Disclaimer: I don't own Yu-Gi-Oh! or any of its characters. Yu-Gi-Oh! is the property of Konami and Kazuki Takahashi.
A/N: Just a quick intro this time. This chapter's set in the spirit world, so I wanted to give it a sort of surreal quality. Hopefully it's not too baffling or convoluted. Tried to lighten things up a little, too. This may come as a surprise to you, but I'm not a very morbid guy. Angst isn't really my thing.
Anyway, try to enjoy it. I'm gonna go cry myself to sleep in a coffin until the moon rises.
Chapter Six: Foreshadows
The Pharaoh was right, thought Yugi. This place looks just like the Shadow Realm.
Yugi felt his blood run cold as the memories of his friends were immediately overrun by fear – fear of being back inside that interminable darkness. It would be wrong to suggest that the Shadow Realm was uninviting. Considering the number of times Yugi had been drawn there, it often seemed a little too inviting. The problem was that once you had accepted its invitation, there was then no clear-cut way to escape its seemingly limitless confines. Except, of course, by taking part in a potentially deadly Shadow Game – and Yugi knew from experience how dangerous those could be. This place – the 'spirit nexus', the Pharaoh had called it – shared more than a few passing similarities to the Shadow Realm, and as such it caused Yugi's skin to crawl.
For starters, it was unnaturally dark. At first this might have seemed like a rather vague connection – after all, given a limited lighting budget, an indoor children's petting zoo could be considered 'unnaturally dark' – but the more Yugi absorbed his new surroundings, the more he realised that this was the strongest connection of all. For whenever he found himself trapped in the Shadow Realm at the behest of some deluded maniac, one thing had always struck Yugi as being particularly odd – the sheer absence of light. Not one single light source existed there for as far as the eye could see, and yet Yugi had been able to see with absolute clarity. Even the text on his Duel Monsters cards – which some people found hard to read even in broad daylight – had been perfectly legible. It was as though the darkness provided some abstract form of illumination. As though the darkness itself was the Shadow Realm's light.
Here things were no different. Despite the ruddy clouds churning in all directions, practically eradicating all sense of perspective, Yugi found that he could see pretty much everything there was to see within the spirit nexus. He could see the funnel-like opening in the sky from which there cascaded innumerable ribbons of purple energy. He could see the way they spiraled down through the air, weaving this way and that and occasionally coiling around one another like the decorations Grandpa used to hang in the windows whenever there was an especially popular sale on at the game shop. He could see the way they curled upwards at the bottom, glinting like soft hooks, and he could see how each ribbon was inextricably linked to its neighbour – threaded together like the strands of an enormous cosmic quilt.
He could see millions of portals – not unlike the one he'd used to leave his own personal 'spirit level' – spanning the gulf of the nexus. They were rectangular – a surprisingly rigid shape in the midst of such turmoil – and their sizes varied. Some looked large enough to fit two people at a time, whereas others looked like they'd pose a problem to anyone who hadn't struggled through years of rigorous limbo training. Not only that, but the portals were shifting. They didn't actually move; they always hung in the same place, regardless of how improbable it seemed. Instead they would fade, sometimes so quickly that Yugi would strive not to blink so he could watch it happen, and then reappear moments later as though the laws of physics hadn't just been turned upside-down and inside-out. They didn't simply twinkle out of existence either; the air surrounding them seemed to fold in on itself, as though a pair of unseen hands had decided to close the shutters on them for the night. It seemed so random, and yet somehow Yugi knew there was a very precise function to it all. But he didn't have time to wonder about that now – because he'd seen something that interested him far more than a few billion magical floating portals.
He'd seen other people.
It was a wonder, even when taking his fantastic surroundings into account, that his eyes hadn't been drawn straight to them. After all, aside from the spirit of the Puzzle, these were the first people he'd seen since his death. But then, it wasn't as though they were all huddled together in a clearly defined group – quite the opposite, in fact. They were spread throughout the nexus, thousands upon thousands of them, each just gawking at the portals with slack-jawed marvel the way Joey would often stare at the TV whenever a food commercial was being shown. Same glazed expression, same outstretched arms. The only difference was that, unlike Joey, these people weren't sitting down – they were hovering in mid-air.
Yugi frowned for a moment, and then looked toward the ground – only to find that it didn't actually exist. In its place, and far below him, there were only clouds. "Whoa!"
"Careful, Yugi!" He felt the spirit's hands latching onto him just as he started to fall. He thrashed his legs as the spirit pulled him back up. "You know, it helps if you don't look down."
"A little warning would've been nice, spirit," Yugi chuckled nervously. The spirit's hands went lax, and Yugi turned around to meet his gaze. Without even realising it, he had begun to fly. "We made it, didn't we? We made it through to the nexus."
"We made it," said the spirit. He smiled through his eyes at the boy. "More importantly, you made it, Yugi. Remember – I've been a spirit ever since we've known each other. This sort of thing comes naturally to me."
