he seemed to slightly falter as he gazed at his son, who looked somewhere between confused and scared at what was about to happen. For just one moment, a single tear in one of his eyes glimmered orange from the light of both the flaming shield and the depths of the eye that it came from. Then, in what was more of a mournful bow of his head than a nod, he said:
The dome suddenly withdrew, funneling into a huge tubular mass that shot through the army of Zillas. At the same time, Gamera shot forward along the ground and Junior sprinted after it. The fire carved a swath through the mob, either by causing the Zillas it was heading towards to scatter or by simply burning them down, leaving a wide path for Gamera and Junior to move through before the army reassembled itself back into place. Junior kept stride alongside the Guardian as both of their passengers focused on holding on as tight as they could. With incredible speed they broke out of the mass of Zillas, and kept moving as far away from them as fast as they could afford.
Perhaps if they had not been encompassed by their pack mentality, some of them might have pursued, but all their attention was reserved for the one kaiju that stood alone and vulnerable directly in their midst. All of them charged forth, seeking to bury the King under a mass of flesh until his life was at last relinquished. Godzilla held them off with a last burst of savagery, punching and biting and tail-swiping anything that got within range, until his energy gave out and the Zillas succeeded in knocking him on his back. They swarmed all over him like sharks in a feeding frenzy, and all varieties of pain he knew were shoved into those few seconds, breaking his bones and shredding his flesh. By that point he was already summoning the last stores of the nuclear energy that remained in his body, augmenting it exponentially, radiating it through his fins, spreading it all over his body...
Junior and Gamera were some distance away when it began. Barely visible through the blanket of Zillas, a pale blue light, just like that of Godzilla's nuclear breath, glowed faintly. It continued to gain intensity over a period of several seconds before it abruptly flared a brilliant red.
"Spiral Ray," murmured Captain Gordon to Ozaki. But something was wrong. There was no sign of the Spiral Ray firing - the light just continued to burn brighter and brighter, until beams of it were stabbing out from between the Zillas like searchlights.
And then it happened: the Spiral Nuclear Pulse.
The sight came first. The image of the swarming Zillas was instantly replaced by an enormous, orange-white explosion that burned its image into the retinas of everyone watching. They all screamed and shielded their eyes from the blinding light, but even with their eyes closed it seemed to shine just as brightly, as if a star had descended to Earth.
Next came the feeling. It wasn't at all like the steadily building earthquake caused by the charge of the Zilla army - it seemed like the planet itself chose that moment to jerk five feet down, nearly blasting Junior and Gamera off their feet and dislodging their passengers. Even from there, they could feel the heat coming off of it; between it and the atmosphere of the fire dome's interior, the former was unquestionably hotter.
The last thing to hit them was the sound. The air-shattering BOOM was every bit as deafening as the combined screams from all the Zillas, and far more devastating. It felt like it literally smashed itself against their eardrums, as if it was specifically trying to cause them as much pain as possible. It seemed like it had been slowed down digitally so that it continued to last on, all the while the volume not decreasing at all for more than ten seconds.
The blast finally began to die down. The explosion had mushroomed over three thousand feet into the air easily before its edges began to dissipate into the air. The shaking gradually dropped in intensity, while the air steadily cooled down in proportion. The huge sound seemed like it was trying to hold onto its existence for as long as possible before it was claimed and promptly swallowed up completely by the winds.
All traces of the Zilla army were gone, so totally that it seemed that the explosion had simply wiped them out of the space-time continuum. The only testament to their existence was a huge ashen crater where they had stood just moments before, over ten times the size of the one that had formed when Gorath had impacted.
It might have been a time to celebrate, under other circumstances. But no sense of victory flooded the minds of the defenders as they stood watching that spot. Because all of them were too busy thinking one thing:
Where was Godzilla?
Minya called out for his father with the loudest vocalization he had made his whole short life. His only reply was an echo. Fiercely, he seemed to completely forget his wounds as he stood up straight and sprinted as fast as his legs could carry him to the center of the crater. Junior and Gamera glanced over to each other devastatedly for a moment, then, with the former first stopping to allow the humans to climb on his back again, followed him. As they drew nearer, they spotted some large, dark shape lying inert on the ground, directly where the nuclear pulse had issued from. But it couldn't be - it wasn't-
But it was.
There, completely motionless, lay the body of Godzilla.
His eyes were closed, he was tilted slightly to one direction on his back, and his mouth just slightly open; he could have been sleeping if not for the fresh wounds that covered his body, or the absence of the rise and fall of his chest that meant he was breathing. His body was already cold to the touch, his internal nuclear energies all completely expended by that last attack.
