Disclaimer: I don't own Yu-Gi-Oh! or any of its characters. Yu-Gi-Oh! is the property of Konami and Kazuki Takahashi.
So hello there, gentle reader. This is the first fanfic I've written in a while, and the first one I've put onto the site in years – so if I seem a bit rusty in places, that'll be why. That's my first excuse.
The second and far more significant excuse that I'm going to make is this: I haven't seen that many Yu-Gi-Oh! episodes. I'm not a hardcore fan of the show/manga/any other incarnation. I have, at best, a passing acquaintance with the concept's intricacies. I'd be hard pressed to tell you the difference between a Trap card and a Spell card. However, I still like it, and decided ultimately to use it as the basis for my latest fic – in particular, the characters Weevil Underwood and Rex Raptor. Partly because very few people write about them, and partly because I have a soft spot for them as underdogs. Come on, who doesn't love a good underdog?
One important note: This is going to be two stories in one. One story which takes place in the present, and another story which takes place in the past (written in italics, as you'll soon find out). Try not to be too confused.
So without further ado, please try to enjoy chapter one of my fic. And be somewhat forgiving of any inconsistencies with this fictional piece of work and the actual show/manga/game/etc. that it's based on. Thanks!
Chapter One: Reflection
A gentle rush of wind whipped through the boughs of the oak tree, causing the brown-tinged leaves to rustle; the soothing sound swept through the garden, stirring the small child snoozing in the grass. He opened one eye, then the other, the sunlight raining down on his retinas forcing him to squint up into the wide blue expanse above. He had been dreaming; to dream in the middle of the day was not something his parents approved of, but he found that absorbing nature's aura created such alluring fantasies in his head that it was nigh on impossible to keep his eyes open for long whilst in the garden. He had only come outside for a breath of fresh air; after all, it was his eighth birthday, and he wasn't to avoid spending time with his family on such an important day. Yet sitting inside with teacups cemented to their ever-chattering mouths, not one member of the household had thought to express any interest whatsoever in speaking to him. And, given that he had been absent for at least an hour or so, it was clear that they also had little desire to see him either.
He had not been disturbed by the tender touch of his mother, nor had he heard the concerned call of his father; instead, the wind had woken him with a whisper. It had sounded as real and alive to the child as any other voice that had ever sought his attention, few as there had been, and behind its blustery beckoning he had heard a genuine urgency. The kind of urgency you would hear from someone only in the early hours of the morning, when something truly magnificent was about to manifest itself in the most unlikely of places. It urged him to leave his dream world behind and witness something far more fantastic. And to this child, the opportunity was almost impossible to pass up.
Blinking away the last few traces of sleep, the boy looked toward the tree at the bottom of the garden. It was hardly a vista of vegetation; just the old oak towards the back encircled by wild and unruly bushes, which hadn't been trimmed in what seemed like well over a year. Both the tree and the bushes were home to wildlife; birds, mostly, though he had also seen hedgehogs and other cautious critters strolling about the place in the wee hours. Try as he might, he couldn't make out any nests perched up high in the branches of the oak tree; he could, however, hear the incessant twittering of bird conversation which put him in mind of his mother and her assorted guests back in the house. On any other day, the birdsong would have set him at ease; today, though, all he could think of was why, as loud as they were, the birds had failed to wake him – while a simple gust of wind had plucked him out of a sound sleep.
The obvious answer, of course, was that he had put the sound to the back of his mind when drifting off; except, were it true, this would suggest that the wind had somehow forced its way into the foreground. It hadn't exactly been a strong gust; in fact, it had been barely enough to shake the branches of the tree. Yet he had so easily been escorted from his own private Elysium by what amounted to a slight chill, and it was enough to make him wonder whether or not he was alone in the garden. It could quite conceivably have been something else that brought him out of his restful state, something evasive and elusory, and he was only so quick to accuse the wind because he felt so alone at that point, so unwanted and uncared-for. There could have been no voice in the wind, no deliberate urgency to its unearthly call. He must have been imagining things.
Indeed, he now saw that he had company; company in the form of a squirrel sitting atop the fence which separated the garden from the one next door. It surveyed its surroundings like a sentry, its unblinking eyes scouring the area perhaps for signs of predators. The boy wasn't sure if it had noticed him, let alone whether or not something so small could have feasibly woken him up either indirectly or otherwise, but he decided nonetheless that the blame lay with this creature for ruining what had been a rare and wonderful dream. Rising nimbly to his feet, the boy was about to frighten the squirrel away with a cry or a well-aimed stone, when suddenly he realised he had removed his socks and shoes before laying down on the earthen bed. The soles of his feet sank into the soft soil, and he felt shivers run up and down his spine; something slithered between his toes, no doubt a worm or centipede of some sort, causing him to immediately slump back into a sitting position.
No longer barefoot, he fastened his shoelaces and turned back to face the squirrel – the scapegoat for his stolen slumber – seeing instead that the creature had crept its way along the fence and was now making its way down toward the old oak tree. He watched as it slung itself off the makeshift wooden walkway and landed gracefully in the grass, its bushy tail lashing furiously as it dashed determinedly to the bottom of the garden. The boy wasn't about to let the furry fiend get away with what in his naïve mind seemed like an unforgivable act – the theft of his very dreams, on his birthday no less – and he stole after the accursed animal, sprinting faster than he'd ever before felt necessary.
But it was too late – the squirrel had reached a safe haven in the form of the oak tree, scampering briskly up its trunk and into the obscure heights that eluded the boy's sight. He came to an abrupt halt at the foot of the tree, his shoe catching on one of the upturned roots, sending him face-first into the dirt below. Even before he opened his eyes to survey the damage, he could feel blood dripping from his lower lip where one of his teeth must have clipped the fragile skin. His chin was covered in scrapes, and already his face was starting to feel swollen; he would likely have cried if he hadn't stubbornly refused to give the squirrel its share of satisfaction. He could picture it watching him from one of the branches overhead, waiting for the tears that would accompany the faint flow of blood from his mouth. But the pain and the disappointment proved too great for him, and soon enough he had lowered his head in a fit of scornful sobbing.
The misery was short-lived, however, for no sooner had he had directed his eyes to the floor did he catch sight of something magnificent. Pressed up against the thick, delicate stem of a flower was a plump cocoon, glossy and gray like some sort of misshapen jewel. He drew his attention to this new distraction, the last of his tears catching themselves upon the petals of a nearby crocus and hanging there like salty dewdrops. Something about the cocoon reminded him of his dream; perhaps it was the way the sun glanced off of its surface, the light refracting into bleary shards; or maybe it was just that he wished he could wrap himself in his own protective casing and sleep until a great change overtook him. A change so profound that it would necessitate the immediate evacuation of his current station; he wished he could skip his adolescence, assume his role as an adult and be rid of this weak excuse for a family for good.
