It wasn't supposed to be a sunshiny day, was the first thought that came to his mind as they appeared outside Annwn the next day. It was supposed to be dark and gloomy and overcast as the world ended. When he had pictured the end of the world over and over during the last few days, he had pictured storm clouds and lightning and darkness, not a pleasantly sunny day with a light breeze in the air and flowers blooming. Admittedly, that last one might have something to do with Mai, the Goddess of Spring, standing on the surface of the world, but it didn't actually change anything.
This was all wrong. Maybe it meant that today was not the day that the world was meant to end, after all...
No... That was something much too close to hope in that thought. Hope wasn't going to get him through this. What was going to get him through this was staying as close as possible to the people he cared about and trying to keep them-and himself-alive as long as possible.
He saw a lot of the people who had been at the war council last night, and others were still showing up, ones he didn't think that he had seen before. The absence of Malik was like a sore, a blight, on the face of the gathering, though.
More that that, he still had not laid eyes on Amane yet this morning, and that was more distressing than many things, save the tearful goodbye Mokuba had left him with. He and Bakura had speculated last night that Amane was going to do something stupid. He really hoped that she hadn't gone and done it already, whatever it was: releasing her brothers and father, attacking the daevas on her own, even going ahead and killing herself before the battle could begin. Whatever it was, he hoped that she hadn't done it yet. He didn't think it would the latter one, even if she did do something stupid, but there were still two terrifying options left to chose from... as well as any that he had not be able to conjure up from what passed as an imagination in his mind.
No, there she was, somewhere well past the edges of the group, nearly far enough away to be seen as separate. She looked as pale and withdrawn as she had last night; no, even more so, he thought to himself; but there was a fierce determination beneath the grief writ large across her entire body. She was going to do something, of that he was certain, but he lacked the imagination to come up with what in the world that might be.
The wind whistled through the streets. There had been tons of people in this little village the last time he had been up here, with Malik and Black Shuck, though the latter was still present. It seemed deserted now. No, 'desolate' seemed like a better word to go with. It went beyond abandoned in some indescribable way. It wasn't exactly the middle of the day, more like midmorning at the latest, so where were all those people he had seen only yesterday?
The wind shifted, and he was pretty sure that he had just gotten his answer. Death and decay were distinctive scents; there was no mistaking them for anything else. He wasn't an expert, but it smelled like a lot of it. Maybe that answered where all those people he saw only yesterday were now: dead and probably in horrible ways.
Hopefully that wasn't also true of Malik. He didn't have any hope that the god was alive, but he hoped it wasn't as bad as he was imagining it could have been. He still hoped that it was clean and perhaps painless. Malik might have told him to kill himself before, but that was prior to... well, prior to a lot of things. He hadn't seen Malik and Amane then. He and Bakura hadn't really been together yet then. He hadn't proven his worth by listening in on the daevas. Perhaps by now, Malik wouldn't have wanted him dead. He would probably be dead in a few hours, with the daevas on the loose and this final battle about to start, but that didn't mean that he was in any way ready for it. And damn It, it wasn't supposed to be a sunshiny day when the world ended.
Just faintly, if he listened closely, he could hear Bakura talking silently to Amane, coaxing the other woman over to them. Somehow it was working, and she was slipping through the assembled group to stand next to the two of them. Bakura rested a hand on the small of her back without word. Following the other man's lead, he reached out and gave her hand a light squeeze. He couldn't have his brother up here -- and he wouldn't want Mokuba out here even if he could be -- but it was good that Bakura could have his sister.
The wind shifted again, and Amane went stiff under his fingers. Next to him, he could see Bakura doing the same. Whatever it was, this was not going to be good. Even he knew that. "It can't be..." he faintly heard the woman whisper, and he was almost certain that it was out loud. The look on Bakura's face was equally stunned, and a few steps behind them, he could see Mai sporting an identical expression. Glancing beyond the people here he actually cared about, he could see a similar startled look on Isis' face and, beyond that, Jounouchi's and perhaps even Atemu's as well. This was not going to be good...
And then suddenly Amane's hand was no longer in his. In fact, the woman was no longer at his side. Instead, she was running into the village, almost faster than his eyes could keep up with. "Bakur--?" he stared to ask, but there was no time to get the question out. Bakura's hand had transferred to his arm, and there was that disorienting rush of sensation that he hadn't experienced in days, not since Bakura had brought him to Annwn from the mental asylum. Even coming out into the world with Malik yesterday hadn't felt like this, and maybe the difference had more to do with the differences between Malik and Bakura himself. Either way, it was disorienting.
He had to bite back a wince at where they were standing: right in front of that damned tourist office and café where he had spotted the daevas yesterday. No matter how long after now he lived, he was never going to forget that. It would forever be burned into his mind, if only for how his mind wanted so badly to slip away from the daevas' physical appearance, to say nothing about the trauma of leaving Malik behind to fight those three daevas on his own.
It was going to be burned onto his memory now for an entirely other reason.
The daevas had to have done this. It was the only thing that made sense. They had to have left Malik there for Bakura and the other gods to find. Even in and amidst all this horrible death, in the middle of all this carnage, it was easily one of the cruelest things he could have ever thought to do. Seeing a man he might not have liked but had known crucified to a wall, blood and wounds and gore covering nearly every inch of him, was beyond words. It was horrible, terrible, so many things all rolled into one. It was psychological, intended to mess with their heads... and it was working.
