Title: No Card Games in Wonderland
Warnings: AU-ish. Just a stupid idea loosely based on the whole Alice in Wonderland concept (of which I am not cool enough to own). No pairings. Not really. Maybe not. Probably not. ...I'll think about it. Mostly focuses on Yami and Yugi, but I'll make something resembling an effort to shift the focus onto other characters just a little (or I'll attempt to attempt). Oh and I'm not forcing Yugi to cross-dress or anything. Yami isn't, either. Sorry to disappoint, but I'm not taking that route. I designed Yugi an outfit better fit for a boy. Because tailcoats, mann. Tailcoats are sexy.
Summary: After being tossed into a bizarre, grimdark fairytale world, a crazed hatter and his companion proclaim Yugi as their new "Alice" and whisk him away: only to turn finding him into a game. Armed with a directionally challenged magic sword and a vanishing cat, Yami has to locate his lost little aibou before the Hatter's hourglass runs out or...well, it couldn't possibly be good, now could it?
Disclaimer: I do not own Yu-Gi-Oh!, but I do own a cat. His name is Fuzzy Foo.
Serena: Sery, Sery, (quite so scary) comes bearing a story. So don't be so wary! Chapter one is done, so let's begin the fun! And—fuck this. I'm out of rhymes. *cue booing* LAZINESS SHALL PREVAIL! ALSO, I CHANGED my penname to tastes-like-ciel because reasons. I use it on dA and Tumblr and it has just become a thing for me. Plus, I was sick of my old name. So. *shrug* But uh, yeah. I don't know how long this story will be. It could be anywhere from ten to twenty and beyond. It just depends on how things end up progressing. I intended to wait until I had at least five chapters finished before sharing this, but I wanted to know if anyone would be interested in reading this story or not (although I realize this first one is probably kinda dull). So, I decided to just go ahead and share it. Also, the summary is literally going to be the only time I actually use the word "aibou" (except for now). Not that I have a problem with writers using it (I don't. Really. I like imagining English dub Yami saying it. Quite often.). I just felt compelled to use "partner" because I do what I want. *shot*
Chapter 1: Magic in the Attic
Yugi never understood why (no matter which direction he tried to run in) he was always routed back to this decrepit little valley with the castle sitting in its center. Logically, it made no sense to end up in the exact same spot each and every time. Why, just moments ago, he could have sworn he had been walking in a straight line and yet here he was at the starting point all over again! It was almost as if the castle and valley had an army of twins spread out on all sides, but that was just silly. What purpose would that serve (other than annoying potential lost travelers)?
Yugi frowned as he cast a wary gaze at the castle ahead.
'I just want to go home.' he thought with an awful feeling of home sickness creeping up on him. 'I'm sick of this place.'
The sight of the castle and valley left him with a feeling of uneasiness. It just wasn't a very lively or inviting looking place and under normal circumstances, he would never be here. Unfortunately, not only was he, in fact, here, he had no idea why, when, or how he came to be in such an unsettlingly dark venue. He just was, as crazy as that probably sounded.
The valley itself was a barren wasteland of cracked surfaces and cold, dry soil. No greenery of any kind was thriving in the stale earth and any plant life he did see sat helplessly plastered to the ground in ugly, shriveled heaps. The sky overhead was a rusty, reddish orange and there was an odd scent in the air that he couldn't quite place. As for the castle sitting in the valley's center, it was an imposingly tall thing. With its gothic-style architecture and dark color scheme, it looked like something you would only find in a grimdark fairytale (or one of those old, crappy B-rated vampire movies). It appeared to be partially built into the hill it was sitting upon and didn't look all that friendly (but nothing else did either).
Yugi hummed to himself and continued to stare up at the structure in thought. No matter how unsettling and dark everything looked, that didn't mean there was anything for him to be afraid of. Looks can be deceiving, don't judge a book by its cover (or, in this case, a castle by its pointy towers), give the benefit of the doubt, and all that.
'I still don't want to go up there,' he mused regardless. 'but...I guess I don't have much of a choice.'
Reluctantly, Yugi started walking in the castle's general direction. As ominous a picture it made, he couldn't help but be drawn to that looming edifice (probably because it was the only building that might house people). He found himself hoping that the castle, despite its uninviting looks, housed someone of no ill nature who could help him. Wandering around as he had been doing wasn't helping him so far. If he wanted out, he was going to need a little help from someone who knew enough about the area to, at the very least, point him in the right direction.
To reach this structure, Yugi had to (oddly enough) go down in order to go up. The path dipped into a steep, downward slope that would supposedly (eventually) turn into an uphill path that led to the castle's doors. This was merely speculation as he couldn't really see most of the path due to a dense fog that hung over the area, but he was hopeful this would be the case.
On the other hand, this might not even be the right path...
Yugi abruptly came to a halt in his trek down below as a ghastly smell suddenly overpowered his senses. It was a terrible mixture of dirt and decay (similar to the scent of death that clung to graveyards), but the iron scent it carried was what made it so vile. It smelled like a collection of rotten meat.
'I hope I don't hurl. What is that?'
Yugi wrapped his fingers around the ends of his sleeve and covered his nose. He didn't know where the smell was coming from, but he really didn't want to found out. He also really wanted to turn around and leave, but...well, where would he go? The forest only led him around in circles and he didn't have a phone on him (his pajamas didn't have pockets). The castle was his best bet at this point. So, with his sleeve tightly held over his mouth, he continued on.
