AUTHOR'S NOTE: My apologies for not posting any new chapters for so long. I had an issue with my two on-going fanfics which I managed to sort out, so you have 4 new chapters of this one today! The first of them is Chapter 16, so that's where you need to start reading. I hope you enjoy the chapters!
Tournament of Shadows
Chapter 19: The Shadow Game
By Shadow's Mirror
In hindsight, it was all rather obvious.
Bakura knew that he likely should have realised something was up when Evien Sanders had smirked that irritatingly smug smirk across the arena at him before calling out, "How about we make this duel a bit more interesting?"
Bakura also knew that he probably should not have been as surprised as he was when Sanders followed that with, "Let's make a game of it."
However, Bakura was certain that he should have not only anticipated, but actually planned for, Sanders turning their duel into a Shadow Game.
It wasn't as if there had been no clues to forewarn him, after all.
The children who had collapsed throughout the city had their soulrooms taken from them, not just their souls. It was something that not even he had the power to do, although he could trap souls as easily as blinking.
When he'd checked on those children, he had felt a trace of Shadow Magic, so it was definitely involved.
The problem was, Bakura had thought that it must have been a rogue Shadow Monster. Likely working with a duelist, yes, but with the Shadow Monster as the one with all the power of the Shadow Magic.
Because humans could not wield that much power on their own.
Not any more.
Not since the Shadow Realm had been sealed during his and Pharaoh Atem's interrupted duel, several millennia earlier.
These days, the only ones able to summon the Shadow Magic to do anything more than ask their duel deck cards for help in a duel were those with ancient and powerful magical items.
As far as any of them knew, that was only the Millennium Items. There were seven of them, no more, no less, and Bakura knew where they all were and who wielded them. They were all secure and none even had the power to do what had been done to the children.
So while Evien Sanders was, by virtue of his horrible personality, the top suspect for working with a rogue Shadow Monster, there was no way that he wielded the power of the Shadow Magic himself. The idea alone was ridiculous!
It gave Bakura a small measure of satisfaction that he knew he hadn't been the only one who had believed all of that, at least. He would be even more satisfied if he could see the look on Yami's face right now.
The view would be better, too.
He scowled across the narrow chasm that separated him from Evien Sanders and crossed his arms. As much as he wanted to ask about the rules for this Shadow Game he had been drawn into, they were too far apart to hear each other easily and he refused to let Sanders goad him into shouting. If Sanders wanted to do this so badly, then he'd have to be the one to tell Bakura the rules of this Game.
So far, Bakura wasn't impressed.
They were on a barren, rocky plane with nothing in sight except some mountains in the distance and a gorge that split the ground between them. It looked vaguely similar to the Dark Abyss, only smaller and not obviously seething with dark energy or shadows. Bakura suspected it might actually be a regular pit, rather than the eternally dooming kind.
Either way, there was simply nothing to see here. No rich background to provide a truly immersive experience. Not even a hint of swirling mists or shadows, to make things seem truly ominous. No hint of creativity at all.
Kaiba had done better that time he'd created his virtual world.
It was all quite disappointing, really.
Sanders seemed to consider the situation to be worthy of the most nightmare-inducing horror story, though, judging by the level of smugness in his expression.
"Surprised? I'm sure you are. You did a good job of hiding from me for all these years, but I never doubted I'd find you in the end and here we are." He spread his arms wide as if he was actually proud of the barren landscape around them.
Bakura was only momentarily distracted by the dramatic move, though. His mind was already racing. Sanders seemed to think that he knew what this was about and also… Hiding? For years? Was he missing something here? Whatever it was, maybe he could find out. With luck, he wouldn't even have to say a word.
When it came to silently goading an opponent, Bakura was a master and besides…
Sanders seemed the sort of Evil Doer to have an entire monologue planned out for such a moment as this.
So Bakura stayed silent, crossed his arms, arched an eyebrow and set in to wait.
Sanders' left eye twitched within five seconds.
Within twenty seconds he was sneering at Bakura. "No doubt, after all the battles over the past couple of days, you're thinking that I'm weak. That you're stronger than I am. Well… let's just see if that's true or not."