Minya screamed at the body again, in a futile attempt to wake his father. Because he was just asleep, he had to be, he couldn't be - could never - ...die. When nothing happened, he started to pound on Godzilla's chest, punching him, kicking him, screaming all the while. But Godzilla's form didn't so much as twitch, as if mocking its son in the truth of its final defeat.
Gamera and Junior hung their heads mournfully and closed their eyes, and thick, boiling tears began to collect in the corners of their eyelids. Elsie turned and buried her face in Craven's shoulder, sobbing into it as he held her. Even Monique's shoulders began to tremble, and Randy put one arm over her shoulder comfortingly, to which she did not object. It was clear in the teenager's face that he had no intention or desire to make an attempt at lightening up the situation. Nick, Ozaki, and Captain Gordon, the only ones who could manage to, put their hands on their hearts and looked at the still figure as Minya fell to his knees in despair and Gamera and Junior simultaneously gave a roar to the sky, a tribute to their fallen comrade.
Technically, they had won. The Zillas were gone at last, the threat they posed to the world finished. But not a single thought of that bloomed in the minds of any of them, human or kaiju. The fact that the mighty King of the Monsters was dead blocked out all other thought. It was the same, as far as they were concerned, as if the Zillas had killed him themselves and left his mangled body for all to see before returning to the ocean. If there were some way to travel back in time, just a few minutes, and come up with another way to kill the Zillas, each one would have taken it, even at the risk of the Zillas winning. Anything would be better than this. Nor was there any way to restore him; Gamera would hardly dare use any very large amount of Earth's mana after what he had been forced to do to kill Legion - there were still Gyaos eggs left in the world. And even if he tried, it would be useless - not only was it unknown whether Godzilla could even harness its energy like Gamera could, but not even mana had the ability to bring anyone back from the dead.
And then, as they mourned the fallen king, something happened. Something none of them could have predicted. Something miraculous, incomprehensible, incredible.
Godzilla's eyes snapped open.
It made no sound, but it seemed almost like everybody sensed it happen, and all of them looked up at the same time. There was no any reaction at first as Godzilla clambered to his feet, they were so shocked. All of them just stared as he stood straight and tall, despite the gashes and bruises that covered his body, and wondered if they were hallucinating it all. But when Godzilla looked around him to find that the Zillas were obliterated and threw his head back in a bellow of victory, they knew it was no dream. Godzilla was back.
Minya would have knocked his father over if he had been any bigger than he was when he collided with Godzilla's leg. He squeezed it and pressed his face into it like he never wanted to let go. Junior took a small step forward and made a bow while Gamera unleashed a triumphant roar into the sky that echoed for miles around.
The humans, meanwhile, were shouting and cheering and whooping with joy. Joy for both the fact that Godzilla was alive and because now it was beginning to hit them: the battle was finished. No more Zillas. The world, at last, was safe. Monique turned to the side and embraced Randy, while Elsie took the more upfront approach and kissed Craven full on the mouth before running over to the rest of her teammates, leaving him in a sort of daze. Ozaki and the Captain both collapsed to the ground; all the effort of the night finally seemed to be affecting them, and now suddenly all they wanted to do was rest. Even so, they looked at each other and grinned before sharing a joyously weary high five.
But something bothered him. He forced himself to get off the ground and he stopped Elsie for a moment.
"He was dead," he said with a kind of wonder. "We saw him, and he wasn't breathing. How is this possible?"
To his surprise, she flashed him a grin, shrugged, and replied simply, "It isn't." With that, she gave him a brief hug and ran off again to join the rest of HEAT.
Once the euphoria had the chance to die down slightly, somebody offhandedly questioned how they were going to get back. The Captain replied rather sleepily that the EDF would no doubt send a patrol ship to search for them. In the meantime, there were more important things to pay attention to.
Godzilla and Minya stood alongside each other, facing Gamera and Junior; it seemed that they were about to leave. Both of the latter two started to bow again, but two beams of radioactive plasma impacting the ground directly below them caused them to reflexively snap their heads back up. When they did, Godzilla was already bowing to them, with Minya mimicking him and actually almost making the gesture look somewhat dignified. Then all four of the kaiju lifted their heads to the sky and fired their breath weapons. The attacks mixed and formed shimmering colors that reflected off the clouds, all coming together in a small explosion that nonetheless lit up the sky as Gamera's plasma ball detonated. They all looked at each other one more time, then Godzilla and Minya turned to wade out into the sea as Gamera turned on all his jets, lifted off, and flew over the horizon. Junior turned to Nick, who nodded to him as if in affirmative, then strode out into the waters and disappeared. The humans all watched the places where the kaiju disappeared until there was nothing left to look at.
