A/N: Season 9 3/4 Round 3 Anruishipping – Yuugi Mutou x Shaadi. Oh, where do I start with this one?It's a tie-in/follow-up/the story behind/around the YGO Fanfiction contest's Season 9 Round 2's Of All The Mirrors Trustshipping – Seto Kaiba x Ishizu Ishtar and Season 10 Round 2's Chance To Be Hostshipping – Ryou Bakura x Anzu Mazaki. (Which evolved to also include Between The Lifelines Lifeshipping – Anzu Mazaki x Amelda and something far greater that's still behind-the-scenes in-progress work. (And so help me god if the pairing for Round 2 of Season 11 is Midriffshipping – Malik Ishtar x Amelda.))
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: violence, generally mature themes.
"There's another way
There must be another way
This is not a game
We will play it anyway"
- Mayday (M'Aidez) by People In Planes
Five years had passed, but not much had changed in Yuugi's life after the Pharaoh's – Atem's, now – departure. In fact, only a little over one month had been different following that. Void. Cold. Empty. Atem was gone; that was the most important change. His mind felt stretched far too wide now; full of odd, hollow knowledge, full of purposeless space. It wasn't a nice feeling. And while the emptiness in his mind did not cease, the emptiness in his life did so soon enough.
"You are not dreaming."
"But…" Yuugi started, clearly remembering having gone to sleep. Discarding his clothes, crawling under the covers, turning the bedside light off; everything pointed to exactly the opposite of that one statement. He had to be; there was no other explanation.
"Yes, you are asleep, but this is no dream."
"That doesn't make sense," he said, but then stalled. "Unless…"
"Unless I did not move onwards," Shaadi completed his desperate thought and, seeing the spark of hope in him, hastened to add, "I appear to be the only one. My apologies."
Yuugi was crestfallen. For one wonderful moment he'd allowed himself to think that Atem, too, had returned. Why should he though, he asked himself. Why should he? "It's okay." But it wasn't. "I understand." But he didn't. "No need to apologise."
"My purpose was to watch over the Items, to herd them all together if I could when some decided to stray. I think, perhaps, I had another purpose, which I appear to have forgotten," Shaadi said when too many seconds seemed to have ticked by in waste. Though in the suspended limbo which he'd coaxed Yuugi's mind into time had no value. No meaning. In there, they were eternal.
Yuugi frowned at this. "But that means… you're stuck here until you remember or until you accidentally fulfil it."
A sad smile flicked across Shaadi's lips and another moment passed in silence. "I did not know where else to go," he confessed.
"I'll help you," Yuugi ardently promised, reaching out towards him with all of his being. A new breath filled his lungs; a fresh drive set the cogs in his mind turning. A new meaning came into his life. "I'll help you figure out what your unfinished business is."
"I have already looked far and wide, but to no avail."
"Then we'll look again," he stated in determination, and then thought of something. "Hey… Will I still be able to see you when I wake up?"
Shaadi considered this for a moment. "I believe so."
"Will anyone else?"
"Unless I want them to."
Yuugi nodded. "I'll see you in the morning then."
That night, it seemed to him, he slept better and easier than he had in over a month. No dreams came to plague his mind, no sad memories haunted him. He slept like a man with a purpose again, eager to see the next day dawn.
Unfortunately, the next day didn't bring anything new. No new revelations, no grand schemes, and no bright ideas. Everything Yuugi suggested, Shaadi had already done. Every option Yuugi put forth, Shaadi dashed because, yes, he had scoured all of Egypt looking for a trace of anything that could as much as hint as to why his predicament was still ongoing. His search had taken him far across the borders to every place that held even the tiniest Egyptian artefact.
Thus one day turned into a week. Weeks stacked to form months, and months fled away into years. No answer came to either of them. No solutions were found. No new ideas appeared. Everything had been tried a thousand times over and a thousand times over discarded. Shaadi was stuck and that was the end of it. And just like that, he became Yuugi's companion. Having nowhere to go, no one to turn to, he stayed with the person who still remembered the legacy he was the keeper of. And that was just fine; much better than haunting a pyramid or withering away with other ghosts who'd lost their purpose. Instead, he haunted Yuugi now, in a fashion.
