Notes: I've tweaked and added some things throughout. Thanks to Chibi Heishi for pointing out some things in need of correction or explanation. I'm afraid I've sometimes become lax on necessary details, minna-san. I must try to correct this in future chapters, as well as in the previous ones, if I can.
A Glimmering Light
Prompt: #15 - Finding the Enemy
True to Thistle's word, the remainder of the forest provided relatively safe passage---though not necessarily quick. Two hours later they were still in the woods, even though the light was always visible in the distance, growing larger and closer as they traversed more ground. The group kept it in sight, using it as their Northern Star to make certain they were going the right direction. Sometimes it became concealed by trees or brush as they wound around the path, and then they scrambled to get to where they could see it once more.
Yami Bakura was still tense as they made their way out of the forest, though now a different reason had taken precedence in his mind. He could not shake the feeling that they were being followed. In fact, he was becoming increasingly sure that that had been the source of his unease since they had departed the Pool of the Dead. Had someone lain in wait, hoping that they would make it across the pool, and then had quietly begun to shadow them when they succeeded?
"Yami?" Bakura broke into his thoughts. "Do you still see the light?" He glanced around worriedly. "I still haven't been able to figure out where it is after we lost it behind the thick vines. . . ."
"Wait a minute," the thief growled, holding out a hand to keep Bakura from stepping any further forward. He stared into the distance, his eyes narrowed as he searched for any sign of a spy. If the stalker was dressed appropriately, and knew where to hide, he could be almost anywhere.
Yami Bakura stiffened. Had something moved between the massive tree trunks to their left? It had looked like the light from his Ring had touched on something dark and shifting, but now there was nothing. All was still.
"What's wrong?!" Bakura exclaimed. "Yami . . ."
There it was again. Something had definitely moved. Yami Bakura snarled, looking back to the bewildered boy.
"We're being followed," he said, his tone matter-of-fact.
Bakura's mouth dropped open. "Are you sure?!" he gasped. Every time they thought things were at last getting better, something always seemed to happen to set them back. His normally-long-suffering personality was starting to draw near to its snapping point.
"Yes!" Yami Bakura said in impatience.
Overhearing the latter part of the conversation, Mr. Bakura and Thistle turned to look. "What should we do about it?" Mr. Bakura frowned. "They could catch us unawares if we let them keep coming."
"There might even be more than one person back there," Yami Bakura said. If he was by himself, he would chance it and confront whoever it was. But when Bakura was here, and there was a possibility that he could be injured if Yami Bakura investigated, the Egyptian was not sure what to do. Bakura could also be injured if they were suddenly attacked later, as his father had predicted.
"We'll keep going for now," he decided then. "But stay on guard. At least one entity is in those trees." He indicated the left.
"Well, I say we should check it out right now," Thistle retorted.
"And I say we don't," Yami Bakura growled.
Bakura looked to the fairy. "Do you have any idea who it might be, Thistle?" he asked.
But she shook her head. "No idea," she said. "Maybe it's just someone who got lost and hoped that if he followed us, we'd get him to the way out."
"I doubt it," Yami Bakura said. He would not have such a feeling of concern if it was only that. "Now, let's keep going." He pushed Bakura ahead of him as he walked further from the trees, casting another glance over his shoulder as he went. Nothing moved.
Thistle flew ahead of him. "The light's over there," she said, pointing mostly ahead but slightly to the right.
The group maneuvered their way through the brush and roots that had started growing right on the road, being careful not to trip. Bakura gasped as what looked like a skeletal hand under the bushes caught his eye. "A Boneman?!" he exclaimed.
Thistle just looked at it. "If it is, it's not animated," she said. "This one's just a regular dead body. Probably someone who got tangled up and then couldn't get out."
"How horrible!" Bakura cried, his eyes wide.
"Or it could've been a murder, I guess," Thistle said. "Sometimes people kill and then drag the bodies in here. Since hardly anyone comes in the forest, they're hardly ever found."
"Oh my." Bakura gingerly moved away from the hand. But he frowned as something else occurred to him. "Would the trees let the murderers go?" he wondered. "You said the people who don't get out have usually done something wrong."
"Yeah, I know," Thistle said with a shrug. "And since they wouldn't have crossed the pool, the trees probably don't let them out. Except for the trees that are really angry and would probably be glad to see all humans go bye-bye. But most of them aren't that extreme."
Mr. Bakura was staring now. "Some of the trees are that angry because of man's carelessness in taking care of plantlife?!" he said.
"Hardly any," Thistle said. "Most of them still think there's good humans too."
