Author: SilvorMoon PM
Misawa thought beating the Society of Light's representative would prove his worth to the school. He had no idea how wrong he was. Sometimes winning is losing, and sometimes light is dark, but pride always goes before a fall.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure - Bastion M./Misawa D. - Chapters: 6 - Words: 83,236 - Reviews: 38 - Favs: 24 - Follows: 4 - Updated: 05-03-07 - Published: 03-08-07 - id: 3430951
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Chapter 1 - Drawing the Chariot
Saioh sat alone in his room, his head bowed and eyes closed, hands folded loosely in his lap. A deck of cards lay in front of him, their image reflected on the glass tabletop, but he was not ready for them. He needed time to gather his thoughts, to focus his energy on the question at hand.
I know my enemy: Yuuki Juudai, he who is signified by the Fool... Not many people would consider a Fool to be a dangerous thing, but Saioh knew better. The story of the Tarot was ultimately the story of the Fool, a man who knew nothing and worried about nothing, and yet carried all possibilities with him. Just like the Fool in the story, Juudai held infinite potential as well, for he alone had the power to resist Destiny. All paths were open to him if only he chose to pursue them. However, not even the Fool lived a life free from danger, for he danced on the edge of a cliff, and any little thing might send him tumbling into oblivion.
I may not be able to rob you of your power to choose, Fool, but I can arrange it so that you are a bit more obliging in choosing paths that will not obstruct my own.
He thought he had devised a way to do so. Close observation had showed him that whatever Juudai did, he always did it with backup standing by. Just as the Fool in the story could not discover his gifts until he was guided by those he met along the road, Juudai seemed to draw his strength from the companionship of others. Saioh had been lucky enough to take a few of his friends early on, and was making sure to keep them close by his side. Manjoume and Asuka had high rankings in the Society of Light primarily because they had been friends of Juudai's, and Saioh wanted to make sure they were always where he could see them and keep them free from Juudai's influence.
If only he could lure a few more of Juudai's companions away from him, he might be able to undermine Juudai's will to fight, but so far, his attempts had been met with more resistance than he would have believed possible. His attempt to win the boy Kenzan into the Society had met with failure that had been enough to shock even Saioh, and after that, he had been wary of attempting to win over Juudai's "little brother", who seemed even more tightly linked to the boy than Kenzan was. Surely, though, there had to be some other weak point in Juudai's armor. A boy who seemed so popular and personable must have other friends on this island who could be used against him, and that was what Saioh was trying to learn of now.
Saioh raised his head and opened his eyes, which were now shining softly with some pale inner light, and reached out a hand to take his deck. He was ready. With smooth, expert motions, he shuffled the cards and laid them out in a pattern on the table. Since he wanted a simple answer, he settled for a simple arrangement of three cards. He overturned the first and found that it was the Hanged Man, the card that represented Manjoume Jun. The second card was the Sun, which he associated with Tenjoin Asuka.
A chronological progression, perhaps? Saioh thought. Then the last card should signify the person who will be next to join the fold.
Feeling a flicker of eagerness, he reached out to overturn the third card. He studied it a moment, considering its meaning. It was the Chariot, in reversed position.
Intriguing... the Chariot in reverse represents ambition, overstepping boundaries, loss of control due to personal flaws, and disregard for the welfare of others. That hardly sounds like the kind of person who would be friendly with Juudai, or anyone else, for that matter. Still, as the Chariot is called the Lord of the Triumph of Light, perhaps it is a good sign for me. It will be interesting to meet this person...
There was a sudden light tap on the door that shook Saioh from his musings. He was not bothered, however; he had learned what he needed to know.
"You may enter," he said.
One of his white-suited followers stepped into the room, and immediately dropped to one knee and bowed his head.
"Master Saioh," he said, "I'm sorry to disturb you, but there's some guy in a yellow jacket downstairs ranting about wanting to duel with you."
Saioh smiled smugly. "I knew that."
The boy raised his head in surprised. "You did?"
"Yes, indeed. The Light reveals all to those who have the eyes to see," Saioh intoned grandly. He rose from his chair. "Come. Let us have words with this young man. He intrigues me."
The boy rose to his feet, looking flushed with awe at the thought of escorting the master of the Society of Light. Saioh simply strolled along without looking at him, with a faintly amused smile playing across his lips.
My Chariot awaits.
I'm not letting these people intimidate me! They're nothing more than a bunch of mindless sheep, following a leader who stays holed up in his room for days at a time. They are powerless, and I'm going to prove it!
There was a sudden stir, as all eyes suddenly turned upwards, as if at some unseen signal. Misawa glanced up as well, and a few seconds later, Saioh himself stepped into view. He slowly descended the stairs, and Misawa, despite his determination, couldn't help but feel a thrill as he caught sight of him. Whatever other qualities the man might or might not have possessed, Saioh radiated a charisma that made those around him want to stare at him and hang on to his every word, even if he did nothing more than remark about the weather. Now he came to stand on the first landing where he could look down on the assembled crowd.
"We have a stranger in our midst," he said in his hypnotic voice. He raised his eyes so that they focused squarely on the single boy not dressed in white. "Misawa Daichi. I have been expecting and anticipating your arrival. You have a request to ask of me, do you not?"
So he does know my name! thought Misawa in surprise. The thought that Saioh had known about him all along and had simply been waiting for him to come and pay a visit was enough to throw him off his mental feet for a moment. Too little, too late, he told himself firmly. If I was really that important to him, I wouldn't have to come to him by myself.
"I do," he said, trying to project confidence into his voice. "Saioh Takuma, I am here to prove that you and your Society are weak, and I am going to do it by challenging you to a duel. If I win, I want your promise that you will leave Duel Academia!"
There was instant chaos in the room, as the other students made their disapproval known. The only points of stillness were Misawa himself, standing like a rock in a stormy sea, and Saioh, his luminous eyes locked on Misawa. He seemed to smile for an instant, and then his expression shifted to one of placid unconcern. He raised his hands.
"Quiet," he said, and there was quiet. All eyes turned to look up at him - most worshipfully, but two warily.