He waved a hand and a narrow stone walkway appeared, spanning the chasm in front of them.
"Here is the challenge. Each of us will summon one monster onto the bridge. The monsters will meet in the middle and battle. The strongest will be able to cross the bridge. When a monster reaches the other side of the bridge and touches one of us, the Game is over and that monster's master is the winner."
Bakura somehow managed not to react to the word 'master', but it was a close call. No true duelist would ever consider himself to be the 'master' of the monsters in his deck.
Shadow Monsters and their duelists were always partners.
That was not the part of the challenge he should be focusing on, however. Recognising the intentional distraction for what it was, Bakura forced himself to ignore the baiting and consider the rest of what had been said. He immediately realised two things: Sanders had given his entire plan away and, unfortunately, Bakura had underestimated him.
Sanders didn't need to know exactly what cards Bakura had access to. He knew how Bakura dueled. The style of play Bakura favoured. That had been enough for him to lay down quite a trap.
This challenge put Bakura at a severe disadvantage and both of them knew it.
Bakura's deck included monsters chosen for their special abilities, then used in combination with his trap and spell cards to gain victory in his duels. In their own way, each of his monsters was powerful and effective; however none of them were especially strong in terms of physical strength.
From the little he had seen of Sanders' deck, Bakura knew the guy valued powerful monsters over anything else. He had no use for his weaker monsters except as tributes to get his strongest on the field.
Of course, in Duel Monsters, strength wasn't everything.
Bakura was certain that was a lesson Sanders had never learned.
For this challenge, though… It might not matter.
This Game was going to be a bit troublesome for Bakura.
He needed time to think and he could see only one way of getting it. As much as he didn't want to give in and yell, sometimes a yami had to do what a yami had to do!
"So what does the winner get out of this?"
The question was a bluff, of sorts. While the Shadow Game could be used to decide any sort of dispute, these days it was only really used for two things. To punish someone and to challenge another user of a Shadow Magic controlling item for ownership of that item. Bakura was almost certain that this Game fell into the latter category, but it was always better when a delay was due to something that actually needed to be clarified and not just an obvious delaying tactic.
Sanders sneered at him. "As if you don't know. When I win, the charm will be mine!"
He looked so pleased with himself, so arrogant, so utterly confident that he would win and the prize would be his.
Bakura really wanted to burst his smug bubble and tell Sanders that he had no idea what 'charm' he was talking about.
The thing was… There were certain rules that bound every Shadow Game. Among them was one stating that prizes and outcomes of each Game had to be declared before the Game began or else it wouldn't count. While there was no rule on both duelists understanding what was on the line, the Game itself formed a binding magical contract. So if the terms or outcome were impossible, the Game would usually just declare itself void as soon as it began.
Of course, there was a chance that 'the charm' was Sanders' idea of a euphemism for the Ring, but Bakura didn't think so. Sanders wasn't very subtle and the yami was sure he'd have noticed if the other guy had shown even the slightest interest in the large item of jewellery currently dangling in front of his chest. Sanders hadn't even looked at it while speaking about the 'charm'.
If Sanders was talking about the Ring, the Game would go ahead. But the odds were more in favour that he wasn't, which meant playing along could be Bakura's best chance to get out of this Shadow Game quickly and safely.
Bakura forced himself to look thoughtful and not smirk. Just in case the Game didn't stop, he had to be careful here. His wording needed to be just right. "So, if you don't win, I get whatever you've used to create this Game. I'll agree to that."
Sanders laughed. "Sure. Why not? It's not like you're going to beat me. Game start!" He raised one hand.
Not only did the game not stop, but Bakura was caught by surprise at his opponent's sudden move. He could feel the Shadow Magic being drawn in by Sanders, so he quickly did the same.
At least, he tried.
One moment, Bakura was summoning the strongest monster in his deck, Dark Necrofear. The next thing he knew, the Shadow Magic swirling around Sanders and himself seemed to writhe, breaking the link to his monster in the process.
No. Not around both of them. Just around him.