"I thought I couldn't feel any more disturbed," Bakura said. "Please, let's hurry and go! I think I'd rather deal with whatever might be following us." He looked to the left again, but upon still seeing nothing, he hopped over a root in his way and kept going.
The others were quickly in hot pursuit. As they got past the aboveground roots, the light reemerged, lazily peering through the tree branches and leaves just ahead.
"We're almost out!" Bakura said in relief. "Then we just have to get to that fifth village."
"We'll have to restock our supplies at the first one, since we'll be relieved of the majority of our flashlights," Yami Bakura grumbled. "And who knows what else."
But then he stiffened again. "Stop!" he ordered.
Stunned, Bakura ground to a halt, nearly causing James to plow into him. Thistle, though not affected by the near-collision, was annoyed.
"Hey, what's the deal?!" she demanded, clenching her fists as she glowered at Yami Bakura.
"Be quiet!" Yami Bakura said in response. "Listen!" He pointed to the bushes parallel with them on the left. Forty yards away from the road, but almost directly across, something was crashing through the brush.
"It's not even trying to hide itself anymore," Thistle noted. "It's probably a hungry animal."
"And we're the prey!" Mr. Bakura exclaimed.
"It's not coming closer to us," Yami Bakura growled. "Now it's straight over and has stopped. It's waiting for us to keep going. The fact that it no longer cares if we know about its presence must mean it thinks it has the advantage." He turned to look towards the light, which was now much brighter. Were there others waiting to ambush them when they got up to it? Who? Robbers, perhaps? Surely Fafnir would not be after them, not like this at least.
But that was something else that bothered him. Why would Fafnir care about three travelers at all? They had only received very vague and unsatisfying answers on the matter. Was there something they did not know that would make Fafnir want something to do with them? Would he really try to get them to find the box and the pendant for him, or was there something else? If he already had both of those objects, then there would have to be another reason why he would come after them.
"Bah!" he growled under his breath. "We're barely told anything by anyone. It's as if we're only puppets, being manipulated according to the puppeteers' whims."
Bakura turned to stare at him. "You think that too, Yami?" he said.
"The more I think about it, yes I do!" Yami Bakura said. "I have this feeling something is expected of us. Why is everyone so helpful? Why did the wizard want the fairy to come with us to the end of the forest? You heard what she said---it isn't something he's ever done. His response to her when she asked why was not satisfying at all, just like everything else we've been told! We're only being given bits and pieces of an overall story!" His eyes narrowed. "Perhaps they think that if we knew what we were really being made to do, we would refuse. And I don't know but what I would. If they want something of us, they should say so outright!"
Mr. Bakura was alarmed. "I admit, I've been wondering about these things myself," he said. "Nothing seems to quite add up. And without having more information, we don't have much choice but to follow the path we've been set on." But that did not mean he did not plan to try to get a clearer idea of what was going on by speaking with other people when they got out of the forest. He had been around long enough to know that blindly plunging into anything was a bad idea. However, so far they had not had much chance to speak with anyone other than those whom they had been directed to find. And in a strange world that they did not know, for the time being it seemed better to follow some plan rather than attempting to make their own way.
Bakura looked around in nervousness. "It has almost felt like some kind of role-playing game," he said slowly, toying with the items in his left pocket. "The quest for the Door. . . . Wizards, fairies, fantastic creatures. . . . I really haven't understood, and I've been suspicious, even though I've tried not to show it and instead hope for the best. And oh dear, I meant to ask Azhi Dahaka about that 'emerald streams' thing too," he remembered with a sigh. "I was hoping he would know what that riddle was all about, and why we each heard something different at the entrance of the forest as well as at the crossroads."
"And I doubt he would have given you a straight answer," Yami Bakura said.
The bushes rustled again. Whoever was in there was leaning forward, trying to hear their lowered conversation. And Yami Bakura's waning patience bent back and snapped.
"What's wrong?" he sneered, raising his voice. "Are you afraid we're talking about you?"
Bakura stared, his mouth dropping open. "Yami," he gasped.
"Or perhaps you wonder if we suspect your ambush," Yami Bakura continued.
Again the foliage moved, but that was the only reaction.
Yami Bakura turned away in irritation. "He's not planning to talk," he said. "Let's just keep going."
Without warning an arrow sailed across the space between them and the spy's hiding place, stabbing into the ground at Yami Bakura's feet. He looked down at it with a growl while the others stared in varying states of shock and alarm.
"Now you've done it!" Thistle burst out.
Yami Bakura reached down, picking the arrow out of the ground. "So, he's finally chosen to show us his true colors," he said. "I was getting bored waiting for it to happen." He waved the weapon at the bushes. "Are you the only one we have to contend with? Or are there more?" He licked his lips. "We're not afraid of you. Come out, if you're as brave as you are trying to appear!"
