Dragon Country, Chapter 1 : Black Magic Peaks
Notes: This is obviously an AU. As a side effect of that, all family ties are severed. Characters may be introduced in this story- such as Seto and Mokuba- as new acquaintances, not as brothers. Also, most of the time characters will call each other by first names, with the notable exception of Mister-Unapproachable-Kaiba. As narrator, I use whichever names I think people are more familiar with/I like best.
No one approached Kaiba Seto. That was just a fact. You could often find him sitting under the large, leafy oak tree on Domino University campus in the afternoons, when his classes were over. He was a familiar fixture on campus; he'd bring his briefcase and his homework and study until the sun was nearly down, then pack up and head back to his dorm. People were accustomed to him, even felt a certain fondness for him; his omnipresence was just another part of the strange and wonderful college experience. But everyone knew Kaiba Seto preferred to be alone, and no one dared to interrupt his solitude.
Jounouchi Katsuya, however, lived to be the exception to the rule.
" 'Sup?" ?" he asked casually, dropping his backpack and plopping next to Seto.
The blue-eyed boy gave a low growl. "You know, I come here to study, because it's impossible to do so when sharing a dorm with you. It rather defeats the purpose when you follow me here."
"I love you too, my best mate," Jounouchi said, stretching and giving an exaggerated yawn. "Hey. You see that mountain?"
Seto followed his pointed finger across the clear afternoon sky. Looming over the bright buildings of the university, and above the wide span of trees just starting to turn red and yellow with autumn, several peaks stood out sharply against the bright blue background. One stood out above the others, and Seto assumed this was the one Jounouchi was pointing at; it rose in front of the others, the highest mountain within fifty miles.
"I'd have to be blind if I've been attending this school for three semesters and not notice it," he answered dryly.
Looking up at the rude greeting, Seto scowled at the four punks who were now settling beside them. What was this, Distract the Unapproachable Kaiba From his Studies Day? Whatever happened to the fear factor? He'd thought he'd scared everyone else away from him, after nearly reducing the poor freshman to tears after a Frisbee landed in his lap last month.
"So when you gonna do it?" the most obnoxious of the four, a senior named Keith, asked, adjusting his sunglasses and glaring at Jounouchi.
"Do what?" Seto responded for his roommate coldly, glaring at the four. 'Bandit' Keith Howard, along with his cronies Sid, Zigor, and Bonez, had earned a less-than positive reputation on campus, and Kaiba Seto had no time for hooligans.
"Climb Black Magic Peaks!" Jounouchi crowed.
"Oh. Do that? In that case… Never."
He then proceeded to turn back to his book.
"Told you," Sid muttered to Zigor.
"Cut him some slack. I didn't have time to work him up to the idea," Jounouchi wheeled, shoving Keith lightly on the arm and turning back to Seto. "Come on, Kaiba. I was serious! We're going to climb the biggest mountain in the Black Magic chain: Mount Dark Magic!"
"One. That's a dumb name. Two. That's a dumb idea."
Jounouchi rolled his eyes at Keith, as if to say 'can you believe this guy?'. "Oh yeah? And why's that?"
"Firstly, because it seems to be your idea. But also, do you know how many people have died on that mountain?"
Startled, everyone looked over to the ghostly face of Bonez. The short boy was slumped against the tree, not looking at anyone, but he had spoken to contribute that fact.
"It's been a lot more than one," Seto retorted, reluctantly putting his book away. Jounouchi had a talent for distracting him from his studies. "I heard that it was fourteen in the last year alone."
"They never found the bodies." Bonez finally lifted his empty stare to look at Seto. His gaze was neutral, not revealing anything.
"Yeah they did! There was that sucker last week!" Zigor chimed in. "He died in a rock slide."
"He was the only one." Bonez spoke quietly, but somehow he'd captured the attention of all the other boys. "The only one, out of fourteen. That's thirteen people unaccounted for. Thirteen people that just vanished."
