"Here There be Monsters"
Part 2: Subtle Possession
Dawn pressed with rude insistence against his eyelids. Honda groaned and rolled over, staring up at the ceiling with blurry vision. Something lay warm and heavy on his chest. He swatted at it, still drugged with the liquors of sleep, trying to dislodge whatever small animal had curled up on him. His hand struck something hard and metallic. What?
Shocking awareness seared away whatever vestiges of sleep remained. He hurled the thing away from him, choking down a startled yell. It clattered into a corner. A sudden breeze lifted the curtain and the Key gleamed in the brief slant of light. Sunshine gilded the sharp edges of cross and key, sliding in a sly wink along curved loop.
His heart clamored against his chest and he flung the sheets away. Cold stung Honda's feet when his soles slapped the floor. He staggered down the hall. The wall grazed his shoulder and a picture tilted at a crazy angle when he struck it. Honda's fingers twitched for a moment before he opened the bathroom door.
The porcelain sink was cold and smooth beneath his palms. He stared at himself in the mirror. Honda sill wore the pants and shirt of his school uniform. The jacket had probably been shed before he stumbled into bed. Dark circles haunted his eyes and his normally sharp cut of hair was matted into spikes of gel and hair.
"What the fuck happened?" He was relieved beyond all words when he didn't hear his own voice reply.
He splashed some cold water on his face. It did little to wash away his weariness. A drop of water slid along his jaw and fell to the sink. Uneven breaths stuttered past his teeth. Honda started to shake. His arms went rigid with the exertion to keep him upright. It wouldn't stop. He couldn't make it stop.
Still here. Sill in here. In him. He could feel it. The damned Key stubbornly insisted on its own existence. It was every bit as simple as a nagging feeling of forgetfulness and every bit as complex as a bird's instinct to migrate home. He knew where it was. Knew exactly how long it would take him to walk to it, exactly how far it lay from his fingertips. Exactly how hollow he felt without it. Honda pushed away from the sink and walked back to his bedroom. The subtle tug lessened with every step. He picked up the Key.
"This is going to get me killed," he muttered. The Key lay in his palm, golden against mocha skin. Honda stared down at the curse the stranger had blessed him with. "It's going to kill me or drive me crazy."
Bakura. Marik. Isis. Yuugi. Malevolent spirit, splinter of mind, chained fate, unfathomable destiny. They suffered under the weight of their items both as wielders and victims. Victims... What of Anzu and Jounouchi captured and enslaved once by Marik's Rod? So many ways this could go wrong. Their faces tumbled about in Honda's head like radioactive cats, decaying and fever bright. He was caught in a terrible paradox of promise and purgatory, never knowing which he possessed until the key was turned.
He traced the hard edges of the Key, carving it's ridges and lines into needless memory. It was already there, after all. "So do something with it. Use it or get rid of it." He held the Key in thought and hand with a hard grip. "Use it or lose it."
Yuugi! The idea hit him with a clarity startling in its childlike certainty. Find Yuugi and give the damned thing to him. He was already packing around the Eye and the Tauk, besides the Puzzle. He needed all of the items, not just those god cards to find the pharaoh's memory, just give it to
Not Yuugi. Pharaoh.
Honda's heart plummeted to his gut. The pharaoh was the one who would know what to do with it, how to take it away and out of him. Without the pharaoh, what could Yuugi do?
"He can get it off my hands and out of my head," Honda growled. He clung to that thin hope like man on a fraying bungee cord. Each plunge jerked him up close to a secure ledge, but eventually the rope would break. "It doesn't matter," he said to himself with firm insistence, "Yuugi'll know what to do."
He walked calmly back to the bathroom, shed his clothes, and took a shower. Yuugi would know what to do. It became a mantra to ward off the invasive presence of the Key. Yuugi would know what to do. Water pattered down on his shoulders, sluicing away the cold and weariness. Tense muscles released under the hot water. No reason to worry now. Just yet another temporary glitch in his life.
The water turned cold. Honda was forced to retreat from his short denial. He cursed creatively under his breath and dashed down the hall to his room, towel clutched tight around his waist. The Key thumped against his chest when he whirled around to slam the door shut. He stared down at it. "When did I..." Honda shook his head. "Forget it. Just... forget it." School uniform, books, and bag were gathered in short order and he rushed downstairs.