Mr. Bakura stiffened. "Sometimes I don't understand you at all," he said.
"Is this really a good idea, Yami?" Bakura exclaimed.
"We're going to have to fight him sooner or later," Yami Bakura said. "Why wait until we're exposed and vulnerable outside the forest? Rather, let's do it now and have it over and done with."
"Will he even come out?" Bakura wondered, his gaze fixed on the rustling bushes.
His question was answered as a tall, husky man stepped into the open. His shaggy dark hair hung around his face, his flashing eyes standing out as they focused on the group. In his hands he held a bow with an arrow loosely pulling back the spring, pointed at the group.
"Foul invaders of Juno!" he cried. "I have come to take back what you have stolen! I do not fear you or your tricks!"
"We're not invaders!" Bakura retorted with indignation.
"It's not as if we wanted to come here," Yami Bakura snarled. "And just what do you think we've stolen?"
Annoyed, Thistle flew out in front of them. "Hey!" she said, her arms akimbo. "These guys are with me. Azhi Dahaka instructed me to stay with them until they got out of the forest!"
"Naturally because he knew they were thieves and that a terrible surprise would be waiting for them if they got this far!" the strange man replied.
"Preposterous," Yami Bakura retorted. "Why not take care of us himself?" He crossed his arms over his chest. "You think quite highly of yourself, don't you?"
The brunet blinked. "I am a great warrior of Juno!" he said. "I fight any and all enemies to our land!" The arrow pulled taut. "Now, release the forbidden magic!"
"'Forbidden magic'?!" Mr. Bakura burst out. "The box? We don't have it; it was stolen from us!"
"Ha!" the marksman said. "Now I know for certain you lie. It's gone abroad in all of Juno that the forbidden magic has returned from the other world, being destructively wielded by a dark-skinned, light-haired man like your companion."
Bakura gasped. "It's not Yami!" he cried, gripping Yami Bakura's arm.
Yami Bakura's visage twisted in disgust at this revelation. "The boy is right," he said. "The man who stole your box is the same nationality as I. He took this thing from us, but we were not using it."
"It was just discovered in our world," James put in. "I was trying to study it; I had no idea what it was."
"We were sent here by this person!" Bakura said. "We've been looking for him everywhere, but there's been no sign of him!"
"And we haven't described him to anyone," Yami Bakura said. "The fact that you have a vague description of him indicates that he is boldly roaming your country, using this magic wherever he pleases." And it meant Fafnir did not have access to the thing, unless Yami Marik actually was working for him.
"This is true." The broad man wavered, considering what he was being told. "But he was last seen near the forest." His eyes narrowed again. "So I came here to wait and watch! When I saw the three of you crossing the Pool of the Dead, and I saw you in particular, I was certain I had found the thief. And I still don't know that I haven't!"
Bakura was alarmed. "He was coming this way?!" he cried.
"He has something planned for us," Yami Bakura growled. "Perhaps he's going to meet us. But on the other hand, he might be deliberately trying to implicate me in his crimes!"
"Perhaps," said the stranger. "Perhaps not."
"We've come with the blessings of the queen, as well as the wizard," Mr. Bakura said. He was desperate for something that would keep this person from attacking them again. Not only did they not have the resources to contend with flying arrows, but they needed to hurry. He wanted to be out of this forest before dark.
The vigilante looked at him with suspicion at his announcement. "Can you prove this?" he asked.
"We gathered supplies at the palace," Mr. Bakura returned. "The packs have the royal seal on them." He slid his own bag off his shoulders, turning it around so that the symbol was clearly visible.
Their assailant stared at it. "Well ... this could still be a trick," he said. "But my allegiance is to the royal house. Until I learn otherwise, I have no choice but to accept this tale now that you have presented the seal." He lowered the bow and arrow.
Bakura breathed a sigh of relief. "Oh thank goodness," he said.
Yami Bakura was still on his guard. "The one you are looking for has blond hair, not white," he said, hoping to get the man to go away.
"And it's spiked up," Bakura said, gesturing with a hand above his head.
The marksman raised an eyebrow. "How strange," he said. "I wonder why no one has reported this."
Bakura thought for a moment. "Well . . . I suppose he could be pressing his hair down with the hood of the purple cloak he was wearing," he said. "If he really is trying to frame Yami, he wouldn't want his hair to be seen."
"'Yami'?" the other repeated. "Is that your name?" He looked back to Yami Bakura, who grunted.
"It's good enough," he said.
