ryuujitsu & co.
[ chapter one: deal with the devil ]
Disclaimer: Saying we own Yuugiou is like saying Robert Smith is related to our former history teacher. (For all we know, he may be, but for the sake of this disclaimer and our teetering sanity, let's pretend he's not.)
A/N: Dedicated to Itooshi. Happy (belated) Birthday, darling! Thy Futomi loves you.
"buy me some fushigi Yuugi yao!"
- Yukari-chan (yaoi, Yuka-chan. . .not yao. [[sweatdrop]])
Ryou barely had time to register the shout before a purple-haired girl—eleven or twelve and a temple attendant, by the looks of it—brandishing a black-lacquered calligraphy paintbrush, dashed by in a flurry of white robes, nearly bowling him over in her hurry. He stooped to retrieve the heavy silver cross that the girl had knocked out of his hand, frowning at her retreating back and then gasping as the cold metal of the cross flared against his sloppily placed shields, blistering his fingertips. He bit off a curse, draped the cross carefully around his neck, and tucked it under his shirt where it would be out of harm's way. All about him, the air was thick with magic and chatter, as various people marketed their wares and wove their spells. The cross was uncomfortably warm against his skin, humming with the power that twined through the bazaar.
"Oi, Bakura," grated in his ear, and he winced as a finger dug painfully between two of his ribs. Ryou turned to see Jounouchi Katsuya—known-thug, blonde and lean, school jacket tossed disdainfully over his left shoulder. His usual henchman, Honda Hiroto, was blessedly absent.
"Jounouchi-kun," greeted Ryou.
His classmate frowned, eyebrows knitting together, and rubbed at the neon green Band-Aid decorating the bridge of his nose, shifting his feet uncomfortably. Finally, he said, quickly, "I need to talk to you."
"Yes?" said Ryou, curiously.
"You've got to promise, Bakura—shut up till I'm done. You've got to promise that you're not going to tell anyone." Jounouchi's eyebrows wrinkled together some more, and he looked quite fierce. He shoved his large hands into his pockets and glared down at Ryou with his russet-colored eyes. "You got that, Bakura? You understand what I'm saying?"
"I won't tell a soul," Ryou promised, crossing his second and third fingers together and leaning forward in a conspiratory fashion. He wondered, vaguely, why Jounouchi flinched at his words.
"Good." Jounouchi grabbed Ryou by the sleeve and began dragging him forward, cutting through the crowd, threatening all the way. "If you tell just one person about this, you white-haired little punk, just one person, I'm gonna have your head on a goddamn silver platter, and I don't give a fuck about hellfire and brimstone—"
Where is it? It's around here somewhere. I know it is!
He looked past two young women peddling strings of hovering glass beads and stopped by an elderly fisherman plying caged mermaids to scan the marketplace, searching for the obsidian-decorated stall of the demon auctioneer. The mermaids webbed fingers fluttered at him soundlessly as they blew kisses, and the old man guarding them leered crookedly—a toothless grimace—and jabbed at the imprisoned creatures.
"Ah—no thanks," said Ryou weakly, backing away.
The fisherman snorted. "Ye sure, boy? They're fine creatures, these beauties. Found 'em just off the mainland. Lovely talent. Born to please." The nearest mermaid, adorned with kelp and black pearls, toyed with her hair and watched them coyly through silvery lashes. "See? They don't know better than to please." The fisherman grabbed handful of the siren's red-gold hair, grinning as she giggled and swatted at him playfully. "Ye'd be a fool to walk away, boy."
Ryou swallowed, feeling the mermaid's blue gaze boring into him, and then squared his shoulders. "I'm looking for the demon auctioneer," he said pointedly, taking a determined step toward the old man and his mermaids. "Do you know where his stand is?"
The old man gaped openly.
And that,thought Ryou with grim satisfaction as he moved to another stall, ought to shut him up for a bit.
"You're looking for the demon auctioneer?" said a woman smoothly from behind him. "Whatever for, might I ask?" Ryou jumped, startled, whirling about in the milling crowd to find the source of the voice. The speaker looked to be in her early twenties, with wide, kohl-painted blue eyes not unlike that of the mermaids in the previous stall and a sheet of jet black hair that curved neatly over bare, bronzed shoulders. She wore gold, and a great deal of it, but not tastelessly—strange golden eyes graced her throat and brow while similar circlets of gold adorned her linen garb and bedecked her arms and ankles. "Isis Ishtal," she said, thin-lipped and unsmiling. "I am of the demonic caste."
"Bakura Ryou," said Ryou softly, bowing low. He recognized the energy that seemed to center around her necklace. The cross pulsed hotly. A Seer. Upper caste, no doubt, and far older than she looks. And, Kami-sama—she's powerful. She could crush this entire marketplace without a second thought. "And yes, I'm looking for the demon auctioneer. I have business with him."
"Oh?" Her eyes weren't as frosty for a moment. She seemed almost. . .amused? "I do believe she is on a lunch break at the moment. But I'll be glad to lead you to her stall, and we will let her deal with you."
Her? She? A female auctioneer? That's almost unheard of!
"Kami-sama," Ryou said, in dismayed surprise. His left hand strayed to the cross under his sweater. "I'm sorry. I didn't know the demonic caste had female auctioneers."