He sat down beside the flower bearing the cocoon, stuffing his hands in his pockets and blowing absent-mindedly at a loose lock of hair that had tumbled into his field of view. He wondered what it felt like to be inside a cocoon; was it warm? If so, how warm? If he had a cocoon, he'd want it to be just cozy enough to sleep inside. But surely being so constricted would produce other problems? What if he wanted to roll over in his sleep? And would the cocoon be soft, like a pillow? Or hard, like the mattress on his parents' bed? Was it gooey? How would he know when it was time to come out? What if it was like taking too long in the bathtub? What if, once the chrysalis process was long since completed, he decided he needed an extra forty winks? What then? Would he change back…? Or would the transformation continue until he became something even more brilliant?
And so he went on imagining, as a young boy is wont to, never noticing the slight instances of movement emanating from the cocoon as something inside struggled to break free. It was only at the last minute, when the vessel's inhabitant managed to tear through the silken fabric surrounding it, that he looked to the flower and saw, to his surprise, that something was about to emerge. He couldn't believe his luck; to be fortunate enough to stumble upon the cocoon in the first place was one thing, but to be present as the creature within crawled out in its newfound form was nothing short of miraculous. Holding his breath, the boy hunched forward and stared intently at the cocoon; its ashen shell was pierced from the inside, and already a single slender section of the insect's anatomy was revealed to him. He felt his eagerness subsiding; this was no beauteous thing; it didn't look as dreamlike or as vibrant as he'd hoped. Bile rose in his throat, almost as though the sight of the insect sickened him; but it was his own self-delusion that caused such ill feeling to build inside him. He had hoped for something more, something that would give him some sense of hope – a birthday gift from nature itself. But the intricately woven wrapping had hidden something plain and drab; the cocoon might as well have contained a new pair of socks.
But then, it spread its wings.
The colours! The colours overwhelmed him – it was like watching sunset take flight. Such rich reds, such potent oranges; there were jet-blacks and creamy-whites that made it appear as though both yin and yang were battling for control of the butterfly's beauty. Its antennae too were tipped with ringlets of white, sprouting forth from its head like long, luscious eyebrow curls. The boy, having watched thus far with bated breath, could hold his tongue no longer. He let out what could only be described as a cross between an excited gasp and a reverent sigh, and he looked on helplessly as the butterfly's wings fluttered once, twice, and then finally lifted its body expertly into the air. He followed it with bone dry eyes and a heavy heart, unable to look away; he felt deeply conflicted, for while he didn't want to lose sight of this creature, he also knew that – like him – it wanted to get away. Get away from here and find somewhere free. And it was doing it. It was really, truly doing it. He watched it flitting through the branches of the oak tree, landing for a moment on one of the sturdier, more brittle leaves. Then, the wind suddenly picked up, and the butterfly disappeared – its colours coalescing with the light of the sun.
"Amazing!" was all Weevil could say. "That was…"
"Wow! That was so cool!"
"Best movie I've seen all year!"
The foyer was crawling with crowds of elated patrons, each of them murmuring exuberantly whilst their eyes adjusted to the bright lights of the world beyond the cinema screen. An endless stream of chatter seemed to follow in their wake as they poured through the double doors and burst into the open with batting eyes and gaping mouths, practically gasping for air after the onslaught of excitement they had just experienced. A single member of staff nodded toward them as if in approval as they exited the screening of the latest big budget blockbuster, waiting patiently that he might enter and start cleaning up once they had all departed. No doubt one or two stragglers would remain in the screening room till long after the credits had rolled. There'd be necking couples who clung to one another as if for dear life, or a gathering of elderly customers who had fallen asleep as the movie made its cumbersome way into the third act. But of course, not one of them would notice him as he went about clearing up the discarded soda cans and sifting through the salty popcorn spills; and he wasn't about to raise a fuss. After all, once he was done here he would be free to knock off for the evening and head home. Home – where nobody complained and he only had to clean up after the one meticulous person. Compared to this atrociously maintained multiplex, it might as well have been paradise.
As the last few moviegoers made their way out of the screening, and the clamorous soundtrack eventually died down to make way for the establishment's dubious selection of muzak, the staff member strode onto the sticky floor within and began searching for scraps of sugary snacks beneath the seats. With a plastic bin bag in one hand, he stooped down as he traversed the modest array of chairs and allowed his free palm to casually stroke the length of the armrests, counting down the rows as he went. It was a fairly small screen, especially compared to some of the whoppers he'd seen in other cinema chains; heck, it was barely five times the size of his television set at home. Nevertheless, when a major release came their way, people tended to be less picky about size – especially if all the other theaters had been sold out. At first, the lack of public interest had been one of the things that appealed to him the most about the job: unbridled access to the films, with no undue hassle from the customers. But for at least one weekend a month, especially during the summer, he would – without fail – be forced to deal with the onslaught of over a hundred eager, entertainment-hungry, and often ill-mannered members of the general public. Just as he would be getting used to the peace and tranquility of the overlooked multiplex, his hours would suddenly be swept from his grasp by these invading, irritable individuals who apparently had every right to be displeased with his performance or hold him personally responsible for a film's quality – or lack thereof. It was enough to make him consider finding work somewhere far quieter, such as a library or Disneyland Paris.
Then, it suddenly struck him; he was alone. Not a single one of the seats seemed to be filled. He rose to a standing position and peered into the dimly lit area beneath the screen. From the front row to the back, he couldn't make out any smooching or snoring; this was almost unprecedented. Even on some of the slower days, he would always find one or two attendees still glued to their seats or to one another's faces, almost as though the cinema only existed as an alternative spot for folks to nap or make out. Tonight of all nights he had expected to find somebody, if only for the fact that the film was so long – clocking in at well over three hours – that it would doubtlessly have rendered several witnesses comatose at the sheer prospect of sticking it out to the very end. Yet here he was, surrounded by empty chairs. He was on the verge of falling to his knees in astonishment – not to mention relief, since he wouldn't have to deal with any perplexed pensioners or livid lovers – when the voice interrupted, robbing him of his supposed solitude.
"Man, what a pile of dino-dung!"
It came from the front row. The staff member blinked and rubbed his eyes, having been previously convinced that there wasn't anybody there. He still couldn't see anything; either the voice had emanated from his subconscious – which wasn't at all unlikely, given that it carried a remarkably dissatisfied tone – or else the person it belonged to was too small to be seen over the headrests.
"I don't know, I rather enjoyed it myself!"
A second voice had chimed in with its thoughts, this one high-pitched and grating. It too came from the front of the room, and seemed a great deal peppier than its gravelly, dejected counterpart. The staff member's curiosity had been perked, and he slowly made his way toward the source of the conversation. Before long, he found himself staring across at two young boys, their butts wedged deep into the cushions beneath them and their scrawny legs splayed out in front of them as they stared wearily up at the blank screen. The one nearest to him was wrapped in a bright green coat and had a thick head of turquoise hair shaped almost like a bowl. Upon his nose were perched a pair of yellow, horn-rimmed spectacles, and below his flamboyant collar could be seen a lavish red bow tie. He bore a permanent grin, one that threatened to engulf his face, as he rubbed his hands against one another gleefully. His less enthusiastic partner wore a green jacket and a red puffy hat, underneath which lay a veritable mane of brown billowing locks. This one, no doubt the owner of the first voice, had his arms crossed about his chest and was pouting with as much gusto he could muster. The staff member didn't even have to ask their names; he knew them by heart.
