Chapter 48

"What are you up to, Dartz?" Mai demanded, as the Pyramid of Light continued to glow brightly. But then, she gasped in horror.

As the Pyramid of Light continued to glow, dark purple shadows began to encircle the three of them. This was exactly Marik pulled on her during Battle City. Of course, back then she had no idea what the dark purple fog was, but she did now. The fog shadows are part of the Shadow Realm, and she was once again being taken there for yet another Shadow Game.

"Is that what I think it is?" Yami shouted, recognizing the shadows.

"Very observant of you, pharaoh." Dartz replied. "The dark fog is the Shadow Realm itself, and this duel is about to get a whole lot worse for the two of you!"

"How can you open the Shadow Realm?" Yami demanded. "You don't wield a Millennium Item!"

Dartz laughed. "Did you forget that I spent a great deal of time analyzing the Pyramid of Light and restoring most of its power to it before you or even Ms. Valentine even encountered the Orichalcos? The Pyramid of Light has extremely difficult to bend to the will of the Orichalcos, and I still have not fully accomplished it yet. However, enough of it has been accomplished for me to pull off this event, and that is all I need for now."

As the dark purple shadows touched the Seal of Orichalcos, a bright flash of light occurred. At this point, a giant maelstrom suddenly formed and swirled around Dartz, Mai, and Yami.

"What is the meaning of this, Dartz?" Mai demanded angrily.

Dartz laughed. "I think the time has come for the two of you to experience what would happen when the power of the Orichalcos and the power of the Shadow Realm are combined Ms. Valentine."

Mai shuddered. During Battle City she was nearly driven completely insane by Marik's duel, when Marik opened the doors to the Shadow Realm and completely altered the rules of the game. For every time one of her monsters was destroyed, she lost someone from her memory. First Tea, and then Joey. If it weren't for the pharaoh who restored her confidence, she never would have been able to continue on with the duel.

Not that it made a difference in the end. When she took the Winged Dragon of Ra from Marik, she wanted to end the duel in a fancy way and finish Marik off with his own Egyptian God card. Instead, summoning Ra turned out to be the worst decision she made in that entire duel. She was unable to read the ancient text printed on the card, and it turned out that only be reading that text could she control Ra. On the next turn, Marik used Holding Arms and Holding Legs to chain her to the Sacred Stone of Oujah, then took control of Ra himself. Joey, no longer caring about the duel, climbed up to the platform and forced the shadow spell Marik cast upon her to weaken, allowing her to finally remember him. Furious, Marik tried to kill both of them with Ra, and no matter what she said to get Joey to leave, he refused to, promising that he would keep her safe regardless of what happened to him.

The pharaoh then jumped into the way of the blast, taking the entire blow himself so that she and Joey would be safe. As soon as the duel ended, she wanted to embrace Joey for his act of bravery, knowing fully well that Joey would have indeed taken that blow for her had the pharaoh not stepped in. But at that moment, Marik used the Millennium Rod and sent her mind into the Shadow Realm, where the only thing she experienced was being trapped in an hourglass and being slowly buried by the falling sand.

When she woke up again, she was laying in a hospital bed in Kaiba Craft 3, with Joey's sister Serenity by her side, telling her that Joey tried everything in the hopes that Marik would bring her back. She further explained that Joey's attempts nearly got him killed, as Marik tried to kill him with Ra's most powerful form: its phoenix form. Joey was burned alive and ended up on another hospital bed. Under normal conditions, he shouldn't have been able to fully recover for at least a week, but he was up and conscious within a mere hour. Serenity further explained that Joey felt terrible about being unable to keep his promise of freeing her, but unfortunately for her, she was too stupid at that time to realize that it didn't matter. What really mattered was that Joey risked everything in the hopes of getting her out of the Shadow Realm, and not whether he succeeded or not.

After Battle City, she vowed that she would become the best duelist in the world, but the nightmares from Marik's shadow spell still tormented her day and night. But no matter how hard she fought them, the nightmares continued. For days she then prayed in the hopes that she would receive something that would allow her to finally control those nightmares.

