It was strange, Alice thought for a moment. The tragic events which the brawlers had endured almost a month ago seemed like they had occurred only yesterday.
Dan had gone missing, only for him to be tracked to a secret series of underground passageways, hidden below the surface of the waters at the very place where, at one time, he had been sent to the Doom Dimension. But something had changed him, and the brawlers still didn't know what. He became cruel and cold, and even went so far as to breaking Runo's heart. He led them to a strange room with the colors of the six attributes. And he almost died there.
But Runo brought him back. She dove after him when the blade he used had seemingly pierced his heart and he fell into the water, dying. And suddenly they were back, smiling, embracing each other, and loving each other.
Then there was the accident. Dan ended up in the hospital, shards of glass embedded in parts of his arm. No one knew what had happened, even his parents who had heard the sound of glass breaking. He was found sitting on his bed, no evidence of broken glass anywhere. They couldn't find out what he did, and Dan wasn't exactly eager to tell anyone. He was quickly patched up and sent home after a day in the hospital, and from then on he kept to himself until his arm was completely healed.
Things didn't make sense, and there was no one to give them answers.
What happened to Dan after he disappeared?
Why did he end up hurt?
And more importantly, was Masquerade responsible?
Alice had thought that her other was gone for good. After they rescued Dan, he sort of disappeared. She was confused, and didn't know what to do. Was he really gone this time? She went to the washroom to wash her face, to try and clear her mind and think on her options. She splashed the cold water onto her faced, wiped with a towel, and prepared to put it back. But when she took a good look at the mirror, the towel fell to the tiled floor and Alice froze.
She couldn't believe it.
"Hello, Alice. It's been a while..."
She didn't know what to say. There were so many questions, and she didn't know how long he would be here. But eventually she spoke.
"I thought you were gone."
"So did I."
Alice became nervous, and looked down, though Masquerade continued to look at her through his mask.
"Masquerade, I don't know how to say this, and I don't want to be rude, but..."
"You're wondering about that?"
Masquerade didn't need any more words than that. Alice knew what he was asking about anyways. The girl barely nodded, and waited for his reply.
"That was why I came here. I knew you probably had questions, and even though getting here wasn't easy, I knew what I had to do..."
"Masquerade... How could you? How could you do that to Dan?" she asked him, on the brink of tears.
She stayed the same way, as if she hadn't heard him.
"I didn't understand what was going on at first, but now I'm sure I know what happened..."
She gave him a look that said to continue.
"As you probably know, it all started when Hal-G was created, and formed an alliance with Naga. He knew that eventually someone would rise up against him using the bakugan. Those orbs Dan and Shun found were a trap. They were made of energy from the Silent Core. Hal-G just changed the properties to make them cause hallucinations. He set certain messages to eventually be sent the brawlers who opened the box, even long after his defeat. That was how Dan got that message from me, even though I was already gone."
"So you really weren't real?"
"No. The effects of the orbs were already in place. You, Shun, Julie, Marucho, Runo, and Dan were the only ones who could have been able to see 'me'. And when you entered that hidden area near the docks, I became real, and so did the other illusions Hal-G programmed to customize to the person who entered."
"But what about that energy you talked about? And why was Dan in that pod I found him in?"
"The pod was real. The Masquerade Dan was seeing was already real. And when Dan was exposed to the energy it had inside, the orb wasn't needed anymore."
"He would hallucinate on his own," she realized.
"Exactly. I can't say for certain, but that was probably why Dan ended up endangering the brawlers and himself."
"So everything we saw? It wasn't real?" Alice asked.
"Only if you still had the orbs with you."
"So none of it was your fault," she said, feeling guilty.
"In a way, yes. I found files of Hal-G's plans long before I started to appear in the Bakugan game. When Dan and I last met, I could have told him about what Hal-G had planned for the brawlers, but I didn't think it would work."
"But it did," Alice said sadly, until she suddenly remembered something. "Masquerade, do you know how long the effects of the energy lasted?"
"They were supposed to be permanent. But the creatures it was tested on didn't show any signs of hallucination a few months after exposure. There was no telling it would be the same for a human. Why do you ask, Alice?"
"It was a while after Dan came back to his senses from that place," she replied. "He ended up in the hospital, and no one could figure out what had happened. And when we visited him, something was off, like Dan was still affected from the energy."
"If that's true, I have a feeling the brawlers won't see the last of Dan's... 'condition'," Masquerade answered her. "I read something in Hal-G's files about certain 'triggers' causing the situations where hallucination could lead to murder. The amount of time between the hallucinations would get shorter and shorter until all the subject could think about was attacking enemies that weren't even there."
"Oh no. What happened to them?" she asked, worried Dan would suffer a similar fate.
"Eventually those subjects would go into a frenzy from stress or paranoia. There was nothing we could do for them, and they eventually expired from their own actions."
"Ex...pire? But that doesn't mean Dan-"
"No, it doesn't," he replied understanding her immediately. "After all, Dan's Dan. I doubt he'll just take something like that lying down..."
She smiled.
"Masquerade... Can you ever forgive me for doubting you?"
"That depends. Can you ever forgive me for not telling you sooner?"
"No one would have been able to predict what happened," she replied softly.
"And you had every right to accuse me for what happened to Dan," Masquerade said in turn, and now both of them had their answers.
"Masquerade... Will I ever see you again?"
"Remember, Alice," he said, taking off his mask, and soon Alice was looking at herself, who was holding the mask in her hands.
"I'm you," her reflection replied.
The real Alice closed her eyes and sighed, and upon opening them again, she could see a single black rose lying upon the counter top with a plain white card underneath it. She pulled it out carefully and settled her eyes upon the beautifully written words.
"A black rose means farewell, Alice," she read. "But I hope we meet again soon. Signed, Masquerade..."
A single tear fell from her eye. After wiping it away, Alice placed the rose and the card on top of her pillow. She smiled, turned away, and shut the lights off before leaving to go make dinner. And in the mirror of the bathroom, the image of Alice appeared, then was replaced by that of Masquerade. He smiled, and with the snap of his fingers, the bathroom lights were out, and he was gone.