'Some say he was a good man,
Some say he was a bad man,
Some say he was just fighting to be free.
Were those who judged him of his crime, as guilty, when you draw the line, between the gates of hell, and liberty?
-Edward Kelly, Steve Grace
Nosedive walked onto the balcony, stretching and yawning, to join his brother. The morning sun gave a halo effect to Wildwing's head, as he was facing away from Nosedive.
"Breathe that Puckworld air!" Nosedive enthused, startling Wildwing.
"Good morning. Sleep well?" Wildwing asked.
"You bet! Oh man, I can't believe we actually did it! Actually home!" Nosedive leaped onto the balcony railing, and flung his arms wide. "Helloooooooo DuCaine Metropolis!" he laughed, ignoring the fact that one slip and he'd fall to his death.
Wildwing grabbed him by his shirt collar and plonked him on the ground. "Dive, if you do that I doubt you'll be here long to enjoy it."
Nosedive simply grinned maddeningly.
Mallory and Tanya came out too.
"I was afraid it had all been a dream!" Mallory almost cried. "We did it! We really did!" She grabbed Wildwing and danced him around the veranda. Tanya went to join Nosedive.
"Nice view." she commented.
"No, GREAT view!" Nosedive was over the moon. He glanced at Wildwing and Mallory, and something in his eye glinted. "Tanya, shall we?" he gestured to the open space.
Tanya giggled. "I guess. What on Puckworld will Duke and Grin think?"
"Aww, they can dance together! I bet Grin's a great dancer!" Nosedive grabbed Tanya, and spun her around.
"Careful, I get dizzy easy." she warned.
"Then get ready to loose your lunch!"
Nosedive pulled Tanya over next to Mallory and Wildwing, and started bumping them. This turned into out-right war, and it was still going when Duke and Grin appeared.
"They say breakfast is ready. Uh, can I ask why you're strangling Wildwing Nosedive?" Duke raised the eyebrow over his good eye.
"He's just happy." Mallory went inside.
"Oh, I get it. Yeah, when I'm feeling good I always feel like murdering a sibling or two_" Duke said sarcastically as he followed the others in.
The ducks munched breakfast quietly, though the silence was very happy.
"This hotel is a nice place." commented Wildwing.
"Hey, we're the ducks that conquered Dragaunus, *nothing's* too good for us!" Mallory grinned, taking a bite of toast.
"I'm gonna have flashbacks about yesterday for the rest of my life." Grin sat back in his chair.
"Nice one Grinster! Now we're all gonna have one! Hope you're happy now!" Nosedive half-payed out Grin as the recent memories flooded into his brain.
The slight jolt as the Areowing landed on the ground was what made it vivid for Nosedive. The fact that he was back on Puckworld's ground brought the largest array of emotions he'd ever felt at one time.
"Don't let this be a dream, please don't." Nosedive muttered feverishly. Only Wildwing heard him, and he patted his brothers back.
"Dive, this time it's no dream." he smiled. The other ducks were a bit overwhelmed.
"What if nothing's the way we remembered?" whispered Mallory.
"There's only one way to find out." Wildwing opened the door, and climbed out.
They'd landed the Areowing in what Mallory swore was a military compound, or at least it had used to be. Mallory had been right however, and they'd been greeted by around 10 loaded pucklaunchers.
"Please state your name, origin and purpose." a very commanding voice yelled.
Wildwing stepped forward. "My name's Wildwing Flashblade. This is my younger brother Nosedive," Nosedive waved. "And this is Mallory McMallard, Duke L'Orange, Tanya Vanderflock and Grin, I mean, Check Hardwing. We're the strike team that was sent to fight Dragaunus."
"You are? Where's Canard Thunderbeak?"
"I'm afraid he was lost the day we first started fighting Dragaunus." Wildwing hung his head for a minute. "I'm the leader now." He activated the Mask. "In case you didn't know, this is the Mask of Drake DuCaine."
