Disclaimer: I don't own Yu-Gi-Oh! or any of its characters. Yu-Gi-Oh! is the property of Konami and Kazuki Takahashi.
Hello again, faithful reader. So at last, the second chapter is complete – and it took some doing, let me tell you. A lotta delays, and not just because I celebrated my birthday last Friday. In all, there were three different versions. This is the one I'm happiest with. The others just didn't have enough focus on Weevil and Rex, I spent so much time dawdling about in exposition that I forgot who the stars of the story were. It's still far from perfect, as you'll no doubt see, but the more bogged down I get with making alterations the less chance there'll be of it ever seeing the light of day!
I started writing this story because I believe Rex and Weevil are two genuinely interesting characters who deserve to be explored. I'm doing this more as a character study than anything else – though that's not to say there won't be a plot. There will be. But it won't really kick off, so to speak, until around chapter five. So until then, please don't expect too much in the way of thrills or action sequences. This chapter in particular is mostly just character moments and foreshadowing. But it should pay off in the end.
In all, this tale should consist of nine chapters – the ninth being the longest. I have most of it plotted out already. I know what the final sentence is going to be. Do not fret; should it look as though I've neglected to update, it will merely be because I'm so busy writing it.
One final aside, I changed the name "Providence Inc" to the "Providence Institute", and have made the appropriate correction to chapter one. It was a sloppy mistake – one I wouldn't have made had I fleshed out the plot in my head a little more before posting the first installment.
So without further ado (gosh, don't I ramble on?), here's chapter two.
Chapter Two: Recognition
"Take a seat please, Weevil."
Weevil stared bug-eyed at the man behind the desk. The room was surprisingly dark, but he was accustomed to poor lighting; ever since he started keeping a log of all the insects he'd seen, he had discovered that the more fascinating ones tended to come out late at night. On many a dull weekend, and on occasion during the week itself, he had busied himself by creeping around in the garden with only a pocket flashlight hoping to catch a glimpse of a beetle or spider skulking through the grass. Once spotted, he would cast the light upon them and they would freeze not unlike an escaped prisoner of war in some old movie fleeing from the faceless, sweeping spotlights which sought them out. But Weevil wasn't interested in capturing these creatures; his only hope was to better understand them by watching them in their natural environment, to appreciate and admire those qualities that drew him to them. To conceal them within a matchbox or other tiny compartment would doubtlessly defeat his purpose altogether; he wanted to observe, not preserve – obsess, not possess. He believed they shared a strange sort of kinship – a connection quite unlike any he'd ever experienced. He was close to them.
"Go on, Weevil," his mother spoke from where she stood close behind him. "Do what the man says. Sit down." He felt her frail fingertips forcing him forwards, and now he was in the dark room – the man behind the desk staring past him towards his mother. "I'm sorry; he's such a difficult child."
He was difficult, alright. He often drove his mother up the wall by coming back into the house when it was long past his bedtime, his kneecaps caked with mud and his hair riddled with dirt and grime. She would chastise him and chalk it up to his childlike curiosity, not knowing that this reached far beyond his insatiably inquisitive innocence. She would never know because she couldn't understand what drew him to the bugs in the first place, which she had professed to his father on several separate occasions. 'Such repulsive, wretched things' she had called them. They frightened her, it seemed, because she never knew where they were hiding – so small and inscrutable, not at all dissimilar to the manner in which she perceived her own son. Dad had simply urged her not to fret. 'If you can't see them, don't worry about them' – such was his attitude in all things. But alas this advice proved insufficient, for his mother often found insects crawling about in Weevil's clothes when necessity provided that she wash them; they would spill out from his sleeves and threaten to touch the bare, sensitive skin on her arms, and she would shriek and shriek and shriek. Weevil was very difficult indeed.
The chair was rigid and required him to sit up straight, quite unlike the comfortable couch he had been daydreaming upon in the waiting room. In there, he had been free to ignore his mother as she sat beside him – albeit with a gap of about one and a half cushions between them – and leafed idly through a generic women's magazine. Here he was expected to be attentive and respect whatever wishes came out of her mouth, not to mention the mouth of the man sitting opposite him with a somewhat stern look upon his brow. Weevil felt oddly intimidated, as though he were about to be put on trial; he wondered if this was what the insects felt like when they were caught in the glow of his flashlight. He lowered his head and grimaced, almost as though he expected an enormous matchbox to fall from the sky and swallow him up.
"Please do me a favour, Weevil," the man said, an artificial cheer prevalent in his instructions. "Place your head here for me, okay?"
He tapped a large device positioned to one side of the desk. Its smooth, metallic texture seemed obscure and eerie, like when moonlight hits a dilapidated building window and suggests life where none exists. Weevil didn't have to touch it to know it would be cold, the way he imagined bones might feel; just looking at it put him in mind of a skull, with two black sockets where eyes should be and a chin-rest strapped beneath its bloated jaw. Its face seemed cool and expressionless, and he couldn't help but compare it to the face of the man now watching him expectantly from only a few feet away. It was so very blank and unnerving; not a thing about it was natural, which was enough to put Weevil right off the idea of sticking his face anywhere near it. He wished desperately to be at home in the garden, his snug shorts pulled up tight so that the long grass could tickle his legs as he waded through it. He whimpered ever so softly, which was enough to draw his mother's sporadically sharp attention.
"Don't be such a child, Weevil!" she snapped at the boy. "Do as the man says!"
"It's okay, Weevil," the man soothed, leaning forward. Weevil would have backed away if he weren't secured by the stiff chair beneath him. "It'll only take a minute; just put your head there and we'll begin."
He noticed the man's spotless uniform, a ghastly white costume, and the nametag sewn thereon – he wasn't fooled by any of it. This man wasn't here to help; it was all just some elaborate trap set into motion by his mother. Were he to comply, the machine would likely spring to life and ensnare his head within its makeshift muzzle; the two dark sockets would flicker, and he would see within them a pair of lidless, burning eyes – the eyes of the monster. Knowing his fears to be irrational, he still could not help but feel petrified by the possibility of being fed to such an unnatural thing. The hairs on the back of his scrawny neck stood on end, and he could practically sense his mother's anger rising in the pit of her stomach; she was preparing to let loose another volley of her fury. Rather than allow her anxiety to boil over, Weevil chose to place his chin on the rest provided, and there was a barely noticeable sigh from the back of the room as anger turned to disappointment.
The man fiddled with a couple of knobs on his side of the device, and Weevil almost jumped right out of his skin when it seemed to shift and change shape in response to his touch – almost as though his nightmare were becoming a reality. However, he managed to remain still long enough for the top half to slide down into position, with the two round apertures placed parallel to his own eyes. Hesitantly, he peered through the twin sockets, which he'd previously feared held only unimaginable horrors, and to his astonishment he saw a picture of a quaint little house – not at all what he had expected.
"Can you see the house, Weevil?"
"Yes," he replied hoarsely. "But it's a little blurry."
"We'll soon fix that."
With the flick of a switch, the image was suddenly obscured as something whirred within the machine. It then reappeared, this time even fuzzier than before.
Once again, the image disappeared only to be brought back – though this time Weevil could see it much more clearly. Details that had previously eluded him, such as the shingles on the roof and the faded golden numbers printed upon the front door, now came through with near perfect clarity.
"Okay. Let me know if this makes any difference."
For a third time, the image was gone – and when it returned, Weevil was so startled that he had to close his eyes in disbelief. Opening them again, he could hardly comprehend what he was seeing. It was the same house, but the picture seemed altogether different somehow. Colours seemed more vibrant, textures more vivid. He could see everything he wanted to see, and as such he turned his attention away from the windows, which he knew to be empty, to the garden below; every single blade of grass was his to behold.
"How's that?" the man asked at last.
It was more than just perfect. Just by looking at that pristine portrait, he could visualize himself crawling on all fours through the thick expanse of lawn – soft green fingers stroking his face almost lovingly – and he felt it, that very same buzz he would get from his late-night, earthy expeditions. He could hear the wind whistling through the trees; he could smell the flowers that flanked the fence; he could even taste the falling raindrops on the tip of his tongue. And he knew he was not alone, for all around him he could hear the ever-present chatter of a hundred, nay, a thousand fellow insects reveling in this natural splendour. Weevil reached out, as if trying to hold onto this intangible dream, and suddenly the sounds disappeared; the sensations all left him as though the fantasy itself had fled in fear. And then a pair of hands gripped him from behind and pulled him away from the machine.
"Look to your right," the man said, looming over Weevil. He was holding a miniature flashlight, using it to carefully probe Weevil's face – in particular, his eyes. He took a firm hold of Weevil's chin and roughly tilted his head to one side. "Now look to your left." He narrowed one eye and mumbled something under his breath. "Yes, it's just as I thought."
"What is it, doctor?" Weevil's mother asked excitedly, eager to hear what was wrong with her son.
"He's shortsighted," the optician declared, allowing Weevil's chin to fall. He turned from the boy and switched off the flashlight, addressing his mother. "How long have you suspected him to be having difficulty with his vision?"