"Thank you," he said. "My associates, do not let your emotions cloud your minds. True faith permits questioning, for only those who are weak in their faith are afraid of being proven wrong. If you truly believe in my vision and in the power of the True Light, then you have no need to resent this challenge. Are there any more objections?"
There was silence in the room.
"Very good. Mr. Misawa, I apologize for my friends' impoliteness," said Saioh. "I believe I will accept... a variation of your challenge. Would you be agreeable to my appointing a representative to duel in my stead? My deck is not yet prepared, and I would not be able to give you my full strength just now. If you want to duel right away, I will have to choose someone who can face you on equal ground."
Misawa did some quick thinking. He would have preferred to face down Saioh himself, but one of his subordinates might do just as well if it was someone sufficiently high-ranking.
"Who did you have in mind?" he asked.
"I was thinking that Manjoume might be willing to take the job," said Saioh. "He is my second-in-command, and I have placed my trust and my power in him."
Misawa nodded. Everyone recognized Manjoume as a force to be reckoned with, no matter what the situation, and dueling the Society's second-in-command was almost as good as dueling Saioh himself. It would prove that Misawa was better than anyone else who followed Saioh, and Saioh had as good as admitted that he didn't think he could stand up to Misawa himself.
Once I've won this duel, no one will ever be able to say I'm weak and insignificant!
"And if I win against him, my condition still holds? You'll leave the island?" Misawa asked.
"Yes, I will," Saioh said mildly, prompting a distressed murmur from his followers, as they contemplated a life without their leader. "But you understand, don't you, that if you lose, you will join our Society?"
"I understand," said Misawa.
"Very good. I'm glad we've reached a satisfactory arrangement," Saioh replied. "We will meet in the Obelisk arena in one hour." Beckoning to his right-hand man, he said, "Manjoume, come with me. We must discuss your strategy."
Misawa perceived that his interview was at an end. He gave a slight bow, no more than would have been required by politeness, and walked out of the room. It seemed to take a long time to make it down that carpet to the doors, feeling everyone's eyes resting on him.
They don't think I can do it, he thought. Well, I'll show them. I'll show them all! I'll make them realize the mistake they're making, looking down on me...
Meanwhile, Saioh was leading his loyal follower back upstairs to Saioh's private chambers. Manjoume scampered to open the door for his master as they reached the room, earning him a nod of approval as Saioh glided past to take a seat in his usual chair. Manjoume, ever the eager servant, walked over to Saioh's side and dropped to one knee in a gesture of obeisance.
"Do you mind being volunteered for this task, Manjoume?" Saioh asked him.
"I would do anything for you, Master Saioh," Manjoume answered. "I'm not afraid of losing to him."
"I see. You are confident in your ability?"
"Yes. There's nothing I can't do for the sake of the Society!"
"Good. I am glad to hear that," said Saioh. "I need someone who is both confident and loyal, and you are my most trusted follower. I know I can count on you to do whatever I need done, even if it is unpleasant to you. Isn't that correct?"
"Of course, Master Saioh! You name it and I'll do it!"
"Then I want you to lose this duel."
Manjoume raised his eyes in surprise. "What? But why? If I lose, then..."
"Then I will have to leave you, yes," said Saioh with a regretful sigh. "The ways of Destiny are often painful, but this is what is best for all of us in the long run."
"But that can't be right!" Manjoume blurted. "What could be more important than the glory of the Light? Isn't Destiny on our side?"
"Yes, yes. Calm yourself," said Saioh, laying a hand on Manjoume's head and stroking his hair soothingly. "The ways of Destiny are often circuitous, and difficult to follow for those who have not the Sight. You must believe me when I say that in this case, to lose this duel will ultimately bring us a victory. Trust me. I have a plan. Now, you must keep this very secret - it won't work out if you go telling people."
"Can you tell me?" Manjoume asked hopefully.
"Of course I can tell you," Saioh replied, and he did. Manjoume listened with a slowly dawning expression of comprehension.
"That's twisted," he said. "I like it."
"I knew you would," said Saioh. "That's why I chose you. And now you had better go. You have a duel to prepare for. Just because you have to lose doesn't mean you should not make an effort to look good. In fact, it would be better if you did."
"Yes, Master Saioh," Manjoume agreed. Looking somewhat more cheerful, he rose to his feet, bowed one last time, and headed for the door.
"This should be entertaining," Saioh murmured. He put his cards safely away and prepared to enter the arena. Even knowing exactly how it would end, this was one duel he didn't want to miss.
Destiny! Fate! I'll show you! I won't let my life be guided by such superstitious nonsense. I'll show you my power!
At that moment, Manjoume launched his next attack. Misawa watched it coming at him, knowing that if it hit him, the last of his life points would be wiped out, and it would be the end of his freedom. He would be drawn into the Society of Light, and be one more mindless sheep in a flock of white uniforms.
I don't want to disappear into that crowd. This is my moment to shine!
"Trap card activate!" he shouted. "Magic Cylinder! Your attack is directed away from me and strikes you instead!"
There was a tremendous burst of light and a rushing sound as the blast meant to wipe out Misawa's life points was sucked into the Cylinder and forced back to its source - straight down the barrel of Manjoume's Cannon. The weapon exploded, sending up bursts of smoke and light that flung Manjoume off his feet and completely off the stage. Misawa stood feeling breathless and elated.
"I did it!" he said softly. "I've defeated the Society of Light!"
His words sounded strangely loud to him. Suddenly it dawned on him that the auditorium was silent. He looked up at the crowds, and saw a sea of angry faces looking down at him.
The ominous silence was broken by the sound of someone booing. Someone else joined in.
"How dare you!"
"He must have cheated! No one beats the Society of Light!"
Someone threw a wad of paper down at him, and Misawa ducked as several more hurled objects. No matter which way he turned, people were pelting him with pencils, erasers, books, even shoes. One of them hit his Duel Disk, sending cards scattering, and he scampered to collect them as other things rained down on him. The crowd was working itself up to riot conditions, screaming insults and stamping their feet. A few people were trying to climb over the railings, and Misawa suddenly realized that he might be in for a whole lot worse than just having pencils thrown at him if he didn't get away in a hurry.
This isn't how it was supposed to happen!
"Quiet!" said a voice in the stands. Soft though it was, it cut through the chaos, and somehow, everything became still. All eyes turned towards Saioh, who was standing and holding up his hands in a placating gesture.
