Raymond Julius stared into the empty cell wondering exactly when everything had gone so completely to hell. And how? How had they known?
Marik. It had to be Marik. Except… Julius had expected them to eventually work out that Marik was the one who'd set everything into motion, so he'd taken great pains not only to ensure that Marik would be unable to talk to them, but that he also had no clue as to his master's identity. He'd never even heard the name Monarch, let alone connected that to Julius, and even if he had, he was in the Shadow Realm thanks to Reshef the Dark Being. And yet, less than thirty hours ago, Seto Kaiba had been to "Monarch's" San Francisco penthouse convincing his idiot neighbor's real estate broker he wanted to purchase it. Then, while Julius was taking care of things at the underground dwelling that had once been the ancestral home of the Tomb Keepers' Clan, Arthur Hawkins' brat of a granddaughter shows up, first at his Cairo house, and then here at his Luxor villa. It took almost his entire staff to handle her, so no one even noticed that the others managed to knock out not one, but two of those damnable mercenaries who were supposed to be guarding the catacombs, and make off with every single one of his hostages.
Well, all but two, anyway. Which meant the situation was still salvageable. Ishizu Ishtar was still under his control, and Sara Drake he'd kept at the Tomb Keepers' crypt. After the death of Hasam Ishtar, his children had abandoned the home that had been in their family for a hundred generations—Marik to chase after vengeance, and Ishizu to chase after Marik. Already a home to darkness thanks both to the Millennium Items and the Orichalcos stones Julius himself had introduced to Hasam, it had been the perfect location from which to conduct his other business. Of course, that location had no doubt been compromised as well. If they had somehow connected Ramesses to both Monarch and Julius, then surely the Tomb Keeper's home had also been discovered. Fortunately, both Sara Drake and Ishizu Ishtar had been safely removed as soon as he'd been notified of the break-in at his villa, and both still remained firmly in his control. Not to mention Arthur Hawkins and Marik Ishtar, who were still trapped in the Shadow Realm, even if their physical bodies had been recovered.
The question, then, was how to use this to his advantage. He no longer had his anonymity, but he still had the upper hand. And without the need to protect his identity, there was no longer the need for skulking around and using disguised proxies. Now he could take them on himself. He could even choose the battleground.
Nothing but a minor setback, really. It was time for the real fight to begin.
Yugi's nose burned with the smell of antiseptic and the stench of disease it could never quite cover up no matter how clean and modern the hospital. He tried to put it out of his mind, along with the ache in his back from the hard, plastic chair that would not allow him to get comfortable. Taking Rebecca's hand in his, he squeezed. "How you holding up?"
She shook her head, her eyes looking almost as Téa's had when she was being controlled by Marik. "I'm okay."
Yugi didn't challenge her answer, but he knew better. When he first saw Professor Hawkins draped over Tristan's shoulder as they met up inside the catacombs, Yugi had felt almost sick with rage and worry, but when they met Rebecca and Duke back under the sycamore trees across from Julius's villa and she'd seen her grandfather's condition, she'd seemed to almost collapse in on herself. She'd stayed quiet through their entire trip to the hospital and through the various questions by doctors trying to ascertain what had happened. Now, as they sat in a cramped waiting room while the doctors performed more tests, she mostly sat rigid, as if gathering strength for a coming battle.
Come to think of it, that's probably exactly what she's doing.
"He'll be fine," Téa said, leaning across Yugi to put a hand on Rebecca's arm. "How many times have we seen this before? It will be just fine as soon as we beat Ramesses. You'll see."
Rebecca nodded numbly, and Yugi swallowed over the queasy feeling in his stomach that this was somehow different. He glanced across the room to where Serenity sat huddled in a chair with Tristan at her side. She'd been the one to insist on bringing the professor to the hospital—not an unusual request considering his condition, except… Yugi bit the inside of his cheek. Except with Marik, she'd figured it wasn't worth seeing a regular doctor because they wouldn't know what to do with anything related to the Shadow Realm. So why was she so insistent on getting Professor Hawkins to an ordinary hospital as soon as they could?
