A Different Kind of Dark
Wow. This has been in the making for over two years now. Personally, I think of it as time very well spent. I'm satisfied.
For the record, this is a retelling of when Kaiba first arrives in the dungeons of the Duelist Kingdom castle to rescue Mokuba. Recall that he travels through the dungeons with one of Pegasus's henchmen as a guide for a short while, before he is tricked and forced to strike out on his own. This is where we come in.
NOTE: THIS IS A GOOD BIT EMBELLISHED, FOR THE SAKE OF A DIFFERENT TARGET AUDIENCE. NOTE THAT WHILE THE BASIC ELEMENTS REMAIN THE SAME, MANY PARTS OF THE STORY ARE SLIGTLY ALTERED.
I don't own Yu-Gi-Oh, but read 'n review anyway.
I wandered slowly through the stone corridor, my feet crunching with every step on what seemed like eons worth of dirt and grime. I had abandoned all thoughts of navigating, and decided to rely on sense entirely.
A fringe of brown hair blocked my vision, and I brushed it absentmindedly back behind my ear as I had so many times before in the last few hours. I heard the shuffling of a dungeon guard, and quickly ducked into a shadowy corner. With a dark trench coat on, I'd be fairly hard to see. And if I was spotted, I'd make quick work of any would-be discoverers.
I traveled quickly, hoping to avoid any hidden cameras; I wouldn't be surprised in the least if Pegasus was watching my every move. No matter. I was confident in my ability to rip most any adversary to shreds, armed or otherwise.
This dungeon was drafty, and I shivered despite myself, pulling the trench coat closer around my shoulders. I thought again for the thousandth time that afternoon of Mokuba. I felt a pang of, well, what was the emotion? Worry, sorrow, fear . . . guilt? My stomach tightened.
Continuing on, I felt a drop of water hit my cheek. Rubbing it off, I gazed up at the ceiling. An additional drop hit me squarely on the forehead. Another leak. I was hardly surprised; this castle must be ancient. The pipe system had to have been added in long after construction, thus making it faulty.
I walked past a few torches. They seemed to show up at fairly random intervals. I immediately felt the need to equip one; there was just something inviting about the warm soft glow in such a cold, foreign habitat. But still, I had enough common sense to resist the temptation. It would mean bringing masses of unnecessary attention to my presence. A teenage boy in a trench coat easily went unnoticed, but the sight of fire was not as simply overlooked.
I went on for another thirty minutes or so, walking as I had, counting the opportunities I had had to lose my original path. I'd thought through the process quite a few times; there just wasn't a good a way to mark where I'd already been. Every time I came to a crossroads, I just bit my lip and continued. Did I have a choice?
There could be miles and miles of passageway below this castle. I was already one hundred feet below the ground, if not more. I could tell by the way my ears popped with the pressure. I heard another guard approaching, and dove behind a tall coat of armor. After I heard the footsteps pass I returned to the stone walkway.
Suddenly I saw a dead end. The first one I had seen yet. I was frantic for a moment, and then common sense took over. I should have suspected one, and sooner than this for sure. Huge though these tunnels were, they could hardly be endless. I took the opportunity to catch my breath for a moment.
As I was planning my next move, I suddenly noticed something. There was definitely something wrong with that wall.
First of all, all of the walls down here were gray stone, showing hundreds of years of wear and tear. Some near the torches were even stained with soot. This wall was relatively new cinderblock. Second of all, it didn't merge neatly with the wall. There was a crack running down the side.
My confidence lifted for the first time that afternoon. I felt exceptionally close to Mokuba. He was Pegasus' most important key to the overtake of KaibaCorp, thus he would be in a heavily guarded cell. After I passed this way, I would more than likely run into a couple more (heavily armed) guards, and then I'd be right outside Mokuba's cell.
The tight feeling in my chest returned. From what I'd seen of the cells so far, they didn't impress me much. To think of my little brother, only family, and only friend imprisoned in one of those tied knots in my stomach. My eyes moistened.
But emotion wouldn't help me now. I can't get weak and sentimental. Now more than ever I needed to be keen and think on my feet. After a quick look in my locket for strength, I closed my eyes and took a couple of deep breaths. This was a martial arts technique; I was getting ready for the battle of power – and wit – that I knew I'd begin beyond this wall.
I knocked a few times on various bricks, thinking of any magic numbers that would cause Pegasus to create some kind of a code. There was always the variety of dueling arenas (eight) but I doubted that it would be that simple. Nevertheless, I knocked on the brick eight up and eight from the right. The left, then? Predictably, nothing. I tried a few more before moving on to better ideas.
