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Chapter Two

The island was huge. It was apparent that it was also very diverse: I could see forests, clearings, and, of course, the ocean. Most prominent, located at the top of a mountain, was Pegasus's castle. It was a marvelous thing, gigantic, with what must have been a thousand stairs leading up to it. It was enough to get me pumped up, even so early in the morning. The crowd buzzed with excitement as the gangplank was placed and two security guys walked down it, probably to check legitimacy one more time. I merged into the semi-line that had formed and exited the ship with everyone else.

Even though I had only spent a night at sea, it was good to be on dry land again. I was way more comfortable knowing that I wasn't going to sink into the ground beneath my feet. I looked around to gauge what other duelists thought of this, and saw some who looked more than a little nervous and some who were raring to go. I guess that in my observation, I missed something, because they started a pilgrimage toward the castle. I figured it was best to follow, and was soon beginning the long walk up the stairs. At that time, those stairs seemed to be the most difficult thing I would encounter. There were so many, and several times I nearly tripped, over other people's feet and my own.

After what seemed like hours, I was finally to the top, which was a large plateau. I found that I had actually come up the stairs pretty quickly, as what seemed to be more than half of the duelists from the ship came trekking up after I had made it. The stairs had made it obvious who had stamina and who didn't, and I took note of the didn'ts. Any disadvantages I could find in people would be useful for later reference.

Eventually, it looked like everyone had arrived. I faintly heard someone making an announcement, and looked up just in time to see Pegasus stepping out onto a balcony. I caught the gist of his speech--something about new rules we needed to be prepared for--but my mind was already drifting away, into the forests, where I could picture battling loads of other duelists, winning the ten star chips to fill up my glove, defeating Pegasus himself, returning home King of Games. Or maybe Queen of Games. Who knew how that worked, anyway?

Someone bumped into me as they headed back down the stairs, almost knocking me to my feet. Apparently Pegasus was done and we were free to roam. I turned and started the journey, glad that at least gravity was on my side this time. That didn't turn out to be such a good thing. About halfway down, I was just looking at the trees, wondering what sort of wildlife Pegasus allowed on the island, if any. I hadn't seen anything, not even a grasshopper, since I'd arrived, which sort of bugged--ha ha--me. As I considered what his reasons behind sterilizing an entire island might be, my right foot went out a little too far and I missed a step. My legs didn't react in time, so my right knee bent, sending me face-first down the stairs. I managed to cover my head before I hit, so I saved at least that much of me, but couldn't control any other aspect of my fall. I probably went about thirty steps before I came to an abrupt stop. I opened my eyes, but everything was spinning, making me really dizzy, so I shut them again before I got nauseated. When I was oriented enough to be fairly sure of which way was up and which way was down, I tried opening my eyes again. This time the world was in pretty sharp focus, and I was able to sit up and catch a deep breath.

"Are you all right?" I whipped my head around--bad idea--to find the speaker; it was Antony, sitting on the next step up and watching me with concern. "You took a pretty steep fall."

"I'll be good," I replied. "How'd I stop?"

His eyebrows raised. "I'll use the fall as an excuse for your lack of reasoning. I caught you."

"Oh. Duh." I put my head in my hands and shook it. "Thanks. I could have gotten off pretty badly if you hadn't."

"Well, you're not dead, which I'm sure is better off than you could be, but you look a fright."

I lifted my head and examined what of myself I could. My hair was tangled, my jeans were ripped, and I had a couple cuts and soon-to-be bruises. I reached behind me for my bag so I could take out my comb, but grasped only air, and freaked out. "Where is it? Where's my--"

Antony handed me the bag. "I'm afraid you may be down by some food and water."

He was right: several bags of food had burst and a bottle of water had broken, soaking everything. It was a complete mess. Despite that, I dried my comb off with my shirt and pulled it through my hair as best I could. When I finished with that, I returned to my bag. "Ah man. Me and my stupid imagination. Can't keep my mind in the here and now to save my life. This is great, just great..."

"It's not like it's beyond repair. Here," he said as he stood and held out a hand for me to take, "let's get off these stairs and onto flat ground." Antony and I--mostly I--carefully made our way down the last half of the steps, me sullenly toting my dripping backpack. Once we were at the bottom, he took the bag and looked at it. "Like I said, this isn't going to kill you. You just need to wash it out and dry it. You'll be down by a few supplies, but you'll be fine in the long run. I'll help you find a safe place to clean it." As we walked, I took in his appearance for the first time. He was very tall and obviously took pretty good care of himself. His sandy hair was combed straight and his eyes were a light shade of blue-green. He wore khakis and an unbuttoned plaid dress shirt over a white undershirt. I concluded that he must have come from an upper middle-class to lower upper-class family. His manners certainly seemed to show it.

We eventually came to a place where the land met the ocean. I took my bag, dumped everything onto the grass a few feet from the bank, and dunked it into the water.

Antony stood by, probably half-expecting me to fall in.

That set me off a bit. It's not like I was a klutz. Anyone could have fallen down those stairs. I just happened to be the one with a short enough attention span to actually do it. I shook my head as I dumped the last bagful of water back into the ocean. "This will take forever to dry out."

"At least it's clean," Antony pointed out. "You may want to wash off some of the other stuff that was in there as well. That sleeping bag doesn't look too good." He pointed to the bedroll, which was covered in soggy chips.