Keith shifted uneasily. Sid eyed Jounouchi and mumbled, "You and Kaiba gonna make fifteen."
"What's all this about?" Seto asked impatiently, unwilling to get into a debate about the facts. He never entered an argument where he wasn't precisely sure of himself.
Jounouchi clapped his hands in a false show of joviality, to mask the tense aura that had fallen over the group. "You and I are going to make history, Kaiba!"
"What, college-boy history?" Zigor laughed, but Sid nudged him in the stomach. Seto rolled his eyes, glaring pointedly at Keith. That was one kind of history he wasn't sure he'd want to be involved in.
Dramatically, Jounouchi proclaimed, "We're going to climb to the top of Mount Dark Magic, and we're going to set off fireworks on top!"
Seto gazed at him blankly. "What on earth would we want to do that for?"
Jounouchi heaved a sigh. "Because they don't think we can," he explained patiently.
Seto rolled his eyes. "And I don't think we should." He reached for his book again, but Jounouchi snatched it away. He scowled at his dorm-mate. "Katsuya, don't push me."
"But I already bought the fireworks?" Jounouchi tried lamely.
Under Seto's consistent glare, he sighed. "Go away, guys," he said, waving his arms at Keith and his cronies. They answered him with mumbled swears and grumbles, but picked themselves off the ground one by one and wandered away. "C'mon," he addressed Seto, grabbing his briefcase and hoisting it in the air. "I'll carry your stuff while we talk this over. See? I can be nice."
"Katsuya, give me my stuff back!" Seto demanded sharply, scrambling to his feet.
"Geez, breathe. I'm just helping you carry your things back to the dorm. It's getting dark."
He ground his teeth. Rather than admitting Jounouchi was right, he yanked the briefcase from his dorm-mate's hands.
"I try to be nice…" Jounouchi remarked, shaking his head and falling into step beside him. "I suppose you want this back too?" He held out the book. Barely looking at it, Seto snatched it back and tucked it under his arm.
"You shouldn't keep making these stupid bets. What do you have riding on it this time?"
"Eh? Oh." Jounouchi grinned sheepishly. "Pride?" Under Seto's glare, he added, "And about three hundred dollars?"
"Katsuya!" he sharply reprimanded. "You know better than to gamble!"
"Hey, what are you, my mother?" Jounouchi grumbled. "Anyway, it didn't exactly work like that. See, there's this girl… you know Miho?" Seto's memory conjured up a slight, pretty girl with shocking violet hair. "Well, she lost a joking bet with a friend, and she was supposed to go on a date with her roommate's brother or something. But Keith was bothering him, and the brother ended up giving Miho's date to Keith. Then Miho stormed out on Keith, 'cause he was trying to get his hands down her shirt. He was chasing after her in the parking lot of a restaurant when I showed up, and I didn't know what he was going to do, but I had to do something. So I took Miho's place. Except surprise, surprise, Keith wasn't that interested in dating me, so he worked out the monetary equivalent."
"Where'd he figure three hundred dollars?" Seto wondered aloud.
Jounouchi shrugged, flushing. "Eh… the equivalent of a couple hours with Miho. If she'd… you know."
"Ugh." They walked in silence for a little ways. "Keith was trying to feel Miho up in a restaurant?"
Jounouchi snorted. "That guy has no shame."
"Not much else to brag about, either," Seto said in distaste. He thought for a moment. "So you stuck up for Miho? Took her debt?"
"Well, there wasn't much else I could do," Jounouchi defended. "I wasn't going to leave her to such a thick-headed asshole. Anyway, that's when Keith and I worked out that other bet. If I set off fireworks on the peak of Mount Dark Magic at sunset tomorrow, he'll cancel my debt."
Seto sighed heavily. "And where do I come into this?"
"You're my best friend who wants to help me out?" Jounouchi tried. "You've harbored a secret wish to climb Black Magic Peaks? I, um, have too many fireworks for one person to carry?"
"Ah, I think we've hit on it," Seto said, smiling grimly. "Katsuya. It's now illegal to even enter the mountain area without a permit."
