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: I need to give a shout out to everyone's favorite super-special awesome Yu-gi-oh! parodist, Little Kuriboh. His brilliant Yu-gi-oh!: The Abridged Series changed the landscape of YGO fandom, and has become a canon unto itself. Screw the rules—we have Little Kuriboh.
a hostile encounter or engagement between opposing… forces.
—Dictionary dot com Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc.
The air inside the underground Tomb Keeper's home felt dark and oppressive. Yugi knew there were Orichalcos stones here, and that was part of it, but there was more to it than that. For generations, this place had witnessed ritual after ritual performed on ten-year-old boys, as hieroglyphics bearing the key to unlock the Pharaoh's memories were carved into their backs. He suppressed a shudder, and Téa automatically moved closer to him, but her presence could only cut through the influence of the Orichalcos, not the memories of what had been done for the sake of his other self. For his sake. He didn't have long to think about it, however. In the large ceremonial chamber just off the main passageway, Professor Julius was waiting for them.
"Well, well, the gang's all here," the professor said by way of greeting. "Or most of you, anyway. Arthur's granddaughter isn't joining us?"
"She's staying with her grandfather." Yugi let the reason why she needed to stay with her grandfather stay unspoken, but it hung in the air between them.
The professor, however, neither boasted nor repented of his colleague's condition. He merely looked slightly put out. "I see."
Kaiba snorted, impatient. "Let's cut the small talk, shall we? Where's Sara Drake?"
Professor Julius raised his eyebrows and regarded Kaiba with curiosity. "Missing your White Dragon, are you?"
"I have my White Dragons. They'll be kicking your ass momentarily, but in the meantime, where is Sara?"
"Patience, Mr. Kaiba. Not everything can transpire as quickly as your forbearer's rise to the throne."
"You'll find I have very little patience for blowhards who don't know we're not in ancient Egypt. Where is she?"
"She's here, of course." The professor nodded toward the wall behind him and a torch flared to life.
Yugi rolled his eyes at the theatrics—he probably had a remote to turn on the gas—and Kaiba started to open his mouth, most likely to make a sarcastic observation, but instead his eyes widened slightly and his jaw clenched. Yugi followed his gaze to where a figure was lying, sprawled unconscious, face down on the stone floor, white hair loose and strewn about her head.
In that moment, Yugi had no doubt she did indeed share the same Ba as Blue-Eyes White Dragon—or at least the woman they'd seen in the Memory World getting stoned for a "demon."
Kaiba didn't say anything, but his eyes narrowed to slivers, and he glared at Professor Julius as if his gaze alone could wither the professor like Blue-Eyes' White Lightning Blast.
Professor Julius grinned, a nasty look devoid of any warmth. "There's my ante. And I see you brought yours as well."
"Excuse me?" Joey asked, the confusion evident in his voice despite its menacing undertone.
"Your ante. It's the stake you must put up to enter a game."
Mai scoffed. "Yes, thank you, Mr. Obvious. That still doesn't explain what the hell you're talking about."
"That's right. You never mentioned an ante when we spoke on the phone." Of course, Yugi knew many Dark Games as a matter of course staked the participants' own souls, but clearly Professor Julius had something more in mind. His small, dark eyes swept across their entire group.
And then suddenly Yugi understood. "No. Absolutely not. You wanted me and Kaiba; you got us. You came after Joey and Mai, so they're here to fight you, too, but that's it. You don't get anyone else."
The professor laughed. "My dear boy, it's too late for that. You've all entered this crypt, accepting my challenge."
Kaiba and Joey, each catching onto his meaning, took a protective step in front of their younger siblings, but the professor waved his hand, and a dark, purple mist swirled around them, enveloping them in shadows even deeper than the gloom already pervading the underground chamber. Yugi turned to Téa to try and shove her back, out of the darkness, but he felt a barrier go up between them, almost blowing him off his feet as it pushed them apart, drawing the four duelists together towards the professor and pinning their four "touchstones" back against the edge of the murky purple mist, but still within its confines. Professor Julius then muttered something else under his breath, and several pairs of glowing yellow eyes and gaping black mouths appeared in the mist, hovering above them on his side of the field.
Furious, Yugi wheeled around to confront the professor. "What have you done?"
"Nothing but formally call the game you already agreed to by coming to meet me."