In the fifth year, they finally moved a step closer to shedding some light on Shaadi's misfortune. Yuugi was getting ready to participate in a Duel Monsters' World Championship tournament in Brazil along with Jounouchi. He offered his "plus one" spot to Anzu, but her class was set to go on a vacation to Italy at the same time and she couldn't back out of it without losing the money she'd paid for it. Therefore, her space was given to Honda instead who was more than happy for it, as it gave him the chance to spend even more time with Jounouchi's "plus one" – Shizuka. Shaadi, as a ghost, was, of course, unaccounted for, as no one would be able to see him entering the premises.
Upon nearing the stadium, he already sensed something off. Something painstakingly familiar building in the air. It became obvious to him, as the guardian of the Items, that two participants in the tournament held them. They had returned, again. They had surfaced from their resting place, again. They didn't want to be buried and forgotten. That's when Shaadi understood that, for as long as the Items existed, he would be forever tied to them.
"Yuugi," he said, eyes turned toward the line-up of other competitors, trying to read the air around them to determine which ones held the Items – because he was certain that there was more than one present. Moreover, he was certain that he could never shrug off the familiarity of the one Item he'd held. The one Item which had been his from the start. One of the contestants had the Key. "We have a problem."
Yuugi stalled his steps, having long since worked out a system to converse with the restless spirit in a way that wouldn't have people who weren't in the know thinking that he'd gone crazy. Because, even though it appeared so, he wasn't talking to thin air. "What's wrong?"
"On the good side, I have finally discovered the reason why I have not departed to the afterlife."
"And the bad?" His lips barely moved and he appeared to be staring off into space, lost in thought or perhaps admiring the brand new building of the stadium in front of him.
"Would be exactly the same as the good."
Yuugi's forehead creased into a frown and he stuck his hands into his pockets. To anyone he would appear a concerned young man, considering his rivals and evaluating his chances in the upcoming duels. "You don't mean…"
"I am afraid I do. The Items are back. And, it appears, two of them are right here."
Yuugi's hands clenched into fists. His gaze became sharp as he looked over the crowd. "Who?" There was so much force and anger behind that one snarled word that it could have scared off any lesser man. Didn't work on three millennia old Egyptian ghosts, though.
"The boy in white; I believe he has the Key. And the girl with the eye patch; could be any one Item, but…"
Yuugi made a slight nod. He'd noticed the eyepatch girl first and foremost. She'd had that pirate look about herself, the first time he'd seen her picture on the tournament's website, though nothing else in her choice of clothing corresponded with that style. Instead, the black eyepatch was richly adorned with embroidery and studded with tiny glittering crystals. Her lime green top had a matching pattern diagonally down the front; she wore a black lace skirt over black shorts, completing the look with lace-trimmed black boots on a heel and short black lace gloves. With her curly blonde hair pulled up in two luxurious pigtails, she was proudly showing off her lack of one eye. The boy, however, was a complete opposite. In a prim and proper white suit and with straight bright red shoulder-length hair, he appeared reserved and withdrawn, and more than a little intimidated by the competition. It seemed to Yuugi that he kept slipping away from him, even as he tried to focus more on him in an attempt to gauge his skill and the reasons why – and how – the Items had turned up in their possession.
He slowly made his way to the line, for the time being keeping mum about Shaadi's discovery, not wanting to provoke Jounouchi into confronting the two duellists – on the unbelievably impossible off chance that the former – and eternal, apparently – guardian of the Items would be wrong. He had to tread carefully, now that he didn't have his Item. He shuddered suddenly, remembering the Ring – and the Rod. He wondered if the Spirit of the Ring had also hung back, being so tightly connected with the Item. And just thinking about what the Rod could do in the wrong hands made his feet go cold.
No, he couldn't get reckless now. He couldn't permit himself or Jounouchi even one false step. He glanced over at his friends and his resolve hardened. No, he couldn't endanger Honda and Shizuka again, though he didn't doubt, even for a second, that they would all end up in grave danger long before the tournament drew to a close.
The ache for the comforting weight of the Puzzle around his neck grew sharper.
"..g, hey, Yuug!"
Yuugi blinked, zoning in on the hand waving in front of his face.