That was when Valon came into the picture. And after her defeat, she couldn't take it anymore. She had broken down, crying, vowing to give anything for her to be strong again. Not just her own nightmares, but to become the world's best duelist as well. Valon, under the influence of Dartz, asked her to come with him, with the bright promise that Dartz would have exactly what she needed.

And when she received the power of the Orichalcos from Dartz, she felt a sudden surge of rage build up inside her. The nightmares of Marik's shadow spell quickly disappeared. When she dueled, she felt she had complete control, which Valon confirmed to her when she took Pegasus's soul.

But when Joey began to take control of their Orichalcos duel in the Industrial Illusions building after receiving the Claw of Hermos, the nightmares from Marik's shadow spell began to come back. She didn't realize it then, but Joey was trying to help her. Before receiving his legendary dragon, Joey didn't want to fight back because he didn't want to hurt her, while she repaid him by constantly hurting him. And while now she was grateful that Valon had stopped the duel to prevent anyone from losing their soul, she was furious at him back then, insisting that she had the entire duel still under control.

Now it became clear to Mai that the Orichalcos didn't really allow her to gain power over her nightmares, it merely suppressed them. Now she understood that she never should have fought those nightmares in the first place, all she succeeded in doing was allow the hold they had over her stronger. But back then, she didn't realize it. And after receiving the power of the Orichalcos from Dartz, she no longer saw Valon as anything but a mere stepping stone on her path to absolute power.

It was the reason why her sad feelings for Valon losing his soul after his defeat from Joey quickly faded in that empty lot. And when Joey challenged her to a duel, despite being completely drained of strength, she jumped at the opportunity, knowing that this time, with her deck rebuilt, she would finally be able to challenge his legendary dragon, defeat Joey, and move on with her life to become the best duelist in the world.

But during the final moments of that duel, she finally realized that winning a duel does not also mean gaining power in the process. When she was about to call her last attack and win, the memories that she and Joey shared finally came back. It was during that moment that she realized that the Orichalcos did not show the reality of the relationship between her and Joey, it merely manipulated them. It had deceived her into thinking that Joey was the reason why her life was so miserable, and had tricked her into trying to seal Joey away.

It was at that moment that she realized that she had crossed way too far over the line. Joey was already in pain, but all she did was deepen it. At such low endurance at that time, her Harpy Lady Phoenix Formation could have killed Joey in the process when she used it to destroy his Gilford the Lightning. She vowed that from that point on, and for the rest of the duel, she would forget about she goals the achieve power, forget about becoming the best duelist in the world, and just do the right thing for once.

But that vow went down the drain. The moment she made that vow, Joey began to collapse, finally unable to stand any longer. As she ran to over to him to hold him back up, the Seal of Orichalcos began to shrink around them. Mentally, she begged the Orichalcos to spare Joey's soul, but the seal did no such thing. She recalled how Joey would have taken the blow for her during Battle City when Marik tried to kill her with the Winged Dragon of Ra, and vowed that she would do the same thing for Joey in this situation. And if her soul was taken in the process of keeping Joey safe then so be it, it would all be worth it if Joey was spared.

Unfortunately for her, Joey was thinking virtually the exact same thing. And at the very last moment, he pushed her out of the seal so she could live. The pain she felt in that moment was greater than anything she had ever felt before. All the pains she endured in the world before that moment was nothing compared to what she saw. And it was from that event that the Orichalcos spell over her was finally broken. She remembered cradling Joey in her arms, crying, mentally begging him to come back to her, but deep down she knew all along that what she was asking simply wasn't possible.

It was then that she realized how selfish she had been, and how cruel she had been to Joey for all those months she had known him. And for the first time, in years, she was terrified beyond imagination. The experience of Marik's shadow spell of trapping her in that hourglass was frightening, but it was nothing compared to losing Joey to the Orichalcos. Joey had been one of Yugi's friends for years, she had no right to wreck their group. They were the only real friends she ever really had, and she turned her back on them because she was blinded by her lust for power, her inability to see friendship, and her stupidity to seek help when she actually needed it.

While she wanted the pharaoh, Tristan, and Tea to forgive her for what she did, she also did not expect such a thing to happen. Under normal circumstances, no one would take pity on her. Not after what she just pulled. And when Hermos took over Joey's body and displayed what happened in the empty lot to the three of them, she was more terrified than ever. While part of her wanted to explain to them that beating on her wouldn't bring Joey back, it was her fault why Joey was in such a position in the first place. Besides, she had no right to even think about asking them for forgiveness, much less actually asking it.

