Welcome, one and all, to a very important project.

Some time ago, I started posting a little experiment I called, "Shifting Images." This was a story written for a contest. The goal? To write 250,000 words in two months. Did I accomplish this feat? Why, yes. Yes, I did. But there are a lot of sacrifices to be made in order for a single story of that length in such a short amount of time. I needed something that would last a long time, and I needed something that I could write with little trouble. I opted to work out a story that I've been working out since I was about thirteen years old. That's ten years ago, for those playing the home game. A lot of work went into this revamp, but there were a lot of mistakes, too.

After a lot of hard thought, I've decided that there are just too many mistakes in "Shifting Images." Characterization, plotting, development, research, you name it. It's all pretty...well, bad. I do hope that the chapters I've posted were enjoyable to those of you who read them, but you deserve better. The story deserves better. And so, I present to you this.

This is the plot and characters of "Shifting Images," given the time and effort they deserve.

Welcome, my faithful audience, to my personal mythology.


Verse One.


11th of April, 2007


"Good afternoon, everyone."

There were a few mumbled responses, as per usual at this time of day. This class, she thought, was only surpassed by her first, at 7 AM, in terms of student sluggishness; it was just after lunch for most of these people, and either they had eaten too quickly or too much. More than a few, she was sure, had not eaten at all. In the end, it amounted to the same thing: they weren't paying attention.

She smiled accommodatingly, but a flash of cold authority met her ice-blue eyes when she said again, louder and with a sharper edge, "Good afternoon, everyone."

"Good afternoon, Doctor Ishtar," came a much more alert response from the group in front of her, and now her smile softened into an authentically pleasant—and pleased—expression. She set her bag onto the desk just to her left and nodded to herself. Yes, it took a bit of prodding to get their attention, but she'd gotten used to that. It wasn't something she actually made a very big deal of, but she made it seem as if she did. She did not seek to intimidate, but when it happened, it usually ended up beneficial both to herself and her students.

"I am going to spend today going over a subject with which most of you should be familiar," she said as she passed the roll sheet out and began to pace the room in front of her desk. This was something that was a marked difference between Isis Ishtar and many of her fellow instructors at the Westridge Community College of Domino City: she did not write on the whiteboard provided to her, nor did she deal with presentations using the projector and computer that were also provided to her.

Isis preferred to let her lectures speak for themselves.

And more often than not, they did.

"How many of you," she began, "are familiar with the name Osiris?"

Most of the class raised their hands. Good. With luck, anybody with even a rudimentary interest in the subject of Egyptology would have done some amount of self-motivated research; but she felt it prudent to ask because in every class she found at least a few students hoping for an easy grade to boost their GPA, and who had little to no actual interest in anything she had to say; with those few, Isis was often brutal. Some of the more poetic of those—former—students had dubbed her the "ice queen," which she found amusing.

"Most of you," she noted. "Good. Well, for those of you who are not, or for those of you who have not researched in a while," she continued, "I will give a brief overview. Osiris, which is the name given by the Greeks to the god previously known as Asar, was one of the Middle Kingdom's chief deities, associated most closely with vegetation, rebirth and, most prominently, the judgment of the dead. Theorized by some to have begun as a mortal king, Osiris was killed by his brother—Set, or Sutekh—and resurrected as the Lord of the Underworld."

A raised hand. "So is Osiris like Hades? Or Satan?"

Isis shook her head. "Not Satan, certainly not, and Hades is not a fair comparison, either, though it may seem this way on the surface. As Lord of the Underworld, Osiris was an authority figure, not a god of evil. Death to the Ancient Egyptians was not the hellish endeavor modern interpretation seems intent on making it, but rather a stepping stone in the long, arguably eternal, road of existence. Many people make the mistake of thinking that the Egyptians revered death, actually, although that is untrue. The reason for this misconception is that artifacts linked with the dead are the most widely preserved articles of Egyptian history. These are a people who respected death, but they did not worship it. Most of you should know the importance of Egypt's innovations in the field of embalming."

A series of nods.

Isis began to pace the room, as was her habit, and she always found it pleasing that most of the group before her were following her movements. She clasped her hands behind her back and said, "The preservation of the dead was a pivotal aspect of Ancient Egyptian religion, and so those artifacts dealing with death, meant to last for eternity, have lasted the longest."

"Isn't Anubis the god of the Underworld?" someone asked.

"Anubis was the god of embalming."

"Anubis is the one who embalmed Osiris when he was killed, right?"

"That is correct. So yes, Anubis and Osiris are very closely linked, but they are not the same god, nor are their realms of influence interchangeable. Consider the close association with surgery as compared to nursing. Is any nurse thus a surgeon? No. But, the professions are linked, and both are necessary for a hospital to run properly. So is the underworld of Ancient Egyptian belief both dependant on Anubis and Osiris."

Comprehension dawned on more than a few faces. Isis's smile widened.

