Pegasus had awakened that morning from a dream. He lay very still in his bed, keeping his good eye closed as he carefully tried to sort out his fantasies from reality. Such a thing was becoming more difficult by the day.
There is something to this. I just don't know what.
He dreamed, as he often had, of Cyndia. When they had been younger, he'd dreamed of their future together, and when she had passed away, he dreamed that she was still with him, and had awakened with the belief that he would still find her. After time, the frequency of these dreams had faded, and he had learned to recognize them as dreams even as he was having them. After he had lost the Millennium Eye and his last hope of seeing her again in this lifetime, their frequency had dropped considerably. He'd moved on with his life, as much as he could, and the dreams had moved on with him. These days, they were only warm, hazy memories of a time when he had been perfectly happy, but which was now over.
None of that explained why he was having these dreams now. Every night, for several days running, he'd been having the same dream, so sharp and vivid that for the first time in years, he had awakened thinking it was all real. In his dream, he standing in an outdoor arena, dueling some shadowy opponent. He was winning, and was pleased by his victory. Then he was distracted by a scent of roses, and looked around to realize that the stadium was actually a garden, its walls made of rose hedges. And there was Cyndia, standing a little away from him, watching him wistfully.
"I want to play, too," she told him.
"You can't," he told her. "You're not alive anymore."
"Then you must let me join you some other way," she replied.
"I would if I could," he said, "but I don't know how."
"Paint me," she said. "Make me part of the game, so I can always play along with you."
And then she suddenly spread a pair of wings, their feathers made of pure sunset-colored light, and the whole world was suffused by their glow, and it became so bright that Pegasus had to shield himself from it...
...and then he would awaken with the light of morning slanting across his pillow. The first morning, he had chalked it all up to his overactive imagination plus a bit of lingering guilt and a fair bit more lingering loneliness. He missed Cyndia. He couldn't help that. Having a successful career and lots of friends and admirers was no substitute for the feeling of being in love and loved in return. It would have been surprising if he didn't dream of her once in a while. But it had been the same dream every night for nearly two weeks, without variations.
It doesn't seem natural, he mused, as he stared up at the ceiling. My brain is not that consistent.
Of course, what it actually meant, he had no idea. After a while, he decided he wasn't going to figure it out by lying in bed all day, so he got up and prepared himself to face another day. He dressed and groomed himself thoughtfully, his mind wandering even more far afield than it usually did. By the time he reached the breakfast room, his servants had already realized that he was up and about, and everything was already in place for him. That was one of the nicest things about living the way he did: that he had other people to think about mundane things for him so he could chase after more lofty notions in peace.
"Do you have plans for today, sir?" asked Crocketts. Pegasus's trusted advisor and bodyguard had been asking that same question with reassuring regularity for longer than Pegasus could remember, and would take an answer regarding a trip to the office or a trip to Brazil with equal aplomb.
"Oh, just wandering about," said Pegasus. "I won't be requiring an escort. I have a problem on my mind, and I want some time alone to think about it."
"Sir, for your personal safety..." Crocketts began, but Pegasus waved him off.
"I don't want a lecture," said Pegasus. "I assure you I am fully capable of taking a walk in the park without falling victim to a dastardly plot. I might enjoy a dastardly plot. It would take my mind off my more mundane concerns."
"If you're quite certain..."
"But be sure to take your cell phone with you. The last time you went out unsupervised, I tried to call you, and your phone was sitting on your desk the whole time. And you know what happened that time."
Pegasus scowled. "I'll have you know that was not entirely my fault. At least half the blame was the cab driver's."
Crocketts scowled back at him. He was much better at it than Pegasus was; Pegasus had never really gotten the scowling thing down properly, and usually had to settle for pretending that he had no idea what people were talking about until they shut up and went away. That didn't work on Crocketts, but then, nothing did.
"I'll be good," said Pegasus meekly.
