DAY 12 : 12:13 AM : CAIRO
Maya stood completely still as if frozen by time, locked in the present. Everything else seemed still. The corpse of the man she killed lay quiet as if made of stone, as if the man was asleep. Maya was so locked in the moment she could only take small bits of information at a time. The burned smell of the fired gun she held. The metallic smell of blood. The broken desk. The split face of her victim. Yes. Her victim. She killed him. Maya could barely accept the fact. She was a murderer. She dropped the gun in disgust, backing away from the corpse, shuddering, and wept in her hands.
Hassan stood in shock, dropping his gun. He could not believe Maya killed his father. He hated her more than anything in the world and wished he had the strength to kill her, to send her to Hell where she belonged. But he realized how pointless it would be, and how pointless it was to wish his father did not die. There was no way for Heishin not to die. If he did not die in battle he would be put to death in a military court for sure. It was pointless to hate Maya.
Maya expected him to lurch back from her in horror at what a monster she was but he didn’t he. He pulled down her hands from her face and hugged. “It’s over.” He said to her over and over again, somewhat like the Maya comforted Sophia. “It’s all over.”
Maya too was relieved it was all over. Except it wasn’t. The finals lay ahead. She preferred to ignore it but if she did she would dwell on her murder but thinking about the finals was worse. She always knew she was a difficult person. Even in high school she would steal from people and damage property but she knew she was a good person who stood for everything right deep down. She never thought she could kill someone like a truly evil person could. But proof of her evil was in front of her.
She was terrified. If she could murder someone what other atrocity could she commit? If God did not exist than everything was permissible and likewise Maya had no limits to her actions. She thought she did and she was a good person who did the right things at the end of the day but she destroyed those illusions with her own hands. In college she could still pretend to be a rebellious teenager and do as she wished. She worked in the adult world, influenced the adult world for many years, but now she had to fully admit she was in that world and understand the heavy consequences she reaped with her actions while in it.
Hassan tapped her on the shoulder. “Let’s go.” He left for the main chamber, Maya silently following him. The building’s center was a horrible mess with soldiers scattered everywhere in bloody heaps and furniture burned into charred splinters. Only a few soldiers were alive, all of them serving Hassan. The winning leader saw the Saints together at a corner, Ivy tending to Maximus’ burn wounds. Mathias gave him a wry thumbs up. We won. Hassan returned the gesture.
He said to Maya, “I’ll bring your friends over here with all their belongings to the Cairo Airport. My troops will guard it with their lives. You will be safe. Your tournament is over.” He radioed his troops with his walkman. “Deliver all duelists throughout Egypt to the Cairo Airport.”
Hassan recognized a crushed corpse as the remains of the senior general. He ran to the corpse and wept fresh tears. The senior general was his private tutor in his earliest years. The man was a second father to him. Now he was died. But Hassan was a man now, a man of his people. He paid his guardian his final respects before escorting Maya to the airport.
DAY 12 : 3:18 AM : CAIRO
Yukio and Sophia greeted Maya warmly at the airport with many hugs. Maya ached inside but refused to tell her friends what bothered her. She didn’t want Sophia, who she loved with all her heart, to hate her. She didn’t want Yukio, her lover, to leave her. Nothing is worse than aching and having friends you can’t reach out to even when you are close enough to touch them. Such was Maya’s state and she resigned herself to it, her first murder weighing heavily in her heart. She had truly grown up.
DAY 12 : 5:13 AM : CAIRO
Hassan’s troops escorted more duelists to the airport. Our heroes noticed Stella and her team and instantly greeted with them. They passed the time recounting their adventures together, trying to put the war behind them. The Saints arrived to the airport, battered and bruised but not broken. Mathias was irrepressible as ever. He challenged our heroes to a pizza battle. Whoever ate the most buffalo chicken pizza faster would win a free Pot of Avarice.
Mathias’ bait was all too tempting. Maximus took it in a second. Their game was on. The buffalo chicken pizza duel began! With Ivy as referee! Our heroes and Stella’s team watched with bemused horror as two grown men greedily wolfed pizza down like hungry children. The contest was fierce but Maximus’ short body didn’t hold up against Mathias’ large one. He excused himself to go to the bathroom.
Everyone laughed at the Saints’ mischief. Even Maya in her terrible state of mind couldn’t stop herself from laughing. Life goes on, even for killers.
Rex and Weevil arrived to the scene too late. A disgruntled Rex complained that if they only went in the army car a few minutes sooner they would’ve seen the entire contest. A disappointed Weevil corrected him, insisting they didn’t have a choice when the Gestapo seized them by force. Weevil finished, “And I might add, you farted in the van! You stink like a skunk! You stunk up the place so bad even soldiers fainted!” And the two dorks kept on quarreling.
Maria’s team and Akira’s team arrived. Our heroes paid them cordial greetings, civil with each other but most definitely not friends. Michael and his team arrived, long disqualified from the tournament, as did other teams that didn’t make it to the finals. Maya those that did, spying her competition. The Saints and Stella were her most obvious rivals, as was Maria, who she wanted to settle things with once and for all. Rex and Weevil somehow made it to the finals, in the first time in their entire career in fact. Would Matthew be there for the finals? She had no idea.
Sophia suddenly spaces out. She stares at one point but doesn’t really look at it. She sees a vision; deep in space an ominous black hole looms ahead, a center of darkness, with debris orbiting it, dangerously close to falling in. She sees three people standing, a family of one woman, one man, and one child looking onward as if ready to brave traveling past the event horizon.
Sophia returned to the airport. Yukio waved his hand in front of her face. “Yoohoo! You here?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” Sophia replied to him. “I think we have many challenges ahead.”
“Of course we do.” Yukio said. “But no matter what happens we’ll be together. And yes, Maya, I mean it. It’s not a cliché. If we stick together, trust each other, help each other, we can overcome anything.”
Sophia gave Yukio a high five. Maya did not.
Ra, the sun, once more rose to the sky as he always did, driving out the chaos of night and blessing the land with daylight. Yukio reminded Maya and Sophia that details on the finals would be released at noon, when Ra reaches his highest point. It was best to sleep while they could.
Our heroes agreed on it. They created makeshift sleeping bags using blankets in their suitcases and used their backpacks as makeshift pillows. Yukio and Sophia easily fell to sleep while Maya did not, her thoughts still weighing heavily on her. She turned to you, reader, and said, “I don’t know what future lies ahead but I must always face it with courage and take it in stride. I would say something witty right now but I’m out of jokes. More will come in the third novel, that I assure you. May you face any challenges ahead of you with courage, with feet light and head held high. I the way I did. If you need my strength ask and I will give it to you. Good morning.” And Maya fell asleep.