Bakura mentally cursed Sanders as he realised that the wildness of the Shadow Magic wasn't affecting the blonde at all. In fact, Sanders was apparently still in perfect control, judging by the monster that appeared on his end of the bridge.
The Wicked Dreadroot; a monster with 4000 attack strength but the card's true power lay in its effect. When it was in play, the attack and defence strengths of all the other cards on the field were halved.
The Wicked Dreadroot's attack strength was bad enough, but if its effect still worked in this challenge…
Bakura forced that concern to the back of his mind. He was about to try to summon Dark Necrofear again when a large patch of shadows began to swirl in front of him. To his shock, they faded to reveal the back of a very familiar monster.
Dark Witch had summoned herself into the Game!
"I guess that's the best you can do huh? Oh this is going to be good." Sanders laughed again.
Bakura was about to give one of his classic scathing and sassy retorts when he realised he was better off keeping silent for a bit. Sanders was so busy laughing, he hadn't noticed what was going on right in front of him.
A wall of shadow had swiftly and silently rose up from the ground, encircling the area within moments. It was only a few steps behind Bakura but much farther back from Sanders, perhaps so he would not notice before it was completely in place. Bakura might not have noticed it himself as he was distracted by something else going on at the same time.
Other stone bridges were quickly forming over the chasm, each one leading from a spot on Bakura's side of the crevasse to the centre-point of the original bridge. As each span connected, a figure stepped forward from within the wall of shadows to claim it, with a swirl of shadows appearing in front of them, moments later.
By the time The Wicked Dreadroot caught Sanders' attention with a startled sound, it was too late.
Six stone spans had formed, three to either side of Bakura's own.
Behind each stood a summoned monster and their duelist partner, ready to battle.
Sanders' laughter caught in his throat and proceeded to choke him.
While his opponent struggled to recover, Bakura took advantage of the momentary reprieve to glance over those who had come to his aid. He had to admit, Sanders' response was well deserved.
To Bakura's right stood the three female duelists who had been injured during the tournament. Avril with the Spirit of the Books, Rina with the Celtic Guardian and Callie with a winged female monster that Bakura didn't recognise.
To his left; Yugi stood with the Dark Magician, Nyc had teamed up with another unfamiliar female monster and on Nyc's other side was a younger girl and monster team that Bakura, much to his shock, immediately recognised.
A few months earlier, as a return favour for the Ancient Tree of Enlightenment, Bakura had helped one of Mokuba's classmates, a girl named Morgan Akido, get her Fire Sorcerer card back from her bullying thief of a brother. However, the boy had torn the card so badly, Morgan wouldn't have been able to duel with it again. Afterwards, Fire Sorcerer had startled Bakura by summoning himself into the mortal realm to say a final, and very emotional, goodbye to his friend.
Bakura had witnessed the meeting with his own eyes and had sought the tree's wisdom afterwards to understand it all.
Later that night, in a rare moment of sympathy for the girl and Shadow Monster, Bakura had cast a spell from the Book of Secret Arts. For the first time since he had summoned the book into physical being, the spell had not spectacularly backfired on him. Instead, it had done exactly as the description had claimed it would.
Morgan's Fire Sorcerer card had been completely repaired.
Seeing her now, standing quietly but confidently with her Sorcerer partner in a Shadow Game that she shouldn't have been able to enter at all, Bakura had a sudden feeling that past situation might not have been the random occurrence that he had taken it for. Before he could analyse that feeling at all, though, Sanders finally found his voice.
It was a horrible piercing sort of squawk, but it was still a voice.
"What's going on here? No cheating will be tolerated!" He glared across the chasm at Bakura who glared back.
"Cheating? Not me!"
"How is it cheating when you invited us into the battle yourself?" Nyc's voice, calm but with a heat of anger behind it, caused both Bakura and Sanders' attention to swing to her.
"I did no such thing! This is a private duel. You are not welcome." Sanders' voice was a low growl.
Bakura suddenly found himself rather enjoying the situation, if only for how greatly it was annoying his opponent.