"Please, my friends, let us not have any more of this unseemly behavior," he said. "Mr. Misawa has performed admirably, and we must abide by our bargain. As promised, I will leave the island."
This announcement was met by loud objections.
"Please, don't leave us!"
"What will we do without you?"
"What about the Society?"
"We need you, Master Saioh!"
"Have no fear," said Saioh. "As long as the Light remains in your hearts, the Society will survive. I have left instructions with Manjoume as to what should be done in my absence. Obey him as you would obey me, and all will be well. I am certain it will be our destiny to meet again soon."
Misawa listened to this speech, and a feeling of cold dread settled in his stomach as he realized what he had done. Yes, he had driven Saioh off of the island, but so what? The Society would still be there, and Manjoume would go on winning over new recruits in anticipation of the day he would see his master again. In the meantime, far from being admired, Misawa had just turned himself into the most despised person on the island.
Oh, brilliant move, Misawa. How did I not see this coming?
There seemed to be only one thing he could do. While everyone else was watching Saioh pick his way through the crowd, presumably to take himself away to pack for his departure, Misawa gathered his own things and stole away to the back entrance.
A moment later, Juudai and the rest of his friends came rushing in the other door, breathing heavily from their run. Juudai was muttering something under his breath, apparently irritated at Ed Phoenix for not telling him sooner that there was a duel going on. He stopped short as he saw Manjoume lying sprawled on the floor in front of him.
"What happened?" Juudai asked. "Did we miss the duel? Did Misawa lose?"
Manjoume sat up and brushed himself off. He was grinning, and a wild light gleamed in his eyes. He gave a slightly unhinged laugh.
"Oh, yeah. He lost, all right," he said. "Big time."
"Here's to the plan, and the glory of the Light!" he said, and raised the glass to his lips. However, before he could drink, there was a knock at his door.
"Who goes there?" he called.
"It's me," said a terse voice from the hallway. "Let me in. I want a word with you."
"Asuka! Just one moment," Manjoume called back. He hurried back into his room, stopped in front of a mirror to smooth his wind-ruffled hair, and ascertained that there was an extra glass handy. All the white light in the world couldn't completely erase his infatuation with Asuka, and he had to do his best to impress her under any circumstances. Only when he was certain he was prepared did he open the door to find Asuka standing there with a scowl on her face. Since he was used to her scowling at him, he overlooked this fact. "Come in, come in! What can I do for you?"
"You can tell me how you managed to ruin everything so spectacularly," she snapped as she marched into the room. She slammed the door behind her and crossed her arms over her chest, giving him her most intimidating glare. Manjoume surprised her by not looking intimidated. He usually went to quivering jelly whenever she gave him that look, just as he usually melted to a puddle of blissful mush if she smiled at him. His confidence now unnerved her slightly.
"I didn't ruin everything," he said calmly, swirling the ice cubes in his drink before taking a sip. "I didn't ruin anything. Everything happened according to Saioh's will. Would you like a drink?"
"I... you... what?" For once, Asuka was speechless.
Manjoume filled a glass with ice cubes and gracefully poured in the ginger ale, taking a moment to replenish his glass as well - and also to enjoy her surprise.
"We planned it all, Master Saioh and I," he said, passing a drink to her. "Where's your faith in the Light, Asuka? It revealed to Saioh exactly what was going to happen. He knows everything. You know that."
"But why would he want to leave us?"
"He hasn't gone far. This is just his way of punishing an unbeliever. We're going to make an example of Misawa Daichi that no one in this school will ever forget. By the time we're done, he'll know the true power of Light, and he'll be begging on bended knee to join us - and so will everyone else in the school. That's how brilliant Master Saioh is."
"So you're telling me that losing that duel was part of the plan?" asked Asuka, looking intrigued now.
"Absolutely! It wouldn't work if Misawa lost. A member of the Society had to lose, and it had to be someone good so he would be convinced he'd won fair and square. Hence, my humble role in the proceedings."
"I still can't imagine what kind of plan Master Saioh would have that would involve him leaving the island," said Asuka dubiously. "Are you sure you did everything right?"
"Positive," Manjoume answered smugly. "Master Saioh told me the whole plan. I'm not supposed to tell anyone else, though, or it might spoil everything. It has to stay a secret from the rest of the Society."
"You can't even tell me?" Asuka asked.
"Well, maybe I could tell you," said Manjoume. He was enjoying having something Asuka wanted, for once, and he was going to milk it for all it was worth. "But if I tell you, that would be a breach of Master Saioh's trust. I think I had better not say anything."
"Oh, come off it. You don't know anything," she accused. "You're just trying to get me to - to kiss you or something to make you tell."
"I wouldn't do anything like that!" Manjoume insisted, looking innocent.
"Then spill. Now that Saioh's gone, I'm second-in-command, and I need to know what's going on so I can do my job," said Asuka sensibly.
"Well, there is that," Manjoume allowed. "All right, then, listen to this..."
He outlined the whole plan to her while she listened.
"Isn't that a bit extreme, just for one dissenter?" she asked.
"There's more than one dissenter on this island," said Manjoume. "Including that Juudai, and he's the one Saioh wants rubbed out. I told you, we're going to make Misawa an example. This isn't just one guy, it's a piece of Saioh's master plan. I'm sure he knows what he's doing."
"You're probably right." Asuka relaxed and took a sip of her drink, mostly because it was there. "So you really could have beaten him if you had wanted to?"
"Of course I could. I knew what he was planning to do all along," Manjoume boasted. Truthfully he was not entirely certain if he could have done it by himself or not; Misawa had played a tough game, and Manjoume had been forced to think quickly so as to not make the win look too easy for Misawa. However, he knew his master was capable of sharing his clairvoyant powers if he wished, and had indeed done so for Manjoume before. He was certain that if Saioh had meant for him to win, he would have. "Come on! You didn't think I'd use such lame cards if I was playing seriously, did you?"
"You did use some strange cards," Asuka admitted. "Have you always had those Ojama things in your deck?"