"Oh really?" Yugi asked. "Is that why I felt your hand start to tremble when we were drifting?" He floated a little higher, his knowing grin penetrating the spirit's dour defiance. "I think someone was a little nervous!"
"If I was nervous," the spirit conceded, "it was because you weren't holding my hand tightly enough. I was afraid we might get separated. I didn't want that to happen again."
"This flying thing's the coolest!" Yugi laughed, choosing to ignore the spirit's sullen words in favour of a few lopsided mid-air cartwheels. "I bet I could do a hundred of these."
"You could," the spirit said coolly, "but I doubt you'd enjoy the after-effects quite so much."
"Really? Can spirits throw up?"
"Do you really wish to find out?"
Yugi cringed and came to an abrupt stop. "I guess not." The spirit seemed to suppress a smirk as Yugi shook his head comically in order to regain his bearings. "Well, first order of business – I think we should go talk to those people over there."
"That may not be a good idea," the spirit advised.
"Why not?" asked Yugi. "They're spirits, right? So they might know how to get back to the world of the living. You said one of them told you how to find me, didn't you?"
"One of them did, yes," the spirit replied. "The others, however, were far less helpful."
"What do you mean?"
The spirit frowned, turning something over in his head as he spoke. "Hmm. Perhaps it would be easier if you discovered for yourself."
"Discovered wha–?" Yugi began, only for the Pharaoh to suddenly link arms with him and take off in the direction of the other drifters. Yugi couldn't help but gasp; he was so fast! "Whoa, hey! Spirit, you know I'm not gonna fall, right? You don't have to hold on to me the whole time."
A shadow passed across the spirit's face as he replied. "I know."
Regardless, he didn't seem to want to let go until finally they came upon a group of spirits. There were five of them in total; all gathered together like pigeons in the park scavenging for breadcrumbs. Yugi felt a strange blend of relief and dismay when they failed to react to their arrival; he had expected them to panic and scatter in all directions, or at the very least raise their eyebrows in disapproval. Instead they simply stared vacantly into space, the way people do when they're waiting for a bus and they want to pretend they don't notice one another.
Yugi felt himself being ushered forward, and cleared his throat. "Uh, excuse me?" No response. "Hi. I'm, uh, I'm Yugi Moto. I died recently. I'm assuming you guys did too?" Yugi snorted. As far as introductions went, that was probably one of most bizarre. It also didn't help matters that his audience seemed to be ignoring every word he said. "Well, of course you did. Why else would you be here, right? Unless you're a big fan of rivers, it's not exactly vacation material."
One of the spirits, a boy not much older than Yugi, craned his neck around. He was wearing a baggy shirt with the words 'R U Experienced?' on the front and a pair of equally baggy jeans that seemed to be trying to swallow his feet so that only the pointed tips of his shoes were showing. His face reminded Yugi of a picture he'd seen in one of Téa's magazines, from an article regarding some sort of teen heart-throb's scandalous behaviour (Joey had taken one look at it and announced bluntly: "Whoa, he's stoned!"). Yugi hadn't understood the picture, but he understood this boy's face.
The lights are on, he thought, but nobody's home.
"Hey dude," the boy's voice was on the verge of breaking, and for a fleeting moment it dawned on Yugi that he had died before making it all the way through puberty. "Isn't it the coolest? School's out, man! School's outta here like last year!"
"School?" said Yugi. "I don't–"
"Principal always got on my case," the boy continued unabated. "Said I was a lowlife. Pfft! Lowlife! At least I don't work at a school!" He spat out this last word as though it were synonymous with concentration camp. "Don't gotta worry about that loser anymore, though. I'm living the good life. School's out, baby!"
Yugi fidgeted anxiously. "If you could maybe explain…"
"Gotta remember the milk," another spirit chimed in, this one a middle-aged woman with bleary, listless eyes and a saffron handbag clutched underneath her slight chest. "Remember the milk this time. And cigarettes! Don't bother coming back if you don't have cigarettes. Yes, dear. Sorry, dear."
"Spirit," Yugi whispered as he began to back away from them. "What's wrong with them? Why are they…?"
"My best guess," said the Pharaoh, taking his place beside Yugi, "is that they aren't actually aware that they are dead."
"What?" asked Yugi. Having lost interest in him, the two chattering spirits gradually fell silent again. "But how can that be?"
"You tell me," the spirit replied. From anyone else, such a sentence would sound snippy and churlish – but his voice was bereft of both traits. "When I first found you in this world, you didn't seem to understand what had happened to you. It wasn't until I explained things that you realised you were no longer alive."
Yugi grimaced. "You're right! I didn't know I was dead! I couldn't even remember what happened." He looked over at the five dormant spirits and sighed. "I was just like them." Then, something occurred to him. "Wait, how come you could remember?"