The slope was dangerously steep and littered with small dips and raised bumps created from natural wear. If he moved too quickly or tripped, it would be easy enough for him to break his neck, puncture a lung, or seriously injure some other part of his body. Yugi was careful not to walk too fast, least he end up discovering firsthand exactly what kind of injures the slope would make.
'What a dangerous place.' Yugi mused to himself whilst glancing around. 'Maybe this isn't such a good idea after all...'
Small rocks scattered across the worn path tumbled down the hill as Yugi's steps disturbed them from their rest. The noise they made as they skipped down the path was deafening in the dead silence. Occasionally, he thought he heard a watery plop as the rocks reached the end of their journey, but it was so faint that he couldn't be sure and the bottom of the path was so foggy that he couldn't really tell if there was a body of water below or not.
Then, as he finally neared the bottom, he came to a stop.
Around the castle was a red swamp.
It was more a moat than anything else, but its overall appearance didn't allude to that. The sludgy water oozing through the man-made trench was an unnatural red. There were lumps of something resembling thick wads of seaweed floating in the water and all that combined with the fog made the moat seem more like a natural swamp than a giant ditch.
And there was no bridge, Yugi realized. He couldn't go this way. It was the wrong path.
"Great..." Yugi mumbled, the sound muffled by his sleeve.
He could always walk around until he did find a bridge or something, but this was becoming more trouble than it was worth. The valley was creepy, the castle not only looked empty but was surrounded by goopy red liquid that looked like something decidedly not water, the air smelled awful, and he was getting tired.
He shivered as a breeze blew past and after another moment of pondering, he finally just shook his head and turned away from the moat to start the trek back up the hill.
The water sloshed around behind him.
Yugi turned at the sound. He half expected to see something swimming in the moat, but there was nothing in the water except for a few ripples. The seaweed-like substances drifting in the moat bobbed gently in the ripples' motion.
A little bothered, but unwilling to investigate, Yugi turned away from the moat once more and continued to steadily climb the steep incline.
'I'm imaging things.' he mused. 'Something probably fell in. Maybe a rock or -'
When the water sloshed again, he hesitated in his steps for a moment and contemplated glancing back again. What were the odds of something else falling into the water in such a short time span?
Another watery slosh made him jump and he stumbled forward a few steps out of fright. His heart started beating wildly within chest and the hand he continued to hold under his nose pushed at his mouth a little more.
'Maybe there's fish down there?' he thought in an attempt to rationalize the sounds and calm his nerves. He doubted a fish of could live in such unnatural water, but for all he knew, there could be some kind living in it. 'Yeah. Just...a fish. Nothing to be scared of.'
Even still, he found himself wishing his friends were here. It wouldn't be quite as scary with company.
Yugi wrapped his free arm around his middle as the water sloshed again. This time, however, the accompanying noise of water droplets dripping onto the water's surface sounded, as if something had risen from the moat.
Something grunted behind him and the sound of dirt being clawed at reached Yugi's ears. He couldn't imagine what the source of the noise could be, but his nerves were steadily taking a downward spiral. The grunts and clawing were persisting and the sound of sloshing water became more and more frequent in a desperate sort of way. It was almost like something had fallen in and was now frantically trying to drag itself out.
When the suspense became too much for Yugi to handle, he whirled around to see the source of the noises.
His breathe hitched.
There, filthy fingers dug into the earth, head shaking to and fro and limbs violently moving about was a poorly clothed lich.
Yugi took a step back.
The creature's skin was an ugly, discolored, and shriveled mess. The flesh clung so closely to its body that Yugi could see the curves and bulges of its bones. Its hair (if you could even call it that) was in no better condition. The few dark strands it had left were stiff and clumped together in tangled wads. They looked so brittle that Yugi surmised a single touch would cause the strands to disintegrate instantly.
Yugi's eyes widened as the sad creature finished hauling itself from out the red swamp. Its back heaved up and down (as if the thing were taking breathes) as it inched along the ground on hands and knees. It lolled its head from side to side as if searching for something. It had yet to look up at him, but the teen prayed it wouldn't. By the looks of things, it hadn't noticed Yugi at all.
Yugi kept his hand clamped against his mouth and tried to calm his frantically beating heart. The noise was so loud that he feared the crawling creature would hear it and then -
The lich's movements suddenly ceased. It was as if someone had stopped time or pushed the pause button on a television controller. It just...froze.
'If I'm quiet enough, maybe I can sneak away.' he thought, hoping for the best. What else could he do? He certainly wasn't about to approach the rotting creature!
Yugi tried to take another step backward in an effort to quietly sneak away, but his foot slipped on a loose rock lying in the dirt and he slid to the ground in a noisy heap. He unintentionally added on to the noise by grunting and then hissing as his back hit the ground. Judging by the sharp stabbing at his back, he was pretty certain he landed on a rock. Jeez, that hurt!
The noise, unfortunately, roused the attention of the frozen creature. Its head suddenly snapped out of its awkward, sideways tilt with a sickening crack and turned Yugi's way. Its hollowed eye sockets stared unseeingly at the ground before Yugi's feet and its neck popped again as it jerked its head to tilt in the opposite direction. Jerkily, one of its arms began to move as it forced a single, shriveled hand through the dirt and towards Yugi.
Yugi pulled himself up the hill out of reflex, a subconscious attempt to maintain his distance. That naturally created more noise and he winced as more small stones were knocked loose from the dirt, only to roll down past the crawling carrion.
The undead creature paused in its movements for a moment to assess the noise, but it seemed to deign it unimportant and carried on with its dragging. Its gait seemed much more focused on the amethyst-eyed teenager than it had previously, however. It even seemed to be picking up speed.
