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Fathoms Below

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The final two Numbers seem to be located in the same place, the middle of the ocean.

“I’ve checked every map my dad has, even the ones he used to record archaeological sites, and Google Images,” Yuma says as she, Ryoga, Rio, Astral and Kotori stare at the map. “I found no indication that this point is anything besides open ocean. But who knows, maybe something like what happened in the Stone Forest will happen again and ruins will pop out of the mist.”

Rio’s tapping her foot erratically. “I’ve just got a bad feeling.”

Yuma smiles at her and rubs her arm. “You’ve had a bad feeling at all the ruins. I doubt this one’s history will be much different from the others.”

Rio nods. “I guess.”

So they take off for the short wormhole trip. Once the ship is on autopilot, Yuma heads out to the deck, with Astral trailing behind her. She takes her deck from her pocket, along with the King’s coins that she still has. The old duel master sent her a coin the other day—he found it when he was excavating Kiraku’s statue. Right now she has the coins from Vector’s ruins, Mizael’s, and Gilag’s. She’s not sorry that she gave one coin to Droite and Gauche, but she kind of regrets giving one to Durbe.

“Still thinking about the Barians?” Astral asks.

Yuma flips through her deck until she gets to Numbers 64, where Ponta’s spirit rests. He’s still very upset about Gilag nearly attacking him, and is recovering quietly. “I wish I knew why Gilag betrayed Ponta in the past. In the other legends, it was the hero who was betrayed. And I wish I knew what made these specific people become part of Barian world. Does anyone who is betrayed by close friends become part of it? By that logic, Julius Caesar and Jesus should be there.” She sighs and looks at Astral. “Hey…what’s Astral world like?”

Astral looks confused. “Well, from what I remember…very blue. It’s mostly ocean, and you can hear the waves and smell the water all the time. It’s quiet, and most everyone knows each other. The windows in every building are different colors, and the light that comes in through them makes everything seem like a rainbow.”

He sounds wistful. “Do you want to go back there?” Yuma asks him, her heart racing.

Astral shrugs and frowns at her. “I want to stay with you, I said so before. Why do you ask?”

“I guess I’m just…wondering what Barian world is like,” Yuma says. “If the inhabitants died betrayed and suffering…what must their world be like to live in?”

“You’ll drive yourself crazy thinking about that stuff,” Ryoga says, popping up next to her and leaning into the railing of the ship.

“Isn’t it only natural to want to know more about what I’m up against?” Yuma asks. “Aren’t you curious?”

“No,” Ryoga says. “All I want to do is pay them back for using me and Rio. That’s that.”

Yuma frowns. She loves him, but he can be such a twat. How can he pretend not to be curious?

But she can’t dwell on that, because the ship is about to exit the wormhole, and they do so right in the middle of a storm.

“FUCKING BALLS!” Yuma screams, “The weather wasn’t supposed to be like this!”

Rio falls to her knees, covering her ears. “Stop calling me!” She shouts.

“Yuma, the ship is powering down!” Kotori cries.

Ryoga shouts, “Rio, pull it together!”

Suddenly, the lights go out. It’s only for a few seconds, but when they come back on, Rio has disappeared. Yuma feels like she could faint—Rio can’t get hurt again, she just can’t!

“She’s on deck!” Kotori shouts.

They all take off running, and arrive on deck in time to see Rio fall over the edge and into the stormy fathoms below.

“NO!” Yuma screams.

“RIO!” Ryoga screams.

Yuma runs and dives straight into the ocean, not realizing that Ryoga and Kotori are on her heels. Yuma keeps looking straight ahead as she’s sucked into a spiral of water, where she can just see a shape that looks like Rio. She tells herself to just hold her breath, just a little bit longer, but the water is deep and the current is strong. Her chest aches at the lack of air, her head spins, and finally she blacks out.

 


 

When Yuma opens her eyes she sees water above her…how can that be? Is she merely imagining things? She sits up. She’s lying on soft sand, and indeed, there is water above her. Next to her, Kotori and Ryoga sit up.

“What are you two doing here?” She asks. “Why’d you jump in after me?”

“I’m going after my sister,” Ryoga snaps. “I wasn’t following you!”

“I was worried, too,” Kotori says defensively. “But where are we?”

Astral floats towards the water. “We seem to be at the bottom of the ocean,” he says.

Yuma throws up her hands. “Sure, why not?” She says. “Well, at least we know where Rio went,” she points at a set of footprints. “Let’s get a move on.”

They follow the footprints over a hill, and a citadel rises above it. They climb the perfectly preserved front steps and find themselves facing…a labyrinth.

“Right, Jim Henson prepared us for this,” Yuma says, squaring her shoulders. “We stay together, trust no wall, and don’t talk to handsome men in tight pants.” She imagines Kite popping up in his costume, with his tight pants and billowing jacket, and giggles.

In a crack in the wall, she suddenly spies something glinting. She goes to the wall pulls two coins from the crevice—her dad was here, so the Numbers must be here, too.

“Stay together,” Yuma repeats, pocketing the coins.

As they walk, Ryoga muses, “I wonder if Rio’s ability to sense Barians called her down here. Maybe the two we haven’t met are here. Maybe that’s who was calling her.”

“Could be,” Yuma agrees. “Just remember, if you see her, don’t go running off after her, because it could be a trick.”

