A/N: For the YGO Fanfiction Contest Season 9 3/4 Round 2. The pairing: Jadeshipping (Ryuuji Otogi x Ishizu Ishtar). The setting: post-Battle City finals. Also, the only viable way I could tune myself in for this pairing. I struggled so hard, but it kept slipping away from me. …and then I kinda let it, orz.

Written to the tune of "Make Love" by Andreas, which happens to have the most bizarre and out there video for a song whose lyrics are basically composed of "Just all that I need/ Make love" (if you've only seen the censored version, anyway; the original uncut is very brutal and disturbing and gives the video somewhat a terrifying meaning. Don't look for the raw version if you're easily upset and squicked.). Not a worksafe video, if you fancy to look it up on youtube, so be warned. …which is why it perfectly fits this piece. Or fit, in any case, until Metallica's "Enter Sandman" took the stage and inspired the title of this monstrosity.

Disclaimer: Kazuki Takahashi and all associated companies are the rightful owners of the Yuugiou! franchise and I claim no association with any of them. No copyright infringement intended with this and no money is being made from this. Please support the creator by purchasing the official releases.

Warnings: squick, dubcon, and mind-ful violence.


Exit Lights

Malik had won. Somehow, somewhere along the line, the Pharaoh had failed. One card played too soon, another – too slow in the coming, and the Darkness had stood triumphant. It had laughed, watching the body of Yuugi Mutou falling to the ground, rid of two souls at once. It had stood over the beginning of destruction and proclaimed its realm. It had begun its rule by tossing the soulless shell off the duelling tower to the chorus of screams and protests from Yuugi's friends before they had been forced to run for their lives. After that, the world had begun to burn. Seto Kaiba, under the influence of the Millenium Rod, had been turned into Malik's right hand man and KaibaCorp had resumed manufacturing weapons and war machines. What remained of Noa Kaiba in the World Wide Web – because Malik extracted even that tiny bit of information from Kaiba's mind – across the assortment of devices all over the planet, had been gathered together inside one master computer to be rewritten and recoded and uploaded like a powerful backdoor virus to every program that would aid its spreading, soon allowing Malik to keep an eye on everything. He found it funny – this enslaved human-turned-Artificial-Intelligence. He could appreciate the irony.

He had let Yuugi's friends go, giving them a small handicap because, ultimately, there wasn't a place they could run to. There was nowhere for them to hide now, no one to get between him and his bloodthirst. And knowing that this world was only moments away from falling into his hands, he decided that one final thrill would be just right. One final chase, so that he could hunt them down like rabbits, like scattered mice. Oh, and he intended to do away with them the way rodents deserved to be dealt with.

His sister, though, and his adoptive brother-slave he hadn't intended to let go, but they had slipped out of his grasp somehow. He was still furious about that one small mishap. For the time being though, he concentrated on eradicating the Pharaoh's followers. The task became laughably easy once he became aware of the faded mindlink he had with two people in that group. Oh, he'd quite enjoyed the show when he'd reassumed control over the minds of Anzu and Jounouchi, forcing them to fight each other to death with katanas – again, a fine piece of irony on his part –, letting their consciousness surface every now and then during their fight just to let them see what they were doing to each other. Cold-bloodedly slashing and cutting, and slicing, and twisting the blade for maximum damage – and all of it a testament of just how powerful he was. Just to let them taste the helplessness of their situation, the bitter truth of how their life would end. He very much enjoyed their moments of death, when he permitted them both to regain control over their bodies. He laughed, watching how Jounouchi tried to crawl over to Anzu who was bleeding her life out onto the cold stone floor, begging for forgiveness while his hands, still not quite in his own control, moved to slit his own stomach. They watched each other die and the last thing they heard in this world was Malik's uproarious laughter echoing across their minds.

Done with them and turning his sights on a new target, as a prize for a job well done, he took Jounouchi's sister to warm his bed – for a few nights. Most of the first night he spent taunting her with an accurate retelling of how her brother and her friend had mercilessly slaughtered each other, without remorse, without as much as a single protest. How absolute his power was. She had broken down long before dawn, long before he'd even laid a finger on her. By the fifth night, he had already grown bored of her, as she wouldn't stop her crying and wouldn't put up a decent fight. She would just shrink back from him, trembling and teary-eyed, and utterly incapable of defending herself. He threw her to his Rare Hunters, where she was passed from hand to hand and done with as they pleased.

Honda, who had come to rescue her after checking in with her mother and finding out that she had gone missing, had his mind taken over so that he could add to the ranks of the cannon fodder which Malik would need once KaibaCorp had produced enough high tech weaponry to start and successfully finish a war. And he was moving forward with giant steps, only a few things still marring his happiness. A few people who still survived. His immediate family.

: : :

Ishizu, though defeated, hadn't given up yet. She still believed that Malik could be saved. It would be much harder to accomplish now, but she had to try. She couldn't just let him wither away under the sway of the Darkness. That he had become one with it she refused to accept. She was no fool, though, well aware that, if she were to request a meeting with him, if she were to walk up to the doorstep of his current abode, she would be granted an audience – only to die five minutes in. She'd learned that bitter lesson when, after the horrid conclusion of Battle City, they had been forced to flee the site in haste. After Seto Kaiba had been lost to the power of the Millennium Rod, Mokuba had aided them in their escape from the island, pale and silent; his usual bubbly personality swept away by a tidal wave of just witnessed violence.