"I knew. I'm sorry to hear about Thunderbeak. I'll wager that you have a lot to tell us. We'll take you to a hotel where you can stay."
"We can't stay here?" Mallory looked crestfallen.
"No, security breach." the apparent leader said. "Follow me."
The ducks were given their room, which were like a small house at the top of the building. It had three bedrooms, and the ducks each shared with another, the Flashblades in one, the girls in another, and Grin and Duke in the last.
It had been almost night when they'd arrived, so the Ducks had opted to stay in the hotel for dinner. They ate in the restaurant downstairs.
"I feel kinda weird." Tanya said, glancing around.
"Why?" Duke asked.
"Well, I mean, no one's staring at us!"
"I can fix that." Nosedive grinned, but got such a look from Mallory that he said nothing more.
"We'll just have to get used to it." Wildwing decided.
"You don't think it's gonna stay like this forever, do you?" Duke asked, surprised. "As soon as they found out where we've been, and what we've been doing we'll have so many Phils on our backs it wont be funny."
"It wasn't funny with just one." Nosedive interjected.
"Whatever. But things aren't gonna be the same as before the Invasion. We're stars now!"
"Well, we all know what *that* means." sighed Tanya. "I just want to find my family, if they're still around."
The ducks all agreed, except for Wildwing and Nosedive, who said nothing.
"What's wrong?" Grin asked Nosedive, who had a dark look one his face.
"Nothin'." Nosedive turned away and started on a roll.
"Did I ever tell you that flashbacks really bug me?" Nosedive asked.
"Forget that. We're meant to be talking with the President in half an hour," Wildwing looked at his watch and stood up. "So everyone get ready to leave."
The President leaned forward in his chair to shake the hands of the Ducks. "We're all glad to finally see you home. Two years is a long time."
"Thank you, Mr President." Wildwing said.
"You're the leader now, right? Why don't you tell your story?" The second sentence was more of a command than a question, and Wildwing took the hint.
"We'd been fighting Dragaunus in his Headquarters sir. He and his three henchmen escaped in an airship of theirs, and used the Dimensional Gateway, which they had used to break out of Dimensional Limbo, to try and escape us. We followed them. Once in the Gateway, he unleased a `worm' to destabilise us. The only way we could get rid of it was for it to `eat' something, so Canard sacrificed himself, leaving me with the Mask and the leadership. We continued following Dragaunus through the Gateway, and we ended up on a planet named Earth. We damaged his ship enough so that he couldn't escape. We started playing professional hockey while we waited for our chance. We fought him, and we finally crashed the Raptor, Dragaunus' ship, into the sea. We were still stuck, unfortunately, when a freak Dimensional Portal opened up, and we went through to get back here. Sir."
The President looking impressed. "Well done. Dragaunus is dead?"
"He wont be back in a hurry." Wildwing said smoothly.
"Excellent. Well," the President spread his hands. "Puckworld owes you a great deal. I'm sure you will be anxious to find your families. You may stay in your rooms while you look for them, and if necessary, we can probably find you a permanent residence somewhere, not together if you don't wish it."
Wildwing looked to his team. "Thank you very much. We may take up your offer of the home in the future."
"Very well. We're having a dinner in your honour tonight. There will be a car waiting at 7 for you."
"See you then." The President turned back to his paperwork, and the Ducks were escorted out. As they were leaving, Duke felt hostile eyes burning into his back. He spun around, and saw a tall duck with brown hair wearing a police uniform staring at him.
"Damn." Duke muttered. He had been walking at the back of the group, and he jogged up next to Wildwing. "Uh, Wildwing? I gotta go. Urgent business."
"OK, but don't forget about tonight."
"Tonight?" Duke debated whether to go or not. He sighed. It wasn't like he had a choice. "I'll be back in time, don't worry about it." He dashed off, wanting to leave before the cop recognised him.
"I wonder if they've dropped the charges?" Duke wondered aloud. He sat on a rooftop, looking out on the city. It was basically the same, a bit more rubble, though the buildings were new.