'I'll just stand up as quietly as I can and then make a run for it.' he decided. He had no other ideas and continuing to lie there in hopes the thing changed its mind would be stupid considering how easily Yugi would be to snatch. 'I'd rather take my chances in that forest than stick around here.'
After making a quick, silent prayer for his survival, Yugi, as quietly as he could manage, pushed himself to his feet. The creature didn't seem to take notice of any noise Yugi made and that was a good thing, but he couldn't allow himself to celebrate just yet. If he was careless, the lich would notice him and then he would be, for lack of a better word, fucked.
'I can do this. I can do this!'
Slowly and carefully, Yugi took a backwards step up the hill and after assuring himself that he wouldn't slip, he took another step back. He continued to do this until he was halfway up the hill and had placed a sizable distance between himself and the unholy abomination. He stared down at the hill's bottom and was just barely able to make out the silhouette of the carrion struggling to climb the steep incline.
'I think I'm safe. It can't crawl up the hill that easily.' Yugi mused. He allowed himself a sigh of relief, satisfied that he wasn't in any immediate danger anymore. 'At least the forest was empty...'
Yugi carefully turned away from the struggling creature and began to make his way up the hill with considerably less anxiety than he had had previously. He made a little more noise than he had before, but the lich was all the way at the bottom and couldn't get up the hill. Noise wouldn't matter now.
Before he could make much progress, a sudden noise made him halt in his trek up the hill. It was a strangled gurgling sound, like someone's throat was filling up with water and they were drowning. Yugi's initially calmed down heart began to speed up as fright trickled down his spine. He felt a presence of some kind standing behind him and it both confused and terrified him. Maybe he was just imagining it?
A hand wrapped around his arm.
Yugi whirled around to face whatever was behind him.
The dragging corpse from before towered over him, suddenly able to not only stand perfectly but move at lightning fast speed to catch up to the teen.
Yugi's mouth shakily dropped as a scream tried to work its way out, but before it could, he was suddenly falling back down the hill and to the awaiting red swamp.
"You had that dream again, didn't you?"
Yugi Mutou bit the end of his pencil and continued to stare down at his unfinished math homework. His spirit friend was as keen as ever, but Yugi wasn't exactly doing an excellent job at hiding his troubled expressions and ever wandering thoughts. He spaced out so much nowadays that the spirit of his Millennium Puzzle, Yami, jokingly teased him of having another ghostly friend he chatted to on the side.
"Mm." Yugi hummed in answer.
Yugi continued to chew on the end of his pencil and gave a short shrug. He was distracted, his attention caught between his homework assignment and the urge to avoid any topics concerning his less than welcome dreams. He tried to come off as indifferent and unconcerned with his friend's question, but all his fears were spilling out in the form of his insistent pencil chewing (which wasn't something he normally did).
He shifted in his seat, the wooden chair scrapping the floor somewhat as Yugi tried to huddle closer to his textbook. Math wasn't his favorite subject, but the distraction it provided was reason enough to push himself into doing it. Now, if a and b are positive integers and (a^(1/2) * b^(1/3))^6 = 432, then what is the value of -
Yugi jumped as a transparent hand suddenly planted itself across the page he was trying to read. He blinked down at the unexpected interruption and then glanced up to meet his friend's gaze. He made a little noise in protest. The spirit's hand wasn't really stopping the teen from reading his textbook, but...well, it was just a little rude of him to do.
"I understand this useless equation is important to your studies, but your mental health is important, too." Yami explained. Despite the slight narrowing of his eyes and the crease brought about by his knit eyebrows, the spirit didn't seem angry. However, the concern prevalent in his voice was hard to miss. "More so, I might add. This can wait. Please talk to me. You keep avoiding the subject whenever it's brought up."
Yugi relaxed his teeth's grip on his poor pencil in favor of giving his spirit friend (who continued to remain partially leaned over both the table and Yugi's lap) his full attention. He opened his mouth to respond, but hesitated as whatever words he had been about to say caught in his throat. His gaze dropped back down to his desk and he stared at his textbook unseeingly for a moment. The teenager's mind was silent for a brief second before his thoughts started whirling and random flashes of dream memories played across his inner theatre (-the lich dragging itself out of that murky red swamp-) (- the sight of decaying flesh breaking against his sleeve-) before suddenly shifting back to more pressing matters. After all, the equation wasn't going to solve itself and he needed to simplify it first. Multiply the exponents, right? Or maybe -
"Yugi." the spirit called out in a weary sigh, snatching the boy's wandering attention back his way. "Partner, I saw that."
Yugi suddenly felt guilty. Yami was only trying to help and here he was being difficult.
"I'm sorry, other me! I don't mean to be so difficult!" Yugi blurted out in apology. He slumped into his desk chair and let his hands fall to his lap. Idly, he fiddled with his chewed pencil and stared at it a moment before redirecting his gaze back up to Yami. "I just don't want to worry anyone over a stupid nightmare. I know it bothers you that I keep avoiding it, but the whole thing just seems really childish. I'm sorry."
The spirit let out a soft sigh. He moved out of his slump to stand up straight and shook his head a little.
"It's alright. I understand your feelings, but how many times have your dreams meant something? Especially the reoccurring ones?" Yami prompted before gesturing a hand towards the teen's bed. All their best conversations seemed to happen on the bed, after all. Plus, there wasn't anything to distract Yugi there, unlike at his desk. "We're going to talk about this whether you like it or not. You might as well humor me."