"Then you should have been more careful with your words." Nyc shrugged as if physically throwing off Sanders' glare. "You said it, when you outlined the rules. 'Each of us'. 'Each', not 'Both'. Meaning that this Game of yours could have more than two players."
As Sanders snarled at her, she smiled a little too serenely at him.
Bakura had to force himself not to back up a couple of steps at the sight of that smile. It felt dangerous to him.
Unfortunately, Sanders didn't seem to have the same level of self-preservation instinct.
"Well, if you really want to be a part of this, sure, why not? It's not like it will change anything. I'm still going to win. None of you have anywhere near my monster's strength! Attack!" He sneered at them as his monster started across the bridge.
Bakura was surprised when Dark Witch immediately headed off without waiting for him to tell her to. He noticed the other six monsters beside her didn't need any instructions, either. A suspicion began to swirl into being inside his mind and in the time it took for all the monsters to reach the middle of the bridge, he'd gone over the wording of Sanders' challenge three times and was sure he was right about what was going on.
As Nyc had said, Sanders hadn't been nearly as careful as he should have been when wording his challenge.
Not only had he left the Game open to others, but he had also said 'monsters' and not 'cards'. Even better, he had not specified that the battle would be one on one.
Bakura wasn't at all surprised when all of the monsters from his side of the chasm dealt Sanders' monster a single combined attack that caused The Wicked Dreadroot to release a shrill scream before vanishing in a swirl of shadows. He smirked as the seven victors started across the bridge.
His smirk faded as soon as Sanders sneered. "Did you all forget about those poor sleeping children? If I'm defeated here, you'll never find their souls."
Bakura barely kept himself from growling.
All of the Shadow Monsters on the bridge immediately froze.
Dark Witch stepped forward. Step by step, she marched across the bridge, her eyes locked with Sanders' widening ones.
"The souls are safe. He doesn't have them." Nyc's voice flew across the chasm as if on wings.
Sanders had just enough time to frown at Nyc in confusion before Dark Witch stepped off the bridge on his side, her spear raised to strike him.
Suddenly, there was a flash of light so bright the duelists had to look away! When they could look again, they frowned at what they saw, trying to make sense of it.
Their monsters were gone and Sanders stood alone on the other side of the chasm. He was paler than normal and the smirk he sent their way was a little shaky, but he was quickly recovering his arrogance. "Oh what a shame. Your monster broke the rules. Only the strongest are allowed to cross the bridge and everyone knows how weak Dark Witch is. She had to be punished and the rest of your monsters were punished along with her!" He started to laugh.
Avril frowned. "He is lying." She spoke so quietly her voice didn't reach the blonde pest on the other side of the chasm. This was just for Bakura's ears, and those who stood with him. "That was a trap card. I felt it activate."
On his other side, Yugi spoke up as well. "I think it was Mirror Force. It definitely wasn't a punishment. Dark Witch didn't break any rules. The others had stepped back. She was the only Monster still in play, so she was the strongest."
Bakura spoke up even more quietly. "Yes. He's made a mistake, though. He never said spell or trap cards were allowed."
Nyc was careful not to take her eyes off Sanders, who was still too busy laughing to realise he was giving them time they could put to good use. "Yes, and Ryou has a spell card that could win this Game."
Bakura knew immediately the card Nyc meant, but something about what she said struck him as off. Perhaps because she had said it was Ryou's card? But then again, she didn't know that he wasn't Ryou. No, it had to be something else.
"Master." Yugi's voice was unusually tense. "Wouldn't that mean he'd win if Bakura uses that?"
It took Bakura a moment to work out what he meant and when he did, he nearly winced in frustration. Of course. The terms of the Game had been that the master of the monster who touched either himself or Sanders would be the winner. If he did what he'd been thinking, then that would give the win to Sanders!
Bakura blinked and glanced in shock over Yugi's head to the speaker, who looked steadily back at him. "Trust me. If he sends out another monster and Ryou uses his card on it, Sanders will not win."
The white-haired yami sighed. "Not you too. Don't we already get enough cryptic comments from Isis?"
Sanders' laughter was tapering off. They were out of time.
