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Chapter 15 - Appeal

"Love of two is one
Here but now they're gone
Came the last night of sadness
And it was clear she couldn't go on..."
--Blue Oyster Cult, Don't Fear The Reaper

Téa didn't like the note she detected in Cora's voice - it sounded even more frigid than before, and an unpleasant crawling sensation began to make its way across Téa's skin.

"What are you saying?" she asked.

"Yami and I are bound together," Cora replied. "He feels me as I feel him, but" - Cora's green eyes narrowed - "he feels me more acutely because he is the conjurer. Samekh knows this.

"When Samekh took me captive, he strengthened my bond with Yami with his Millennium Ring. All of these wounds I now have are as painful to Yami as though they are piercing him. And they are shadow wounds, so they are draining his power."

Téa wondered at this. She could see no wounds on the elegant body of Cora, but she had seen the swords that had pierced her earlier. And she could still feel a twinge of pain in her own shoulder where the Soul Sword had been.

"Why are you telling me this?" Téa asked, discomfort wrapping itself around her stomach. Cora's jade eyes bored into Téa's.

"Because," she said evenly, "I need you to break that bond."

When Téa finally found a voice to reply, it was considerably smaller than the one she had been using.

"I don't think so," she said shakily.

Cora only looked at her, but its volume was deafening.

"Do you think I'm stupid?" Téa whispered. "I know you're linked to Yami. Even if I could break that link, why would I do that to him? He brought you here for a reason he thought was important, and you think I'll just let you go...?"

"He conjured me to bring justice to the Game," Cora interrupted. "We have long since bound ourselves to this task by our own words and our own love. It is my love and my word that holds me to the Game now, not his magic. I no longer need this bond and it only weakens us both."

Téa's hands were cold and damp as she wrung them together.

"Why should I believe you?"

"Would you break a bond of love? Of friendship?"

Téa looked at her hands, remembering a mark that had long ago been washed away, but was still there in her heart.

"You're not human," she replied uncertainly. "How do you know your love will still be there without your bond to Yami...?"

"I am a Queen," Cora answered darkly. "I am honour-bound to keep my own word."

Téa turned away, and found herself looking at Yugi again: hunched over his stomach, breathing heavily, as though he had been wrestling the monsters himself...

"Okay, if I were - and I said if I were - to believe you," Téa replied haltingly, "how am I supposed to break a spell? I don't know anything about magic..."

Cora held up one slender, white hand. There was a shining silver band on the ring finger.

"This ring is the element of Yami's spell that binds," she said evenly. "Break this ring and the spell is broken."

Téa stared at the ring for a long moment. Then she looked back at Yugi. She thought that maybe the injury in her shoulder was acting up again, because she suddenly felt very cold.

"Why do you want out of this so much, anyway?" Téa asked harshly. "What about Yami? I thought you loved him?"

"It is because I love him that I want to break this bond!" Cora snapped back. "Can't you see that, Téa? Look at your friend! I know that you can see him suffer! And Yami suffers the same way! All because of what Samekh has done to me! And should he decide to hurt us both..."

"All right! All right!" Téa was feeling sick with indecision. On the one hand, she could see Yugi's pain - see him clutching his body exactly where the swords had pierced Cora. On the other hand...

"How do I know you're being honest?" she said finally, looking into the cold, unusual eyes. "I don't know who you are! All we know about you is from some legend we heard from an old Professor! How do I know this won't kill Yugi - I mean, Yami?"

Cora met the tumultuous blue eyes, and for the first time, Téa saw a hint of softness lightly brush the icy cold in that gaze.

"You don't," Cora said softly. "You can only trust me."

Téa blinked, unable to break the hold the silver-green eyes had on her own, her mind struggling with that one word: Trust.

Trust a Shadow Realm spirit. Something the Ancient Egyptians had never done. And yet...

...Yami had trusted her...

...and in spite of her own misgivings, Yugi had trusted her. Was risking his life for her...

Téa grabbed Cora's hand - it was soft, and surprisingly warm - and pulled the ring off of the slender finger. She looked at it - small, round and silver, the ring's surface was smooth and unmarked except for a small symbol engraved on the inner side. It was disappointingly inconspicuous, for a ring that was supposed to be the key element in a powerful spell.

Gripping it in her hand, she looked at Cora.

"I hope," she said through clenched teeth, "you're telling me the truth. If you're not, I swear I'll..."

Her empty threat disintegrated, as a huge explosion of light and sound enveloped the battleground of Yugi and Bakura. In the sudden light, she scrambled to the edge of the room to the wall where the old toolbox had been resting.

The toolbox was still red in colour, its glossy coat of paint protecting it from the rust that had attacked most of the other exposed metal in the dank building. The tools inside it were also surprisingly rust-free, as though someone had been in the mine since it had been closed at some point and had forgotten the tools when they left. Téa crawled up to the box and frantically began searching for something that might be able to cut through a gold ring.

Screwdriver, wrench, pliers - no, no, no - ah-ha!

Her eyes fell on a hacksaw. Picking up the handle, she drew the long, slender blade over the smooth surface of the ring.

Ouch! Damn! The saw slipped off the edge of the ring and glanced off of her thumb.

She tried again. Again, the blade slipped, this time biting its sharp teeth into her knuckles. Small dots of blood welled up on the surface of her skin. She flung the saw aside in disgust.

Stupid, useless piece of junk!

Then she saw the pair of bolt cutters.

Lifting them out of the box, she regarded the tool designed to cut through round bolts of steel...

...and quickly, before she could change her mind, she closed them around the ring, and squeezed with all her might.

A strange sensation began to conduct itself from the cutters into her hands. It was something like an electric hum that shivered its way through her fingertips, down her arms, and spread itself across her chest, and she wondered if this was what Yugi felt when Yami's magic worked through him because it was heat, it was alive, it was burning and it was really starting to hurt, and she didn't know how much longer she could keep doing this, and she tried to push harder and harder and damn you stupid thing, just CUT...

Snap.

There was an almost tangible vibration in the air as the band of white gold finally gave in to the pressure of the cutters against it. Téa heard a sharp ping as it struck the ground, and the prickly hot power that had spread itself through her was abruptly gone. Wide-eyed, she looked around, afraid now of the shivering magic that had seemed to leave her and infuse the air. Now that it was too late, she wondered whether she had indeed done the right thing, but when her eyes fell on Cora, any pillar of reassurance she had hoped to find there collapsed.

As she watched, the body of Cora that lay shimmering on the ground suddenly evaporated into a cloud of silver mist.

Then the spirit of Cora - the Queen of Hearts, the Queen of Shadows - rose over Téa like a billowing cloud. Massive and shining, her green eyes blazed into Téa's, and she saw that they looked feral, now - wild, untamed and cold.

A devastating mix of terror and guilt gripped Téa's heart. With the spell broken, Cora was no longer bound to Yami - she had become spirit again.

She's lost the humanity that Yami gave her, she thought despairingly. She's just a faery spirit, now. How can she feel... anything...?

Téa could see Cora's wounds, now - could see that they were bleeding silver blood, and for a fleeting second she wondered if her own spirit was bleeding like that where the Soul Sword had struck her. Then the icicle voice glittered into her mind.

Do not fear me, Téa. Look - Yami grows stronger, now...

And she was right.

Yugi stood more upright, and there was a dawning on his face as though he had just realized that there was no more pain. Then, she saw the serene half-smile she had seen so many times before when Yugi was duelling. Her heart began a helium-filled rise as she heard the strong voice ring out with overwhelming confidence:

"A'nen," it cried, "Dark Magician!"


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