Suddenly realizing something, Bakura blinked. "Why, we haven't introduced ourselves, have we," he said. "I'm Ryou Bakura."
Yami Bakura stared at him, shaking his head. "You polite and proper British," he muttered.
"In this case, introductions might be a good thing," Mr. Bakura said. To the vigilante he said, "And I am James Bakura."
"I'm Thistle, their guide," Thistle said with a self-assured smirk.
The dark-haired man barely acknowledged her, instead staring at the humans in confusion. "You're all Bakura?" he said. "You don't look related." He peered at Yami Bakura, suspicion once more creeping into his eyes.
"He's a very distant cousin from another country in our world," Bakura quickly interjected. "Our family line split in quite different directions." He rubbed the back of his neck.
After another doubt-filled stare, the brunet gave a slow nod. "I am Volker," he said. Placing his arrow back in the quiver, he went on, "I know my leader, Adelpha, would like to meet you."
"Leader?" Yami Bakura frowned. "There's more of your kind?"
"Oh that's right," Bakura blinked. "We've been told about the rebel group."
Yami Bakura was not impressed. "We have our own business," he said. "We don't have time to be socializing."
Volker's eyes flashed. "This wouldn't be a social meeting," he said. "Adelpha will want to know everything about this person who has the forbidden magic."
"Where is your group located?" Mr. Bakura queried.
"We have our base at the fifth village from the forest's edge," Volker said.
Bakura started. "Really?!" He looked to the equally stunned James and Yami Bakura. "That's where the wizard said we were supposed to go!"
Yami Bakura growled, displeased. He did not want to be in the company of this character for very long, nor did he want the rebels to try to rope them into helping their movement, which he could imagine they might. But when this corresponded with the wizard's only directions for them, did they have much choice other than to investigate?
James was frowning, considering all that they had been told. At last he nodded. "Let's see what's there," he said. "Then we might be able to figure out where to go next."
Annoyed but agreeable, Yami Bakura consented, as did Bakura.
"Very well," Yami Bakura said, looking back to Volker. "We will come with you. But we have our own path after that. We don't have time to get mixed up in any of your rebellion's plans."
"We are trying to catch the one who stole the forbidden magic, though," Bakura put in.
"Which we will do on our own," Yami Bakura said.
"You like to be independent," Volker observed. "We'll see what happens after you talk with Adelpha."
"You're far too confident," Yami Bakura said.
Thistle flew ahead of them. "The light's getting dimmer," she said. "It must be almost night by now." She turned, smirking at the group. "You'd better be grateful I'm so generous! I've decided you can keep your flashlights and that shiny timepiece thing until we get to the village!"
Yami Bakura stared at her. "You're coming to the village?!" he cried.
Her smirk only deepened. "Yep, to keep track of my possessions," she said.
Bakura scratched his cheek. "I'm almost starting to think you just want to come with us," he said in a playful, innocent voice.
Thistle was not amused. "What?!" she shrieked. "You're okay, and your dad, but why would I want to hang around him?!" She pointed at Yami Bakura. "I'm only coming so you don't back out of our agreement! I still want your stuff!"
"Have it your way," Bakura smiled. "And I'm certainly grateful for your kindness. We all are, aren't we?" He glanced at the others. Mr. Bakura gave an awkward nod and a "Yes", while Yami Bakura just grunted.
Volker headed down the path ahead of them. "The fairy is right, that the light is waning," he said over his shoulder. "Come! We must leave the forest before nightfall."
"Not that we don't agree perfectly on that point, but is there something that will happen if we don't?" Yami Bakura growled as they followed. He glanced up at the strong, silent trees towering high above their heads.
"You have seen how menacing the forest is during the day," Volker said. "Under cover of night, it's even worse. There are rumors that some trees have the power to leave the spot where they've been planted and walk. Not that I believe it, but this is Juno's oldest forest. Who knows what kind of ancient magic might have been placed on it."
Bakura's eyes grew to twice their size. "Great Scott!" he said in horror. He could not help remembering how one of the trees had seemed to ease itself closer to the road as they had walked past. "I'm afraid we may have seen that it doesn't only happen at night," he squeaked.
Volker looked back, staring at him in surprise. "The trees really have been angry," he mused. "I wonder if they think you're the forbidden magic thieves too?"
"Would they care?" Yami Bakura retorted.
"Some of them would," Volker said. "But no matter. We'll be out within the hour." He trooped ahead in unconcerned determination.
"And hopefully this isn't a case of leaping out of the frying pan and into the fire," Yami Bakura muttered to the others, side-stepping another extended root that had grown in the path.
Bakura and his father had to agree.