"Rex Raptor and Weevil Underwood," he groaned – mostly to himself, though this didn't prevent the two teenaged brats from picking up on his presence. They immediately sat up and looked towards where he stood in the aisle, Weevil adjusting his glasses on his face and leering up at the newcomer. "What are you two doing here?"
"Hey, Weevil!" said Rex Raptor, his previously melancholic demeanour shifting to one of pride. "Check it out! It must be one of our fans."
"Yes, of course!" Weevil Underwood spat. "No wonder he recognises us!"
"I recognise you," the staff member replied impatiently. "Because I've had to personally deal with your petty quibbles over a dozen times in the past. And the last time we met, you both insisted that you were never coming back to this… How did you put it? Oh yes… This 'museum of mediocre movie talent'."
"We never said that!" Weevil interjected, his face now flustered.
"Yeah!" agreed Rex. "That would've been an insult to museums. We should've said mausoleum." He hesitated. "Uh, that is, if we had in fact said anything to you in the first place."
"Which we didn't!" Weevil nodded emphatically. "You must be thinking of two other famous duelists."
"I don't know any famous duelists," the staff member said. "But I do know you two, and I know that you being here only spells trouble." He recalled the previous occasions upon which Rex and Weevil had visited the cinema, only to be thrown out for complaining too loudly whilst the film had been rolling. They would then proceed to the nearest person in uniform – which, more often than not, was him – and recommence their verbal onslaught. "Every single time you guys come here, you act like you've been personally offended by the movie. What was that last flick you saw? The Butterfly Effect?"
"A blatant use of false advertising if ever I saw one!" Weevil screeched at the top of his lungs. "That film had barely anything to do with butterflies! I swear, it was almost as bad as the time I went to see The Mothman Prophecies. I was so enraged, I could have killed somebody!"
"Yeah," the staff member blinked. "And the time before that, when you both saw Dinosaur…"
"Don't even mention that movie!" Rex Raptor seethed.
"It's okay, Rex," Weevil comforted his friend.
"No! No, it's not!" said Rex, before adopting a sarcastic scowl. "Hey, you know what? Let's make a movie about dinosaurs! That'd be pretty hard to mess up, right? Oh, but wait… I know! Let's have the main dinosaur be raised by a bunch of goofy monkey creatures! Yeah! Then nobody will be able to take the dinosaurs seriously! Augh!"
"Rex! Slow breaths, remember? Long, slow breaths!" Weevil encouraged.
"I know, pal, but… it still hurts!" Rex sighed.
The staff member regarded the two of them with an odd sort of wonder. In certain ways, he envied them; not just for their youth, but for their passion. After all, if he had half the dedication to his job as these two did to their individual idiosyncratic interests, he would have no doubt been promoted long ago to a position where he wouldn't have to deal with their type – the aggressive, easily agitated type. The worst kind of customer there was; one who would jump at the chance to cause a fuss, even if there was clearly no rationality whatsoever behind their demands, and enjoy every stinking minute of it. So he both envied and despised them for what they represented in his life.
"So what's the problem this time?" he asked.
"Problem?" Weevil batted his beady eyes at the staff member, his short, stubby nose wrinkling up as if in disgust. "Whoever said there was a problem?"
"C'mon, guys," replied the staff member. "There's always a problem, so you might as well get it off your chests now while there's nobody around, or else risk making a public spectacle of yourselves in the foyer." He stuffed his hands in his pockets and shrugged. "Me, I don't care either way, but I figured a pair of 'famous duelists' like you two would be at least a teeny bit concerned about your image."
"Umm," Weevil stammered. "Y-you're right, we, ah, we do have an image to uphold, don't we Rex?"
"You bet," Rex swallowed uncomfortably.
"So then," the staff member spread his arms wide invitingly. "Lay it on me. What's bugging you?"
"Funny you should ask," Weevil grinned maniacally, his eyes sparkling through his saucer-like spectacles. "For starters, the film exhibited a clear bias against insects. There was only one scene that I can recall which involved bugs, and it wasn't nearly long enough!"
"Yeah!" Rex concurred. "And as for the dinosaurs, they were made to look so weak that it wasn't even funny! I mean, come on, that scene with the stampede… The Brontosauruses looked like a herd of drunken elephants or something! And don't get me started on that part with the monkey fighting three T. Rexes at once. Like a monkey is a match for even one T. Rex. Who the heck came up with that?"
"Probably the monkey," Weevil snorted.
"And with an island full of awesome dinosaurs just ripe for the picking…"
"Not to mention the beautiful insect life…"
"They opt to take the monkey back home! The monkey!"
"An obvious oversight by both the characters and the filmmakers!"
"And just when you think that the movie's gonna end with a big dinosaur versus monkey finale…"
"With maybe one or two insects thrown into the fray for good measure…"
"It ends with him falling off a building! How dumb can you possibly get! Once again, stupid monkeys ruin the credibility of the noble dinosaurs!"
"Not to mention the insects!"
Both Weevil and Rex were now reduced to puffing and panting, their hands grasping at the armrests on either side of them like criminals experiencing the electric chair. Rex lifted his hat in order to wipe the sweat from his brow, momentarily revealing the pale curls of his fringe, and opened and closed his mouth as if trying to find the words to express his disappointment. Weevil simply adjusted his bow tie and harumphed – a gesture that would be more becoming of a middle-aged gentleman than a child of his stature. They both fixed their eyes on the staff member, as though they expected him to answer for the film's inherent flaws.
"Well, now that that's off your chest," he remarked instead. "Perhaps you'd both like to leave so I can clean up?"
Rex and Weevil looked at one another, taken aback. They then returned their gaze to the staff member – their squinting eyes were focused on him like sharp pinpricks – and gritted their teeth in frustration.
"Trust me," Rex began. "You don't have to ask us to leave. We're going." He wrenched his body away from the comforting arms of the chair, somehow managing to prise his butt from where it had become lodged in the cushion, and stood before the member of staff with a haughty, dismissive posture. Again, the effect was somewhat ruined by the boy's diminutiveness. "In fact, we're never gonna come back to this mausoleum of monkey movies ever again!"
"That goes double for me, too!" cried Weevil, who had now taken up position beside his friend. Together, they strode down the centre of the aisle side by side, not looking back until they reached the exit. Then, Weevil turned around and uttered one final criticism. "It was also far too long! Three hours…? Come on! Some of us like to pee!"
With that, they were gone, leaving the staff member to clean up the mess they had made in peace and quiet. And like so many others before him, the man never even bothered giving the two of them a second thought once they were out of his life for good. And as such, his life would remain as peaceful and as quiet as he wished it to be. Even if he were to lie awake at night praying that he could somehow regain the passion he saw flaring in the hearts of those two nuisances – a passion he had once held and then recklessly abandoned – it would be beyond him. So he just wouldn't give them a second thought.