My next thought regarded the nearby torch. Instead of taking it out, I tried to thrust it in as many possible positions as I could. Still no effect. It wasn't a switch after all. One of my more inspired strategies, but I was growing increasingly frustrated. In a moment of barbaric fury, I threw all of my weight against the wall. Surprisingly enough, it began to slide back.
To anyone else, this would have been a moment of jubilation. However, I was quite frankly much more cynical. It would be just like Pegasus to make the wall simple to open, but there would be more to it. I must have tripped security alarms all over the castle. The frustrating part was how easily I could have stopped this from happening. This was precisely the kind of frustrated action I had done my best to avoid.
Nothing to do about that now.
Giving the situation a moment's worth of thought, I decided that the best move I could make would be to wait where I was. Attempting to make a daring escape amidst hundreds of guards with Mokuba in tow, well, that would be pretty stupid. I'd just do my best from here on out. I'd come this far.
To my surprise, nothing happened. Ten minutes, no guard. Twenty, still nothing. Ironically, this was putting me more ill-at-ease than if I was surrounded by a hundred thugs. At least then I would know what to expect. In thinking about it, I realized that this was oh-so-Pegasus's style. Mind games were his cup of tea. I knew that better than anybody.
However, my dear friend, that is a game that two can play.
I advanced further, watching the ground more than I watched what was up ahead. At first this sounded stupid, even to me. However, it's quite logical when you think about it further. Booby traps don't just appear in front of you. To my further chagrin, I still found nothing remotely resembling a trap, a cell, or even a fork in the path.
Suddenly, I heard voices ahead. I must have jumped a foot in the air. I threw myself against the wall. So there they were. The thugs I had been hoping for. I counted only two, pacing in opposite directions before a single cell. I couldn't see anyone inside, but intuition told me that there had to be. And bare, cruel instinct told me that it was my brother. For a second I wondered if the cell marked a dead end, but quickly realized from the glow of yet another torch that there was a corridor branching off from the left of the cell.
Well, here I was.
Both guards were armed with high-performance machine guns. Casually approaching them was an option I could mark off of my list without any further ado. There was no way I could enter from behind. The right side of the cell marked another stone wall. And who knew where the corridor to the left led. Or rather, which of the thousands of corridors I had discarded in my wake led to it.
I couldn't attack from the face, the right, the left, and certainly not from below. I suppose that only left me one choice. From above.
For the first time that day, I edged backward along the wall. That was the one promise I had made to myself that day in hopes of maintaining some kind of control over my travel thorough the dungeon – never, never backtrack. However, now that I had a visible goal, retrogression was a concept that did not frighten me to the degree that it had before. I admit that it was awkward, retracing my own footsteps like that, but all I wanted now was to be out of sight.
After I turned a corner, I stood again in the very center of the narrow hallway. Extending my arms in both directions, I quickly determined that I was indeed taller than the corridor was wide. Perfect. Moving so that my back was against the left wall, I put my right foot against the wall on the right, about at my waist height. I pushed for a moment to determine that it would hold my weight.
So far, my plan was working. Well, in fact.
I pushed with all my might with my right foot against the right wall and my back against the left wall, and moved my left foot beside it. I was hanging now, suspended between the two walls about a foot off the ground.
Following these same steps, I slowly climbed up the wall.
Though these corridors were not wide, they were conveniently very high. Within a few minutes, I was well above the height my head would have been were I still on the ground. Almost eight feet into the air, I gazed down at the flagstones below me. They looked reasonably far away.
Continuing to push with both feet, I slid my left foot a few inches forward. I suddenly swung backwards. Beginning to panic, I grabbed hold of a niche on the left wall. I remained like this for a few minutes to follow, willing my heart to quit pounding.
When I had regained composure, I took a deep breath and re-attempted the same feat. This time, however, I was successful. My confidence slowly regaining, I moved my right foot as well. Now I was a few more inches ahead of where I had been to begin with. Slowly but surely I was making progress back to where the guards stood.
Almost twenty minutes later, my legs numb, I was at the middle of the corridor where the guards paced. More quietly than ever, I advanced. Neither of them had looked up yet, not that I had expected them to. They might have been down here as long as I had. In that amount of time, any routine would have faded to drudgery. Both were occupied by their own thoughts.