Yugi's eyes flickered over to stare at his bed for a moment before returning to stare at his other self. Yami made another motion towards Yugi's bed, an expectant look on his face.
"Go on." he said patiently, awaiting his young charge's compliance. "You might feel more at ease discussing it with someone. You don't have to explain the dream in detail. Just answer a few questions. That's all."
A frown continued to tug at the teen's lips, but he sighed in a resigned manner before finally standing from his chair. He set his pencil inside the crease of his textbook before turning to walk over to his bed and plopping down onto the bed's edge. He shifted uncomfortably, fingers picking at his sheets.
"What do you want to know?"
The spirit's expression grew further concerned.
"A simple overview is fine, but the fact that this is bothering you to the point where you have no desire to discuss the issue is what bothers me." the spirit began. He walked over to sit by Yugi's side and placed a transparent hand over the teen's leg. "You've been avoiding the others' concerns and waking up at erratic hours of the night scared to death. Even if this nightmare is not a warning of some kind, it's still causing you grief and I want to make it stop."
Yugi stopped fiddling with his bed sheets and turned his attention to the hand atop his leg, near his knee. He couldn't feel any pressure from it and the slight drop in temperature was hardly noticeable. Sometimes Yugi thought, if he concentrated just a bit harder, he could feel something other than a temperature change whenever his other half touched him. It was something of a prickling sensation (like what you felt when you tried to move a limb that had fallen alseep), but it was usually fleeting. So much so that Yugi was never completely certain if he had ever felt it at all. It could be his imagination, for all he knew.
He breathed out a short sigh. He wished he could settle his own hand over the spirit's, but he knew he would only end up disappointed if he tried. His hand would phase through and that was something he tried not to do. It felt incredibly weird and neither he nor the spirit liked the feeling. The few times it had happened left them both in an incredibly awkward and embarrassing silence. He shivered slightly at the thought of it.
"It doesn't make any sense." Yugi began, feeling a bit frustrated all of a sudden. He had already tried throwing various theories around in hopes of explaining the dream to himself, but nothing seemed right. The only castle he knew of belonged to Pegasus, but he was fairly tame without the Millennium Eye lodged into his skull anymore. Besides, what new agenda would the man have that required bothering him and the spirit? Hadn't he given up dealing with possessed magical items of the Egyptian variety a while back or...? "There's just a...there's this castle."
The spirit blinked, curiosity swimming in his gaze.
Yugi nodded and hesitated for a moment before conjuring a dream memory of the castle in question. He didn't linger on it for long, just long enough for Yami to get a decent enough look at it. When his mind tried to wander to the depths of the red moat and what lived inside it, he pushed the image away. He didn't want his mind dragging them both back to such a place.
Yami hummed in distaste, not liking what Yugi had allowed him to see
"Definitely not any place we've ever seen before..." the spirit mumbled, crossing his arms. He remained silent in thought for a moment before making another displeased hum.
Yugi continued on.
"I start off lost in this forest and whenever I try to leave it, I run into that castle. Even if I try going in the opposite direction and walk in a straight line, I find it again. Eventually I just give up and try walking to it, but it's surrounded by this thick, red water. Every time I get near it, this...thing tries to pull me in."
Yugi pulled one leg up to his chest and wrapped his arms around it before resting his chin against his knee.
"...you saw it." the teen continued and then he sighed. He closed his eyes for a moment before returning his gaze to Yami. "I really hope it stops soon. I swear it becomes more lucid the more I dream it."
The spirit's concerned expression turned into a determined sort of frustration after settling his gaze onto the floor. Yugi could feel a flare of anger trickle over from Yami's side of their link and stifled the smile threatening to cross his lips upon feeling it.
He's been doing that a lot lately, Yugi couldn't help but muse. He knew why, but he continually chose to say nothing about it as the subject of the spirit's sudden mood swings breached a topic the both of them couldn't quite bring themselves to discuss easily.
Their time together was growing short and would soon end altogether.
Yami's memories of his past as Pharaoh were finally within their grasp, but getting them had a side effect, a sacrificial price that couldn't be avoided. In the end, Yami was just a spirit and an old one at that. He should have moved on a long, long time ago, but due to circumstances both in and out of his control, he hadn't. His soul had been sealed away inside the Millennium Puzzle for over 3,000 years and he lost his memories because of it. Without them, he was just a lost spirit and he couldn't move on if he didn't know where to go. So, once his memories were returned to him...
The smile Yugi had tried to hold back fled in a heartbeat. This was why they didn't talk about it. It upset both of them. While Yugi was prone to tears if he thought about it too hard, Yami fell into a frustrated silence and simply got angry the longer his self-imposed silence stretched on.
And now, the thought of Yugi having a problem that could last even after he was no longer around made his mood plummet sharply. No matter how childish or mundane Yugi's problem might have been, Yami persistently wanted to fix it (even if he really couldn't).
"...are you alone throughout the dream?" the spirit finally asked, putting an end to the silence.
"Yeah." Yugi answered with a slight nod. He blinked and let his gaze drift off to the side in thought. "Unless dead plants count as company. In that case, I was surrounded by travel partners."
The spirit's frown twitched at the corners.
"...no. I'm sorry to say that doesn't count." he answered, a hint of amusement coating his tone. "I can't imagine they would be very talkative anyway. What with being dead and all."
"That doesn't seem to stop you too much." Yugi added. A glance at Yami made him giggle. "You never know. They might talk, if they really wanted to."
Yami deigned to roll his eyes and he shook his head.