"Of course not," he said, at the same time wondering if it was true. His memories before joining the Society had dwindled to insignificance under the powerful glare of the white light. But he was certain Saioh had chosen him because he was a strong duelist, and a strong duelist wouldn't use weak cards like the Ojamas. "I should probably get rid of them. They won't do me any good if I'm in a duel I actually want to win."
He wandered back to the balcony and fished the Ojama cards out of his deck. He stared down at them for a moment, trying to sort through his confused memories of how they had gotten there in the first place. The white light in his mind seemed to form itself into a vision of snow, lots of snow, and a town of sorts where people dueled, but it slipped away from him even as he tried to recollect the details. He decided it didn't matter. As he held up the cards to catch the wind, something in him seemed to say NO!, but it was already too late. The cards sailed away and were gone. He wondered why he felt a pang of regret.
"Now you can replace them with something more suitable," said a voice behind him, and he turned to see that Asuka was coming to join him on the balcony. "What good are green, black, and yellow monsters? You should look into getting some proper white ones. I've been building a new deck, myself."
"You're right. I should do that," said Manjoume. Already the feeling of inexplicable regret was fading. What did he have to regret? Saioh would return soon, and Misawa would get what was coming to him, and in the meantime, Manjoume ruled the school. He was also standing under a starlit sky with Asuka at his side, and that was nothing to regret, either. She was more interesting than any card could be.
"What do you think?" he asked, waving his free hand to indicate the view of the school spread out before them. "All this is ours now."
"Until Saioh comes back," she replied.
"Until Saioh comes back," Manjoume echoed, "but that could be a while, so why not enjoy ourselves a little? He never said we couldn't."
"Well, that's true..." Asuka allowed.
"So let's celebrate," said Manjoume. He raised his glass. "To the Society of Light!"
"To the Society!" she agreed, and chimed her glass to his.
"It's all right," he told himself, as he slogged up the sidewalk on his way to class. "I'll get through this."
He had taken to arriving to his classes as early as possible, in hopes of getting there before any of the Whites did. They could still make his life miserable while he was at his desk, but at least he didn't have to run a gauntlet down the hall every morning, fighting his way past angry students trying to push or trip him or spit on him. One morning a few of them had ganged up on him and restrained him from entering the classroom at all, and he'd ended up getting a detention for cutting class.
"Sooner or later, they'll get tired of picking on me and find a new target," he muttered, trying to believe it. "They can't keep this up forever. I'm better than them, and I'm smarter than them, and that's all there is to it. They don't have their leader anymore, so they're bound to fall apart eventually."
He arrived at the classroom door with a sense of relief. Classes were one of the few places where he was relatively safe. The pranks and jibes were far milder under the watchful eyes of their teachers. Chronos in particular seemed resistant to the Whites' brand of intimidation, and he managed to keep them more or less in line. It made Misawa grateful that Chronos's class was his first one of the day. The Society might be able to ruin him socially, but he was still had the best grades of any other student in his year, and that was one thing they couldn't change.
He opened the door and was surprised to find Asuka already sitting and waiting there. He wondered what he ought to do. Ignore her? Come back later, when there were more people around? Stay where he was and wait for Chronos, or even Juudai and the rest, to arrive and provide some backup?
"Don't just stand there," Asuka told him. "Come here. We need to talk." As he hesitated, she said, "Don't bother waiting for a teacher. Someone has been sent to delay Professor Chronos until we've had some time to chat."
"I don't want to talk to you," he said, "and you people have made it abundantly clear that none of you want anything to do with me."
"Actually, there is something we want from you," she said. "Come in and sit down. Now."
The coldness in her once-warm amber eyes and her formerly sweet voice compelled him to move. He came in and sat down, though nowhere near Asuka.
"You know what your problem is, don't you?" she asked him.
"My problem," he replied, "is that you people won't leave me alone."
"Your problem is that you sent our master away. We don't like that."
"He agreed to it."
"Well, that's your problem, isn't it?"
"It is," said Asuka, "and we are entirely capable of making it your problem as well, unless you decide to cooperate with us."
"I don't want to join your Society, so you can forget all about that," Misawa retorted.
"You don't have to join us, yet," she said. "For the moment, there is only one thing we want. Do it, and you have my word as one of the high officials of the Society of Light that the hazing will stop."
"What is it you want?" he asked. He was surprised to find that he was at least considering doing whatever she asked if it would make things go back to something like normal.
"We want you to find out where Saioh has gone and ask him to come back," she replied.
"We want our master back. He left because of you, so you're the only one who can make him come back. The whole Society understands this, because Manjoume and I have told them so. They'll keep on harassing you until you cooperate. And it will only get worse from here on in."
"I fail to see how it could get much worse," said Misawa.
"How would you like to be thrown out of Duel Academia in disgrace?" she asked him. "If you get expelled, you'll never become a professional duelist. Your reputation will be ruined. We can do it. Even the teachers are afraid of us."
"You're bluffing," said Misawa. "You can't do that."
"We can and we will," Asuka replied. "Vice-Principal Napoleon listens to us. He's a coward, and we frighten him. We've convinced him that you're at the root of all the trouble in this school that there's been lately. He's willing to cooperate with us if it will stop any more problems from happening. So, do we have a deal?"
"Not on your life," Misawa answered. "I'm not afraid of you or the Society of Light."
"Then you're a fool," Asuka said crisply. "But you'll change your mind. It's Destiny."
Misawa's only answer was a noncommittal grunt. Fortunately, at that moment, Professor Chronos arrived. He was deep in conversation with a pair of white-uniformed students, but they appeared to be discussing a perfectly ordinary assignment, and didn't sound as if they were up to anything sinister. Misawa mentally chalked up his discussion with Asuka as just another attempt to frighten him. He opened up his notebook and prepared for his lesson.
Chronos called the roll and set about giving his daily lecture, and Misawa forced himself to think of nothing but taking notes. He was so successful at this pursuit that it took him a while to realize that something strange was happening. Gradually a sense of something being off stole over him, and he looked around to realize that all the other students in the class were hard at work taking notes as well. Not a single one was so much as looking in his direction. After days of constant harassment, this sudden display of disinterest struck him as ominous. A chill crawled up his spine.
Misawa jumped about a foot in the air, dropped his pencil, and nearly knocked his notebook to the floor. The voice from the loudspeaker boomed again, "Misawa Daichi, please report to the principal's office!"