Jounouchi waved his hand dismissively. "Hey, the other guys got in."
"You mean the ones who are either missing or dead?"
Jounouchi grinned. "Yeah, them."
Seto sighed, squeezing his eyes shut. They rounded the corner and headed for the bright lights of the dormitory. "I should call the police. They'd do something about Keith."
"Don't!" Jounouchi said in alarm. "That's so… sissy."
Seto snorted. "There's nothing sissy about saving your skin, Katsuya."
"You won't call the police," Jounouchi predicted confidentially.
"Oh? And what makes you so sure?"
"Because you're on my side. Besides… if you call the police, I'll tell everyone you're obsessed with mermaids."
Seto fished his key out of his pocket, scowling at Jounouchi. "I am not obsessed with mermaids."
"And dragons, and unicorns, and those half-horse things."
"Centaurs," Seto corrected automatically.
"What're the half-goat things?"
Seto sighed, sliding the plastic automatic key through the slot and opening the door. "Satyrs."
"Gotcha," Jounouchi agreed amiably, sauntering through the door and following Seto down the hall.
"And I'm not obsessed with them." Seto unlocked the dorm that the two boys shared and entered, flicking on the lights. Jounouchi, right behind him, cleared his throat and shot a glance at the wall above Seto's bed. It was peppered with posters of mystical beasts, dozens of creatures from mythology.
"So I like studying magic," Seto defended. "It's interesting to look at history. The origin of mythical beasts. That doesn't mean I think they're real. It doesn't mean I'm obsessed with them."
"Whatever," Jounouchi sighed, heading for his bed and collapsing on top of it.
Seto let out a loud sigh, shoving his briefcase into a corner. "I'll come with you. But it's not because you're blackmailing me. It's because I don't want to let you wander on dangerous grounds all by yourself. Knowing you, you'd get eaten by wild animals. Or fall off a cliff. Or trip over a rock."
He expected gratuitous praise from Jounouchi. All he got was a mumbled "I knew you would… thanks, buddy."
Scowling, Seto folded his arms and glared at the lump in the bed. "Are you going to sleep?"
"Without changing first?"
"Or brushing your teeth?"
He sighed, annoyed. "And you know it'll take us at least eight hours tomorrow to climb the mountain. How far up do you have to go?"
"Two-thirds or more," Jounouchi's muffled reply came. "Preferably more so Keith has no doubts. It'll take all day. I planned on leaving first thing tomorrow."
"Well, I have morning classes," Seto pointed out, crossing his arms.
"You can skip 'em just this once."
"What? I most certainly can not!"
"Lighten up, Kaiba." With that, Jounouchi pulled the pillow over his head, shutting off any further remarks. Seto seethed at him a while more, then realized it was hopeless.
He glanced at the clock. It wasn't even seven yet. Jounouchi just had weird sleeping habits. If Seto could ignore the noise coming from the other rooms, he could get a great deal of work done.
At ten-thirty, he pulled himself away from his paper, finally become aware of Jounouchi's snores. The shouts from outside were as loud as ever, but he'd made significant progress. Satisfied, Seto tidied up his half of the room, kicked the mess of Jounouchi's that had overflowed to his section away, and prepared for bed. Right before he shut off the light, he glanced at his dorm-mate. "That was pretty decent…" he mumbled. "Sticking up for Miho." Then he quickly flicked the switch, plunging the room into darkness, and dove into the warm covers of bed and a content night's sleep.
"Why did I let you talk me into this?" Seto shouted.
"Why did I ever-" Seto stopped abruptly. The wind was tearing his words away.
