Hail fellow, well met, and all that. A few notes before the story:
1) It is alternate universe, which means I've kept to some tenants of YGO but ignored others. Think of it as fundamentally similar to Egypt, but different
2) I kind of think revealing pairings before a story starts ruins the fun of watching them develop, but people do tend to look at that kind of thing before choosing to read a story, so they're as follows: The main love triangle, MalikxRyouxBakura. And some other pairings that may be more or less developed depending on time and interest: YugixAtemu, SetoxIshizu, and JonouchixAnzu. We'll see how things pan out.
3) Lastly, I have always hated that Ryou is given a traditionally wimpy character who only reacts to things. it's a pet peeve of mine, so don't be fooled by how he appears here. I just need the time to develop him, as at this point he has literally no experience in the world. That's all.
Disclaimer: YuGiOh and all its respective characters and plotlines belong to Kazuki Takahashi. I own only the fingers that I type with.
The first memories he had were of bubbles, thus proving that whatever God might have existed did have a sense of irony. Authors have time and again likened the most precious, intangible aspects of life to bubbles-beautiful and yet at the same time utterly fragile, ready to burst at the slightest provocation. Where his memories went from there on out were not nearly so poetic. Tubes, thousands of meters of tubes dripping mixtures into his system, everything from nutrients to keep him alive to mysterious chemicals that seemed off-colored and peculiar in a dangerous way. It was unlike anything he had felt, though his range of feelings was limited; to his childish knowledge his life span was very short, and his development was unusual when compared to those whom he had seen come and go sometimes.
There had been one little boy in particular who had come and gone several times, giving him some vague sense of his difference. The boy had been tiny the first time, and his own eyes had barely functioned enough to make out a blur. The boy had come forward, emanating peculiar behavioral signs; his eyes darted back and forth, and his small fingers trembled when he reached forward towards the glass. At that time…yes, he'd realized too that he was separated from the world he quietly observed by a transparent barrier. 'Glass' he would pick up from the mouths of the people who tended to him. But none of them were nearly as interesting as the little boy. They showed no interesting behaviors nor unusual voices-it was as though there was only one person and he had been multiplied by five or ten. But he had picked up words from those men and for that he was grateful. It gave comprehension to the view he beheld. When the boy first visited he learned of youth, and of hope.
The second time the boy visited he was noticeably taller, enough that he looked up only a little to see the figure suspended behind the glass. Before he had craned his neck just to catch a glimpse of the grander image. He spoke too, words that could be distinguished even slightly muffled by the glass. "You haven't changed at all. How come?" He'd been unable to answer. Not for lack of trying, but the moment he opened his mouth to mimic the movements of the people on the outside of the glass something thick had slid into his mouth. The substance around him not only held him in place, it prevented him from communicating. On that day he learned not only time, but regret. He could not speak with this boy.
The third time the boy visited was near what he would later think of as the end, right before things began to change. He'd grown up now-his hair was wilder than it had been before but the rich colors proved it was the same boy, and when he spoke his vocal cords hummed with a deeper pitch. "You still haven't changed in these years. And though its to be my kingdom I can't find out what you are." The boy-man?-touched his fingers to the glass, and from the other side he fought to do the same. His pitifully fragile arms were easily restrained by the tubes that kept him alive. On that day he learned not only maturity, but sorrow.
When the boy's third visit had come and gone he began to piece together the life around him. Beings, people, were at first young and small. They smiled and radiated a special quality that was similar to his own. Then they grew larger, nobler, or perhaps just wiser. Had the people who kept him alive been small once too? Strangely these creatures all appeared fundamentally similar in the make of their bodies, though he had heard the men speak of a different kind of form. So, there were then two kinds of people. And as time passed they grew and changed. Why then did he remain stagnate? He could not remember changing at all in the time the boy had grown, nor did he remember being small. He had always, from his first thought, been built in a similar way to the boy who had visited him most recently. Why was he different? Were all people not born this way? The questions burned in his brain. He wanted out, he wanted answers. But the construction of his cell and the build of his body prevented him from seeking out his answers.