Without warning, I dropped to the ground. As I fell, I managed to take one out effortlessly in a single chop to the carotid artery. Lucky hit, but still. The other was far too dumbstruck to take action, and he went down almost as easily.
Now I stood, weary and panting, beside a pathetic little cell that I didn't even know for sure belonged to my brother. Numb with fatigue, physical and mental, I leaned against the wall for support. However, a small whimper ended my self-chastising reverie almost as suddenly as it had begun.
"Who's there?" I demanded, my voice quivering. The sound of my own voice frightened me a little. It felt like years since I'd heard it.
"Seto?" a smaller, weaker voice inquired, sounding as dumbstruck as I felt. The sound sent a shock through my entire body. Like lightening, I was immediately restored.
"Mokuba?" I exclaimed in return, my voice an intense mixture of thousands of emotions I couldn't even begin to identify.
"Seto," it said again, filling with confidence, relief, and child-like excitement. "I knew that you'd come for me, big brother. I just knew!"
"Mokuba," I whispered, as though these three syllables were the only sounds I could make. I ignored the dull pain in my legs and knelt down to his level. Seizing the small hand that extended towards me though the bars, I held it as tightly as though I could somehow tell him all that I was feeling though this mere connection.
"I missed you so much," we both said at exactly the same time. We both laughed a little, a sound that seemed so strange and incongruous to our surroundings and emotions. The silence and sentimentality temporarily broken, Mokuba spoke again.
"I'm sure you have some high-tech way to get me out of here, Seto," he smiled confidently. His faith in my abilities was touching, but somehow misplaced.
"Sure," I said, wanting to laugh a little but somehow not knowing how. "Just give me a second to pick this lock."
Suddenly, another familiar voice – perhaps all too familiar – rang through the corridor.
"Ah, Kaiba-boy. I just knew that you would come for him," Pegasus voice resounded, the last part in a high falsetto mimicking Mokuba's greeting. He laughed coldly.
My blood began to boil. Not realizing it, I threw the lock down to where it clanged against the iron. Torn between what I knew must be one instinct to go to the back of his cell and another telling him to stand as close as possible to me, Mokuba stood frozen, one arm dangling limply through the bars.
"What do you want with us?" I snarled.
"I would have thought that I had made that blatantly obvious by now, even to a super-genius like you," Pegasus drawled, smiling condescendingly. "To take over KaibaCorp with Mokuba as my puppet and you as my first casualty."
His sadistic laugh rang out again. I clung to cell bars until my knuckles turned white, willing myself to resist doing anything rash.
"Well it seems as though I've beaten you to it," I said though clenched teeth. Pegasus raised an eyebrow.
"To what?" he inquired innocently. "I don't see anything changed between now and when you first arrived here. No ruined dueling arenas, no prisoners released, no anything. For all intents and purposes, every little speck of dust seems exactly in its place."
To emphasize his point, Pegasus drew a pale finger along the cinderblock wall and examined it with feigned interest before giving me a wry smile.
I narrowed my eyes.
"I demand that you release him," I said icily, the rage in my voice barely in check. I recalled only a single occasion previous to this in which I had used this tone with anyone. That day, only one of the two men present emerged alive. And it had been me.
"My sharp intuition is telling me that I'm making dear Kaiba-boy angry. And you know that I wouldn't want that," he sighed dreamily.
"I do know that you wouldn't want that. Better than you do, in fact."
"Now I'm really terrified. In fact, I'm feeling the need to assert my control over the situation."
Something told me that he was much more serious than his tone implied.
"You won't touch a hair on his head. Or mine," I whispered. Contrary to my expectations (although I don't know why) he simply laughed.
"Of course I won't."
If he had been laughing before, now he was cackling. A bone-chilling, high-pitched, resounding cackle that sent shivers up my spine. I felt myself instinctively step towards Mokuba.
However, my efforts were in vain.
A shock of light exploded through the corridor, sharp enough to both blind me and send me to my knees. As I clung helplessly to the bars for support, I heard a sharp cry that I identified instantly as Mokuba, but it sounded somehow distant. And becoming more so by the instant.
But still I held his hand.
I clung to his fingers, willing the light, the cries, the terror, to end. To just end.
And for a moment it did.
We were suspended in time, knowing nothing, feeling nothing. We were divided by a mere set of iron bars, but eternities away – further away than we'd ever been. As I clung firmly to his stationary form, I somehow felt something deep within him ripped away.