Duke, sitting across a low table from Rebecca, leaned forward to look her in the eye. "Téa's right, Becks. As soon as we hear from the docs, we're gonna go find this Julius bastard, and it'll be all over. Hell, I'll bet Kaiba and Bakura and the Ishtars have already figured out how to nail this guy." Kaiba had gone back to the hotel where he'd left Marik's unconscious body with Roland. Bakura, Odion, and Rashida, all of whom had been found okay, had gone with him so that Bakura and Odion could check on Marik and they could strategize while the others went to the hospital. Kaiba and Odion had been particularly concerned with the fact that they hadn't been able to find either Sara Drake or Ishizu.
"He's right. Seto will get him, and your grandfather will be good as new," Mokuba said, nudging her with his shoulder. He was sitting next to Rebecca on the other side from Yugi.
Rebecca nodded again. "I know." She turned to Yugi. "But I'd like to stay here with Gramps, if you don't mind. Unless you think you'll need me."
Yugi squeezed her hand again. "No, you stay here. Mokuba and Kaiba should be able to take care of anything computer-related that comes up, and once Joey and Mai get here, we should have the dueling stuff covered, too."
"Did somebody mention my name?"
Yugi looked up to see Joey and Mai walking toward them down the hospital corridor.
"Joey!" Serenity jumped up from her seat and flung herself at her brother. The force of her weight turned Joey to the side away from Mai, revealing another figure standing behind them.
Yugi gasped. "Grandpa!" Like Serenity, he jumped up from his seat. "What are you doing here?"
"You think you can call me and tell me to meet Joey and Mai at the airport with the Egyptian god cards, and I'm not going to come along and see what's going on? I had my bags packed five minutes after I got off the phone with you!"
Yugi hugged his grandfather, reveling in the familiar smell of sandalwood soap and the scratchiness of his beard against his cheek. "It's good to see you, Grandpa. I've really missed you."
"Me too, my boy." Grandpa then stepped back. "How is Arthur?"
Yugi shook his head. "We don't know. He was probably involved in some sort of Shadow Game, so naturally the doctors aren't really sure how to help him. But at least whenever anyone gets caught in the Shadow Realm, they come out of it once we beat the bad guy. I'm sure he'll be fine when we end this thing."
A troubled look crossed his grandfather's eyes, but he nodded and then went over to Rebecca to offer his condolences. "He's a strong man, Rebecca, and he loves you a great deal."
"Thank you, Dr. Mutou."
"Now if you'll excuse me, I'd like to take a moment to catch up with my grandson." He pulled Yugi by the arm. "Come take a walk with me and fill me in on everything that's going on."
As soon as they started off down the hall, Yugi began explaining what they'd learned about Professor Julius and Ramesses, but his grandfather cut him short. "I know all that, Yugi. Joey and Mai gave me the whole story on the flight over. I have something else I need to talk to you about. About Arthur and Rebecca."
Yugi stopped and looked at his grandfather, frowning. "What about them?"
"I don't suppose Rebecca mentioned having a talk with her grandfather, did she?"
Grandpa sighed. "I didn't think so. He'd planned on telling her after her birthday, but with Christmas and the tournament and everything that happened since then, I didn't think he'd gotten around to it yet."
Yugi's stomach made another uneasy dip. "Tell her what?"
"Yugi, Professor Hawkins has Alzheimer's."
Yugi's jaw dropped. "He… but… Alzheimer's?"
Grandpa nodded, his eyes sad. "I'm afraid so. He was diagnosed last summer when he and Rebecca were in Cairo preparing to move back to America. Apparently, his housekeeper found him wandering around outside one night, so he shipped Rebecca off to her other grandparents and went to see the doctor. He's on medication now, but it's only a matter of time before that doesn't work, either."
"Oh, man." Yugi shook his head, then looked over his shoulder back towards the waiting room where Rebecca sat beside Mokuba. "Poor Rebecca. She's gonna be devastated." He turned back to his grandfather and frowned. "Why are you telling me this if Rebecca doesn't know yet? How do you even know?"
"Because he made me the executor of his will and gave me medical power of attorney. He hasn't told Rebecca yet because he wanted to wait until she turned fourteen. In California, a young person can be emancipated and treated as an adult once they're fourteen, if their guardian signs off on it and they have means of support and all that, which, of course, Rebecca does. Now that she's turned fourteen, Arthur was going to talk to her and then arrange for her to be emancipated so that her other grandparents couldn't try and take custody of her. I guess they aren't very understanding of how bright and capable she is."
