A/N: Thanks for the reviews! To answer the questions I'm getting about Yuugi and Yami, yes they will be taking the next step in their relationship soon. Enjoy!
Yuugi fumbled for Ryou's hand and squeezed it tightly as the familiar clouds formed around them, taking away the comforting presence of Ryou's bedroom and exchanging it for the formless cold and dark. The light of Dark Magician Girl's staff eventually faded away and for a split second it seemed like she was adrift, floating in a sea of shadows that wanted to swallow her alive, and her throat closed with panic. But then another hand slipped into hers and tightened comfortingly and Dark Magician Girl spoke, her voice confident and cheerful, at rest with the realm that she was used to.
"I have to admit that I figured something like this would happen," she was saying, "and I've been trying to keep track of Mahado as best that I could just in case. I believe that he's still with your other halfs and I know the general direction in which they've gone."
"That's good," Ryou said and the relieved spark in her voice told Yuugi that Ryou hadn't thought about how they would find Bakura and Yami either. "Maybe we won't have to worry about it, though. Yami Malik might come to us if he realizes that we're here."
"He won't get you," Dark Magician Girl said determinedly. Yuugi could easily picture the stubborn thrust of her chin and had to fight back a smile.
"Thank you, Mana," she said, realizing that the idea of Yami Malik finding them was no longer as terrifying as it had been now that they were no longer alone. She fell into step behind Dark Magician Girl when the duel monster moved forward and Ryou came up behind her, forming a little chain that meant none of them would risk getting lost.
They walked for what felt like hours, until Yuugi's feet were aching and even the sneakers she was wearing were no longer comfortable. She could hear Ryou, who had forgotten about shoes entirely, hissing softly under her breath every time she came down on her left foot. The Shadow Realm never changed, although sometimes Yuugi was very aware of the fact that they were not alone. She never actually saw anyone but the shifting presence of the duel monsters around them couldn't be ignored. Dark Magician Girl didn't seem overly concerned so she tried not to think about it, but that was easier said than done.
"Who are they?" she asked when she couldn't hold back the question any longer. "Those monsters… who are they?"
"Some of them are yours or the pharaoh's, or the thief king's," said Dark Magician Girl. "They're curious about the master who treats them so gently but can fight so fiercely." Her voice was warm and soft. "The other ones are attracted by you. The light that you two give off is something different from the shadows, that's all. If you were alone…" She trailed off and paused for a moment before turning around to face the two girls. In the dark shadows her face was just visible enough for Yuugi to see her frown. "Stay close, okay?"
"Are they dangerous then?" Ryou asked, sounding a little nervous.
"No, not necessarily… some of them would be, yes, but your monsters will always try to protect you. Both of you have many friends that are loyal to you. Now, do you need - "
Whatever Dark Magician Girl was going to ask was lost to Yuugi in a confusing, consuming deluge of pure emotions. It flooded down the bond from Yami, a maelstrom of confusion/fear/pain/anger/bewilderment/terror, and she gasped at the intensity, her knees giving out. She tried to push back against it - this was the first time his emotions had changed since he'd disappeared and she was desperate to ask if he was alright - but it was so powerful, so overwhelming, that her tentative emotions were swept away before she could send anything through. She gasped for breath and tried to wait it out. And then, suddenly -
Yami's voice was so loud in her head that Yuugi winced. /Yami?/ she said, and even her mental voice sounded shaky. It had been so long since they were able to speak mentally that she'd almost forgotten what it was like. She sat back on her heels and closed her eyes to better focus. /Yami is that you? Can you hear me?/
\You have to leave. What are you doing here? Why would you put yourself in that kind of danger?\ His voice was accompanied by a rough edge of blinding panic.
/I came to help you!/ Yuugi cried. /You've been gone for over two days. I thought that Yami Malik might be hurting you. Mana is with us and I'm not leaving until I know that you and Bakura are safe. Where are you? What's he doing to you? Yami?/ She waited, her heart pounding, praying that he would be able to answer her.
But there was nothing and gradually the bond between them felt faint again, with only a dull impression of Yami coming through. His presence felt weak, faded, and it took her a moment to realize that he was sleeping – or, more likely, that he'd been knocked out. Fresh fury swept through her and she opened her eyes, realizing that Ryou was kneeling right beside her. Ryou looked as upset as Yuugi felt and she knew that something similar had happened between her and Bakura. Dark Magician Girl was standing protectively over them, surveying the shadows with an air of calm that didn't seem to fit the situation. Yuugi put a hand to her head, feeling dizzy.
"He's gone," she said hoarsely. "He was there for a few seconds but…"
"Bakura too," said Ryou.
"But you can feel them now?" Dark Magician Girl twisted to look at them. "You couldn't before, correct? It must be the fact that we're in the Shadow Realm, combined with the fact that we're getting close to where they are. I wonder…" She trailed off and walked a slow circle around Yuugi and Ryou, a thoughtful expression on her face. After a moment she extended her staff and began waving it back and forth, murmuring something under her breath. A glitter-like substance began falling from the edge of her staff, raining down over Yuugi and Ryou. It was so light that Yuugi barely felt it but it made her nose itch and she sneezed.