"Earth to Yuugi," Jounouchi grinned when his best friend's gaze finally focused on him.
Yuugi laughed abashedly and rubbed the back of his head, making some excuse how he'd gotten caught up in the moment. He'd gotten careless. He couldn't afford that, he told himself, couldn't allow himself to get carried away again, for the duration of this tournament and definitely even beyond it. He fixed the happy mask in permanent place and behind this cheerful and excited, and utterly fake, façade, began calculating his future moves. He had to stay twenty steps ahead. His only asset here was Shaadi, and no matter how he looked at the situation, that was as grim a chance as he'd ever gotten.
Day one of the tournament sped by on the wings of birds of tempest, and excitement and anticipation hung heavy in the air like a prelude to a brewing storm. Nothing major happened, though, except for a few heat strokes that prematurely ended the tournament for some promising duellists. And Jounouchi was still in the dark about the Items, though he had managed to get into a few scuffs already by bragging about his skills to the wrong contestants who generally scoffed at all luck-based duellists. Because they'd rarely had the luck of the draw, they'd built their decks to consist of nothing but lucky draws: powerful cards, nasty traps, and overwhelming spells. They deigned Jounouchi unworthy of his high position in the pantheon of the best duellists. Some of them held the same opinion on Yuugi, going so far as to call him a cheat behind his back while smiling and talking pleasantries to his face. The King of Games had to fight tooth and nail to keep his place at the top, proving time and again that even a deck like his could bring victories, even if most others ridiculed it.
During the day, he managed to get close enough to both suspect Item holders for a brief exchange of words. The eyepatch girl, Daysie Moods, as he'd learned from a quick refresher course in the brochures stacked on every corner and meant for the onlookers, was as overwhelming and over-confident as her clothing style. She didn't boast the way Jounouchi did, but, just like Seto Kaiba, she had confidence wafting off her in waves. And perhaps it was just his imagination, but it seemed to Yuugi that he felt a strange prodding feeling when looking directly into her one good and bright blue eye. He would have very much liked to know if that's how it felt when Pegasus read minds with his Item, but there was no one around who could answer. And since he'd had the Puzzle with him, he'd remained without the experience.
The boy and other suspect Item holder, Armand Deogon, proved to be Daisy's complete opposite once again. First, Yuugi had to look through the booklet three times to finally find information on him – ridiculous, really, considering the thing was a regular A4 page twice folded and the total number of members didn't exceed twenty. For some reason, his gaze kept skipping over his photo and his outer appearance seemed to fade from his mind even before he'd managed to get a good look at him. Next, he was hard to track down. Yuugi ran into him by accident on the very border of the premises of the stadium. He was sitting in a shade all by himself, a half-empty water bottle held loosely in one hand. He was quite reserved and humble and seemingly awed by Yuugi's presence when the latter attempted to strike up some sort of a small talk. He was as evasive and vague and Daisy was bold and intrusive.
"Make sure to drink a lot of water," Armand advised when they parted, Yuugi finally grown too frustrated with their fruitless exchange to keep up the charade. "It would be unfortunate if more people dropped out because of a heatstroke."
Yuugi thanked him in a clipped tone, unable to keep his wits about him in his presence. Had Shaadi not been with him, he might have gotten completely lost in his confusion. As it was, he managed to somehow get through the day.
"It is another ability of the Key," the ghost explained somewhat apologetically. "To disappear and pass by unnoticed and undetected."
Having somewhat recovered, now that he was back in his room and stretched out on the bed, Yuugi nodded thoughtfully. He had felt the same way the first time Shaadi had used the Key to read into his mind. He'd been uncertain if he'd dreamed all of it or if that exchange had truly happened. And then there was the story Honda had told him with Otogi confirming every word about the oddly robed stranger that had appeared out of nowhere to save them both from tumbling to certain death and which had later been identified as Shaadi. They hadn't believed in his existence up until that point.
"I wonder what they want," Yuugi mused. He couldn't think of anything. Any possible reason why they would have the Items or why anyone would even want them – their questionably beneficial abilities aside. Shaadi couldn't find a reason why they had returned either, though they were both well aware that the Items had sprung back into existence once before after having been sealed away. It was as if something existed in this world that pulled them always back.