"Well," said Weevil's mother. "I have to admit, I didn't notice until recently. Ever since he started having that ridiculous fascination with insects… I swear, doctor, the boy is incorrigible in that regard. He simply refuses to listen to me. I warned him it would do more harm than good to take up such an obscure hobby. The number of times I've caught him out in the garden rooting around for God knows what…"
"Still," the optician mused. "It must be nice to have a son who goes outdoors once in a while." He shot Weevil a supportive glance, but Weevil was still too lost in thought to reciprocate it.
"Be that as it may!" Weevil's mother sighed. "What's the use of going outdoors if you've nobody to share it with? He's loath to spend time with either myself or his father. And as for friends, how is he supposed to get any? The child talks to insects – I've heard him!"
Weevil smirked. "That's because they're my friends."
"Weevil!" his mother barked. There was an exasperated pause before she continued. "I expect you to sit there and pay attention to every word this man has to say, so that maybe then you'll learn how important it is to do what you are told. If you didn't have your head buried in the soil all the time, perhaps you wouldn't need glasses."
"I wouldn't blame the boy, Mrs. Underwood," the optician cautioned. "It's one thing to discourage his interests, but to act like his hobby was responsible for this… I mean, we don't even know how long he's had this problem. He could've been shortsighted since birth for all I…"
"Please, doctor," said Weevil's mother, her voice disheveled and despairing. "Let's just get beyond all this nonsense. I presume we can get him fitted for a pair of glasses here?"
"Yes," the optician nodded. He turned to Weevil. "What say you, Weevil? Would you like to come choose a pair?"
Weevil nodded, but he was only half-listening. His mind was still with that picture of the house – his senses still succumbing themselves to the sweet siren song of his insect brethren. Even as they were led out down the corridor and into the small room where a young woman set about measuring Weevil's face from various angles, he wasn't aware of any of it. It was only when he was presented with a selection of spectacles that he made any attempt to acknowledge the events transpiring around him.
"Which would you like, Weevil?" the optician asked, gesturing toward the vast array of frames and lenses on the wall behind him.
"Pick any you like," his mother interjected. "Just don't pick those!" She jabbed her finger at a pair of yellow, saucer-like glasses. "I've never seen such a dreadful eyesore."
"It's Weevil's choice," the optician reminded her.
"I know," she replied quickly. Delicately, she placed a hand on the back of her son's head. "Go on then, Weevil. Which do you want?"
Weevil grinned sadistically and pointed to his desired pair. There was a long, drawn out silence, and Weevil felt his mother's hand slip from its place on the back of his head. The optician reached across and handed the glasses to him. Putting them on, he regarded himself in one of the nearby mirrors and beamed. "Yes, these will do perfectly." Through the yellow frames of his newly acquired spectacles, he watched his mother's reflection recoil in horror at her son's devious defiance.
Weevil was a difficult child.
Rex was walking home from the mall, having all but forgotten his little falling out with Weevil; their habitual arguments rarely came of aught, and he had no desire to revisit in his mind that area of thought which had stirred his feelings of discontent so malevolently. So he'd been on the losing end of a few duels lately, big deal; he knew he had the talent to make up for it. What did he care if nobody else recognised that? What was he supposed to do if people no longer chose to associate him with the other, more popular stars of the Duel Monsters leagues? He was no Yugi Moto, nor was he Seto Kaiba – and he had no desire to be. The former was a wishy-washy do-gooder, and the latter was nothing but a rich punk with a brain the size of a planet. Rex was his own duelist, one who fought with pride and power rather than money or morality. As long as he kept both his power and his pride in strong supply, he didn't care if people knew who he was or not.
Just then, a car drove past him; its tires skimmed across a rather deep puddle as it veered from one lane to the other, issuing a cold spray of dank, filthy water into the air. Rex barely had enough time to shield his face as the sickly shower soaked him from head to toe. He gasped, water spilling from his mouth as he did so, and removed his soggy hat; wringing it between his clenched fists, he snarled at the car as it crept along the curb toward a nearby set of traffic lights.
"Hey!" he yelled, running towards the offending vehicle. If he was fast enough, he could catch up with the car and give the owner a piece of his mind before the lights changed. "What's the matter with you? Don't you know who I am? I'm Rex Rap…!"
His pace slowed considerably when he noticed it wasn't just any car he was chasing; this was a limousine. Rex stopped as he reached the back end of the fancy vehicle; it stretched out for at least the length of three regular sized automobiles, its dark, reflective windows preventing him from discerning the identity of the culprit at hand. An alarm suddenly went off inside his head – it could only be Seto Kaiba! Who else was there in Domino that could afford such expensive transportation? He growled once more, his temper flaring inside his chest, and rushed up to the nearest window. Now he was mad, his resentment toward the world famous owner of Kaiba Corp still throbbing in his veins. He began knocking on the windows, his free hand literally clawing at the doors, as he demanded to be heard out.
"Come on out here, Kaiba!" he hissed. "I've got a bone to pick with you! You think you're Mr. Duel Monsters, huh? Well lemme tell you where you can stick your Blue Eyes White Dragon! Right up your…"
The window slowly began to wind itself down, causing Rex to jump back into the middle of the sidewalk in surprise. He wasn't afraid; he did, however, feel somewhat in awe. This was to be the first time he'd ever been addressed by someone with Seto Kaiba's standing in society. Well, he wasn't going to back down for one instant! He was going to look that rich punk straight in the eye and say-
"You look surprised, Rex!" Weevil sneered out at him. "You should know that a true champion always rides in style." He draped a nonchalant arm over the edge of the window and shook his head at his friend's soggy state. "Oh my. How on earth did that happen?"
Rex scowled; he wasn't buying into Weevil's act for one minute. "What the heck are you doing in there?"
"This?" said Weevil in mock surprise. "You're right, I suppose it's a little small; but any larger and people might think I'm over-compensating for something." He cackled and leaned back, bringing a tall, thin glass of fruit juice to his lips. "Ahh! Luxurious."
"Weevil!" Rex snapped, drawing the boy's attention back to him. "Don't play games with me!"
"I wouldn't dare," Weevil smirked. "After all, what would be the point? Whenever we play… you always seem to lose."
"Rrgh," Rex wanted to dive through the window and throttle the smug superiority right out of Weevil's thick skull. "This can't be your limo. Your folks won't even drive you to school, and you can barely ride that bike of yours…"
"You're one to talk," Weevil snorted. "At least I don't reduce myself to taking the bus to school every day. How you can stomach being crammed into such a small space with dozens of other kids, I'll never understand."
Suddenly, it hit Rex that there was an enormous commotion coming from behind the limo. Car horns were blaring and drivers were rolling down their windows in order to scream obscenities at the sleek black vehicle. He turned around and saw that the lights had now switched over to green – which meant that Weevil was currently blocking the lane.
"Might wanna tell your driver to get moving," Rex grunted. "You're causing one heck of a jam."
"Let them wait," said Weevil, taking another sip of juice. Rex's eyes widened as he saw a slender, gloved hand emerge from somewhere behind Weevil and tap him on the shoulder, causing him to swallow his drink more suddenly than he'd expected. "Yes, yes, I'm getting to it."
"Getting to what?" Rex blinked. "Hey, who's in there with you…?"
"Nobody!" Weevil insisted. "That is, nobody you'd care about. She's just some girl."
"Fan!" Weevil corrected himself awkwardly. "She's just some fan."
"Now I know you're lying," said Rex. "You don't have any fans. And even if you did, I doubt any of 'em would be girls!"
"She asked me for my autograph," Weevil continued unabated. "So out of the kindness of my heart, I offered her a ride."
Weevil was then joined at the window by another face, that of the girl in question. She brushed aside her dark hair and looked sideways at Rex. "Actually, it's my boss who likes him." Weevil hiccuped nervously as she shot him a somewhat disapproving glance. "I'd never even heard of him until today."
"Th-that's beside the point!" said Weevil, trying to usher her away with a flick of his wrist.
"He's also a big Rex Raptor fan," the girl spoke softly yet clearly. "We were just looking for him when Mr. Underwood here suddenly decided we ought to drive through that puddle and catch you unawares. I'm sorry if you got wet; he was quite insistent about it."
"That's okay, I guess," Rex blinked in disbelief. "Wait, wha? Looking for him? But I am Rex Raptor!"
"You are…?" the girl gasped. "But Mr. Underwood said you were just a worthless, washed-up…"
"Eh-heh-heh!" Weevil snickered nervously. "So anyway, as I was saying…"
Unable to contain himself, Rex lunged forward and grabbed Weevil by the collar. "Washed up, huh? I'll show you who's washed up!"
"Please stop," said the girl. Rex was now close enough to get a good look at her. She seemed to be about their age, perhaps a little older, with a shy yet stoic demeanour. Aside from a few golden-brown patches, her hair matched the colour of the limousine's paintjob, while her face was as white as chalk. He noticed the emblem embroidered into her uniform – the red tree with the word 'Providence' springing forth from its roots. "My employer wishes to meet you both. It wouldn't be very appropriate if the two of you showed up looking like you'd just been in a fight."