Bakura looked paler than normal, his mouth set in a thin, determined line. He held himself tightly, staring at the sight before their eyes. Amane, on the other hand, was a hair's breadth away from collapsing into tears. Hopefully if that happened, it did not also involving releasing her father and brothers. That remained his number one fear. She laid one hand on Malik's leg, one of the least damaged areas on his body within her reach, her breath shaking as she clearly tried to hold back tears.
-What's going on?- And that was Mai's voice in his head. -Amane just took off, and...-
But he suddenly found himself caring a whole lot less about whatever it was that Mai was asking.
Malik groaned. It should be impossible. With that much blood covering him, after being in the hands of the daevas for an entire day, with that many wounds, he should be dead. He wasn't going to discount this sudden miracle, though. Malik was alive somehow, and they needed to -- had to -- keep him that way. Kaiba wasn't going to let anything happen to change that, not while he had breath in his body. He owed Malik for getting him out alive yesterday, and he intended to pay his debt. Hadn't Bakura said the gods had a healer or a medic or something?
Bakura and Amane were already moving to get Malik down somehow, clearly trying for both haste and causing as little additional pain as possible. They weren't going to be thinking about trying to call the others in here.
-Kaiba, what's going on?!- Mai sounded impatient, and hey, there was an option he never would have considered before, if he could manage to talk back.
He had no idea how to go about doing that, so he just tried to make his thoughts as loudly as possible, to keep them as streamlined and focused as possible, which was harder to do than he had anticipated, in all honesty; he should have taken some time at some point to find a way to practice this. Bakura said something about someone being a healer, and he couldn't remember who that was, but they needed him here now, and could Mai please do something to help get the healer here now, please?
There was a weird bending of light just in front of his face, and Mai and Jounouchi were standing in front of him. Almost immediately, a gasp escaped Mai, a hand rising up to cover her mouth in shock. Jounouchi, on the other hand, was already moving, helping Bakura and Amane get Malik down, settling him on the ground, and starting to work. He couldn't see what was it was that Jounouchi was doing, but from the look on Amane's face, it might have been helping already. Seeing as how Kaiba was still firmly of the opinion the man should be dead if even half of the blood on him was his own, then he really shouldn't be surprised that Jounouchi was capable of healing even things like this.
He could faintly see pale eyes watching him from across Malik's body and glanced up to see Bakura watching him. Personally, he was fairly certain that he lacked the words to describe what all he saw in the other man's expression: relief that they had found Malik alive, anger at what had been done to him, worry, fear... and just as many that he couldn't find a way to say.
-They're going to pay for this.- That was Bakura in his head. He sounded... well, determined was the best word that came to mind. Good. The daevas needed to pay for this. They needed to pay in bloody, horrible ways. They needed to pay and pay and pay until there wasn't a single one of them left on the earth. -That was a bit vicious,- Bakura remarked quietly. He had half a second to feel almost ashamed by it, before the other man continued, -Don't. I have to say I approve. They did this to try and break us. It's not going to work.-
-They've just made things worse for themselves,- Mai put in, clearly feeling a bit less surprised now. She had drawn herself up to stand straighter, her entire demeanor more controlled and distinctly annoyed. -I'm going to rip them apart, piece by piece. It's going to be bloody and glorious.-
If I ever thought that Mai was the nice one, I take it back. Clearly she's every bit as vicious as... well, everyone else here, I guess.
-Sounds like you finally got the knack of this mind to mind thing,- Bakura's voice put in mildly. Somehow there was not a hint of judgement in his voice, even if it was just in Kaiba's head.
He heard a faint growl and almost went into a panic before realizing it was coming from a very annoyed Jounouchi. "If you guys have time to stand around and chat, then move Amane. I need room to work here."
Bakura snorted quietly, but he almost moved nearly immediately to pull his pseudo-sister by her shoulders away from Jounouchi and Malik. Kaiba couldn't hear what it was the other man was whispering to her that was helping her calm down slowly, but whatever it was, it was definitely helpful. She turned and buried her face in Bakura's chest, but she didn't seem to be crying. Amane didn't seem to be the type to let tears escape on a regular basis, but if she wasn't crying with everything that had happened in the last few minutes, then there was every chance the woman never cried at all.
A cold wind seemed to blow through the town, making a few shutters on abandoned houses clap loudly once, twice, a third time. An eerie silence followed, though.
Figures moved out of the corner of his eyes. Turning towards the movement, he almost found himself looking away again. The beings before him were the kind of things that rational minds could not comprehend and so tended to gloss over. He had seen something like that only yesterday, only now there were a lot more than three of them. This... This was the beginnings of an army: he could see at least a hundred of them, with more appearing by the second.
"Daevas!" Mai yelled, and chaos descended.
02 April 2014
Okay, I had promised some people that if I tried Camp NaNoWriMo April Edition, that I would try to work on Betrüger. This is me trying to keep my promise. I'm hoping to finish this story and several others by the end of the month, so that that's one less thing hanging over my head right now. (I need one less thing hanging over my head right now.)
I published my third novel (and the first under my pseudonym of Ellie Hicks) back in February. If you go to Ellie Hicks dot com, you can see its availability.
Thanks, all, for sticking with this story!