"My namesake," she said, "Isis—also known as Auset—was Osiris's queen and sister." At the chorus of groans, she added: "This is a common happening with Egyptian gods, and the hierarchy of Egyptian royalty as well. Isis was also instrumental in the resurrection of Osiris, leading to his eventual influence over the fields of Aaru, the sacred reed fields, the name given by the Egyptians to the convention of heaven."

Here, Isis thought, her compatriots might begin writing bullet points to cover the lecture, giving the names of the gods and goddesses in question. But Isis found that doing that only crippled the students, as they spent more time waiting in preparation to write down the bullet points than listening to her. By having each individual student write his or her own bullet points, Isis enforced a necessity to listen to everything, just in case it might be important.

Indeed, the vast majority of the people in front of her were hunched over the tables they sat behind, scratching notes into their notebooks. A few were simply sitting there, listening, and Isis had figured from the start—and she had been correct—that these were the sort to believe they could study by osmosis; they figured it simply a requirement to listen in order to absorb the information. More than a few of this select group were sadly mistaken in that assumption.

Except one.

One young woman had the relaxed posture and severe concentration of what Isis called a lazy genius. Teresa Lundwin had one of the highest grades in any of her classes, and Isis had never seen her write down a single word. She had a detached, almost disdainful look about her, and kept the thin pair of glasses she wore on the tip of her nose because she fully intended—and enjoyed—having people think she was looking down on them; she usually was. She was tall. Her dirty blond hair was often simply swept back away from her face, then left to fall naturally where it would; so long as it did not obscure her vision, it seemed Teresa didn't much care how her hair looked.

She had reminded Isis quite forcefully, from the beginning, of a young man she had not thought of in over a year. She had once entertained the idea of introducing this confusing, remarkable young woman to the prodigious head of the Kaiba Corporation, if only for the entertainment value of seeing the two of them take great pains to ignore one another. But so far, she had not done such a thing. No doubt Seto Kaiba would pay no attention to anything Isis had to say, and she had a feeling that Teresa would be disinterested as well.

They were cut from the same misanthropic cloth.

"Osiris was known as the 'people's god,'" Isis continued, eyeing Teresa, "because it was through him that the common people finally found an avenue into eternity. Before the cult of Osiris, the afterlife was reserved only for those chosen by the gods; the kings and their courts. But through Osiris, the common Egyptians found a path to paradise that only required a good, virtuous life, proper funeral rights, and the worship of the god. Any just, proper person of Osiris's fold, who knew the proper rituals and had them performed at his or her funeral, could enter Aaru through the judgment of the people's god. It is because of this—"

The phone hanging on the wall just behind her interrupted her thought with its shrill cry, and Isis turned to regard it with some amount of anger. Irritated, she gestured sharply to her class with a quick, "Please, excuse me," and strode over to the device, snatching it from its cradle and putting it to her ear.

"Yes?" she asked snappishly, crossing her arms as she held the handset to her ear with one shoulder. "What is it?"

"Sister."


Verse Two.


Isis blinked, surprised, and straightened. "Malik? What is it? I've just begun a lecture; you should know—"

"The rod, Sister," came her brother's voice, cold and foreboding, sounding as if the words were simply tumbling out of his mouth in a torrent. "It has returned to me. I don't know how, but it came to me. I found it…Rishid and I were simply going over the contents of the refrigerator, deciding what to buy at the store this afternoon, and…and there it was. Just leaning against the carton of creamer as if it belonged there."

If this news had not been troubling enough, then the tone of her younger brother's voice was enough to send a chill down Isis's spine. He sounded like a mixture of a superstitious child and a recovering alcoholic walking into a bar; he was frightened, not just by the artifact that should have been gone forever, but by the siren's call it projected to him.

"…Hold on," she said quickly, noting that the class was staring at her, having detected the sudden fear that was chilling her own blood as much as it was Malik's. "I…I'm coming home. This can't be discussed over the phone."

"Yes. That would be best. I did not wish to interrupt you, but…"

"No. You were right to contact me. I'll be home in ten minutes. Wait for me, Malik."

She hung up without waiting for her brother's response and turned back to the class. "Unfortunately, I have a…family emergency. Class is dismissed for now. Cover the material in chapter 34-B in preparation for next meeting. That is all."

She heard the cacophony of shifting bodies as the students gathered up their things, not about to argue with an early dismissal, as she shot out of the room. She quickly made her way to the nearest elevator and waited a small eternity as it made its way to her floor. Her thoughts were moving too quickly to make any sense as she rode to the fourth floor of the building. She rushed to her office and gathered her keys, realizing remotely that she had left everything else she needed in the classroom, but hardly caring.

She was about to turn and leave, already thinking of where her car was parked in the nearest lot, already halfway home in her own mind, until she saw something that stopped her dead. Thought ceased as quickly as a switch, and the coldness tingling in her spine dropped to freezing.

There, sitting on her desk, where there had been nothing but a desktop calendar and a blue marker only a moment ago, lay the gleaming, glinting, hauntingly familiar loop of solid gold that she had worn about her neck for years.

The Millennium Tauk.