"He wants to meet us?" Rex echoed – his grip on Weevil's collar loosened. "Why didn't you say so in the first place, Weevil?"
"I was going to," Weevil replied, glowering at the girl beside him. "But I assumed you wouldn't be interested."
"Yeah right," Rex scoffed. "In other words, you wanted to have all the glory to yourself."
"Please," the girl said once more. She reached past Weevil, whose smouldering eyes were locked firmly onto Rex, and opened the door. "We really must be going. Mr. Underwood, if you could make room for Mr. Raptor…"
Dejectedly, Weevil shuffled over on the seat and allowed Rex to clamber inside. As he sat down, Rex gave Weevil a gentle thump on the elbow; they glared at one another and slid as far apart as the seats would allow them to, Rex's jacket leaving a distinct wet smudge on the leather cover beneath him. The girl smiled sheepishly and reached into a compartment hidden underneath the seat, pulling out a fresh glass of fruit juice.
"Here you go, Mr. Raptor," she offered it to him. "Compliments of Providence."
"Alright!" Rex's head whipped around and he grabbed the glass from her outstretched hands. "Man, this is awesome. I bet there aren't many duelists who get this kinda treatment." He went to take a swig of the immaculately presented soft drink, then hesitated. "Hey, uh, what's your name, anyway?"
"Nina," she replied.
"Okay then, Nina," Rex grinned. "You got a straw I can put in this, by any chance?"
"Ugh," Weevil groaned. "This is going to be a long trip."
Providence was not at all what they expected it to be.
Situated on the outskirts of Domino City, their destination seemed as far from Kaiba Corp as one could possibly get – and not just in terms of distance. Grand and gothic, it seemed to have been set aside from the insurmountable sprawl of skyscrapers and upscale office buildings as though the hands that built it had feared it would become lost amongst the unrelenting urban chaos of the inner city. It had been enclosed on all sides by a low-running brick wall, silver spikes sprouting up intermittently – appearing more like decoration than deterrent. The entrance lay in the form of a wide and weathered gate, its rust-red texture a stark contrast to the vibrant grounds it guarded. For beyond the walls there had been spread lush carpets of green and brown, rings of rich soil from within which billowed blossoming trees and beds of budding flowers. Rows of stubby hedges had risen on either side of the winding road that flowed toward the main building, which the limousine carrying Weevil and Rex now came upon.
Unfortunately for Weevil, his dire forecast had proved accurate; the journey must have lasted nearly forty minutes, yet to him it had felt like they'd been driving for weeks. Not that he didn't enjoy traveling by limo; he just didn't care for the company he'd been forced to keep. Rex had been antagonising him throughout the journey, and this Nina girl seemed far too quiet to be of any interest whatsoever. She was clearly just some bigwig's lackey – a brainless vessel only good for following orders. Not unlike Rex, Weevil mused, although at least he knew a thing or two about Duel Monsters whereas this girl was completely clueless. When at last he felt the limo come to a halt, he unclipped his seatbelt and went to leave – only to feel Rex's hand gripping him by the seat of his pants, holding him in place.
"What the…?" he cried.
"Wedgie!" Rex chuckled, yanking Rex's underthings up as hard as he could.
"Gaugh!" Weevil shrieked, slapping Rex's arms away while trying desperately to undo the damage. "You…! What was that for?"
"For getting me all wet," replied Rex, "and for acting as though you owned this limo!"
"Do you have any idea how foolish this makes you look?"
"Oh yeah," Rex smirked as he watched Weevil reach around frantically inside his own pants. "I look totally stupid. Boy, is my face red."
"Aha! Sarcasm!" said Weevil. "The lowest form of wit."
"Aha! Weevil!" Rex mimicked. "The lowest form of nerd."
"That doesn't even make sense!"
"It doesn't have to; it's still true."
"Ahem," Nina interjected, trying to get their attention. When their bickering had finally dwindled into a fiery stare-down, she nodded calmly. "We've arrived. If you would both kindly make your way out of the…"
"He'll have to go first," Weevil pouted. "I'm not getting out until I look presentable."
"Guess you'll be staying in here for a long time then," Rex scoffed.
"Mr. Raptor," Nina sighed. "Please, it would make things a lot easier…"
"Fine!" Rex turned and slipped his fingers under the handle. "Let the baby have his way."
As soon as Rex had opened the door, Weevil saw the perfect opportunity for revenge – and instinctively he took it. Lunging out with his left leg, he hooked his shoe around Rex's shin as he rose from his seat, sending him tumbling face-first out onto the concrete below. Weevil snickered as he stepped out of the limousine, his underwear now in perfect alignment. "Whoops!"
"Urgh… Weev… il!" Rex muttered weakly, slowly lifting his head up from the ground – shards of grit stinging his cheeks like dark gray freckles. "I'll tear you in half…!"
"Huh? What's that?" Weevil cupped his ear condescendingly. "You're going to tear me in half? How will you do that, hmm? With your sharp talons? Oh no! Whatever shall I do?" He clutched his shoulders and giggled, his whole body shaking with mirth. Then he stopped, noticing that Rex was no longer glaring at him – instead he was gazing in awe at something behind Weevil. "What? What's so…?" Then Weevil saw it.
It was like no other building they'd ever seen before. The only thing that came close to comparing was Pegasus' palace at the Duelist Kingdom – which they'd only really viewed from a distance – and while that towering castle would have most certainly dwarfed this place, it would've nevertheless been hard-pressed to match its majesty. It looked ancient, like the remains of some colossal beast with body of stone and brick that had once wandered the earth; the boys felt intimidated by it, as if one misplaced step would cause it to stir in its sleep, shifting its seemingly boundless mass on top of them as it continued to dream of a time before man. Here and there on its broad stone walls, ivy manifested itself in the form of thick green veins, clinging to windowsills and smothering the many arches that pointed toward the sky. In the courtyard in front of them, a statue – which looked recently sculpted – had been erected, its subject a man holding his fist in front of his chest as though he were perpetually participating in a game of rock-paper-scissors. Inscribed on a plaque at the base of the figure were the words: 'A purpose is the eternal condition of success.'
Weevil turned and surveyed the rest of the area. Before reaching the foot of the building, the road had looped its way around an islet, in the centre of which there stood a tree. This was obviously not uncommon, since there were many trees scattered about the grounds, but this one seemed different somehow; he felt as though he'd seen it somewhere before. Then he realised – it was the very same tree he'd noticed on Nina's uniform; aside from a few negligible differences, such as the tree not being red or having its roots shaped into the word 'Providence', it was identical. On the western side of the road, he saw a clock tower; it stood almost as tall as the building behind him, and as he watched the hands turning at their indeterminable pace he felt the strangest sensation that it was looking back at him. He cast his eyes down to his own watch, hoping to rid himself of the unnerving undulations running up and down his spine.
"Huh," he muttered. "Their clock's about half an hour slow."
"Can you blame 'em?" asked Rex, wiping his face and adjusting his hat. Weevil couldn't help cracking a cruel smile as he noticed that his cheeks were still ruddy from his unexpected fall. "I wouldn't wanna climb that thing every time it needed fresh batteries."
"Batteries?" Weevil spluttered. "You're even dumber than I thought…"
"It was a joke!"
"I'm not laughing," said Weevil. "But I will be when you make a complete fool out of yourself in front of these people by making stupid remarks like that one."
"Oh yeah?" Rex frowned. "Well I'll be laughing when I stick my fist down your throat for being a complete…"
"I don't understand something," Nina's voice cut short Rex's insults. While taking in their surroundings, they had forgotten all about her. "I was under the impression that you two were friends."
"Friends?" said Weevil. "What on earth gave you that idea?"
"You did," she replied.
"You said Mr. Raptor was your friend," Nina repeated. "Back in the limo, when I asked you…"
Weevil's lips clamped tightly shut and his cheeks turned beet-red. He could feel Rex's eyes on him, his face no doubt a mixture of amusement and disgust. He had to turn this around somehow; after all, if Rex were to think for one moment that Weevil saw him as a friend, their friendship would be over! "It… It was a joke."
"A joke?" said Nina.
"You know," Weevil grinned bashfully, scratching the back of his head. "I was just pretending. I mean, I assumed, since it was so painfully obvious that I detest Rex with every ounce of my being… that it would be funny!"
"Sarcasm, huh?" Rex folded his arms. "Lowest form of wit, right?"
"Shut up!" Weevil spat.
"Very strange," Nina shook her head almost solemnly. "I assumed that you'd be closer than brothers, seeing as how you're both seasoned Dueling Monsters players."
"It's Duel Monsters!" Weevil corrected her sharply.
"Well, you assumed wrong," Rex snorted. "I wouldn't trust this guy as far as I could throw him. And I can throw him pretty far. Wanna see?" Rex made to grab Weevil, causing the bug enthusiast to duck out of the way. "Wuss."
"But you must at least respect each other's achievements, right?" Nina suggested hopefully.
"What achievements?" they both asked – each in reference to the other.