"Plants cannot speak, Partner." he replied needlessly. He leaned back on his hands (one leg crossing over the other) and allowed a small smile to cross his lips. He raised an eyebrow at Yugi. "Any other travel partners I should know about or is my jealousy unfounded?"
Yugi giggled again before giving an answer.
"No. There was no one. Just me and a whole lot of nothing else." he said. He gave a short sigh and hummed. "Maybe it's...nothing? It could just be a regular nightmare or...something."
Yugi shrugged to himself, thoroughly out of ideas. The dream honestly could mean nothing, but why was he having it every night? Having it repeat again and again wasn't normal, was it?
The spirit gave a hum of his own.
"Perhaps, but your affinity for having prophetic visions is a bit...unnerving." he admitted, smile falling to something more neutral. "That you would have something like this now, of all times, doesn't sit well with me."
Neither of them really knew in what way Yami's memories would return to him. It seemed like there was always something standing between them and the spirit's memories and it was usually something dangerous, something life threatening. They knew where they had to go and that the god cards were involved, but hell, that was about it. Knowing their luck, there would be a villain of some kind waiting on them just itching to ruin their day.
And that's what had Yami worried, Yugi knew.
Just a few weeks before they were scheduled to leave, Yugi suddenly starts having a repetitive dream about being attacked by a zombie. It was probably about as ridiculous as it sounded, but considering all the creatures they knew lurked out there and all the crazy people the two of them had run into, it was sadly not as farfetched as one might think. Plus, considering they would be visiting a tomb in Egypt...
A sudden knock at the door disturbed Yugi from his thoughts. He raised his head from his knee and turned his attention to the door as it opened a crack. Yami followed suit just as Yugi's grandfather popped his head in and sent the teen a cheerful smile. He opened his mouth to say something, but paused as he took in Yugi's position and chuckled.
"I apologize for interrupting," he began, correctly deducting that Yugi was in the middle of a discussion with Yami. Yugi wasn't surprised by this, but he couldn't help feeling a little embarrassed. That gleam in his grandfather's eyes and sudden amused tilt to his smile made the statement seem dirty.
Yami chuckled at that thought and Yugi sent him an annoyed, pouty look. Between his grandfather and Yami, Yugi received enough teasing to last him three lifetimes.
"But," his grandfather continued through another laugh. "you have visitors. Three, to be exact."
Yugi's attention returned to his grandfather at the mention of visitors. He already had an idea of who these three were and he felt his guilt from earlier slowly returning. They were worried about him and after days of avoiding their concerned questions and comments, of course they would eventually act as one and corner him at home.
Yugi sighed and lowered his leg to the floor.
"I'll be down in a minute." he answered. At a look from Yami, he added: "With an explanation. If you don't mind, tell them I'm okay."
His grandfather's smile fell just a bit. He let his eyes wander to the spot on Yugi's bed where he assumed the spirit was and after a moment, he nodded his head.
"I see." he replied and said nothing more on the subject. Briefly, Yugi wondered if his friends already talked to his grandfather about their concerns. "Take your time. I'll go make some tea while you and your friends talk."
Sugoroku merely returned Yugi's smile with another nod and left to deliver Yugi's message as well as prepare a fresh batch of tea for everyone.
"I suppose we shall continue this conversation later." Yami mused out loud as he listened to Sugoroku's footsteps fading away. Yugi groaned at him. "Mm, you're not out of this yet, Partner. There are still a few things I wish to ask. Dreams are so difficult to decipher. I need all the information I can get."
"Oh, fine," Yugi relented as he grabbed his blue jacket and slipped into it. His voice took on a stern tone. "but if you can't figure anything out by tomorrow, you aren't allowed to obsess over it anymore. Got it?"
Yami scoffed lightly and sent Yugi his own version of a pout.
"You ruin my fun."
"...again, I'm really, really sorry I worried you guys." Yugi finished, setting his half-empty cup of tea down onto the coffee table. He bowed his head slightly. "I talked to the Pharaoh about it and he's helped me try to understand it."
The spirit coughed from his place behind Yugi and gave his partner's mind a little nudge. Yugi lifted his head to smile sheepishly.
"Uhm, still helping me understand it." he corrected, to which Yami gave a satisfied hum.
Seated to Yugi's left, one of his friends, Katsuya Jounouchi, took a moment to himself and sipped at his tea, possibly mulling over everything Yugi had just finished telling them. He quickly finished the cup off and with a loud sigh, wrapped an arm around Yugi's shoulders.
"It's alright, Yug. I guess I can understand why ya hid it from us. I mean, talk about a freaky dream..." he said with a shudder before giving his friend a grin. "We were pretty worried about ya, but if you say you'll be alright, then I believe you. From what I've seen, the Pharaoh's pretty smart. If he can't figure your dream out, no one can."
Yugi felt a wave of amusement and gratitude wash over him and couldn't repress his smile at both it and Jounouchi's words. Yugi heard the spirit's voice filter through his head.
/ / Ah, pressure. Now I simply must decode your dream or my reputation as the smart one will be ruined. If that happens, I'll need a new identity. Jounouchi's underdog reputation would be fine. I wouldn't mind being a puppy for a little while. I could bite Kaiba. / /
Yugi giggled and at Jounouchi's questioning look, he decided to paraphrase the spirit's thoughts. After all, his blonde friend wouldn't appreciate the dog references all that much (although he probably wouldn't mind the part about Kaiba).
"Ahhh...the Pharaoh says thank you for having such faith in him." he said and shook his head at the continued amusement he felt filter though their shared link. "He says he'll do his best."