Isis frowned down at him. "We don't, normally," she said severely, pressing her lips together until they whitened. "But as you may have heard, the underworld is in utter turmoil. What little law we have left at the moment is pockmarked with loopholes. Our kind does what it can to survive. Female auctioneers will suffice until order is restored. Come along."
Isis Ishtal didn't walk, Ryou reflected as he trailed cautiously after her, she floated.
The demon auctioneer's stall was a glittering mass of black. Black velvet swathed the ground and onyx spires hung in ropes from the canopy; a crow's quill and an obsidian inkwell rested on a black-painted desk. In sharp contrast to the darkness, messily-stacked parchment was scattered about the stall, piled up in corners and lining the walls. Ryou shivered as he saw the signatures—written in blood.
"Before I leave you," said Isis, pulling him aside. "Have you seen a human boy your age, tanned, with light blonde hair and lavender blue eyes? He calls himself Malik el-Sakr."
Ryou blinked and shook his head wordlessly.
"Shaitan below! My brother is going to have a fit." Isis sighed in annoyance, her nostrils flaring. "I'll be seeing you soon, then. Hellfire guide you." Her form began to flicker.
"Wait—" Ryou called, but she was gone.
The cross beat frantically against his chest. "H-hello?" he said, scanning the gloomy expanse of the stall for any sign of movement. Without warning, the auctioneer appeared before him, glimmering into view with a complicated curtsy.
"Kujaku Mai, demonic auctioneer at your service!" She smiled whitely, before exclaiming, "Oooh, green eyes!" Ryou could see how Isis would disapprove—the auctioneer was very well-proportioned and evidently not afraid to flaunt it; she was decked from head to toe in slick, wine-colored leather, from her vest to her knee-high heeled boots. Sun-yellow hair tumbled about her shoulders and back in waves as she moved.
The auctioneer put a daintily manicured hand under Ryou's chin and peered at him through a gold-chained monocle, sharpened fingernails digging into his neck. "I haven't had a soul with green eyes since I don't know when." Her voice was low and throaty.
"A-anou. . ." stammered Ryou, blushing to the tips of his ears. He'd never had anyone study him so closely.
"Hey, kiddo," she said, plum-hued eyes narrowing as she paced around him, looking him over appraisingly. "I don't remember seeing you, and as far as I know, you're not in Keith's records. Exactly what are you doing down at this end of the bazaar?"
"I'm here," said Ryou in a voice that, miraculously, didn't waver, "to exchange my soul for Jounouchi Katsuya's."
Mai lowered her monocle. "Are you absolutely sure 'bout this, kiddo?" she said quietly. "Once it's done, it's done, and there's no way to reverse it unless some other idiot soul decides to trade itself in for yours. I know you've got a better understanding of the workings of things around here than most souls, but you're still relatively naïve compared to the rest of us. I can't guarantee what kind of demon will buy you or how they'll treat you later. And since you're only exchanging, you won't be getting the worldly benefits that other souls receive. Classic disclaimer," she added, pursing her lips thoughtfully. "Just want you to know what you're getting your soul into."
Ryou fingered the cross tentatively. "I know," he said softly. "But I have to do this. Jounouchi has a sister to look after, and I don't. So free his soul from its contract and take mine instead. You're allowed to do that, and I'm completely willing to trade mine in."
Mai ruffled his hair. "You're a sweet kid, you know that? Hold on a sec while I get a form." She bent over at the hip and shuffled through the nearest heap of scrolls, the curves of her backside quite obvious through her miniskirt. "Now. . .where. . .did I put that blessed list. . .oh, that's right. I stuck it here—" she appeared to be sifting through thin air before pulling out a thick roll of parchment "—for safekeeping." She grabbed a crumpled form from another bundle and tossed the crow's feather at him. "Read it through carefully, kiddo, and then sign at the dotted line if you still want to go through with this. Don't bother with ink."
"Make it look as though it was my fault," said Ryou suddenly. "Like I got hit by a car on the way back from school because I was trying to impress a girl, or something like that. Something that won't drag anyone else into this."
"Suicide work for you?" said Mai, her brow furrowing. She conjured up another quill to write with.
Ryou nodded gratefully. "That's fine. Thanks."
She nodded absently and thrust a contract paper at him. The crinkled parchment was thick, like vellum, and the bluish sheen of the intricate script showed that the document had been recently printed. In bold, Gothic lettering across the top of the sheet were the words 'SOUL EXCHANGE CONTRACT.'
The following is an agreement between Bakura Ryou, human, and Kujaku Mai, demonic auctioneer.
In exchange for the release of Jounouchi Katsuya's soul from its contract, Bakura Ryou agrees to:
1. Allow his soul to be separated from his body and auctioned to the highest bidder.
2. Allow his physical death in the human world to be recorded as suicide.
3. Obey his keeper fully.
4. No other demands.
In exchange for Bakura Ryou's soul, Kujaku Mai agrees to:
1. Release Jounouchi Katsuya's soul from its contract.
2. Record Bakura Ryou's physical death in the human world as suicide. [See details below.]
3. No other demands.
4. No other demands.
Bakura Ryou will be found by his father unconscious in his bedroom, six hours after taking fourteen sleeping pills. He will be pronounced dead at the hospital. There will be no note. No other persons will be associated with his death, and police will label his death as suicide, closing the investigation two days before his burial.