True to his word, when he went out, he took his cell phone with him. It was the latest model (he insisted on having the latest model, which required changing phones about once every two weeks, but he enjoyed the variety). It had a number of pointless features, most of which he still didn't know how to use. It played MP3s and connected to the internet and had more ringtones than he knew what to do with, other than annoy people with as he tested them all during dull meetings. There were a number of video games on it, which he ignored, since they weren't nearly as interesting as the ones he tested at his job on a daily basis. It also came equipped with a miniature video camera, which he did use. As much as he liked traveling and getting into obscure things, having a photographic record of it all was occasionally useful.
For a while, he forced himself to keep his thoughts away from serious things as he wandered. He had taken himself to a local park, feeling that the company of other human beings would help stimulate his thought processes. It was a Saturday, and warm, so there was plenty of company there if he wanted it. A few people recognized him, and some of the braver children approached for his autograph, which he was happy to provide, but he really didn't turn too many heads around here these days. Everyone living in this city knew he was there and treated him like a local landmark - something they were proud of and happy to show off to outsiders, but were too busy to worry about during their day-to-day lives.
So, what am I to make of these dreams?
If he had been a rational man, he would have chalked it up to coincidence and an overactive subconscious, and tried to forget about it. He was not, however, particularly rational. He didn't believe in coincidences; he believed in fate, and in things from other levels of reality mucking around in people's lives without their say-so. He believed that there were gods, and that they spent most of their time finding ways to irritate lesser mortals. He was prepared to believe there was a reason for these visions coming to him night after night.
Dare I believe this is some sort of message?
He wasn't sure about that. Rather, he wasn't sure he wanted to think like that, because it was a little too close to the line between possibility and wishful thinking, and he already felt the boundaries between fantasy and reality in his world were too thin for comfort. He would have liked very much to believe that Cyndia was trying to send him some sort of message, but why she would choose to do so now after all these years was a mystery. On the other hand, who was he to criticize how communication with the next world was managed? Assuming that was what this was. He shook his head. At this rate, the only thing he was going to manage to do was confuse himself.
As he walked, he passed by two boys who were enjoying a casual duel, while several of their friends cheered them on. He paused to watch them play. It didn't help him generate any further ideas, but he always did find it pleasant to watch people enjoying the fruits of his labor. After a few moments, he took out his cell phone and turned on the video camera. Not only was there a chance it might be useful for a bit of feedback, but it would be proof to Crocketts that he'd been behaving himself, at least for a little while.
"I set a trap card and end my turn," said one boy.
"All right, my turn! I summon my favorite monster, the Jealous Goblin!"
"Ha, that's a stupid monster!" the first boy taunted. "No way it can beat my Sapphire Dragon!"
"It can so! Once per game, I can give her the attack points and effects of any monster on the field, and I choose Sapphire Dragon!"
"Hey, wait, you can't do that!"
"And now I equip Jealous Goblin with the Black Pendant. Now her attack points are higher than your dragon! Jealous Goblin, attack!"
There was a gratifying explosion as the dragon went up in sparks. Pegasus applauded, and the victorious player blushed.
"Well played," said Pegasus approvingly. "I do like to see people making good use of low-level cards."
The boy grinned. "I like her that way. She surprises people."
"Now I want to get one of those," said the other boy.
"That's the spirit!" said Pegasus. He produced a pen and a small notepad from his jacket pocket. "I'll tell you what - write down your mailing address, and I'll be sure to send you a copy."
"All right! Awesome!"
Pegasus walked away from that encounter feeling more cheerful. No matter what else might be going on, a duel was always good fun. Perhaps, he thought, he should take this as a sign of which way he ought to turn. Even if it turned out that his dream was nothing but a dream, what harm was there in creating a card? No one would look askance at him for making a card or two for his own amusement - he had done it more than once, designing things that would never be put into circulation, to be used only in his own deck if they were ever used at all. He would make one of those cards, a single copy to be used by him and him alone. Even if it was only a normal card, it might still be a pleasant thing to have.
With that thought in mind, he returned home. As soon as he'd made it through the front door, he began shedding his jacket as he headed up the stairs to his room.
"You weren't gone long," Crocketts observed. He made it sound like an accusation.
