21. Pathways

It was no longer raining when they finally made it outside through the exit Yugi and Joey had found earlier, but it was overcast, cold, and the ground was wet. Weary from walking, with at least half of them drained from battle or the Shadow Realm, they spread out, sitting or lying on the grass, not caring that it was wet, just happy to be outdoors and above ground again, happy to see the sky.

They were now thirteen in number. Rex and Weevil had met them just on the other side of the ravine, awake and seemingly fine after their trip to the Shadow Realm, claiming they remembered nothing since the shipwreck. Yugi didn't believe that for a second, but they were sufficiently cowed, especially with Kaiba, never one to forgive and forget, hovering over them. Yugi doubted they would be a problem and it wasn't like they could leave them in the cave.

Pegasus, also awake and fine, was waiting calmly for them in the same place where Mai had defeated him. Completely blasé about their apparent victory over Ramesses, he merely looked at Mai and said, "At some point when we're back in civilization, Mai Sweet Valentine, you and I are going to have a private duel, no Shadow Games, no Orichalcos. Then we'll see how you hold out."

"You're on," Mai had agreed. They then filled him in about everything that had happened as they made their way out of the cave.

There was, of course, a fourteenth person: Evan. He alone had not recovered from the Shadow Realm—or wherever he was—after Reshef had been destroyed. Serenity had looked at him—after a brief argument with Joey who didn't want her anywhere near him, that is—and said he seemed to be in the same condition as Téa had been in, only somehow worse. Not wanting to leave even him in such a condition, she'd tried to summon Mystical Elf one more time, but was unable to do so. Either Serenity was too drained from the battle or their defeat of both Evan and Ramesses had closed off the Shadow Realm again, making it impossible for Serenity to summon her guardian. Regardless, they couldn't leave him in the cave, either, so Joey and Duke, two of the few of them left still at full strength, took turns carrying him out.

"Huh," Joey puffed as he unceremoniously dumped Evan onto the ground then sat where he could hover protectively near Serenity. "I keep expecting the place to blow up or cave in or something. Ever notice how that always happens after we beat the bad guy?"

"Duelist Kingdom didn't explode," Kaiba pointed out. He was sitting propped up against a tree, Mokuba and Rebecca lounging nearby.

"Why Kaiba-boy, I'm wounded. Surely you're not calling me a 'bad guy,'" Pegasus pouted from his perch on a rock. Kaiba didn't bother to reply.

With some effort, Yugi turned his head to look toward the cave. He was lying on his back with his head resting on Téa's lap. The damage he'd taken to his Ba didn't feel like an actual injury; it was more like half of his energy had been sapped from his body. Everything seemed to take twice the effort, and when they'd at last reached the open air, he'd practically collapsed on the ground. Téa had immediately sat beside him and insisted he rest on her lap. Had he any energy whatsoever he might have protested that he should be looking after her since the earlier attack on her had been far worse, but he didn't have the energy and she seemed fairly well recovered, so he let her fuss over him without argument.

"I kinda wish it would cave in or something," he said, looking at the cave with a shudder. "I wouldn't mind seeing all those Orichalcos stones buried under mounds of rubble."

"Oh, don't worry about that, Yugi-boy," Pegasus told him with just a touch of a dangerous edge to his voice. "I'll have this place taken care of once we're back in civilization."

"I don't think it'll be that easy," Tristan commented, lying on the grass near Serenity. "Sinking the ship is still gonna be viewed as an act of terrorism and U.S. Homeland Security is gonna want to question us and investigate the cave."

"My dear corporal," Pegasus cooed, "you do remember the Leviathan incident from three years ago? Well, if you don't, I can assure you that certain members of the United States armed forces do. I can further assure you they will make sure the investigation is quick and painless. Our charming purser Evan will be chalked up as a solitary nutcase and will probably bear the sole responsibility for the sinking of the ship, probably before any of the duelists leave San Francisco. Mark my words."

"Say what?" Joey protested. "What about Ramesses?"

"Do you really think our new friend Ramesses won't have taken steps to make sure all roads lead to Evan?" He gave a humorless laugh. "Of course he will have. Remember the reason you were brought here in the first place. You are the warriors here. You'll be the ones who will have to find him and stop him. You will have to close down his pathways into the Shadow Realm."