And then came her biggest terror of them all. She did want to see Joey again, but as soon as Hermos released Joey from the seal, he challenged her to a duel immediately. At first, she was confused why Joey would do such a thing, but it all made sense for her when Joey activated the Seal of Orichalcos against her. Clearly Joey was furious with her, and he had every right to be. Normally any other guy who had showed such anger at her would have just been a major annoyance and she would just brush it off or laugh it off, but Joey's anger made her feel as small as a mouse. It was clear, at least from her point of view, that after all the cruelties she put him through, Joey was finally seeking retribution. No part of her wanted to fight back at Joey, knowing fully well that she had put him through enough pain already. However, she also remembered that Joey did the exact same thing during their duel in the Industrial Illusions building, and it completely backfired on him. It became clear to her that Joey was going to do the exact same thing on her whether she fought back or not.

But this duel was the first time she saw Joey's rage. During that entire duel, all she saw from Joey was his determination for vengeance. Nothing was left of the Joey she deeply cared for, and it was all her fault for Joey's change in personality. But she also knew that she had done too much damage to Joey already, and it was time for her to do something right for a change. So when she fought on in that duel, the only thing she wanted was to see the Joey she cared about, and nothing more.

Unfortunately, there was a part of her that did not believe that what she wanted was ever going to happen unless she actually beat Joey in that duel. This in turn presented a major problem. This was the first time she dueled when she was fighting for something other than herself, and Joey was wielding the power of the Orichalcos against her. After he was taken by the seal, she had finally admitted to herself that she was never the stronger duelist compared to Joey, so logically she should have no real chance of winning the duel Joey forced her into.

It was during this duel that she finally tried to reach out, to try to believe that there was something more happening in the seal than just the two of them dueling. She tried to convince herself that there was someone watching over her in that duel, someone who believed that she would win so she could see Joey happy again. And while part of her mind was screaming at her, demanding to know why she was fighting on instead of deserving the same fate she put Joey in, another part of her mind was telling her that she should try to reunite herself with Joey again. However, losing the duel and having the Orichalcos take her to him is taking the easy way out, and it is not what she should do. If she wanted to see Joey again, she had to be willing to fight for him, no matter what scenario she is forced into.

And when that duel finally ended, Joey had helped her in ways she never thought possible. He extracted the last remnants of the Orichalcos magic within her. He allowed her to use his legendary dragon. He even gave her many cards from his deck to help her accomplish her goal. If it weren't for Joey's help, she would have lost the Orichalcos duel against Rafael and never would have even reached Dartz, much less than actually confronting him.

While she knew that defeating Dartz and saving Joey would be no easy task, she had no idea just how far the duel with him was going to take both her and the pharaoh. It was a far tougher duel she had ever thought would be, and the only reason why she was still standing was because she wanted to save Joey. She swore on her life she would bring him back, and this is one of those promises where she absolutely had to keep. She had to make things right. She had to tell Joey that was he right all along, and that his sacrifice to knock her back into her senses will not be in vain.

But now, with the whirlwind of violence from the maelstrom created when the shadows from Pyramid of Light touched the Seal of Orichalcos swirling around her, the pharaoh, and Dartz, her confidence has been shaken. She remembered how Joey went through unimaginable pain just because he believed that she valued their friendship, both in the Shadow Game with Marik, and not one, but three Orichalcos duels for her. And in the end, she never even told him that she valued their friendship just as much as he did, if not more.

Since the moment she lost Joey in that vacant lot, wave after wave of guilt had washed over her, the guilt she carried that Joey never knew how she really felt towards him. Guilt that none of this would have happened to Joey if she had just opened her eyes to reality. And finally, the guilt that after everything Joey did to help her, she was still unable to bring Joey back like she had promised she would.

And now, she was facing the worst possible situation ever. First the shadow magic that nearly got Joey killed just to bring her mind out of the Shadow Realm, then the Orichalcos magic that cost Joey his soul to bring her back to her senses. The two factors that caused the worst nightmares in her entire life, and now she had to face them at the same time.

