Disclaimer: If I owned Yu-gi-oh! and its characters instead of Kazuki Takahashi, would I be posting this for free online? No. I'd be out on a trip around the world spending my royalty checks.
Rating: T for language, suggestive content, mild violence (of the battling-cartoon-monsters variety).
Pairings and Warnings: Yugi x Téa (x Atem). Kaiba x Kisara. Joey x Mai. Tristan x Serenity. Some Bakura x Marik (shonen ai mostly; nothing very graphic.) Puzzleshippy stuff if you squint really hard. And yeah, I use the dub names. It's how I got to know and love these characters. But the continuity pulls from the dub, the sub, and the manga and exists in the same universe as all my other YGO stories. Sequel to the Revival series.
Acknowledgements: In addition to the people who directly helped me with this fic, I also want to acknowledge the other writers who have influenced me.
Scribbler writes absolutely gorgeous imagery, not to mention the definitive Anzu. My Téa is greatly influenced by her.
My take on the Yami/Yugi relationship is largely due to LeDiz. Her characterizations of the two of them and the depth of their bond completely blow me away. Any Puzzleshipping leanings I have are entirely her fault.
Ginef's Pirates of the Caribbean stories have some of the most amazing sensory imagery ever. Her writing makes my mouth water and reminds me that the little touches add so much.
Thank you, ladies, for setting the bar very high, and for challenging me to always look for ways to improve my own writing.
Ginef and Scribs also deserve belated thanks for their help with various British-isms. I should've thanked them in Part I and forgot. Mea culpa! The pub description is all Ginef, and she and Scribs both were very gracious in answering the occasional "how would you say this?" question or ten I shot at them. Anything that's set in England or that Sara or Bakura says that doesn't read like an ignorant American who's read too much Harry Potter wrote it, it's thanks to them. Anything that does read that way is because I got lazy and didn't ask them first. You guys are the best!
On standby: in a state of readiness to act, respond, or be used immediately when needed.
—Dictionary dot com Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc.
1. The Guardians
The flight from Egypt back to the United States was a convoluted, twenty-five-hour ordeal that involved four different countries, three different airlines, and a two-hour wait in customs upon their arrival in San Francisco. By the time Yugi, Téa, Joey, and Tristan finally made it back to their penthouse in Illusion Towers with their guest, Sara Drake, in tow, it was nearly midnight. Mai, Serenity, and Duke were waiting for them in the common room when they got off the elevator, but the reunion was awkward, no one quite sure whether to greet Yugi enthusiastically or like a mourner at a wake.
After quick introductions to Sara, they exchanged brief summaries, first of the tournament—Kaiba had won, and Mai and Rebecca had taken second and third respectively, with Valon rounding out the top four—and then of Egypt, Yugi sketching in brief the research they'd be doing to try and find a ritual that would bring Atem and Seto back from the Shadow Realm. As soon as they'd finished, Mai and Joey disappeared upstairs to Mai's apartment, and Yugi enlisted Tristan and Duke's help in hauling the two cases of texts they'd brought with them on the plane up to the library, leaving Téa and Serenity to show a wide-eyed Sara around the penthouse.
Illusions Tower was a forty-story glass and steel office building owned by Industrial Illusions. Its founder being something of an eccentric recluse who liked to make appearances only when he could maximize the dramatic effect, Industrial Illusions' main headquarters was a sort of fortress of solitude well outside of the city in the northern part of Marin County. The marketing division of the company, however, required more interaction with the general public; hence the Illusions Tower building right in the middle of downtown San Francisco. The top two floors of the building housed the offices and apartments of Pegasus's Elite Duelist team.
The tour began in the common room. Set up a little like a ridiculously upscale college dormitory, the thirty-ninth floor was accessible only by keycard, and the elevator opened onto a lavish lounge with several full-sized arcade games and two separate seating areas. Nearest to the elevator was a semi-circular sectional sofa around a low glass coffee table; this is where they'd conferred about the tournament and Egypt when they'd first arrived. Towards the far end of the room was a cluster of armchairs and another sofa grouped around a plasma screen television mounted on the wall. An elaborate entertainment cabinet below the television held a DVD player/VCR combo, a hi-fi stereo system, and just about every video game platform known to mankind. Téa explained the elaborate setup to Sara. "Besides doing Duel Monsters promotions and tournaments, we do a lot of video game beta-testing. Yugi in particular can find a bug in any game in about three minutes flat."
Sara shook her head. "It's hard for me to reconcile this game stuff with all I've been hearing about his expertise on ancient Egypt. It's so… non-academic."
"He's loved games his whole life. The Egyptian stuff is fairly recent."
