Doubtless Dropping Off (Into Insanity)

A/N: Goodness knows I have a hard time ever finishing longish AU stories. I have some basic clue where this is going, but it's pretty sketchy. Trying to keep things on a rather small scale here.

Welcome to a world where things were never quite the same as the original YuGiOh! universe, but definitely strange. The Millennium Items are the focus of not a card game, but a much more serious international conflict. When you've got Shadow Magic at every turn, you really need a master of the Shadow Games … but Yuugi's been missing for years.

Something big is going down.

Please enjoy, if you happen across this story. Reviews are always appreciated!


Atum-Ra draws skyward

At the time of Ma'at's devising.

God King has gone to the land of Osiris.

We mourn him and praise his sacred name.

Now is the time of the new God King,

Son of Ra, crafty as Set.

His time is as the night,

And he shall be called --

Pharaoh, King of Games.

--carving found in the ruins of Thebes. Believed to refer to the Nameless Pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty. As with every mention of the Pharaoh, his name has been scratched out.

Chapter 1: All-Out War

The whole operation had gone to hell.

"We're fucked," Jonouchi announced at the top of his lungs, ducking cannon fire. "How the fuck did they get a fucking A-cup, anyway!?" He referenced the 28A light cannon artillery designed to fit on the roof of a Hummer vehicle with its slang term, derived from the name sounding like a bra size.

By all rights, no one should have had that cannon here, in Cairo. These days Egypt – or what passed for an Egyptian Government – had tighter control on all weapons bigger than a shoulder rocket launcher than nearly all other governments combined. That, and the fodder being used—

"Who cares!?" was Honda's shouted response, making Jonouchi lose his train of thought. "Intel screwed us bad. Let's get everyone out while we can!" He began shouting commands into his radio, getting mostly hissy static in response. "Shit!"

"EVP interference," Jonouchi growled. He snapped up his own radio. "If you can hear me, FUBAR, FUBAR! 10-4 to all Safeties ASAP!" He cursed again as he was forced to duck, debris from the torn-up pavement showering him. He and Honda coughed in the settling dust before Honda saw something that made him nauseous with fear. He gathered his wits enough to grab Jonouchi by the sleeve.

"Run," he commanded, and Jonouchi needed no second bidding, his gaze following Honda's to the thin tendrils of shadow that seemed to creep along the ground all on their own. They tore off down the street through the obscuring smoke, occasionally laying covering fire as others from their band as they scattered in all directions, going to their Safeties without hesitation …

If they were alive.

"Shadow magic," Honda panted as they scrambled down a narrow stairwell and into a familiar basement. They heard sirens going by at the last minute – apparently Cairo Enforcement was finally on the job. This was both good news and bad news: the NOs operating the A-cup would have to retreat, unless they fancied taking on the entire Enforcement team, which would give any trapped men on Jonouchi and Honda's side a chance to escape. On the other hand, the Enforcements were indiscriminate with street conflict, and brutal besides. Any wounded left behind on either side would be dead within the hour, bullets in their brains.

"Yeah," Jonouchi breathed in response to Honda's statement. "We're getting close after all."

"Or we're being led into a trap," Honda snorted, ever the pessimist. "Come on, ANZU's waiting for us."

Cairo was labyrinthine at its depths. Even someone who had lived in the ancient city all their life would likely not know all the secret pathways, tunnels, and chambers carved a mere thirty feet below the surface. Jonouchi and Honda were familiar with a fraction of them, and it was one of these well-beaten paths that they took now, lighting the way with a flashlight. Jonouchi, who had held men's guts in with his hands while they waited desperately for a healer, cringed at the occasional rat. Honda could laugh, but in truth he was deathly afraid of scorpions himself. Finally they emerged in another basement some blocks away from where they had started, where the dimming light was filtered through narrow windows at the top of the room. In the corner stood ANZU.

ANZU – ANdroid Zetaphase Universal (IV Series) – was a humanoid machine created by the visionaries of Kaiba Corporations. This particular unit was outfitted and molded to simulate a human female, but the design was meant for tasks requiring superhuman strength, agility, and speed.

It was also programmed with a very distinct personality. The moment Jonouchi opened the door to the basement, she began to exit Sleep Mode, lifting her eyes as she booted up for human interaction. After about 10 seconds of blank staring, she blinked and crossed her arms. "You guys are late! Again! Do you know what kind of a heart attack I had when I heard your radio transmission, Jonouchi!?"

"A fake one?" Jonouchi offered cheekily, but Honda shoved Jonouchi aside before the android could retaliate. "Reporting to Safety," he said dutifully.

ANZU's chest made a series of clicking noises. "Duly noted. Voice patterns recognized and substantiated as human. Visual confirmation. Report?"


Anzu's eyes blanked out again as she relayed and exchanged information over a wireless network. "So far: thirteen missing. Eleven walking wounded, three critical. Twenty-three minor wounded, suffering eye irritation from debris, surface wounding. Six uninjured. One soulless."

Jonouchi felt his blood run cold at that last bit, and the ANZU unit's personality was switching back on. "What about you two? Are you all right?"

"Maybe some'a that eye irritation, is all," Jonouchi grumbled. "Soulless? Who is it?"