It was, by his estimation, a short time later that he was given his chance. The men had been talking with increased fervor and agitation, about war, an event that he gathered involved the killing of other people to obtain a goal. Killing he knew only as a technical term, but it seemed to upset his caretakers greatly. A short time after this deafening noises began to sound from above him. The ground shook and items upended themselves, chemicals spilling from their containers and onto the floor. A new feeling began to grow in his chest, one that he lacked a name for-his heart raced, an odd taste came to his tongue, and his eyes roved back and forth while his body tried to jerk free of its prison. Something in his core was telling him to move, lest there be terrible consequences.
As he struggled the roof above him began to crack. Tiny slivers rained down, then larger chunks. One the side of his head struck the glass, resulting in a long, thin crack. The crack grew and the glass bulged outward, unable to take the weight of its contents. Before a proper reaction to it all could form he had come loose from his tubes and glass prison and was lying in a pile of the sticky liquid he'd been suspended in. The tube to his lungs had gone out with the upheaval. Panicked at the feelings of disorientation he tried to think of what to do. What had he seen the others do? Tentatively he opened his mouth and drew in,, then out. His mind began to clear almost instantly. Was that really all? How simple. But in a few moments the darkness dimmed the edges of his vision; he inhaled again. So then, he would have to do this constantly? What a chore humanity was turning out to be!
The feeling in his chest was still propelling him to get away. He attempted to push himself up only to slip down again in the slime. His muscles were mercifully not atrophied, but he lacked the knowledge of how to make them function. Something no his back flexed, something he hadn't noticed before. Soft objects no bigger than his head protruded near each shoulder. He lacked the word for it, but no matter. Perhaps they were his key out? Experimentally he thought towards them-move! The complied, much to his astonishment, but the movement was sluggish and difficult. The sticky mess had made them heavy and useless. Was this as far as his quest for answers was meant to go? The ceiling continued to crack, freeing a piece of material large enough to crush him. He closed his eyes, opened his mouth to draw breath at least once more and then-nothing.
Things were going well. Far better than he'd expected from the haggard group he'd charmed conned, and threatened into aiding him. By all rights he should be doing what all masterminds did at this point: brag, gloat, and generally allow his best laid plans to go to hell while he did so. But someone like him was smarter than that, at least partly from experience. The palace would bounce back from this, and there would most assuredly be a counter attack if they stayed around. No, no was the time to hide away and plan for a second blow while the king's forces were crippled. That was the way, yes. He chuckled. "Move out!"
"Hey, Bakura! Wait a minute, we found something!" His second-in-command (only so for lack of a more competent replacement) was waving him over. It was an area that had disturbed his senses when they had snuck through it; almost a mile into dense jungle and yet this area was strangely clear, almost deliberately set to look like a naturally clearing. Too natural. It made sense now to Bakura's appraising eyes. The ground had collapsed in some areas to reveal a massive underground cavern filled with strange equipment. His second had moved from the open air down into the opening nearest to them. One thing Bakura would say, he wasted no time.
He leaned over the hole, calling down with practiced impatience. "What the hell is so important that its getting in the way of our escape? It had better be the king's corpse."
"it's a person. At least, I think it's a person. They've got wings on their back." Malik, second in command to one Bakura, King of thieves, crawled up the rope he'd dropped, the body draped awkwardly over his shoulder. "Its got wings on its back though." He laid the body down on the grass, brushing away the slime it had been lying in with a shudder of disgust. "Doesn't look like its breathing." Malik leaned over, pulling a mirror from one of the many compartments in his garb to check for breath.
Bakura shoved him away, leaning over the body himself. It was completely nude other than the thick slime, leaving no doubt as to gender. But aside from that the boy's features were soft and feminine, his bone structure too delicate to support him well. So weak and frail, but there was no mistaking the wings. Bakura whistled low. "Well I'll be damned. You did something right for once palace brat. Bring it." He stood, then kneeled again with a look of consideration. "No. I'll do it I think." He slung the body over his shoulder. This could be good. This could be the second wave he needed to bring the kingdom crashing down around that pompous king's ears.