The eastern wall of the room was all windows, with a glass door that opened out onto a long balcony that spanned the entire length of the building. The other walls were decorated with eight framed enlargements of Duel Monsters cards. The size of movie posters, each one depicted their special guardian monsters, the same figures that Pegasus had had made into pendants for each of them for Christmas. After Sara's explanation of her love of dragons back in Luxor, Téa was not surprised when she spent some time admiring the Red-Eyes Black Dragon print, but was a little taken aback by her reaction to the Dark Magician.
"Who is that?" She sounded almost startled as she examined the print.
"That's Dark Magician, Yugi's signature monster."
"I've seen him before! But—" She stopped, shaking her head. "I don't play the game. How could I have?"
Téa and Serenity exchanged looks, and Serenity shrugged. "It's a pretty well-known card. He's in a lot of the promotional posters and stuff. You probably have seen him and just didn't realize he was from Duel Monsters."
Sara kept looking at the large portrait. "Yes, I suppose that must be it." She looked around at the other prints. "Actually, these all look rather familiar. A bit odd, that; I swear I've never so much as looked through Professor Julius's cards."
Téa wondered again about how Sara seemed vaguely familiar as she tried to feel her way around the strange subject of the connection between ancient Egypt and Duel Monsters. "If Professor Julius is a duelist, he must know that Pegasus based the game on Egyptian carvings. You know that carving you mentioned back in Luxor, the one with the pharaoh that looks a little like Yugi?"
Sara gave her an odd look, frowning slightly, but she nodded.
"Dark Magician is based on the wizard in that carving."
Sara's eyes widened. "Really?" She looked at Dark Magician again. "I understand Professor Hawkins theorizes that the Egyptians actually played a game similar to the modern game Pegasus created. Naturally, Professor Julius thinks it's romantic rubbish."
Neither Téa nor Serenity said anything.
"But if the cards are based on Egyptian carvings, that must be why they seem so familiar. Tell me a little about them all, will you?"
"Sure." Téa motioned around the walls to all the portraits. "There are eight cards displayed here. Each of the seven of us who live here have a Duel Monster we sort of connect with. The eighth poster is Duke's special card. He promotes his own game licensed through Industrial Illusions."
"Duke is the bloke with the black hair and the dice earring, right?"
"That's the one. You've already seen Yugi's and Joey's favorites. Mine is Dark Magician Girl. She's the Dark Magician's apprentice." Téa pointed out the pretty blue-eyed blonde in the turquoise and pink dress next to Dark Magician, then they moved past the portrait of Joey's Red-Eyes to a blue-skinned woman with long blonde hair. Unlike the other prints, which were all gold-bordered monster cards, this one had a magenta border, indicating it was a trap card.
Serenity stepped up beside Sara. "That's Gift of the Mystical Elf, my card. She's a healer, and I'm a medic and a pre-med student."
"Harpie Lady over here is Mai's monster. Stunning but deadly." Téa pointed first to a pink-haired woman with wings on her back and long green talons for fingers, then indicated the warrior with serrated armor and a flowing cape in the next portrait. "Command Knight is Tristan's. He's a great support monster who gives other warrior types on his side of the field additional attack points."
"I'll take your word for it."
Sara's sheepish grin reminded Téa that she knew nothing whatsoever about the game. It had been a long time since Téa had met someone who didn't at least know the basic rules for Duel Monsters, other than the girls Duke picked up and brought around, so she wasn't used to having to explain terms like attack points. "He makes other monsters stronger." She showed Sara the last two portraits. "Fire Princess is Rebecca Hawkins' monster."
"The professor's granddaughter?"
Sara studied the somewhat waif-like girl in flowing, fiery orange robes. "She doesn't look quite as formidable as that Harpie Lady."
"Not in sheer strength, no, but under the right conditions, she can bypass an opponent's monsters and attack a player directly. And that big hulking guy over there, that's Orgoth the Relentless, Duke's monster."
Serenity rocked back and forth on her heels, a wide grin on her face. "And there you have your first Duel Monster's tutorial. Aren't you sorry you asked? Don't worry, though. As stupid as it all sounds now, it'll infect you, just watch. Hanging out with these guys does that to you."
"But neither of you play?" Sara asked.
"Téa does. She's better than she lets on."
"So are. I'm still learning, though. Tristan doesn't play either; he just doesn't like role-playing games all that much. Duke plays a little, but mostly he concentrates on his own game, which is based off Duel Monsters, called Dungeon Dice Monsters. Yugi, Joey, Mai, and Rebecca are the real duelists, though."
"What are your jobs, then, if you don't play the game?"
"I'm like an administrative assistant," Téa said. "I coordinate between Pegasus and the duelists, book travel arrangements, help schedule promotional events and tournaments, that sort of thing. Serenity is our medic, and Tristan handles security. Duke isn't really an employee; he has his own company that licenses through Industrial Illusions, but he's a close friend of ours and travels with us to most events. He doesn't actually live here, but he's over here enough he might as well. Sometimes he crashes at Tristan's."
