What Doesn’t Kill You
Chapter 27: Adrift – Part 12/13
A Yu-Gi-Oh Fanfiction
By: Azurite – azurite AT seventh-star DOT net
Site: seventh-star DOT net
Conceptualized/First Written: 6/28/05
Completed/Final Edit: 8/6/16
“I know you said you were going to take us to see someone, but I didn’t picture a place like this!” Mai shouted over the growl of Valon’s winding-down motorcycle as she disembarked. Téa gingerly lifted herself out of the sidecar, grabbing as much as she could from the surrounding mess of luggage.
A massive gray building loomed before them, wide and blocky. There was nothing particularly unique about it, except for the large logo hanging above the cavernous doors. Mai didn’t even spare a glance at it as she walked in. Téa wondered what this place had to do with a caduceus with a circular snake instead of the usual pair of snakes twined around a single rod. A streetlight flickered and then she saw it, just as Mai and Valon started to disappear into the doorway.
‘That symbol!‘ Without a doubt, it was the Seal of Orichalcos imposed over the snakes, its points stretching past a perfect circle. And was that a third snake, its maw open to reveal monstrous fangs, instead of a winged rod?
There was no doubt now: Valon was definitely the same guy who’d stolen one of the God Cards, one of the “three swordsmen of Doma.” And this place…
Téa stared up at the building, its doorway a cavernous mouth with shadowed fangs, a dank humidity bubbling from the darkness.
“You coming, kid?” Mai called from the pitch-black doorway. She looked weary.
Valon schooled his own expression into something neutral, unreadable.
‘Does he know that I know?’
It was a risk she would have to take. No way she’d let Mai walk into a place like this alone.
Téa trotted after them, hefting some of their bags. Valon obligingly grabbed the two largest. He lifted them over his shoulders without so much as a grunt, despite Mai’s wide eyes and Téa’s short-lived verbal protest.
“Come on. This place looks way worse on the outside than it does in. There’s a reason for its name, see?”
“What is this place called, anyway?” Téa asked, speaking to Valon directly.
“Paradias,” Valon said with a chuckle. “Trust me, you’ll get it once we get inside more.”
They walked through the dim hallway, while the smallest noises echoed off stone walls. They couldn’t see much. Still, the hairs on Téa’s forearms rose, faint stalks peppered with goosebumps beneath. Maybe it was the smell. It was the smell of old, dusty things interspersed with the humidity. It seemed so out of place from a building so huge—and the path that seemed to be leading them further down, not up.
This was doubtless some vestigial memory from her first trip to a haunted house as a kid. Téa shook her head. Maybe that way she could clear out the prickling sensation. It had started on her arms and worked its way up her torso until it wrapped around her neck like a suffocating scarf.
‘I’m being stupid.’
“Seen one dark, dank hallway, seen them all?” Téa muttered under her breath.
“Say something, Princess?” Valon glanced over the hefty bags he carried over his shoulder like they were no more than pillows.
Téa blushed at the unexpected nickname, and bit the inside of her lip when she realized how hot her cheeks had gotten. “No, nothing.” She kept her eyes downward until Valon stopped at the entryway to a massive chamber –one humming with life.
Mai and Téa dropped their respective bags at the doorway. They found themselves staring down a staircase at a bustling room full of people. They were all acting as though they were waiting for something… or someone. Thanks to some intermittent torches lining the wall, Tea could make out a dais sitting at the far end of the room. She thought she could make out the faint traces of that same Orichalcos logo on the wall behind it. Though everyone stood and looked toward the empty dais, nothing was there: no podium, no table, not even a chair. Nothing… and no one.
‘What–or who–are they all waiting for?’ Téa wondered. There had to be at least two hundred people in the chamber, if not more. Some sat on long stone benches, but many others just stood, murmuring –leaning against the walls, shifting in the aisle way.
“I must have left my conference badge in my other purse,” Mai quipped, casting an inquisitive glance at Valon. He had just handed off Mai and Téa’s largest bags to a black-clad attendant. The attendant nodded in response to Valon said. Then he and another attendant, formed from the shadows themselves, took Mai and Téa’s other belongings. They sank back into the darkness of a side hall Téa hadn’t noticed was there before.
“They’re going to bring your things to your room. But in the meantime, I thought you might want to join us. Get a chance to meet the guy who’s going to help you change your fate.”
Téa swallowed. ‘Forget Valon being part of some weird magical gang that stole the God Cards! This guy’s a total cultist!’
“Come on!” He waved with one hand and started trotting down the stairs, offering a jaunty wave to someone near the bottom. Mai glanced around. Her face was expressionless, but still she followed him, keeping a slow, observational pace.
Téa hadn’t realized that the idea of Valon, Paradias place, and Doma group being some sort of creepy cult made her step back. But then she noticed Mai looking back at her from midway down the stairs, but she didn’t say anything.
Okay, so her bags were somewhere in Hotel Mystery. Maybe somewhere here in Weird Headquarters. After their motorcycle ride in the pouring rain and dark.
Mai was going to hear this guy out –whoever he was, with his promises of changing the fate. All because Valon offered her a hand to hold and a sweet smile?
‘No, she’s smarter than that. We both are.‘
And that meant running away wasn’t an option.
Téa sucked in a deep breath, surprised that despite the cold, greenish atmosphere of the place, the air didn’t actually feel all that humid. She had expected it to smell like mildew, but instead, the air in this place was…
She squared her shoulders, shook off the déjà vu that permeated her senses, and wandered after Mai and Valon down the stairs.
Valon squirmed his way through one of the side aisles to near the dais. He stood next to a shadowy form a good amount taller than him and another, centimeters taller than Valon, but not as sinewy. Valon seemed to be chatting like they were his old friends, but the other two had their arms across their chests. They looked like statues.
“Can’t see much from here,” Téa commented as she approached Mai. She squeezed past a taller man with olive skin and muscles layered on muscles. She popped out of the line of people between him and a lanky woman with hair down to her waist and high cheekbones illuminated by the flickering light. She’d only been able to spy Valon chatting it up with the other two guys.
‘They’re probably the guys who have Ra and Obelisk,’ Téa realized when she was on the last step of the staircase.
Mai had her lips open as if to reply, when a whooshing sound filled the chamber. Torches that Téa hadn’t noticed before flared to life. Before, only a third of the torches had been lit. Now, every single one of them bloomed in flame, casting the chamber in a play of dancing light and shadow.
Téa’s gaze swung around the room. When her eyes finally met the dais, she saw a man there –one who hadn’t been there before, and who most assuredly would have stood out among the crowd.
Clad in white robes lined in turquoise, he had an impressive head of bright hair. It was almost a bright white, but it had a hint of green in it. Thick strands flowed over his shoulders, past his waist– and gathered into a low-hanging tail that almost brushed the backs of his knees.
Even from this great distance, Téa could make out the large green pendant hanging from his neck. Even though hundreds of people separated them, Téa felt as though he were staring straight at her.
She shivered. He wasn’t imposing, but…
He had no microphone, but when the strange man spoke, the whole room quieted.
He let that greeting hang in the air for a moment before continuing. “I am Dartz. I’m sure many of you are wondering why you are here. I’ll be brief. Each of you has a unique skill, trait, or ability that sets you apart from the others you have chosen to surround yourself with until this moment. Until this moment, you have not had the chance to use those abilities to their fullest,” Dartz added. He started to stride across the dais, “to make a difference in the world, to make it a truly better place!”