One didn't get to be the king of anything without having an excellent ear for the goings on of the world, especially the underground. Bakura had heard of a group who had argued the use of magic in an increasingly modern age, opting instead for science to protect the kingdom. This much was a proven fact. The former king had dismissed their ideas, and from there the story got sketchy. There were rumors aplenty, and the one that seemed most common was that those same men had gone ahead with their plans to win this war the thief had started with science, with the perfect death machine borne not of a mother's womb but the cold genius of machines. When brought to perfection, it was whispered, this hell raiser would be unleashed upon the thief and his army and victory would be ensured. A Second Coming, the religious liked to call it, of man's own making. Bakura had never believed such talk, but still he had listened. An lo and behold, his own supposed downfall had been delivered into his arms to defeat the king! This was a day for celebration.
"You're planning something." Malik kept up easily as the two fled on foot. It was understood that the rest would find their way back to the base of their own volition, or they would perish. "You've got that pleased look in your eyes. What's so special about a dead body?" Malik was certainly a worthy asset, with knowledge of the kingdom's layout and workings from one end to the other, but he had no ear for rumors. He had laid the groundwork for the whole attack, but he lacked the skills to understand the treasure he'd found. Still, Bakura was in a good enough mood to humor him.
"This is the key to our victory." He explained in an offhand manor. "And don't be so sure that its dead." The boy was clearly not finished, though he radiated power. Behind that power was innocence, and innocence could be shaped, molded, and manipulated. He sped up, losing Malik in the dank gloom of the surroundings, eager to return home to test his latest theory.
"Damn it!" The High Priest pounded the table, veins popping out in alarming abundance on his forehead. "How? How does he always know? Every detail, every corner, no matter how we improve the security he keeps getting through. And we're finally paying for it." He pointed an accusing finger at the captain of the guard. "Its your fault! You have shoddy training and no control of your men. The Thief will be the death of us all and the blame will be yours and yours alone."
"What's that supposed to mean?" The captain in question stood, though he was still unable to match the priest's height. "Isn't it your job to protect the king? Your magic is a lousy substitute for fighting experience, and your personality is unbearable. If anything, you're going to cost us this war!" Though they were seated on opposite sides of the table the captain and the priest still managed to grab hold of each other's shirts, brown eyes and blue eyes competing in a battle of the wills.
"Gentlemen, enough! I called you two here to talk about our course of action, not to watch you bicker like two children." The king was not one to start fights, but always he had been able to end them.. He sat at the head of the table. "This is a War room. That means against our enemies, not against each other. Are we clear?" He glanced at each of them, waiting for ascent.
"Yes, your Highness." The priest bit our reluctantly, taking a graceful seat. He managed to shoot the captain one last glare before the king gave one of his own. Purple eyes lacked the intensity to glare, but the king somehow managed to pull it off.
"Yeah, sure." The captain sat reluctantly back down. Not because it was the king he was addressing, but because it was his friend. Jonouchi had never been much for authority, and that was why he riled at the commands from the high priest. Not only was he a person in a position of authority, he acted like a cocky bastard.
"As I was going to say before you two started in, we have a lot of reconstruction to do in the wake of this latest attack. I imagine the thief will attack then. We need to be ready when he gets here." Atemu drummed his fingers on the wooden table. This had all been fine when the battle was between the thief and himself, but he could not allow it to involve his people.
"I've been putting the guards through a new set of training, something that Honda picked up from another army's style. Beyond that, we can only try to keep improving and stay a step ahead." Jonouchi shrugged. In his position there was only so much he could do. He led bodyguards, not soldiers. Most of them had never seen a true war before the attack today.
"My white mages are learning spells of protection. With any luck we'll be able to create a shield large enough to protect both the palace and the city." Knowing his news was superior, Seto smirked at Jonouchi. It had been a case of one-upmanship since the day they'd met. Not even a war would change that.
Atemu lifted his head slightly. "That is good news. When is the soonest you expect you'll have results?"
"Within a few weeks at most." Seto glanced at Jonouchi. Ha, I win. "Although I do have two students who are making considerable progress. One is a white mage, named…Yuugi, I believe?"
Jonouchi bristled. That was a dirty trick. Everyone who had worked for the king knew that he had a soft spot for the young mage. It meant the conversation was destined to turn in that direction and that Jonouchi had, again, lost the argument. He really had to convince Yuugi to join the guard.