Pegasus's job offer to the top four, Yugi thought wearily. He closed his eyes. The part of him that was Atem, that would have a response to this, who would already be plotting a course of action seemed very far away right now. He felt Téa's hand brush hair from his forehead then gently stroke his cheek and he pushed all other thoughts away, just focusing on her touch. He just wanted to relax for a moment, to just be Yugi, a not-quite-twenty-year-old grad student whose biggest responsibilities were thinking of a topic for his master's thesis and finding a really great place to take his new girlfriend on their first real date. Just for a moment. The rest—Ramesses, the Shadow Realm, the Orichalcos, even getting off this island—could come later.

Not long after they started walking again, they realized they could hear the ocean. Five minutes later, they were standing on a cliff overlooking the waves as they crashed against rocks below. A quick consultation with Mai's compass revealed that the ocean was southeast of them, meaning the caves had spanned the entire island from north to south and they were now south of the beach where they'd originally landed before being separated from the rest of their shipmates. Heading north along a pathway that followed the island's coast, they managed to make their way back to the main camp on the beach along the east side of the island by dusk.

It occurred to them along the way that Evan most likely would not have stranded himself on the island. When they rejoined the main group, they reported what had happened—or at least a watered-down version of it that didn't involve anything supernatural—and search parties were sent out early the next morning to look for hidden transportation. They concentrated their search on the area near where Yugi and his group had exited the cave on the southeast side of the island. By mid-afternoon one of the teams found a small seaplane in a well-hidden cove on the southernmost tip of the island. It had a working radio and a GPS system.

Before nightfall Sunday night, all four hundred fifty passengers and crew of the USS Chrysaor—including the twenty-four Yugi and the others had left behind on the northeast side of the island when they went into the cave—were aboard the HMCS Robert Bartlett, a Canadian cargo ship headed for Juneau, Alaska.

He was barely lucid when his valet found him sprawled on the couch in front of the fireplace. He was sweating profusely but despite the fire, was stone cold. His assistant knew better than to call paramedics or take him to the hospital. He dimly remembered being sponged off with warm water then brought to his own bed and piled under an electric blanket and two down comforters. For two days he drifted in and out of consciousness as his valet spoon-fed him hot soup.

By the time he was fully alert, the newspapers were full of the story of the USS Chrysaor and its passengers, who had just returned to San Francisco. The only casualty of the shipwreck, according to the papers and CNN, was a purser named Evan Haines who was in what was likely an irreversible coma. Haines, the perky anchor at CNN reported, was also the only suspect in the bombing that brought down the ship. An unbalanced young man obsessed with Duel Monsters, Haines had tried to make a name for himself as a duelist and when that had failed, he'd gone after the game's creator, Maximillion Pegasus, and the International Duel Monsters Tournament Commission, all aboard the ship. Geoffrey Goradon, President of the International Duel Monsters Tournament Commission, was indicted on charges of accepting bribes and improper conduct and has been removed from the IDMTC.

Despite these charges, Goradon was not considered a co-conspirator. Haines, Perky Anchor assured him, had been working alone.

Watching the reports, he was torn between amusement and sadness. Evan had shown so much promise, but he'd failed. Failed to bring down the nameless pharaoh and his successor. Failed to keep the Shadow Realm opened. Failed to protect his master, at least until the end where in his comatose state he took all the blame upon himself.

Evan had had some successes, too, however. He had opened pathways, pathways that could not be closed again. Ramesses could build on those pathways.

He could open new ones.

His valet had left a briefcase by his bedside. He brought it up onto his lap now and opened it. There were many documents inside, some ancient Egyptian scrolls, others more current. There were several Orichalcos stones. He picked up one of the glowing green stones and twisted it absently in his fingers, feeling its power coursing through him, returning his strength.

There was also a photograph. It was taken in the Valley of the Kings six months previous and depicted a young man with dark skin, platinum hair, and pale violet eyes. Eyes that looked almost haunted.

"Pathways," he whispered to the photo, his voice almost loving. "My tjaty has failed me. Now it's your turn."

Continued in the Epilogue: Homecoming