"When I died, I forgot everything," Yugi explained. It was almost frightening how quickly he'd come to accept his untimely death. He imagined that, without the spirit of the Puzzle around, things would have been different in that regard. "I couldn't remember my duel with Joey, I couldn't remember the fire… But you could. You remembered everything. Otherwise you wouldn't have been able to tell me about it afterwards. Why is that?"
"Yugi," the spirit smiled wryly. "Must I keep reminding you? My death is nothing recent. I've been a spirit for thousands of years. My soul was released from the Millennium Puzzle, but all my memories – my recent memories, that is – remained intact."
"Oh," Yugi blushed. "Right." Regret washed over him like a vicious oil spill as he realised that the spirit – his partner – would never know the truth about his past. There was nobody around to fill in the gaps in his memory, nobody to put the puzzle of his existence back together again. In life, the spirit had supplied Yugi with a truly noble purpose – but being with him here in death, it only made him feel useless. "I guess there's really no point asking around for directions, then." He turned away from the spirit and looked toward the central part of the nexus, where the fountain of purple energy spilled endlessly downwards like some overly extravagant wall hanging. "What is that thing, anyway?"
"I'm not sure," said the spirit.
Yugi waited for the spirit to posit a few theories, but none came. "You're not sure? Whatever happened to 'I've been a spirit longer than you have, so I know all about this stuff?'"
"Some things elude even me," was the response. If Yugi didn't know better, he would have sworn blind that it had been sarcasm. "I first noticed it when I was searching for you. I would have investigated it, but…"
"But?" asked Yugi.
"But I was searching for you," the spirit repeated flatly.
"Well, now you've found me," Yugi shrugged, "so how about we check it out?"
"You think it might provide us with an exit?" asked the spirit, already taking Yugi's arm in his.
"I sure hope so," Yugi replied. "I don't wanna be stuck here the rest of my…" He paused, not knowing how to finish the sentence. He glanced over his shoulder at the five lost souls behind them, still floating perpetually without a purpose. Of all the words he could use to describe them, 'alive' wasn't one of them. "I don't wanna be stuck here."
"I won't let that happen, Yugi," the spirit assured him. Yugi felt the contents of his stomach lurch as he took off once more, and watched as the five inert figures receded into blurry specks on the bleak horizon.
See you in the funny pages, he thought.
In math class, Yugi had sometimes heard the teacher use the phrase 'the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.' But even though they were traveling as fast as the spirit could fly and directly toward it, it still took them over an hour to reach the fountain. When Yugi commented on this, the Pharaoh only reminded him that time worked quite differently in the spirit world – although Yugi had a distinct feeling that there was more to it than that. There were times when they should have been making significant progress, and yet the fountain would actually seem to retreat as though some hidden force had been set against them, physically stretching the distance between them and their target. It reminded Yugi of his spirit level, and of the way the river had somehow pulled him back toward it even though he had been walking in completely the opposite direction. In this world, it seemed there were no straight lines.
They had reached the bottom, where most of the energy ribbons seemed to curl outwards. Even up close, Yugi still had no clue as to what it was supposed to be. It put him in mind of a giant maypole, except the pole itself appeared to be missing. Each ribbon was enveloped in a strange, glossy membrane, almost as though they'd been individually laminated, and within them Yugi could see water flowing like blood through the veins of some impossibly translucent creature. Where the water was coming from, and where it was flowing to, Yugi couldn't be sure. What he did know for certain, however, was that the ribbons were moving. Not just moving – they were growing.
"Be careful, Yugi," the spirit warned. Yugi had decided to take a closer look, and so the spirit had reluctantly been forced to let go of him for the time being. He had spent the subsequent five minutes calling after him like a mother worried about her child playing near the road, even though they were only a few feet apart. "We don't know what it is; it might be dangerous."
"I don't think it is," Yugi replied earnestly. If there was one thing he'd learned in all his years of dueling, it was to trust in the Heart of the Cards – or, failing that, to trust in his instincts. Right now, his instincts were telling him that he was safe enough. "I think it's good."
"Yeah," Yugi nodded, vaguely aware that his teeth were on edge as he drifted closer to one of the ribbons. His whole body was starting to feel numb, and there was a tinny warbling sound echoing in his head as though someone nearby was blowing a dog whistle. "It's good, all right."
"What do you mean?" asked the spirit. When Yugi failed to respond, his voice became sharp, "Yugi!"
"I'm not sure," was Yugi's less than enthusiastic reply. In all honesty, he hadn't the foggiest idea what he'd meant by it – but he knew it was the truth. He'd felt similarly about the faces he'd seen in the river, with their mouths eternally open in silent laughter – and it struck him that he'd also felt the same way about the Millennium Puzzle when he'd first solved it. "I'm going to try touching one of the ribbons."
"What?" the spirit was audibly shaken. When he next spoke, he sounded much nearer. "Yugi, don't!"