Once back in Japan, they had parted ways to, quite possibly, never meet again. If it hadn't been for Rishid, Ishizu supposed they wouldn't have made it out of Japan. The Rare Hunters had given chase and Rishid had had to fight them off, no longer with duel monsters. They were stuck in Japan for the time being, unable to leave while the Rare Hunters kept an eye on every viable way out of the country, and Seto Kaiba's rapidly growing influence gave them a wider access than expected and the most recent encounter with them had left him in a condition so grave, though, that he couldn't stop his sister from attempting one last-ditch effort to break through to Malik.

Ishizu set out to look for allies; for any help she could get, for anyone who would dare oppose Malik and arrange for a way to either leave Japan or get close enough to Malik to try and sway his destruction-bound mindset. She would need a safe retreat as well, in either case. She would need somebody she could fully rely on and the authorities from the Egyptian embassy were no longer trustworthy. Her circle of reliable acquaintances here was quite small and – as she soon found out – had grown even smaller.

This new agenda made her path cross with that of Ryuuji Otogi's. There was a moment of mutual recognition, the acknowledgement that they were both on the wrong side of things here, with Malik ruthlessly hunting down every single person to witness his rise during the final duel of Battle City, and that the both of them had narrowly missed capture and death a few times already. Otogi told her everything he knew of Anzu and Jounouchi, and Honda's fate. He even went so far as to speculate that Shizuka too had been snared and lost to the same darkness.

"I stopped by her place the other day," he said, gaze turned to something far-off in the distance that only he could see and hands stuck in his pockets, pulled in tight fists. He had liked Shizuka. "Her mother is in despair."

Ishizu took these news in quietly, only nodding in grave acceptance and confirmation – to herself more than anything – of this new Malik and of the damage he was causing. Still, she believed there was a way to reverse it. If not erase the damage, then at least prevent any more from being inflicted upon this world. There had to be a way to change him. Not even a month had passed since it had taken over. Surely, that couldn't bee too long a term. Surely, there couldn't be any lasting damage left in her brother's mind once he was sprung free from this mental trap.

"You should be more careful," Otogi advised her before parting ways with her. "You stand out too much in those clothes."

"I will be," she replied, knowing full well that he was right and yet not wanting to hide from her own brother. No, she needed to show him that she wasn't afraid of him. That she still believed in there still being something good within him. That she could still save him. She wanted him to see her. She needed to believe in herself, in her cause. If she were to discard her traditional robes for something else, something more commonplace, she would be lost. Her hope would be lost. And Malik would have won. No, she didn't want to hide. Not even behind a layer of clothes.

Her meetings with Otogi became more frequent, as he still had some influence left because of his game shop and the business contacts he had acquired. Currently, he was getting counterfeit passports made for her and Rishid and he had promised on finding a way to get them out of the country so that Malik wouldn't notice. It was slow going and he rarely had any good news while the date they had both agreed upon was fast approaching. Finally, when less than a week was left before their departure, Otogi called her up and gave her an address where the three of them would meet up.

It was dark and the streets were empty, which suited Ishizu just fine. When she arrived at the meeting point, she was surprised to see it vacant. Usually, Otogi was already there to greet her and…

"Hello, Ishizu."

She turned sharply, relieved to hear his voice. "Hello, Otogi."

"You're on time." He seemed amused as he said that, for whatever reason.

"Of course. Your contact person appears to be late, however."

Otogi shrugged nonchalantly and waved her along. "We're not meeting with him out here. I wanted to make sure no one would follow us – or him. You can't trust anyone these days." He turned to her, eyeing her sharply. "No one followed you here, did they?"

She shook her head. "No. No one."

"Good."

They walked down one street and then started turning corners, proceeding deeper and deeper into the most rundown part of Domino City. They passed rows upon rows of abandoned buildings with their windows shattered and now gaping black into the night. The lampposts with intact light bulbs were few and far between, and even those they shied away from, keeping to the shadows.

"It's safer to stay out of sight," Otogi said.

Ishizu saw no reason to object. She was comfortable in the darkness. She had spent her entire life underground where sparse torches lit corridors and days trickled by in candlelight. She liked the night-lit city. The orange-golden glow of the light reminded her strongly of her home, conjuring an illusion of safety. Though behind that illusion had always laid dread. It crept up to her now as well.

When Otogi stopped walking, Ishizu paused as well, gaze glued to his back a few steps ahead. She chanced a brief survey of the area, though nothing in particular stood out to her, before focusing on him once more.

"Is this the place?" she inquired, taking a few steps forward to stand next to him.

"As good as any other," he muttered in an odd voice before turning to her and catching her lips in a kiss.

Ishizu gasped and drew back, eyes wide, lips slightly parted – a momentary expression of shock, which she managed to get under control soon enough. She had to. She had the practice from years spent underground and under the tutelage of her father. Once more the image of dignity, she asked, "What do you think you're doing?"

Otogi smiled bashfully, green eyes full of laughter and fingers casually twirling a stray lock of black hair. The change in his countenance was sudden and eerie. He winked. "Seeing someone as beautiful as you… I just couldn't help myself."

Ishizu's features hardened. She had no time for games. She had to concentrate on saving Malik who, with each passing moment, was slipping further and further away from her. No, no, there's still a chance, a voice from the back of her mind whispered to her. He's not lost yet.