Chronos looked slightly scandalized.
"But I'm the principal!" he protested. "How can someone be calling him to the principal's office if I'm not in it?"
Misawa scanned the room. The faces of the Society members were uniformly smug.
"I suppose I had better go find out," he said.
With a feeling of doom hanging over him, he gathered his things and trekked up to the principal's office, wondering what was in store for him now.
"They can't get me kicked out of school," he told himself fiercely. "They can't. Not even they have that much power, even if they do have some kind of deal with the vice- principal..."
He reached the office door and knocked politely.
"Hello?" he called. "It's me, Misawa. Is anyone there?"
"Come in," said the vice-principal's voice. He sounded rather tense, which Misawa didn't think was a good sign. He went in.
Napoleon was standing next to the principal's desk, holding a sheet of paper and looking somewhat awkward. The principal's chair, Misawa noted, was turned around backwards, so that he could not see who, if anyone, was sitting in it. The knowledge that there could be someone else in the room that he couldn't see made Misawa even more nervous than he already was.
"Come in, come in," said Napoleon with forced cheer. "We just have one little thing we need to clear up very quickly. It won't take but a moment. We just need to, um, go over this test you took on Monday..."
"Was there something wrong with it?" Misawa asked. He wondered if somehow, someone had gotten him flagged for cheating. It didn't seem likely, but since all the Whites were acting like lunatics lately...
In reply, Napoleon handed over the test paper. Misawa stared at it. There was a large red zero marked at the top, and every single answer was marked wrong. His jaw dropped. He looked from the paper to Napoleon and back again, but was unable to find any words to say. He turned the paper over as if expecting an explanation to be written there, but the back of the test was as white and inscrutable as the Society itself.
"This is impossible," he murmured.
"Nothing," said a voice, "is impossible when the Light is on your side."
The principal's chair spun around, revealing that Manjoume was sitting in it, looking very much at home. He was smiling that insane grin, his pupils contracted to pinpoints, as if he were staring into the sun.
"You!" Misawa snarled. "You're behind this! What did you do?"
"Just had a few friendly words with the vice-principal, here," said Misawa. "He knows whose side to play on if he wants to win. Didn't Asuka tell you? You should listen to her; she's a lot smarter than you are."
"These answers aren't wrong," said Misawa, pointing at the test.
"Of course they're wrong! You're wrong. Everything about you is wrong," said Manjoume, "including your test grades, from now on. And the rest of your grades on top of that. The only way you'll go right again is if you join the Society... and the only way we'll let you do that is if you find Master Saioh for us and bring him back. Otherwise, you can look forward to getting lots more test grades just like this one."
Misawa looked pleadingly at Napoleon. "You can't do this! You can't let them get away with this. It's... it's not fair!"
"I'm sorry," said the little man, "but, well... it's either you or them, and... it's just better this way. You understand. I have the good of the school to think of. Just be good and do what they say, and I'll make sure the grade gets changed back to what it should be. I'll even make sure any days you miss are excused while you go looking for him."
"Everyone around me has gone crazy!" Misawa shouted. "Why do I have to look for him? You all want him back so badly - why doesn't one of you go looking for him?"
"Because you're the one who sent him away," said Manjoume, as if speaking to a simpleton. "Master Saioh is a man of his word. He won't come back until you give him a pardon, so you have to go find him. There's a boat waiting for you down at the docks. Hop on and go looking for him. It's your only hope. You'll get everything back and more once you give us what we want."
Misawa looked into Manjoume's wild eyes and decided then and there that the sooner he got away from these lunatics, the better.
"Fine," he said, slumping. "I give up. You win. I'll find Saioh."
"Master Saioh," Manjoume corrected with a grin. "Bon voyage! Be sure to write."
Misawa shot him what he hoped was an icy, quelling look. It got absolutely no response. He gave up and stalked out of the room.
Well, this is a fine mess I've gotten myself into! All I wanted was a little respect, and now look! Practically everyone in the school hates me, the people who do like me can't even get near me, and now the teachers are turned against me. I can't even get good grades anymore. I'm nothing. Zero. Wiped out. I can't believe these people could turn me into a nobody practically overnight... Then he thought, Maybe I was nobody all along, and just never knew...
That broke him. He stood on the sidewalk and let out a primal scream of utter frustration that made a few people stop and stare at him, and then head off for safer territory. When he finally ran out of air, he dropped to his knees and started beating his fists against the sidewalk.
"This - isn't - fair!" he said, punctuating each word with another hit on the ground. "I don't deserve this! I shouldn't be treated this way! I won that stupid duel - I'm better than any of them! I am a great duelist, I have perfect grades, I do everything right, so why can't I ever get what I deserve?"
"Did you ever think the fact that you're a whiny brat might have something to do with it?"
Misawa looked up and saw that there was only one person left watching him, and that was Ed Phoenix.
"I am not a whiny brat," said Misawa sulkily, face burning with embarrassment. He looked down at his hands and saw that they were bleeding slightly from being beaten on the concrete, and he wiped them off with his handkerchief.
"Suit yourself," said Ed. "So what brought on this little pity party? And is it private, or can someone else join in?"
"Why would you want to join? You've got it better than I do," Misawa muttered. "But since you ask, I've been ordered to leave the island and go looking for Saioh so I can apologize and ask him pretty please if he'll come back."
Ed's eyebrows rose slightly. "Is that so? Maybe I can help you with that."
"Ah," said Misawa. He looked at the boy skeptically. His experiences lately had left him feeling distrustful of anyone who wanted to "help" him. "Why would you want to do that?"
"Well, you know, Saioh's an old friend of mine. We've known each other since I we were both just kids," said Ed, looking slightly sheepish. "He's really not such a bad guy, or at least, he didn't used to be. I don't know what's gotten into him lately, but... I guess I'd like for someone to find him so I know he's okay."
Misawa was slightly nonplused; he had never considered the possibility that Saioh might have been a child once. There was just something ageless about him.
"Do you know where he might have gone?" he asked. It was suddenly occurring to him that searching the world for one reclusive man might be a difficult thing to do without a point in the right direction. After all, several days had passed since Saioh had gone, and he could be anywhere by now.