Jounouchi looked skeptical and gave Yugi a scrutinizing look as he muttered an "unh-hunh". He decided to set his empty tea cup down onto the coffee table, but never stopped staring at Yugi.
"...he said something else, didn't he." he said at last and though it was worded like a question, it wasn't spoken as one.
Yugi faltered and opened his mouth to attempt a response of some kind when the second of his friends to speak, Anzu Mazaki, graciously saved him by interrupting.
"It doesn't matter, Yugi." she began, setting a hand against his shoulder. She always knew just when to intervene. "What's important is that everything is working out and you'll be okay. For a while there, I wasn't sure, but...now I am. Just promise that you'll keep us updated about it. Okay?"
There was an undertone of sternness in the brunette's voice accompanying her otherwise kind, relieved tone. Her lips were curved into a tiny smile and that telltale spark of worry gleaming in her eyes was beginning to slowly fade. Yugi found himself feeling relieved that he could ease her fears simply by discussing the situation with her. It made his smile widen.
"I promise." the teen replied and was answered with a relieved sigh from Honda and a beaming Anzu. "Just talking about it has helped a lot already."
The third of Yugi's friends, Hiroto Honda, nodded his head from across the coffee table in understanding and set his nearly empty cup down.
"That's good to hear, man, and hey! If talking about it helps, don't hesitate to talk to one or all of us about it if something like this happens again." he said. His eyes drifted to the puzzle hanging from Yugi's neck and he grinned. "If you need someone else. You and the Pharaoh seem pretty close."
Yugi redirected his smiling gaze down to the puzzle and held a hand against it. It was certainly no secret that Yami thought highly of him and vice versa. Especially not since the whole fiasco with that Orichalcos cult.
Almost immediately, Yugi felt a sudden distant edge to Yami's thoughts and feelings and a creeping bit of sadness began to trickle over. While it wasn't much, it was still there.
Yugi's smile turned sympathetic.
/ I'm sorry, other me. I didn't mean to bring that up again. / Yugi said in apology. He sent a wave a reassurance his friend's way. / But it's okay, you know. You don't have to feel bad about that anymore. It's okay. Really. /
It took a moment, but eventually the negative feelings subsided and Yami sent an apology back.
/ / I know, partner. Thank you. It's just a...touchy subject, I suppose you could say. Don't mind me and my mood swings. I'll be alright. I promise. / /
Yugi's smile widened again in happiness and let the hand holding the puzzle drop to his lap. He returned his attention to his friends, but blinked at their amused looks.
To his right, Anzu giggled and set her cup down.
"Nothing~" she answered. She probably originally intended to keep quiet, but whatever restraint she held quickly left and she added: "It's just cute how you space out when talking to the Pharaoh sometimes. It's like you're both in your own private world."
Yugi blushed as the others laughed. He did make a habit out of spacing out, didn't he? At least he didn't talk out loud around other people anymore (mostly).
"Where is that book?!"
All four (well, five) heads turned to the doorway as Sugoroku entered, one hand on his hip and the other set against his temple. He seemed very concentrated though frustrated. He was looking for a book? What book?
"Hey, gramps, you lost something?" Jounouchi asked, startling the elder man. "Ah, sorry. You look kinda upset, is all."
Sugoroku sighed and the hand held at his forehead dropped to his side.
"I was searching for an old storybook Yugi's mother picked up a long time ago." he explained. At the confused stares he received, he waved a hand in the air dismissively. "She mentioned it to one of her friends and that friend was interested in buying it for her little girl, but I can't seem to find it. I could have sworn I set it on the shelf with all the other books..."
Yugi hummed in thought for a moment, trying to remember where his father had originally put all his old toys and things. It had been such a long time since then, but...oh, right! The attic!
"Did you check out the attic, grandpa?" Yugi asked, trying to picture the upstairs area in question. There was a good chance the book had been stashed away in a box or something. "I remember Dad packed away a lot of my old stuff."
Instead of looking pleased by the information, Yugi's grandfather seemed to deflate. Yugi blinked and frowned. That hadn't been the reaction he had been hoping for at all.
"The attic?" his grandfather repeated before groaning. "Oh, I'll never find it at this rate. I still have things to do in the shop and the attic is so unorganized. I'm getting too old to go hunting for antiques."
"I could look for it." Yugi suggested and his grandfather's eyes lit up a bit. "I don't mind."
"I can help, too, Mr. Mutou." Anzu added, raising a hand to volunteer herself. "With two of us looking, we can cover more ground."
"Make it three!" Jounouchi said, quickly jumping into the conversation and adding himself to the hunting crew. "We'll find that book in no time!"
Honda raised his own hand.
"I'm in, too!" he contributed, flashing a grin. "Just as long as I know what we're looking for, it's no problem."
Sugoroku chuckled at the four of them and shook his head.
"Oh, I couldn't ask you all to do that," he began. Jounouchi opened his mouth as if he were about to protest, but Sugoroku raised a hand to silence him. "but, if you insist, then I accept."
"So, what are we looking for again?" Jounouchi asked as he examined the contents of a nearby storage box. It contained something in various shades of blue and...was that lace? "Uhh...some kind of journal?"
"A storybook." Yugi corrected. He took a few steps over to one side of the attic and glanced at all the stacks of dusty boxes packed against the walls. He gave a little groan. This might take a little longer than he initially thought. "Alice in Wonderland, he said it was called."
"I remember a little of that story." Anzu commented. She moved further into the attic and approached a small stack of dusty, cardboard boxes. Using her index finger, she slipped her nail under one of the top box's flaps and wiggled her finger in to pry it open. Inside, there was only dusty china plates with small, delicate patterns. "This girl follows a talking rabbit down a rabbit hole and falls into a really bizarre world. There's talking caterpillars and everything."