"I'm not here to play games, Otogi," she intoned sternly. All instincts told her to move, to back up, but the tomb keeper pride kept her back ramrod straight and her feet rooted to the spot. She couldn't surrender ground in the face of something so fickle and silly.

"Oh, but this life is a game. And I think you will agree that favours need to be repaid with favours."

She stiffened at that. Of course. Of course. A trade-off for a trade-off. She'd gotten blindsided in her mad race to, once again, pave the way just like she'd done before and hadn't expected him to ask for more than money or other useful thing; an invaluable Egyptian artefact for a private collection, for example. Those had been the requests she'd deal with before. At one point she'd gotten the impression that he wasn't going to ask for anything at all, being a hunted man himself, as he'd bore witness to Malik's rise and Yuugi and the Pharaoh's demise. Now, she had to consider whether or not she was desperate enough to agree to something like this to get herself and Rishid out of Japan.

The answer was a resounding 'no'.

Otogi leaned in, lightly running the tip of a finger up her arm. Up and up, and up, intent bright and clear in his eyes though Ishizu had a hard time seeing it through the dark. Likewise with the overconfident grin. She was still caught between the need to bring the badly injured Rishid to safety, the inner protest against doing it by prostituting her body, and that one dark corner of her mind which urged her that it would be only one time, one simple swallow of pride to send them both off to safety.

"No!" This time, Ishizu did take a step back.

"Yes," Otogi breathed without missing a beat and followed her, driving her back against a wall, his hands catching her arms when she tried to push him away, to fight him off, and sliding down their length to grip her wrists painfully. She fought against him, kicked at him, but it seemed that he only laughed at her attempts. She turned her head to the side, trying to lean away from his lips that came searching for hers. He latched onto her neck instead, sucking hard and nipping at the vein that pumped life through her.

Still, her mind fought between letting him have his way and getting away from him as fast as possible, but the rest of it was overwhelmed with the instinctual response to danger. She had to get away. She needed to break free and…

Otogi's hand raked up her dress and reached between her legs, his touch anything but gentle. The rasp of his breath against her ear chased a cold shiver down her spine. He paused in confusion, not finding quite what he'd expected to find. Ishizu had been, according to tradition, circumcised.

Otogi chuckled. It was a deep, ill-boding sound. "I almost forgot about this."

"Forgot?" He couldn't have known, couldn't have possibly… Ishizu's mind raced.

The sound of a pocket knife unfolding and Ishizu froze in fear and anticipation of the pain that was about to come.

"I thought you, of all people would know. You, who was always so far-sighted. So proper. Daddy's good little girl," Otogi mocked. Had Ishizu been able to see his face in the darkness, she would have recoiled at the ugly expression his features had morphed into.

"How I've been wanting to break you for keeping me locked away for so long…"

Realisation hit. Late, far too late.

"Malik."

"Hello, sister."

If she listened very closely, she could hear the timbre of her brother's voice behind Otogi's. She should have known better than to trust Otogi so readily. If she looked back on it, meeting him had been a very strange coincidence; the time and place had been the most unlikely combination for it to occur on its own accord. And for him to know people on the shady side of business… Too obvious. And yet she had fallen for it. In this moment more than ever she felt blind without the Necklace. Not for the first time she longed to still have it in her possession. But now it was with Malik and, apparently, coupled with the Rod, was a formidable asset to him. She'd walked into a trap without even knowing it.

"As much as I want you dead, dear sister, I also like seeing you in pain." It was Otogi's voice that spoke, those were Otogi's hands that manhandled her and stuck the knife in between her legs, but those were Malik's eyes watching her through the darkness. She thought she could almost feel his gaze, burning into her, full of hatred and crazed glee at seeing her demise approaching.

There was a brief flash of pain before Otogi's grip loosened. She cried out and stumbled forward, almost falling. Arms wind-milling, she fell back against the wall and slid down it to the dirty ground. There was the dull sound of a body hitting something hard, then heavy footsteps, and then a gruff voice addressed her.

"Are you alright?"

It took her a moment to realise that she didn't appear to be in immediate danger anymore. She looked up, but could only see the vague outline of her saviour. He crouched down to her level and she couldn't help her survival instinct that made her scramble away from him.

"I'm not going to hurt you," he reassured her, making no move to touch her. "This is a dangerous place for a woman at night."

She had no suitable answer to that statement. It was quite obvious that no matter what she said at this point would come off as silly, and that was one thing she didn't like to be perceived as.

"My name is Raphael," he introduced himself. "Do you have a safe place where I can take you to?"

Having somewhat recovered, Ishizu let out a small, bitter laugh. She'd just realised one thing: if Otogi had been mind-controlled by Malik, there could be more of his men around and if she were to return home now, she would lead them straight to Rishid who could no longer protect them both. She couldn't return just yet. "Safe? There is no safe place for me anymore."

Raphael made a low sound at the back of his throat and shifted slightly. "Think you can walk? I'll take you to a hospital."

Before Ishizu could refuse him – though she had no idea where else to go, as the hospital would be among the first place's Malik's men would check for her – Otogi, now with Malik's mind in full control, attacked Raphael with a rusty metal pole which he'd picked up from the floor where a portion of an old fire escape had come crashing down from his weight. He'd risen to his feet while the other man had been distracted with trying to help Ishizu, which had angered her twisted brother. The hit connected hard with his back, sending him falling forward, pressing Ishizu against the wall with bruising force. He pushed himself away in the next moment though, recovering much faster than she'd expected. He blocked the second hit with one arm, pushed himself up to his feet and yanked Otogi closer to land a solid punch to his jaw, which knocked back his head with a sickening sound.