"Don't worry, spirit. It won't hurt me." This part he didn't know for sure, but he didn't much care either way. He just wanted to touch it, the same way he'd wanted to be one of those faces in the river. Floating towards the shimmering tip of the nearest ribbon, he reached out with both hands and closed his eyes. The noise in his head had become a high-pitched whine, like the sound the TV sometimes made whenever the transmission cut off and Grandpa had to get out of his chair and repair it with a good solid fist. It sounded almost angelic. "Beautiful...!"
His palms came into contact with something wet; it felt like passing his hands under the cold tap in a morning when he was still half-asleep.
And then, the pictures came.
A multitude of images flooded Yugi's vision, all brightly lit and crystal clear. He wanted to blink them away, but his eyes were already closed. It was like staring into the lens of a movie projector, except these images were being projected directly into his brain. He had told the spirit it wouldn't hurt him, and he had been right – but he was sure that, had he not been pulled away in the nick of time, his mind would have collapsed from sheer exhaustion. He was rescued, however, as the spirit gripped him by the waist and pulled him back as hard as he could. When he recovered from the visual onslaught, Yugi cried out faintly and buried his head in his hands.
"Are you okay?" the spirit asked; all traces of frustration had long since vanished from his voice and were replaced by a deep concern. He turned Yugi around in mid-air so that he could hold the boy to him, slipping downwards so that he could rest his chin against his forehead and mutter soft words of encouragement. "It's alright. You were very brave. A little too brave, perhaps. But brave nevertheless."
"I saw…" Yugi began. What had he seen, exactly? It had all seemed so crucial at the time, but now he was struggling to recall even a single element of what he'd witnessed. "I saw… so much."
"What was it you saw, Yugi?" the spirit asked with genuine interest. Then he rephrased the question. "What did it show you?"
"It showed me…" Yugi frowned. Part of him wanted to touch the ribbon again, just to remind himself – but he knew he would lose himself in the process. No human being – living or dead – would be able to withstand it twice. "It showed me everything."
"Everything?" the spirit's face grew taut. "What do you mean?"
"Everything! I mean, everything!" said Yugi. "As in the complete opposite of nothing!"
"I can't!" Yugi shouted, his hands covering his ears as though he were afraid the pressure might cause his gray matter to leak out through them. "I can only remember bits and pieces… little things… trivial things…"
"That's good," said the spirit.
"No! No, it's not! It's anything but good! Spirit – when I touched that thing, I experienced what it must be like to live a hundred thousand lives. For a fraction of a second, I could see beyond the infinite; I looked through the eyes of every man, woman, and child who ever lived – who ever will live! I saw the past, the present, and the future all at once. And I almost understood it, spirit! I almost got what it all meant! And now it's GONE!"
"Yugi, stop!" the spirit lunged forward and held him forcefully by the collar before he could make another rush for the ribbon. For a brief second, Yugi considered struggling. "What you experienced, I can't possibly hope to understand. But neither can you, Yugi! Do you hear me? Neither can you!"
Yugi opened his mouth to argue, to tell the spirit that if anyone could solve this, he was the one to do it. He had a knack for solving puzzles, and this was no different. It was like one of those magic eye games, where you held an abstract image up to your face and then crossed your eyes in just the right way so that it formed a clear, concise solution. Nobody else he knew could do it; Joey had given up after his first attempt, and Tristan once spent an entire day with his eyes crossed, determined to get the better of the game. Téa didn't even try; she'd said it would only make her look silly. Yugi hadn't thought so. In fact, he thought she would've solved it right off the bat. After all, if she could see through him, then she could see through anything.
"Téa," he murmured, his body falling slack.
"That's right, Yugi," the spirit sighed helplessly. "Your friends. Remember your friends."
"Spirit," Yugi looked up. "Thank you."
The Pharaoh merely nodded. "Just as long as you're okay, Yugi."
"I am now," Yugi braved a smile. He turned and looked at the fountain, and he realised it was nothing like those magic eye games. It was too important. "What on earth do you suppose it is?"
"Life," the spirit said, matter-of-factly. Yugi's head spun back around at this. "Are you so shocked? You said as much yourself."
"Did I?" he asked. "I… I don't remember…"
"You said you saw through the eyes of the living," the spirit reminded him. "Through the eyes of those who have lived, and those who shall eventually live. This must be the life source. The spring from which all souls originate."
"Really?" asked Yugi. "Wow. I mean, I guess I've heard the expression, but I didn't think it would end up being quite so literal." Yugi mentally scolded himself. How could he possibly doubt it – here, in the afterlife of all places? How could he doubt anything anymore? He was still seeing things from the point of view of a child with nothing to more to worry about than doing his homework and finding the free time to save the world. "Spirit! Does that mean we can use it to travel back…?"
The spirit looked at him contemplatively, and somehow Yugi already knew the answer. "No."
"But… But what you said–"
"I said it was the source of all life," said the spirit, "and as such, Yugi, we cannot tamper with it. If we did, we would be putting life itself in jeopardy."