Anzu's gaze dropped. "Miho."

All three were silent for a long moment, Anzu and Jonouchi looking at Honda. Honda stared at the ground as hard as he could. It was well-known that he had romantic interest in Miho, but now …

Well, everyone who was soulless remained that way, even after some seven years of conflict.

Jonouchi felt a little sick with himself for being relieved that it wasn't his sister. Shizuka was a Safety, but she had been set close to the action. And Shadow Magic was rather … indiscriminate about whose souls it took.

"She's already on her way to the hospital," Anzu said in a reassuring manner. There was little the doctors could do for her, but she would be put on life support. There was always hope for the Soulless. "Shizuka is safe, yes," she added with a knowing look for Jonouchi. "But the mission is—"

"A big, fat failure, we know," Jonouchi grumbled. "We were caught totally unprepared. Intel fucked up when it came to the enforcements. Question is, was Intel right about what's in the Mausoleum?"

There was no answer, as there was no way to know. The Valley Mausoleum wasn't recognized as such per se; it was a nondescript building in the middle of Cairo. Cleverly hidden, maybe – but it was said to contain at stone tablet which held information about the infamous Millennium Items. From today's developments, it seemed that the Mausoleum might contain one of the Items themselves. Without an Item, there was no Shadow Magic … unless it was pre-devised as a trap. Without an actual Millennium Item wielder to determine that, it was impossible to tell for sure.

About then was when Anzu cocked her head. Her chest clicked electronically again, the sound of a billion bit switches going off as she processed information. "Oh my god," she breathed. "Yes. Yes. Other. Accepted. Cryptograph 342212838 one-one-one-zero-ksssssssssshshs—" The sounds that issued from her mouth were like the phone modems from years previous.

Then a different voice emerged from her unmoving lips. "Jonouchi-kun? Honda-kun?"

Jonouchi and Honda both gaped, open-mouthed at the ANZU unit. "Yuugi!?" they said in tandem.

Yuugi Mutou was the possessor of the Millennium Puzzle. Some six years ago – less than nine months after he had completed the Item, which had come to him in pieces and had required nearly eight years of nightly work to assemble – he had disappeared from his bed overnight, gone without a trace. Days later, things had started to change, but hide nor hair of Yuugi Mutou had never been seen again.

And now, here he was, talking to them through an android designed to look like his one-time only friend.

"Hi," said Yuugi's voice, sounding weary.

Jonouchi and Honda exchanged glances, speechless. "Shit," Jonouchi breathed. "Shit, Yuug', we—"

"Thank god you're alive—" Honda tripped over Jonouchi's words.

"I don't know if I am or not," Yuugi said, stopping their excitement in their tracks. "I-I don't know. He's been kksshh but even this is going to be really dang-g-kksh-nnnn I mean to say, I don't know what you two are doing, but stay away f-f-frmmmm-EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE"

Honda and Jonouchi stuffed their fingers in their ears at the electronic, ear-piercing shriek. The connection closed with an audible click, and Anzu's mouth snapped shut. "Oh god," she whispered, her hands flying to her mouth.

Honda and Jonouchi slowly removed their fingers from their ears. "What the hell was that!?" Jonouchi demanded.

"I don't know." Anzu spoke through her fingers. "I don't … I accepted the transmission from … I don't know. The data bank has been erased."

"You started talking in binary," Honda said with emphasis. That was usually a sign of a malfunction. "Do you have the transmission record still, at least?"

Anzu bit her lip. "Yes," she said after a moment's hesitation.

"I have a hunch," Honda told her. "Play back with EVP isolation."

Jonouchi still wasn't entirely certain how Honda could approach the ANZU unit with such a clinical eye, but the android did as told. Electronic Voice Phenomenon, once part of ghost stories for late-night television viewing, was now a much more common occurrence for one reason or another. Telephones in various regions – including Cairo – had been rendered all but useless by the phenomenon. Cell phones would shriek in the user's ears, static contained voices that drove men crazy, and whispers would echo underneath conversations being held.

"I don't know if I am or not," Yuugi's voice said. "I-I don't know. He's been WILL B-B-B-BREAK CRUSHHHHH this is going to b (aibou) dang one one one zero know what you two are doing, but kabakaba SWALLOW BIT BY BIT no … solve the PuzzleEAAAUUUUGH—"

Anzu's mouth clicked shut again. "… That's it," she murmured. "There are three voices on the recording."

"Really?" Jonouchi licked his lips. The voice that had whispered between the yelling and the broken transmission had sounded like Yuugi again, more ethereal. He hated EVPs … they gave him the creeps. He'd never liked haunted stuff. "It sounded like Yuugi was giving two transmissions at once, one EVP." Which was a horrific thought, really.

"No. The second voice is pitched differently. I don't know which one is Yuugi, though." Anzu hesitated.

Honda bowed easily to Anzu's assessment; being an android and the vessel of the cryptic transmission, she was in a better position to know whose voice was pitched how. "But who was the one talking about all the crushing and swallowing and stuff?"

"That's the question, isn't it?" Anzu said softly.

"… I think we need to take this to Kaiba," Jonouchi said grudgingly.

Ende chapter 1

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