Nina looked at them; her eyes seemed lost amidst a sea of confusion. Then she winked knowingly, poking them both playfully in the shoulder. "Ohh-ho! I get it. That was another one of your jokes, right?" She started laughing; it was a forced, almost hollow sound. Weevil couldn't tell if she was pretending or not; it was enough to make his hair stand on end – which would have been an impressive feat in itself.
"Uh," Rex exchanged Weevil's bewildered glance. "I… guess so."
"Too funny!" she clasped her hands together in front of her chest. "'What achievements?' I'll have to tell my boss that one."
"Yeah," Rex shrugged. "You do that."
"Speaking of your boss," Weevil stepped forward. "When would it be possible to meet him?"
"Oh," said Nina, immediately reverting back to her more subdued and placid personality. "Of course. Please, follow me." She stepped between the two boys, heading through the first archway and into the courtyard.
"There's something fishy about all this," Rex muttered to Weevil, his first real attempt at conversation since they'd left the cinema earlier that day. "Like, how did she even know where to find us? And this place… Doesn't it seem kinda weird to you?" He gestured toward the behemoth of a building. "It feels so…"
"You're imagining things," Weevil replied, fiddling with his specs. With that, he followed after Nina, preferring not to mention to Rex the odd feeling he'd experienced as he looked toward the clock tower. It had seemed like a combination between déja vu and something else – something far more powerful and significant.
There was definitely something fishy about it.
They had both expected to find the east wing of the Providence building to be bustling with activity, with workers rushing back and forth between each other's offices in a hectic haze. Instead it was a fairly quiescent quarter, and aside from the eager-spirited envoy that they met upon entry they saw very few people at all. Those they did see were young – shockingly so, in fact. A small gathering of uniformed individuals had crowded around one of the corners in the entrance hall, not one of them above the age of fifteen. Rex and Weevil noted that their manner of dress was in the same ilk as Nina's, although their clothes were navy in colour as opposed to Nina's black and white ensemble. They looked up from their conversation as the two duelists entered and flashed them both a welcoming grin, which did nothing to set Rex's worries at ease; he still didn't know quite what he was getting into, after all. Even in such strange and bizarre circumstances as the Duelist Kingdom and Battle City tournaments, he had at least possessed some form of understanding of the situation at hand – he wasn't just stepping forth into alien territory, as was the case here.
The boy – for it was a boy of around ten years of age, young enough to make both Rex and Weevil feel out of place – who had been waiting just inside the door beamed at them, clearly recognising Nina. "Hello and welcome! Welcome to the Providence Institute!" He extended an arm; Rex felt intensely awkward at having to bend down in order to shake hands with this peppy little pipsqueak. "So what brings you both here?"
"A limo," grumbled Rex, put off by the boy's bouncy attitude.
"They're here to meet Mr. Reed," Nina announced.
"Ah!" the boy nodded enthusiastically. His eyes lit up and he jammed a finger toward Rex's face, causing him to flinch. "So you're the world famous duelists we were expecting?"
"Yeah, we…" Rex began. His jaw became slack, and his eyes slowly curled around to meet Weevil's. Despite their best attempts to remain composed, it was clear they were both as startled as each other. "Uh… Yup. Famous duelists. That's us."
"Absolutely," Weevil grinned. "Surely you must recognise the Regional Champion, Weevil Underwood?"
"And me," Rex butted in, refusing to let Weevil hog what dubious honours this kid had imposed upon them. "Rex Raptor, the, uh..." He racked his brain in an attempt to recall some past achievement that might sound impressive.
"Yes, Rex?" said Weevil, shifting his weight from one leg to the other as though he were waiting impatiently. "What was it you were champion of again?"
"I…" Rex began to sweat, as he realised that even Nina's attention was fixed upon him. For some reason, his mind had gone completely blank – he couldn't even remember the last duel he was in, let alone the last victory he'd attained. So instead of drawing on his past history, he instead decided to close his eyes and say the first thing that came into his head. "… I-I'm the King of Games!" Needless to say, snap decisions weren't his forté.
Weevil's laughter echoed throughout the vast entrance hall, drawing the attention of the sparse few who hadn't been near enough to hear Rex's ridiculous claim. Rex's whole body had frozen – even he couldn't believe what he'd just said. He lowered his face and stared at his shoes, waiting for the ridicule that would doubtlessly ensue.
"You?" the boy asked, his voice incredulous. "The King of Games…?"
"Mr. Raptor!" Nina said, disapprovingly.
"I…" Rex began, his heart sinking in his chest. Why had he gone and said such a stupid thing like that? There was no way these people could believe him; after all, everybody knew Yugi Moto was the King of Games; he hadn't even managed to face that guy in the tournament. Instead he'd been knocked out by the upstart, Joey Wheeler – and until this moment, that had been perhaps the most shameful moment in his entire career. "What I mean is…"
"I don't believe it!" the boy laughed. But it wasn't the harsh, cynical laugh that Rex had anticipated – this was a cheerful, joyous thing. The boy then gripped Rex's hand and shook it several times more, his eyes all aglow with admiration. "This is such an honour to have met you!"
"Wha?" Rex blinked.
"What?" Weevil scowled, practically falling over himself in surprise.
"Mr. Raptor," Nina repeated. "You really should have mentioned this before." She stepped forward and offered her own tender hand to him. "I had no idea you were quite so renowned."
"Well, I…" Rex hesitated. He wasn't quite sure why, but he suddenly felt reluctant to admit to his falsehood. Perhaps it was because he'd gotten away with it – or perhaps it was something more important to him. Perhaps it was the confidence he now felt burning away in the pit of his stomach that called to him and encouraged him to play this out. He took Nina's hand with a smirk. "I don't like to brag, y'know?"
"Brag?" Weevil gasped. "But he's not even the real King of Games!" Both Nina and the boy turned to look at Weevil as he flailed his arms accusingly. "Yugi Moto is!"
"Yugi… Moto?" said Nina, her voice flat and faraway.
"Just ignore him," Rex said, nodding in Weevil's direction. "He's been jealous ever since I defeated him at the Duelist Kingdom."
"You didn't beat me!" Weevil snarled. The chords in his neck were stretched so taut that Rex feared from looking at them that they might burst at any moment. "Yugi Moto did!"
"Yugi Moto this, Yugi Moto that," Rex rolled his eyes. "Give it a rest, man. Or at least come up with some new material." He turned to Nina and shrugged. "You'd expect more class from a Regional Champ, wouldn't ya?"
"How dare…!" Weevil screeched, before suddenly stifling his rage. His face became less tense, and he calmly closed his eyes before speaking. Rex imagined he was busy counting from one to ten in his head. "Yes, of course. I am the Regional Champ. And we both know who I beat in order to earn that title, don't we? Hmm?" He stared defiantly at Rex, his teeth glistening like fangs as he awaited an answer. "Care to enlighten us, O King of Games?"
"Lemme guess," Rex cocked his head to one side. "Yugi Moto?"
"Rrrgh!" Weevil's face contorted in anger. "Listen, you…"
"If you don't mind," Nina spoke up. "We really should be going. Mr. Reed doesn't like to be kept waiting." She smiled at the boy, who bowed his head in response. "Carry on, Jacob."
"Yes, ma'am!" Jacob replied, heading back to his post. He briskly returned and gave an embarrassed bow. "Sorry, I keep forgetting to do that."
"It's alright," Nina smiled warmly. "I'm not administration yet, you know."
"I know," he blushed before turning back to Rex and Weevil. "It was a real honour to meet both of you!"
"Be sure to tell all your friends about me," Rex grinned, observing Weevil's silent fury out of the corner of his eye. "Tell 'em how I'm much taller in person!"
With Jacob gone, Rex turned to confront Weevil – who was furiously biting at his bottom lip. Rex considered apologising, but something in his gut told him that, had Weevil been in his position, he probably would have done the very same thing. "Somethin' wrong, champ?"
"Nothing," Weevil said through gritted teeth. "Nothing whatsoever." His voice grew deep – which, for Weevil, was a considerable achievement – and he added one final, spite-filled utterance: "Your highness."
"Glad to hear it," said Rex.
To say that Rex and Weevil were impressed by the Providence Institute would be an understatement contained within the same ballpark as phrases such as 'Australia is rather big, isn't it?' and 'We'd better wrap up warm – this Ice Age could get a little nippy'. Truly, the building's exterior had been a sight to behold – but it had been a large, almost foreboding sight; they couldn't have imagined that inside lay a veritable treasure-trove of wonders that would make their eyes threaten to seize up in amazement. From the luxurious carpets beneath their feet, to the solid gold candelabras and crystal chandeliers hanging overhead – its extravagance seemed to increase exponentially the further they progressed. Corridors lined with portraits and busts seemed to stretch on endlessly, until finally they would be presented with a crossroads with each route leading to more of the same. Every so often they would pass by rooms that would tempt them with distractions; what they expected to be a library would inordinately turn out to be an aquarium or indoor garden. One room had been declared off-limits, with a young man – perhaps eighteen or nineteen – standing guard outside, but behind him they could just make out that it was a laboratory of some sort. Each time they turned a corner, they seemed to find themselves looking at something they never would have expected to see in such an otherworldly place.