After the transaction has occurred, the following conditions apply:
1. The demonic soul-market will be inaccessible to Jounouchi Katsuya's soul once it is released from its contract.
2. Bakura Ryou's soul is to fully obey all commands of its keeper, without protest or insubordination.
3. Bakura Ryou's soul is indefinitely owned by its keeper; it cannot be borrowed or loaned without special permission from the High Courts.
4. Bakura Ryou's soul is not to make contact with the human world without the permission of its keeper.
5. Bakura Ryou's soul is not to make contact with the demonic underworld without the permission of its keeper.
6. Bakura Ryou's soul may be freed from bondage in two ways:
a) A third party, human, agrees to exchange its soul for Bakura Ryou's.
b) Bakura Ryou's keeper, demonic, agrees to free the soul in question.
If conditions 6a and/or 6b are accessed and Bakura Ryou's soul is to be freed by either method, no payment may be given to the soul to compensate for its servitude.
If the above conditions with the exception of 1 are violated in any way by the soul or its keeper, both soul and keeper will be held accountable. The contract will not be terminated; Bakura Ryou's soul will be removed from its current keeper and auctioned until a suitable keeper is found.
Disclaimer: The demonic soul-market is in no way responsible for treatment of a soul after its sale. Any grievances against a keeper must be mediated by a third party and reviewed by the High Courts. With no reason should a soul retaliate on its own. Consequences to such a retaliation will be dire and swift.
I, , the soul in question, have read the above terms and conditions as well as the disclaimer. I agree fully to all terms and conditions.
Demonic Auctioneer's signature:
Contract signed the twenty-second of June, in the human year nineteen-hundred and ninety-seven.
Without hesitation, Ryou slashed the quill across his palm and dipped the point in the resulting gash. He bit his lip, and, raising the bloodied quill, scratched out his name onto the parchment. When he finished, Mai's signature—a delicate, mauve-colored script with many flourishes—danced across the lower bar. The auctioneer hadn't lifted a finger.
Ryou, trembling, let quill and contract slip from his fingers and glanced nervously at Mai, who was scribbling something in her records.
"Just have a seat, kiddo," she said, without looking up. "Keith should have felt that; he'll be here soon. And if he's not, he's more of a drunken knucklehead than I took him for initially."
Feeling lightheaded, Ryou grasped a corner of the desk to steady himself before another wave of dizziness forced him to sink to the ground. The air seemed to be swimming before his eyes—Mai's shapely form dimmed and brightened and the silence of the bazaar was deafening. There was a dull explosion that he felt rather than heard—a sucker punch to his rib cage—before a hand tilted his chin up roughly, and he blinked hazily into ice blue eyes as alcohol-stained breath flooded his nostrils.
"Mmm, green eyes. Nice." The man's voice was hoarse and somewhat slurred. "This the one, baby?"
"Yeah, that's him. Keith, if you bang him up too much you're gonna be hearing from me. Kid, this is Keith, my lovely drunk of a partner," said Mai, seemingly from a long way off. "He'll be the one taking you down."
"Ouch, that's painful," said Keith with a harsh bark of laughter, twisting a strand of Ryou's silvery hair between his fingers. "I'm devastated, Mai. Shot through the heart." He snorted good-naturedly and added in a sing-song-y tone, "And you're too late. You give love a bad—"
Mai swatted at him impatiently. "I'm late? Get moving, before you miss the auction, ya big oaf."
"Love you too, baby," said Keith. He unceremoniously hauled the boy to his feet, his hand closing like an iron around Ryou's limp wrist. Ryou choked in agony; against his now translucent skin, the cross and Keith's fingers were like fiery coals. The male auctioneer laughed and tightened his grasp. "You'll get used to it. Soul-skin's a bit sensitive right after the separation; it'll go away. C'mon, green-eyed soul, you heard what the lady said."
It. . .it hurts. . .it isn't supposed to hurt. . .not like this. . .
Eyes swimming with tears, Ryou scrabbled desperately with his free hand at the source of pain—the cross. The silver had burned through his sweater and into his flesh, leaving a livid, crucifix-shaped mark. I'm dying. . .it hurts. . .it hurts With a strangled sob, he wrenched the cross from his neck and threw it to the ground, panting wretchedly as the pain diminished.
Keith chuckled at his leaking eyes. "Stupid soul. What'd you bring a cross for? God doesn't like what we do down there, don't you know?"
Ryou stared blearily into the man's grinning face. He could feel the heat from the crucifix-brand, the hot tears trickling down his cheeks, the warm blood oozing from his blistered skin, Keith's cold blue eyes boring into him. . .
"Of course I know," he whispered, and fainted dead away.
Ryou jerked upright, his left hand clawing blindly at the air in front of him, tinkling oddly. Wildly, he glanced about, eyes wide and panicked. It was dark, but with the light from the lamp dangling overhead, he could still see the outline of the cart he was riding in. Keith's back was to him; the male auctioneer appeared to be snoring drunkenly as the three-legged, mule-like creature that was pulling the cart trudged devoutly on. Closer to his face were roughly-hewn bamboo poles, which, arranged in a crisscrossing pattern, cast mocking, crucifix-shaped shadows all around him. The cage had been built intentionally small; Ryou could easily see, even in the dark, that he would have to crawl if he wanted to move.
Bloody hell. I fainted.
