AN: The end has come, after so long. But, maybe not forever. I truly hope you enjoyed this story of mine, and perhaps in the near future, we can continue the journey together. Thank you, for all your support, to everyone who read this story! To those that were there from the first day, and to those who haven't begun reading yet, I hope that this story brought you a little happiness. Goodbye for now!
P.S. Special thanks go to Nina Vale, who has been my sounding board and stalwart supporter from the very beginning. Your reviews kept me going, and I always looked forwards to them with excitement and delight.
The Seeker Within
Chapter 86- Aftermath
What words could fill this moment when the world had so irrevocably changed?
The evil they had fought so hard against was just... gone.
There was no satisfaction of a victory, no resolution of a triumph, no neat and tidy ending. Any vindictive, dark pleasure at their enemy's fate was squashed by the sudden, abrupt halt.
The story was bluntly severed from the thread they had been unravelling.
And suddenly, it was like the world could stop and take a breath, for the first time in a long time. There was no sense of urgency, no panic, no haste. No new missions, no races to the prize, no fights against mindless minions, no battles against ancient traps and human nature and the meddling of evil men.
Just silence, and heartbeats, and breathing, echoing in this vast hall.
A hand in hers.
The chill of the ring on his finger.
As the era ended and the age drew to a close, as their present became a past and a history that others might tell some day, as night became dawn and the stars disappeared, she sat beside him and listened to him breathe, felt the hesitant tremor of his hands, and marvelled, marvelled, in awe and wonder and a deep and nameless surprise, that they were alive. Battered, bloody, bruised, tired and aching and exhausted, but alive.
It started as something low and soft, quiet and tumultuous. The very feel of it was so strange, foreign and wrong, as if breaking this gentle bubble that had risen about them was a crime, a sin of the highest order, but she did it anyway. It grew, bubbling and rising in her throat like the bile she was desperately swallowing at the memory of that noise, that bit too loud, manic, near hysterical.
She laughed, because if she didn't, the darkness would overwhelm her so completely that she feared she'd never find herself in its terrible depths again.
She could feel the other's eyes on her, unsure, uncertain, concerned. Her mind had, not too long ago, been the property of the world's most deranged evil mad man, after all, and that kind of attack left the deepest kind of scars. But she knew he understood, could feel it in the tentative brushes against the edges of her mind, questioning and wordless.
She was free.
No more hands reaching for her from the shadows, no more demands that she be handed over, lest her friends be harmed, no more being sought after like some prize, no more being used. This power in her hands, however terrible and awful and hated it was, it was hers now, and the only people that would ever have the choice as to whether or not it should be used would be the people she chose. No more darkness tinted red, as if trapped inside flesh. No more blue like the midnight sky, no more purple like deep bruises and long-old pains. No more grey, like decaying flesh. No black, deep and fathomless and never-ending, reaching for her and reachingreachingreaching, no matter how far or fast she ran. No more voices screaming orders, no more coils of will crushing her, no more dominance demanding obedience.
Freedom was heady and rich and it filled her with light. She clung to it.
The spellcraft protecting the castle and blocking their signal had died with its caster, and so, the team huddled around Dante in the rubble and ruins of the chamber as he attempted to get in contact with the Huntik Foundation- a difficult task seeing as they had adamantly refused to help. The auburn sat with his back against a block of marble that had once been part of the altar, split in half, Zhalia tucked neatly against his side, slumbering quietly, their hands intertwined, with the Holotome resting upon his outstretched legs. On his other side, the brunet eyed the goings-on with dull eyes, like empty wine bottles, drained and for once making no attempt to hide it. The only motion to show he was still awake and aware was the hand he had raised to the head of the girl curled up beside him, resting her head against his shoulder, combing through her golden hair in an effort to reassure both of them of their continued existence. On the blonde's other shoulder, lay the Ravenwood, the slices in her hands and her other various wounds bound with pieces of cloth ripped from various outfits, the team all far too exhausted to try healing spells. She gripped Loki's hand in a vice-like hold, ignoring the pangs of pain from her palms in favour of this rare show of emotion. While her eyes were closed, there was that ever-present tense line to her shoulders that said she was still very much aware of her surroundings and what was going on in them, a far cry from her young-but-old charge, who was very much asleep, worn out by the expenditure of magic in both her forms.
"Dante," The crackling voice had numerous eyes cracking open to peer at the holographic figure now floating above their leader's device. "Dante, is that you, my boy?" The voice was filled with worry- no doubt concerned by his ashen face, the deep hollows of his eyes, his lacklustre appearance- but the mere sight of the little man in the picture brought a spark of life back to golden eyes, the man leaning forwards in stunned excitement.
"Metz?" A hushed, awe-filled whisper from a tired throat, barely heard but still there. "You-. You're-." He struggled to find the words to voice his joy, stammering and stuttering. "You're standing?!"
"I don't know how you managed it, kleiner Löwe, but you did it. Your mission is at an end. The curse is ended." Even through the shimmering light-figure, you could see the concern shining brightly in his dark, expressive eyes. "Where are you? How are you, and the young ones? Is everyone alright?"