"This place is like nothing I've ever seen before!" Weevil commented as they followed in Nina's wake.
"It's like how I always pictured the girl's toilets would look," Rex agreed.
"Hmm?" said Nina, nonplussed as always. "We're almost there. Mr. Reed's office is just down this corridor."
"I could've sworn she said that about five corridors ago," Weevil whispered.
"Hey, Nina," said Rex. "What does this Reed guy want with us, anyway? I mean… I've never even heard of this place.
"You haven't?" Nina seemed mildly shocked. "That's odd. Mr. Reed is a well-respected figure in the outside world."
"Whatever," Rex shrugged. "I still don't know the guy."
"Perhaps that's precisely why you don't know him," Weevil snickered.
"I'm not really sure why he asked to see you," Nina admitted, touching the side of her face with her fingertips. "I just know that he's an admirer of yours, and that he expressed an interest in meeting you. So it was my job to make it happen."
"What exactly did he say about us?" asked Rex, his attention momentarily drawn toward the bust of a man with a hooked nose and a well-set jaw. His eyes seemed brooding and ponderous, and Weevil felt a strange connection with the stony representation. "I mean, does he want us to duel him or something?"
"Duel him?" Nina seemed taken aback. "I should think not. He's an important man, far too busy to be concerned with that sort of thing." She stopped in the middle of the corridor and turned to face a door marked 'Head of Administration'. "Here we are. I'll go in and tell him you've arrived, then you can both enter and I'll introduce you. Okay?"
They both nodded. Nina rapped gently on the door, her soft knuckles barely registering against the thick wooden surface. Quiet as she had been, however, the response was a clearly audible "Enter!". Nina walked in, and there followed a long series of murmurs and excited exchanges. Weevil and Rex scowled at one another from either side of the door, both trying to get close enough to it so that they might listen in. Eventually, when they'd both grown so curious that they'd placed their ears against the door, it swung open and they very nearly tumbled over each other at Nina's feet.
"Mr. Reed will see you now," she said.
Shoving Weevil aside, Rex entered the room.
"Take a seat please, Rex."
The boy in the red hat casually kicked the door behind him as he entered the room, his left-eye swollen and purple while his right bore pure malice and contempt. Mrs. Faversham was familiar with that look – he'd worn it on all previous occasions when she'd seen fit to request his presence in her office. She'd seen it so many times that by now it should have lost its sting; she knew the child was nothing more than an impetuous brat, yet somehow when he looked at her with those beady, bloodshot eyes she felt as though there were something more savage lurking under the surface – something monstrous and hateful. It would certainly account for his actions today, she mused.
Rex was a volatile student, perhaps the most violent and unpredictable little runt she'd ever had the misfortune of meeting. No amount of discipline seemed sufficient. She had been forced to stop detaining him after school since the teachers in charge of detention had been unable to control him; he had turned those silent sessions into loud and vulgar affairs. Even keeping him in a room on his own wasn't good enough, since without supervision the amount of trouble he could cause was almost limitless. She'd never been forced to suspend a student before, and had secretly hoped that the day would never come when she would dismiss a boy from her school – but Rex's actions gnawed at her like some diseased and corrupted creature, and from the look on his face he knew it. If he were a dog, she would have had him put to sleep.
"Sit down, Rex."
"Sure thing, Mrs. Faversham," he replied, his eyes turning to the boy seated before her desk. He placed a hand on the chair next to him. "This seat taken, red?"
"Rex!" Mrs. Faversham snapped, slapping her desk. The mug of coffee resting beside her well-polished nameplate seemed to bounce ever so slightly, sending ripples through its milky surface, and the small, quivering child to Rex's right flinched in fright. "Sit down and do not talk until I say so!"
At last, Rex complied, and he slumped down into the empty chair – pulling his hat down over the light purple hue of his fringe. It was the only part of him that seemed non-aggressive; his other features were all hard and callous. The rest of his hair was a wild mess of brown curls, and his angular face seemed suited to his stubborn and severe nature. She felt he had the look of a criminal, one who had been destined since birth to become bitter with his lot in life and fall in with a bad crowd. It made her sad that someone so young had already lost all semblance of sensibility. Then, as though he'd sensed her sympathetic feelings toward him, he lifted his feet up and rested them on the edge of her desk.
"I swear," he said. "This place gets cozier every time I come in here."
A few crumbs of dirt dropped from his shoe and into the mug of coffee, little brown islands swirling amidst the creamy ocean. She felt a nervous twitch take its hold on her, tugging at her eyelid as if trying to get her attention – as though it were urging her to lose her temper and tell this boy how she really felt. Tell him that he was a no-good, irresponsible, tormenting…
"Kindly remove your feet from my desk," she instead whispered succinctly.
Uncrossing his legs, Rex did as he was told. Mrs. Faversham wondered what could have led him to become so disobedient. She had met his parents, and they didn't seem like the type to allow the boy to ride roughshod over them; his stepfather had, in fact, appeared to be a stalwart sort – not the kind of man who would allow their child to grow unruly and presumptuous. She didn't see much of him in Rex at all; it was a shame.
"So," her throat wobbled. "Would either of you like to tell me what happened?"
"What, they didn't tell you?" Rex asked.
"I want to hear it from one of you," Mrs. Faversham insisted; her voice came quick and quiet. "Both, if possible. Rex, would you like to go first?"
"Not really," Rex smiled wryly. "Besides, this guy looks like he wants to get something off his chest. That right, red?" The boy cringed as Rex addressed him, and seemed to shrink back in fear like a snail entering its shell.
"Toby," said Mrs. Faversham, her tone suddenly changing to one of reassurance. "If you don't want to say anything, that's okay. But I can't do anything about this unless you give me some idea of…"
"Unless he gives you a name, right?" asked Rex, placing his hands behind his head and letting his eyelids droop wearily as though he had already grown tired of the conversation. "And we all know which name you want him to say, but the question is whether or not you can get him to say it."
"That's enough, Rex!" she commanded.
"Yep, bingo!" Rex snapped his fingers. "That's the name we're looking for. Tell her what she's won, Alex!"
Mrs. Faversham sighed. She knew what had happened, and she knew who was responsible; Rex was right on both accounts, but that didn't give him the right to gloat about it – nor did it give him the right to attempt to make a mockery out of her. "Toby, if there's anything at all you can tell me, please… You can see I'm trying to help you. Let me help you, Toby."
Toby looked up. He had been shivering ever since he'd arrived in her office, and she could clearly see the redness in his eyes where tears were threatening to form. She smiled at him; if there were one boy in the entire world who represented the angelic antithesis to Rex's brash breed, it was Toby. His short, strawberry red hair and smooth, ovular face were telling of his soft and sensitive character. Pale and skinny, he was the kind of boy who excelled in his studies and merited many an award; he would no doubt go on to become an advanced student at some far-off university and achieve his true potential. It was this undeniable fact that doubtlessly drew out the Rex Raptors of the world, made them hate him for what he stood for – his ability to reach heights that kids like Rex could never hope to. Knowing this, Mrs. Faversham's mind turned once more to the possibility of suspending Rex and keeping her precious pool of pupils as pure as possible.
"You understand that I can make Rex leave you alone, Toby?" she assured him. She caught Rex's reaction – a cool and cocky shake of his head – and her voice became more determined. "I can make it so he leaves everybody alone. You just have to tell me what happened."
Toby swallowed. "He… I…" He looked over at Rex hesitantly, as though he were afraid to continue. "I was just… I was minding my own business, getting my stuff out of my locker… and then… I b-bumped into him, and he just started… yelling at me."
"Who did? Rex?" Mrs. Faversham stressed.
"Y-yeah," said Toby, his voice trembling. "So I apologised, but he wouldn't stop getting in my face… I didn't know what to do… I tried to call out for help but… nobody was around… I was alone with him… and then he… he hit me."
"So he started it," she nodded, folding her arms across her desk and staring supportively at the quivering boy; secretly, however, she was thinking of Rex – of how sweet it would be to finally wipe that arrogant look off his face for good. "Thank you, Toby. That's all I needed to hear. You may return to your class now."
Toby wiped his eyes, his emotions having gotten the better of him, and stood. He turned to leave and momentarily locked eyes with Rex, causing him to stumble and bump his thigh against the arm of the chair. Before Mrs. Faversham could assist him, he had scrambled to his feet and scurried out the door. Now she was alone with Rex, as he had been alone with Toby when he instigated his assault. She was going to enjoy every moment of this.
"Well then, Rex," she said, going to take a smug swig of her coffee – before stopping herself at the last minute and placing it down firmly on the far side of the desk. Rex cracked a smile; he wouldn't be smiling very long, she thought. "Would you agree with Toby's description of the events?"
"Sure, why not?" Rex shrugged. "Even if I didn't, it's not like you'd trust my word over his."
"This is true," she nodded. "At least you are willing to accept people's perceptions of you; you have nobody to blame but yourself, the way you carry on." She took a deep breath, relishing the moment that was to follow. "I'm afraid, Rex, that your incessant infringements have, in all honesty, become too frequent for me to forgive. You have broken the rules of my school one time too many. You are a bad influence on the other students, and I will not allow them to succumb to your insufferable insolence any longer."