"Your sister said you were two hours past curfew coming in last night," his mother said before he even entered the kitchen.
"Good morning, mom," Honda said without looking at her, sliding into the gentle routine of maternal concern with deliberate ease. He grabbed a random box of cereal and a bowl from the cabinet. "And how would Minako know when she probably didn't come in until midnight?"
"Because," she replied, taking bowl and box from his hands, "she was in the living room when you stumbled in around ten o'clock. Now sit down and eat. You're lucky I had time enough to fix breakfast this morning."
He mumbled around a mouthful of food, "Our study session ran a bit late last night. Don't worry, I'll call next time." He swallowed and grinned up at her. "Besides, it's not like I want to spend any more time studying than I have to."
His mother furrowed her brow and leaned over his shoulder. "What's that?"
"What?" His hand darted instinctively to cover the Key, heart thumping hard in his chest. No. She didn't need to see it. Couldn't.
Instead, she swatted hard at his shoulder and plucked at a tear in the fabric of his school jacket. "Don't have a heart attack," his mother sighed. "And don't rip any more jackets." She shook her head and returned back to her own plate on the table. "Those things are expensive. Remind me this afternoon and I'll see if I can sew it up, okay?"
Honda pushed away from the table and grabbed his school bag. "Yeah, see you later." He dumped the plate in the sink and headed towards the door. A hand gently clasped his shoulder. Honda turned around to face his mother.
"Be careful," she said. A look of concern creased her face. Her thin brown eyebrows were drawn close and a slight frown worried her lower lip. She pressed a fierce kissed to her son's forehead. "Just be careful, alright?"
He offered her a half-hearted grin. "Don't worry," he said, and walked out the door.
The walk to school was uneventful. He hurried along sidewalks and streets, all the while churning the stranger's words over and over in his mind. Shaadi. That was his name. False heirs and soul rooms. Honda snorted. False heir was easy enough. Marik. Who else was after the Puzzle? But soul rooms... His own, surely a memory of the very room he woke up in, but what about others? How was he supposed to
"HEY! Move your ass, kid!" A car horn bleated rudely only a few feet away. "Move it!"
Honda cheerfully shot the guy the finger and crossed the last sidewalk to the school. Fellow students surrounded him, some rushing to finish last minute homework before classes started, others lingering and clinging to whatever free moments were left before the morning bell. He pushed past all of them and hurried into the building. The hallway stretched out in front of him, doors and lockers flanking either wall. He suppressed a shudder. Warm bodies and living voices surrounded him and pushed the dark memory of that long hallway with it's locked doors deeper down into his mind. Didn't matter now.
A few students already waited for class in his homeroom. Yuugi wasn't among them. Honda looked from blackboard to back row. Not now. Not now of all days for Yuugi to be late. The strap of Honda's school bag dug painfully into his shoulder. He shrugged, letting it drop to the floor with a muffled thud. Just sit down and wait. Yuugi'd show up sooner or later and the damned Key would be out of his hands. Honda traced the edges of the item tucked and hidden away beneath his jacket and shirt. Better sooner than later.
He drummed his fingers against his desk, looked back and forth from the door to the window overlooking the schoolyard, fingered the tear in his jacket. When Anzu walked into the room, Honda all but leapt from his desk. "Anzu!" he called out, earning a few snickers from classmates. Blue eyes looked in his direction and Honda stopped. She was haunted. "Anzu?"
She grabbed him by the wrist and pulled Honda to a somewhat empty corner of the classroom. "Do you know where Jounouchi is?" Anzu asked, voice low and breathy with worry. She tugged nervously on her skirt and brushed away imaginary specks of dust on the immaculate garment. "I hope he's with Yuugi."
"No," Honda said in hollow tones, "I haven't seen either of them." Not now. Not now! He could feel the Key against his skin, warm like a living thing hiding under his shirt. Was this what Bakura felt all the time? Not one parasite infesting him, but two?
Anzu clasped her hands together against her breast as though caught in a moment of meditative prayer. "I'm worried. We were supposed to meet at the game shop to walk to school together. His grandpa said he left early in such a hurry." She looked out the window. Even in profile, Honda could see that her eyes were squeezed in fear, the corner of her mouth turned down in a deep frown. "I hope nothing bad has happened to them."