By the second day Shaadi had only managed to confirm his initial suspicion. Daysie did have the Eye and Armand did have the Key. The two didn't seem to be connected in any way though, from what Yuugi had managed to find on the Internet. Daysie was a born and bred American girl from sunny California, while Armand hailed from a small town in southern France. Before today, they hadn't met in any tournaments, and neither had been to the other's respective country. They had even barely interacted from the moment of their arrival. After spending hours upon hours poring over the video materials available on the TV in his room, he'd found only one instance when they'd met in the hotel lobby, passing each other by in the opposite directions right in front of the elevators. And if they stopped close to each for longer than a few seconds, then it was to let a group of volunteers pass by on one side and a TV crew exiting the elevator on the other. The distance between them had been too great to pass notes and exchanging anything other than polite nods of recognition impossible because of the people rushing around them and passing between them. Two Items. Two random people. The question "why?" burned ever brighter and hotter in Yuugi's mind.
All through the preliminaries, nothing particular happened. The duels were carried out as normal and the number of contestants dwindled down as usual. The semi finals rolled around and still there was no sign of the Items being at work. Not one of the losing duellists had fallen into a coma or disappeared without a trace, but Yuugi and Shaadi couldn't rest. They couldn't get rid of the feeling that something was lurking yet just around the corner because both Daysie and Armand had proceeded to the finals. Brilliant, sparkling Daysie with her stunning performances and Armand with his… no one was entirely sure how exactly, but he'd gotten through. No one could even recall any memorable moves made by him. His duelling had been plain, uneventful and utterly forgettable, and that's how he entered the final round. The competition was down to the last six: Yuugi, Jounouchi, both Item holders and two other duellists whose names and backgrounds Yuugi hadn't even bothered to pay attention to, so immersed he'd been in the new looming threat. Which, surprisingly and even more worryingly, didn't seem to loom at all.
Then came the first big surprise of the tournament. The finals were moved to an uninhabited island, each duellist brought to it from a different side, stationing them at equal intervals from each other. Their task was to make it to the centre of the island where an arena awaited them, and since the island wasn't perfectly round, they would have to duel whichever contestant they ran into first. The island itself was riddled with cameras to keep an eye on the participants no matter where they went, as well as give the audience the chance to follow the path of their favourite towards the victory.
Their numbers were scrambled after they got on the motorboats, soundproofed and vision-restricting helmets strapped on their heads to ensure that nothing would be overheard, that nothing would be spied out of the corner of the eye. The results were announced to the onlookers remaining on the continent and then sent to a small computer monitor on the boats with the corresponding directions for each participant. They were shipped off one after the other, leaving them in the dark about who ended up on which side of the island. Six floating platforms had been anchored a good distance away from the shore, a thin bridge connecting them to it. They were meant to wait inside the black booths set on top of them, waiting for the countdown to tick to zero, the red light switch to the green, and the locked door to unlock itself and let them out into the final round of the tournament. The helmets had been taken off the moment they entered the booth and seconds before the doors were locked.
Because Shaadi was with him, Yuugi had an advantage here. Sitting in the dark booth and watching the glaring white digits slowly nearing zero, the glare of the red light intrusive to his eyes, he waited impatiently for Shaadi's return. As soon as the digits turned to a pair of double zeroes and with a deafening beep accompanying the green light flicking on, he sprung to his feet and pushed at the door that had unlocked itself with a soft click. Yuugi took in a relieved gulp of fresh air and began his way to the shore where Shaadi already waited for him, his sand-coloured robe oddly unmoving and almost blending in with the beach. Yuugi was glad that no one else could see him.
"There are cameras everywhere," Shaadi warned him before he could as much as open his mouth. "We need to be careful. Jounouchi is on the farthest end of the island. Closest to us is Daysie and Ian Jamison."
Ian Jamison, right, Yuugi stored that information for later. It was one of the other two duellists which he'd not thought to look into until this morning and, because of that, their names kept constantly slipping from his mind.
Easily gliding alongside him, as the King of Games strode into the undergrowth, Shaadi continued, "Your friend is on an extended part of the island. He will possibly be the last to arrive at the centre. First he will have to fight either Armand or Louis Marmara."