"I was gone long enough to decide what I wanted to do," Pegasus replied. "Tell everyone else not to bother me, would you? I have some work to do."
"Very well, sir," said Crocketts. He sounded a bit relieved, and Pegasus couldn't blame him. Pegasus went through the occasional phase where he locked himself in his rooms, sometimes for days on end, while he worked on some new art project or pursued some esoteric line of research. He was usually at his most manageable during these times; all that was required was for someone to send up food and drink at fairly regular intervals. It was only when he came out of his room again that he started getting into real mischief.
Satisfied that all would be well for as long as it took Pegasus to finish, he retreated to his private quarters, locked the door, and changed into his grubbiest old work clothes. Suitably attired in a threadbare pair of khakis and a liberally paint-spattered old shirt, Pegasus entered his private art studio. Unlike the rest of his lavishly furnished home, the studio was a plain room with bare white walls and a dull wood floor that showed as much paint as wood. Cabinets stood along one wall, stocked with paints, brushes, pencils, and everything else an artist might want. The rest of the room was mostly windows, filling the area with brilliant daylight. Pegasus set up an easel where the light was best, chose a canvas, and began gathering his paints and brushes as well as his thoughts.
How shall I do this?
He would have to be very careful. He could not paint Cyndia as she was, nor as he imagined she might be now. He certainly didn't want to try to recreate her in the image of what he thought or hoped she would be. No, if she wanted to be part of his deck, she was going to have to fit in there - he was going to have to decide how she would appear if she were a Duel Monster, and that was going to challenge his creativity.
An Angel type, I think. Light attribute, obviously. That will work. Nothing too ridiculously powerful - good defense points, no particular special effect. I don't want to turn her into a showpiece. Simple and reliable will do. As for the design...
Well, there had to be wings. That was important. Maybe the usual elfin ears, though he wasn't so sure about that. He'd have to design her a new wardrobe, naturally...
For a long time, he sat staring at his canvas, constructing and discarding images in his mind. Then, at last, he began to paint.
"Mr. Pegasus," said the receptionist, "there's someone from the scientific research department here to speak with you. Shall I send him in?"
Pegasus considered the papers in front of him. It had been some days since he had completed his little art project, and he had now returned to more worldly concerns than painting pictures. It was terribly boring, really. He had some contracts he still needed to go over, but none of them were anything that couldn't wait for a little while. Besides, he liked talking to the people in the scientific research department. They always came up with such clever things
"Yes, please," he said.
A moment later, the door opened, and a young man in a white lab coat stepped in. He was unusual from the ranks of scientists in that he was sporting a suntan. He had intelligent dark eyes, and dark hair pulled into a short ponytail in back, and looked familiar. Pegasus tried to remember who he was.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Pegasus," said the scientist with a polite inclination of his head. "I just dropped in to fill you in on the latest developments on the dimensional transportation system."
Pegasus brightened as he remembered who he was talking to: Daichi Misawa, one of the brilliant minds involved in studying the Duel Monster realms. He had disappeared without a trace about a year ago, but his mentor Dr. Zweinstein had refused to give up looking for him. By the time they had found him, he had apparently settled down comfortably in the other world and had not been particularly upset that he hadn't been able to go back. Even now, he only stayed in his home world for one week out of every month, occupying the rest of his time doing field work in the world where he had chosen to make his home.
"Excellent, excellent," said Pegasus. "I always look forward to hearing from you, Mr. Misawa. How are things in the other worlds? How is your wife?"
Misawa smiled. "Taniya was doing quite well, last I saw her. Anxious for me to get home, I'm sure."
"That's as it should be," Pegasus agreed. He had never met Misawa's wife, as she largely preferred her own world and seldom left it, but he knew a bit about her. When he had learned that one of his people had married an inhabitant of the Duel Monsters worlds, Pegasus had pulled a few strings and spread some money around, and gotten some laws passed that would recognize the marriage as legal. Why not? Pegasus was all in favor of anything that improved the relations between humans and Duel Monsters, and Misawa had assured him that in the other worlds such unions between humans and humanoid monsters were both commonplace and fruitful.