"Get to the point, ya stiffosaurus," Rex mumbled, barely loud enough for her to hear.
"The point, Rex," she announced, "is that you are to be hereby suspended from my school."
Rex's eyes widened ever so slightly and a few tufts of purple hair crept out from under the puffy rim of his hat. He turned and looked toward the door, as though he assumed she had been talking to somebody else; then, as his face came back around, he opened his mouth wide… and let out a long, hearty laugh. "Wow! I'm impressed, lady. I didn't think you had the guts."
"This isn't about having guts," Mrs. Faversham seethed, irritated and confused by the fact that he hadn't been more shocked by her declaration. "This is about doing what's right for my school, and for my students. Your parents will be hearing from me. In the meantime, if you wish, you may attend the rest of the day's proceedings…"
"Screw that," Rex grunted, standing up. He stuffed his hands into the pockets of his green jacket, his bruised eye staring lazily across at her. "Y'know, if I actually believed half the stuff that you just said, I'd probably have a little bit of respect for you. But like everyone else at this crummy school, I don't. Not in the least. You say you wanna do what's right for your students… What does that make me then, huh?"
"You're hardly a student," she retorted. "Students actually learn things when they come to school. What have you learned in your brief time here, Rex?"
"Not much," he conceded, taking a few steps in the direction of the door. "I gotta say, though, I learned a lot today. Like I learned that, as long as you're in charge, you get to lash out at people all you want and pretend you're doing the right thing."
"How dare you…!" she got to her feet and smacked the desk once more, hoping to stop him in his tracks. "Rex Raptor, you listen to me!" This hadn't been how it was supposed to go. He should have been shocked into silence; he should have submitted to her, acknowledged that she had been right all along. Now he was leaving, and going with him was the only chance she had of regaining her superiority over him. "Stop this instant, or…"
"Or what?" he scoffed. "You'll suspend me? Too late."
"You're no longer suspended!"
"What?" Rex looked askance at her, his fingers poised on the door-handle. "You caved already? That was fast."
"No, Rex," she replied. "I'm simply changing my mind. I'm not going to suspend you." Rex's brow furrowed as she narrowed her eyes at him. "I'm going to let your parents deal with you."
"My parents?" he asked.
"Yes," she picked up the phone receiver on her side of the desk and aimed it at him as if it were a weapon. "From now on, every time you step out of line, they will get to hear about it in detail – and I will leave it up to them to decide how to deal with you. I'm sure your father will have a few ideas; he doesn't seem like the sort to tolerate your level of delinquency."
"He's not my father," Rex muttered, before raising his voice at her. "But go right ahead! I'm sure you two will get along like a house on fire!"
With that, Rex was gone from her sight, slamming the door behind him.
As Rex came out of the office, he felt himself starting to tear up. He planted a fist into the wall in front of him, his knuckles exploding with pain as he lowered his head, and bit his lip to keep the torrents at bay. If she had suspended him, it wouldn't have mattered. He would've just been shipped off to another high school, where he would continue to be persecuted the same as always. Now, however, he would have to deal with his stepfather's anger – but it wouldn't be aimed at him. It would be aimed at his mother, for after all it was her fault that Rex was this way; she had given birth to him, therefore all responsibility lay with her. Never mind the fact that Rex's rage stemmed from his stepfather, from the conflicted emotions he felt as he was forced to sit back and watch him turn his own mother into a walking ruin. Now things would just get worse, and all because he hadn't known when to keep his mouth shut. His father would have been disappointed in him…
"Are you okay?"
Rex reached up and wiped away the solitary tear that had managed to overcome his defences. He hadn't expected there to be anybody around since classes were still in session. He sniffed and turned to glare at whoever it was, only to see Toby sitting on the floor beside Mrs. Faversham's office.
"What the heck are you still doing here?" asked Rex. "Principal told you to go back to class."
"I know, but…" Toby rose, twiddling his thumbs nervously. "I guess I figured you'd want to kick my butt after what I did in there… So why not just get it over with?" He winced as though he expected Rex to attack him right off the bat. "So, uh, go ahead… I won't tell."
"Heh," Rex smirked. "Don't tempt me, red. Besides, I'd have to be an idiot to beat on somebody outside the Principal's office."
"But…" Toby began, slowly opening one eye. "Aren't you mad at me? For what I did in there, I mean…"
"Believe me," said Rex, setting off down the corridor – hoping to leave this whole sorry mess behind him, at least temporarily. "Out of all the people I'm mad at right now, you're at the bottom of the list."
"Wait!" Toby called out. Soon enough, he was walking alongside him. "You didn't say anything, did you? About those other guys?"
"Why?" Rex asked, innocently. "Wasn't I supposed to?"
"Tell me you didn't!" Toby whispered. He brought his hands up to his face and gave an almost comical gasp. "If they find out, then…"
"Relax, I didn't say anything about 'em," Rex reassured him. "Besides, if I had done, Mrs. Faversham wouldn't have listened."
"Oh, thank goodness…"
"You'd think she would've suspected something was up," Rex chuckled sardonically. "I mean, I walk in there with a shiner the size of a bowling ball… And you didn't even have a scratch on you!" Rex shoved Toby playfully, causing the red-haired kid to let out an alarmed cry. "If I really wanted to fight you, you'd be in a much worse condition – trust me."
Rex had been in a fight that day – but it hadn't played out quite the way Mrs. Faversham had imagined. He had been minding his own business, sticking a dinosaur poster up in his locker, when Vince Mackenzie – the most feared kid in school, simply because he had a gang of older kids much tougher than him at his disposal – and his boys came from out of nowhere and started laying into him. It turned out that Vince had just been dumped by his girlfriend and needed someone to take it out on; Rex just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Toby hadn't been involved at all; he'd just been watching from the sidelines, the only witness to the sudden and relentless attack. Once Vince had finished tearing into Rex, he turned to Toby and warned him not to tell a soul about it – or else. He gave Toby another warning in the form of a well-placed fist to the stomach, before leaving the two of them lying there next to each other in the locker-room. They were found a few minutes later by a teacher, who – upon noticing Rex – immediately jumped to the wrong conclusion.
"Thank you," Toby murmured as Rex went to head back into his class.
"Don't mention it," Rex replied. "Nobody would believe you anyway."
There was a sound like a coffin lid slamming shut as they entered the room. Mr. Reed had been reading from a thick, black tome – its spine inscribed with the same scarlet emblem which had appeared infrequently during their brief stay at Providence. Upon the arrival of his guests, he had briskly shut the book and brought his attention to the front of his desk where they now stood, a cloud of dust drifting from the tome's leather cover and catching in colours the light through the spectacular stained-glass window behind him. His blonde hair had been tied back into a ponytail, which seemed to belie his age; judging by the weathered lines across his brow and the wise aspect of his pale blue eyes, Rex would have wagered him to be no younger than forty. Not only that, but his face seemed familiar somehow, although Rex was certain he'd never met this man before. Perhaps he'd seen him somewhere on TV, given that Nina had said he was an important figure in the outside world.
The outside world? Rex thought. What did she mean by that, anyway?
"Welcome," Mr. Reed stepped around the desk and slipped the book into an empty space on the impressively laden bookshelf. He then faced them both, his thin, disapproving lips doing their utmost to smile. "Perhaps you'd like to formally introduce these two young gentlemen, Nina."
"Oh, yes," Nina rushed forward, her footsteps barely registering on the plush carpet. "Mr. Reed, may I present Weevil Underwood and Rex Raptor." She placed a gloved hand on the appropriate duelist's shoulder as she called their names.
"Thank you, Nina," said Mr. Reed, and with a dismissive wave he added: "That will be all."
"Y-yes, sir," Nina bowed her head and regressed through the door.
"So then," Reed remarked once she'd closed the door behind her. "What can I do for you two?"
Rex and Weevil looked askance at one another, then back to their host. "We were kinda hoping you'd tell us."
"Hmm?" said Reed. "Oh, of course. You're the two duelists I asked to see." He shook his head and laughed – though Rex failed to see the humour. "It figures I'd forget the most important meeting I had scheduled."
"We didn't even hear about any meeting until your assistant came to pick us up," said Rex.
"She informed us that you were a fan of ours," Weevil added. "Though I wouldn't be surprised if she were somehow mistaken. After all, she hardly seemed like the brightest firefly in the nest."
"Nina?" Reed seemed thrown off by Weevil's metaphor. "Yes, I apologise if her behaviour on the way over came across as… confused. No doubt she said one or two things that seemed out of place."
"I'll say," Rex mumbled, her reference to the 'outside world' still fresh in the forefront of his thoughts.
"But nevertheless it's true, I am something of a fan," Reed admitted. "Although I can't profess to have seen either of you duel in person, given that I'm always so bogged down with work here at the Institute. With access to the Internet, however, I don't even need to leave the confines of my office to read up on you."