Verse Three.


It seemed a species of compromise that she drove home with the ancient necklace sitting almost innocently in the front passenger seat of her vehicle.

Isis had been sorely tempted to simply leave it in her office, even as her hands had instinctively reached for it. As often as she had used the artifact in the past, she hadn't realized until seeing it again how much of a relief it had been to be shed of it. It had been a burden, a weight, a...a drug, she thought suddenly, remembering how Malik had sounded on the phone.

Yes...that was it. A drug. The tauk—and its attendant abilities—had been like a drug to her, entirely necessary for her to properly function for so many years, yet at the same time crippling her. And for some time, she had dared to think that Yugi Mutou, that remarkable boy who had inherited the Millennium Puzzle, had lifted that addiction from her. And she had grown accustomed to the pleasant normality of life without it.

And now here it was, like some sort of golden boomerang, returned to her. And not only the tauk, but the rod as well, the device her younger brother had used in his rise to power in the black market; and indeed, it was only the thought of Malik that gave her the strength to simply lift the tauk from its place on her desk and carry—not wear—it out to her car; for as much as she hated the thing now, she felt an addict's inexplicable, masochistic draw to it. It was still familiar, it was still hers, and although she wanted so much to deny it, she wanted very much to wear it again.

She could only imagine how much harder it had been for Malik, who had indulged in his item's power far more deeply and drunkenly than Isis had ever dared, to ignore the beckoning of the Millennium Rod and call for her.

Isis pulled up to the apartment complex where she lived with her brothers and threw open the driver's-side door, right arm reaching over and gripping the Millennium Tauk before her conscious mind even made the connection to what she was doing. Just feeling the cool metal in her palm—as she snaked her fingers around it in a painful, caressing grip—sent electricity through her that was at once delightful and horrid. She wondered, as she walked, how she had managed to use it for as long as she had. How she had been able to feel its cold embrace about her neck without feeling the underlying wrongness that it now triggered in her mind.

There's something wrong about this, she thought, and at once reprimanded herself for such a pointlessly redundant observation. Of course something was wrong! The tauk was no longer her responsibility! It had been passed to Yugi, to the spirit of the Forgotten King, and the only way for it to have come back to her was if—

A shriek of pain caused Isis to jump as she reached the door to her apartment, and she exploded past it without even taking the time to realize that it hadn't been locked. "Master Malik!" Rishid cried from the kitchen, his scratchy voice bouncing through the room, reverting in sudden fear to the title he had given his younger brother so long ago, and Isis nearly skidded into him as the carpet gave way to tile.

Malik lay sprawled on the floor, head bent upward against the cupboards beneath the central counter in their small kitchen, clutching his right hand and cursing through clenched teeth. Isis fell to her knees next to him. "Malik! What happened?"

The former tomb-keeper looked up at his sister through the curtain of his platinum blond bangs, and gave an angry smirk that was almost a sneer. He chuckled humorlessly and showed his wounded hand, the fingers of which were severely burned, smoke curling up from the nearly blackened skin.

"Apparently..." he hissed, still with that sneering grin on his face, "...the rod has decided...I am unworthy to hold it. Sister. I...cannot say I...am altogether unpleased...by that...except...that it...fucking...hurts!"

Isis's head snapped upward, and looked at the open refrigerator. There it sat, in all its deadly splendor: the artifact called the Destroyer of Minds, the Needle, God's Finger, but which she had only ever called by its true name: the Millennium Rod.

The artifact looked to be glowing with heat, smoldering, hot enough to have melted if it had been crafted of simple gold. Isis looked down at the second Millennium Item, lying cool and dormant in her hand, and frowned.

"You...know what this means," Malik said, regaining his composure enough to pull himself into a sitting position, laying his injured hand palm up on his leg. Isis looked at him, and his lavender eyes were hard, icy, but most of all afraid.

Isis whispered, "The nameless king has failed."


END.


This is what I consider a prologue to the larger work, and so I feel it's proper to put in a few notes here. One, this work is based on the second-series anime, "Duel Monsters." On the heels of that, I would also like to mention that I have moved Domino City from its place in Japan to my home state of California. This is a common thread in all of my YGO work, based on a few things: the dub lends credence to this (I know, 4Kids ruined a lot of what made this series worth watching, but I beg that you let me have this), and I want to be able to portray things authentically here. Being as how I have yet to take a trip to Japan, I must regretfully admit that I have no bloody clue how to write a proper Japanese metropolis.

Another thing to note: there will be a lot of references to Egypt in this story. Mythology, history, culture, anything I can get my hands on. I'm a recent fan of Egyptology, you see, and I hope to integrate any knowledge I can absorb into this work. If I deliver any faulty information, I would very much like to know about it. I want, first and foremost, for this story to be accurate in its depictions. So I'm open to any and all corrections. So long as you keep it civil. Please?

To those of you who followed Images to its unfortunate demise, I beg that you give this one a chance. Trust me, it'll be worth it in the long run.

I'll see you next time.