"Bless you," Ryou said automatically and then she gasped. "What the…"
Yuugi looked around and immediately saw the reason for Ryou's surprise. Stretching out of Yuugi's stomach was a white cord. It was pretty solid and thick, about the width of two fingers, and it extended out into the darkness. There was something similar coming from Ryou. "What is this?" Yuugi asked, awed, not quite daring to touch the cord.
Dark Magician Girl grinned proudly. "A physical manifestation of your bond," she chirped. "We can follow it to the pharaoh!" She dropped her staff, which vanished before it hit the ground, and reached out and grabbed Yuugi and Ryou by the hands, easily pulling both of them to their feet. Yuugi swayed a little, still dizzy, as Dark Magician Girl stepped forward. "From what I've been told the cord will get thicker the closer we get. Let's not waste any more time!"
"So wait, you've never actually seen one of these before?" Ryou asked, tucking a stray strand of hair behind her ear. "You've only heard of them?"
"Mahado has told me about all kinds of spells that I've never used," she confessed. "His skills are much more developed than mine are. Though my magic has grown over the years and I'm far more advanced than I was in Khemet, we don't exactly have access to new spells here. Sometimes we can create new spells if we want something badly enough and that's what I just did. But that's why I couldn't do it as soon as we got there. I had to wait until your bonds were working again so that I had something to work off of."
"Why weren't our bonds working before?" Yuugi asked. Now that she knew they were getting closer her feet no longer ached and she was able to keep up with Dark Magician Girl easily.
"Magic is complicated," was all that Dark Magician Girl would say. She was concentrating hard on the bonds and suddenly she stopped, so abruptly that Yuugi and Ryou nearly ran into her. The cords had thickened, becoming the width of Yuugi's wrist, and she pointed at something just ahead of them. Yuugi squinted and felt a chill go down her spine.
"The graveyard," Dark Magician Girl confirmed grimly. "That must be where Yami Malik is keeping them. It figures, I suppose. No one who was looking would ever think to look there and no duel monster with an ounce of sanity would wander across them."
It looked like a desolate place. The graves were in horrible condition, many of them falling apart, and dead trees were everywhere. All of the grass was dying and had turned an ugly grey color, and the stone path was badly chipped with great chunks missing in some places. A cold wind blew and brought with it an awful decaying stench and a dull rattling sound. Worse yet it seemed to stretch on for miles, just one long place of endless death. Yuugi shivered. "Where does it go? What's on the other side?"
"I don't think anyone has ever gone that far in," said Dark Magician Girl somberly, with none of her usual enthusiasm. "Few duel monsters come here unless they absolutely have to. I've never heard of anyone making it all the way through to the other side. But… there are rumors that this is the end of the Shadow Realm."
"That would make sense," Ryou murmured. "The end of the Realm would be where everything comes to die." She drew in a deep breath before taking a step forward. It took a lot for her face to remain composed when her feet hit the slimy grass but she managed it, and the cord grew even brighter when she was all the way in. "Come on, Yuugi."
It was the last thing Yuugi wanted to do but she forced herself to follow. Dark Magician Girl hovered silently behind them as they made their way into the depths of the graveyard. Yuugi estimated that they had been walking for about twenty minutes when the cords suddenly faded away and Dark Magician Girl sprang forward, dragging the two of them behind the nearest tree. The reason for her strange actions immediately became clear when a duel monster floated by, but it wasn't dead. It was a long, dark green, snake-like creature with a tail and several razor-sharp blades sticking out of its body.
"Lord Poison," Yuugi murmured in Ryou's ear, recognizing the creature from the duels with Yami Malik. "It can spew a toxic gas from its mouth that can kill a person within a minute."
"Dark Magic Attack!" Dark Magician Girl yelled, leaping out from behind the tree. Lord Poison dodged the attack and spun to face her, mouth bared in a horrifying smile of fangs. "Run!" she yelled at Yuugi and Ryou. "I'll attract his other monsters here. You two go!"
Though she was reluctant to leave Dark Magician Girl behind, Yuugi nevertheless obeyed the order. She and Ryou started running in the opposite direction. Gradually the sounds of the battle faded behind them and only then did Yuugi stop, bending nearly double to put her hands on her knees as she panted for breath. Doing so allowed her to get a good look at the state of Ryou's feet. They were bruised and bloody from running on the cracked stone and Yuugi winced in sympathy. She tore two strips of fabric off of the bottom of her shirt and went down on one knee, gently winding them around each foot.
"It's okay," Ryou said.
"No it's not." She tied them tightly and smiled wearily. "You might need to run on the way out, too."
Ryou's lips twitched at the comment but she didn't smile. Instead, she looked at something over Yuugi's head and after a moment Yuugi turned around to see. There was a portal a handful of feet away from them: a shining crimson mass in the middle of the wall of the Shadow Realm. As soon as Yuugi saw it she knew what it was. Yami Malik's hide out. They didn't need to see the cords to know that Yami and Bakura were inside. She stood up and took Ryou's hand again and without saying a word the two of them walked inside.