What Doesn’t Kill You
Chapter 27: Adrift – Part 13/13
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
Dartz stopped at one end of the dais and glanced at the crowd, his face set with a stern frown. “The pace at which this world changes for the better of all is far too slow. But here –together!– we can change the world within a matter of months!”
A murmur rippled throughout the crowd. Téa could make out some of the snippets of conversation. There were voices young and old, some speaking in English while others spoke other languages Téa could only guess at identifying.
“I ask you –my chosen ones, only the finest and most skilled of all humanity– will you envision a better world with me? Imagine a world where there is no war!” The lanterns flared again, the flames seeming to lick the walls higher and higher.
Again– the whooshing of flames, the light continuing to crawl up the wall. Would the darkness swallow the torches, or would they chase the darkness away?
“No hunger!” The flames danced higher still, almost converging as they approached the invisible ceiling.
No one else seemed startled by the flames growing ever higher. It wasn’t as if some sort of pipes linked the torches together– at least, none that Téa could see. Who knew what was lurking behind the walls of this weird place, aside from black-clad bag ninjas?
Higher still, and this time, Téa thought she could almost make out a shape in the center of the chamber ceiling.
“I come from that world,” Dartz said, and the torches shot up their tallest burst of fire yet. They united on what seemed to be an especially large disc of some sort hanging from the ceiling. In a split second, that curved disc flared with light. It illuminated the whole chamber, much to the astonishment of almost everyone inside.
Brilliant light bathed what Téa at first thought was a dank chamber with dark walls, light enough to rival the largest of chandeliers. The walls were not dark, but bright white marble laced with veins of faint green and gold. It was no dark pit.
The place looked finer than any ballroom Téa had ever been in. Sumptuous cushions piled on the floor in various places. Rich, colorful carvings stretched along the walls. A velvety scarlet carpet lined the dais.
When the murmuring died down, Dartz spoke once more.
“There are those among you who are the elite. You are all the best of the best that humanity has to offer. But who among you can shed their worldly limitations? Who among you has no fear? Who,” Dartz continued, his gaze sweeping across the room. Once again, Téa felt as though he was staring right at her, “has infinite imagination?”
Dartz opened his palm, and a brilliant pillar of light rose from it, the faintest of shadows hovering within. It was lumpy and small –about the size of an apricot, Téa thought– and somehow just floating there.
‘It’s gotta be some sort of trick.‘ That was how all cults worked, right? All this was just some sort of elaborate stage trick. The torches were probably rigged to some sort of butane system or something. And the curved disc at the top of the ceiling was likely filled with some sort of oil.
And the pillar of his light emerging from his palm?
Téa glanced up to see if she could spot some sort of spotlight, but there was nothing. Nothing but the giant disc with its own flames licking out like forked snake tongues.
“Those of you who believe you are among the elite, I ask you: prove yourselves. Approach this stage and grasp the Light of the Orichalcos!”
‘Well, that clinches it.’
If there was any tiny, infinitesimal chance that Valon wasn’t the same guy who’d stolen one of the God cards… If that the symbol of this “Paradias” place had nothing to do with the Seal of the Orichalcos… Téa had felt that power shudder underneath her hands. That chance flickered away like a candle flame in the presence of a roaring wind.
‘Where are the exits in this place?’ Téa glanced about, hoping to spy one of those illuminated signs, but all she saw was wall. Walls of marble and walls of people.
Suddenly she saw Mai brush past her, walking toward the center aisle.
“I’ll do it.” Mai’s voice was loud and clear, and all eyes swiveled to watch her approach the front of the chamber.
Téa almost reached out to grasp Mai’s arm, to pull her back. She had to remind Mai of what she’d said back on the Arielle – the three weird swordsmen, the theft of the God Cards, and monsters coming to life to terrorize the city!
Her hand fell back as Mai stepped forward. This was a decision Mai made on her own. She had plenty of fears, though. And…
She didn’t know what they intended to do with the God Cards, but she sure as hell wasn’t going to let Mai find out alone.