"I never agreed to you attacking our friends or using them as some sort of ante! And you've summoned a monster before the duel has even begun!"
"I haven't attacked your friends. On the contrary, this barrier will protect them from the rigors of the Shadow Game."
Yugi exchanged glances with his three teammates. And it will also keep them from staying in contact with us to protect us from the Orichalcos… "And the monster?" Yugi nodded toward the glowing eyes.
"Souls of the Forgotten. One of my special guardians. You have guardians of your own, am I correct?"
"Which you've locked out of your Shadow Games!"
Professor Julius shook his head as if disappointed. "I don't see how your inability to summon your own monsters is my problem. You merely need to know how, and your guardians can come to you to help oversee the duel as mine will. They will not affect your Life Points for the purpose of the game, however."
Yugi thought of the battle they fought with the professor's henchman, Evan Haines, and how he'd used Reshef the Dark Being to attack and almost kill Téa outside the confines of the conflict.
As if reading his thoughts, Professor Julius continued. "And they cannot attack your friends behind the barrier."
"But they can attack us," Mai said, a statement rather than a question. She looked at Yugi. "We could always try to summon our guardians. We don't know for sure—"
"No way." Joey shook his head. "When Serenity tried it, she blew us all across the room. I'll bet the professor here would just love it if we gave ourselves concussions and couldn't duel."
Professor Julius merely smiled in response. "As for the reason you brought your friends in the first place, you needn't worry about the Orichalcos. The barrier also shields us from its effects."
Yugi frowned, but he had to admit he no longer could feel that odd pressure that usually came with proximity to Orichalcos stones. "Nevertheless, Professor—" he spat the word like an epithet— "no one agreed to putting their souls at stake."
"It's okay, Yugi."
Yugi looked over his shoulder to where Téa stood, her hands pressed up against the invisible barrier as if she were standing at a window. And yet, he could hear her as clearly as if there was nothing between them but empty air. "We are all a part of this, not just the duelists. Remember?"
The others nodded in agreement, Tristan putting voice to their shared sentiment: "Just kick his ass and be done with it."
Yugi closed his eyes, hating this, hating putting anyone but himself at risk, but he relented. Kaiba and Joey, however, were not persuaded. "Let my brother go, you slimy sack of pond scum," Kaiba demanded.
"It's okay, Nii-sama. Just beat him and get Sara back. And Rebecca's grandfather."
Yugi turned back to face Professor Julius. "Everyone you have harmed will be returned when you lose."
"I will not lose, but yes, that is the arrangement," he agreed. "I believe Odion and Ishizu Ishtar are dueling to determine the fate of their souls and that of Marik Ishtar, but all the other living souls would be returned. My dear friend Arthur, my young protégé…"
Yugi closed his eyes, understanding the implication. Atem's and Seto's souls were not part of the bargain. He doubted restoring them was in Professor Julius's power even if he wanted to. But that didn't matter—he was sure his original plan to substitute his body for Atem's would work once Marik and Bakura did their part and restored Ishizu. He just had to do his part and make sure Ramesses was eliminated as a threat. Opening his eyes, he gave a curt nod to the professor, accepting the terms.
Kaiba, however, was still not satisfied. "And what about your 'young protégé.' What did you do to her?"
Yugi then remembered Sara and looked where she had been lying on the floor. She was no longer there in the space beside Julius, but he soon spotted her a little further back at the far edge of the purple murk, probably divided from Julius the same way Téa and the other non-duelists had been divided from him, Kaiba, Joey, and Mai. She still was lying face down on stone floor, long white hair fanning out from her head.
Professor Julius waved his hand dismissively. "Reshef the Dark Being." When Kaiba looked ready to strangle him, he merely laughed. "Oh, don't look so distressed, my dear Mr. Kaiba. Your precious vessel for the White Dragon is unharmed. Reshef controls her soul, but I control Reshef. It is but a small matter for me to bring her back."
"Under your control." Kaiba spat the words more than said them.
"If I so wish. But I have no use for her beyond my ante and keeping her separated from your White Dragon, and sending her soul to the Shadow Realm permanently when I win will do that job. In fact, I'm rather anxious to see her reaction to this turn of events. She was always such an clever pupil."
He muttered something else under his breath, and Sara began to stir. Slowly, she sat up, groaning.