Nyc glanced over at Sanders before meeting Bakura's eyes again. "Please. Trust me on this." Her eyes held his.
It went against everything he had ever learned or believed in. However, deep inside himself, Bakura could feel the tiniest spark of instinct responding to this girl's request. Whatever she was planning, she believed it would work.
Sanders smirked at them. "Round two." He threw one hand out dramatically towards his end of the bridge. "Go forth, my monster!" A swirl of shadows appeared.
Bakura quickly tried to summon a monster also, frowning when the Shadow Magic refused to obey him. Beside him, the others were apparently in the same situation, as there were no shadows swirling anywhere on that side of the chasm.
He glanced over at Sanders and then paused as he took in the other duelist's strange expression. What was he looking at with such confusion? Bakura followed the line of sight to… He blinked.
Seeing the Dark Magician under the control of someone other than Yugi or Yami just seemed wrong, somehow.
Yet, there he was. Slowly crossing towards the middle of the bridge with no one to oppose him. His dark eyes filled with pain and a sort of pleading, as if he was being forced to do this against his will.
Oddly, those eyes weren't fixed on Bakura, but rather on the duelist standing beside him.
Nyc spoke quietly. "One monster… each." Bakura started to glance at her, but stopped as two gasps distracted him.
One came from Yugi, but the other came from inside his own soul room.
*Bakura! I know what she means! Switch with me!* His light had never been so intense or commanding before.
A swirl of shadows appeared at Bakura's side and immediately rushed across the bridge in front of him. It reached the middle moments before the Dark Magician and took its form just as Sanders called out again for his monster to attack.
It hadn't even formed enough for anyone to see more than a vaguely female form before the Dark Magician struck it with a blast from his staff and it vanished with a soft cry, leaving the path to Bakura wide open.
The Dark Magician took a step towards Bakura.
Bakura's head lowered, hiding his eyes in shadows.
Sanders' laughter again rang across the chasm. "I expected as much from the holder of the charm. Such a shame that you're all now out of monsters. Go on my monster. Get him. I want to claim my winnings."
The Dark Magician took two more steps forward, then paused. The slightest hint of a smile crossed his face before he suddenly whirled and began to step, slowly and deliberately, back the way he'd came.
"What?! What are you doing! You're going the wrong way, you stupid thing! Obey me, now!" Sanders seemed to think that shouting was the most effective thing to do in the situation, but fear was underlying his anger and he took several steps back before suddenly stopping. "No! Stay back! No, I won't lose! I can't lose!" He eyed each of them before finally settling his gaze on Bakura. An eerie calm settled over him.
"Oh. I see what's happening. It was some sort of spell. You've managed to turn my monster against me. Well I won't allow it! You hear me!" He glared at Bakura, his eyes flickering with something that didn't look quite right as he sneered. "You will never have my power! I'll end this Game instead and you will lose and so will he. The circlet is mine! I will never let it go! You will never get him! Never!" On that cry, Sanders threw himself forward, towards the edge of the chasm! The Dark Magician leapt forward as well, but he wasn't close enough. Unless…
Sanders went over the edge just as the Dark Magician twisted in mid-leap, his momentum carrying him over the side of the bridge as well! He caught hold of the back of Sanders' sweater with a grunt of pain, their fall stopped instantly as the magician's staff glowed and began hovering in place, with the two dangling under it.
Bakura barely had time to blink at them before a surge of Shadow Magic somewhere on the other side of Yugi heralded a sudden blaze of sparkling light that filled the air, accompanied by a high-pitched whistling sort of whooshing sound. The swirling shadows didn't form as much as exploded as the Dark Magician Girl appeared in full flight mode, riding her staff on a headlong course for rescue! More or less. She crashed straight into the Dark Magician and kept going, carrying both him and Sanders up and then back down to the solid ground on the other side of the chasm, where they all landed in a tangle of limbs and magical staffs that looked rather painful and far from elegant.
Yugi let out the breath he'd apparently been holding. "Oh. It's finally over." He started to move towards the bridge, but Bakura reached out and caught his arm without even thinking about it.