Now he really was alone in the room.
Weevil and Rex stormed out of the cinema, feeling sullen and downtrodden. Not only had they just been robbed of three hours of their lives that they would never get back, but they had also been shown up by a measly little man whose job barely ranked above that of a janitor. The mall was spread out before them like a catacomb of convenience; brightly illustrated posters adorned shop windows and doors, announcing reductions in prices and lowest ever sales. Smack dab in the centre of it all an elaborate fountain had been erected, and from their vantage point they could make out the countless coins that had been cast thoughtlessly into its shallow depths. Each one represented a wish, though whether it had been granted or not was uncertain; one look at the dull texture of the pennies was enough for Rex and Weevil, however. They both knew the pain of a wish gone unfulfilled, and they saw it in the wavering image of their own reflections.
Weevil was the first to speak after the long, uncomfortable silence that accompanied their introspection. "I suppose that's yet another public place we can't show our faces in. At least for the next month or two, anyway." He turned to Rex, who still seemed transfixed by the fountain. "So that's what… the cinema, the food court, the Game shop, and the library? Of course, we'd still have access to the library if you hadn't refused to return every single book you borrowed covering the Cretaceous Period."
"I was in a cretaceousy mood," Rex replied, his voice distant and sombre. "Bite me." The two exchanged reluctant glances, their eyes heavy and throbbing; both were struggling to contain their despair, and it was Rex – typically the tougher of the two – who at last found the strength to voice their ambiguous anxiety. "Man, what happened to us?"
"Whatever do you mean?" asked Weevil, sliding his specs up the bridge of his nose with his pinky finger and sniffing snobbishly.
"We used to be huge," Rex thumbed his chest, baring his teeth at his friend's defiant display. "We were Rex Raptor and Weevil Underwood, rising stars within the ranks of Duel Monsters players! Rex Raptor and Weevil Underwood, the kids who were destined to kick butt and take names at the Regional Championship Tournament!" He paused for breath and tore his hat from his crown, inciting a slight gasp from Weevil who half-expected him to throw it to the floor and stomp on it. Instead, however, he drew it to his stomach and lowered his eyes, a nostalgic look forming in his features. "Rex and Weevil, who were all set to slaughter their opponents at the Duelist Kingdom."
"And at Battle City, also…" Weevil's eyes narrowed, a remorseful edge cutting its way through his voice. "In fact, ever since then we seem to have been the butt of every good Duel Monsters joke – I've even heard that blonde bimbo Mai Valentine make gags at our expense!" Weevil removed his glasses and began to clean them, his delicate eyelids closing tightly as he continued. "But regardless, nothing will ever change the fact that I was the Regional Champion."
"Was!" Rex replied, practically turning his hat inside out in frustration. He gnashed his teeth, veins popping wildly on his forehead as he seemingly berated his pal. "Do you think anybody actually remembers what happened in that tournament, or who you beat to become champ?"
"As I recall, it was you I beat," Weevil's lips curled up devilishly as he replaced his spectacles and glared at Rex. "And of course they remember; at least, they do once I remind them of that indisputable fact. Then it becomes etched in their little minds; to most unassuming folk, I'm synonymous with success!"
With that established, Weevil proceeded to prance about the fountain like a lunatic, his fists pumping triumphantly as though he were fighting off invisible doubters and detractors. Rex regarded him for a minute or so, before averting his eyes and sitting down on the fountain's edge; he stroked the soft, woolen fabric of his headgear and wondered if Weevil was really as deluded as he professed to be. Rex also tended to kid himself as to his status amongst other duelists, but he always knew deep down that he had lost something along the way. It wasn't even a matter of his losses outweighing his victories; this was pride, pure and simple, and these days he just didn't have that to hold onto anymore. It seemed that ever since he'd lost his precious Red Eyes Black Dragon, he no longer had the same flare for dueling, the same spark of ambition. That something so sweet could have turned so very sour made him feel sick inside, in the same part of his stomach that used to quiver ecstatically with every new Duel Monsters card he threw onto the field; these days it just sent pangs of regret up and down his spine.
"Why the sudden bout of insecurity, mmm?" Weevil leered over Rex's shoulder, his face a blank slate of superiority. "Just be thankful for the memories you have. Cherish them!" Rex looked up into Weevil's face and a warmth seemed to spread outward from his cheeks, when suddenly the fire was doused by Weevil's condescending smirk as he spoke once more. "After all, it's not like you'll ever have the honour of becoming Regional Champion yourself, so you may as well treasure what little success you have achieved!"
"Rrgh!" Rex felt like throwing a punch into Weevil's smug mush, but refrained from doing so – at least, not while the guy was still wearing his glasses. "Don't you get it? It's not about championships or trophies or any of that junk." He barely noticed Weevil recoiling in pain upon hearing his precious championship title being referred to in such a manner. "It's about respect."
"If it's respect that's bothering you," said Weevil. "Then you needn't worry; I've got enough of that for the both of us. After all, how could anyone help but respect someone with a deck so unstoppable?"
"Cut it out!" Rex ordered, rising up and yanking Weevil forward by his bow tie. The insect-oriented duelist spluttered in disbelief and struggled in his friend's powerful grip. "You and I both know that isn't true! We couldn't be any less credible! We don't even belong on the same continent as most duelists, let alone the same field!" At this point, Rex would have felt relieved if he were to have attracted a crowd of gawking onlookers, concerned with this sudden, unexpected outburst from a typically calm and levelheaded strategist. Instead, people just passed them by on their way to their particular places of interest, no doubt looking for a worthwhile distraction – something an insignificant whelp like him couldn't possibly provide if his deck depended on it. "Face it, Weevil. We're washed up. Extinct. Yesterday's news. If we were ever newsworthy in the first place."
Weevil grunted; it was the only gesture he could bring himself to produce in response to Rex's diatribe. Then, he tilted his head to one side and seemed to slip through Rex's hands, removing himself from his clutches in one deft motion. He paused for a moment to adjust his bow tie, Rex looking on impatiently – waiting for an adequate reply. What he got instead was consistent with Weevil's loathsome character. "Typical. I should have expected this from you."
"Hunh?" Rex blinked.
"You," Weevil repeated, pointing an accusing finger in Rex's face. "You're jealous! You always were!"
"Weevil, what the heck are you…?"
"Ever since I beat you to become Regional Champion," Weevil placed his hands behind his back and turned to one side, his weak chin jutting forward as best it could. "I knew there would come a day when you wouldn't be able to take it anymore. When your greed would outweigh your judgement and you would cave in to the demands of your own vengeful will."
"Oh c'mon!" Rex scoffed. "Skip the build-up and cut to the chase! Honestly, talking to you is like trying to find the soft side of an Ankylosaurus!"
"The truth is," said Weevil. "I've been waiting for this day for a long time; so long, in fact, that I almost didn't expect it would ever actually arrive. Yet here we are; me, the Regional Champion; and you, the eternal runner-up." He cackled. "And now, you want to get even!"