Ishizu pulled her knees up to her chest, watching the fight unfolding in front of her eyes. She gingerly placed one hand on the aching injury between her legs and withdrew it wet with blood. Her first instinct was to try and wipe it off against the ground.

Raphael won a second time. He wiped the corner of his mouth with the back of his gloved hand as he approached Ishizu who had managed to stand up by bracing herself against the wall. "Time to go."

She shook her head in denial. "Go on ahead. It's safer to have as little to do with me as possible."

Raphael frowned at her. "Why?"

"If you knew who I was, you wouldn't offer your help so readily."

"Oh?" The incredulity was clear in his voice. He crossed his arms. "Humour me."

She hesitated for a moment, but then decided that, seeing how he'd attacked Otogi and it was highly unlikely that Malik would put up such an act, he was someone who was genuinely trying to help her. "Ishizu Ishtar."

The pause stretched for far too long for Ishizu's frayed nerves. Finally Raphael shrugged, the motion only evidenced by the rustle of his clothing. "That doesn't matter to me. You can stay here or follow me. The choice is yours."

Ishizu watched him walk away while her mind waged another battle with itself. On one hand, if she followed him, she would be putting him in danger. On the other, if she stayed here, Otogi would come back to his senses soon enough and this time might actually finish what he'd started. She didn't think she could hide inside of the abandoned buildings in the area; she would be found out soon enough.

Overcoming herself, she followed her saviour, teeth gritted against the pain caused by each step she made. He appeared to be purposefully walking slowly, giving her a chance to catch up with him.

The place he took her to looked about as rundown as the same area they had left behind. It startled Ishizu to find out that they weren't even a half an hour's walk away from where the mind-controlled Otogi had attacked her. This did explain, at least partially, why Raphael had happened to be in the area. He had probably been returning home from whatever business had kept him out for so long.

"Third floor," he said, opening the door for her and letting her through. It didn't go unnoticed that he scanned the area before closing the door and following her up the stairs.

While he unlocked the door of the apartment, Ishizu leaned against the railing, taking deep, controlled breaths to fight of the pain that flared between her legs. Once again, he let her through first, giving her time to take in the dimly lit and modestly decorated room, which, at first glance, appeared empty. It seemed that Raphael had assumed the same until…

"Didn't think you'd still be up, Mira," he said, pausing a few steps away from a couch that took up most of the space in the room.

An indiscernible noise came from the couch and a head with dark and messy hair rose above the backboard to peer at them. The young woman sat up, revealing that she was bundled up in a blanket. Her eyes were dark and slightly bloodshot, black shadows under them. Her skin had a sickly pallor, making her appear seriously ill even in the dim light.

"Can't sleep," she muttered in a low voice, pulling the blanket closer around her body and eyeing Ishizu in an odd way. "Who's she?"

"This is Ishizu Ishtar," Raphael said calmly, turning to lock the door behind him. "She will stay the night here."

"What?" Mira shrieked, making Ishizu recoil in surprise, not having expected that amplitude of sound. The woman leaned towards them and her eyes narrowed, hatred evident on her face. "Ishtar? Ishtar? His sister? Are you out of your mind?"

"Calm down." Though Raphael's voice didn't rise a notch, it made her shut up and draw back instantly. His eyes bore into hers, silently challenging her to object his decision. "She isn't a threat to us."

Mira grimaced and pinched the bridge of her nose, curling in on herself as if in great pain and Raphael took that as his cue to walk past her and deeper into the room.

"Come," he gestured to Ishizu, "I'll show you where you can sleep."

Shooting a worried look at the now silent woman on the couch, she followed him down a short, narrow hallway to a small room right opposite an even smaller kitchen.

"Here. It's Mira's, but she always sleeps on the couch these days. She won't disturb you. The bathroom is over there if you need it."

She nodded, thanking him for his help and his hospitality, which was met with a gruff sound. Knowing that it was a rather inappropriate question to ask, Ishizu ventured anyway. "Excuse my asking, but is something wrong with her? She seemed in poor health."

Raphael made a confused sound at the back of his throat before carefully choosing his next words. "She's… in a very delicate situation. Don't concern yourself with it. Rest for the night and we'll see how to get you back home in the morning."

"Thank you," Ishizu said to his quickly retreating back, which was accepted with another gruff noise, which seemed to be his favourite way of communicating. Slowly, she turned and entered the small room, taking stock of what lay before her. A narrow bed with a chequered quilt in dull green colours, two floral-patterned pillows, a beige downwards sconce, an old and battered wardrobe opposite the bed, a narrow table under the window opposite the door, and a rickety-looking chair in the corner between the wall and the wardrobe. To round it all out, there was a partially wilted potted flower on the windowsill, mostly hidden behind ugly orange curtains. She heard the door close in the distance and a key turn in its lock. And now she was alone with the odd woman on the living room couch.

True to Raphael's word, Mira didn't bother Ishizu much, except for one instance when she wandered into her room to fetch a few things from the wardrobe. She was still bundled up in her blanket and to Ishizu appeared quite childish, though she estimated her age in the twenties. Her countenance looked even worse in the much brighter light of this room.

"I don't bite," she'd muttered at Ishizu from the doorway, appearing in there soundlessly like a ghost. Ishizu noted that she was walking around in her sock-clad feet, which explained her noiseless movement.