Atemu stood. "Right. I want to hear from both of you by the end of the week on your progress. Until then, I have some business to attend to." He left the room, shutting the doors behind him.
The priest and the captain shared a look. There was the one thing that they could agree on: 'I have business' could always be translated as 'I'm going to see Yuugi'.
This was a delicate operation, and for once the Thief King was unsure of how to proceed. Normally trusting his hunches had ended well, his intuition being keener than most. But in such a situation as this following his normal course of action could result in disaster. Think this through as though it were a plan in itself. He'd lain the boy out on his own bed, having no other space to put him-when one was a wanted criminal one didn't bother with space or the keeping of many personal effects. Anything worth stealing could be kept on the body or stored somewhere of less importance. "I could have Malik work on you-the palace brat has some mage training. Though with his talent he might kill you permanently." He paced back and forth within the narrow chamber. It wasn't insanity that had him speaking out loud, though there was little doubt that he was insane. It served as a simpler way to organize his thoughts. "I could place you out in a lightning storm, let you recover on your own, or-" Was it whispering to him? He whirled to face the body. No, it was as breathless as when they'd found it. He was sure that he'd heard something. Maybe just the voices in his mind, the ever present whisperings for bloodshed and revenge.
Help me…This time he was sure it had come from the boy. Far from superstitious, Bakura's first thought was that it had been a whisper, something his ears had managed to pick up after years of creeping around graves. That it had sounded in his mind was the last considerable option. "Hey." He nudged the body, probing with his fingertips. "If you're alive then answer me." Nothing. Not even the slightest twitch. He dug his fingers into the boy's scalp, lifting him part way off the bed by his long white hair. "Answer me, dammit!"
Hurry…The urgency in the whisper acted as a palpable force weighing the room down. Bakura's grip on the boy slipped as he struggled to stay upright. This was ridiculous. He was going to suffocate under this weight; there was no air left to breathe. "Brat…what are you doing…?" In the midst of his staggering attempts to stand he'd ended up half sprawled over the body, his face close to the boy's. A thought was worrying at the back of his mind. An insane thought, with absolutely no chance of success. He was not a mage, he couldn't transfer life into this boy. But if the pressure got any heavier…"Fine. It can't make him any more dead." He pressed his lips over the boy's, opening his mouth to transfer his own breath to the other.
Three things happened simultaneously. The pressure evaporated, which gave Bakura the chance to move away from the body, which had begun to jerk in the manner of a seizure. The eyes were open, staring unseeingly into space. Bakura shivered. This could well turn out to be more trouble than it was worth. The twitching was beginning to die down, reduced to the occasional jerk every so often. He would have to check the body again. The one time when he actually needed Malik to do something for him and he was on his own.
He paused with only a small distance between them, observing. And the boy opened his eyes.
Where am I?He tried to speak it, unsuccessfully. Sound was beyond his lungs and exhausted body, so he settled for staring plaintively at the man nearest to him. Even after the whole 'I don't know where or when I am' message was as across as it was going to get he couldn't help staring. This man was so different from anything he'd ever seen. The men who'd taken care of him had been pale and dark haired, with an almost sickly air about them. The boy who'd visited him had had darker skin, but it still hadn't prepared him for this. The man crouching by his side, wearing a look that said that he was not at all sure what the creature lying there was either. He's no help to me then. I'd better move on… But he couldn't move, nor could he stop staring. This man was built differently than the boy, thicker. Muscle, that was what it was. He could see it clearly beneath the flesh of the man's chest, the way it formed the shape in front of him. But the face caught his attention most of all. He had hair the same color as the jackets the men had worn, wild and unkempt. There was a long and jagged scar under one of the man's eyes. And what eyes! A kind of red that seemed like…blood. He'd seen blood once. It was a brighter shade, but the feeling he got from it was the same. This man burned from head to foot with an emotion he couldn't place. He'd never felt it before, but he could feel a piece of it within himself. He could feel a piece of the man's energy fueling his own body. Distantly he realized that the man had been questioning him. Where did he come from, did he know what he was, how he got here? So many questions that seemed like the ones he wanted to ask. Perhaps the two of them could look for the answers, help each other out? He supposed he ought to try again to answer. "Ryou." It was a name he'd heard used, seen on a shard of glass from his cell before he'd blacked out. The answer came out breathy but audible.