"Wait. Something's not right." He frowned as he glanced around, his mind racing as he tried to work out what was prickling at the back of his mind.
"The bridges are still there." It was the first time Rina had spoken throughout the whole Game and she sounded tense. "Shouldn't they have vanished if the Game was over?"
Bakura studied the bridges and frowned. "Probably. It should be over though. He said a monster just had to touch one of us."
Wait. Something about that wasn't quite right. Bakura mentally ran over the exact wording again.
"No, change that. He said a monster had to reach the other side of the bridge and touch me or him." Bakura winced. "The Dark Magician jumped off the side and the Dark Magician Girl skipped the bridge entirely. Oh Ra."
This was not good. They could only summon one monster each and they were already one over, by Bakura's count. He frowned over at the Dark Magician Girl who was still trying to untangle herself from the Dark Magician. By his tally, she should not be there. He was sure Yugi had summoned her earlier, so how had he managed to call her twice?
As he tried to work out what to do next, a patch of very gently swirling shadow caught his eye. He watched it move into position in front of the end-most bridge on his right. The one in front of Callie. It swirled a little more and then shifted, fading slightly as it took the form of a transparent, yet lovely, female monster with large feathered wings.
Bakura knew her. While the Soul of Purity and Light wasn't one of his cards, Ryou was very fond of her. She was one of the monsters in his second deck, which he used whenever he and Bakura dueled each other.
The white-haired yami and the other six duelists on his side of the chasm watched silently as the monster crossed the bridge, as demure and graceful as suggested by her angelic appearance.
By the time she reached the other side, the Dark Magician and the Dark Magician Girl were both on their feet again. They both bowed their heads to her in a show of respect, before stepping back to give her room.
Oddly, Sanders was still lying on the ground. He seemed to be unconscious.
The Soul of Purity and Light knelt down beside him with so much grace Bakura memorised it so Ryou could coo over it at a later time.
She raised her hand and reached for his face, her expression as serenely gentle as a mother intending to caress her sleeping child's hair.
The slap she gave Sanders across his face was as surprising to witness as it was satisfying.
All of the bridges faded away and the chasm closed into solid ground before the sound stopped echoing in the air.
Bakura breathed a sigh of relief and looked at Yugi. "Now it's over. Although, I'm not sure who won." He looked around and frowned slightly. "It looks like someone has to claim the win before we can go back to the auditorium."
"Perhaps not." Avril was smiling gently at him. "Do you not recall how you worded your acceptance of his terms?"
Oh. Right. That.
The Soul of Purity and Light smiled at them all as they approached, nodding to Bakura and then Callie before she vanished, leaving only the Dark Magician, the Dark Magician Girl and Sanders, still unconscious.
A slight hint of Shadow Magic was Bakura's only warning before a pair of arms wrapped around his waist and hugged him tightly. "Well done, Bakura. So very well done."
He knew the voice immediately, despite how unusually shaky it was. "Dark Witch. Thank you for your help."
"How could I not?" She still sounded far more emotional than usual. It was odd.
Bakura was about to ask if she was okay when he realised everyone was looking at him as if they were waiting for him to do or say something. Which, of course, they were.
It was in the terms that Sanders had so very carelessly agreed to, after Bakura had been so sneaky in suggesting them so Sanders would think he was agreeing to what he wanted, rather than the very specific wording Bakura was counting on.
"If he didn't win, I could claim whatever he was using to create this Game." Bakura sighed softly. "I never said I had to win. Just that he had to not win. A draw or a voided match would have counted as a loss for him. Just as someone else winning did. He was really bad with the game's terms, huh? What, was this his first Shadow Game or something?" He gave the guy an irritated glare.
"Yes." Nyc responded to his startled look with a shrug. "There has only ever been one person he wanted to challenge, but he couldn't find them to do so. Until this tournament, when he thought he had found them."
Bakura nodded. "I was bait." He looked at Nyc, one eyebrow arching in silent challenge for her to try denying it.
Nyc smirked back. "Something like that. Claim your prize, Bakura. Then I'll explain everything."
To be Continued…