"You're right," Yugi replied, his voice a lot less convincing than the words it used. "It's far too important. We'll just have to find another way."
"I'm sorry, Yugi," said the Pharaoh, solemnly.
"Don't be," said Yugi. He gestured wildly at the shadowed landscape. "I'm sure one of those portals will take us to my friends. Just a question of trial and error, right? And there can only be, what, about ninety nine trillion portals out there? Hey, but don't feel bad… We've all the time in the world!"
"Yugi!" the spirit snarled, and Yugi instantly felt horrible for lacing his words with such venomous sarcasm. "Don't you think I feel bad enough already? Do you want me to beg your forgiveness? Do you really want that?" Yugi was frozen stiff with intimidation; even if he'd found himself with the nerve to speak, he wouldn't have used it. "Because I will, if you wish it. This is my fault, after all."
"Your fault?" Yugi gasped. "Spirit, what are you–?"
Before either of them could even attempt to comprehend what the other was feeling, the air beside them tore itself open to reveal yet another portal. Yugi was taken aback; this was the first time he'd seen one of them at such a short distance. Sure, he'd left his spirit level through something very similar, but at that time he'd been focusing all of his thoughts on his friends, and so he hadn't really been paying much attention.
Now, however, he was free to examine the portal. It was about the Pharaoh's height – perhaps a little taller, and certainly a lot broader. Its dimensions were otherwise perfectly proportioned; Yugi had expected to notice some slight inconsistency in the way the portals had been shaped, but it was as though it had been conceived by the most finicky of astral architects. Other than simply being a hole in the fabric of space, the only odd thing – or things, as the case may be – about it were the ripples it generated. The shadows surrounding the portal seemed to bend, like some unbelievably strong force was struggling to hold it together. It looked about as stable as the diorama Joey once made as part of a school science project, which had collapsed almost as soon as he unveiled it. Yugi, always the quick thinker, had announced it as being Joey's attempt to illustrate the effects of gravity. It earned him a C.
"Yugi…!" the spirit said, breathlessly. It was a rare and frightening thing to hear him so shaken. "Look!"
Yugi performed a double take, glancing from the portal to the spirit and then back again in quick succession. From the way the spirit had reacted, he had half-expected to see Joey, Tristan, and Téa standing on the other side of the portal, looking to him with open arms and beaming, cherubic faces. But they were nowhere to be seen. Instead, he was presented with an ocean – not a trace of land as far as the eye could see. The sky overhead reminded Yugi of every good bruise he'd ever received, and far beneath it there cruised a rudimentary fishing boat. When he peered, Yugi could just make out the vessel's occupant, lying on the deck with his head cast heavenwards. His eyes were closed, but he seemed more meditative than asleep. The wake of the setting sun danced across his abdomen, highlighting the tanned texture of his bare torso. He wasn't Joey. He wasn't Tristan. He certainly wasn't Téa.
But Yugi knew him all the same.
"Mako Tsunami…?" Yugi gaped. "But… But he's not dead! I saw him in Domino the other week; he said he'd come ashore to film some commercials." Mako had a sponsorship deal with one of the local fishmongers, and ever since the Battle City tournament he'd been featuring in a number of excruciatingly awful TV spots. It seemed his accent didn't really lend itself to the catchphrase: 'They're fishalicious!' "Why does he have a spirit level?"
"I can only think of one explanation," the spirit came forward. "This portal must lead to the world of the living."
Had he not been floating, Yugi would have jumped for joy. "Really?" He grew more subdued when he spotted the spirit's bleak expression. "What makes you so certain?"
"Do you see a river?" the Pharaoh's face inclined. Had Yugi studied it, he would have found no trace of the anguish he'd been exhibiting just a few short minutes ago. "There is an ocean, yes, but… no river."
"Maybe there isn't always a river?" Yugi suggested, not entirely sure why he was arguing this point. He wanted it to be a way back home. He needed it to be. But he also didn't want to wind up in another spirit level – even if it belonged to a close friend of his.
"There is always a river," the spirit replied with such conviction that Yugi thought his eyes might start welling up. "The river is what connects everything. The river binds our spirits together, keeps them stable even when our mortal bodies have forsaken us. It flows through us all."
"Huh," Yugi remarked. He tried to remember the last time he'd seen a river in the real world; it was harder than he imagined. "Let's just hope it never gets polluted, huh? Or else we'd all be in big trouble."
The spirit looked at him. "Let us hope not, Yugi."
"Spirit, I was kidding," Yugi stammered. He saw the confusion in the spirit's eyes, and decided to explain himself. "It helps me to cope with what's happened. With what's still happening. Don't worry; you don't have to laugh."
"Then I won't," the spirit said. In situations like this, the Pharaoh rarely displayed his sense of humour – although he definitely had one; Yugi had felt it on numerous occasions, tickling away in the back of his mind, sometimes for the most unexpected reasons. In a way, it made him seem rather like Joey's antithesis. Joey was always ready with a gag or three, especially during a crisis. Yugi missed that about him. Right now, he missed it a lot. "Do you hear that?"