Louis Marmara. That name also got stored in Yuugi's mind for later, though he doubted he would end up facing either of those two duellists. His intuition told him that Daysie and Armand would deal with them first. Why he had this thought, he couldn't explain. He only knew that Jounouchi was in immediate danger. He didn't dare to send Shaadi to look after him, also fearing an ambush by the unwittingly involved Ian and this thought made him uneasy – and quite a bit guilty and cowardly to boot. Without his Puzzle and its comforting weight, he felt somewhat naked; on this day more than on any other before. And while, yes, Shaadi had, in a sense, filled the void, he wasn't quite the same reassuring presence Atem had been. They didn't share a mind, after all. Still, he kept steadily moving onwards through the labyrinth of paths made specifically for the contestants and Shaadi walked beside him, passing like a visual disturbance across the screens.
Unbeknownst to them, cameras started dying off one by one around the places Daysie and Armand passed through. They either stopped functioning or conveniently turned the other way around, giving the onlookers a limited view, making it look like they were two very skilled hunters who had the wits about them to dodge the cameras, unlike the other four who kept simply trudging on, clearly visible on all screens. It wasn't long until people noticed the strange flickers across the screens along Yuugi's path. Some of them seemed to even notice the human-shaped shadow that seemed to mirror him. Talks sprung up about Yuugi toting some sort of a jammer or another kind of device that allowed him to cheat his way up the ranks and remain the unbeatable champion for years. The videos were their solid proof, as no other screen showed the same malfunctions.
Soon enough the viewers were privy to the horrid scenes that resulted from Daysie meeting Ian. Whatever was happening at the site, was hard to comprehend for those who were not familiar with the power of Items. First, Daysie set down extra penalty rules for each lost turn and the air seemed to darken under the branches of the trees where the first duel of the finals started. Daysie shone again, sharp and brilliant, with surgical precision executing each move and not wasting a single card. With each turn that Ian missed, with each card that he got countered, he appeared to be more and more in pain. The onlookers couldn't explain it. They could only guess and wildly speculate that perhaps those were just the nerves, or perhaps he'd eaten something bad, and just as well it could have been physical pain and humiliation of losing to a girl ten years younger than him. Whatever might have been the case, with each turn the shadows under the trees seemed to go darker and darker, to the point where the cameras had to be adjusted to night vision from the main control centre on the continent to capture anything at all, and even that didn't help the situation much. They didn't even see the conclusion of the duel. Minutes later, Daysie emerged several metres away from the battle scene in a perfectly lit spot beneath the trees. The cameras around the fateful area remained bathed in darkness, however.
Something similar was going on with Armand and Louis. Except that there had to be a water source nearby where they faced off against each other, as mist kept rising higher and higher with each turn they played and eventually engulfed them, hiding them from view. Switching the cameras to night vision didn't improve anything, and since they weren't equipped with thermo sensors, there was nothing else to do there but switch them back to the normal daylight settings. Not that it was a big loss, the onlookers decided collectively, as Armand's moves had been bleak and utterly forgettable again. Moreover, it appeared that Louis was an even weaker duellist, as all of his moves were haphazard and not at all thought through. It seemed as though he had no idea what he was even doing there or how to play the game. Minutes later, just like Daysie had, Armand appeared a decent distance away from his first battle grounds.
The onlookers from the continent watched on the big screens how the four remaining duellists proceeded towards the centre. Daysie and Armand were the first ones to reach it and, much to the audience's confusion, didn't engage each other in a duel. In fact, they sat down onto the duelling platform and began waiting for the remaining two duellists. Yuugi was the first to arrive to the scene, and with him appeared the disturbances and the flickering in the monitors all around the clearing.
"King of Games," Daysie drawled, a nasty smile appearing on her face as she hopped off the platform and turned towards him. "Come to play finally."
Armand took a stand beside her, though silently. Yuugi had to do a double take at a portion of his neat white suit trousers that appeared to be dotted in… red. Blood red. Blood. For some reason, Yuugi's mind drew the worst conclusions. That they were also right he understood in the very next moment when Daysie turned her small black pompadour bag inside out, throwing something from within it at his feet. Something that landed with a soft, squelching thunk. Not shaped the way it usually was on Valentine's Day cards, but a heart none the less. A heart that had been beating just a moment ago. Now that he looked closer, her partially transparent lace gloves had become darker and more… solid. Less see-through. She had… with her own hands.