"We did it, Metz." The lion leaned back against the stone with a contented sigh, that part of his heart that had squirmed and writhed with emotion- worry, hatred, pain, sorrow, fear- for so long falling quiet. The sudden ease was almost discomforting. "It's over. The Professor is... gone. We just need a pick up."
"And for our finest heroes, I think that can certainly be arranged." He smiled kindly, that familiar edge to his mentor's smile so similar to a faint memory of a half-forgotten face that he couldn't help but trust his word. "I'll get on that right away. An extraction team will be with you as soon as possible. In the meantime, try and get some rest."
The little figure flickered and winked out of existence with a cheery wave, and a profound sense of relief washed over the golden-eyed Seeker- a massive weight lifted from his shoulders, the nagging, relentless fear that gnawed at the back of his mind fell silent and faded away, and as he lay there among the rubble of a tyrant's vast empire, listening to the quiet deep sleep-breaths of his teammates and family, for the first time in what felt like forever, he surrendered to sleep easily, and without fear of what he would see in the darkness.
And that was how they were found, them that had saved worlds both hidden and mundane, from the grasping, reaching hands of a man that had sought to crush them and bend them to his will. A lion, with burning eyes and heart, whose mission had at long last ended. A wolf, who had shrugged off her chains and found her pack. A dragon, who had found freedom in his legacy and acceptance with the burden of his dynasty. A cat, still tentative and new, distrustful eyes and wary stance tempered by a growing acceptance, mired in secrets that she may one day share. And the fox that bound them all together, a fledgling and an elder, naive and yet all-knowing, innocent and yet worldly-wise, who had found a place where both of her selves could belong.
The months passed by.
Dante Vale and his team continued to live in his residence near the Venetian Huntik Compound. For the time being, their status was 'standby'. The official story was that they were on rest after their fight against the Professor, but those involved knew the truth- the relationship between the team and the Foundation they were sworn to was still fractured following the revelations of the nature of several of the team's members- a traitorous spy, an unnatural hybrid creature, and a member of a Seeker sect thought long dead and known for their forbidden spell practices and murky past. However, they found themselves protected against disbandment by three powerful influences- the reputation of the Foundation's top Seeker, the team leader Dante Vale, the backing of the last Casterwill, the expert spell-crafter William Casterwill, and the support of the Huntik Foundation's president, who had finally returned to his duties, Lukas Metz. These three together fought against the rumour and whispers that now followed wherever the team was seen, with fierce glares, sharp tongues, and calculated words.
The full details of what had occurred in the castle in Prague were never fully disclosed, both for the sake of the world order, and those involved. The official story became that the Professor had died during a cave in of the castle's roof due to instability caused by the fight, and that the body was too damaged, both by the fatal injuries and the pre-existing curse, for any kind of formal identification. Simon Juedeao's grave remained undisturbed, and the Foundation's reputation unblemished. The bureaucrats were pleased, and the Venice team decided not to challenge their decision, instead choosing to prioritise the secrecy of Adannu's mortal form.
Instead of missions, new goals and dreams emerged.
Dante returned to his interim job as a private detective, this time with a blue-haired, perceptive assistant. They often returned after a day's work with amusing stories to share, gathering in the living room of the full house with their young charges to laugh and gossip- while Will still stayed at the canal-side mansion, he was more often than not found at his mentor's home. The ice and fear in Zhalia's eyes had faded completely now, and instead, her gaze was filled with warmth and love. She was just as likely to mother the teens as she was to snark at them- like the coffee she loved so dearly, bitter and sweet. The auburn's unannounced disappearances to the house in Germany became scheduled visits for the family, with the older gentleman making the trip to Venice nearly as often as his family came to the manor.
School- that had so long been forgotten- raised its head again, the exams that Will and Loki had missed during those first few weeks of Seeker-hood, mad and filled with panic and threats, now a blight that stopped them from stepping further. Instead, they found themselves held back, chafing at the delay, having to wait for a few months until summer and the anniversary of their meeting rolled around once more to finally finish their courses- and even this was only due to the influence of the ancient Seeker family, using their connections to fake hospital records of illness for the period of time they had been gallivanting across the globe. The Ravenwood, who had apparently never completed formal education, too preoccupied with the issues that came with the secrets she carried, joined the two teens in their lessons with feigned disinterest that gradually melted into genuine curiosity, revealing a quick mind behind her quick wit. Though she maintained her cool facade, bit by bit, she began to warm towards those she now called her 'teammates'. Before they even knew it, the exams came and went, passed with flying colours for all three teens, much to the raven's surprise. The trio went on to further education, taking courses in ancient history and languages, as was common for Seekers. The normalcy of it all was sometimes stifling, but at the same time, so peaceful that no one found the will to complain.
The house on the waterside was filled with laughter and light, and family.
With Will as her guide, Loki began the long search through both her own memories and those of her one-time Seeker Simon Juedao to find the next step in the search for her father, supported by her family and friends. So far, they had yet to find anything, the confusing stream of images making any sort of rational, logical search difficult, but the blonde hadn't lost hope. She held her dream close, as she had always done, that her father lay waiting for her just beyond the next corner.
One day, they would be reunited.
A new future beckoned.
A new story waited for someone to turn the first page.
~To be continued~