He and Jounouchi were, quite literally, hanging onto the cliff side. Seto had quickly learned that Jounouchi had prepared more than he'd thought for this trip. His annoying roommate had already mapped out the chain-link fence surrounding Mount Dark Magic and found the best way to sneak across. They'd brought lots of water and a few sandwiches (and many fireworks), and had been hiking all day. It was growing dark now and they were nearly at their destination. Jounouchi had spotted a broad, wide ledge a hundred feet above them, ideal for setting off the fireworks. Exhausted, but with renewed energy now that the end was in sight, the two had begun the steepest part of their journey. About halfway up, when Seto was precariously perched on a few inches of jutting rock and Jounouchi wasn't much safer, the winds had picked up. Steadily growing worse, Seto was now afraid to move, or he'd be swept away.
Jounouchi was slightly to his left but only a few feet above him. Seto glanced over to see his roommate's pale face. Jounouchi was shouting something, but it was nearly impossible to hear him over the heady gust. "Do- -ook- -wn-"
"WHAT?" Seto bellowed.
"DON- -OOK- -DOWN!"
'Don't look down'? Naturally, Seto looked, tightening his grip on the rock ledge and shifting ever so slightly. Craning his neck, he could just barely see what was below him.
His eyes widened. He'd expected to see the long drop; fifty feet of bare rock that gradually gave way to the sparse grass and trees that they'd emerged from, and the sprawling town of Domino in the distance. But all that was gone. It had gotten darker than it should have, and directly below was pitch-black. Nearly pitch-black, that was; streaks of gold danced in streams. Bits of silver reared up periodically, as if reaching for the two boys clinging to the mountainside.
"WHAT IS IT?"
"I DON'T KNOW!" Jounouchi hollered back. "HOLD ON!"
"OF COURSE I'M HOLDING ON, YOU IMBECILE!" Seto shouted back, but he doubted Jounouchi could hear more than half of his words. He squeezed his eyes shut, partly because it was now so dark it was useless to keep them open, and partly because it was easier that way. Both boys pressed as closely as possible to the mountain, grabbing onto any rough edges they could find and praying that the windstorm would die down.
Without warning, the rocks seemed to shift under Seto's hand. He snapped open his eyes but could see nothing; the only thing his senses told him was that the cliff face had lost its rough texture. The rocks felt smooth under his hands, and as he clung on, he thought he felt a heat rising under the surface, warming his desperate hands.
A startled cry floated toward his ears. He shifted his body just in time to see Jounouchi lose his grip on the mountain and go tumbling down. Jounouchi reached out desperately, but the prevailing winds carried him far away from and surface that he might grab onto. Seto haphazardly reached out, but Jounouchi was much too far for him to catch.
The move cost him dearly. He swore that the rocks emitted a triumphant aura as they shifted again. His feet scrambled, but could not find a purchase on the smooth surface. Seto fell backwards, his body being trapped by the ferocious wind. He sailed through the air, tumbling dangerously. Blackness descended over him, and was just as quickly replaced by those twining strands of gold again. They wrapped through the air over his body, falling in time with him. Gradually, the winds died away, though he was still plummeting downwards. His eyes were growing inexplicably heavy, and his mind seemed to drift away. When he hit the ground, the impact was reduced to a slight thud quivering through his body, then going away.
With superhuman effort, Seto forced his eyes open. He immediately had to roll onto his side, because the sun was back in the sky, burning brightly. The air was warm, and smelled heavily of flowers. Confused, Seto examined the lush green carpet he was lying on. Grass. And there were birds chirping in the distance. A grasshopper bounded right in front of his nose, then hopped away again.
Pulling his scattered thoughts together, Seto sat up, rubbing his shoulder. That seemed to be the only part of his body that hurt. He shoved the collar of his shirt away and examined it; a light bruise was forming. Other than that, he was fine. But that didn't make sense. That fall should have killed him. Why was he still alive? And, maybe even more important- where in the hell was he?
He heard a groan and looked over, matching it to a dirty-blonde head. "Get up, Katsuya," he said sharply.
"What do you have against letting me sleep in?" Jounouchi asked sleepily, then sneezed. Abruptly, he lifted his head, and looked around. "Oh. I'm alive."
"Yes, we're alive," Seto said, rolling his eyes. "But that's the least of our problems. Where are we? How did we get here?"