The man settled back, frowning. "Can you move at all?" He-Ryou, he supposed-shook his head. That was as much exertion as he could take.
The man frowned harder, then gripped his shoulder tightly, turning Ryou over on his side. By craning his neck Ryou could see the outlines of the objects on his back-one light and one dark. The dark seemed to be larger than it had been before. Enough that he could see the shape of it clearly from over the light colored one nearest him. "Wha-?" He tried to say, only able to produce the first syllable.
The man made a noise low in his throat, staring at the shapes. "Looks as though I'm more a mage than I thought. Those rumors didn't say much about your power. I'll have to observe, see what happens. If the black one is the only thing that changed you must absorb only the kind of power that your victim can give. Very interesting." With a carefulness Ryou hadn't expected the man placed him on his back, knowledgeable enough to position him without pressure to the shapes on his back. "I'll have to test my theory soon. Stay still." He ordered Ryou, leaning over him. Ryou felt a pull in his chest, as well as the feeling that had plagued him while his birthplace collapsed. The man was right before his face, pressing their lips together.
Odd,Ryou had time to think, before a kind of instinct took over. He could feel the burning he'd seen around the man flowing into him through his mouth, and he raised his thin arms to hold them close together. Whatever happened, he had to keep this flow coming in, even if it felt as though his insides were being torn asunder.
"Enough!" Bakura pulled away from him, fearful. Yes, fear was the name of the emotion that made his heart beat fast and his mind search for escape, and this man was Bakura, a master thief. Ryou pondered these two pieces of information. He hadn't known them before; it seemed that they'd drifted in with the flow of energy. Now that the link was broken Ryou felt a burning sensation at his back. The energy was concentrating itself on the dark shape on his back. He screamed and rolled onto the floor with a thunk so that the thing had room to grow and change. A wing, the newfound information said. Those things were wings. He felt it change until the power had drifted there in its entirety. It flapped weakly, then began to shrink to a more manageable size. When the two wings were again of equal size the pain began to dim, and he realized he'd been clutching them hem of Bakura's cloak, whimpering. Bakura was staring down at him with the oddest glittering in his eyes. "This is very interesting." An errant hand stroked Ryou's hair as he thought. "You're just what I need. An angel of death." He laughed, and chills went down Ryou's spine.
Bakura rose, shaking Ryou off of him. Terror stricken, Ryou only clutched harder to the material. Whatever happened, no matter how much Bakura scared him, it seemed a far worse fate for them to be separated. "Stay." He whimpered. This world was still very new to him, and he didn't want to face it alone, without that burning fire.
Bakura raised an eyebrow, leaning down to pry Ryou's fingers from his cloak. "Relax, brat, Ryou, whatever you are. I'll come back. I have a theory that I need to test out." His voice lowered from an almost genial tone to a growl. "Let go." Ryou withdrew his fingers. Bakura glanced back at him. "Oh, and we'll be needing to get you some clothes." Ryou looked down at his body, pale and unadorned. People did seem to wear things over themselves. It must be unusual, how he was sitting. Heat rose to his face, and Bakura laughed. "Just stay put." He swung open the door to face a surprised blonde man.
"I was wondering where the hell you went." He peered over Bakura's shoulder at Ryou. "Its not dead?" He seemed shocked. Had Ryou died? Everything had blacked out with that rock. He jus couldn't remember. The expression passed quickly enough. He pointed an accusing finger at Bakura. "What the hell did you do?"
Bakura took it all in stride, completely ignoring the blonde. "Malik, better late than never I suppose." He pulled him in by the shoulder, pointing at Ryou. "Watch him. I'll be back." Then he was gone, leaving Ryou staring up at the blonde man with heat still burning in his face. Their thoughts both came out at the same time.
"Who are you?"
Next Time: Malik explains the basics of humanity to Malik (exhibit A: Why is Bakura such an asshole?), as Bakura looks for victims to carry out his theory. Meanwhile, Atemu and his court struggle to uncover what's been going on beneath their noses all along.
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