A/N: This is a follow-up/background/tie-in fic to my I Will Follow, which is a Shizuka x Honda x Otogi story set in the Virtual World where Yuugi… won. You don't have to read I Will Follow because this is a standalone. But if you've read the aforementioned fic and were curious about the whys and hows – here's the explanation.
Dislaimer: Kazuki Takahashi and all associated companies are the rightful owners of the Yu-Gi-Oh! franchise. As I am not a part of that, this is for non-profit amusement purposes only, with no intention to infringe on the copyright.
Warnings: none; worksafe.
Everything was going according to plan. Noa had Yuugi right where he wanted him, despite the surprise the King of the Games had pulled on him upon entering the Virtual World. It turned out that he'd come into it with a hitherto unknown cheat code. It was nothing like Noa had seen before, but it didn't take him long to figure out that the code was contained to the virtual reflection of Yuugi and couldn't spread any further than the strictly defined boundaries of his character. It looked like a self-contained worm. As if a part of the code had spontaneously doubled and then rewritten itself in a slightly different way. But it didn't seem as though it could influence any aspects of his world.
Noa was a master of figuring things out at warp speeds. Things like these tended to happen when one spent a decade or so rendered into a digital code. He couldn't lose. He was the ultimate Gamemaster battling it out with one insignificant King of Games. He knew he couldn't be bested, though he was currently playing with Yuugi's little cheat code activated. Whatever it was supposed to be doing, it wasn't working. Not in here, not inside a world of his own creation. Not like this. Drawing his final card, Noa smirked and threw a verbal taunt at the teenager standing across from him. How did it feel – to lose? he wondered for a moment. Not that he would ever know. Because, ultimately, it didn't matter. He'd won the second the residents of the Kaiba Corp. blimp woke up inside his little digital creation.
The Pharaoh was struggling to come up with a good move currently. Noa's Inaba the White Rabbit was a pesky little thing, cutting into his Life Points directly. He cast a glance over at the petrified Kaiba brothers, then looked at Jounouchi and Anzu who were facing the same end. Wherever Honda, Shizuka and Otogi were, he hoped they were doing fine and were slowly making their way toward them. He had to save them. He would save them. It was just a matter of time, and of believing. The heart of the cards hadn't let him down once. It wasn't going to start doing it now.
Still reeling from Noa's last attack, the Pharaoh drew his final card and saw his victory plan unfurl in his mind like a bright banner. This was exactly the thing he'd been waiting for. He'd hesitated and stalled, sent all the wrong signals at all the right times for one last ditch effort and a firm belief that everything would turn in his favour. This was his winning hand. At such a proclamation, Noa had the gall to laugh. But he didn't know that he was laughing in the face of his own demise. The Pharaoh relished dearly the moment when the digital child's amusement turned into disbelief, soon giving way to anger and fierce denial. He'd sealed Noa's fate. He'd won. He always won.
While Noa threw a rather childish tantrum, he demanded for his friends to be freed from the Medusa's curse.
"Much good that will do them," Noa muttered, struggling to keep a manic grin at bay.
He resisted for as long as he could before yielding to Yuugi's demand. Scowling like the petulant child they knew him to be, he grudgingly admitted his defeat. The stone statues came back to life and friends and family were reunited again. Watching them all hug and rejoice, so sure that they were about to leave this world for good, the digital boy laughed maniacally inside his own mind. His shoulders were shaking deceptively, though anyone not looking closely enough would assume that to be the after-effects of shock of his last-second loss. Sometimes, humans were so blind.
Finally, the moment was there.
"Let us out, Noa," the Pharaoh demanded. "You promised."
Noa lifted his gaze up to meet his, and his blue eyes were full of dark triumph.
"Congratulations," he said, his lips stretching into a nasty sneer. "It's your victory."