"Can you make that your new Heart of the Cards?" Armand mocked in his silent, unassuming tone, but this time the words cut into Yuugi's mind loud and clear. "We hear you're one heart short right now."
"What do you want?" Yuugi found the strength in himself to ask. That nagging voice at the back of his mind which used to echo hollowly now seemed tight and thin and it insisted that he didn't want to know. His mind seemed to have compressed all of a sudden too.
"Right now? Or in general?" Daysie snickered and carelessly discarded her now empty pompadour into the closest bush. The fact that she had blood on her hands – literally – didn't seem to bother her. The air around her hummed from the potential of the Eye.
"We seem to have an unwelcome guest," Armand said suddenly, reaching into his inside pocket to produce the Key from its depths. "It reacts to something in this area. But what?" He frowned at the Item in his hands, concentrating hard on it and trying to understand.
Daysie's gasp saved him much of the pondering, as Shaadi turned visible. The Item called out to him and he desperately wished… But Daysie was faster. Producing a blank card from a pocket concealed on her breast by a richly embroidered rose, she let the Eye do the work and seal the restless soul into the piece of high quality paper. It happened at such a speed that Shaadi didn't even have the chance to speak a single word of warning to Yuugi.
Yuugi's strangled cry of "No!" came seconds too late, when Daisy's bloody hands tore the card in half, then once more in half before tossing the remains over her shoulder.
"Oh, and your friend? I'm afraid he won't be making it all the way here." Armand smiled, revealing perfect white teeth. "You see, there are monsters crawling on this island today."
What the spectators on the continent were privy to, but Yuugi would never find out – no, not ever now – was Ian's body with a gaping chest wound from which seeped something black and billowing slowly making his way over to where Jounouchi was caught in a life or death grapple with Louis whose entire body seemed to have turned backwards with all of his joints now facing the opposite side. Together, they wrestled him down and indulged in the most gruesome display of cannibalism to ever be broadcast live.
"How do you want to do this?" Daysie asked idly, head tilted neatly to one side and the golden glow of the Millennium Eye forcing its way through the black eyepatch. Curious, how she had chosen to sacrifice her right eye, instead of her left as Pegasus had done and as the few holders of it had done before him.
"Slowly," Armand replied without missing a beat.
Left all alone and at a clear disadvantage, Yuugi tried to salvage what he could. He had to believe in Jounouchi. He had to believe in him making his way over here, after overcoming whatever odds these two had stacked against him. More than that, though, he had to believe in himself. In his ability, in his own strength, hailing from deep within and not borrowed from a three thousand years old royal entity. Therefore, he did the only thing he still could.
"I challenge you to a duel!"
Daysie laughed and shook her head vigorously, making the curly pigtails sway. "Booo-riiing," she said in sing-song voice. "We would beat you in a few turns and where would the fun be in that?" Considering something more entertaining, she glanced over at Armand. "Do you think we should have him run?"
"Yes, I think we should."
"Say, if he makes it back to the platform in the sea, he's safe?" she suggested.
Armand grinned and twirled the Key in his fingers, twining shadows around them. "Oh, absolutely."
"Run, King of the Games, run!"
Yuugi found his feet moving on their own accord, a strange primal fear prickling the base of his skull. Something drove him onwards, back along the paths he had taken to get to the centre and the shadows twined faster and faster around the trees and crept across the paths. His mind was clouding over; he could no longer tell which ones were the right paths and he began running into dead ends. The image of the platform lit up in his mind bright and clear, promising salvation and safety while black dread lurched after him from the depths of the island. He turned back, took the wrong turn, stumbled and fell, got back up and began running again, but the darkness was spinning around him faster and faster.
"Shall we tell him that no one's escaped from us before?" a girly voice echoed from all around the darkening trees.
"Oh, he'll find that out soon enough. And then you'll hold all of the cards of his heart in your precious hands, my love."
Laughter. Laughter and shadows. Black, black, black. Crawling. Dread. Mayday, mayday. May. Day. But days in May were never supposed to be this dark…