"We've got the same memories, right?" Jounouchi asked doubtfully, climbing heavily to his feet. "This isn't just a crazy dream?"
"I know when I'm dreaming, and this certainly isn't it," Seto said stiffly, folding his arms. "We were climbing Mount Dark Magic, in the Black Magic Peaks, when that windstorm kicked up. You fell off. A few seconds later, I lost my grip as well. We woke up here."
"You left out some stuff," Jounouchi reminded him. "Was it just me, or did the rocks start changing shape right before we fell?" Seto remained quiet, but Jounouchi correctly interpreted his silence. "Yeah! And you saw the dancing lights, too, right? Gold and silver!"
"It doesn't make sense," Seto grumbled. "I know you. I know what you're going to say. You think it was magic, right?"
"Duh," Jounouchi responded, rolling his eyes. "What else could it be? They were the Black Magic Peaks, after all. And we were climbing Mount Dark Magic, the most infamous of the lot. And remember all those other people that went missing? I bet you anything the same thing happened to them! The mountains… sucked them in, or whatever, through a portal! And they ended up in some new fantasy world!"
Seto gritted his teeth. "Do I even have to point out all the flaws in your logic? Or would you care to shut up?"
"Aw, come on, Kaiba," Jounouchi scoffed. "You're the one who believes in mermaids, after all."
"I DON'T believe in mermaids!" Seto exploded, slamming one fist into the other. "I like to study them from an abstract point of view, but I don't believe in mermaids! And magic doesn't exist!"
Jounouchi frowned at him. "You know what, Kaiba? Fine, have it your way. But you were there, same as me. You saw the same things I did. And pretty soon, I think we'll find out the real deal behind this world. Just promise me something? …Once we're confronted with the facts, accept them."
Seto snorted. "Fine, Katsuya. Let's just concentrate on getting out of here."
For as long as Kaiba Seto could remember, he'd been fascinated with mythology. Dwarves, elves, wizards, unicorns, spellcasters- and yes, as Jounouchi was fond of pointing out, mermaids. But most of all, he had a passion for Dragons. He spent most of his childhood reading about and writing about mystical beasts. He had been an only child, and his mother had died when he was young, and his father Gozaburo was away on business a lot. The Dragons had been his best friends.
But at heart, Seto was a practical person, a trait he'd gained from his father. As he grew older, he stopped pretending that Dragons were real. He focused on his schoolwork, particularly Accounting and Business, and put aside his stories about mythical beasts. He grew angry whenever someone teased him about magic, or brought it up at all; Seto lived for the future. He preferred to shut out his past as much as possible, in case it impeded him. Nothing but distraction could come if he renewed his obsession with Dragons past an idle hobby.
That didn't mean that occasionally, especially in his dreams, he wished that they were still real. What would he give to live in a world of the impossible, a world of Dragons…
"D'you think I should just leave the backpack here?" Jounouchi asked dejectedly, shrugging it off.
Seto glanced at it, unconcerned. "Is there still water in it?"
"Yeah. But I figured that we could take the water out of my backpack and put it in yours, and put the fireworks from yours into mine and leave it here. We can take turns carrying the load, but we won't be lugging a bunch of useless fireworks around."
Seto sighed. "Sounds practical." Jounouchi never failed to amaze him. Working quickly, they transferred all the fireworks to one pack and moved the remaining sandwiches and water to the other.
"It's really warm here," Jounouchi remarked, peeling off his outer jacket and leaving a casual blue tee on underneath. "It was freezing on that mountain."
Seto nodded, watching Jounouchi shove the jacket into the backpack on top of their meager resources. "I'll carry the pack first," Jounouchi volunteered, looking up. "Do you want to keep your trenchcoat in here?"
Seto frowned slightly, and shook his head know. Jounouchi suppressed a snicker. "I don't think I've ever seen you without that thing on, except at night sometimes. Is it like your security blanket? Didn't anyone ever tell you it was impractical to wear a trenchcoat all the time, especially when hiking?"
