Disclaimer: Yu-Gi-Oh! belongs to Kazuki Takahashi. "Grass" belongs to Carl Sandburg.
The idea came in English class, which means I was rebelling
against the language. Hence the long sentences and florid style.
When it was finished and the Items were placed within the memorial stone, the thief had laughed and laughed. Ryou, forcibly separated from his body and cast painfully into the corner like the unimportant object that Bakura had always considered him to be, stared wide-eyed.
Finally, the thief calmed enough to focus his attention on the teenager. In the separation, his body had returned to its original, Egyptian form, and the torchlight flickered off his blood-red eyes in a way that made Ryou shiver and curl his legs up to his chest, despite the pain running along his back from being thrown against the wall.
"This is the beginning," the thief chuckled, throwing his arms wide. Drops of the pharaoh's blood scattered from the knife he held in his hand, one flying far enough to splatter on the face of Yugi, sitting mute and still beside the body of his dead other half. "The door to the darkness has been opened. It's finished."
Then he killed himself.
He was the smartest.
Ryou had stared at the corpse of the thief for a very long time. Eventually, however, he climbed to his feet and stretched gingerly, feeling muscles that had been mistreated in the journey here and during the events that had followed send new twinges of pain along his nerve endings. Ignoring them, he stumbled over to the tablet, hooked a finger in the cord of the Ring, and removed it. The gold jingled slightly, now dead and empty of all its previous sentience and magical energy. It was no longer worth more than the price of its metal.
Ryou slipped the Ring over his neck, then walked over to the other teenager within the temple and held out his hand. "Come on, Yugi. It's time to go."
Yugi didn't move, and finally Ryou reached down and pulled him onto his feet. He half-dragged the boy towards the ramp that led out, the dim light of the torches causing him to accidentally bang the other teenager into one of the stone steps of the platform. Yugi said nothing in protest.
Yugi said nothing ever again.
And the epidemic started that afternoon. It defied all medical practice and knowledge, because there is no cure for the darkness.
Ryou finished throwing the kerosene upon the newest mound of bodies and let his arm drop so that the can hit his leg. They had run out of gasoline a couple weeks ago, and had started alternating between turpentine and kerosene since then. None of them were sure what to use once that, and any alcohol that hadn't been drunk yet, ran out. He took several rapid steps away from the construction site which had become the mass graveyard, and a moment later Malik lit a match.
The blond threw it at the pile, and the fumes caught fire before it was halfway there. Ryou took several more steps away.
The clothes and hair were what burned first--it always took a little bit for the flesh to catch and the smell to turn rancid. Not willing to wait, Malik yanked the collar of his shirt up and covered his nose and mouth, glaring at the heap even as the smoke began to make his eyes water. Ryou was already wearing a small mask, to help cut down the kerosene fumes. Yugi had nothing, but since the smell didn't register to him it didn't really matter.
There were no other people around. Everyone who hadn't died yet lived as far from the commercial district as possible--they had no need to go there, and most were afraid that touching the corpses would cause them to catch the disease faster, anyway. So Malik, Ryou, and Yugi were the ones who brought and burned the bodies. They were the sixteen-year-old deathwatches; the ones who had begun this destruction and who would be the last to be consumed by it.
They were the Millennium Item users.
The people hated them, but they came for the dead, so they were suffered to live.
Few people cared to come close enough to any of them to attempt a murder, anyway. Yugi, mute and blank-eyed, seemed too close to death already to be worth the effort--he did nothing unless Ryou or Malik told him to or pushed him to it. And only Ryou would look him in the eyes.
Malik was the same as he had ever been, with angry eyes and a bitter scowl, one who was orphaned even though by all rights he should not have been--Isis was also an Item holder, which would have spared her life until the darkness had consumed all the average mortals. She should have lived. She would have lived, if she hadn't stepped in front of Malik when a father had attempted to stab him in the heart as he took away the man's dead little girl.
Malik had simply sat there, holding Isis in his arms, as the man hesitated and then prepared to end the ancient Ishtar line in the space of two minutes. He had paused only when, in the brief silence as he lifted the knife, the soft jingle of gold sounded. The man had stopped and turned around to find Ryou watching him. The early morning sun glinted off the Ring he still wore in front of his shirt. The man had stared, but after a few long moments he dropped his gaze and his blade and wandered off, with no purpose left in him.
Ryou took his role as the harbinger of death seriously.