Duke was a wanted man. He knew what sentence he'd be facing if caught; life imprisonment.
But surely they'd dropped the charges by now! They'd had a war, he'd left his planet to fight for them. He was straight. He wasn't in business anymore.
But when you're as big a thief as he'd been, you make a lot of enemies, in the police or otherwise. There would be plenty of high-up people who would like nothing better than to see him go down.
And he *had* stolen at least a million dollars worth of stuff over the years.
He would be so easy to catch. Just follow the press.
Duke groaned and started his way down the building. They could catch him or not, but he wasn't hiding, he'd been running for years, and he was sick of it.
Nosedive stared at his reflection. "I have to wear this thing in *public*? Wing, you're killing me here! I'll be a laughing stock! I was gonna use my fame to meet gorgeous gals, thanks for killing my dreams bro."
Wildwing smiled at his younger brother's antics. "Oh, come on Dive, you look good in a tuxedo!"
"Man!" Nosedive stalked out of the room. "Can I lose the tie?" he yelled back.
"No." Wildwing answered, who was trying to get his hair to either lie flat or at least stay out of his face. His head was covered with gel. "Argh." he moaned. "I'm so shiny it looks like I'm bald." He stuck his head under the sink tap to wash it off, and he started rubbing his head with a towel. He looked in the mirror. "Opps." His hair stuck up all over the place. He sighed and reached for the hair gel.
The Ducks were finally ready. Mallory and Tanya looked stunning, Duke looked suave, Grin looked itchy, Wildwing looked like he'd tried to rinse hair gel out of his feathers, and Nosedive looked hungry.
"The food better make up for the clothes, and that's all I'm saying." Nosedive said.
"I think I'm beginning to see things your way." Wildwing grumbled, patting his head. Nosedive looked hopeful.
"Does that mean_?"
"No, you still have to wear a suit."
"I feel like I'm getting married." Mallory groaned. They were sitting at a table at the front of the hall, facing all the other tables.
"Eww, girl!" Nosedive made a face from his seat next to her. "I don't want to marry you!"
"Trust me, the feeling is mutual." Mallory muttered.
"I hate big dinners. They're so stifling." Grin sighed.
"And they go forever too!" Nosedive put in. Grin nodded.
"You could be right," Tanya said, looking around. "I mean, we've been here for almost an hour, and we still haven't eaten anything."
"And the President's not here yet either." Wildwing commented, taking a sip of wine.
Duke was about to reply to him, when the President bustled in. He walked up to the Ducks' table and sat in the empty chair between Wildwing and Duke. "Sorry I'm late," he apologised. "Hungry?"
"You bet!" Nosedive cheered from his seat. He remembered his surroundings, and covered his beak. "Opps, heh heh, sorry."
"Oh look, here comes something." Mallory pointed as a waiter came over carrying some small finger foods.
"That's what we're having?" Nosedive eyed the tiny foods. "They better have a lot of them."
"No, that's just for starters. Haven't you even been to a nice restaurant?" Tanya asked.
"Oh, OK. Well then, go ahead and embarrass us with dumb comments." Mallory said sarcastically.
"Don't mind if I do." Nosedive smiled, and stuffed two of the pastries in his mouth at the same time. "Hey Mal, do you like seafood?"
"I guess so."
"Cool." He opened his mouth and pointed to the half chewed mush. "See? Food!"
"Yuk! Duke, can we swap seats?"
To her surprise Duke agreed, and Mallory found herself chatting to the President.
"Why did Duke switch?" Wildwing mumbled, but shrugged.
"Hey Duke, do you like seafood?"
Duke shifted in his chair. They'd eaten. They'd had all the speeches (which had been incredibly embarrassing). Why were they still here?
He suddenly noticed that there were dark-suited ducks standing around the entrances. His nerves were tense, and his thief instincts were screaming at him. Shut up, he told them. I'm not listening to you anymore. I'm not a thief. They're just there to protect the President. But he couldn't shake the feeling that something was going to happen.