Yugi had barely finished speaking when he too started to hear it. A voice, buzzing away faintly like someone was listening to loud music through a set of tiny headphones, coming from the portal. The closer Yugi got to it – which wasn't too close, as he'd learned his lesson well from touching the ribbon – the clearer it became. It didn't get any louder; it just became easier to pick out certain words. It reminded him of how Téa would sometimes show him foreign movies without subtitles, and challenge him to decipher as many words as he could in a given scene. He'd enjoyed it at the time because it was a game, and because she was there with him. This, however, wasn't quite so much fun. It was actually rather unnerving.
… –ing for you…
… have to keep…
… can't give…
… are you?
… you, father…
"Father!" Yugi announced, as though he'd just won the lottery. "He said father!"
"I heard it too," said the spirit.
"It sounds like Mako's voice," Yugi continued, his eyes never leaving the nautical duelist, "but he isn't saying anything. Do you think…?" Now it was Yugi's turn to postulate on the cryptic workings of the spirit nexus. "Are those his thoughts we're hearing? They sound like–"
He had been about to compare it to the way he and the Pharaoh used to communicate through their now obsolete mind-link, when suddenly he caught movement in the corner of his eye. He turned from the portal and found himself confronted with yet another spirit. This one was built like an ox, barrel-chested and with legs like meaty balustrades; he floated laboriously through the air and very nearly staggered into the Pharaoh, but Yugi nimbly pulled his partner out of the way just in time. As the newcomer passed between them, Yugi could see his eyes were damp; but they weren't swimming with tears – instead it looked like the whites of his eyes had burst, flooding his sockets with a sorrowful emptiness. His hair was a single streak of ebony, and his jaw came forward like a character in one of those graphic novels about superheroes Joey was always reading. Yugi had never seen this man before, but he knew at once who it was.
"Mako's father!" he cried, and his voice seemed to carry all the way through the portal and out into that expanse of sea and sky. He allowed himself to breathe once he was sure Mako hadn't heard him. "He's a spirit too?"
"Mako did say he lost his father," the spirit of the Puzzle replied. They watched silently as the spirit of Mako's father drifted through the portal and appeared on the other side. Yugi couldn't help but sigh as he watched him float across the waves – his feet occasionally dipping beneath the surface and then coming up dry as a bone – in the direction of his son. "No wonder he drifts."
"Could there be any finer example," the spirit said softly, "of things left undone?"
Yugi swallowed. "Oh. Right." He watched for a while as Mako's father stood watchfully over the reclining fisherman, his brow glistening as though it were crying the tears that his eyes no longer could. "Do you think he knows?"
"No," the spirit replied. It was a question that could apply to either of them, but Yugi hadn't needed to specify.
"I can't believe it," Yugi said. He wanted to fall to his knees, but there was no ground to support him. "I guess… I guess I always thought maybe Mako's dad would turn up someday. That he had just been washed away, like in some bad daytime soap opera, and he'd come back with a different accent and a whole new wardrobe. And maybe Mako would have to teach him how to fish all over again."
"You always hated those soap operas," the Pharaoh remembered out loud.
"I did, didn't I?" Yugi wiped his eyes absently. "But still… I always held out hope for Mako."
"Hmm," the spirit lowered his eyes, and then he said an awful thing – but he said it so openly that it could only be the truth. "I never did."
"You never…?" Yugi was momentarily aghast, but once he looked at the spirit's face and saw that there was nothing bitter or spiteful there, he knew he hadn't meant it to be so harsh. He just saw things differently – always had done, even when they were bonded together through the same host body by the Millennium Puzzle. Now they were separate entities, and the Pharaoh was free to express things like hopelessness and cynicism without reflecting poorly on the boy known as Yugi Moto. In some ways, this seemed even more tragic than Mako's plight. "Oh, spirit. I'm so sorry."
The spirit rolled his shoulders stiffly – the regal equivalent of a shrug. "You know what's even worse?"
"What?" Yugi was almost too horrified to ask.
"I secretly enjoyed watching those soap operas."
The spirit smiled, and Yugi smiled right back. "They weren't so bad, I guess."
"We'd better hurry," the spirit's voice grew serious once more, and he positioned himself to one side of the portal. "We'll go through together. It could close at any second, and I can't bear to be separated from you again."
"Right!" Yugi flushed. He joined arms with the spirit and gave him an affirming nod. "Ready when you are, I guess."
"Then let's go!"
They set off together, the sound of Mako's restless thoughts bombarding their ears as they flung themselves headfirst into the portal toward the world of the living. Yugi closed his eyes, hoping to taste the familiar pang of the saltwater in his throat before he opened them again. The pang he experienced, however, was instead that of cranial trauma. Yugi felt his head slam into something unbearably solid, as though he'd just unwittingly strolled into a pane of glass.