"It wasn't the trenchcoat that sent me sailing off the mountaintop," Seto remarked acidicly, reluctantly shedding the heavy blue coat and handing it to Jounouchi to cram into the pack.
"It's heavy now," Jounouchi complained, hoisting the pack onto his shoulders and glaring at Seto.
"Tough," he said unsympathetically. "It was you who wanted me to put the trenchcoat in the backpack, after all."
Jounouchi rolled his eyes, then took a step forward. "Which way should we…" he started, then his voice trailed off and he gave a low whistle. "Well, that didn't take long."
Seto glanced up, and froze. Four children were galloping through the meadow ahead, plowing through tall grass. A blonde girl was clinging tightly to a blushing boy's hand; he looked to be the oldest there. He had strange hair; a mixture of violet and black sticking up, and blonde bangs. The next-oldest, a slim redhead with straight locks falling past her shoulders was rushing after him, glancing over her shoulder. The last kid, a boy with wild black hair, was turned around and jogging backwards, yelling. "Anzu! Hurry up!"
"Coming, coming!" a girl's voice shouted, and a fifth person appeared, rushing up the hill. She was wearing a simple white dress that trailed past her knees and kept getting snarled in the brambles as she hurried through the high grass, and a strange-looking horn bounced at her side.
The blonde girl and the boy with the tri-colored hair hurried to where the meadow dropped away. From where Seto was standing, it looked like it turned into a rocky and steep cliff much like the one he and Jounouchi had just fallen down, and beyond that was a dark and wild forest, with amazingly tall and lush trees.
"Should we call out to them?" Jounouchi asked in a hushed voice.
Seto hesitated, keeping a wary eye out. "Wait a second. They're obviously watching for something. Let's find out what it is."
Jounouchi snorted, but obediently got to his knees so they could better duck behind the wild grass and flowers.
The blonde girl gave an excited shout. "I see her, I see her!"
"Run, Anzu!" the black-haired boy urged, catching up with the rest of the three children and peering carefully over the side of the cliff.
The last girl let out a wild, gleeful laugh, and Seto's throat constricted. He watched her carefully. Her sapphire eyes were wide, and full of happiness. She had auburn hair partially pulled back around her face, and long legs that carried her swiftly to the others. She was about the same age as the other boy; only about a year younger than Seto. Probably as old as Jounouchi.
Anzu was nearly at the edge of the cliff when a sudden bellow snapped Seto's attention away. He and Jounouchi both whipped around to stare, wide-eyed, as the children broke into shrills of laughter and wild dancing. "She's here!" the black-haired boy shouted jubilantly.
Seto finally noticed the trees were shaking. His dark blue eyes widened, then narrowed, as he tracked the progress. Something was moving down there, coming closer and closer. When the line moved out of his view, in the shade of the cliff, he stood to try and get a better view. "What are you doing?" Jounouchi hissed, his face pale.
"Something's down there," Seto shot back, craning his neck. The children were still excitedly dancing. "Something's-" he broke off. Another roar resonated through the air.
The head appeared first, then the long neck, and the wings. The beast flew directly up the cliff side, coming into view when the cliff fell away and the meadow began. Seto gaped heedlessly as the full outline of the creature became apparent. A sleek black body flew into the air, and swooped in a quick circle; intelligent red eyes glared out from the horned head.
"It's a Dragon," Jounouchi stated bluntly.
"No it's not," Seto tried to whisper, but Jounouchi cut him off.
"Kaiba Seto. You said you'd accept the facts when you saw them. If that isn't real, then nothing is."
Seto stared in confusion and awe. A Dragon. The dragon- a girl, he guessed, if this had been what the children were referring to- landed not two hundred yards away, flapping her wings twice and preening. Anzu, who she had landed closest to, hurried over, while the children excitedly backtracked.
Anzu's affectionate words drifted across the meadow to the ears of the stunned boys as she warmly reached up to rub the dragon's scaly head. "Welcome home, Red-Eyes."