There were three other forms lying asleep and shackled around him—two were fairly human in size and appearance, the third was quite small and thin, with startlingly long, pointed ears. An elf? He leaned in for a better look and gagged as icy metal bit into his neck, forcing him to lie back. Slowly, disbelievingly, Ryou reached up and felt the loose fetter around his throat—the foreign, cold ache, the keyhole just below his Adam's apple, the circular-linked iron chains that led to a thick staple—the similar manacles that bound his wrists.
He inhaled sharply. The cross-shaped brand throbbed.
The human nearest him, a dark-skinned girl with shoulder-length, sun-spun hair that seemed to glow in the faint lamplight, opened a lavender eye. "Keep it down, gha'bi," she said, in an utterly unfeminine voice. Ryou jumped and then blushed with the realization—the blonde girl was in fact a blonde boy. He looked a bit like an Aussie surfer, Ryou thought, with his bleached, ice-yellow hair and bronzed complexion. It wasn't difficult to see him standing on a beach with a surfboard under his arm and the sea behind him. Stranger still, the boy seemed incredibly familiar.
And yet, Ryou could have sworn he'd never seen anyone of that particular coloring before.
'Have you seen a human boy your age, tanned, with light blonde hair and lavender blue eyes? He calls himself Malik.' It connected then. Isis Ishtal had been looking for this boy.
"Malik?" said Ryou in surprise, and it was the boy's turn to jump.
Malik frowned suspiciously, golden eyebrows knitting together. "How do you know my name? I don't know yours. I've never seen you before in my life." He strained against his restraints and moved forward with a clatter, squinting at Ryou.
"It is you!" said Ryou triumphantly. "There was a demon was looking for you in the marketplace earlier," he continued. "Sometime this morning. Or yesterday morning, depending on how long I've been unconscious."
"Really?" said Malik excitedly, his entire face lighting as he smiled widely. "Marikku was looking for me?"
"Marikku?" said Ryou, in confusion. He shook his snowy head, hair waving in white flurries. "No, it was Isis Ishtal, a Seer from the upper demonic caste. She asked me if I'd seen you or not. She seemed kind of worried, now that I think about it," he added hastily, as he saw Malik's face fall.
Malik muttered a curse, picking at the flimsy linen shift he was wearing. His accent was fairly thick and extremely foreign. "Forget Marikku, the stupid bastard. What's your name, pretty-boy?"
"Ryou," said Ryou obligingly, bowing his head as far as the fetters would allow. "Bakura Ryou."
Malik's left eye widened substantially (the right remained narrowed in suspicion), and his mouth dropped open. There was a slight fear in his voice as he hissed, "Bakura? Bakura? You're related to Bakura? The Bakura? What the hell are you doing down here selling your soul, then, by Allah?! You don't need anything!"
"Er?" said Ryou. He was still trying to be helpful, but was now mostly confused. "I traded my soul in for someone else's. . .and my father's name is Bakura Yaten, but. . ."
The blonde swore again in his strange language, right eye twitching relentlessly. "Don't play the innocent, pretty-boy. Bakura as in Ankh's Bakura, Bakura as in strawberry vodka Bakura, Bakura as in the guy who never pays his rent Bakura, Bakura as in—you really have no idea what I'm talking about, do you?"
Ryou shook his head, listening to the chains as they clanked. "Not a single bloody clue."
"Huh." He swore once more, an incredulous stream of Arabic—or that's what Ryou thought it was Malik was swearing in—curses; angry guttural sounds that seemed to melt endlessly into each other. "Small fucking world. Second highest caste, and he's got the same name as a bleeding-heart mortal. Go figure."
He sounds. . .upset. Just a teensy-weensy bit.
Ryou fiddled around with the chain links and watched as the lantern bobbed up and down. "Why are you here?" he said, at length, poking his finger at the keyhole of his wrist manacle. "You don't. . .seem the type. To sell your soul, I mean."
"None of your business." Malik was apparently fond of his swear words; he rattled off another few with increasing rapidity.
Ryou frowned. "Fine."
"But if you must know, my demon in flaming obsidian armor will ride up on his lovely, three-headed, fire-breathing Hydra and rescue me from this rent-a-dungeon-on-wheels," said Malik confidently, making less and less sense by the minute. He tacked on an unnecessary curse and grinned lopsidedly at Ryou. "Translation: I'll be out of here soon."
Translation, thought Ryou, you're a loony.
"So, pretty-boy," drawled Malik, leaning forward and dragging his left index finger down Ryou's arm, "why are you really here? You're not all human, I can tell. Undercover work, is it? Did the Holier-than-Thou angels send you?"
HTT was a not-so-secret angelic middle caste organization that regularly sent angels to cause mischief and general chaos amongst the demonic ranks. They weren't needed at the moment, of course, because the demonic underworld was generating enough mischief and general chaos on its own. Though several former HTT members were still renowned (or, rather, infamous) for their particularly daring stunts, HTT was, increasingly, frowned upon by both sides as a trouble-making, up-to-no-good establishment. It had been recruit-less for years, a dying movement in the angelic castes. The middle caste was a proud sect, and its refusal to hire any angels in castes upper or lower, despite HTT's dwindling numbers, had been considered an inevitable suicide.
Ryou frowned. "Angels would never willingly work with a witchling, much less hire one. I'm here because my friend couldn't afford to spend eternity serving someone, and I could. That's all."
"Oooh, a witchling!" said Malik excitedly, shuffling closer on his hands and knees. His eyes were round and bright in the flickering glow. "Can you do any basics?"