That last subdued grunt sounded like the spirit. Yugi opened his eyes and saw him cradling his temple, having suffered similar misfortune. Yugi looked around, expecting to see a brick wall or some other obstacle placed directly in their path. Instead, he saw only the portal. They hadn't even left the spirit nexus.
"What's going on?" he asked, raising a hand in front of him. When his fingers reached a certain point in the centre of the aperture, they crumpled together as though they were colliding with an invisible barrier. The portal was somehow preventing them from leaving the nexus. "But this is the way out! It has to be! This can't be happening…"
"It's the way out," the spirit agreed through gritted teeth. He was squinting furiously, still suffering from the unexpected impact. "But not, apparently, for us."
"What are you saying?" asked Yugi, his palms plastered against the portal. He looked for all the world like an inter-dimensional mime artist, trapped between universes as punishment for his incessant abuse of the physical comedy genre. "We can't get out?"
"We can," the spirit corrected him, "but not through here. It isn't our portal." Apparently Yugi had telegraphed his next question, because the spirit was already halfway toward answering it before he could even open his mouth. "This portal belongs to Mako's father. Actually, it might just belong to Mako; after all, it was his memories that caused it to open. He was thinking of his father – we both heard it – and it opened a rift between worlds, one that allowed his father's spirit to visit him.
"Mako doesn't know we are dead. In fact, he doesn't even know that I exist. As far as he is concerned, there is only one Yugi Moto, and he is very much alive and well. He has no reason to remember us, so this portal will not let us pass through. Our only hope of finding a way back is to wait for someone to think of us – to remember us."
"To mourn us," Yugi added quietly. The throbbing sensation in his skull had been replaced by awe. If this were true – and assuming he could find the right portal – then he could travel back to the world of the living. For a moment, a terrible thought entered his mind: What if nobody remembers me? How will I ever see my friends again? But these questions answered themselves. "The gang! They'll be thinking of me! I know they will!"
"No doubt," the spirit smiled warmly. He placed a confident hand on Yugi's shoulder. "I think they'll have little else on their minds."
Once again, Yugi blushed. "How are we gonna find the right portal, though? There's so many…"
"The same way I found you," the spirit said. "The same way we brought ourselves here."
"So I should just remember them?" said Yugi. "Boy, that seems to be a popular solution around these parts. Lose your car keys? Try remembering! It fixes everything!" The spirit frowned. "I'm kidding around again."
"I know," he replied. "You said I didn't have to laugh."
"You do remember how though, right?" Yugi winked. "C'mon, let's go find us a portal!"
Yugi closed his eyes and began to concentrate on his friends. It didn't take long before he felt himself being pulled in one direction, as though someone had attached a cord to his body and was gradually retrieving it. Suddenly, however, it went slack. Yugi had stopped remembering. A panicked expression found its way onto his face and he turned back toward the Pharaoh.
"How will you get back?" he asked.
Judging by the look in the spirit's eyes, he had been anticipating this question. "I'm sure there are people who remember me, just as they do you, Yugi."
"Just because I was a spirit," he continued, cutting Yugi off abruptly, "it doesn't mean people in your time didn't think of me as a person – as a friend. When they hear of your passing, I am sure they will mourn me." His chest rose suddenly, as though he were striving to hold his poise. "They may even be doing so now."
"Right," Yugi replied uncertainly. "But I… I can't just leave you here."
"You have no choice," the spirit told him. "Until someone remembers me, I must remain here."
Yugi clenched his fists so tightly that he could feel the pricks of his fingernails as they pierced the skin on his hands. "Don't make me do this. Don't make me choose between you or them."
"I'm not making you choose, Yugi," said the Pharaoh. "There is no choice to be made. You wish to be with them – so you will be with them." There was no underlying resentment to this sentence. The spirit understood precisely how Yugi felt in his heart; perhaps it was because they had been partners for so long, or perhaps he was just wise beyond his years. Either way, Yugi knew it pained him to confess to such innate empathy. "I shall join you eventually."
"Eventually!" said Yugi. "Whatever happened to 'I can't bear to be separated from you?'"
"I told you I liked soap operas," the spirit smirked despite himself.
"Yes," the spirit replied. "Don't worry; you don't have to laugh."
Yugi sniffed. "Then I won't."
The spirit floated forward and placed his arms around his trembling counterpart. They held the embrace for as long as they could stand it, and then parted. The spirit was the first to speak. "Go to them, Yugi. I will be along shortly. I promise you."
"I'll remember you," Yugi hissed, holding up the empty shell of the Millennium Puzzle and thrusting it in the air for emphasis. "If nobody else does, then I will! And then you'll come to me! I know you will!"
The spirit nodded, and uttered a single syllable. "Go."
Yugi held onto that word as tightly as he could, and began once again to follow the trail of his memories. This time, however, he did so alone.