"This situation is made just for you, Ms. Valentine." Dartz said, snapping Mai out of her thoughts.

"You can't scare me with this, Dartz!" she shouted. "It's not the first time I've played a Shadow Game before! Your tricks won't work on me this time!"

Dartz laughed. "And who said anything about me throwing the exact same Shadow Game as Marik did to you in the Battle City finals? No, I have something else in store for you."

"Enough!" Yami shouted. "What are you planning, Dartz?"

"Just watch, pharaoh." Dartz replied, as the maelstrom continued to swirl around them, and the Seal of Orichalcos began to generate another vision. This time, it showed Mai's duel with Marik in Kaiba Craft 3 in the Battle City finals. The vision went on to display how Mai's spirit was nearly broken after losing the memory of Joey from the Shadow Game.

"As you can see Ms. Valentine, that Shadow Game nearly broke you in two." Dartz said. "However, the pharaoh used his own shadow magic to help restore your confidence." At this point, the vision changed, displaying how Yami went into Mai's mind and got her to continue the duel.

"If I use the tactic Marik used, by erasing your memory for every monster I destroy, it would do no good this time. First of all, it's not the first time you've encountered this. Secondly, the pharaoh is right next to you, and would restore your confidence. Therefore, I'll simply have to try something the pharaoh can't restore."

At this point, three bars immediately appeared on the field, one by Dartz, one by Yami, and one by Mai. The bars are equally split into nine sections: blue, turquoise, emerald, yellow-green, gold, yellow-orange, orange, red-orange, and red.

"And what kind of trick are you playing, Dartz?" Mai demanded, confused by the sudden appearance of the bars.

Dartz laughed. "These are no ordinary bars, Ms. Valentine. These are energy gauges. I have not been able to fully perfect the shadow powers from the Pyramid of Light yet, so the Shadow Game rules apply to me as well."

"Now, here is how the energy gauges work. Since none of us have any LP left, every time a monster is destroyed or endures pain, you will lose part of your life energy, leaving you weaker than you once were. Oh, and this includes every single monster that was ever destroyed since the moment our duel began, so I hope the two of you haven't lost count."

Mai gasped. This was absolute madness. She and the pharaoh have lost dozens of monsters since the duel with Dartz began. Now for every single one of them she had lost, she was about to lose part of her strength.

"Now it's time to see how strong the two of you truly are, for the energy drain will now commence!" Dartz announced, as the life energies from him, Yami, and Mai are extracted from all the monsters they had lost since the beginning of the duel.

"Mai!" Yami cried, as Mai shrieked in pain, then collapsed to the ground.

"As you can see, pharaoh, Ms. Valentine's inner strength is far inferior to my own." Dartz said. "If you don't believe me, just take a look at the energy gauges!"

Yami gasped in horror as he observed the energy gauges. Dartz was right. He and Dartz's energy gauges were still very high, only falling to the middle of the emerald zone. But Mai's energy gauge had already fallen to the middle of the red-orange zone.

"I don't think it will take a genius for you to figure out why you and I still have high energy gauges and Ms. Valentine does not, pharaoh." Dartz continued. "Though I must say I'm surprised. That energy extraction should have drained all of her energy gauge. It's a miracle for her to actually have that final chunk remaining."

Yami opened his mouth to retaliate, but then his eyes widened in realization as to why he and Dartz's energy gauges are still so high and Mai's was so low.

Being fully corrupted by the Orichalcos, Dartz can draw power from the Orichalcos buried deep within him for energy. Similarly, he had the Millennium Puzzle, which had stopped the Seal of Orichalcos from taking his soul at a point in the duel, when Dartz nearly broke his sprit, along with Mai's.

However, Mai had neither the power of the Orichalcos nor the power of a Millennium Item to draw on for strength. Therefore, she had to carry the burden on her shoulders alone. Clearly Dartz's move has drained her of most of her strength.

"You…can't…stop me," Mai choked, struggling to get back onto her feet. "I've…come…too far now."

"And just what do you think you can do, Ms. Valentine?" Dartz taunted. "The pharaoh can't restore your strength, so he can't help you this time!"