The silver-haired boy shook his head slowly. "No, I'm afraid not. The woman who was to guide me passed away while I was still very young. I have the blood and the potential, I suppose, but no proper training. It's possible that I'd have had the opportunity to find another Teacher before my eighteenth birthday, but, considering the current circumstances. . ." He trailed off, waving his hand awkwardly.
I'm going to be sold. I'm going to belong to someone. For eternity. And I really should have thought about this before I went and signed my soul away. Blargh.
"Oh. That sucks," said Malik eloquently. He grinned, showing oddly sharpened canines. "I was supposed to be a nice, normal kid. Then I ran in with a vampire a few years back—don't look at me like that, he didn't bite me—and I'm not so nice and normal anymore. My father threw a fit," he said, and shrugged. "But the old man croaked a year ago."
"A vampire?" said Ryou, with interest.
"Yeah," said Malik. "My sister's boyfriend turned out to be a bloodsucker. A real nice guy and everything, but his ultimate goal was to eat her—don't know why; I obviously am the tastier sibling—so he had to go. Wooden stakes are very handy against vamps, doncha know. It was kind of sad, since he was a looker, that one. Eshe-fatima and I fought over him for a long time before we found out." He laughed. "Eh, don't mind me. I'm not thinking straight. Well, as straight as I should be."
Ryou felt his lips curving despite himself. Malik was a foul-mouthed, back-talking smart-aleck, but his rough, cheerful sarcasm had helped greatly to ease the bleak mood.
"I hope your keeper is a good one," Ryou said quietly. "I really do."
Malik smiled softly, his blue eyes glowing. "Marikku?" he grumbled, in fond exasperation as he picked at his shift. "The fucking bastard is crazy as hell, but I know he'd never hurt me."
Ryou looked at Malik's dreaming, gloating face and his bright eyes, and knew he wasn't lying.
It was light when the rickety cart at last rolled to a halt, in front of a wooden platform where a tumultuous crowd had already gathered. Centered in a leafy glade still damp with morning dew, the area looked more like something out of a swashbuckling film than the actual horror it was.
Ryou woke with a start, as Keith, who had crawled into the cage, forced his head back to unlock the main fetter around his throat and the shackles on his feet. In front of him, Malik was rubbing circulation back into his neck and ankles, cursing violently as the manacles around his hands pounded into his shins. The elf, who was short enough to be able to stand and stretch within the confines of the cage, was pulling at its chains impatiently. To his left, the other human, a woman with graying hair, was looking at Keith expectantly as he edged toward them on his hands and knees, key-rings hanging from his pockets.
Ryou bit his lip as cold air struck his newly-exposed skin. The fetters had been burning uncomfortably all night, but he sorely missed their heat now.
"You're going in order of contract," Keith grunted, moving crab-like out of the cage and then standing. He smiled sardonically, gesturing at the woman. "Ladies first. Then you, elf. Blondie, you're next, followed by little green eyes over there. Get up on the platform, and do it quickly, or you're bound to get snatched. If you get snatched, tough. Suck it up. I have a freakin' jackhammer in my skull, so I'm not in the mood to argue. Got it? Good. Go."
He stepped back to allow the woman to climb out by herself, then grabbed her shoulder forcibly and steered her onto the platform. The throng churned and seethed forward, before falling ominously silent. Reddened eyes honed in with deadly accuracy on auctioneer and soul, and glared.
The woman stood with her shoulders hunched and her head bowed as Keith sprinted through a simple disclaimer. "After you go through the whole buying process, make sure you check through your new soul's contract and don't violate anything in it, or the High Courts are really gonna fuck you up, yadda, yadda, yadda, and so on. You've all heard this shit before, I'm sure, but here's a refresher for those with memory-loss and the newbies. Newbies, what the fuck are you doing here, anyway? Going on: You want something, just scream out whatever the hell you wanna bet. If it's high enough and no one else challenges, the soul's yours. You come over, pay me, take the soul and run off happily into the sunset.
"This lovely lady," he continued, dropping a casual arm around the woman's shoulders, "sold her soul for wealth and fame. That's nothing new and the motives are pretty damn stupid, if you ask me. She needs a bit of cleaning up, but she'll serve whatever purpose you put her to, so she's is going for a starter of a round six-six-six."
"Inflation," whispered Malik at Ryou. Ryou, watching the process with wide eyes, 'oh'-ed and nodded.
"Any takers?" prodded Keith, eyeing the muttering crowd nervously. "None at all? Alright, alright, you guys win. I'll drop the price. Let's put it at three-three-three. Half the price! C'mon, we have to have some takers! Three-three-three!"
"Two hundred and a mermaid's tail!" someone shouted. Keith smiled; the woman flinched and let out a quiet sob.
"Two hundred and a mermaid's tail," the auctioneer said loudly. "Any challengers to that bid? Can I make it two hundred fifty a mermaid's tail? Two hundred and twelve pixie wings? Or three-three-three? C'mon, fellows! You can't let yourselves be out-bidded by just anyone!"
The masses broiled. Demons yelled bids, shoved at each other to get to the front, out of sheer want to keep up the competition. Keith had said the magic words.
"Pixie wings by the dozen!"
"Two hundred severs and a red-scaled tail!"
"I have a unicorn horn! Fifty severs and a horn!"