"Damn it," Honda growled. He punched a fist into open palm. "We need to find them!"
"Right!" Anzu whipped abruptly about to face him. "Whatever we're going to do, we need to do it fast. Class is going to start in a few minutes."
"Forget class. I say we get out and find Yuugi and Jounouchi," Honda insisted, setting his jaw.
"But we can't!" Anzu protested. "What are we going to do if they show up here?"
"What if they don't?" Honda challenged, his voice dropping to a conspirator's whisper. He gave her a hard look. "What if something's already happened and they can't make it?" Desperation sank icy claws into his spine and traced every bump of vertebrae on their way down. This couldn't have been what Shaadi meant.
Anzu bit her lower lip. "Then let's hurry," she said and rushed back out the door. Honda followed without a word.
The crowds of students and faculty were starting to thin as they sprinted down the hallway. A few individuals gave them odd looks when they hurried away from classes, but apparently none decided it important enough to stop them. Each step dropped another stone upon the already heavy weight of apprehension pressing down on them. Yuugi and Jounouchi had to be okay. They just had to be.
"Just where do you think you're going?" a lazy voice drawled when they reached the door.
Honda spun back, one hand already on the door. He saw Otogi leaning against a locker, arms crossed and a faint smirk gracing his lips.
"No time to explain," Honda shot back, words clipped, and pushed the door open.
"I'd suggest you find the time," Otogi insisted with a one-shouldered shrug, smirk still firmly in place.
Honda glared at him. "Now is not the time to try pushing my buttons, dice boy," he warned.
At that, Otogi pushed away from the locker and walked towards them. "I'm just expressing concern for my fellow classmates," he explained with an innocent shrug, tone suggesting that he rarely expressed concern for anyone. "You have to admit, it's very strange for the two of you to be skipping class together."
"Listen," Honda snarled, "we don't have time for this, you son of a"
"Honda!" Anzu snapped. Her gaze flicked back to Otogi, "Yuugi and Jounouchi are missing," she said quickly. "We were supposed to meet this morning and Yuugi never showed up."
"Which is why we're going to look for them," Honda interrupted, pulling Anzu towards the door. "So just go back to class, Otogi." He raised a threatening fist near Otogi's chin and took petty satisfaction in the fading of that overconfident smirk. "And don't tell anyone that we skipped."
"It'll be kind of hard for me to tell anyone, since I'm going with you." Otogi leaned forward with another shrug, subtly invading Honda's space. His lips were set in a challenging smile, devoid of any amusement.
"Did you not hear a word I said?" Honda demanded angrily. His fist unfolded, jabbing a finger in Otogi's chest. "Get back to class and
"Stop it, both of you!" Anzu's exasperated voice rang out in the empty hallway. They turned away from each other to stare at her in surprise as Anzu balled her hands into fists at her sides. "Finding our friends is more important than your stupid fight!" She turned away from both and walked out the door, her slender frame plucked taut as an angry violin string.
A burst of furious shame stopped Honda midstep and he watched Anzu leave him and Otogi behind. He grabbed Otogi's arm, fingers wrapping around the cold metal of his wristcuff. "Come on and keep quiet." Honda yanked him out the door. He was mildly surprised when Otogi made no protest.
They left the school grounds at a dash, sliding along the building walls and then the fence surrounding the school. Paranoia bent them down into something approaching a crouch, knees bent, shoulders hunched, hands sweeping whatever barrier they kept their backs to. Skipping class or even school entirely was of course frowned upon, but Honda, Anzu, and Otogi slunk away as though fleeing execution. An urgent purpose guided their walk and muted even their unspoken words. The streets grew loader as they fled the residential surroundings of the school and deeper into urban Domino.
"I don't suppose either one of you girl scouts knows where we're going?" Otogi muttered when they came to rest beneath a department store awning.
"Shut up," Honda retorted, turning back to look at Otogi. "If you don't like how we're doing this, then just go back to class." It was an automatic response, lacking the heat and anger of their earlier argument. No more waiting, no more delays. He was finally doing something.