Yugi frowned at all the different hiding places the book could be hidden in. The attic was stuffed with cardboard boxes, faded traveling suitcases, chairs, and all sorts of other things. It could be anywhere and with only a lone, dangling light bulb for light and gradually fading light from the only window in the room, it made actually finding it seem impossible. No wonder his grandfather had complained.
He moved over to smooth his palm against a nearby box's dusty surface and wrapped his fingers around one of the flaps to pull it open. He peered inside as he pushed another long flap away. Unfortunately, there were no books. Just old stuffed animals with button eyes and a rather grumpy looking, wind-up turtle toy.
"I don't think I've ever heard that story." Honda admitted. He, too, moved over to a corner of the room and began riffling through boxes and other packages. "I was more into pretend adventure games back then, though. If there wasn't pirates or ninjas, I wasn't interested."
"I think I might have heard it once, but I'm not really sure." Jounouchi chimed in. He chose the very far corner of the attic that was nearest the window to begin his search. "I don't remember anything about a talking rabbit."
Yugi closed the box and transferred it to the floor so he could check the box underneath it. This one had dirty tape keeping it shut. Luckily, this box had handles cut into its sides. So, instead of attempting to rip the tape off, he bent down so he could be eye-level with the hole and looked through it.
'More toys.' he mused, a bit disappointed.
He heard the spirit chuckle and Yugi straightened his posture before turning to his friend. Yami was leaning against a precariously stacked group of boxes with his arms crossed, observing everyone as they scurried about in search of a single book.
"You need more help, Partner?" the spirit asked, his attention turning to the corner of the room where Jounouchi was fussing with a stuck suitcase. "I can phase through objects, you know."
Yugi's eyebrows knit together in worry and he pursed his lips. He appreciated the offer, but he knew how much Yami disliked walking through things or things walking through him. It violated the boundaries of personal space on a completely different level and Yugi couldn't ask him to do that.
"It doesn't feel as strange walking through objects as it does with another person." Yami added and hummed in thought. "I suppose it has something to do with inanimate objects not being alive or...something like that."
Yugi continued to look worried, but he smiled. If Yami was really okay with it...
"Thanks, other me."
The spirit returned Yugi's smile briefly before moving away from the stack of boxes he was leaning against and wandering off into the attic. Yugi stared after him for a moment before returning to searching his own area.
"God. Damn. Thing!" Jounouchi cursed, the chair he was struggling to move proving to be quite the formidable opponent. The wooden piece of furniture just refused to cooperate and move out of his way. "C'mon, move!"
Anzu shook her head at the blonde, but said nothing. She was seated on the floor with an open box in front of her and a photo album she found resting across her lap. She flipped a page, paused, and suddenly giggled.
"Aw, Yugi, you were the cutest toddler!" she gushed, much to Yugi's embarrassment.
A dark blush crossed Yugi's cheeks. He tried to say something to that, but found he had nothing to say at all and settled for giving a whiney groan.
/ / Oh, were you now? / / he heard Yami say through their link, waves of amusement hitting him. / / I have to say, I'm curious-now what's this? / /
Yugi's attention caught at the sudden change in emotions and his blush thankfully began to fade as he turned to search for his missing friend. Where had he gone? He could feel him nearby, but he couldn't see him anywhere.
/ Did you find something? / Yugi asked, feeling hopeful. He should have known Yami would end up finding it.
/ / Maybe...there are books here, but I can't move them to see the titles. / / came the answer. / / Hold on. You can't see me like this. / /
Yugi continued to scan the attic for any sign of his friend and at last spotted him less than a foot away, having apparently been crouched down this whole time. Yugi carefully made his way around a couple towers of boxes to reach him, but accidentally bumped into a chair on the way and tripped over a lone box seated beside the chair.
Certainly not his most graceful moment.
Yugi winced as he hit the ground. There was thankfully nothing sharp or pointy scattered across the floor to break his fall. As for the puzzle around his neck, it seemed to have a mind of its own and swished off to the side just in time to avoid puncturing a hole in its wielder's chest. Yugi imagined Yami had something to do with that, however.
Speaking of which, no sooner had Yugi touched the ground had Yami rushed to his side.
"Are you alright?" he asked in concern, a hand immediately coming to hover over Yugi's back and the other over the teen's shoulder.
Yugi pushed himself up on his elbows and sighed at himself. He had been so careful, too.
"I'm alright, other me." he responded and moved to push himself to his knees. "Just having a clumsy moment."
"Yug, you alright?"
Yugi looked up to a wall of boxes sitting before him and saw Jounouchi peering over the top. He was quickly joined by Anzu and Honda. Yugi laughed and made a dismissive wave with his hand.
"I'm alright. Just tripped over a box, is all."
Jounouchi's shoulders sagged a little in relief and he grinned.
"Just checking. Hey, you guys found anything yet?"
Honda briefly glanced back at the area he had been searching before shaking his head and shrugging in defeat.
"Nothing so far. Just a lot of frilly stuff." he answered.
Standing in-between the two, Anzu held a dusty photo album to close to her chest and seemed rather pleased with herself (if the smile tugging at her lips and the delighted gleam in her eyes were anything to go by).
"No~" she answered, a little too cheery for Yugi's liking. He had to find a way to get that album back before the girl made herself copies. Toddler Yugi wasn't a thing he wanted circulating outside of the attic, no matter how adorable everyone thought said Toddler Yugi was.