I growled. "If you think it's so important, do it yourself!"

He was genuinely taken aback. Apparently he was really just trying to be helpful. It annoyed me to a certain extent, but at least he was proving himself to be a good guy.

I let out a deep breath before speaking again. "Look, I'm just a little worked up over this. I'm sorry. Would you please find something I can burn so I can get all this dried?" He nodded and left, leaving me to sit by the water and do my best to clean off the nearly-ruined sleeping bag. It didn't turn out to be as hard as I'd thought. I guess the salt in the water may have somehow helped dissolve the chips or something. Whatever the case, it was clean long before I expected Antony to return. Everything else, I decided, would be best left alone until they had dried. Done with the second most annoying part of my day, I looked over myself, using the water--which was oddly calm--as a mirror. Excluding the cuts and small bruises, everything was okay. Except for my jeans. I guess the steps must have been really rough, or maybe my fall had just been that fast and hard, because there were several rips up to my knees. "Mom's gonna kill me," I muttered. Whatever Antony wanted to say about the rest of my stuff, these were beyond repair. When I stood, the tears got bigger, and I knew that soon they would be long enough for me to trip on. That was something I definitely didn't need. I knew I only had one solution, but I really didn't want to do it. I'd be dead for sure. But I really wanted to stay on the island, and that was the one thing that surpassed the fear of my mom. I sat back on the ground and tore the jeans at their uppermost rips, which were thankfully just at the knees. I considered what to do with the now useless pieces of denim, and was doing so as Antony returned with enough wood to make a small fire that would hopefully burn long enough to get all my stuff dry.

"I got...what happened to your jeans?" He saw the other halves of the legs. "Oh. They were in pretty bad shape, I suppose, but surely you could have fixed them?" I think the withering look I gave him shut him up, because he set the wood down carefully beneath a fairly low tree branch in what I guessed was a proper fire-making layout. Whether it was or not, when he flicked the lighter he'd pulled from his pocket--never really figured out why he had that to begin with--it caught. "There. Do you think you can get the backpack and sleeping bag hung on this branch?" After several futile attempts at hanging them proved that I couldn't, he slipped the backpack on by the straps and secured the two ends of the sleeping bag to the branch. "That should work. The straps of the bag won't be particularly comfortable for a while, but they'll dry out in time."

I could tell this was going to take a while. I figured there was no way everything would be dry before sundown, so I sat with my back against a tree and began mentally planning what I would do tomorrow.

Antony hung around. Why, I didn't know at the time. I really didn't know why he even cared to be helping me dry off all my stuff. Whatever his reasons, I was fine with it for the time being.

I lasted about five minutes before getting twitchy from the silence and still. I stood and began pacing, but that only relieved the still. There was still complete silence, and I couldn't stand it. Someone had to say something, and it seemed that Antony would not speak unless spoken to; he was staring off into the distance. My mouth opened and closed several times before I finally thought of something to say. "Why were you invited?"

Antony's head turned, and from the expression on his face, I knew my wording had been off. "Pardon? Why was I invited where? Here? I suppose for the same reason as you and everyone else: I'm a duelist." It was obvious he had a pretty good idea of what I meant and that he was just being sarcastic. So much for those upper-class manners. I suppose my resulting glare made Antony wish he hadn't finished his answer. "Sorry, I couldn't help it. That was a terribly worded question, and--"

"How many Duel Monsters tournaments have you been to before this one?" That could hardly be misunderstood.

He shrugged. "I don't know. Quite a few, I suppose. I've been in competitive dueling for three years now."

"Close to home?"

"Not exactly. It's really been a fifty-fifty split. I've gone several hours just to compete in higher ranked tournaments. Nothing big really ever happens at home. What about yourself?" He seemed genuinely interested to hear about my--slightly shorter--competitive dueling career, and we soon became engaged in quite a long conversation about ourselves. I learned that Antony was seventeen; he was taking time off his senior year to take part in Duelist Kingdom. He lived with his dad, step mom, and three younger sisters, who he told me a lot about. The youngest two were seven-year-old twins named Andrea and Anita--troublemakers with sweet faces. They were his step mom's daughters from her previous marriage. The oldest was Lucinda, thirteen years old and his real sister. She hadn't really had anyone to take care of her when she was younger, so Antony had been her companion from the time she was about five. After a long description of her, he told me that Lucinda had gone to live with their mom five months ago after a traumatizing bullying incident at school. He'd really picked up on tournaments after that.

In return, I told him about my parents and my older brother Cameron. When I was done, I looked into the sky, where the sun was slowly dipping, about half of the way to the horizon. I looked at the ground to see that the firewood was no longer anything more than cinders. "You think my stuff is dry?" Once Antony had gotten the two things down, I rolled up the sleeping bag and stuffed it into my backpack. I returned everything else one-by-one, scraping each item off before putting it in. I slung one--still damp--strap over my shoulder and turned to Antony. "Thanks. There's still a few more hours of sunlight. May as well see who's interested in dueling while we can still see them."

I guess that it was by unspoken consent that we were now traveling together, because Antony walked along beside me. "I'd tie my shoes if I were you," he said after a moment of walking.

With a wry smile, I bent down and did so. It looked like I had a big brother to take care of me while I was on the island.