Malik had refused to burn Isis's body, even though the graveyards were full and the people would not allow corpses be buried anywhere near the areas in which they lived. Ryou tried to reason with him, but was ignored, and Malik buried his sister in a small, relatively unpopulated area by the beach.
Ryou--taking Yugi with him--had gone back there later and dug her up before bringing the body down to the construction area and burning it. The bruises on his jaw and chest from when Malik had found out were still fading.
Ryou was the one that frightened people the most--Yugi, with his grief and his self-induced trance and Malik, with his bitterness and his blind but driving anger, were at least still human. Ryou simply watched as everything fell apart around him with a calmness that was unnatural. The people sensed this, and let him be.
No one touched Ryou, even though it was all his fault. They recognized that it was impossible to punish someone who would not feel remorse with any other way but death, and the people needed someone to bury them. And Malik, Ryou, and Yugi had already taken on the job. There was no reason to kill a gravedigger when there was no person to take his place.
This was the logic that people used to justify their avoidance of them, and it wasn't entirely untrue. But in the very end, in the reptilian, instinctual part of the brain, the truth was that they were afraid. It was not that the three were so threatening: they were only teenagers. But they were still hard to look at.
Malik was the stubbornest, and as such the healthiest-looking. But his life had been so inundated with death lately that his facial expressions and body language had taken on that of a murderer's; and even the man who had followed him with no second thoughts before would have been afraid of him now. Ryou, thin beyond belief from a tendency of forgetting to eat, with his limp pale hair and calm eyes and the smell of gasoline that had seemed to have seeped into his skin from endless days of cremating the dead, caused people to look away before they really even looked at him. And Yugi was already dead. It just happened that he was still walking.
The men who were old enough to remember the second world war were reminded uncomfortably of prisoners in concentration camps; and children who were young enough to believe in nightmares thought they were the bogey-men come to life; and others simply tried to keep from thinking about them. But at the end of the world, it was hard to ignore the angels of destruction who continually walked the streets and removed the corpses of strangers, friends, and loved ones from their sight.
So when they had to see them, the people chose to hate them.
Ryou accepted it, Malik hated them back, and the outside world slid off of Yugi's mind like air.
As arraignments went, it worked.
When Yugi began coughing, his body mechanically trying to expel the acrid embers from his lungs, Malik finally turned around and, wiping the smoke-tears from his eyes, began to walk away.
Ryou pulled off the mask, then reached out and tugged Yugi's arm. "Come on, Yugi. It's time to go."
The smaller teen didn't nod in acknowledgement, but he did turn around and follow Ryou.
When they were outside the construction area, Ryou and Malik muscled the gate closed, Ryou wincing as he pressed one of the bruises on his shoulder. Once it had shut with a metallic clang, Malik continued to lean against it for a moment before looking over at Ryou.
"Was it worth it?" he asked finally.
"Yes," Ryou answered.
Malik's lips twisted up in a sneer. "Why!?"
"Because it has to be," Ryou said calmly. "If I don't believe that, I have to hand myself over to the lynch mob."
Malik snorted. "They wouldn't kill you. They wouldn't even hurt you much. Someone has to do this job."
"You're the strongest," Ryou pointed out. "And Yugi carries them and never complains, until he collapses under the weight. The two of you could manage alone." He rubbed his sore shoulder. "There's starting to be less, anyway."
Malik gave the gate a final kick and began walking over to the cart they used to carry the bulk of the corpses. "Not really. I think as many people show up per day as burn. Idiots."
"I wonder if they even know they're coming to die..." Ryou murmured, pulling Yugi again.
"I wonder where the hell Shadi is," Malik hissed. "He should still be alive--he's one of us."
Ryou shrugged. "Leave him the rest of the world. We're busy enough here."
Malik didn't reply, and didn't say anything else until they were several blocks from the burning grounds.
"You should have killed yourself before this happened," he said.
"I know," Ryou replied.
Malik, apparently sick of conversation for the day, said nothing else. He didn't speak again until breakfast the next morning, before they started their first route through Domino to clear up the bodies of people infected by the darkness.
After a few more weeks passed, Malik finally slit Yugi's throat out of mercy. As Ryou watched the body burn among the day's others, turpentine can swinging idly in his hand, he wondered if Yugi's ashes would find those of his friends' and mingle with them in the sooty air above Domino City.
Then he put his thoughts aside and continued with his work.
Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Shovel them under and let me work--
I am the grass; I cover all.
And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
"What place is this?"
"Where are we?"
I am the
Let me work.