"I remember a few of his favorite haunts," Ed admitted. "I'll write them down for you. You know, I'd offer to come with you and all, but... something in my gut is telling me things are nastier here than wherever Saioh is now. I want to watch a while longer and see how the situation is shaping up."
"They're definitely up to something," Misawa agreed. No need to say who they were. "But if you could help me with my, ah, current situation..."
"Got some paper?" asked Ed.
Misawa had paper, and also pencils. He always did. He handed these items to Ed, who wrote down a series of addresses and passed them back.
"There," he said. "If I were trying to find Saioh, that's where I'd be looking for him."
"Thank you," said Misawa. It was the most grateful he'd felt for anything in weeks. He looked down at the paper and saw the addresses of a few places in California and one in Japan.
"That's Saioh's house, my house, a few of his old favorite hangouts, and his old hometown. I'd try the California addresses first, though. He doesn't talk about his past much, but I kinda get the feeling he's not welcome back where he came from. I thought I'd put it in anyway, just in case."
"If he doesn't talk about it, how do you know where he comes from?" Misawa wondered.
Ed shrugged. "He works for me. I've got his legal papers."
"Anyway, if all else fails," Ed murmured, half to himself, "you could always try the Angel's Peace Cemetery on Crestview Street."
"It worked for me," said Ed. "Anyway, good luck."
"Thank you," said Misawa again.
The two of them went their separate ways - Ed to do whatever it was he did all day, and Misawa down to the docks to see if the promised boat was waiting for him.
It was. Misawa knew it at once - it was the only one that had been freshly painted in pure white paint. It appeared to be brand new, and he wondered vaguely if Manjoume had financed its purchase. After he'd gone to the bother of building an entire new wing onto the Osiris Red dorm, buying a nice boat for the purpose of fetching Saioh back didn't seem to be any great thing. Misawa boarded the boat warily and explored its facilities. Someone had kindly stocked it with food and water enough for several weeks, if Misawa was careful with it, and there were also a few containers of extra fuel. There were also two small rooms for sleeping - presumably one for him and one for Saioh, so the great master would not have to bunk with a nonbeliever. In the control room, there was a book of instructions. This was probably good, because Misawa had never actually tried to pilot a boat before.
If Juudai can do it, I can do it, he told himself. Of course, if his understanding served him, Juudai had wound up running out of fuel and food and being stranded in the middle of the ocean until space aliens came to rescue him, and Misawa wasn't prepared to take a chance on any of that. He sat in the cabin and read the instructions. Only when he was sure he knew what he was doing did he take down a map and choose his destination.
"Here," he decided, letting his finger rest on a spot on the map. It marked a city in California, practically in the shadow of the Industrial Illusions headquarters. It was close to several of the destinations on his list, but that wasn't the only reason he picked it. Something seemed to be tugging him in that direction. He didn't know whether to call it instinct, Destiny, or desperation, but he didn't have much else to go on.
"One place is as likely as another," he told himself, and started the boat.
Juudai, relaxing in his favorite spot beneath a tree on the cliff, roused himself from a doze and saw Manjoume walking towards him, looking unaccountably smug.
"There who goes?" he asked, blinking in sleepy incomprehension.
"Don't you ever do anything but sleep?" Manjoume asked him in exasperation. "No wonder you won't see the Light. You spend all your time with your eyes closed. Look out over the ocean and see if you can't see something for a change."
Juudai dutifully looked, shading his eyes from the slanting afternoon sun. "Looks like a boat. What's so special about that?"
"Guess who's on it," said Manjoume.
"Come on, it's not that hard."
"I give up. Who's on the boat?"
"Why, it's our old friend Misawa!"
"Misawa?" Juudai repeated. Then he came awake in an instant as comprehension dawned. "You sent him away!"
"We did no such thing," said Manjoume, assuming his most innocent expression. "He went voluntarily. It seems the Light finally pierced the darkness of his heart, and he was moved by a noble impulse to undo his mistakes."
"Or maybe you and your cronies bullied him into it," Juudai snapped.
Manjoume raised his chin a bit higher. "I fail to see the distinction."
"What do you mean? You guys have done nothing but pick on him since he won that stupid duel!" said Juudai. "You're just a bunch of sore losers."
"Don't blame us," said Manjoume. "It was his idea to challenge Saioh. We weren't doing anything to him. We were leaving him alone. He would have been just fine if he hadn't decided to try to make fools of us."
"Yeah, but you didn't have to chase him off the island!" Juudai protested. "Even for you that's low."
"We didn't chase him," said Manjoume. "He had a choice. He could have stayed here if he had wanted to, but apparently he thought he was better off elsewhere."
"Only because you and your friends were making life miserable for him!" Juudai snapped. "What a bunch of jerks!"
"Ah, ah, ah! That's not nice!" Manjoume answered calmly, wagging a finger at him. "You don't care what happens to him, anyway."
"What? Of course I care. Misawa is my friend," said Juudai.
"Sure, he's your friend - when you don't have to do anything for him," said Manjoume. "As long as he can look after himself, you're glad to be his friend, but as soon as he needs something from you - pssht! You vanish into thin air."
"That's not true! How can you say that? Maybe that's how you treat people where you come from, but I'm always there when my friends need me!"
"Right," said Manjoume. "That's why your friend is sailing away to parts unknown, all alone, with nobody to rely on but himself, and you've been sleeping under a tree the whole time. You didn't try very hard to help him, did you? The whole school was turned against him, and you just looked the other way. Wouldn't even talk to him..."
"We tried," said Juudai. "You wouldn't let him anywhere near us!"
"Excuses, excuses," Manjoume said. "You're a hero, right? You were the school champion - you were one of the keepers of the Star Gate Keys - you fought off Kagemaru and the Demon Cards. There must have been something you could do. So what if we made life a little difficult for you? You didn't have to give up!"
"The last time I tried to talk to him, some of your people got a choke-hold on him and told me to back off before he turned blue."
Manjoume waved a hand airily. "So we played a little rough. See, Juudai, that's just what I'm saying. You would have helped him if it was easy, but you just weren't up to the challenge. Come off it, Juudai. You've risked your life for your friends before. I've seen you do it. Why couldn't you do this, unless you weren't really his friend?"