"The Internet?" Rex gulped. He'd never been very 'net savvy, but he'd heard about the various websites that had cropped up after the Duelist Kingdom fiasco, denouncing both himself and Weevil as frauds who couldn't duel their way out of a paper bag. Weevil in particular had taken the brunt of the assault, overrun by countless petitions proposing he be stripped of his Regional Championship. That was before the tide really started to turn against them – before they had to worry about people going out of their way to ridicule them in public. He hadn't given the Internet a second thought until now. "Yeah, well, whatever you read on there, it ain't true!"
"It ain't? Um, isn't?"
"Those geeks are just jealous!" Rex continued. "They're mad because they know they'll never be half as good as we are. While we're out winning tournaments and improving our decks, all they can do is sit and home and write nasty rumours about us. You're crazy if you listen to 'em!"
"Indeed," Weevil snorted. "And the fan-fiction they write about us is just so insulting. They make me out to be some sort of sniveling little…"
"Hold on now," said Reed. "Perhaps you misunderstood me. I'm not the kind of guy who reads those defamatory duelist dirtsheets. I stick to facts and statistics." He straightened his tie and nodded reassuringly. "And the truth is, you both hold impressive records."
"O-of course we do," Rex stammered. He was still having difficulty getting to grips with being lavished with praise everywhere he turned in this peculiar place. He smirked and spread his arms wide, casually elbowing Weevil in the ribs as he did so. "Did I mention I'm the King of Games?"
"No, you didn't," Reed raised an eyebrow. "Although that's probably because you're not."
"I… huh?" Rex blinked. Weevil had already begun to snicker, despite the throbbing pain in his chest. "Hey, what gives? Nobody else here knew I was lying when I…"
"Our students know very little about Duel Monsters," Reed explained. "And they know even less about the people who play it. You could have claimed to be the game's creator and I doubt they would have second-guessed you." He narrowed his piercing eyes at Rex, and pointed toward himself. Rex finally knew where he'd seen him before – the statue outside in the courtyard; it had held the same rigid, domineering posture, as though they'd both been cut from the same oppressive rock. "I, on the other hand, am not so easily fooled. You would do well to remember that."
"Uh… Okay," Rex swallowed.
"Excuse me, Mr. Reed?" said Weevil.
"Please," Reed smiled warmly as he moved his attention over to the skinny, blue-haired duelist. "Call me Alistair."
"Eh-heh," Weevil laughed out of the corner of his mouth. "Alistair. You mentioned students? Are those the children we've seen scuttling around the place?"
"Hey, yeah," said Rex. "This whole building seems to be packed with the little brats. What's the deal there? You guys running a nursery or something?"
"Those 'little brats', as you put it, are valued members of this institution." Once again, Reed seemed to scowl through his eyes at Rex. "Many of our youngest residents have intelligence surpassing that of even the smartest high school student. No, Mr. Raptor, we are not running a nursery."
"You must forgive him, Alistair," Weevil giggled, his hand held close to his mouth. "Rex is the kind of person who only perceives things in their most basic of forms."
"Wha?" Rex frowned.
"You see?" Weevil smirked. "Now, had I simply said 'Rex is dumb', he wouldn't have had any difficulty catching my meaning."
"Why, you…!" Rex snarled. He somehow managed to maintain his temper, although he swore to himself that the moment they left this office he'd be wailing on Weevil like there was no tomorrow.
"Very good," Reed chuckled. "But I suppose I should explain what Providence is all about, and why I invited you both here in the first place."
Rex and Weevil listened intently as he elaborated upon the establishment's history. Rex wasn't all that interested in any of it and neither, he imagined, was Weevil – although Weevil was certainly doing a good enough job pretending to be, nodding and humming thoughtfully during each significant pause. As it turned out, the Providence Institute wasn't a nursery after all; it was some sort of extravagant school-orphanage hybrid. About thirty years ago, a man called William P. Gray – the 'P', Rex assumed, stood for Providence – had founded the institution in the hopes of giving those less fortunate than himself a place to live and a chance to make something of their lives. They accepted the homeless, the abandoned – anybody who was down on their luck and had no way of making it on their own, they were all welcome at Providence. With the aid of a select group of respected academics, Gray used his wealth to gift these hopefuls with the skills they needed to become as successful as they wanted to be; the only thing the new members had to provide was boundless will and determination. Reed claimed that Gray's vision, ambitious as it had been, had changed the lives of hundreds of lonely, needy individuals – had turned paupers into professionals and given those who were once lost a real sense of direction. Even the members who didn't excel had been imbued with enough knowledge and self-respect to drag themselves out of the gutter. The only ones who came away with nothing, Reed claimed, were the ones who came to them with nothing in the first place – no will or determination to speak of, no desire to change their lives around. Such people were beyond hope.
"We have a saying around here," Reed climaxed. "If the spirit is willing, Providence will provide."
"Sounds like something out of a cheesy health insurance commercial," Rex blurted out.
"… Quite," Reed lowered his eyelids at Rex.
"Wait just a minute," said Rex. "Hold on, are you trying to suggest that me and Weevil are down on our luck? Like we're beyond hope or something, and you guys are tryin' to help us out by inviting us over here…?" Rex couldn't believe it; he'd never felt so degraded. "This is crazy! We don't need your stinkin' nursery to help us become better duelists!"
"Actually," Reed sighed, clearly exasperated with Rex's aggressive attitude – not to mention his repetitious usage of the term 'nursery', "that's precisely the opposite of what I was going to suggest."
"Hmm…?" Upon hearing this, Weevil's face lit up. "Then what did you have in mind?"
"As I said before, our students know very little about Duel Monsters," Reed explained. "Perhaps a handful of them have had some slight experience playing the game before they came to live with us, but other than that their knowledge is minimal. I plan to change all that."
"How?" Rex asked.
"By teaching them, of course," Reed replied. "By giving them the means to become the best duelists the world has ever seen, the same way they would attain scholarship in any other subject. First we need to enlist experts who are willing to teach them the skills required." He smiled at the two of them. "Of course, both of you would qualify nicely."
"Us?" Rex spluttered. "Teaching kids how to duel…?" He span around to face Weevil, expecting to find him similarly repulsed by the idea. Instead, Weevil seemed oddly contemplative. "That's crazy talk, man. We wouldn't wanna ruin our chances at becoming the number one ranked duelists because we were too busy babysitting a bunch of…"
"Brats?" said Reed.
"Weevil!" Rex shoved his companion, hoping to stir within him the same reservations. "Tell him we're not interested. Tell him we wouldn't be seen dead wearing one of those uniforms!"
"Actually," Reed interjected. "The uniforms aren't strictly…"
"I don't care! We don't wanna help you guys!" Rex growled. He turned again to Weevil, whose eyes seemed to have glazed over. "You agree with me, right?"
Weevil seemed to hesitate, but then slowly answered: "Rex is right. We're far too busy winning championships to even consider passing on our skills. Why, just a few hours ago Rex was telling me about how content he was with his dueling career. Right, Rex?"
"… Right," Rex was taken aback. Was Weevil actually tempted by this guy's offer? Why would Weevil of all people, who – by his own admission – resorted to cheating whenever the opportunity arose, wish to lecture other people on the rules of the game? Winning was all that mattered to Weevil, and in a way Rex had appreciated and perhaps even admired that about him. So why this sudden and unexpected twist in his character? "So, you should just find somebody who isn't at the top of their game! Somebody who's all washed up and needs this job just so they can pretend they're still worth something. Somebody nobody respects."
"Ah yes," said Weevil. "The most important quality for a teacher."
"Well, I'm sorry you boys feel that way," Reed shrugged. "But regardless, the offer still stands. Like I said, I'm a big fan; you were my first choice for this position, so I can't say I'm not disheartened." He stroked his chin and leaned back on his desk. "Tell you what. I'll let you think on it for a while, and in the meantime you can have a wander around the grounds and see for yourselves what we're trying to accomplish. I think you might be surprised at how…"
"I don't have to think about it," Rex replied. "I wouldn't want this job even if you included a free pass into the next big Duel Monsters tournament."
"Would two free passes suffice?" Reed offered.
"So how much would we look to earn, exactly?"
"C'mon! I was kidding!" Rex laughed nervously, scratching the back of his head with his spoon. "When he offered us those free passes, I figured… Why not humour the guy?"
"Yes, I see that now," Weevil spoke through a mouthful of sushi. "Hilarious."
They were dining in the Providence cafeteria, although it more closely resembled a restaurant given its spotless surfaces and remarkably rich cuisine. At the moment it was somewhat bare, since the kitchen staff were technically off-duty for another two hours; at Reed's request, however, Nina had instructed them to prepare a special dinner for their visitors, which they had done so obligingly. Weevil, ever the enthusiast, had asked for twice his usual share of sushi; when he and Rex went out for meals together, they were usually limited to whatever their slim budget could afford, so of course he was relishing the rare opportunity to pig out. His mother would have likely screamed bloody murder if she knew; but then, of course, she didn't know. Here, he could do anything he wanted without having to worry about how she'd react. He wondered if Rex was experiencing that same liberating high, or if to him this was nothing more than a free meal.
"I mean," Rex continued as he gorged himself. "Even if I wanted to – which I don't – I wouldn't have accepted it. That would've been crazy."