Téa bent her head low and followed after Mai.
They made it to the dais, within punching distance of the guys that Téa knew now stole the God Cards and messed up everything back home. Dartz regarded Mai coolly as he continued to hold the pillar of light in his palm.
“You believe yourself capable, Mai Valentine?” Dartz asked. Mai didn’t blink, even though Dartz knew her name having asked. She nodded once, the movement sharp and firm. “You believe yourself elite?” His tongue pushed against his teeth with that word, and Téa wondered if he actually had a forked tongue.
“There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance, child,” Dartz said, withdrawing his hand from the pillar of light. Téa’s eyes widened as the pillar continued to shine, the light now reaching to the floor. The shadowy shape continued to hover within, taunting those from outside the beam of light to try, just try and grasp it.
“Arrogance is claiming I have no fear. Confidence is recognizing the fact that it will never again control me,” Mai replied, her voice soft. Not broken, not cracking or hoarse… just soft. Not resigned, either, Téa decided. No, ever since she’d put her hand in Valon’s, Mai had not once sounded “defeated.”
“This is how I’ve felt since Battle City. I’ve just been… I’ve just been hiding it.”
In the almost-white light, Téa could make out the red rims of her friend’s eyes. The eyes they surrounded were bright and clear. There was nothing hiding in there anymore –nothing fearful or angry, but also nothing joyful or proud.
“Good answer,” Valon stage-whispered from the side of the dais. Téa glanced at him and the two men beside him. The taller, bulkier man was a stoic blond with long sideburns and a trench coat that almost hit the floor. The other was a more slight man, with an odd crop top underneath a greenish-gray jacket festooned with buckles.
Mai didn’t look at Valon or even crack a smile at his “approval.” Instead she just thrust a hand into the light.
Her fingers closed around the shadow while the light surrounding it seemed to crackle and flare as if alive, furious at the intrusion.
Moments later, Mai withdrew her hand. The fire that had appeared searing left her unscathed. In her palm lay a long, teardrop-shaped pendant. Mai tilted her head back and cracked her neck, and for a brief moment, Téa thought she saw the Seal of Orichalcos fade from her friend’s brow.
“You have surrendered your weakness to the light, Mai Valentine. You now serve the Orichalcos.” Dartz nodded, and Valon walked forward, a strip of black cloth with two small chains on the ends in his hand. He handed it to Mai, who affixed the pendant onto a tiny ring stitched into the bottom of the choker. She lifted her hair and allowed Valon to clasp the chains together. When her hair fell down and she faced Téa, right behind and below her on the dais, her eyes seemed… different.
The pendant fell just above her breasts. It glistened with a light alike that of the pillar. It still had a slow-moving shadow inside of it, tempting the next brave soul to plunge his or her hand within to see what would happen.
“Téa Gardner. It is your turn.”
Téa cast a glance at her friend departing the dais to stand beside Valon, but this time, Mai didn’t look back. When she turned around to face the center of the dais, her eyes were only on the light, not on Téa.
Téa swallowed. Cult or not… real magic or not…
“Change the fate of the whole world. What do you say?”
Yugi believed in some sort of fate– a destiny, a Heart of the Cards, even. Seto… He didn’t believe in fate. He believed in forging his own road. There was no higher power, no guiding hand. You always wound up alone.
‘I make my own fate. No one else. Me.’
It wasn’t like what Yugi believed, but it wasn’t Seto’s stubborn anti-belief, either.
Téa stared at the shadow rotating in the beam of light, challenging it with her eyes. Let it tempt her. Let it try and change her. Let it try and seal her away from everything she stood for.
So what if the pillar looked as though someone had forged it into white-hot flame?
So what if it was no parlor trick, not now, standing right in front of it and seeing it for herself?
So what if Yugi and the others would tell her she was being crazy, brainwashed by some crazy cultist guy with a bad wardrobe and worse hair?
So what if Seto told her she was being foolish, a desperate cheerleader out to prove herself?
Téa plunged her hand into the beam of light and let it swallow her whole.
Take that, TV Tropes!