"So you will be heading back there soon, I expect?" Pegasus inquired.
"Well, yes and no," said Misawa. "I'll be leaving here soon, but I'm not planning on going straight home. You see, we've finally worked all the glitches out of the transport system. I can now guarantee that it is safe to operate and will send a traveler to the precise destination specified. In other words," he finished, speaking slowly and dramatically, "it is now safe to bring visitors."
"Oh?" said Pegasus, feeling that there was more coming.
"We had thought," said Misawa, "that you would like to be the first official guest. It seems only fair."
Pegasus lit up visibly. He had been longing to visit the other worlds for as long as he'd known they existed. Given his choice, he would have headed out to have a look at them the moment he'd heard they had a way to get there, but he had allowed wiser minds to talk him out of it. It was dangerous, they said - he might land in the middle of the ocean, or in a volcano, or on top of a nest of hungry monsters. He might be trapped there and never find his way back. Pegasus understood that these were not things that would be beneficial to him, so he had allowed himself to be talked into staying where it was safe. All his instincts, though, had been saying that what he really should do was get out there as quickly as he could. It was nice to see someone agreed with them.
"How soon?" he asked.
"Well, ah..." said Misawa, looking somewhat taken aback, "I had thought that it might take a few days to make all the proper arrangements. Assuming, that is, that you planned to spend more than a day there..."
"Yes, of course. I see," said Pegasus. "I suppose you're right..."
"You may wish to bring an entourage," said Misawa. "Naturally we would be taking you to an area that has a low population of aggressive monsters, but there is always the chance that we might stumble onto something dangerous. We definitely can't let anything happen to you."
"I feel precisely the same way," Pegasus agreed. He pondered a moment. "How many people would you suggest I bring?"
"As many as you feel comfortable with," said Misawa. "You shouldn't need too very many. It's only a short trip, and we'll be staying near a civilized area. I wouldn't think more than four or five would be necessary. I, of course, will be accompanying you as a guide."
"Very kind of you, I'm sure," said Pegasus. "Let me see... Austin O'Brien has experience traveling in these worlds, correct?"
"Yes, that's right," said Misawa. "I'd say he'd be an excellent choice as a companion."
"Then I'll drop him an invitation," Pegasus decided. "And maybe someone else... Perhaps Hayato Maeda."
Misawa looked surprised. "Why him?"
"Because," said Pegasus, "as far as I know, neither you nor Mr. O'Brien have duel spirit partners. He does. It occurs to me that such a thing might be useful to have around."
"A fair point, I'll grant you," said Misawa. "All right. Anyone else?"
"Nothing springs to mind," said Pegasus. He smiled wryly. "Unless you know where to get hold of Juudai."
Misawa laughed a little. "I don't think anyone knows that. If you figure it out, let me know."
"Well, then, I suppose I'll make do with only three escorts," Pegasus replied. "Unless a miracle happens and he turns up. Or unless I think of someone else."
"I'll tell the lab to prepare for at least four people," said Misawa. "Just let us know when you'll be ready to leave, at least a day in advance so we have time to power up all the machinery." He started to leave, and then changed his mind and backtracked. "And remember that we're traveling light, so don't pack any more than can be conveniently carried."
That made Pegasus laugh. "Don't worry. Believe it or not, I do know a thing or two about roughing it." Not that he was any sort of experienced hiker, but he had done a lot of exploring in out of the way places while he'd been studying the origins of dueling, so spending the night in a tent wasn't an entirely novel experience. He was assuming that since wherever they were going was supposedly "civilized", he could at least hope to have a roof over his head.
"All right, then," said Misawa, still looking doubtful of Pegasus's abilities to adapt, as only a city boy who has moved to the wilderness could. "We'll be waiting for your call, then."
He bid Pegasus a polite goodbye and made his exit. Pegasus sighed and turned his attention back to his work. He stared at the papers waiting to be read and signed, at the e-mails waiting to be read, at the proposals ready to be considered. Then he put it all aside and reached for his phone instead.