"That's what I thought," said Manjoume. "Well, just thought you should know what was going on. Have a lovely day."
Manjoume sauntered off, leaving Juudai looking thoughtful. He wandered back to his room and seated himself on the floor, staring out the window, lost in his own thoughts.
The shadows were lengthening by the time someone discovered him. Juudai almost didn't notice as Shou came clattering into the room, pitching his Duel Disk onto the bed and dumping his book bag onto the floor.
"Hey, Juudai, where were you? You missed a good practice," he said. "I totally creamed this one guy from Obelisk! Don't tell me you slept through it all again!"
"I was talking to Manjoume," Juudai said.
Shou blinked. "Why would you want to talk to him?"
"Well, he talked to me," Juudai corrected. "He told me Misawa left school today."
"Aw, man," said Shou. "Those guys must have finally run him out..."
"We should have done something," said Juudai.
"But we tried, remember? The more we tried to help him, the worse the hazing got," Shou pointed out reasonably. "If we'd kept getting in the way, who knows what they would have done to him?"
"Yeah, well, we didn't just have to give up!" said Juudai, in a sudden burst of temper. "Misawa was our friend, and now he's gone..."
"Yeah. It is kind of sad," Shou admitted. "I wonder if he'll come back?"
"I hope so," said Juudai with a sigh. He gazed back out the window again, though Misawa's boat was long gone. "I wonder what he's doing out there now?"
His mood lifted a little when he was at last safely docked and exploring the city, but the rise in his optimism did not last long. He checked the first few places on his list with high hopes, but was disappointed time and time again. He grew ravenously hungry, but he had no money with him, and it was a long walk back to the boat to scrounge up some more tasteless traveling food. His feet ached from walking all over the city. He took to asking people he met if they had ever seen or heard of Saioh. While some of them knew of him, if only through stories of the strange man who always seemed to know what was going to happen before it happened, no one had seen him lately or knew where he was now. Misawa felt almost surprised by Saioh's anonymity here; on the island, he had gotten used to everyone knowing who Saioh was, and being in a place where Saioh was a nonentity felt like being in the Twilight Zone. To top it all off, the day that had begun warm and sunny was now becoming overcast, and the world looked as gloomy as Misawa felt.
He's not here, he thought, and I've wasted all this time following a dead-end trail. So much for trusting my instincts! I knew there was no such thing as destiny...
The sun was setting as Misawa decided to give up for the day and head back to his boat to get some sleep and consider his next course of action. At a street corner, he paused a moment to take his bearings. He didn't have a map, but he had been careful to note which direction the harbor was, and he had a pretty fair idea of where he needed to go to get back to it.
I should be angling a little more to the west, I believe... and this looks like a nice quiet street. I'll go this way a while.
It really was a nice street, quieter and shadier than the ones he had been traversing earlier. If he hadn't been so tired and despondent, and if the sky hadn't been so dark and cloudy, Misawa might have even enjoyed the walk. As it was, he wasn't paying much attention to anything but the pain in his feet and the emptiness in his stomach as he trudged along. He didn't even notice when the hedges and trees he was walking beside were replaced by an iron rail fence. He did notice, however, when a car rolled past him, and its headlights illuminated the scenery beyond the fence for an instant. It was enough to make him stop and stare. Squinting into the shadows, he made out a series of blocky pale shapes.
Tombstones? No wonder this road is so empty...
Misawa picked up his pace. He was not superstitious, and the idea of walking past a graveyard in the dark didn't disturb him particularly. He was, however, curious to check out a hunch, so when he reached the end of the block, instead of turning towards the coastline, he turned in the other direction and headed for the cemetery gates. Sure enough, a sign flanked by two stone statues of winged women declared it to be the Angel's Peace Cemetery. Misawa peered thoughtfully through the gates at the dark rows of tombstones, wondering if anyone would really be in there at this time of day. Still, as long as he was there, it wouldn't hurt to take a look. He gently pushed the gates open, slipped inside, and closed them behind him.
It was, if anything, even darker inside the cemetery than it was outside. At least along the road there were the occasional passing cars and the distant gleam of city lights, but the cemetery was well removed from such things, and a few trees scattered here and there helped to block out what little light there might have been. The only illumination was a diffuse glow from the cloud- hidden moon. It was silent, too. There wasn't even a breath of wind to make the leaves rustle.
There's no one here, he thought. If they were here, I'd hear them breathing.
He continued walking anyway, peering into the shadows for any sign of human life. At one point, his eye was drawn to a stone with the name "Phoenix" etched into it, and wondered briefly if this was where Ed's father had been laid to rest, but he had no way of knowing for certain. He turned away from it and continued walking. Eventually, he came to a small clearing where a bench had been placed next to the path, in the shade of the trees.
There was someone on the bench.
Misawa stopped and stared. No, his eyes weren't playing tricks on him - there really was a young man lying there, curled up on his side as if cold, though the weather was balmy. One arm was draped over his eyes, but what could be seen of his face was pale and gaunt, with sunken cheeks. His clothing was pure white, contrasting with his hair, which looked black in the shadows.
Misawa's first panicked thought was, Great Scott, he's dead! Then he saw that Saioh's chest was rising and falling slightly. For whatever reason, the man was taking a nap in a cemetery at night. Misawa wondered about this for a moment before deciding that Saioh did enough strange things that this one didn't merit worrying about.
"Saioh," he called. "Er... Master Saioh? Could you please wake up for a minute?"
Saioh stirred. He sat up and stretched languorously, and brushed his hair into place with a graceful two-handed gesture. Then he opened his eyes. They glittered faintly in the dark. As they focused on Misawa, an expression of sadness crept into them.
"So. We meet again," he said softly.
Misawa was not sure what to say. He settled for, "Yes."
"I thought you might find me eventually," said Saioh. He gave a sigh that suggested all the troubles of the world were on his mind. "I am sorry you had to come looking for me in a place like this."
"What are you doing here?" Misawa asked him.
"Nothing. Only thinking. I came here for the quiet and solitude, and it seems I must have dozed off," Saioh answered. With a rueful smile, he said, "I'm afraid I have very little to do now but sit and think. I don't have friends here as I did on Academy Island."