Kaiba's breath hitched. "Sara…"
Her eyes cleared and she jumped up. "Seto? Professor Julius?" She stepped forward, then stopped suddenly as if she'd run into a glass wall—the same barrier that separated Téa and the others from him, Yugi figured. Sara put her hands up, pushing against the invisible wall locking her away from the rest of them. "What…?" She seemed unable to finish her question, clearly confused beyond words.
"Welcome back, Sara. Please let Mr. Kaiba know you are quite well. He seems to be concerned about your well-being."
"My…?" She looked from her mentor to Kaiba, then back. "Professor? What's happening? I don't understand. You and Professor Hawkins… those men that attacked us at my flat—"
"My servants. And this is a Dark Game, my dear. You will quite enjoy this, I think. Living the ancient games is so much more exhilarating than merely studying them. Other than the fact that when I win, your soul will become part of the shadows, that is."
She frowned, her expression growing darker. "I thought all of that was 'romantic rubbish.'"
Professor Julius smiled. "No, my dear, I assure you, the Dark Games and the power of the Shadow Realm are quite real. Believing that the power should be constrained in order to protect the world, now that is romantic rubbish."
She stared at him, her mouth agape. "It was you! You vandalized the tombs? You…you desecrated the bodies?"
He looked at Yugi and Kaiba. "I told you she was a clever student."
"You're an archeologist! You are charged with protecting the artifacts of ancient history!"
He smiled at her, shaking his head as if he were a kindly grandfather amused at the innocence of his young grandchild. "History is more than just what existed in the past, Sara. It's vital and alive. It's meant to inform the present, yes, but also to be used by it. Not buried in books to study."
She glared at him for a prolonged moment, furious. "What about Professor Hawkins?"
"You'll have to ask my opponents here. They seem to have absconded with him."
She turned to look across the field as if just remembering the others were there.
"He's in the hospital," Yugi told her, clenching his fists and trying not to think about what his grandfather had told him.
"Is he all right?"
"He will be." He clenched his fists harder, his knuckles turning white.
She bit her lip, and her eyes left Yugi and found Kaiba. The two of them exchanged looks that Yugi couldn't interpret, but neither one of them said anything. Kaiba gave a slight nod, as if satisfied that she was in fact unharmed, then directed his gaze back to the professor, any softness that might have been there turned to steel. "The prelude is getting dull. Let's get on with it."
"Yes, always the man of action, aren't you, Mr. Kaiba? But you're right, we should get on with it. First, however, let's clarify the rules of the engagement, shall we? After all, this is quite an unusual duel. Tag dueling usually involves two against two, not four against one."
"You're the one who invited us to your little party," Mai said, her arms crossed. "If you didn't want all of us to play, maybe you should've stayed out of our dreams."
"Oh, I am very pleased to face all of you so-called Shadow Duelists. In fact, I'm rather disappointed that Arthur's little granddaughter declined to join us, but no matter. But if you think that your advantage in numbers will extend to the monsters you control, then you are sadly mistaken. You have only one battlefield before you, meaning you will be allowed five monsters total on your side of the field. It will be up to you to decide whose monsters."
"What about your extra friends there?" Joey nodded towards the glowing yellow eyes hovering over the professor.
"They are not actually on the field. As your guardians will not be, should you choose to summon them."
Yugi ignored the taunt, instead focusing with a grimace on the monster limit on their side of the field. That meant each of them could call only one or two monsters, which would limit their ability to use their separate decks' strengths to their full potential. On the other hand, they still had four decks to Professor Julius's one, and four turns for every turn he would take, which would give them a significant advantage, so long as they worked as a team. The main question was, could Kaiba put aside his need to control every aspect of the game and rely on the strengths of his teammates to add to his own? Yugi looked at Kaiba, the question in his eyes, but Kaiba did not look back at him.
"What about spells and traps?" Mai asked. "Monsters are all together on one field, but spell and trap zones belong to each individual duelist."
Professor Julius nodded his concession. "You may each play five spells and traps. But in exchange, I must insist on Asian rules. When one player's Life Points hit zero, the entire team loses."
Yugi glanced at Kaiba again, knowing he hated to tie his fate to anyone else's that intricately. As expected, Kaiba didn't look happy, but he said nothing, and Yugi bowed his head in agreement on behalf of the whole team.
"Good. Then shall we begin?" He looked at Mai. "Ladies first, don't you agree, gentlemen?"
"Let's duel," Yugi said with another nod.