Otogi arched an eyebrow. It was a faint little twitch of muscle that Honda found irritating if for no other reason than its false subtlety. "So far," Otogi continued, as though he hadn't noticed Honda's own little twitch, " 'how we're doing this' seems to be standing around waiting for the heavens to give us a sign."
"How's that?" Anzu whispered weakly and pointed.
The sky was torn asunder. Sunlight slithered away from the obscene crown adorning the Kaiba Corporation building. It slashed a chunk out of the geometric skyline of boxes and lines and filled the resulting space with something almost painful in its unreality. Light bled along the edges and pulsed from the windows of the tower as though escaping from a gaping wound. Inside that impossible emptiness darkness and shadow boiled and festered.
The words fell from Honda's lips like slain butterflies, each syllable haunting the air with the whisper of something muted and dead. The Key throbbed. He stood shock still, but his heart battered against his ribs as though trying escape the flesh and the alien cancer that sought to replace it. Honda didn't want to know what would happen if the Key began beat with the same frantic rhythm of his heart. That synchrony could undo him.
"Yuugi!" Anzu cried and began to run.
Honda and Otogi took off after her without a word.
Crowds grew thick and congested the sidewalks as they ran. Honda planted a firm elbow in someone's gut and pushed another out of the way. Time and no time and all the time in the world. The world blurred around them. Yuugi. That was all that mattered. Get to Yuugi. Anzu stumbled and bled and Honda grabbed her elbow and she darted ahead of him in the crowds. Otogi scrambled and ducked, sliding between people and Honda, his ponytail trailing behind him like the tail of a Lippizaner colt.
Kaiba Corporation grew in the distance. It's adorning blight and misplaced corona slid in and out of view behind buildings as they rushed towards it. Time and no time. Hurry, hurry, dwell and rush. The crowds around them were reduced to faceless shadows plucking incessantly at their sides. A light changed and horns blared and the three burst out of the crowd and across a street where cars waited impatiently in all four directions.
They were blessed with the fortune of god-cursed fools.
"There!" Anzu pointed and they stumbled to a halt, hunched over, clutching their knees, sucking in precious breath. "There," she panted again. "Yuugi's... up there!"
"Wonderful. Now how do we get up there?" Otogi glared up at the building through sharp bangs.
Honda looked around. People pressed tight all around them, trapped in an asylum of murmurs and shouts. The shapeless mass of humanity halted in a neat semicircle around the main doors to the Kaiba Corporation building. Rough wooden blockades and the forceful yelling of police and Kaiba Corp security kept everyone neatly segregated from the building. No one, apparently, was getting in or out.
"We've got to get in!" Anzu screamed above the bedlam.
"I know!" Honda yelled back. "But we gotta get past them, first!" Someone yanked at Honda's arm. He whirled around, ready to shove them away.
"This way, around the back!" Otogi yanked again on Honda's arm.
"Go!" Honda grabbed Anzu's shoulder and jerked his head in Otogi's direction. She nodded, her face grim. They shoved their way through the crowd again. Voices poisoned their ears with doubt and fear as they pushed past.
"has to be some sort of bomb."
"The duel disk system must have really fucked up this time, I tell"
"Kaiba go up there?"
"I thought I saw lightning or something up"
"needs me! Let go! He needs!"
That last. Shrill and screaming, a child desperate beyond all sacrifice to see his last loved one on the day of earth's passing.
"Mokuba!" Honda called out and halted in his steps. Anzu and Otogi stopped ahead of and behind him.
"Let me go! SETO!" Kaiba Mokuba flung himself against the neatly suited guards keeping him from his brother. His tiny fists battered against a broad chest and large hands took him by the shoulders to push him back. Mokuba struggled violently to free himself. His shouts shattered into broken sobs. "Big brother!" The guard kept Mokuba at arm's length as though his despair were contagious.
Honda only had time to see a flicker of red at the corner of his eye before Otogi raced forward and snatched Mokuba's wrist, dragging the boy behind him. The guards bellowed and lumbered to their feet. Hands that looked so strong and powerful fumbled at empty air. Otogi slipped into the crowd serpent quick, arms wrapped tight around Mokuba. Honda's life was reduced to a game of follow the leader and it was Otogi's turn to lead. The guards' angry bawling was lost in the white noise of the crowd. Honda followed Otogi as best as he could, tracking by glimpse of red vest and child's sneaker. He couldn't see if Anzu chased after them or not.