"Of course," Weevil nodded, twirling his fork in front of him so that the candlelight bounced off it and landed on Rex's face. "Why, though?"
"Why would it have been crazy?" Weevil asked.
"Well… I mean, duh!" Rex chewed ravenously. "We can't lower ourselves to that level. That's the sort of thing Yugi would do. Not our style at all, man. The only teaching we should be doing is teaching the world that we're the real kings of games!"
"We can't both be the King of Games," Weevil pointed out. "It wouldn't make any sense."
"Hmm, good point," said Rex. "One of us would have to be the Queen of Games."
"What? That's the most ridic…"
"I nominate you."
"Me? You're the one with the girly hair!"
Having been drawn into a verbal stalemate, they instead opted to eat quietly for a few minutes. Weevil, his mind perpetually in motion, was thinking about the potential ramifications of accepting the job as a Duel Monsters teacher. Rex's qualms were well founded; he too had no desire to spend the rest of his dueling career teaching children the difference between setting and summoning a monster card. He despised children almost as much as he despised that Yugi Moto and his gang of tagalongs; after all, as soon as word got out that he had cheated on more than one occasion, it was the children, fickle as they were, who first turned against him. Suddenly his insect cards were 'gross', and instead of asking for his autograph they would instead ask what it was like to lose to Joey Wheeler. The hate mail he received was invariably from kids; one such letter had seemed smudged and illegible, until he realised that the words were actually the squashed corpses of flies plastered to the paper like so many black and bulbous blotches of ink. They linked together to spell the words 'FLY AWAY, WEEVIL'. And he had wanted to, for as long as he could remember. He wanted to fly away to a place beyond all the jeers and the laughter, beyond the cruel jokes and the derisive remarks, beyond the sadistic scorn and the daily disrespect – a world beyond children.
But the more he thought about it, the more Providence appealed to him. It wasn't just the delectable cooking or the star treatment he'd received – although getting to travel around in a limo certainly didn't hurt his opinion of the place – he'd been struck by an odd nostalgia as he'd entered the building. He felt as though he had stepped through a doorway into a whole other time and place; it recalled to mind those precious, all too fleeting days when he still had a modicum of his celebrity, when his name was still synonymous with Duel Monsters. He felt butterflies in his stomach – a euphoric experience for one such as Weevil – as he remembered when the people would queue up for hours on end just to get to meet him in the flesh. He remembered how they would quiz each other over who was the superior duelist, Weevil or Seto Kaiba. He remembered what it was like to be recognised in the street, and not have to worry about being pelted with half-empty soda cups and rotten fruit. He remembered the days before he and Rex had been barred from competing in many of the more prestigious tournaments. He remembered when he was a winner, not a loser. He remembered a world without Yugi Moto.
Then it struck him; that was exactly why this place appealed to him. As frustrated as he'd been when Rex claimed to be King of Games, he had also been somewhat relieved that these kids didn't seem to know who Yugi was; instead, as far as they were concerned, he and Rex were still on top. Even that Reed fellow didn't seem to care about the dozen or so humiliating defeats they'd sustained – all he cared about was that they were experts. Weevil chuckled to himself as he stuffed his face; he was an expert, all right – an expert at knowing a sweet deal when he saw one.
This is almost too good to be true, he thought. If everyone here thinks that I'm the pinnacle of Duel Monsters talent, then who am I to argue? I could just pretend that whole mess with Yugi never even happened. Here, I can live like a supreme duelist, surrounded by devoted subjects who admire me – the life I've deserved for so long. And unlike that bonehead Yugi, I'll use it to my advantage. After all, a good teacher always keeps one or two tricks to himself, so that he can use them against his followers…
"C'mon, Weevil, learn some table manners!" Rex griped, holding up his plate so that he could lick it clean. "You're drooling all over your food. That's just disgusting, man."
"Heh-heh," Weevil wiped his mouth. "What can I say? I'm still hungry."
"I know you love bugs, but do you have to eat like one?" Rex implored. He set his plate down on the table and let out a dino-sized belch, proudly patting his stomach as he did so. "Man, that hit the spot." Then, his face became pensive, and he spoke softly as though not to alert the kitchen staff nearby. "Hey, Weevil. I was thinkin' about this whole teaching business."
"Hmm? Oh, that," Weevil replied, feigning a lack of interest. If Rex were to suspect his temptation, then his plan would be over before it had even begun. He had zero confidence in Rex's ability to pull the wool over anybody's eyes, since he had all the subtlety of an ocelot in heat, so his best bet was to keep his intent a secret for now. "Yes, you're right. We'd be crazy to accept."
"Actually," said Rex, "I was thinking maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea."
"Yes, I… Huh?"
"I just keep thinking about what happened back at the mall," Rex explained. "And I know you didn't really share my feelings then, but listen… You and me, we're nothing in the outside world." Weevil failed to notice Rex's subconscious reference to Nina's obscure idiom. "But here, we could do some real good. Y'know, maybe make a name for ourselves, like we did before. And maybe, I dunno, it'd be a good experience for us both, help us become better duelists."
"How would pandering to a rabble of annoying children help us duel any better?" Weevil scoffed. He didn't like where Rex's train of thought was leading him, though not because it was the same track that Weevil's mind had traveled, but because it was a more benevolent version – one that would likely scuttle all Weevil's intentions in one kindly swoop. "Really, Rex, I thought it would take more than a few free passes to sway your…"
"It's not the passes, or the limo, or the food, or the fancy digs," Rex motioned toward their surroundings. Truly, it was the sort of place that someone as rich as Seto Kaiba could call home. "It's something I've been feeling for a while, and I bet you've been feeling it too. We don't seem to belong anywhere; we've been cast out of pretty much every big duelist hangout within a hundred-mile radius, and we can't even go to the movies without being recognised as troublemakers. But here…" He trailed off, and his eyes seemed to focus on something directly in front of him – almost as though he were looking into himself. "I know it sounds corny, like something outta one of those 'Land Before Time' movies, but I think we belong here. We were meant to find this place, and get a fresh start."
"You can't possibly believe that," Weevil locked eyes with Rex, hoping that he would back down and give up on whatever fantasy was playing out inside his head. But Weevil could see the determination in his eyes, and he knew that Rex had already set his mind on this one, all-important thing. This was a catastrophe; if Rex was going to take the job with every intention of helping these people, it could ruin Weevil's chances of turning things in his favour. He had to put a stop to this somehow. "Rex, you can't just…"
"I've made up my mind, Weevil," Rex folded his arms. "You can ditch the place if you want. Me? I'm gonna take the job."
Well, that's just too bad, Weevil thought. Because so am I. And in the end, only one of us is going to get what he wants.
Nina had been watching them eat from the corridor outside, eavesdropping on their conversation as best she could, when suddenly she heard his voice. Her heart skipped a beat, and despite her desire to turn and face him she found herself unable to cast her eyes away from the two duelists. Perhaps it was because she didn't want him to see her blushing, or maybe she was afraid of the disappointment she would feel if she were to turn around and find somebody else calling out to her – somebody she didn't care for quite so much.
"Nina, you awake?"
But it had to be him. She knew his voice too well. Both his voice and his face had become inseparable in her heart, and hearing him speak her name in such swift succession was enough to make her forget her duty to Mr. Reed. She looked around and sure enough he was there, standing attentively with his uniform matching her own and his eyes looking every which way but into hers. She wondered if she was still blushing, for numbed as she was by her affection toward him she could hardly tell. She decided in the end that it didn't matter; her only concern was to hear him speak, to watch his lips, and to say his name – for she loved these things almost as much as she loved him.
"Hello, Toby," she nodded politely at the red-haired boy, before adding hopefully: "Did you need something?"
"Uh, yeah," Toby replied, his voice much quieter now. Nina liked that he was quiet, if only because it gave her some respite from having to spend her day with their two loud and obnoxious guests. "I just wanted to let you know that, um… The other duelist has arrived."
"Oh," Nina replied weakly. "The one from America?"
"Yes," said Toby. "I believe her name's Rebecca Hawkins."
"Wonderful," Nina took a hesitant step toward Toby, causing him to back away bashfully. She lowered her head as if in apology. "I'll, uh… I'll go and meet her, then."
"Y-yeah," Toby agreed, turning to look through one of the windows. "Her limo's just outside in the drive. Are you going to introduce her to those two?" Without looking, he pointed in the vague direction of the cafeteria.
"Of course," Nina beamed. "Miss Hawkins is a famous duelist too, after all; I'm sure she has a great deal of respect for Mr. Raptor and Mr. Underwood. They'll have a lot to talk about, I…"
"Wait," Toby's head snapped back, almost as though he'd been hit by an invisible force. "Did you say… Mr. Raptor? And Mr. Underwood?"
"Yes… Why?" Nina batted her eyes at him. "Do you know them, Toby?"
Toby turned away from her, and Nina felt strangely afraid that he was going to just walk away without answering her question, leaving her alone with only her duty to console her. But then he looked back at her, confusion evident in his face, and he responded in a low, frightened voice: "I don't remember…"
END OF CHAPTER TWO