When he finally located his portal, Yugi found it difficult not to be insulted. It was noticeably smaller than the others, and appeared to leave very little room for his hair. If he was going to cross over to the world of the living, he was going to have to keep one hand placed firmly on his head for fear of losing it. He never told anybody, but he was actually very proud of his hairdo; people may have teased him for it, but nevertheless it was one of the three vital things he'd inherited from his grandfather. The others were his love for games and his Duel Monsters deck – and he would no sooner sacrifice those than he would a single hair on his head.
The one redeeming quality that the portal possessed, however, was that it seemed a great deal more stable than Mako's had been. The shadows around the edges didn't ripple, and this gave Yugi an enormous sense of relief. He didn't want to think he might get stuck on the other side with no means of returning; after all, he wasn't entirely sure that this was even a good idea. How long could spirits survive in the world of the living? And, more importantly, would the living be able to sense him? As much as he wanted to be with his friends, he didn't want to wind up haunting them. That was just about the worst thing you could do to a friend. In fact, Joey had once forced him to make a pact regarding that very thing. To his amusement, Yugi found he could still recite it from memory.
"I, Yugi Moto, do solemnly swear that, if I should die before one Joseph Wheeler, I shall not return to life as a spook, poltergeist, or other ghostly entity in order to haunt him. He's got too much to worry about already, and the last thing he needs is a dead friend coming back from the grave to frighten the pants off him while he's trying to eat!"
I'm sorry, Joey, he thought, but I just may have to break that pact. I hope you won't hold it against me.
It was difficult to see much of anything through the portal. It was as though it had been shrouded by mist – or, to be more exact, by smoke. Yugi remembered the fire, and wondered if that had anything to do with it. He leaned closer, hoping to catch a glimpse of something through the thick folds of fog.
He nearly fell over backwards at the sound of Téa's voice. She was screaming his name, but it sounded so odd – it seemed to trail off at the end, like she didn't expect him to answer. Before he could try to respond, another voice broke through the smoke.
Yugi, man… How could this happen? We need you. You're my friend. You're our friend. Come back to us. Please!
That was Tristan. These voices sounded a lot louder than Mako's had. Maybe it was because was his portal, or maybe it was just that there were more people remembering him, Yugi couldn't be sure. Either way, it felt good to be able to hear them again; it felt good to know they were thinking about him. He smiled – and for the first time since he'd come upon the spirit of the Puzzle near the river, it was an honest to goodness smile.
"Tristan! Téa!" he called out across the nexus. "Don't worry! I'm coming!" With that, he started to pull himself through – making sure to keep one arm over his head, so that his hair wouldn't get caught. And still the voices kept on coming.
Oh my… Yugi…
Yuge. I'm sorry.
Yugi froze. That was Joey's voice. "Sorry? For what…?"
I let you die, man. It's my fault.
"What?" Yugi's heart sank. "No! No, don't… don't say that! Don't think that, Joey! Please, don't!"
If I hadn't o' gone and done somethin' stupid like that, you'd still be here.
"Joey! It's not your…!"
You'd be here right now, and Téa wouldn't be cryin' like this. You should be the one holdin' her. Not me. I don't deserve it.
I don't deserve to be alive…
"NO!" Yugi screamed, his voice echoing across the gulf of space. He threw his arms forward, not caring whether he lost his hair or not, and dove into the portal. "JOEY!"
Yuge… I'm sorry, man.
Far across the nexus, in some ancient pocket of the spirit world, the Pharaoh gazed into his own portal. It was a grand thing to behold – for, unlike those belonging to both Mako and Yugi, his was shaped like a circle, having been created many a millennium ago. He knew that it was his, for his memories – the few that still remained – had led him to it.
The Pharaoh's portal didn't show him a thing. It didn't look as though it led anywhere, nor did it look as though it could sustain itself for much longer than a minute at a time. Rather than rippling, as Mako's had been, his portal seemed to be decaying. Every so often it would shrink rapidly, its round edges contracting so that it appeared to be no wider than a plug-hole. It was as though it was taunting him, daring him to try and crawl through so that it could crush him when he least expected it. And that would be the end of his story – just another pathetic drifter trying to make his way back to a world that no longer wanted him.
The Pharaoh began to weep.
"They don't remember me," he whispered hoarsely. "And why would they? I was just Yugi's alter-ego… It's Yugi that they should remember. He's the one they…"
The Pharaoh's head snapped up. That word had never left his lips, yet he had heard it all the same. "Is someone there?"
As if in response to his question, the portal expanded – and a flicker of light began to burn within the dim recesses of its mouth. A face appeared. It was a face he recognised. The face was remembering him – remembering him with such overwhelming fondness that it breathed new life into him.
… know if you can hear me…
… gone, and I never even got…
… tell you…
… much I loved you…
… of you…
… please don't go…
… come back to us…
… loved you…
The Pharaoh stepped through the portal, entranced by those half-spoken words.
As the portal accepted him, he spoke.
"Téa… Thank you for remembering me."
END OF CHAPTER SIX