"Get even!" Rex performed a classic double take. "Weevil, that's not what I was talking about at all…"
"There's no point in denying it!" Weevil insisted. "You feel disrespected, disillusioned, and down on your luck; so you decided that defeating me in a duel will diminish your doubts! Well dream on, dino-duelist!"
"Weevil!" Rex growled.
"How dare you presume to taint my reign as champion!" Weevil whimpered as he went into exaggerated sobs. To Rex's frustration, this actually succeeded in attracting the attention of a few passersby. If there was one thing you could rely on Weevil for, it was an eye-catching tantrum. "I should duel you right now to put you in your place once and for all! But, uh, I don't have my deck with me, so that will have to wait…"
"Weevil! I don't wanna duel you!" shouted Rex.
"You don't…?" Weevil seemed to breathe a sigh of relief, before jumping right back into his indomitable persona. "I mean, of course you don't! Nobody would willingly set foot in the same arena as me! Because I'm Weevil Underwood!"
"Y'know, you're not too far off the mark there," Rex snickered. He couldn't think of a single duelist who would want to face off against someone like Weevil. Not because of his skill, of course, but because he was such a dirty, stinking cheat. "But like I said, you got me all wrong. I don't care that I lost to you. I'm actually kinda proud I made it so far in the tournament. Just facing off against you was probably the highlight of my dueling career."
"I don't doubt it," Weevil mumbled.
"I can't fix what's wrong with me in a simple duel," Rex continued, searching his subconscious for an answer he couldn't hope to find. "I've lost my drive, my motivation, my intensity! Where did it go, Weevil? Did I lose it after my soul was sealed away by the Orichalcos? Did Joey Wheeler steal it from me, the same way he took my Red Eyes?" He shook his head solemnly. "It used to be I could duel with the unrivalled ferocity of my namesake, the raptor. But now… I'm just a suckasaurus."
"Just what are you blathering about?" Weevil half-laughed, half-grunted. He peered over his spectacles at his tormented companion, trying to ascertain whether or not he was serious. "If you think you suck, just improve your deck. That's what I do when I…" He trailed off.
"When you what?" Rex raised an inquisitive eyebrow. His face then broke into a triumphant grin. "Aha! I knew it! You feel the same way I do!"
"Shut up!" grumbled Weevil. "That's not what I meant, I just… Sometimes I feel my deck could use a little reworking, is all. Add a spell card here, a trap card there. Just to power up my insect monsters."
"It's more than that," said Rex, leaning forward in earnest. "You feel incomplete, don't you? Like something's missing? Like there should be more to us than this?" He noted the increasingly bewildered expression on Weevil's face and decided his words were hitting home. "And so you try building up your deck, hoping that a few extra cards will fill the hole you feel inside. But it doesn't work; it never works, does it Weevil?"
"No!" Weevil hollered, literally yanking at his hairdo in perplexity. "No, it doesn't!" He leaned over the edge of the fountain and steadied himself, his mind reeling from the accuracy of Rex's commentary. He stared into the water, his glasses slipping down his nose as he did so, and saw the emptiness in his eyes; eyes that were as dull and lifeless as the coins within. "How… How did you know, Rex?"
"Because, like I've been trying to tell you," Rex explained. "I feel the exact same way. We're in the same boat, you and me. We've lost our edge, and everything else that makes us duelists. The only thing left to lose is our cards."
"But… But… I'm…" Weevil stuttered.
"The Regional Champion?" Rex chuckled sardonically. "Ancient history. I know this is gonna sound cheap coming from me, but you gotta quit livin' in the past. It's time you faced up to who you are now." Rex stepped forward so that Weevil could see his reflection looming over him. "We're not champions, Weevil. We're chumps. Grade A, first class chumps."
Weevil's whole body shook, as if trying to cast off Rex's words as they fell down upon him like thick, piercing hailstones from the heavens. He ran his hands through his hair, his fingers interlacing against his brow, and clenched his teeth; his reflection appeared to beam up at him, as if blissfully unaware of his inner struggle against the truth. His spectacles teetered on the edge of his nose and he closed his eyes, willing them to fall into the water – hoping that it would rid him of the abject humility he was experiencing if he were unable to look upon himself. He felt them fall from around his ears, tipping over and tumbling toward the water where they would become lost amongst so many forgotten wishes. He listened for the splash, but it never came; opening his eyes, he saw Rex's hand holding them out in front of him – he had saved them from plunging into the fountain. Through one lens, he saw the eye of his watery counterpart – a terrified, lonely thing. He would have given anything at that moment to be rid of it, but Rex was too persistent.
"But I was the Regional Champion," he finally whispered hoarsely. "How could I let myself be reduced to this?"
"It's something we're both going to have to deal with," Rex nodded, pulling his friend away from the water's edge and placing the yellow-framed spectacles into his hands. "I reckon if we put our heads together, we can get to the top of the food chain once more – like the mighty T. Rex!"
"This…" Weevil muttered under his breath. At first he appeared almost too weak to form a complete sentence, but then, as he went to put his glasses back on, something inside him seemed to snap; he went from looking complacent and confused in one second to cold and contemptuous in the next. "This is all your fault, Raptor!"
"Wha?" Rex backed off a little. "My fault?"
"I don't know what caused me to hang out with you in the first place!" Weevil scowled. "What on earth possessed me to want to spend time with such an amateur duelist! It's obvious you've been influencing me, forcing me to falter when I should instead be succeeding!" His body shook once more, but this time it was with anger – a hatred he'd never before expressed. Sure he'd been annoyed – even downright furious – with Rex in the past; but he'd never shown this level of revulsion – this level of hate. "You've been subtle, Raptor, but not subtle enough! I see through you now! I see a bitter duelist full of resentment! Resentment for my skills and my talents! And since you know you can't beat me in a duel, you've decided to defeat me the only way you can – by destroying my will to win!"
"You're demented," Rex spoke without thinking. It was enough to send Weevil into an oddly rapturous round of applause. "What's wrong with you, Weevil! Can't you see that…"
"I see, alright!" Weevil chattered, clasping his hands together. "I see that the only way I can seek to claim the title of number one ranked duelist… is by casting you to the wayside! You're like a larva, Rex, and I'm a beautiful bluebottle! I can reach heights your kind could never hope to, and while I stay here tending to your childish pleas for appreciation you're just dragging me down with you. Well, not anymore!"
Weevil shoved Rex aside, an impressive feat considering he had the stature of a stick insect, and marched in the direction of the nearest exit. Rex turned and watched him go, with a vacant look in his eyes and his friend's name pursed on the end of his lips. He wanted to call out to him, apologise for what he'd said; but he knew that it wouldn't make any difference. Weevil was convinced that he was the source of his dueling woes, and until he learned otherwise he wasn't going to listen to a thing Rex had to say. Rex sighed, scratching the side of his head as he watched his friend storm off.