They escaped from the crowd and into an empty parking lot. Otogi finally came to halt in a doorway set deep in the building wall. Honda slumped against a wall next to him and saw that Otogi had released Mokuba.
"You're here for Yuugi, aren't you?" Mokuba asked, looking up at both of them.
Honda gave a quick nod. "Yeah, so we'd"
"Guys!" All three started at the sound of Anzu's voice. She skittered around the corner and darted into the meager cover of the doorway. "The guards are"
"Right behind you, miss."
Honda shoved Mokuba behind him. "Open the door, Mokuba."
One of the guards took a threatening step forward. "I wouldn't do that, young Mr. Kaiba. Your brother left specific instructions that we were to keep you down here and safe."
"My brother needs me!"
"Just open the door!" Honda shouted as the guard lunged forward. He ducked off to the side and the guard hurtled past him. Adrenaline burned in his veins and Honda welcomed the lightheaded rush that came with it. Rough hands reached for the lapels of his jacket. He grabbed the oncoming wrist and twisted it viciously behind the guard's back. He saw Anzu swing her purse in an angry arc towards another guard's head.
Cold air rushed past him. The door! "Come on!" Otogi yelled and drug Honda through the open door.
"Keep it shut," Mokuba commanded, his fingers dancing on a keypad next to the door.
The guards pounded on the door as Honda and Otogi pressed their backs against it. The violent thuds stuttered against Honda's spine and he gritted his teeth. "We already have a magazine subscription, thank you!"
A small beep emitted from the keypad and something inside the door slid into place with a solid thunk. Honda sank to the floor and breathed a sigh of relief. He heard the sigh echoed beside him. "I've had enough exercise for the day," Otogi said calmly.
Honda turned to face Otogi and allowed himself a slight grin. "Yeah, I think we all have."
"We need to hurry," Mokuba called from further down the hallway. His young face was forced into an adult mask of gravity and worry that he wore with a very sad familiarity. "The guards will probably try to find another way in soon."
Otogi was on his feet and offering a helping hand before Honda even had a palm to the floor. Honda shot the other boy an annoyed glance before taking Otogi's hand and lurching to his feet. "What's going on up there?" he asked Mokuba when they caught up.
"Big brother's dueling," Mokuba said. Honda caught an odd resignation to those words, as though Mokuba had caught his brother in the act of a particularly nasty personal habit. "Some weirdo managed to get past Kaiba Corp security. He was sitting at big brother's desk."
"How did he do that?" Anzu asked.
"I'd imagine he pulled the chair out," Otogi offered with a half-hearted grin. He merely shrugged when all three turned to glare at him. "Then he challenged Kaiba, right?"
"Yeah." Mokuba stopped at an elevator and punched a button. "We've gotta go up a few floors and then take the service elevator to the roof."
The doors slid open and a gentle, dulcet tone announced, "Ground floor, going up. Which floor is your destination?"
"Top floor," he replied quickly.
"How did this guy manage to get in your brother's office?" Anzu asked once they were all in the elevator.
Mokuba huddled in a corner, arms wrapped tight around himself and head downcast. "We don't know." His voice was almost a whimper. "He called my brother a coward and said he was just another one of Gozaburo's lapdogs. He said it didn't matter how many games my big brother made it'd never make up for what Gozaburo did with his guns and machines. He saidhe said that Seto was" Mokuba sank to his knees and hid his face in his hands. "He said"
Anzu was on her knees in an instant while Honda and Otogi could only stand awkwardly to the side. "Don't! It's not your fault, Mokuba. That jerk only said those awful things so he could get your brother to duel him, right?" She pulled the young boy into an awkward hug. "He was just lying, that's all."
"No he wasn't!" Mokuba shrieked, shoving himself away from Anzu. "If he was just lying, it wouldn't hurt like this and I could ignore it! Most of it was a lie, but not the last part!"
"Listen to her!" Honda insisted. "Look, we all know your brother isn't exactly an angel, but he can't be as bad as this Gozaburo guy."