While the Pharaoh frowned at Noa's strange antics, he noticed how oddly glowing rainbow-coloured lines had started creeping all over the boy, splitting him up like a chequered board. His three dimensions began thinning out around the edges to only two and parts of his anatomy started to discolour and break away. Amid those present, only three people knew what was going on and they all had the last name 'Kaiba'. Mokuba looked on in confusion as his stepbrother started crumbling apart, wondering what purpose that served now. Seto was frozen in shock and anger because he realised the full scope of the situation and his mind was already working in overdrive, trying to find a way out. Noa just stood there, grinning like the devil himself, revelling in his master plan gone terribly, horribly, awfully right. His hands and feet turned into fractal pieces and scattered like sand, and the rest of his arms and legs were already flaking.
"What did you do?" the Pharaoh demanded, immediately sensing foul play. What he was seeing now wasn't the kind of reaction he'd expected.
"Nothing," Noa replied, all innocence and childlike sweetness and – above all – the brutal, nasty truth. "You won."
Noa chuckled indulgently and tilted his head to one side, sizing up the great King of the Games. Oh, he was great, he decided. Great to play games with.
"You won, Yuugi. You should be happy now. You got what you wanted. You destroyed me."
"Yuugi, you idiot," Kaiba groaned before launching into an angry rant aimed at his digital step brother, demanding him to stop the deconstruction process this instant and let them out, but Noa only laughed at his demands and once more pointed out that this was just a part of their agreement. He was destroyed and they were free to go. If they could find their way out before it crumbled away and disappeared amid scattering binary.
"What do you mean, Kaiba?" Jounouchi frowned at Seto, understanding only half of what the older teen was going on about. He gathered the basic gist of the situation, however – things had somehow gone downhill and they were pretty much screwed if they couldn't stop Noa from doing… whatever he was doing right now.
It was faint at first. None of them noticed the same rainbow-coloured lines creeping along the ground, starting right below Noa's crumbling feet and spreading out in all directions. Everyone's eyes were on the digital boy, on the way his body was fragmenting itself and breaking down.
Mokuba attempted to explain while his big brother seethed in wordless fury, "Yuugi won. Which means that Noa lost and now he is being erased from the system the same way the Big Five were."
"Good!" Jounouchi pumped his fist in the air, as if he'd been the one to defeat the kid himself. (By extension, he had. All of Yuugi's friends had fuelled the Pharaoh's determination to win and save them all.) "Serves the brat right!"
"No! No it doesn't because this place…" Mokuba stammered over his words, trying to think of a good way to put it. "This place is Noa."
"Oh, okay. Wait, what?"
"But that means…" Anzu nervously clasped her hands together. "That means, when he's gone…"
"This world disappears too."
"Oh, no!" The Pharaoh turned to look at Noa who was becoming more and more of a fractal image, bits and bytes falling from him like an odd sort of discoloured snowflakes. "Free us, Noa! I beat you in a duel, now let us out! That's what you said you'd do!"
Noa laughed and stretched languidly like a cat, speeding up the process of breaking down. Fragments of data rained off him with a gentle tingling sound and dissolved into nothingness before even hitting the ground.
"Oh, but I am! I have already freed you from the confines of your bodies. Now I'm freeing you from the characters you've become."
"Seto," Mokuba urged, turning to his brother and doing everything he could to not cling to his coat the way he'd done when he was younger. The way he still wanted to do, even now. "We have to do something!"
Seto grinded his teeth. There was nothing he could do, not now, not from here. The only option was finding a door that led out of this world. He was sure there had to be one. There always was a backdoor to everything and it had to be hidden somewhere nearby. If he could make it from there to a control room…
"Let's go Mokuba," he said and turned, intent on walking away from the scene. They had to find a shortcut out of this place while the world still held together in one piece.