Yugi nodded, numb, as he tried to absorb what his grandfather was telling him. "She hates visiting them. Says they treat her like a little kid."
"Exactly. But I doubt he's had time to make any of the arrangements yet, what with the holidays and the tournament."
Yugi clenched his fists. "He'll make them when he wakes up."
His grandfather put a hand on his shoulder. "That's just it, Yugi. I'm very worried about what the Shadow Realm will do to him. You and I both have had experiences with that place. It's difficult for even the strongest souls and minds to take. Why, even poor Mai Valentine has had such difficulty recovering from what happened to her in the Shadow Realm, and she's so young and strong and vivacious and luscious—"
"Never mind Mai," Yugi cut off his grandfather's lecherous train of thought, steering him back on track. "Professor Hawkins is strong, too. Even if he does have… even if he's not as young as he used to be, he can hold his own. He did during the whole Orichalcos thing."
"I hope so, Yugi, I really do. But…." Grandpa trailed off as he looked down the hall toward Rebecca. "But if he doesn't, she's going to need you. You're the closest thing she has to family except for her other grandparents, and she'll need you to stand by her—to fight for her, if they try to take her away."
"Stop!" Yugi turned away from his grandfather. "Everything's going to be fine, Grandpa! We're going to get the bad guy like we always do, and then everyone he hurt will be fine, including Professor Hawkins."
Grandpa sighed. "I hope you're right, Yugi. I hope you're right."
"I am," Yugi said, his voice tight. "I—"
Yugi's cell phone ringing in his pocket cut him off. He picked it up and looked at the caller ID, hoping it was Odion or Kaiba with news about Marik. Instead, it was a local number, one that looked familiar, but he couldn't place it. Clicking the talk button, he put the phone to his ear. "Hello, this is Yugi Mutou."
"Hello, Yugi. I'd say it's about time we had a chat, wouldn't you?"
Yugi's blood froze and he gripped the phone tighter. When he spoke, it was with the low, menacing growl of the Pharaoh.
"I'd say it's long overdue, Professor Julius."
Kaiba sat alone on the veranda of his very secluded hotel suite overlooking the Nile. The sky above him was still ink black, but he knew on the other side of the hotel it would be just starting to turn pink—sunrise was only an hour away. Yugi and his gang of dorks—Wheeler and Valentine among them once more—had returned about an hour ago from wasting an inordinate amount of time at the hospital. They seemed to think that just because Julius had called Yugi and arranged a little tête-à-tête at sunrise in the old Ishtar family home, that meant they should sit around and do nothing until then. Kaiba couldn't fathom letting that slime call the shots, but Yugi insisted there was nothing to be gained by going after him earlier. Now that he knew they knew who he was, Yugi had reasoned, he wouldn't let them find him until he was ready.
So here they sat, doing nothing.
Kaiba would've washed his hands of the whole thing and gone after Julius by himself if it weren't for the fact that the bastard had Sara, and if she really was some sort of present-day version of Kisara and was connected to Blue-Eyes, he couldn't be completely sure that Julius wouldn't have some way of using that connection to somehow stop Blue-Eyes from attacking him, the way Sara had stopped Blue-Eyes from attacking when he was showing her how to play Duel Monsters back at Kaiba Corp.
He shook his head, chagrined. He'd been around the geek squad too long. Their superstitious nonsense was starting to rub off on him.
The fact was, as much as it infuriated him to admit it, he needed Yugi. There was only one force in Duel Monsters more powerful than three Blue-Eyes White Dragons—the three Egyptian gods. And like it or not, it was Yugi, not Kaiba, who wielded them. He'd tried to convince Yugi that the two of them should go alone, and then when Valentine and Wheeler pitched a fit, that it should just be the four duelists at most. But Yugi, remembering all that 'touchstone' nonsense from the island last spring, had insisted that Mokuba, Gardner, Taylor, and Wheeler's sister tag along. Odion and his wife, meanwhile, had been instructed by Julius to bring Marik to the Ishtar's current house where Julius had assured them Ishizu would be waiting to face them as his proxy. Bakura was going with them. Duke, Rebecca and, apparently, Yugi's grandfather, were staying at the hospital with Hawkins.