Mokuba stared hard at Honda. His tiny hands were clenched into fists and his eyes shone with the threat of tears. "He said my brother was even worse than Gozaburo because Gozaburo at least cared enough to gloat over what he broke while big brother just picked up Gozaburo's weapons and left. He said my brother might have stopped what Gozaburo started, but that isn't the same as fixing it!"
The elevator came to a stop and that nasty tug at the pit of their guts ceased. No one spoke until Otogi cleared his throat. "Guys, I think this is our stop."
"We have to go to the service elevator. It's the only one that'll get us to the roof from here," Mokuba said quietly.
Anzu fell smoothly into step beside Mokuba as they left the elevator, leaving Honda and Otogi to trail behind. "When did Yuugi and Jounouchi show up?"
"A little bit later. The guy said he was going to take my brother's soul to make up for what Seto did." Mokuba shuddered suddenly, a tremor that shook him from head to heel. "He pulled out something that looked like Pegasus' Eye from Duelist Kingdom."
"That's impossible," Honda snapped. He stopped, not caring that Anzu and Mokuba took a few faltering steps forward before turning around to stare at him. "That's impossible," he repeated, "because Yuugi has the Eye. It had to be a fake."
"Well," Mokuba said at last, "this guy has something that looks like the Eye." He furrowed his brow as though the memory skirted from his grasp, unreachable despite being only a few hours old. "It looked like a cheap ripoff. It wasn't the right color. It just looked like a piece of metal, not like that thing Pegasus had."
Honda saw a haunted look cross Mokuba's face. His words ran faster than his feet and Mokuba came to a halt as though those words could carry him away and his voice rose to hysteria. "That's when big brother told me to leave. Then Yuugi and Jounouchi busted in and the guards were right behind them and Yuugi was shouting something about big brother being in danger and the creepy guy was challenging big brother to a duel and big brother got his deck from somewhere and everybody was yelling and Seto told the guards to get me outside and everybody out of the building and I want to know what's happening to my big brother!"
Mokuba's voice died in ringing echoes down the narrow hallway. This time it was Otogi who stepped forward and placed a comforting hand on trembling shoulders. "Breathe," he said with a half-smile. "We're on our way."
"We need to go now."
"I know that Honda, but"
"Now!" He rushed forward, catching Mokuba by the elbow, dragging him forward, his other hand darting out and catching the strap of Anzu's purse. Honda ignored her startled "Hey!" and pulled them forward. "Someone's coming, we need to go now!" The Key pulsed uselessly against his chest, vibrating with a strange, triple rhythm that felt like it could throw his heart offbeat. His breath was compressed to hard, stuttering gasps. "We have towe have to gohave to get away from"
"Wait! Please wait for me!" A fifth voice called after them. They all turned as though in slow motion. "Please wait!" Honda wasn't at all surprised to see Bakura hurry around a corner, pausing only to crouch with his hands upon his knees to suck in greedy droughts of air. "I'm sorry, but please wait." Bakura apologized to them with a sheepish grin. Pale strands of hair clung to his cheeks and fluffed in unruly spikes around his face. "I tried to catch up with you outside."
Honda growled deep in his throat, an almost bestial sound. He shoved Anzu and Mokuba ahead, firmly blocking them from Bakura. "Otogi! Get behind me." The other boy said nothing. Otogi's eyes were unreadable as he moved to stand beside Anzu and Mokuba.
"Honda, stop it!" Anzu protested. "Bakura's our friend!"
"He's dangerous now," Honda snapped. "He may be our friend, but he still has the Ring. Go on and help Yuugi and Jounouchi." He never took his eyes off of Bakura.
"Honda..." Bakura pleaded. He reached towards them as though seeking forgiveness with a touch. He flinched under Honda's hard look. "Please."
"How did you get in?"
Bakura looked behind him, to the side, back at Honda and the others. "There was a door"
"That we locked behind us. How did you get in?" Honda demanded again.
Gentle brown eyes narrowed and hardened. Bakura seemed to draw in on himself. His bearing and stance shifted somewhere left of a stranger. Bakura was a snake coiling in upon itself before the strike. It was not like Yuugi calling upon his own other half, a millennium weight burden pulling shoulders taut and spine straight. Bakura's devolution was one of the darkest sort, a gentle kitten pulled down to hellcat.