Much to Ishizu's surprise, the wardrobe appeared to hold almost no clothing. Several shelves were stacked with papers, some held books, on others lay scattered writing supplies and an assortment of other knick-knacks. Mira pulled out a notebook from one precariously balancing pile and rummaged through one drawer, hissing peevishly when she couldn't instantly find what she was searching for. Armed with a map, an eraser, and several pencils, she wandered back out, adding as an afterthought, "There's tea and water in the kitchen if you want. Use any cup."

Taken aback from the rapid mood change from what she had seen earlier, Ishizu was left with a 'thank you' frozen on her lips. She shook her head as if to clear it, but her thoughts didn't get any less muddled. Thinking that there was nothing she could do for the time being and with the exhaustion finally kicking in, now that the adrenaline was out of her system, she yawned and, after closing the door, crawled under the cowers and curled up, hoping for sleep to claim her fast.

She was caught mid-nightmare where Otogi was trying to rape her again when a shrill cry roused her. She heard hurried footsteps rush past her door, then hushed voices in the living room. Afterwards, the night was silent again. Eventually she drifeted back to a more peaceful sleep.

In the morning, Ishizu woke up late, her frayed nerves having decided that extra rest would do her good. When she gathered the courage to leave her room – rumpled clothes and messy hair notwithstanding – she found the inhabitants of the apartment gathered in the kitchen. Four heads turned to look at her, four gazes sized her up in the daylight. Two of them Ishizu didn't recognise. As no questions were asked and no introductions were offered from either Mira or Raphael, she figured the two newcomers had already been informed.

"Good morning," she greeted after a pause that was just a touch too long and borderline awkward.

An assortment of mumbled jerky replies was made. The spirits appeared to be quite low in the kitchen. Everyone's gaze quickly returned to whatever they had been studying previously. The tall redhead turned around to flick the microwave on, Mira's gaze dropped to the mug she held clenched in both hands – she'd finally discarded her blanket – as if trying to read a future in its contents, Raphael's gaze wandered up to study the door of the cupboard above the microwave, and the brunet turned back to stare out of the window, lazily chewing on a pocky stick.

The redhead was the one to gesture her over to the square table they were all gathered around. "Take a seat."

After a moment of hesitation, she did and ended up sitting opposite Mira who still wouldn't look up from her mug. Giving her a discreet once-over, Ishizu found that she looked marginally better in the daylight.

Mira spoke up, startling her out of those thoughts, "We checked your address."

An ill foreboding feeling tugged at Ishizu's mind. "Rishid…" She didn't dare even think.

"He wasn't there." Mira's gaze zeroed in on her sharply and held hers as if in a trance. "There was so much blood; we don't think he's still alive."

"No," Ishizu whispered, but the building scream strangled her throat and only a weak choked gasp sounded from her lips.

"Do you have a place to stay?"

Ishizu could only shake her head, her mind reeling, her heart screaming, because it couldn't be, couldn't be, couldn't be… But it was; deep down she knew this. A part of her had seen this coming the moment Otogi had pinned her to the wall. From the moment she'd found out that Otogi had been mind-controlled all along.

"It's settled then," Mira said, letting go of her mug a second after the microwave's 'ding' announced the readiness of their breakfast. At Ishizu's confused glance, the woman merely shrugged. "You're staying."

Not much was spoken over the breakfast after that, with Ishizu barely touching the food. Afterwards, the redhead – Amelda, as she finally found out – and, to her surprise, Mira set out to retrieve her belongings. She had wanted to go herself, but all four of her new hosts had unanimously agreed that it would be as stupid as jumping into oncoming traffic. Of course, someone would lay in wait for her reappearance, ready to either kill her on the spot or take her to her despotic brother. It was better if someone unknown handled it. This left Ishizu with nothing better to do than return to the room lent to her, close the door, and grieve.

Days stretched long in the apartment while the world outside continued to burn. Malik's influence spread and Ishizu's despair grew. She spent most of the days holed up in her room, only occasionally interacting with the other four inhabitants of the small abode. She learned that they had a whole system worked out to make sure that someone would be keeping an eye on Mira at all times. One of the men usually stayed awake inside the apartment while another one slept and the third was out, searching for a break in the web and a way out for the four of them. Mira rarely left the apartment and whenever she did, she never went alone. If this surprised Ishizu, she didn't ask for the reasons, not at first.

Somewhere along the way, she learned their stories; how the four of them had worked for a company named Paradius whose owner, Dartz, had his hands elbow-deep in shady dealings all over the world while masquerading his business as something respectable. She'd learned of the dark influence of the Orichalcos stone and how they had all been under its sway until Mira, being one of Dartz's secretaries, had come upon documents which had led to their demise. She'd attempted to murder Dartz in front of them. She'd interrupted their meeting with him and pulled a gun on him, firing before anyone could even try to stop her and… missed. The bullet had hit the piece of Orichalcos stone around his neck, shattering it. That had caused a backlash so strong that the stone had reverse-tracked through his memories, lashing out with them at the minds of everyone present. Though even before that fateful day their purpose had become obsolete; with Yuugi and Jounouchi dead, and Seto Kaiba under Malik's spell, Amelda had been the only one of some worth. Therefore, with this new overwhelming information burning through their minds, a hasty decision to save Mira's life and leave the place for good had been made. Had they chosen to stay with their leader, capture her instead and let Dartz deal with her, they would no longer be alive.