When the feelings came back, the first thing I knew was a sense of numb loneliness. I somehow knew I was by myself now, despite the fact that Mokuba was right beside me. I was still holding his hand. But it felt different – cold, limp, motionless.
As the realization dawned on me of what had occurred – or what I thought had occurred – the emotion I felt metamorphosed terrifyingly. A thundering, roaring anger, the likes of which I had perhaps never before felt, began to pulse through my veins. I released the bars – and my brother's hand. I felt a sick, trembling feeling as the walls containing my fury began to weaken and finally burst apart.
"YOU BASTARD!" I shouted hoarsely, throwing myself towards him with an almost animalistic simplicity to my intent. I wanted to rip him to shreds. And at that moment, I didn't think there was a force on Earth that could keep my hands from his throat.
"Now, then, Kaiba-boy. Don't go irrational on me," he smiled, holding up a single hand. Despite my nearly rabid attempts to reach him, some kind of invisible wall held me back. Still I continued to fight. Finally, from emptiness and exhaustion, I fell against the bars of the cell, gasping for breath.
"That's better," Pegasus said, his voice becoming slightly less mocking and gaining a more serious, uncharacteristically steely edge. "I want you to understand something, Kaiba. Something that no one else has had the nerve to pound into your genius psyche. You aren't better than everyone else. Au contraire, in fact. You're just like all the rest of us now. You've lost someone you care for dearly."
He laughed sharply, a sound that made me tense all over.
"Get used to it."
I gazed up at him, giving him a look of dry-eyed loathing.
"So he's dead, then?" I whispered, not daring to think about what I had just said.
"Heavens no. Not dead. At least not per se. Merely missing a rather small – albeit rather important – element. His soul, Kaiba."
Another shock coursed through me. I didn't know if it was horror, revulsion, or some sick kind of relief. Maybe all three.
"I know you, Pegasus," I said through clenched teeth, making all the effort I could to appear unmoved. "What do I need to do?"
"Were I you, I'd start by legally entering this tournament – by the good old rule book," he smiled, his silly, childish side coming back again. "Here."
Having said this, he tossed me a red glove with ten star-shaped indentions strung across the wristband. I slipped it over my fingers, gazing almost disdainfully at the effect. Next I looked back up at him, waiting for what I assumed were more directions. However, he merely shrugged.
"Well then, Kaiba-boy, I'll leave you to it. I daresay that there's a young man waiting outside positively dying for a rematch. If you can win all of his hard-earned little starchips, you're free to come in and take what will rightfully be yours – a match with yours truly. I warn you, though – the boy is not as easily beaten as you might be led to believe. Or maybe you've learned better. Who can tell?"
My look was far from questioning. I had a feeling that I knew exactly to whom he was referring. And this recollection – along with the many associations that came with it – was not a good one.
"So I have your word, then?" I asked, making definite eye contact with him.
"Oh, why, yes, certainly," he replied, sounding rather shocked and almost hurt. "Have I ever given you any reason to doubt my honesty?"
I didn't care what he said – so long as he made the promise. I was sick of the mind games. Now was the time to square off for once and for all.
"You better," I replied acidly, my voice making a rapid crescendo for the next words. "Or I'll take great pleasure in separating your soul from your body – in my own way."
He was ignoring me, but I didn't care about that either. I had said what I wanted to – needed to – say.
"Oh, and Kaiba – " he remembered suddenly, turning around abruptly. "Do follow me. I'd hate for you to get lost in the tunnels today. Two Kaiba-casualties in one day might just be a bit much – even for me."
Gripping the bars of the cell until my fingers began to ache, I somehow managed to regain my composure. I took a long look at Mokuba's mangled form and swallowed for the last time my tears and feelings of hopelessness. Bending down and reaching my arm through the bars, I traced his pale, cold cheek with a solitary finger.
"Oh, don't be so sentimental, Kaiba-boy. I don't have all day, you know."
I struggled to my feet, feeling almost as though I was a pawn in some twisted game of chess. In sense, I suppose I was.
For what felt like the first time in years, I was forced to painfully abandon my innate pride and inhibition. Without them, I found myself feeling oddly empty. Willing myself not to feel at all, I followed him down the left corridor. Very soon I saw a seemingly new, well-crafted red door – a true anachronism to the dungeon in which I'd spent the last five or six hours. As he opened it, I shielded my eyes from the outpouring of light.
It was time to leave this subterranean hell and go back to the world above. A world that somehow seemed even darker than the place where I stood now.
Only a different kind of dark.