"Man, what happened to us?" he asked again. This time there was no reply.
Heavy footfalls echoed throughout the valley, accompanied by the ravenous sounds of the hungering beasts as they remained in hot pursuit. To the terrified Diplodocus, it was as if a storm were brewing within the jungle itself. Already she could hear tree trunks being torn in two as something catastrophically huge ploughed its way through the undergrowth with ferocious abandon, sending all kinds of avian creatures into a disturbed frenzy as they scattered into the sky, their cries unheard over the turbulent racket headed in her direction. She had plunged into the deepest, darkest region of the valley in the vain hope of eluding the oncoming force – a force that not only hunted her, but her children as well. She took a hesitant step in the direction of the noise, sensing that whatever was out there was close – so close that she could practically smell the bloodlust spouting from their nostrils as they patrolled the area. She could not afford to display weakness; it was likely that they too could smell her, and would close in for the kill should they pick up on her vulnerability.
Behind her, shielded by her enormous bulk, the two infant Diplodocuses stood poised – ready to make a run for it should their cover be blown. They had never known their father; he had died long before they were born, protecting their mother from this very same threat – a threat that every generation of this family seemed doomed to face. She would not have them live in fear; she would teach them to be stalwart, to be strong and true, the way their father had been to her. If she was to die defending them, then so be it. But she could not falter; as the only parent they'd ever embraced, she simply could not afford to fail at their most critical hour. From the looks in their eyes, they understood; they knew what she meant to do for them – they knew that she would gladly offer herself unto the very jaws of death rather than risk losing them. If only there were some other way…
But this was how it was meant to be.
A climactic roar bellowed throughout the jungle – and then there was silence; an awful quiet that seemed to smother her with insecurity and send nervous impulses up and down her expansive frame. She pressed herself as close to the ground as she could get in an attempt to stay hidden, indicating that her children should do likewise. They complied, neither of them showing the slightest sign of fear or trepidation. The pride she felt toward them almost outweighed her anxiety. She recalled their all too brief time together – nurturing them with only the most succulent leaves and plants she could forage, roaming the endless hills, standing guard over them at night when they had no means of shelter and they would be forced to sleep beneath her belly. She hoped – should the worst come to the worst – that they appreciated what she had done for them, because heaven knew she appreciated what they had done for her. They were what gave her the strength to stand her ground, and become more than just a mother to them. She was their protector.
Then, just as the situation seemed as though it couldn't possibly get any grimmer, she heard the sound of a distant struggle – the beasts had found some other prey to feast upon. She let out a long, strenuous sigh. They were safe. Her children were safe. They could move on to another part of the land with less prevalent predators, and never think on this moment again – the moment in which she felt certain she would slip up and be damned alongside her offspring. She gradually turned and shoved the children towards an opening in the foliage, where they would emerge into a clearing and make their way southwards toward the valley's entrance. Once they were clear of the vale, she would lead them to safety – wherever they could find it, she would take them there. And she would be there for them for the rest of their…
She felt an immediate blistering heat on the back of her neck, as though hot oil had suddenly gushed out from beneath the ground and coated her in a searing, sickly spray. The pain didn't register with her for the first few moments; all she felt was a rough, leathery sensation tickling the spot on her neck which had erupted like a volcano, and then the blood trickling down the front of her cranium. Her eyes rolled back into her skull, and she let out a tremulous wail – the very same sound her mate had unleashed when he too had fallen before the unstoppable wrath of the Tyrannosaurus Rex. Her lifeless body crumpled languidly to the ground below, inert and inanimate. Her children stared in horror as she lay still; finally, it was her turn to rest beneath them.
The Tyrannosaurus tore away chunks of the female's throat, barely noticing the two infants as they struggled to overcome their paralysis. At last, however, he grew tired of ripping the big hefty hunk of meat to shreds – it would take too long to properly feast on something so huge. He wanted a quick and tasty meal, something that would go down in one gluttonous gulp. His beady, bloodshot eyes shifted to the children; they were just the right size. He shoved their mother's corpse away with his nose almost as an afterthought and stomped forward, his nostrils flaring and his talons flexing eagerly. He let out a roar just to frighten them – he enjoyed playing with his food before he scoffed it down. The two children tried to back away, but it was no use – there was a veritable wall of foliage behind them, vines and tree trunks blocking any chance of escape. The king of the dinosaurs reared up, scraps of meat still dangling from between his bloodstained teeth; he prepared to strike…
Then suddenly, a foot fell from the sky and flattened the Tyrannosaurus Rex in one fell swoop. But it wasn't just any foot – for on this foot there was a familiar slipper, the one with the hole in the end just wide enough for a filthy, unkempt toe to squeeze through. The T. Rex cried out in agony, its tail now severed in half – the children were baffled, they couldn't understand what was going on. The only person who wasn't completely thrown for a loop was Rex Raptor, a young boy of nine years, who had been observing all this from his bedroom floor. Observing, and manipulating.
"What the…!" Rex's stepfather roared, yanking back his foot and scrutinizing the damage he'd caused to Rex's dinosaur figures. "How many times have I told you not to leave your toys lying around!"
"They're not toys," Rex muttered, clutching the now broken T. Rex figure – its tail had snapped clean off causing it to look like a shadow of its former self; a T. Rex without a tail was no T. Rex at all. "They're my dinosaurs." He stared up at his stepfather, finding the confidence to raise his voice. "And if you'd knocked before you came in, this wouldn't have happened."
"I shouldn't have to knock in my own house," came the response. "And don't talk back to me! I didn't raise you to be a boisterous little brat. I can allow a few of your… eccentricities…" He clicked his tongue and shook his head at the vast array of action figures Rex had spread out across a makeshift valley constructed from a few school textbooks and his bedspread. "But as long as you're living under this roof, you'll keep things clean and tidy, and so help me you'll show some respect!"
Rex grumbled. His stepfather had never been willing to understand or appreciate his hobbies – especially those that revolved around his love for dinosaurs. But then, Rex didn't much care; as far as he was concerned, he could stick his nose into somebody else's business and leave his well alone. It didn't help matters, however, that his stepfather was an adamant and domineering sort who would not allow matters to transpire in any fashion bar his own. Rex tried not to let on, but he really hated the guy's guts – big time. Regardless of what he accomplished at school or in the home, it was never good enough for him. Rex often wondered how his real father would have responded to his behaviour; whether or not his dad might have encouraged his enthusiasm for dinosaurs, or just savagely spurned him the way this arrogant imposter would.
He sighed and held the two halves of the broken action figure in his outstretched palms. In one hand, the tail – previously a proud part of the predator's posterior; and in the other, the T. Rex's body – its muzzle agape in what was once a primal, fear-inducing pose, whereas now it simply looked like a bemused and bewildered expression, embarrassment evident in its eyes. His stepfather had rendered it incapable of striking terror into the hearts of herbivores and smaller beasts; bereft of its very purpose in nature, it was useless. Rex couldn't bear to look at it in such a condition and weakly lobbed the two fragments of plastic against the wall opposite him.