Keith's smile broadened and he leaned forward, squinting at the near-rioting horde. "Who's got the two hundred sever, and the tail? I do like the sound of that. Two hundred sever makes good drinking money, and my girl might just decide to stay with me for a tail like that!" The pack roared with laughter. Keith forced the woman to the edge of the platform, and she screamed as the demon who had purchased her, a burly giant of a male, took her by the ankles. "Pay up and she's yours!"
"Th-that's barbaric!" spluttered Ryou indignantly, pressing his face against the bars so he could get a better look.
Malik rolled his eyes. "This is the demonic underworld, gha'bi. What the hell are you expecting the keeper to do, shower the lady with roses, give her a pretty golden ring and marry her while everyone else waves and cheers and blows soapy bubbles and throws bird-choking rice?"
Ryou blinked. "Er. . .no, not exactly, thanks."
It was the elf's turn. Shaking, it crawled from the cage, took one long, lingering glance at the forest, and then dashed up the platform to where Keith was standing, narrowly avoiding the clawed hands that grabbed at its limbs.
"This little fellow," said Keith, with a feral smile, "is an escape artist. He's run away a total of six times from a total of five keepers, and is probably planning to make this his seventh run. He's going to be quite a challenge for anyone—that's obvious. The question is, are you up to that challenge? Because of his extraordinary record, we're going to sell him at an all time low with an insurance policy—this guy is going for fifty severs! It's a deal you can't lose!" He shoved the elf forward a few paces. "Do we have any starting bids?"
The resulting bellow was deafening. As the noise crescendo-ed, Ryou heard Malik gasp, and, seconds later, felt the other boy elbowing his ribs insistently.
"What?" he hissed, as silently as possible to avoid drawing the wrong attention to the cage. It was an uncomfortable truth that escape from a mob of raging demons was very unlikely, especially in chains. The crowd was almost overwhelmed with bloodlust; Ryou had the feeling that he might be torn apart when it was his turn to mount the platform.
"That's Marikku!" Malik crowed, jabbing Ryou's stomach again for good measure.
"Shh!" said Ryou nervously, and then, "Where?"
He followed Malik's pointing finger, looking past a tubby demon in a chef's hat to a tall, cloaked figure was watching the bidding quietly. "Marikku," as Malik called him, was lean and dark and swathed in a robe of violet-black, with a mass of spiky yellow hair that looked like something out of DBZ.
He wasn't remarkably good-looking, Ryou thought, but the resemblance he bore to Malik was frightening. Even from a distance, Ryou could see the same fiercely-blue eyes, lined in the same smoky black kohl, lips twisted in the same ironic smile.
"He came!" Malik shrilled, clapping his hands in delight. "He came! I was so scared he wouldn't, the Allah-forsaken son of a. . ." he broke into a torrent of jubilant expletives.
So that's Marikku. . .I've heard so many wonderful things about hi—oh, my. Who is that
Until that particular moment, Ryou had always considered himself fairly. . .well, straight. Then he made eye contact with the lovely specimen of demon standing next to Marikku—a ghostly-pale, silver-haired apparition in a worn traveler's mantle, with a dusky garnet gaze that hinted at midnight deviltry and other delectably forbidden things. Screw coherent, poetic descriptions. There's a word for this. Pretty. Yes, that's the word. Mmm, so pretty. Buy me. I'm yours.
"Malik, who's—" he began.
"Hey, blondie! Get your ass up here!" Keith snarled, effectively breaking Ryou's reverie into three pieces.
"Okie-dokie!" said Malik cheerfully, kissing Ryou on both cheeks. "Here I go. It was nice knowin' ya, Bakura Ryou. Allah bless and protect you, and I hope your keeper is a real sweetheart, like me! Not. . .anywho, see you later, babe."
Jeez, Malik. . .
"'Bai," said Ryou softly. "Good luck," he added, and then Malik eased gently out of the cage. Ryou watched with fraying nerves as Malik made a mad sprint past the groping hands, sighing in relief as the boy sauntered boldly onto the platform. Malik's eyes were fixed on Marikku.
"Now, isn't this a cute kid?" said Keith, patting Malik's head. "He's got spirit and spunk for the breaking, and he ain't that ugly, either. This is his first contract, and he did it to resurrect some vamp. . .'cause he's such a beaut, he's going for one thousand severs, or something of the equivalent. . .we'll take tails, horns, hooves, scales, wings, roc's feathers, et cetera, et cetera. Oooh, basic regulation for this guy. Since he's worth so damn much, bidders can only go up on increments of five hundred! So don't be skimpy and give me three severs or some shit like that! Who's up for it?"
The bids started up almost immediately, but some demons had begun to leave; apparently one thousand was a hefty sum for even those with heavy purses.
"One thousand five hundred!"
"Two thousand! Two thousand and a set of pixie wings!"
On the platform, Malik's clenched fists were bleeding. Ryou, chewing on the knuckle of his index finger, glanced anxiously at Marikku. The demon hadn't moved; he stood stony-faced with his silvery companion, watching as the swarm shrieked. Oh, Kami-sama! Don't tell me he's dead broke. Don't tell me he's low on spending money. Come on, demon, bid!
"Three thousand five hundred and a swansong!"
"Four thousand five hundred."
Heads turned. Ryou bit through his knuckle. The demon who had spoken was seating in a red palanquin carried by four sweating demons and attended by ten others—eight androgynous, ethereal souls, two burly ones. He was dressed elegantly in a maroon business suit, with shoulder-length, graying hair and a false eye. He was also very obviously not Marikku.