"Aagh, me neither." Jounouchi admitted, turning to glare at a certain problematic chair.
"Actually, the Pharaoh said he might have found something." Yugi said, moving to stand on his feet. He dusted himself off and turned to Yami. "Some books?"
Yami nodded and walked over to where he previously found the books. He crouched down and partially phased through a stack of boxes (which was such an odd thing to witness). He pulled out after a moment and pointed to the very bottom of the stack.
"It's this one." he confirmed. "Be careful, though. The box above it has a set of kitchen knives and the box doesn't appear to be that sturdy."
"That one." Yugi repeated, pointing to the same box Yami had directed him to. "He says there are books in that one."
"I'm on it!" Jounouchi cried and he enthusiastically leapt over the wall of boxes to join Yugi. He crouched down (thankfully next to Yami rather than through him) and ran a finger over the box's edge. "This one, you said?"
"Yeah, but be careful." Yugi warned. "He said the box above it isn't very stable and has kitchen knives in it."
"No offense, Yugi, but your attic is a safety hazard." Honda replied, shaking his head at the news. "Hold on there, Jounouchi. You're going to need some help with this one."
Since Honda was already close to a short path that lead to the little enclosed area, he took it and quickly joined the other boys. He carefully ran his fingers over the edges and sides of the knife box, in search of weak spots. He frowned after a moment.
"The Pharaoh's right. This box is in bad condition. I'm not even sure we can move it without it falling apart on us."
Jounouchi frowned, but shrugged nonetheless.
"Not like we have much choice." he responded, attention moving to the decaying box. "Unless the Pharaoh can levitate objects, we gotta move it."
Yami moved out of his crouch and moved to stand by Yugi's side, rolling his eyes as he went.
"I don't do that sort of thing for free." he replied despite Yugi being the only one who could hear him. "Besides, I don't do parlor tricks. Too tedious."
Yugi shook his head and found himself paraphrasing again.
"I didn't think so." Jounouchi mumbled, unknowingly earning himself a Yami pout. "Alright Honda. On the count of three, we lift this thing and drop it on that box."
The teenager pointed towards an empty space beside them, where a stack of boxes resided. Had the knife box been more stable, they could have just slid it over and out of their way.
Honda didn't look too thrilled about picking the box up, but he made no protest and got into position, fingers sliding under one side of the box. Jounouchi copied his movements and on the count of three, they quickly lifted it and transferred it to the available space beside it. The cardboard seemed to sag as it rested on its new home, almost as if it would suddenly burst and spill its contents.
It was now lopsided, but it didn't break open.
Satisfied that it was now safe to continue, Honda tore open the lid to the box containing the books and the gang all crowded around it to peer inside. It was loaded with an array of different sized collections of literature, but none of the titles were facing them. Honda picked a book at random and pulled it out to check the title.
"Edgar Allen Poe?" he read, catching the book's author on the cover.
Yugi and Anzu each grabbed a book from the box while Jounouchi tried to figure out which one to look at first. Yugi read the title of his A History of Osaka before sighing and reaching for another book. Anzu did the same after having a quick look at hers.
This went one for quite some time. The box slowly emptied and Yugi was beginning to lose hope that the book his grandfather wanted was even there when Anzu suddenly cheered, startling all of them.
"I found it!" she exclaimed, grinning at the book's title. "Alice in Wonderland. I guess it really was here all along. It's a little beat up, though."
She turned the book over and over in her hands, checking out the damage it had sustained over time. It certainly did look worn. The cover was faded, its silver letters chipped and its edges a dark, rusty color. The pages (from what Yugi could see of them) were yellowed and even brown in some areas.
"Eh, I don't think Gramps is gonna sell this thing." Jounouchi stated, eyeing the book with a skeptical stare. "I don't even think he could give that thing away."
Anzu handed the book over to Yugi and he flipped it open to get a better look at the damage to the pages. The damage wasn't as bad as it could have been, he was pleased to find. The yellowing only affected the edges. The actual text was safe. He flipped the page.
And found nothing. It was blank.
Yugi's eyes took on a confused shine and he flipped to the next page.
Again, he was met with a sea of blankness.
He quickly thumbed through the rest of the pages, but that just made matters worse. The whole book (aside from the first page) was blank.
"Say what now?"
Yugi helplessly leafed through the pages again.
"The book! It's completely blank!" he repeated. He held the book out for the others to see as he flipped through more pages. "There's not a single word in here except for the first page!"
Honda looked at a loss for how to respond and Jounouchi just continued to gape at the pages in astonishment. How was it possible for a book to completely lose all of its text?
"Well, what does the first page say?" Anzu asked, shaking her head in disbelief. "I mean, there's...a book can't just lose its story! Is the cover fake?"
Yugi shook his head at the question.
"No. It's real, but...hold on."
He flipped to the only page that had text and quickly read over it only to discover that it was a poem. A short one. He returned to the first sentence and read it out loud.
"A journey's end comes again and again,
but why read another's story when you can make your own begin?
Choose your poison, choose your path. But don't dally.
Because if you're not careful, the journey won't last.
Can you survive to see another day?
Why not find out and come here to play."
And that was all it said.
Serena: I was going to add more, BUT IT'S LONG ENOUGH, don't you think? Almost 9,000 words. *whistles* What a long first chapter... anyway, what did you guys think? If you survived all that, would you like to see more? It gets trippy and unusual from here on out. Let me know in a review if you would like to see more. I'll be less inclined to write if no one wants to read it. So, please do review and I'll have a talk with Anzu about making Toddler Yugi go viral~