And so they waited for an EDF ship to come, and one did within just a few hours. They all went back to the base and were provided with beds, which they accepted gladly. When they woke, they would be subject to a detailed retelling of the battle, but for now, they and all the other heroes needed to rest, whether it was in a bed or the bottom of the sea.
But they did forget one thing, however...
What about the eggs the Zillas laid in Tokyo?
A/N: Okay, I will rant awhile about the chapter, but first thing's first: I am not making a sequel. I know some people will probably expect it with that cliffhanger ending - in fact, several reviews would probably be asking for a sequel even if I said that all the Zilla eggs were gone, as these things tend to go - but let's not kid ourselves - all the best Godzilla endings are cliffhangers, even (or especially) if it doesn't have a sequel. However, I will tell you that I might make a prequel detailing what happened between HEAT and the Tachyon aliens. It wouldn't be for quite some time - in fact, it would probably be over a year - and I'd probably only start on it once I had utterly run out of story ideas. But still, the concept's there. And in the meantime, you can check out some of my other in-progress stories if they're to your liking.
All right, so be honest here: How many of you did I manage to fool with that whole "Godzilla is dead" thing? I'm hoping it was quite a few of you, because I wanted to make all the sadness and whatnot as convincing as possible. I actually came up with the Spiral Nuclear Pulse (speaking of which, did you like that attack?) destroying all the Zillas at once pretty early in the story, but that was about it. I once considered ending the battle with Godzilla using the Spiral Ray, Gamera using the Mana Ray, and Junior using his breath all at once and just nuking them all, but that presented a host of other problems (among them, Junior's lack of some epic finishing attack causing him to look pathetically weak and even useless compared to the other two). And even then, I didn't really know what would happen after Godzilla used it, other than the Zillas dying, but I figured that him whipping out his super-awesome-mega-death-explosion and then just getting up and walking away would be pretty cheap; even though he survived after all, the fact that he very nearly spent all his energy on that last attack. So, I hope that was convincing.
Also, I know that a lot of you had a bunch of ideas about there being some kind of Zilla leader or maybe all the Zillas combining themselves into one big giant Zilla. But think about it for a moment; if I had any intention of them having a pack leader, that's a concept I would have introduced well before now. Waiting until the last chapter would have just made it look random. Besides, that would kind of go against the point - it's supposed to be a big army of Zillas, individually weak, but deadly in large numbers. Shifting the focus over to any kind of single entity for that would have gone against all I've been working at. Moreover, the Zillas, despite being kaiju, are meant to follow in the footsteps of GINO by being little more than giant animals, without any "powers" to speak of apart from all the laws-of-physics-bending required for a kaiju to exist in the first place (even their fire breath wouldn't be difficult to explain away on a biological basis); having them magically combine into a single giant creature would not only have come out of nowhere, but in fact it wouldn't even make any internal sense, and that's coming from a story where hundreds of giant lizards simultaneously invade Tokyo and are fought off by three other monsters accompanied by a small group of humans who arrived in two separate futuristic submarine-spaceships. So there.
Wow. This is really it. It's finally over. I've been working on this story for over a year; the idea of me just not having to write another chapter for it is gonna take some getting used to. I'd like to thank all my reviews for giving me the motivation to go on (in order of first review): gojiramatthew, DragonMaster02, CII, feebasfactor, Zillah 91, Darkrave, Raptor Llama, ZillaPWNS, Son Kenshin, Harley Dirk, Dr Facer/Fabian Cruz, Zillaalien, lord maul160, edd 2., jason browne, Godzilla89, Kendell, Scott, Infinite Freedom, ProudZillaFan, John Newton 22, PhinalPhantasy, Pikazilla, julz, Kardas the Destroyer, Matthew Mcdaniels, Bulldan, jcogginsa, Me, Russel, kenny, Mire-Goji, godzillamegafan, Eggnik, Killa Jr.76, eric, Troycool, and megaman20XX. Thanks, you guys, and thanks in advance to anyone who will review this story in the future, in which case I obviously couldn't put your name in there. But you're just as appreciated.
So, please review, and I hope this chapter was worthy. It's been a great ride.