A hand suddenly waved in front of his line of vision, and Duke jumped. "It's the just security! What's the matter with you Duke-man? You've hardly said anything all night!" Nosedive asked. Apart from the suit debate, he'd quite enjoyed the night, he could think of worse ways to spend his time than being told how great he'd (well, OK, the team) had done.
Duke grunted. "Nothing."
Nosedive snorted. "Nothing my tail feathers! Come on Duke, tell your young friend!"
"It's just that_" Duke started to try and explain, when a tall brown haired duck stood in front of them. Duke looked up, and caught sight of his face. The face smirked, and Duke jumped up, knocking his chair backwards. He was suddenly grabbed by two other cops from behind, and he didn't bother struggling.
Nosedive was frozen with his glass half way to his mouth, as was everyone dining. "Uh, that?" he asked Duke. Duke was dragged off before he could reply.
The Ducks stared at Duke through the bullet-proof glass. He looked haggard, and his bang flopped more than usual.
"Duke, black and white just don't suit you." Nosedive tried to lighten the air, but failed miserably.
"I was sure they'd drop or already had dropped the charges." Duke muttered. "Guess that that first night on Puckworld was my last free night, huh?" It had been a day since he'd been captured, and he was already infinitely depressed.
"Duke, what exactly are you in here for? No one will tell us anything." Wildwing asked.
"Well, being the best and most experienced etc etc, thief on Puckworld, I *have* done quite a lot. I can't remember ever incidence. But let's just say that the total value of everything I've stolen would probably about equal everything we ever made on Earth."
"Sugar honey ice tea." Nosedive commented in awe.
"Yeah, and now I'm up to my beak in the stuff." Duke sighed.
"But you've gone straight now! And you've risked your neck for this planet I don't know how many times!" Mallory exclaimed.
"You, er, never, like, murdered someone did you?" Tanya asked nervously.
"Tanya! I had some rules!" Duke scolded.
"When's your trial? We'll get some stuff ready." Wildwing stood up, knowing that they were only allowed a little visiting time.
"Next week. I think they're trying to cover this up a bit." Duke sat back in his chair, and folded his arms.
"Times up." A duck in a uniform came up.
The Ducks got up to leave. Duke suddenly looked more vulnerable and lonely than they'd ever seen him before.
"We're gonna get you out of here." Nosedive commented suddenly.
Duke tried to smile. "Yeah kid. I know."
They were hustled out, and Duke watched them go, a hand on the wall of glass, feeling lost.
"How do you plead?"
The court held it's breath as it waited for the thin grey duck to answer.
Duke had no answer. He totally agreed he was guilty, but he didn't want to go down for it. He'd never been in prison before that week, and he had no desire to return. But honour would only permit one thing_
Duke put his head in his hands, but was too desperate to even groan. The prosecution had just finished with their evidence, and the odds were stacked so high against him that there was no doubt in his mind that they'd soon fall. He'd been right, he'd stolen a heart-stopping amount in his career. Not only that, there were the numerous assaults etc, and it all amalgamated into one huge problem.
"What do you have to say in your defence?" the judge asked. Duke stood slowly. His eyes met the eyes of the judge, and Duke's expression was not unlike that of a rabbit caught in car headlights.
"Your honour, I don't thieve anymore. I don't steal, rob or anything. I stopped when Dragaunus took over, and the others can vouch for me when I say I've never done it since, and I don't intend to start."
"But you still did it." the prosecution commented idly.
"But I'm sorry."
"But you still did it," the prosecutor stood and faced the court. "Why should he escape justice? What kind of message will we be sending out? He didn't only steal, he injured innocent ducks. Law and order are very fragile right now, we can't afford any loss of image. In fact, I'd suggest a tougher sentence than the one decided on before the Invasion." The duck sat down again, waiting to see what kind of effect his words would have.
"Can I speak?" Wildwing had been sitting just behind Duke, and he half stood.
"Yes." the judge permitted.
