We’re perched headlong
on the edge of boredom
We’re reaching for death
on the end of a candle
We’re trying for something
That’s already found us
Matthew Howard Carter grimaced as he tried to decipher the pages upon pages of documents of classified information stacked on his desk, his face twisted into a scowl. He strained his eyes for days on end trying to decipher them. With their small printed text and black censor strips they looked more like hieroglyphs than any form of English. He at least could read hieroglyphs. Grandfather was one of the only hundred or so people in the world that could and taught him since he was ten.
Grandfather was the reason he dug himself into so much research. Poor grandfather was brutally murdered when he was only fifteen. He never saw his body at the time of murder but could only imagine the anguish, pain, and betrayal on his once noble features. He saw his grandfather laid in his coffin for the last time, draped in palm leaves, face noble and serene.
Matthew felt the frustration seep into his nerves again. He hired the best agents he could with father’s considerable wealth to dig up everything they could. Still, nothing. Father used the family fortune to drift away from curating Egyptian artifacts to make a company for intellectual property and children’s software. He replaced high culture and history with lawyers and brokers, men of antiquity with children of modernity. To make things even worse, father had no intention of leaving his position of CEO of the company anytime soon.
Matthew had no power. He could recall his duel with Maya four years ago like it was yesterday, the bitterness of his loss still stinging his lips. He remembered every word she told him, “Oh, you think he was a saint among mere mortals, but he was not an innocent man. I dug up quite a lot of filth about him. To say your old man had a lot of unsavory dealings with the Ghouls is an understatement. He controlled a big chunk of the Ghouls in America to the point where he had a partnership with the boss. He had to. How else would he have driven his rivals out of business and preserve your family wealth?”
The words still shocked him, their bitter impact still flaring him up with wrathful indignation. “Silence your LYING TONGUE, witch!!!” He shouted to the empty darkness. But if she was obviously lying why did he spend years researching grandfather’s history? The classified files stacked in front of him didn’t lie.
“Matthew, please come to bed. It’s late. You’re ruining your health.” His fiancé, Alexis Burkeheart, draped in a white bathrobe, leaned wearily against the wall. She looked the worse for wear. Her black hair, usually sleek, was a tangled mess. Her icy blue eyes were drowsy and red with blood vessels.
Matthew looked at his own slightly bulging stomach. His skin had decayed from a solid tan to a wispy pail. His weight had suffered as well. “I will once I get to the bottom of this mystery. Grandfather did control the gang of Ghouls in New York, the biggest and most powerful American gang. But get this. The Ghouls seem to be serving someone higher up the food chain. Sometimes the bosses seem to get orders from someone but no one knows who.”
Alexis was in no mood to listen to another dreary speculation about who the Ghouls served. “I’m going to bed.”
“Do whatever you want. Just leave me in my solitude.” Matthew growled as Alexis stormed off. Matthew didn’t mind her leaving. Better than being hen-pecked by an uppity woman. His frustration swelled inside him until it finally climaxed. He shouted in the air, “I would sell my soul to the Devil to find out who the Ghouls serve and why!”
What was that? Matthew’s blood froze into ice. That was way too soon to be a coincidence.
“Butler! Butler! Open the door!” Matthew called. He forgot the butler was asleep this late. “Alexis! Get the door!” No answer.
Matthew had no choice but to open the door himself. He dressed up in a brown bathrobe as brown as his scruffy hair and eyes. Working up the courage, he went to the darkness downstairs and opened the door.
Two complete strangers came in without hesitation. One of them was a man monstrously huge, made even more intimidating by his large black coat. The other was a woman, small and porcelain, hardly over five feet tall. The huge man shook Matthew’s hand with his own hand, which looked big enough to crush his skull. “Good evening and a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Carter. I am Gernand and I know everything about your grandfather.”
“Matthew? Who are they? – Don’t let them in! I don’t trust them!” Alexis just started going down the stairs but recoiled right after. Matthew didn’t heed her warning. Finally someone had all the answers. He let the strangers in to the drawing room, over a cold hearth.
The woman glanced around, noticing the paintings of Matthew’s ancestors, the small iron gates around the hearth, the furniture carved from rare and comely wood. “Is this your vacation house?”
Gernand waved his hand at the woman dismissively. He wouldn’t be bothered by such trifles. “I will now tell everything about your grandfather. Ten years ago, while in Egypt he discovered an artifact more devastating than all the Millennium Items combined, in fact, the very book consulted by those dark, shrewd priests of the Amenhotep Dynasty to murder the treacherous grave robbers in their own village and infuse their flesh into gold to create the them.”
“Grandfather discovered the Millennium Tome!?” Matthew couldn’t believe his ears. “According to Egyptian myth it was penned by none other than the goddess Isis herself. It is the oldest, most fundamental surviving text of magic in the world.”
“Indeed it is. You certainly did your homework.” The woman affirmed, smiling gently.
“Your grandfather was wise to not display the oime in public.” Gernand continued. “Instead he kept it in a vault deep in his mansion, which is, I believe, this very house.” He must have noticed a restless light shine in Matthew’s eyes for he then said, “Do not be naïve and reckless, boy, the Tome is long gone from this home. As you probably know by now, he controlled the New York Ghouls but the boss on top, resentful at serving the old man and rapacious for the latent powers of the Tome, sent a gang to murder your grandfather in cold blood. Your grandfather, with his acute intuition and wisdom, sent the Tome to Pegasus J. Crawford, the very creator of Duel Monsters, shortly before his murder.”