"Well don't go throwing a tantrum just because one of your toys is busted," his stepfather said, scratching at the side of his leathery face with small, stubby fingers. He nodded his head toward the shelves lining the wall above Rex's bed, upon which had been arranged various other dinosaur miniatures from the stout triceratops to the sleek pterodactyl. "You've got plenty more where that came from. I won't have you acting like a baby."
"I only had the one Tyrannosaurus," replied Rex. "Besides, that one was special."
"What was so special about it, huh?" his stepfather demanded. His lips were peeled back, revealing yellow, tobacco-stained teeth, and his knuckles cracked on either side of him as he placed his hands on his hips. He looked ready to snatch Rex up in his arms and discipline him, so that he'd learn never to show the slightest semblance of feeling whenever one of his prized possessions fell to pieces. "It couldn't have been too special, or else you'd have it locked away somewhere so that nobody could step on it."
"Is that what you do?" Rex closed one eye and pointed the other straight at his stepfather's disdainful visage. "Lock things away that are important to you? Put them somewhere nobody can ever find them?" He paused meaningfully, wanting desperately to add: 'Because that would explain what happened to your heart.'
"If you've any smarts about you," his stepfather said, doubtfully. "You'll put all this junk away for safekeeping. Then, when you're older, you could sell it off for a fair bit of money."
"I'd never sell these," Rex snorted.
"Kids," his stepfather shook his head once more as he turned to leave the room. "You think it's gonna last forever, don't you? Trust me, you'll grow out of all this – and then you'll wish you'd listened to me."
Rex watched his stepfather leave, and realised as he did so that he was truly trying to communicate something he believed to be of value – as though the idea that everything he currently cared for was in reality worthless and fleeting was some sort of important life lesson. Rex's temper flared, and he felt like smashing everything in the room just to show that guy – just to show him the lengths he'd go to in order to defy him. But he couldn't; something held him back, and it was the very same thing that prevented him from saying what he really felt whenever his stepfather was around. It was the same thing that caused his heart to fall in his chest when he looked at that newly disfigured dinosaur toy. It was the same thing that caused him to return time after time in his head to a world long before man set foot on the earth. It was the still living memory of his father. His real father.
His father had given him the T. Rex figure as a present a number of years ago, not knowing that it would inspire in Rex such an undying fascination with the creatures. When he looked at that toy, he saw his father's face; he heard his gentle voice speaking to him, and he knew that – whether knowingly or not – his father had entrusted him with the responsibility of standing by his mother. When his dad died, his mom had been understandably grief stricken, and while in her darkened state she clung to another less deserving father figure. He treated her with a despicable amount of disrespect, and it horrified Rex to watch her succumb to his despotic will. But if he had tried to stand against his stepfather, she would have no doubt suffered twofold at his hands. All there was left for Rex to do was appease his father's usurper, and be there for his mother whenever desperation took its toll on her. Sometimes desperation got to Rex, as well. Then, he would return to the world of giant, walking lizards – a world where he held strength enough to fight against insurmountable odds, like he knew his father would have done.
Rex pulled the bedspread back, revealing a haphazard pile of biology, chemistry, and physics textbooks stacked on top of one another in order to create the illusion of hills. He growled, shoving them to one side, and gathered up his diplodocus figures. Placing them carefully on the shelf, he smiled in admiration. They were always here for him, and he somehow knew that, even when he was older, they'd be there still.
He would never lock them away.
"I'll tell you what happened to us, Rex!" Weevil muttered under his breath, as he stood by himself on the sidewalk unaware that Rex too was mulling over the same exact subject. "We outgrew each other. Or at least, I outgrew you. You're nothing but a child, Raptor. A teensy weensy pupa, utterly defenceless against those with eyesight sharp enough to spot your inherent weaknesses." He bit his bottom lip and turned back to look at the entrance to the mall, hoping to spot a flash of his friend's red hat through the milling crowds beyond. His search turning out to be fruitless, he sighed. "I can't help it if I'm one or two stages of evolution ahead of you."
He walked over to the bus stop and sat down on the stain-ridden bench; there were at least three other people waiting for the bus, yet none of them thought for a moment to ask Weevil for his autograph or a look at his deck. He wondered if they even knew he was a duelist, let alone an infamous one. He hunched forward on the bench so that his collar was masking most of his impish features – not to hide himself from the people, but vice versa. Bringing out his duel deck, he leafed through the varied insect monsters he'd collected over the years, recalling to mind the many encounters he'd experienced against other expert opponents – both the victories and the defeats. He remembered the first time he successfully summoned the Perfectly Ultimate Great Moth; how, at the time, it had been the most momentous occasion in his career, perhaps even the defining moment of his life. Transforming something as minute as a Cocoon of Evolution card into the ultimate, unstoppable insect – it quite clearly mirrored his rise from small, insignificant rookie to Regional Champion. He would've bet good money that there was nothing quite so symbolic in Rex's deck.
Weevil felt a slight twinge of guilt; he had told Rex outside the cinema that he didn't have his deck with him. It had been an outright lie; one that, at the time, hadn't seemed like a very big deal. But now that he'd had time to reflect, he felt strangely sorry for doing so. This was a first for him; usually, he could lie, cheat, and steal his way to victory in a contest and feel not even the remotest remorse. Why was this any different? So he told a little white lie, big deal. Rex hadn't even wanted to duel in the first place, or so he'd claimed. What made Weevil care so much about the fact that he had concealed his cards from his long time companion? Why did he regret doing it so?
"I only said it so he wouldn't duel me," Weevil hissed through clenched teeth, drawing odd stares from the rest of the people waiting in line for the bus. Weevil coughed, a sprinkle of light pink tickling his cheeks, and feigned as though he hadn't said anything. Things were worse than they seemed if he was talking to himself over something as trivial as one minor deception.
Why didn't I want to duel him, though? thought Weevil. I wasn't afraid of him. Was I? No, of course not. I've beaten him before. But that was… different. He looked up at the sparse gray clouds hanging overhead. If he'd wanted an impromptu contest, it would've thrown me off guard. Without preparation, without strategy, without forethought, I could have been in a most difficult predicament. That's it. It must be. I didn't want a spur of the moment duel because I might have been forced to rescind my victory over that pitiful, dinosaur-obsessed loser.
A grin spread itself across his features, practically reaching the very edges of his eyes, and he found an odd sort of comfort in knowing that he lied out of fear. Most duelists would present all sorts of suppositions to themselves before jumping to such a conclusion, but Weevil didn't have the integrity for that sort of thing. He cackled to himself, quietly enough so that it wouldn't attract the attention of those around him, and nodded. Yes, that was definitely it. Fear.
But what if it wasn't?
His grin recoiled into a thin, pale grimace. What was happening to him? Not only was he feeling such horrible pangs of guilt, now doubt too had crept its way into his mind and made guilt its live-in roommate. This was inconceivable. Emotionally, he was typically quite controlled – aside from the wild and unruly areas known as pride and rapture – yet now he was letting in these two unwanted guests and allowing them free reign over his subconscious. It felt like the rare occasions that an opponent would refute his taunts and manage to turn them against him; he didn't like it, not one bit!