“Yuma wait, I see a card,” Ryoga says. He turns down a corner…and a wall immediately appears, sealing him into the maze.

Yuma curses, “WHAT DID I JUST FUCKING SAY?!” She hammers on the wall, but Ryoga doesn’t call out to her. She takes a few steps back and leaps, trying to scale the wall, but she slips and falls.

“Okay, that’s it,” Yuma snarls, “No more Miss Nice Lady.”

“You were nice before?” Kotori asks.

Yuma yanks off her vest and then her t-shirt, she tears off a strip of cloth from the bottom of her shirt and ties one end to her belt loop, and the other end to Kotori’s before putting her shirt back on.

“There,” she says, “Now the only way we lose each other is if we take our pants off.” She turns to the Labyrinth at large. “WHAT’S YOUR NEXT MOVE?!”

So of course, walls go up, sealing the three of them in.

“Do me a favor,” Kotori says, untying herself from Yuma, “Stop talking, and stop taking off your clothes.”

Suddenly, a hole appears in the ceiling of water. A spout of water falls, and from it emerges Durbe.

Kotori screams and hides behind Yuma. Water continues to pour into the Labyrinth.

“Wh-what are you doing here?” Yuma asks, shielding Kotori as best she can.

“Looking for the Numbers, obviously,” Durbe says. “I can’t allow any more of them to fall into your hands.”

“Well you’re out of luck,” Yuma snaps. “I don’t have them.”

“Who cares?” Durbe asks. “You are an enemy who must be defeated eventually. It might as well be now.”

“Fuck off,” Yuma says. “I refuse to fight you, and you can’t make me.”

“Coward,” Durbe accuses.

“No, I just don’t see the point,” Yuma says. “You were once human, after all. Why should you be my enemy? Why should you be Astral’s enemy?”

“Shut up,” Durbe snaps, and Yuma feels Kotori flinch behind her. “I refuse to believe I was human. Those legends are mere stories and have nothing to do with Barian world. As for Astral, our worlds have always fought each other!”

“Why should that mean you have to continue the fight?!” Yuma demands. “Why can’t you start a new path? Do you even know what you’re fighting for?!”

“Say what you like, we can never coexist,” Durbe says. “Isn’t that right Astral?”

Astral stares Durbe down. “I was sent to earth with the purpose of destroying Barian world,” he says.

Yuma gapes at him. “What did you say?!”

“However,” Astral continues, “As Yuma once said, I can do whatever I damn well please. Maybe I don’t think Barian world needs to be destroyed for this to end.”

Indeed, she did say that Astral could do what he wanted, when Tron said that Kazuma sent Astral to gather the Numbers. She relaxes, and smiles at Astral.

Durbe scoffs. “Then you betray your own people.”

“But I hold true to the one I love,” Astral says, putting his hand on Yuma’s shoulder. “So I’m not ashamed.”

Before Durbe can retaliate, light shoots up from the distance. The group turns toward it.

“What’s that?” Kotori asks timidly.

“A duel,” Astral says.

“We’ll settle this later,” Durbe says, flying off.

“Bastard,” Yuma says as she watches him soar over the walls of the maze. “It must be Ryoga or Rio dueling, there’s no one else down here. How do we get there?”

Astral gasps. “The water! Follow the current in the water!”

By the time they make it to the center of the Labyrinth and the duel, Rio is hovering over a giant blue man, Ryoga looks ready to pass out, and Durbe is floating over it all like the Wicked Witch of the West. Yuma takes off running for Rio and not a moment too soon, as she starts to fall. Ryoga screams bloody murder, but Yuma will be damned if she lets Rio get hurt. She catches Rio and collides with the stone floor. She swears her ribs crack, but Rio is safe.

“Got her,” Yuma wheezes. Her vision goes dark and she passes out yet again.

 


 

When Yuma wakes up, she’s in the airship’s control room, and Kotori is sitting next to her. Yuma thinks to herself that she’s got to stop fainting, it can’t be good for her health.

“Welcome back,” Kotori says. “We’re on our way home. Ryoga got the Numbers.”

Yuma sits up and spies the twins standing a short distance away. She scrambles to her feet.

“IDIOT!” She screams, running at Ryoga and Rio. She punches Ryoga in the gut and hugs Rio. “Rio, your brother is a twat. After I told him not to run off, he went and ran off!”

Rio pats Yuma’s head. “My poor Yuma, having to deal with my idiot brother.”

Ryoga rubs his stomach. “I got the Numbers,” he grumbles.

“But did you guys find the legend?” Kotori asks.

“Yeah, but we didn’t see any Barians,” Rio says. “Also, I seem to have twisted my ankle somehow.”

“What was the legend?” Yuma asks distractedly—she’s patting Rio down to make sure she didn’t get hurt anywhere else.

Ryoga answers, “Apparently this kingdom was attacked by Vector and the king tried to defend it against him. I think a priestess sacrificed herself, or something.”

“Tragic,” Yuma says. “Well, we won’t have to hear any more tragic stories now. And we got most of the Numbers.” Then she remembers that the last of the seven Numbers is with 96. “Aw, fuck everything,” she mutters, “I gotta duel 96 at some point.”

She misses the far-off look in Ryoga’s eyes, like he’s thinking some very deep and possibly disturbing thoughts.