Ishizu had listened to it all, trying to wrap her mind around it, trying to believe it. It was hard not to, when Mira still carried a piece of a green gem around her neck, her fingers often playing with it absently. Every now and then she would mutter in a language she'd never heard and often she would sit bundled up in a blanket on the couch, eyes closed and a cellphone in hand. A few times she'd called up one of the three men to warn them about Dartz's underlings being nearby their location. As Ishizu found out once, Mira spent most of her time trying to tune in to the stone, trying to read into it with the same precision and insight Dartz possessed. She knew that he could tell her location, just as she was beginning to be able to tell his, and those of his henchmen.

"It's sentient," Mira had said one night to seemingly no one, her fingers twirling the piece of green gem she usually wore on a cord around her neck and her eyes staring at it unblinkingly. She was curled up against the armrest of the couch in her usual position, bundled up in her blanket. Ishizu had been hovering on the doorstep then, unsure if she should bother the other woman with a small request that had been tugging at her mind for days. "Either it's already taken over my mind, or it doesn't want to do that at all because it knows my agenda." She'd looked up then, for the first time actually acknowledging Ishizu's presence. "I want to kill him. Dartz. But if I do, the stone knows that whatever it's trying to accomplish will come to an end with his death."

Ishizu had stood there in silence, trying to make sense of her words. Trying to understand if some sort of an answer was expected from her.

"You had a request," Mira stated matter-of-factly, as if that would be the most obvious thing in the middle of the night. Ishizu couldn't have possibly left her room in need a sip of water, unable to sleep because of a parched throat.

It took Ishizu a moment to shake off the initial stupor at the other woman's words, her hands twitching, about to tighten into fists. She fought back the urge though. "Yes," she admitted. "How did you…"

"Know?" A tiny, rueful smile ghosted on her lips. She gestured for Ishizu to come into the room and take a seat wherever she saw fit. The blanket slipped off her shoulder with the motion and she fussed over it a little, getting it tucked back into place. Even though the room was warm, she shivered from time to time. "I've been expecting it for a while now."

Ishizu tried to keep her expression straight while walking over to the armchair across from the couch. Had she been that obvious? But how, then, if she only rarely left her room and barely spoke to anyone? Could Mira read into the future? Or could she read into the minds of others with the help of the Orichalcos stone, as she had come to understand that to be one of the stone's abilities. At least, that's how Valon had described it to her. Either way, it didn't quite matter. Of essence was only whether or not she could help her. "You've kept incriminating evidence that could ruin Paradius, I've heard."

Mira smirked, grim amusement flicking in her eyes for a moment and her fingers stopped playing with the stone for a brief moment, instead pulling on it and tightening the chord so that it pressed into her neck. "Curious, the things you can hear within these four walls."

Ishizu took the jab at her eavesdropping with a straight back and a calm expression. She hadn't done it purposefully. She had been returning from the bathroom one night when she'd heard the hushed voices in the living room and paused just in case they would've discovered something more about Rishid's fate. "Can any of that be used to bring down KaibaCorp? I know Paradius holds a part of it."

Mira hummed thoughtfully, studying her with a renewed interest; re-evaluating her, it seemed. "And what purpose would that serve?"

"Malik's power mostly comes from the unlimited resources available through KaibaCorp. If he loses that, he loses his high standing. He becomes approachable." At least she hoped so. There was still the Millennium Rod and his Rare Hunters and while he had it and while she had no Item of her own, she was helpless against him. An army couldn't bring him down.

For a moment, the other woman remained silent. Her gaze had wandered back down to the pendant around her neck. In a lower voice than before, she said, "From Dartz's research materials, I understand that there are seven items that bestow certain powers to their wielders. Is this true?"

Ishizu didn't like the turn this conversation was taking. What was her interest in the Items? Still, she had no reason to deny this.

"And if I understand correctly," Mira continued very carefully, "Malik currently holds one."

Oh, if only it would be that easy!

"Four."

Mira's head jerked up to regard her in surprise. Her eyebrows arched up in an unuttered question.

"He holds four of them now," Ishizu repeated and recounted, "The Rod, the Pharaoh's Puzzle, the Ring, and my Necklace."

"And the remaining three?"

"One is lost, two are unaccounted for." She could no longer suppress the question bouncing around her mind. She also wanted to squash any illusion the woman might have of ever holding one of them. "What do you want with the Items? To own one? Not everyone is fit for the task. People have gone insane and died trying to control them."

Mira shrugged, disregarding her words. Ishizu hadn't said anything new to her; at least nothing she couldn't have read in Dartz's files. The Items – the few of them that had been in circulation throughout the centuries – had wreaked enough havoc to build a solid theory around that. "I want to know everything about them. I want to know their weaknesses."

"There are none."

Mira tilted her head to the side, regarding her curiously, but saying nothing to counter her argument for a long while. "There are none, or there are none who have tried to find out?"

Ishizu frowned at her, refusing to entertain this thought any further. As far as she was concerned, the only weakness the Items had was other Items, as evidenced by her duel against Seto Kaiba. Silence reigned in the room during which Mira's gaze dropped down to the piece of green stone again. She appeared to be studying the way the dim light glinted off a facet.

"I know someone who might be able to help you," she said at length, her voice barely above a whisper now. Her eyes bore into Ishizu's again. "Don't accept anything I offer you tomorrow and meet me here before midnight." With that, she finally let go of the stone to pull the blanket tighter around her body and settle in more comfortably for the night.