They didn't get far because the scene split three ways, cutting them off from each other. Now there were four islands floating above blackness, frail bridges of data still linking them together. On one, stood the disintegrating Noa, only his head and his torso left. On another – the Kaiba brothers, and on the third – Jounouchi and Anzu. The Pharaoh was left in the centre on a solitary cliff, effectively cut off from everyone else. The small swath of land still connecting him to the one with his friends was rapidly becoming transparent and holey. For a moment, they all stood rooted to their respective spots while Noa's disembodied laughter filled the air. Parts of the sky began peeling off, dripping rainbow-coloured transparent pixels over the world. They pooled on the ground and eroded it away, opening up black chasms. The Virtual World was tearing itself to pieces.
"This is your fault, Yuugi!" Kaiba said by ways of a parting remark and turned to leave in search of a way out. There had to be a gateway somewhere and he was going to find it. He was going to save Mokuba. "I suggest you find a way out and do it fast if you want to live."
Noa's eyes turned to look at his retreating back and his victorious smirk began cracking around the edges. He might have lost the final battle, but he'd won the war. His world was breaking down. He would just rewrite himself on a different drive while his preinstalled system purged this one of all data. As his eyes started losing sight because the bits they were made of began separating, he cast one parting look at Yuugi and his friends. Then, he disappeared in a brief flash of crumbling data.
The Pharaoh made a desperate attempt to leap across the crumbling trench to his friends and almost fell down and into the spreading black void below, but Jounouchi and Anzu were there to help him up. Together, they hauled him up on a safer patch of the land.
"That jerk is right. Let's get the hell out of this place," Jounouchi said, referring to Kaiba and casting a glance all around. There had to be a way out. If they could just make it back to the room they first appeared in, he was sure they could reach the blimp from there. "Let's just get back on the train tacks."
Anzu agreed and they began walking toward the railway hidden in the jungle undergrowth. While the Pharaoh didn't know much about computers – only the same things Yuugi knew – he did understand a thing or two about worlds and world-building in general. After all, he'd played Shadow Games with Bakura and Pegasus. The improvised duelling fields had crumbled right after their creators had been defeated. This situation was exactly the same. But these weren't shadows. Their bodies weren't trapped in the game; their minds were. He couldn't even hazard a guess at what would happen to them once this world destroyed itself. Would they too be destroyed? Or would they just return to their bodies and wake up as if from a bad dream?
Remembering Noa's triumphant look, he tentatively assumed the former. It had been the parting glance of somebody who had just won, even if outwardly defeated. The digital world was crumbling around their ears and it was, indeed, the Pharaoh's fault, but his friends didn't say a word about it. It was clear that Noa had set a trap which neither of them could have predicted. Any one of them could have fallen for it. Any one of them could have been the one to bring about the destruction. In fact, Kaiba had almost done it himself before getting turned into stone. The Pharaoh found himself wishing that Kaiba were with them. Currently, he was the only one with the most complete knowledge on the setup of this world.
Casting a glance back at the two brothers, the Pharaoh could only see glimmering and disintegrating trees. The Kaiba brothers had disappeared in the forest. The black rifts were spreading, rainbow-coloured lines spearing through them every now and then and stray pixels fluttering before darkness took them.
After a brief discussion with his other half, the Pharaoh got his agreement to stay in control of the body. He couldn't let Yuugi take over, not in a situation like this. First, he had to save his friends – or die trying.
The world around them kept crumbling slowly, chasing after them and blocking their path no matter where they went. There were no exit doors built in this world. No shortcuts. Not anymore. They all had been among the first ones to break down and scatter into a mass of scrambled binary. Somewhere, on a different disc, Noa was watching the progress of destruction and laughing in triumph. He couldn't see what was going on in there, not anymore. He could only imagine the horror and despair as it slowly set in for Yuugi and his friends, and his precious stepbrothers. They should have realised by now that there was no way out. No way back into reality. He wished he could witness their terror, but only for a split second. He had better things to do.
Noa turned in front of the mirror, admiring the way he looked now. Grown up. Handsome. Powerful. He smoothed his hands down the white fabric of his suit and made for the door. He had a company to run.
(or is it?)