Summary: If Rudger had refused the mark of the spider, everything would be great... right? Unfortunately, the forces of darkness don't give up that easily.

Warnings: Language, violence, AU

Author's Note: Look, a serious story! And another Rudger-centric AU, at that. This Rudger is closer to canon than the one from Poor Life Choices, however, so it has a quite different feel. I intend for this to be a multi-chaptered story, but I can't promise regular updates, so please bear with me. Enjoy!

I fucking hate the telephone.

I know. Funny thing to hate, right? But I can't help it. I always think it's going to be them. Coming back to get me.

But I always answer it, because if they're coming, I want to know about it. I want to be ready.

So tonight, the phone rings, and the guy on the other end just says, "Look out the window."

This is already starting to sound like a bad horror movie. I look. Nothing. The weak light of a streetlamp on this filthy street. There's no place to hide out there anyway.

"Okay, I'm looking. What do you want?"

"Do you see the shadows?" I can practically feel this guy's smirk.

"Who the hell is this?" My voice shakes, and I hate it.

"We expected more of you, Rudger Goodwin."

I hang up, slamming the phone down. I can't stop shaking. I hold my arms up and give them a good look – just to make sure they're not glowing or anything. Not sure why I even bother checking the right one, though; I haven't had anything flesh and bone below my right elbow for seventeen years. Just cold metal.

That thought right there makes me grind my teeth. That's right. I've been hiding from those damned shadows for seventeen fucking years. Except for my brother, nobody even knows that I'm alive. And that's just because I call him every so often so he won't come loking for me. No point in ruining both our lives.

Sometimes I wonder if I did the right thing. If maybe I should have just let that spider eat my brain and destroy the world, or whatever it wanted to do. It seems like almost anything would be better that putting up with this stupid, constant fear for –

"Seventeen years, asshole."

I hadn't even realized that the phone was ringing again, much less that I'd answered it.

"What the hell do you want from me?" I'm shaking again, but with rage this time. More productive than fear, at least.

It's the same voice on the line. "We're going to finish what you started, Rudger."

"Who is this!"

The voice cackles. Mocking me. "When the shadows are devoured by even darker shadows, the curtain pulls back and reaveals a world without light."

"What the fu –"

And the next thing I know, the goddamn wall next to me explodes. If I hadn't shielded myself with my right arm, the debris probably would have gone right through my head. The wonders of technology – prolonging you miserable existence that much further!

I can make out a vague figure in the smoke and dust. A man. No. A kid. A teenager, probably about the same age as Yusei Fudo is now. A teenager with black eyes and the biggest, creepiest ear-to-ear grin I've ever seen. He has a glowing mark on his left arm.

And of course I can't keep my stupid mouth shut. "They're sending kids after me? Talk about desperate." Oh sarcasm, I always knew you were my best friend. You'd never abandon me in this time of need.

His creepy-as-fuck smile doesn't even flicker. "You sure talk big for someone who's about to die."

That may be true, but I'm clearly not the only one. As he's gloating and taunting me, I'm wondering who in the hell recruits a kid for this kind of thing. And more importanltly, I'm reaching for the duel disk that's stashed next to the phone. I keep several around the apartment, all with the exact same deck. Except for the most important card – that one stays with me, always.

The kid's still yakking on. I'm not even listening anymore. I take that card – the most important one – and slap it down on the duel disc. He's interrupted mid-speech by a snarling dragon slamming its foreleg down on top of him.

I turn and run to the other end of the apartment, towards the front door. I don't look back. The mark on my arm has finally gotten the memo and is now glowing red, like the dragon I just summoned.

I'm almost to the door when something slams into me from behind, sending me to the floor, face-first. Before I even roll over and start grappling with him, I know it's that creepy kid, somehow alive and in one piece.

His hands are around my throat. He's laughing insanely. I can hear my dragon somewhere behind us, shrieking. It's fighting something, and that something is big and vicious.

I manage to kick the kid off me and stagger to my feet. I probably doesn't make a difference whether I keep fighting or just lay down and take it. Through everything, that shit-eating grin hasn't wavered a bit.

He reaches out towards me. The mark on his arm is glowing almost blindingly bright. Psychotic glee dances in his eyes.

"Die, Signer!"

And goddamn if the phone doesn't start ringing right then.