They heard a sound like distant wind chimes.
The Ring gleamed brightly on Bakura's chest.
Honda gulped and felt like he was swallowing a ball of lead. "Go on," he urged the others.
He heard Anzu gasp distantly behind him. "No. He got it back. How did"
"Go!" Honda yelled. "Take Mokuba and get out of here!" He whirled around, saw Anzu grab Mokuba's wrist and take a hesitant step towards the empty hallway. He was relieved beyond all words to see them turn around and run.
White flared across his vision and an iron band clamped down hot around Honda's throat. He struggled to draw air, clawed at the hand constricting his breath. Honda saw Bakura smile sweetly up at him. Bakura's eyes remained as dark and hard as obsidian. He rose up on tiptoe to whisper softly in Honda's ear. "That was very foolish. Your little trinket may have warned you, but you didn't listen very well."
"Let go of him!" Otogi's voice echoed in his ears. Honda saw Otogi as though from a distance, trapped in a vanishing point.
Bakura tightened his grip about Honda's throat. He sneered with mocking sweetness. "Look, Honda, someone stayed to rescue you." His voice dropped to a low purr. "Should I include our new friend?" He looked over his shoulder at Otogi, dismissing him with a glance. "He looks like an interesting toy." Bakura released his hold on Honda's throat. "Pity he won't take as long to break."
Honda sucked in greedy breaths and tried to lurch to his feet. He fell back to his knees and watched helplessly as Bakura approached Otogi. The world swam in and out of focus, leaving him disoriented and seasick. No. Couldn't happen like this. Wouldn't let it happen like this. Wouldn't! Do something, do anything.
Key. Damned Key.
He fumbled with his shirt, reached underneath and drew out the Key. Cold now. Colder than ice and hate and fear. Colder than ancient stone and ancient bloodline. No living thing now, a tool, a tool aching to be used, colder and greedier than a fresh sharpened scalpel aching to cut into broken flesh. Otogi's sharp cry meant nothing, his own whistling breath meant nothing. Only the Key, only the vessel for the Key. His face was blank as he rose to his feet. "Stop." Command and demand, as instinctive imperial as the body's compulsion for heartbeat. "Release him." His words and gaze were etched into the stone of his voice and eyes.
Bakura turned around slowly. A sharp smile cut his face and bled harsh barks of laughter. "I'd be careful. You might hurt yourself with that."
He spoke only a single word, directed vaguely in Otogi's direction. "Go." He didn't care if Otogi heard him or not. The boy wasn't important now. The Key was his weapon and it was time to use it. No need to cut or demand or bludgeon. Crude. No need for that. No need to open a wound when he could merely open their heads. Just turn the Key.
Bakura narrowed his eyes. "What are you doing?" he hissed.
Too far away to unlock. Needed to touch. Needed to find. Slipped over a mind quicksilver serpent quick, bright and clever and vital. Unimportant. Continue. Older mind, closer. Almost two minds. Poisonous tangle of yin and yang, both choking and preserving the other, inextricably bound. One bright and warm and artificial pure. Deeper. Tangible hate, burning and slippery and clinging, no purchase to be found. Deep enough to drown. Deeper, beneath, inside. Hiding. Lost child crying out for
"Momma!" Running and searching, where's my momma? Didn't see them hurt her or take her away, but where is she! Everyone else is gone, burning and screaming but Momma's so quiet. "Momma!" Fire burning, even the stone burning, but so cold inside, how can I be so cold when the stones are burning? "Momma! Momma, where are
The force of it was enough to fling Honda to his knees once again. Oh god, oh god, the Key, the damned Key. Scalding cold beneath his hand. He gasped for air like a drowning man.
Bakura's face was stone. "That was a foolish mistake. One I'll make certain you'll never make again. I think it's time we play a little game now." He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a neat little bundle of cards. A hard grin carved into his face. Bakura shuffled his deck. "One card at a time, nasty little pest. Let's see how long you last against my monsters."
"Damn it, Otogi! Go!"
Otogi saw the Key. Understood at last. He ran.
Honda was left alone with only the sound of wind chimes.