"That enough, Dartz!" Yami shouted angrily. "Your magic tricks have far crossed the line this time! Using the Pyramid of Light to create a Shadow Game within an Orichalcos duel and draining Mai's strength for your own enjoyment!"

Dartz laughed. "Oh it is far more than that, pharaoh. This is what is going to help knock out Ms. Valentine once and for all, and then I can focus on you!"

"What? How do you intend on doing that?" Yami demanded.

With a gesture of his hand, the Seal of Orichalcos began to generate a vision before the three of them. "I don't suppose you still remember this particular duel, do you, pharaoh?" Dartz mocked.

Dartz, Yami and Mai are now in the seal, floating high above Kaiba's Alcatraz Duel Tower. At the top of the tower, a Shadow Game between Joey and Marik was taking place. In the scene, Joey demanded that Marik free Mai from the Shadow Realm immediately, but Marik just continued with the Shadow Game.

Yami's eyes widened. Dartz's magic was now nearly identical to the rules of the Shadow Game Marik used on Joey in that duel.

The scene then moved forward, showing Marik explaining the rules of the Shadow Game to Joey, and how it will be much worse compared to the one Mai suffered through. As usual, the losing opponent will be sent to the Shadow Realm. However, there is more. For every monster destroyed or suffers pain, that pain will also come out of the player's life energy, leaving him weaker than before. The scene then shifted to another vision, where Marik transformed Ra into its phoenix form and destroyed Joey's Gilford the Lightning, as Joey screamed in pain as he was burned alive.

Tears slid down Mai's cheeks. This was exactly what Joey was thinking after she destroyed his Gilford the Lightning with her Harpy Lady Phoenix Formation, which Hermos had shown her in that vacant lot where she lost Joey. Had she known Joey had undergone that kind of pain before, she would never have even considered using that card on Joey.

"Now pay attention, Ms. Valentine. Look how close Joseph Wheeler actually came in succeeding." Dartz continued, as the vision showed Joey, burned and scorched, at the end of his strength, summoning out Gearfried the Iron Knight, but collapsed onto the ground before he could call his attack.

"But what matters is the result, and close doesn't cut it in the end." Dartz went on. "Just when he was about to win, his willpower finally failed him."

"Enough!" Mai shouted, finally rising to one knee. "What does this have to do with me?"

Dartz laughed, as the vision changed the Mai dueling Joey in the vacant lot. "Still don't get it, do you, Ms. Valentine? That energy gauge displays your life force. For every monster that I destroy or cause pain to, your life force will gradually decrease. Once that energy gauge is completely depleted your endurance will be all gone, which means you won't have any strength left to continue the duel!"

"And you saw first hand what will happen when that happens, don't you?" Dartz mocked, as the vision changed to show Joey's knees buckled, finally unable to stand any longer. As Mai screamed in horror and ran over to him to hold him back up, the Seal of Orichalcos began to shrink around him.

"So as you can see, I no longer need to destroy your Harpy Dragon Warrior to win, Ms. Valentine." Dartz explained. "All I need to do is destroy a few more monsters of any kind of yours and your energy gauge will be empty, ending the duel for you!"

"You can't do this!" Yami protested.

"Sure I can, pharaoh." Dartz replied, ignoring Yami's anger. "It's not like I'm the only one here who is using magic in this duel anyway. You use the power of your Millennium Puzzle all the time."

"True, but I never use it to spread evil!" Yami countered.

"Oh but you are, pharaoh." Dartz replied. "You are just denying the truth. And once I use this tactic to get rid of Ms. Valentine, I'll go straight for you!"

"Your tactic won't work on me, Dartz!" Mai seethed angrily, clenching her teeth in anger, as she slowly got back onto her feet. "If you think I can't endure this kind of pain, you're dead wrong!"

Dartz laughed. "Oh please, Ms. Valentine. Of all of my employees, you are the one who is most susceptible to pain. You are fortunate to be actually standing right now, much less stay standing and continue to fight."

"That's enough out of you, Dartz!" Yami shouted. "Mai doesn't deserve this!"

"On the contrary, yes she does." Dartz replied. "Just take a look."