"Ah, yes," said Misawa awkwardly. "About that..."
Saioh shook his head sadly. Fixing his soulful gaze on Misawa he asked softly, "Why did you send me away, Misawa? Don't you know I never meant you any harm?"
"Well, I... I don't know."
"Are you happy with your choice?"
"No," Misawa admitted. "Everything has gone wrong since you went away."
Saioh smiled at him - a gentle, forgiving smile. "That's all right. It isn't too late to make everything right again. Come here. Sit by me."
Misawa sat. The stone was warm where Saioh had been sleeping on it, not cold and uncomfortable as he would have thought a stone bench in a cemetery at night would be. Saioh turned slightly so that he could look Misawa in the eye, and assumed a posture of listening, folding his hands in his lap.
"Now, tell me," he said, "what have I done to make you want me to leave? Have I offended you in some way?"
"No, not exactly," said Misawa. "I just... Why didn't you try to recruit me into the Society? Wasn't I good enough for you?"
"Weren't you good enough? Did you think we didn't challenge you because we thought you were too weak? The contrary - no one challenged you because I knew you would win. If no one challenged you, it was because I knew there was no one in my Society who was capable of making you join us by force, so I simply waited and hoped you would come to us voluntarily. What on earth would make you believe that you aren't good enough?"
"But everyone else seems to think so," Misawa protested. "Everyone ignores me. I just don't get any respect. I know I'm a great duelist, but somehow, I never seem to get my share of the spotlight. Everyone pays attention to Juudai, or Manjoume, or the Kaiser. I don't understand it! What do I have to do to get people to notice me?"
"I notice you," said Saioh. "Even my enlightened followers are capable of making mistakes, but I have the Sight, and the clear white light shows me the things that are hidden to most people. I know you for what you are - a powerful duelist with a brilliant mind who deserves the admiration of his peers. You are the kind of person I want as part of my organization. A high post in the Society is yours for the asking, if you want it."
Misawa gave him a skeptical look. "It's that easy? I just say, 'Let me join your Society' and I'm in?"
"Of course. I have been waiting and hoping for that very thing," Saioh replied. "Join me and you will have what you deserve: a place of command in the Society and the admiration - no, the adulation of your peers. The Society of Light is the gateway to everything you need and want, Misawa Daichi. And I need a strong ally like you to help me. You've seen for yourself - even the strongest duelist in the Society can't stand up to you. I have no one with your talent or intelligence to stand at my side and help me to do my work. You can help me. I can help you. It's that simple."
"I'm still not sure I want to be part of a society," said Misawa.
"Are you not?" Saioh rose to his feet, turning his gaze to the sky. Even as he did so, the clouds parted, allowing the moon to peek out and drench the area where he was standing in moonlight. The white light gleamed off his clothing and fair skin, and even his hair took on a luster. He glowed like some holy being. He turned his face towards the moon, gazing into the light with a look of rapture.
"Can't you see how beautiful it is?" he murmured. He turned slightly to address his audience of one. "Listen to me, Misawa. I used to be like you - despised by all those around me, who feared and envied me because of my gifts, because they knew deep down that I was better than them. It wasn't until I saw the Light that I was able to tap into my full potential. I want to do the same for you. It is your destiny. You know instinctively that you are missing something. In your heart, you ache to step into the spotlight and be seen by all for what you truly are. All your struggles to understand and predict the patterns around you - all your logic and your calculations and mathematics - all of this is only a symptom of your desire for the True Light that reveals all things for what they are. Once you have seen the Light, there will be nothing you cannot know or understand. Even the future will be an open book. That's what you want, isn't it? To know, to understand, and to be recognized. All you need is the Light."
Misawa stared, captivated. He had lived his life as a devotee of facts and logic, and the religious ecstasy in Saioh's expression was a reflection of something Misawa had never felt before, something that now looked mysteriously enticing. His mind was full of glittering images. He knew, unquestionably, that all he had to do was accept Saioh's offer, and his whole life would turn around.
"Go on," Saioh murmured. "You know what you have to do."
As if in a dream, Misawa rose to his feet, stepping out of the shade and into the moonlight. He dropped to one knee before Saioh and bowed his head, as he had seen the other White students do.
"Let me join the Society," he said.
"Do not bow your head," answered Saioh gently. "Raise your eyes and look at me."
Two hands, cool and smooth as porcelain, reached down to cup Misawa's face, guiding him to look upward, so that his eyes met Saioh's. They seemed to be glowing with violet light... Was it violet? There was a spark of something else there, a pure white light that increased steadily the longer he looked at it. It was bright, too bright, more than his eyes could stand, and he felt a twinge as his pupils contracted to pinpoints, but still the light bore down on him, and he could not blink or turn away. It forced its way past his eyes, into his mind, filling every corner of his being until he thought he might be crowded out of existence by it. There was no room inside him for anything else but light, and for a moment he couldn't even breathe...
Then his body stopped fighting the light, and it sank and settled into place like water in a sponge, and with the relief came a sense of euphoria. His aches and pains were gone, his mind felt clear, and his body felt refreshed and suffused with energy. Even his hunger and thirst abated. He had never felt so alive, or so perfectly at one with the universe.
"Do you feel that?" asked Saioh.
"Yes... It's wonderful..."
"Congratulations. You are now a member of the Society of Light. You may rise."
Misawa hesitated, afraid that the wonderful feeling of connection and completion would fade if he moved. He also found he had a strange compulsion to remain kneeling to the man who had done him this tremendous favor, but he also didn't want to disobey him, either. He stood up. The feeling remained with him, warm and exhilarating. It gave him a drunken sense of being able to do anything.
"Are we going to go back to the island now, Master Saioh?" he asked hopefully. He couldn't wait to get back to Duel Academia and show everyone his new and improved status.
"Of course," said Saioh, setting a hand on Misawa's shoulder. "By all means, let us return to your ship. While we travel, I will teach you the secrets known only to the enlightened, so that when you arrive on the island, you will be ready to take a place of prestige in the Society."
"I'm ready to learn whatever you have to teach me, Master Saioh," said Misawa eagerly, falling in step alongside his new teacher.
"Of course you are," said Saioh.
To Be Continued...