What if it wasn't fear? the inner voice spoke once more. At least, not for yourself, anyway.
Weevil wrinkled his nose in disgust. He didn't like where this was going, yet felt powerless to prevent the voice from continuing down this terrible train of thought.
What if you didn't want to duel Rex because you like him?
Preposterous! He didn't like Rex! He merely tolerated his presence. He had proven useful on occasion, and had come up with one or two worthwhile dueling strategies, but he was nothing more than a cohort – an accomplice. He was fairly certain that even Rex himself would attest to this. If it weren't for their mutual love of playing Duel Monsters, they wouldn't even know each other. That was the long and short of their relationship; it was based entirely on their ability to play a dumb card game. Hardly something worth treasuring.
Yet you do treasure it! his thoughts insisted. They had taken on a teasing, singsong nature now; the embodiment of every schoolyard bully he'd ever survived. How else would you explain your going to the movies with him all the time?
Weevil smirked. He had an explanation for that one. They only went together because it was cheaper; the multiplex had a 'two kids for the price of one' offer, after all.
But you go everywhere else with him, too!
"Listen! For the last time!" Weevil jumped to his feet and raised his fists into the air, spittle spraying from his quivering lips. "I don't like Rex Raptor!"
The crowd was now simply gawking at him. Behind them, some litter scuttled across the road in a rush of wind, looking for all the world like an urban tumbleweed. He stood before them, his arms raised and his face fixed in the same shocked expression that they were reciprocating; he hadn't expected to become quite so impassioned. With a wheeze of its hydraulics, the bus finally arrived, and one by one the crowd of people filed onto it – their eyes still trained on the short, green-haired duelist. Rather than follow them onboard, Weevil stuck out his bottom lip and set off down the sidewalk; home was only an hour's walk away, after all. It would give him ample time to give this voice in his head a piece of his mind along the way.
He'd barely gotten more than fifty yards, however, when he collided with someone; Weevil's glasses flew off his face and landed befittingly in the gutter. His deck was still clutched tightly in his hand, and as he bent down to retrieve his specs he made sure to stuff them safely into his coat's inside pocket.
"Excuse me?" came a voice. It sounded as though it belonged to a woman, and Weevil immediately snapped his head back – his glasses falling halfway down his face – in order to search for its source. "Excuse me, are you… Weevil Underwood?"
At last! Recognition! he thought, gleefully. Spinning around, he held his head up high and proudly presented himself. "Why yes, in fact I am! Weevil Underwood, Regional Cha…"
His boasting dwindled as he got a good look at the owner of the voice. A mess of jet-black curls hid her face, with auburn streaks throughout her fringe highlighting her forehead. Her pale, doll-like complexion was complimented by her light, indigo painted lips; barely noticeable was the slight scattering of freckles upon her snowy cheeks, like shards of hazelnut atop the icing of a sumptuous cake. She wore thin rimmed spectacles that drew his attention to her brown, imploring eyes. Her suit – for it was a suit she wore, although Weevil would have imagined such a face to be fixed atop something far more extravagant – was uncomfortably formal and tight around her figure, with only a red insignia striking out against the convergence of black and white fabrics. The insignia, Weevil noticed, was in the shape of a tree – its roots cascading downwards and joining to form the word 'Providence'.
"Really?" she smiled.
"Really!" Weevil stammered. Of the few fans of his that he'd encountered, none of them had looked quite like this! His concerns regarding Rex couldn't have been further from his mind. "I can prove it! W-wanna see my deck?"
"Oh, no, that's okay," the girl bowed her head slightly, as if in apology. "I'm afraid I wouldn't be able to recognise any of your cards."
"Hunh!" Weevil blinked. "Not even my trademark Cocoon of Evolution?"
"Cocoon of…?" the girl was quite confused. "Um, no. I don't actually know anything about that card game you play."
"You don't!" Weevil felt as though he should take offense, but he was too smitten with the idea of being noticed at long last that he put her ignorance to one side. "Then how did you know who I was?"
"Actually," she blushed – a barely perceptible change in her cotton complexion. "It's my employer who knows you. He's something of a fan."
"Ahh!" Weevil squealed. This explained everything; someone in charge of a successful company was deriving inspiration from his dueling technique – and apparently lecturing his employees on all things Underwood to boot! "I see. And you'd like an autograph from the duelist himself, eh?"
"Uhh," the girl turned her head slightly so that the sunlight caught her glasses, shielding her eyes from him. "To be totally honest, I think he'd much rather meet you in person."
"Yes," she nodded. "He's a big fan of yours."
"You mentioned that already," Weevil chuckled; for all he cared, she could say it a thousand times over – it would still have the same wondrous ring to it. A big fan, eh? No doubt this was more acknowledgement than Rex Raptor had seen in more than a year. "Well, tell me where he works and I'll see if I can squeeze him into my schedule… eh-heh." He had no schedule of any sort, of course, but it always helped to keep up appearances.
"If you don't mind," the girl replied monotonously. "He'd like to see you now."
"Now, sir," the girl repeated. It was then that Weevil noticed that they were both standing beside a parked limousine. He had been so distracted by this girl's apparent adulation that the expensive car had failed to even register with him. "If you don't mind, of course."
"Mind!" Weevil giggled childishly at the prospect of riding in a limo. "Why on earth would I mind?" She opened the door to the limousine, and without waiting for another invitation he bounded inside – his behind sliding effortlessly across the seat as he gasped at the size of the vehicle's luxurious interior. He beamed across at the girl as she too entered, sitting down carefully and fastening a seatbelt across her front. "By the way, I didn't catch your name."
"It's not important," she whispered, reaching out with gloved fingers and closing the door.
"Oh, don't be embarrassed!" Weevil encouraged, his voice dripping with mock charm. "I'm sure it's a nice enough name. You're talking to someone named Weevil, remember."
"Very well, sir," she replied, never taking her eyes off the front of the limo where the driver sat steering his way through the busy traffic. "It's Nina."
"Nice to meet you, Nina," Weevil said. "Now, are you sure you're not at all interested in seeing my deck? I could teach you how to play Duel Monsters on the way to meet your boss. It's simple enough, I'm sure you'll pick it up in no time!"
"No, sir," she insisted. Then, she turned to look at him for the first time since he'd accepted her proposal to come along. "There is one thing I'd like to know, though."
"Really?" he asked. "I'd be glad to help you with anything, if I can."
"Well," she blushed once more. "Have you… uh…"
"Do you know Rex Raptor?" she said, finally. "He's a friend of yours, right?"
Weevil's expression shifted immediately from interested to irate in the span of a second. His eyes glazed over and he swiveled around so that he could press his head against the cold surface of the limousine's window. His nose became squashed and he closed his eyes in silent frustration.
"Yes," replied Weevil. "He's a friend of mine."
END OF CHAPTER ONE