At this point, the Seal of Orichalcos glowed again, as two visions immediately materialize in front of the three of them. In the first scene, it showed Yami dueling against Marik in the Battle City Finals, where Yugi and the good Marik are also in the dueling area. Yugi is floating above Yami, with rings from the Shadow Realm chaining him in position. Marik is in the same situation above the evil Marik. Then, the vision changed to show that every time Yami's LP went down, part of Yugi's body disappeared into the Shadow Realm, and every time that happened, Yugi screamed in pain.

In the second vision, it showed Yami and Kaiba dueling in the Kaiba Dome, where Kaiba had activated the Pyramid of Light trap card, and a giant bright blue pyramid formed onto the field. Then, the vision changed to show that every time Yami or Kaiba lost LP in their duel, part of the life energy was drained and assimilated into the Pyramid of Light on the field.

"And those aren't even the major ones for you, Ms. Valentine." Dartz continued, as the two visions disappeared from the field, and three more visions took their place. "Others had undergone far worse."

The first vision displayed Marik dueling Joey in the Battle City Finals on Kaiba's Alcatraz Duel Tower, where every time one of Joey monsters was destroyed or felt pain, Joey was drained of a part of his energy. The vision then flashed to the final moments of the duel, where Marik used the Winged Dragon of Ra's phoenix form and destroyed Joey's Gilford the Lightning, where Joey was screaming in pain as Ra's phoenix burned him.

In the second vision, it showed Joey and Valon dueling each other in the vacant lot. The vision showed Valon getting back up after being hit by Joey's Rocket Hermos Cannon, then using his Data Brain magic card to create a replica Rocket Hermos Cannon on his side of the field. The vision flashed, showing Valon firing the rockets from the replica Rocket Hermos Cannon at Joey, blowing him off his feet and into the seal's wall, then falling flat on his face. The vision then proceeded to the closing turns of the duel, where Valon got back to his feet after his armor was destroyed by Joey's Lord of the Red's special ability. As Joey flew in for an attack, he activated his Extinction Fist trap card, punching Joey right in the stomach and sending Joey sprawling back across the field, destroying his Lord of the Red in the process.

And finally, in the third vision it showed Joey and Mai dueling each other after Valon was defeated. The vision showed Mai using her Monster Reborn magic card to bring back her Cyber Harpy, her Elegant Egotist magic card to multiply them into three, then playing her Harpy Lady Phoenix Formation magic card to destroy Joey's Gilford the Lightning and his last Scapegoat token. Joey's monsters were destroyed, and Joey staggered and moaned in pain as the blue phoenix burned and scorched him.

"And to think, all three situations were for the same person!" Dartz laughed. "It's no wonder why you repaid him in such a way, Ms. Valentine."

Mai clenched her fists tightly, and tilted her head up to Dartz. "What I did to Joey that night was beyond forgiveness, but that doesn't mean you can now stop me from doing the right thing!" she shouted angrily, but then sunk back to her knees as the pain jolted back up in her body again.

Dartz laughed. "You can barely even stay standing, so what more do you think you can do? I, on the other hand, still have plenty of abundant energy left. And if you look closely, you'll see that my energy gauge is slowly filling itself back up."

Yami turned his head towards Dartz's energy gauge. He was telling the truth. Very slowly, but steadily, Dartz's energy levels were going back up. When he turned his head over to his own energy gauge, he saw that it is doing to same thing.

"As you can see, pharaoh, for every moment that no action takes place, our energy levels slowly recharge themselves." Dartz explained, turning to Yami. "And this is the only way that it can be done, and there is no method for you or Ms. Valentine to speed up the recharging process. But as you can see, Ms. Valentine's energy levels are being depleted at a much faster rate than it can recharge itself, so it makes no difference to me. And you shouldn't be worried too much about yourself either. Clearly your energy levels will allow you to remain in fighting condition long after Ms. Valentine's soul is mine."

"Enough!" Yami shouted. "You'll be beaten long before either of us fall to your twisted schemes!"

"No, but at least you should be relieved to hear that you'll be the second one to fall, pharaoh." Dartz replied. "You and the rest of your friends have undergone your shares of the Shadow Games and have endured great amounts of pain in the process."

Dartz then turned to Mai. "And now, Ms. Valentine, it's your turn."