"Yes, there is something you can do for me," he said to the servant who answered him. "I need a few things packed for a trip..."
In the end, Pegasus did manage to get all his work wrapped up in time to report that he would be ready to depart on Friday afternoon. He was very pleased with himself as he arrived at the laboratory wearing sensible canvas pants and a basic tan shirt, and carrying a single neatly packed canvas bag full of the bare essentials. Of course, someone else had packed it for him, and he had no idea if he'd be able to get it all back into the bag once he'd started taking things out of it, but it was nice to be prepared. He was accompanied by a similarly outfitted Hayato, as well as O'Brien, who was carrying a smaller bag but gave the impression that he had probably made better use of his packing space. Pegasus got the impression that O'Brien could survive very nicely in the wild with nothing more than a knife and a flint. He looked wary, with good reason, considering how his last stay in the other world had gone. He was, in fact, giving Misawa a hard time.
"I promise," Misawa was saying. "I've scouted this particular area myself, quite thoroughly. I assure you that it is the safest place I could find."
O'Brien didn't look impressed. "How safe is that?"
"Safe," said Misawa firmly. "According to my calculations, the odds of us being attacked by anything hostile are lower than getting hit by a car on the way home. I hope that's safe enough for you."
O'Brien still didn't look pleased, but he subsided with a mutter.
"Oh, relax," said Pegasus. "I'm sure it will be fun. What's a trip like this without a little adventure?"
"We're almost ready!" a technician called to them. "Better get into position."
Pegasus nodded and headed obligingly towards the departure point. Eager as he was to get going, he couldn't help but admire the laboratory a little as he walked through it. After all, it had been mostly his money that financed it - who else would be willing to pour millions of dollars into researching Duel Monsters? He had, in fact, given the scientists a whole island of their own to work with, creating something like a miniature town. A row of cabins lines the one and only street, providing homes for the scientists who spent most of their time there. The street led up to the laboratory, an impressive structure that loomed over the smaller cabins like a mother bird over its chicks.
The inside of the building was surprisingly low-key. The lab itself was a strictly functional place, minus all the blinking lights and flashing graphs that made science fiction movies so impressive, but Pegasus knew enough to know that the simpler and less pretentious something was, the more likely that it was a piece of top of the line technology. Certainly he'd seen the figures for how much this equipment cost. He walked slowly past the monuments of brushed steel with their discreet displays, his footsteps falling softly on the smooth tile floor.
At the far end of the room stood an enormous structure of metal and glass, a testament to the creativity of mankind. Pegasus thought it looked like some sort of night light, or perhaps a large bug zapper. In front of the machine was a simple metal platform with a spiderweb of cables snaking around, under, and over it, with only a narrow passage into its center. The group huddled in the single open space, trying to get all their luggage piled there with it without interfering with any of the wires.
"All right, just stand still," said a technician. "Is everyone in? All right. Just relax. You may experience a momentary sense of disorientation when you land, but that's perfectly normal and will wear off in a few seconds. We're going to start the launch now, so hang tight." Pegasus felt a flutter of anticipation. Up until this moment, hehadn't really believed that he was going to another world. It had felt as though he were simply going on another one of his jaunts, off to research some obscure bit of lost knowledge. Standing there now, watching bits of machinery slide into place all around him, it began to dawn on him that he was about to do something really rather extraordinary, and for the first time it occurred to him to wonder if this was really such a good idea.
"All systems operating on full power," said a technician.
"Coordinates set," another chimed in.
The first one nodded briskly. "Now activating initiation sequence. Please remain still."
There was a whirring sound, one that started quietly but rose in volume and intensity until the floor vibrated with it. The light level in the room grew along with it, until it was like staring directly into a spotlight. It seemed to come from everywhere at once...but that was impossible, because there was nothing in that laboratory that could have emitted that much light...
Then, as though someone had flipped a switch, the lights returned to normal. The laboratory sounded very quiet after all the commotion.
"Transfer sequence complete," said a technician, but Pegasus didn't hear it, because he was already gone.
To Be Continued...