Kaiba ground his teeth, frustrated with having to put his faith not only in Yugi, but also in five other losers plus his own little brother. Frustrated with having to wait and let their enemy set the terms. Biting back a growl, he looked at his cards spread out before him. He'd been biding his time by refining his deck, and his three Blue-Eyes White Dragon cards were, as always, at its very center. He picked up one of the treasured monster cards and looked at it, trying to tell himself it was just a card, that this was just a game, that there was nothing mythical or magical going on here. Julius was just some sick and twisted psychopath, and Yugi and his friends were just as crazy for buying into it. But it was only a half-hearted effort. Traveling to ancient Egypt via some dark tabletop RPG based on Yugi's memories had cured him of complete denial about the mystical side of the game, the Millennium Items, and Yugi's split personality itself. And if there could be two Yugis, past and present, then there certainly could be two Kisaras. And two…
No. He couldn't quite go there, not with himself.
He ran his thumb over the surface of the card, so utterly ordinary in its cardboard, ink, and foil, and yet, so powerful, so close to his heart. When he looked at the card, he saw the living dragon, majestic and breathtaking, beautiful and lethal. And he saw Sara, equally majestic, equally beautiful, but in danger and defenseless without the power she'd given over to him thousands of years ago.
Not me, dammit, and not her. An illusion that looks like us.
Yeah, right. Like the other Yugi was an illusion.
Kaiba closed his eyes. Myth or not, he couldn't risk Sara, and he couldn't risk Blue-Eyes. He had to have more strength, a different strength. And the only cards with more strength than Blue-Eyes were the Egyptian gods.
And so he would have to wait. And prepare. But God help Julius when they did find him. There wasn't a force on this planet, magical or otherwise, that could protect anyone who messed with Seto Kaiba, his company, or the people that mattered to him.
Yugi stared at the three cards in his hand: Slifer the Sky Dragon, Obelisk the Tormentor, and Winged Dragon of Ra. He hadn't held the cards or even so much as looked at them in almost three years since he first locked them into a safe deposit box after returning home from the trip to Egypt that had finally sent his other self home. Holding them now, contemplating a strategy that would actually utilize them, felt simultaneously foreign to him and completely natural, as if he had been born to hold them. Even after everything that had happened, after finally ending the struggle with himself over his identity and Atem's, it still was hard for him to feel as if the three god cards could ever truly belong to him. And yet….
"They are yours, you know."
Téa was watching him from across the room. He smiled up at her. "I know. It's just…"
She came over and sat on the arm of his chair, slipping her arm around his shoulder and resting her head on top of his. "I know."
He sighed. She did know, but not everything. She didn't know about Professor Hawkins and the disease Yugi couldn't even bring himself to think the name of, or why he had almost agreed with Kaiba that they should go now rather than wait for sunrise, even though he knew it would do no good. She didn't know that whenever he closed his eyes, he could see his mentor and Sara Drake lost in the Shadow Realm, their eyes pleading with him to find them before the darkness took them. She didn't know that he could see his other self's eyes dimming with every passing second.
But she knew him. And she knew his power, and Atem's power, and she knew where they intersected.
She reached across him, taking the pendants that hung from his neck into her hand. "You're wearing Atem's cartouche."
He looked up at her, not sure from her tone whether she was surprised or… well, he half expected her to be accusatory, even though he knew better. She met his eyes with an expression he couldn't quite read, and he nodded. "Mm-hm. I grabbed it off my dresser mirror when I was packing. It just seemed… I dunno. Maybe it's time."
She sighed, sounding almost relieved. "Yeah. I think maybe it is. Just promise me…" She hesitated. "Promise me you won't take off the 'Yugi' one."
He smiled. "I promise." He thought about telling her about Atem's things—the crocodile, the top, and the necklace—how the past few days he'd taken to carrying them on him at all times as another tangible reminder. But he was weary enough that he didn't even want to try, deciding it would be better to save that for another day. Instead, he leaned into her. "It's almost time to go."
"You'll beat him, Yugi. And then it will be all over."
He consolidated the god cards together into a single pile and slipped them into his deck. Closing his eyes, he pushed away the image of Professor Hawkins and Sara and settled his mind on his other self, pulling him in and internalizing him. We are complete.
Opening his eyes, he looked up at Téa, feeling Atem's determination settle into him. "Let's go."
To be continued in Part IV: Battle Phase…