Ishizu got up stiffly, not knowing what to make of this exchange. Her stern, "Goodnight," was met with a low chuckle and a muttered, "Unlikely."

"Oh, and Ishizu?"

Startled at the casual use of her name, she paused and turned back towards the couch, though she could only see the top of Mira's head and the edge of the blanket being pulled over it like a hood. She already knew that the other woman barely slept. It was the green stone around her neck that kept her up for hours on end in an attempt to drive her insane.

"Amelda holds it."

"What?"

A quiet laugh. "Fifty percent of KaibaCorp. We can use that to bargain with Kaiba if we break him out of Malik's control."

Ishizu blinked in surprise before a tiny smirk tugged at her lips. She knew this game. She'd played a similar one with Kaiba, setting him up as the host of a grand duelling tournament, which, unfortunately, had taken far too many wrong turns along the way. Belatedly, she realised that Mira was playing a game of her own. She was playing it with the three men rooming with her, the owner of Paradius; with herself, even. And her next move would be towards Kaiba. From personal experience, Ishizu knew that you had to have something very impressive to hold the CEO's interest, and here – she had to give the woman credit – Mira had her meagre offering of a powerful Duel Monsters' card beat by a long-shot. Of course, if she could get through to Kaiba alive.

It was times like this when she most missed the reassuring weight of her Necklace and the visions of future that spread out before her every time she concentrated on a goal. She would have liked to see Kaiba's face when this frail-looking woman confronted him with such a formidable ultimatum.

The next day, she held true to Mira's warning, not accepting anything from her hands, though she didn't understand what was so particular about it. Things became cleared when Valon, whose turn it was to stay the night awake, left the living room for the one the three men shared, yawning and rubbing at his eyes.

"I don't get it," he complained. "Amelda's the one who was out and about last night, but I feel like I haven't slept for days."

"'s the weather," Mira muttered, yawning and gleefully stretching out now that he had vacated the couch and turned off the TV. "Take a cold shower."

"Yeah, I guess I will."

Not even twenty minutes later Ishizu heard Valon stumble out of the bathroom, cursing as he collided with the door jamb on his way out, then thumped into the wall, then tripped over something and crashed into the opposite wall. She waited until all sounds subsided and the apartment became silent again, with the exception for the clock ticking the time away in the kitchen. After waiting a little time longer, she slipped into the hallway to check the time. It was just a little past eleven. Deciding that this was as good a time as any, she walked into the living room only to find Mira perched on the armrest of the couch, arms and legs crossed and one foot tapping out a violent rhythm in the air. She seemed more alive suddenly.

"Finally," she hissed low, rising to her feet and giving her a sharp once-over. "You plan on going out in a dress?"

"Going out?" Ishizu echoed, already having taken notice of her attire.

"You wanted help, I'm getting you some." Mira shrugged and headed for the door, her gait firm and confident, so unlike her usual slouch and shuffling around the apartment. Once there, she handed Ishizu Amelda's coat. "Here, cover yourself up."

Ishizu hesitated. "But it's…"

"Just take it. He won't be needing it anytime soon. Raphael is the only one we should worry about right now." The grin on Mira's face was positively feral when she explained to the still-hesitant Ishizu, "Slow-working sleeping aids. They'll be out like the light. And slightly fuzzy in the morning. Now are we going or what?"

Ishizu hastily pulled on the coat, shaking her head slightly at the recklessness of her. She followed her out onto the nightly streets, trusting her guidance. The nights outside seemed to have changed somehow. To Ishizu, they appeared more threatening now, more frightening. The darkness hid the danger that lurked just around the corner. The only thing she could do was keep up with Mira's lead, as she navigated the nigh-deserted streets and alleyways, keeping one hand on the Orichalcos shard as if it was her guiding light. In a way, it was. Being parts of one greater whole, the shards always knew where other shards were. Mira had eventually learned how to tap into this ability and now she could easily determine where the humans attached to the shards were. She even knew with sharp clarity where Dartz was; the central stone had an incredible pull. She didn't doubt for a second that he knew her location as well and that he could read into much more than she could. She had to fall into a trance-like concentration to tell what emotions the holders of the shards were feeling and even then she could only tap into weak shadows of emotion which she often couldn't even determine clearly.

After an hour of walking, they arrived at an old, abandoned cemetery. The gate was still locked, though partially ripped out of the hinges and twisted to one side, giving enough of an opening for someone slim to squeeze through. Mira did so easily, and Ishizu followed. They walked briskly towards the church situated almost in the middle of the field of crosses and headstones. An involuntary shudder ran down Ishizu's spine. She was of the opinion that all resting places should be left in peace, and though she wasn't afraid of graveyards, having seen their family crypt countless of times, this place had something sinister about it. Soon she saw what.

A horribly disfigured monster crawled out of one broken tomb, blocking their path.

"How cute," Mira drawled, eyeing the strange monster and the fog that had begun to billow around them, "a lapdog." When she looked up again, the haunt of the cemetery was already there, standing just a few steps away from them and the monster writhing on the ground.

A shock of wild, white mane perking up in all directions, the Millennium Ring back around his neck where it belonged, and a scowl on his face, Bakura regarded his nightly visitors, concentrating more on Mira. "You again," he all but snarled at her. "What is it this time?"

"You made me an offer some time ago," she said without a preamble. "If it's still in effect, I'd like to take it… for her." She jerked her head towards Ishizu.