Marikku started, snarling, eyes flashing. "Five thousand!" he growled. His voice echoed over the silence that had fallen.
"Oh my," said the demon slowly, tugging at his cuffs. He stepped down from the palanquin. "It does appear that I have some competition! Very well then, I'll humor you. Five thousand five hundred severs!"
"Six thousand!" Marikku was sweating.
Oh no oh no oh no. Okay, so he's got enough money, but he can't go against this guy! Ryou had forgotten that he was next on the platform. He licked away the blood welling from his skin and stared in horror at the scene that was unfolding. Malik had twisted the hem of his linen shift to shreds and had started on the sleeves, shifting from foot to foot apprehensively.
"Six thousand five hundred."
The gray-haired demon developed a slight twitch around his glass eye. "Stubborn child, aren't you?" he said disdainfully, rubbing his cheekbone. "Seven thousand five hundred."
"Eight thousand severs!" Marikku's voice was shaking. He's reaching his limit, Ryou realized. He only has so much. . .and this other man has so much more. . .oh, Kami-sama. No.
"Eight thousand five hundred," said the other demon lazily.
"Nine thousand five hundred severs."
Marikku. Marikku. Marikku. Marikku. Marikku. The blood from Ryou's knuckle was trickling down his chin. He ignored it, blinking furiously to clear the burning from his eyes, swallowing to clear the ache from his throat. Let Marikku win! This other demon has to give up. . .
"You are an annoying little whelp, boy." The demon smiled, and held out a massive feather that glittered like a black diamond. "Ten thousand severs, and this delightful roc's feather. See how the sun shines on it?"
Marikku's stare was dark with fury. Teeth clenched, he turned abruptly and stalked away from the platform, his cloak billowing out behind him.
Malik fell to his knees, eyes wide and disbelieving.
It was Keith who broke the stunned quiet. "M-milord Pegasus!" he stammered. "It's a rare and undeserved pleasure to share your fine company this morning—it—I—ten thousand severs! Shaitan below! He's yours, lord! He's yours, take him—anything for you, milord! T-ten thousand! Ten thousand! Shaitan below!" And he lapsed into silence once again.
"Ma. . .rikku. . .?" said Malik, stretching his hand toward the demon's retreating back. "Marikku?"
Pegasus fluttered his right hand at Keith. "Yes, yes, it's been a great pleasure dealing with you as well, Keith-boy, but I'm afraid I must be going now. The company calls, don't you know." Two of the demons who had been bearing the palanquin stepped forward, one handing Keith the promised sum while the other reached over the platform to take hold of Malik's arms.
Ryou could feel bitter tears dripping into his sweater. No. . .Malik. . .
"Marikku!" The blonde demon heard Malik's desperate scream and paused in his incensed stride. He didn't turn back. A moment later, he was gone from sight, and Malik had been loaded unceremoniously into the palanquin.
Wiping at the tears that blurred his vision, Ryou surveyed the dumbfounded crowd and wondered if he could make a break for it. Since most demons were sensitive to magical changes, casting one of the few charms he could manipulate would only draw unwanted attention to him. It wouldn't have mattered, he realized. Keith was watching him closely, pausing to give the assembly time to pull itself together before he called Ryou up to the platform. Ryou allowed himself one last sniffle as he caught Keith's eye, then, lifting his chin, slipped unhurriedly from the cage.
The dash from the wagon to the platform was a good ten or eleven demon-packed meters at most, but the fiends' eyes were set on Pegasus's vanishing palanquin, and Ryou reached the platform without event.
"Took you long enough," muttered Keith distantly. Ryou could practically see the gears in the demon's mind working, trying to calculate how many drinks ten thousand severs could buy.
Gradually, the crowd composed itself, turning back to the platform, beginning to eye Ryou like one might eye a particularly enticing dessert.
Keith cleared his throat twice and gave himself a little shake, and then gripped Ryou's shoulders tightly with both hands. "I wouldn't say I was saving the best for last," he quipped, voice still raspy, "but this kid isn't bad, and almost as pretty as the last soul. So he's a bit quieter and maybe even cuter, and we haven't had a soul with green eyes in ages. There's a lot going for this kid. He traded his soul in for another, which automatically raises the price by fifty severs. This sweetheart is going for a whopping eight hundred fifty. Since he's so special, the only equivalents we're taking are ghostsongs and faerie grave dirt."
"Eight-fifty," said someone immediately.
"I'll give you six hundred and a ghostsong!"
At least I know what I'm worth, thought Ryou scathingly. He shivered despite himself and tried to move away from the edge of the platform, but Keith's hands kept him there. The platform was three meters above the ground, balanced precariously on wooden stilts and not much of a fall. Standing with his toes curled over the edge, Ryou had the crazy urge to rip out of Keith's hold, jump, and let the crowd tear him to pieces.
"Three hundred severs and five crates of grave dirt." The words were almost inaudible. There was ice in that voice.
For the second time that morning, heads turned. Demons exclaimed. Heart drumming in his throat, Ryou found himself looking at the blood-eyed vision.
"Bakura?" Keith's grip went slack along with his mouth and Ryou clawed frantically to regain equilibrium. Once he had reeled back a sufficient distance from the edge of the platform, he turned to have a better look at the silver-haired demon.