"This is why Duke L'Orange should be freed. He's risked his life for every single one of you. He left his planet, not knowing if he would ever come back, to make sure that Dragaunus could not return to Puckworld. He saved my life on the first day we'd met, and trust me, if he hadn't, there was no one else who could have.
"Without him the attack on Dragaunus would not have been successful. We would all be dead. Some of you would be. You would all still be slaves. And this is how you're going to reward him for risking his life to save yours. In my way of thinking, that's not the right choice."
Wildwing sat down, bit said. The judge sighed, and turned to Duke. "L'Orange?"
"I'm sorry." he said, simply and sincerely.
"I'm afraid that that just isn't enough." the judge set his beak, and started following his orders. "If we don't uphold the law, then the planet is going to come crashing down. Then all your efforts," he gestured to the Ducks. "Will have been wasted." the judge took a deep breath. "I intend to enforce the law strictly. Duke L'Orange, I sentence you to death. This case is closed." He whammed his gavel on his table, and stood up to leave.
The court was in uproar. Duke sat quietly, not moving his gaze from where the judge was. The judge refused to meet his eye.
Nosedive leaped the barriers and yelled at the judge. "You can't do this! He doesn't deserve prison, let alone death!" His voice was high pitched and incredulous. "He's saved my life! He's saved your life! Man! He's sorry! And you just want to kill him! He fought so hard for his freedom, and you just took all his dreams from him! We risked our lives to save this?! How much were you offered to say that?" Nosedive was angry, and he wasn't afraid to show it.
"I've made my decision. Unless you want to be the next in that chair," the judge pointed to Duke's seat. "I'd suggest you get back behind that barrier."
Nosedive narrowed his eyes, and spat at the judge.
"That's it!" The judge motioned to the guards standing by, and they moved in to grab him. Nosedive waited for them to get close, and he then flipped over their heads, and raced out of the room.
Duke hadn't shifted his eyes but he smiled slightly. "I taught him that." he muttered.
Nosedive lay on the dewy grass, his black clothes getting wet. He crept towards the huge wire fences. He blasted his way through and ran to the buildings before the hole was seen.
He noticed a duck sitting alone in a small hut around 100 metres away, and he decided that was his best bet for information.
Murphy stiffened as the coldness of a puckshooter was put to his neck.
"I want to know where Duke L'Orange is." a male duck growled.
Murphy recognised the voice from the news. "You're Nosedive Flashblade."
"In the feathers. Where's Duke?"
"You're going against the law."
"I don't care anymore. Just tell me."
"If you go now, I wont tell anyone you were here."
"Do I have to remind you what's pressed against your neck?"
Murphy didn't think the young duck was capable of murder, but his voice sounded like he was desperate. "If you set him free you'll probably start another war."
"You'll have half of Puckworld with you, and half against. Civil war." Nosedive didn't answer, and Murphy continued. "Think you can live with that?"
"He's my friend. He doesn't deserve to die."
"Neither do the innocent people that will die if you break him out."
The hardness on his neck loosened. "Oh MAN!" the holder of the gun said, frustrated.
"Would he really want to leave? He'd know the consequences."
Nosedive removed the gun. "I was never here." he told Murphy, and he left.
Nosedive lay on his bed, head hurting.
There was no more Duke L'Orange. They'd killed him the day after the trial, wanting to get it over and done with, so the citizens would forget.
I could have saved him. I just left him there. In his heart though, Nosedive knew that he'd done right to leave Duke. Maybe that was why it hurt so much. If he'd wanted to escape, he could have.
The Ducks still had the offer of shelter and food, and the media still flocked around them, but they weren't interested anymore.
They'd killed him. They'd tried to blindfold him, but he'd been told that Duke had refused. Facing death head on, just like he'd faced everything else.
And that was that. It couldn't be changed, reversed, or anything. Life continued for Puckworld, but it had stopped for Duke L'Orange.
Whoever first said that life wasn't fair was sure right. Wasn't this meant to be a happy ending?