Serenity put a hand on Sara's shoulder. "So, ready to go out and buy yourself a deck now?"
"I don't think so. It's all rather confusing. But they do look familiar." Then she winked at Téa and Serenity. "So show me the rest of this squalid little flat you poor souls are forced to endure."
"Yes, come feel our pain." Téa laughed as she and Serenity led Sara to the kitchen and dining room off of the common room. "We each have kitchenettes in our own apartments, but we usually eat together down here."
Serenity rolled her eyes. "Mostly take-out, although Téa or Tristan cook occasionally, and Joey makes Japanese curry a lot and can do some pretty amazing things with ramen. And we all pitched in on Thanksgiving. It was the first American Thanksgiving for most of us, at least since we were really little."
At the north end of the common room, opposite the elevator, was a circular staircase that wound up to the fortieth floor above. Behind the staircase, a hallway led back into their workspaces, including a huge empty room where they could duel each other for practice using their Duel Disks. The room also had a mirror and a barre so Téa could use it to dance when no one was dueling. Even though she wasn't currently taking classes or in a show, she wanted to stay limber and keep her skills up. Beyond the practice room was a conference room, several small offices, and a storage room that served as one of Pegasus's many card vaults.
Téa and Serenity then led Sara back into the common room and up the stairs. At the top of the landing was another small seating area with a loveseat, two chairs, and a coffee table. Across from the stairs was a set of double doors that led to the library where Yugi, Tristan, and Duke were currently unpacking the scrolls they had brought back with them. Two hallways branched off from either side of the landing.
"Up here are the library and our apartments." Téa motioned to two hallways. "The duelists all have apartments on the east side. Serenity, Tristan and I have apartments on the west." They started down the hallway toward the west. "You can stay in my room. I'll sleep on the couch."
Sara put up her hands and shook her head. "Oh, I don't want to put you out. I'll take the couch."
"Don't be silly, you're not putting me out at all." She was about to add that she often stayed with Yugi anyway, then thought better of it. No chance of that, given Yugi's current mood. Pushing that thought from her mind, she forced a smile onto her face as they reached her door, the one closest to the stairs. She pointed down the hall past the other two apartments. "The elevator comes up to this floor, too, down at the other end of the hall, so you don't have to come in through the common room. We'll get you a guest key to use to get up to these floors."
"It's really very kind of you to invite me to stay here with you."
"It only makes sense since you're helping us research rituals." She put her keycard in the door and opened it, then stopped and faced Sara. "We really appreciate this, Sara. I really appreciate this. You don't know what it means to us."
Sara cocked her head. "I suppose I don't. And yet, I feel as if I do understand." She laughed at herself. "That makes no sense, I know."
Téa wondered again exactly who this girl was and what her connection was to everything. A part of her worried about the wisdom of allowing this virtual stranger—the one who had just happened to find the desecrated tombs—access to their library and living quarters, but if she was connected to Ramesses, maybe having her close at hand was better than having her loose in Egypt. It seemed like there wasn't a whole lot more damage to be done there, but still, it suddenly felt as if Atem were more vulnerable than any of the rest of them. It was a concept that didn't sit well with Téa. But screwing back on her plastic cheerleader smile, she told Sara, "Thus concludes our tour."
Sara smiled and clapped politely. "Well done! I'm thoroughly impressed. If I'd have known what luxury awaited the champions of this game, I would've taken up Professor Julius on his offer and learned to play straight away."
"It is a pretty sweet setup." Téa held the door all the way opened and motioned for Sara to enter. "Why don't you go on in and make yourself comfortable while Serenity and I go down and bring up the bags?"
"Oh, I can do it. I don't want to be any bother."
"No, seriously, it's no trouble. Make yourself at home. We'll just be a minute." When Sara finally relented and entered Téa's apartment, Téa closed the door behind her, then took Serenity's arm and led her down the hall toward the elevator. "What's your sense of her? Anything weird?"
Serenity eyed her curiously. "Like Shadow Realm weird?"
Téa shrugged. "I guess. I don't know. We all feel like we've met her somewhere, and she seems to have a really strong connection to Atem and Seto. We're not sure whether that's a good thing or a bad thing."
"Well, I don't get any shadowy vibes from her or anything. Why did you all bring her back if you don't trust her?"
"Have you ever known Yugi not to trust someone unless they gave him a reason not to? Besides, we need all the help we can get if we're gonna find a way to bring Atem back. And you saw her with the Dark Magician poster and all the other monsters, too. She's connected to all of this in some way. We just don't know how."
Serenity frowned. "Well, I think we'd better find out how."