The floor under Matthew’s feet started to whirl behind him and Matthew clasped on to a coffee table to keep himself standing. It was too much information to process in one moment. He gave himself a few minutes to breath until the shock died down a bit. “Is Maya a Ghoul? She raided grandfather’s tomb.”
“Oh no, my dear boy. The girl is uncongenial and has a small criminal record, but she could never be that foul. A Ghoul raided your grandfather’s tomb beforehand, sent by the boss to find the Tome, unaware that Pegasus really possessed it. He only found a precious case of your grandfather’s Duel Monsters cards. The Ghoul, annoyed not finding the Tome, dumped your grandfather’s body down the well out of spite. As the Ghoul was making his escape with his consolation booty, a policeman caught him. They pierced each other with bullets. The Ghoul, his hand and body shot, dropped the case in the well before fleeing while the policeman, also wounded, tried to reach a hospital. Both criminal and officer quickly died from their wounds.”
Alexis listened to Gernand’s story the whole time. Now she came downstairs and pulled Matthew up, who was still recoiling from the devastating news. “You know the truth. Now we can finally put this behind us. Please Matthew. Let’s go to bed.”
But Gernand wasn’t finished yet. “I have an offer, boy. Do you not wish to avenge your grandfather’s death? Do you not wish to discover the Millennium Tome, broaden your knowledge of Egypt and her mysterious people, and master magic so secret only a handful of men in all of history learned it?”
“Tell me now!” Matthew demanded, his voice shaking from the shock but still authoritative. His burning desire for vengeance was in his eyes. No one could deny it.
The smug grin on Gernand’s big lips was awful to look at. “Very well I shall. The 2009 World Championship starts in a week from now. Due to your prestigious reputation you probably received an invitation. Both you and Alexis will participate and win your ways to the finals. Pegasus is a vain and flamboyant man, self-absorbed, a nostalgic child, forever bonded to the game he created and the gaming culture that spawned out of it. He wouldn’t miss a chance to see the greatest tournament since Duelist Kingdom and Battle City unfold without him.
Not even we could find the location of the World Championship finals. However, we can ascertain that Pegasus will probably host the finals near Pegasus Island if not at Pegasus Island itself. The finals will be your chance to sneak into Pegasus Island and take the Millennium Tome. His defenses will be low. He will be distracted while he entertains the entire dueling world.”
“And what if the finals aren’t near Pegasus Island?” Matthew asked.
“Then we will have to find another way. In either case, we will compensate you for your time handsomely. And why shouldn’t you participate? Do you not want to reclaim your honor, your ‘duelist’s pride’ as they call it? Ever since your swarthy, prickly friend humiliated you in front of the world, you have hardly dueled, at most winning a few prestigious regionals. Meanwhile, your rival has only grown stronger over time, more audacious and impudent to the idiot governors of the culture that shackles her.”
Alexis took Matthew’s arm forcefully and tried to escort him to bed. “Thank you for your time, Mr. Gernand. We’ll think about it. There’s the door.”
But Matthew wrenched himself free from her clutches. “I accept, Gernand. I will do anything to avenge grandfather’s death!”
Alexis instantly put her hand on Matthew’s mouth as if by doing so she could take back his words. “No! You have no idea who these people are!”
The woman approached Matthew and placed her palm on his heart. “You have a powerful Ka burning inside of you. I needed to lend Ka to a lowly man like Heishin, but you have a dragon of your own crying to be set free. Most people need to train hard to fully realize their Ka. We don’t have time for that, so I can release him prematurely. However, you will be bound to me by a pact, which you can release by fully training your Ka.”
A Ka, as Matthew knew, was a spirit monster that people of antiquity willed into being through magic. A Ka sprang from the unfathomable depths of the Ba, or soul, the well that is the life force of each person. As such, the Ka reflected your nature, whether as a good spirit or evil monster, at least as far as the Egyptian texts go. A modern philosopher would probably call it your creative spirit. Matthew’s Ka was…
“Horus the Black Flame Dragon, take flight from the blackest part of your heart! May you rise with the rising sun on the horizon! May you come forth by day, by every day, wearing a crown of white!”
Matthew burst as a being of light, flames erupting out of him as if coming out of some primeval fountain. He felt a powerful force pushing beneath him pushing him upward as if he was caught in a huge warm updraft. His chest expanded, light and fire shooting out of him, his crown growing infinitely skyward, crowned by light and fire. Somewhere, deep inside him, he was a fiery bird, a fledgling just escaping the nest, flying through a dark cave to the light at the end.
Matthew came down to earth and observed the room around him. None of the priceless furniture was damaged, as Gernand cast his own spell to protect them. His chest hurt, blackened by a burn the shape of the woman’s hand. Alexis clung on to him, almost wanting his protection. He could see why. Dozens of sinister men shrouded in black cowls surrounded them. At last he knew who the Ghouls answered to.
Gernand was completely content. “Do not be upset, boy. I didn’t order for the execution of your grandfather. His death was a sad and unnecessary loss caused by a lowly, greedy boss who couldn’t even fulfill his base, selfish appetite. You should be pleased to know that I dispatched him in the quickest and most brutal way possible. Now, boy, look on your army and become a man. Every thief, bootlegger, cheater, liar, drug dealer, and trafficker in New York and Egypt falls under your command. Fighting your way to the World Championship finals should be easy with such a barbarous legion.”
Matthew was at a loss for words for the third time. The light and fire in his heart evaporated, leaving only darkness and ashes. Grandfather’s murderers were the men Matthew now commanded, and he couldn’t back out. Dread, shame, and despair flashed inside of him so quickly and strongly he couldn’t even process it. He couldn’t even scream.