The Egyptian woman had been quietly surveying their surroundings and the man before them. She recognised him from his visions and she recognised the pale boy that had lain on a hospital stretcher as they rushed to vacate the island and put as much distance between themselves and Malik as possible. She also remembered watching his televised duel against Yuugi during the first round of Battle City. The fact that he seemed to have somehow reclaimed the Ring made her wary, though. The knowledge that Malik had somehow lost the Ring also made her somewhat relieved.

Likewise, Bakura took to studying her. Some things were unmistakable about her and he voiced them almost immediately. "Item holder?"

"Former."

Bakura's lips parted in a snarl. The Items always left behind a trace on the people who wore them. He could sniff his host out from across half a world. He could taste the traces of another Item in Ishizu's aura. He'd even been able to taste the residue of the Rod's influence on Kaiba the last time he'd attempted to pilfer something valuable from him.

"Who is she?" he addressed Mira, but received a response from Ishizu herself.

"Ishizu Ishtar. Malik is my brother."

He sneered and stuck his hands inside his pockets, half-turning away from them. The monster on the ground crept closer to them, but they held their ground. He already knew that the monsters wouldn't touch Mira for as long as she kept that odd green gem around her neck. He didn't know its origin and where its power lay, but he knew enough of magic and certain items to treat it lightly.

"I thought the resemblance was uncanny."

Mira suppressed a groan, struggling to keep her fists unclenched and resisting the urge to kick something, hard. Her foot twitched towards the monster wriggling on the ground. Sometimes she really hated Bakura's roundabout ways. "She's on our side."

Ishizu gave her an odd look. She couldn't remember agreeing to anything. "But I'm not…"

Bakura interrupted, emphasising his point with wide hand gestures, "Any side against him is our side."

Ishizu couldn't come up with a decent counter to that. So she cut to the chase. "I came here thinking you could help. If that's not true, I see no point in entertaining you any longer."

Bakura laughed uproariously, throwing his head back and pressing his fists into his sides. The manic sound had Ishizu faltering in her steps. She glanced back to see that Mira had remained in her previous spot.

"Well, are you going to tell her? Or shall I?" Bakura taunted.

"You can't leave. Look around you. The monsters will attack if you try."

Startled, Ishizu looked closer into the darkness and the roiling mist. Red eyes glinted at her through the night, dark shadows circled her, trying to get closer to her and sink their teeth into her. She suppressed an involuntary shudder and turned back in dismay.

"So you want to take my offer after all," he smirked, eyeing Ishizu. "It will cost you."

"I'll uphold this end of the bargain in her stead, if that's what you're worried about," Mira cut in.

"Good to know, but it's not what I'm talking about. It will," he emphasised, sticking his hand inside the pocket of his long, black coat and producing a little something out of it. He held it out to Ishizu in an open palm. "Cost you," he finished, lips curling up in a nasty sneer. He remembered just how he'd ripped it out of Pegasus' eye socket. How it had tasted, freshly reaped, of gold, blood, and power.

Ishizu couldn't believe her eyes. The missing item which no one had known where to look for. And to think that during the Battle City it had been right there, right next to Yuugi and the nameless Pharaoh.

"Are you ready for the sacrifice it asks?"

Gloating, Ishizu realised as if through a fog. Bakura was gloating. He was certain she'd quail before the possibility just like Mira had. "Yes."

"What was that?" Bakura leaned forward eagerly, wanting to hear her borderline-desperate oath.

"Yes," Ishizu repeated louder and more firmly, walking up to him with legs that trembled only slightly. She reached out to take the Item from his hand to bring it nearer to her own eye. Everything for Malik. Everything to save him. The gold singed her fingertips, almost making her drop it. The Items power reverberated throughout her skin, seeped into her bones, tore into the tendrils left behind by her previous item and pulled at her every sense. Resting it against her eye, she took a deep, steadying breath before pushing it in.

She hadn't intended to scream, but it tore out from deep within her, shrill and primal. Her eye socket was on fire, her head threatened to split apart, and the ground was slipping away from under her feet. She doubled over, somehow managing to grab a hold of something to support her upright until the world stopped falling apart.

Once the initial shock wore off, Ishizu found out that she could see the future again. She could see again. And while this future didn't extend too far into the coming days and was more constrained to the future caused by the thoughts and actions of the people around her. Thoughts and emotions came rushing to her. Soon it became overwhelming to the point of nausea. How had Pegasus managed this, she didn't know.

Slowly, very slowly, she became aware of one thought in her mind that kept on echoing. She had to put together every last bit of her strength that still remained to focus on a single thought in a tornado of millions.

alright? Are you alright? Are you…

The voice was familiar, she thought weakly, losing her own thoughts in the mayhem that currently ruled in her mind. It took her over an hour to come back to het senses. The first realisation was of a painful grip around her arms that was keeping her mostly upright. She blinked blearily only to see the world swimming. She was staring at something solid, that much she could tell. It took her another few minutes to think of looking up… and into the concerned gaze of Raphael. A weak, relieved smile flicked over her lips before she passed out against his chest. The last half-a-thought that formed in her mind was that of her saviour coming to her again.

Raphael glanced at the golden artefact embedded where her eye had been and suppressed a shudder. He'd known that Mira had been up to something, so he'd stayed close to home, keeping an eye out for possible intruders and for Mira to do something reckless. He hadn't been mistaken.