The ragged traveler's cloak was dark brown and patched in several places with absurdly colored swatches of cloth—blue-and-orange polka dots littered a section of the left sleeve, purple stripes held the stitches on the hood together; there was even a bit of pink down by the fraying hem. The demon had a wild mess of silver-white hair, shocks of which protruded from under a vividly red bandana. A long gold chain had been thrown haphazardly over the bandana and looped thrice over the demon's head and shoulders; another coiled down his right arm. Glittering beneath the shabby cloak were several golden bangles and armbands.
Malik's voice drifted in Ryou's mind. 'Don't play the innocent, pretty-boy. Bakura as in Ankh's Bakura, Bakura as in strawberry vodka Bakura, Bakura as in the guy who never pays his rent Bakura, Bakura as in—you really have no idea what I'm talking about, do you?'
"Surprised to see me, Keith?" The red eyes flared, but the demon's tone was one of biting cold. "You shouldn't be. And I've changed my mind. Six crates. I'll take the kid."
Keith scowled, finding his voice. "Depends on if you've got any other challengers, Bakura." He looked around, as if expecting to see another demon waving around eight-fifty and a box of grave dirt. He saw none. The demons were all staring at Bakura with some sort of awe, as if they, too, couldn't believe he was standing amongst them. The silence was deafening, and Keith's scowl deepened.
Bakura's smile was slow and unpleasant. Abnormally long canines curved over pink lips. "I doubt it. Six crates."
Ryou swallowed hard and crossed his fingers behind his back. Oh Kami-sama please please please please please please please please—
"Maybe I want him for myself," said Keith lamely, at length. He could use the dirt, he knew, but this was Bakura, and sometimes pride went before money. This was one of those times. . .right?
"Six crates," Bakura repeated, dangling the offer in front of Keith's nose—water to a man dying of thirst.
"Shaitan bless it, Shaitan bless it, okay." Keith broke and gave Ryou a hefty shove forward. Flushing to his ears, the auctioneer ground out, "He's yours. Pay up and he's yours, okay? Bless it!"
Ryou screeched as he overbalanced and tumbled from the platform, landing in an undignified heap. The crowd jerked away from him like he was infected with an incurable disease. He sat with demons surrounding him—but not coming any closer—waiting as Bakura, barefoot, swept toward him. The grass was warm, and as Ryou picked himself up, he could feel dew seeping through his sweater. Somewhere above him, Keith barked the closing formalities, right eye twitching.
Bakura squatted so that red met green, leaning forward until their noses brushed. "Curious," the demon purred, almost sleepily, eyes drooping. His eyelashes were long and dark as soot, severed in two by the thin gold chain that draped elegantly down his pallid face and throat. "Mm. . .'like you."
Pretty. Ryou blushed and was furious with himself.
The demon grinned, his blood-eyes snapping open. The long fingers that wrapped suddenly around Ryou's wrist tingled painfully. The boy gurgled, biting down hard on the inside of his mouth, waiting until the throbbing changed to numbness. Bakura's grin widened with his garnet eyes. His breath was hot and moist against Ryou's mouth. Their foreheads were touching, and Bakura's eyelashes brushed against the boy's skin as he blinked.
"Mm," he said again. His lips grazed Ryou's as he spoke. "Meow."
Ryou flushed to his ears.
Bakura chuckled and bounded to his feet, dragging Ryou up with him. "Let's go, slave," he said cheerfully, slinging Ryou effortlessly over one shoulder and grinning as the boy squeaked in fright. "My Ankh is waiting."
= Does Ryou's cross have any significance to the story? I'm not sure yet. Don't ask me.
= Castes. . .as in the castes from Hinduism. We aren't going to have demons or angels reciting Bhagavad Gita, but we do have high castes and untouchables in both zones.
= We have lots of worlds. Demonic underworld, angelic upperworld, and then there's the magical sub-existence that coexists with the mundane. That includes the usual—knights, mages, fairies, mermaids, etc.
= Is the demonic underworld sexist? Err. . .
= Yes, Keith is a drunken bastard. I don't like him. But I don't hate him either. And I can see Keith x Mai happening, so there. =P What are his ties to Bakura? You'll find out in good time. . .
= "Witchling" is a term I made up to describe people like Ryou. They've got a touch of magic in their blood and aren't clueless like normal humans about what's beyond the mundane.
= I made Bakura out in this story to be absolutely random and eccentric, like Jack Sparrow. (Jack Sparrow is HOT.)
= Demonic cursing is a bit different. I figured that since humans are always saying "Damn it," demons would have a similar system, but with different words. 'To damn' and 'to bless' are essentially opposites. So while humans and angels might curse with 'damn' and 'God,' demons use 'bless,' 'Shaitan,' etc. "Shaitan below!" is a common expression down there.
= Severs are the demonic currency. They've got small change, but since it was an auction, small change isn't going to show up until later chapters. And those equivalents? I always pictured "Faustian" demons having a bartering system as well as one using money. . .so use your imagination.
= Will I have as many notes in future chapters? Umm. . .
Ryou is welcomed into the Bakura household and given a crash course in all things demonic. What, or who, is Ankh?
A/N: [[wince]] That was tough. But I got through it. Don't beg too hard for the next chapter. . .I have no idea when I'll have time to write it. Having to go back and manually space in my tabs was hard, too. I hope the tabs show up...if they don't, well, blehhh. New editing glitch, I guess. As always, review, and we'll love you. Happy (belated) birthday, Itooshi!
::ryuujitsu & co.::