Mokuba Kaiba raced through the halls of Kaiba mansion, desperate to find his older brother, Seto. He just received word from Pegasus, who urgently needed to talk to Seto. He knew how much his older brother despised Pegasus but the situation was dire. The fate of both of their companies and the very Yugioh game itself depended on it.
Mobuka opened the door to Seto’s study, a room he retired to if he still needed to work outside the CEO’s office, which was often. Seto, dressed in an immaculately white business suit he so often wore these days, stood idly, his hands behind his back, looking out the window. Mokuba saw the reflection of his brother’s face on the window: stony, silent, brooding.
Seto spent the entire night thinking about the metagame: what it was, what it is now, and where it was going. As he looked at the sunrise he thought the very game itself was dying, or at least the form of it he lived and dueled by for most of his life to this point. The game was transforming to something very new.
In the past the game had a kind of mystique about it, based on a duelist’s spirit. Back then it had a lot more to do with owning powerful and rare cards, and having the riches to buy them. If you had such cards you were a better duelist. Seto never thought of it as a bad thing. For some reason he even thought being lucky or wealthy enough to have rare and powerful cards somehow meant you had a greater duelist’s spirit. It somehow meant Fate had chosen you as a superior human being.
But now that spirit didn’t exist anymore, and neither did Fate. Cards became so much cheaper and mass marketed almost everyone could get powerful cards. Powerful cards were like plastic chess sets. They no longer really mattered. It all boiled down to who was smarter and who could more inventively use the resources everyone collectively had. Even a low level duelist with low level monsters could kill a god card merely by being smart enough and using the right strategy.
Seto nostalgically looked at his three Blue-Eyes White Dragon cards. Back in the day they were one of the strongest cards, putting fear and dread in all duelists. Now, so many other cards were manufactured that hit the 3000 ATK threshold that were better. The spirit and pride of dueling vanished. Duel monsters became chess pieces to be manipulated, simple trading cards to gamble with, or just tools to push a higher goal that was bigger than the game itself.
Mobuka interrupted his musings, “Pegasus wants to meet with you tomorrow. It’s about the World Championship. It’s really important.” Mokuba stood by his brother, both of their bodies reflected by the window. Mokuba dramatically contrasted his brother. He was of medium height and child-like while his brother was tall and imposing. His hair was a messy jet black, recently trimmed, while his brother’s hair was brown and precisely cut. His deep blue eyes were wide and open while his brother’s were cold, piercing, and narrow.
He could see the grimace in his brother’s face just by mentioning Pegasus’s name. Seto silently told Mokuba, by some mutual understanding between them, that he heeded the call. In the afternoon he took a private jet all the way to Pegasus’s castle, tucked away in an island near Japan in the middle of the ocean.
“Why HELLO THERE, Kaiba-boy!” Pegasus greeted Seto Kaiba in a false, booming, jolly voice. He reclined in a expensive chair made of Italian silk, gesturing to a small table with a complete tea set, like he was a little girl hosting a tea party. “How goes business in the city? Did you shout down a few employees? Make any important telephone calls? Fire anyone?”
“None.” Kaiba noticed the mocking sarcasm that so often inflected Pegasus’s speech and he didn’t like it. Kaiba hated sarcasm, even though he sometimes indulged in it himself. “At least I’m not Michael Jackson stuck in Neverland. Let’s get down to business. I refuse to stay here for long.”
“Ooh! Scathing, angry, and impatient as ever, Kaiba-boy. You never change.” Pegasus took a moment to sip his tea.
“I don’t have the luxury to change.” Kaiba said.
“Or the capacity.” Pegasus countered. “Let’s get down and dirty, Kaiba-boy. I’m sure a no-nonsense man like you appreciate that. Anyway,” He suddenly became serious and opened a laptop. On it was the database of every duelist who entered the World Championship. Kaibacorp and I2 satellites in space watched their every move and every duel. “As you know, the Ghouls struck Cairo yesterday, eliminating many duelists. They retreated for now but I’m sure they’ll be back to cause more damage.”
Kaiba was losing even more patience. Did he fly all the way over here just for this? “The Ghouls are pests. They cause trouble but can’t do any real damage. They haven’t caused much trouble since they dispersed after the first Battle City.”
“Yes, but don’t you think they’re coming back together to form a real threat? I have a few leads to what they may want. Matthew Carter was the American National Champion for many years but lost his title in 2005. Since then he stopped going to tournaments, behaved erratically, and disappeared a few months ago. I suspect his activities, so I hired private investigators. They traced him to the Ghouls and even found information of his motives.”
Pegasus produced a small recording device and hit “Play”. The tape inside was damaged for it was nearly destroyed in an explosion, so Kaiba could only make out a few words. Apparently, a detective was interrogating a Ghoul. “Do you… any information… on Matthew…? – Another guy said… listened… Matthew… Book of Isis… Tournament… in Egypt… revenge… says Pegasus did it… avenge his grandfather… Please let me go!”
Book of Isis? Kaiba sat in shock for a moment, but his shock soon gave way to his usual incredulity on hearing anything about Egyptian mysticism. “So Matthew’s a dork who wants an old book. Big deal.”
“The detective in the recording died soon after! His college found the damaged tape on his corpse! Please take this seriously, Kaiba!” Pegasus was now visibly agitated. All the fun and games were over. “Matthew’s grandfather gave me the Book of Isis for safekeeping but the Ghouls soon murdered him! Now Matthew leads the Ghouls and thinks I’m the one who murdered his grandfather! And he’s after my book!”
Kaiba snorted. He enjoyed seeing Pegasus drop his silly act, especially if it meant watching Pegasus squirm in his $1,000 Salvatore white shoes. “The Ghouls are in Egypt but the book is with you, isn’t it? This shouldn’t be too much of a problem.”
Pegasus cast his eyes down, visibly sad and worried. “Sadly, no. It would be foolish and risky to actually carry it around my person. So I had it reburied in Egypt, buried in the deepest, darkest tomb, that no one could find it, not even Ghouls. It was the safest place I could think of. My hunch seems to have been right. The Ghouls didn’t find the book in Egypt, so they spent years cracking into every museum and government vault they could, but in vain. Now, finally, they’re back in Egypt and want to kill me.”
Kaiba didn’t know what to tell Pegasus. How could they deal with Ghouls? They were massive corporate heads but not part of governments, so they didn’t control any armies. The United Nations was plodding and incompetent in dealing with the revolution that exploded in Egypt, as with everything.
Pegasus had an idea, for he said, “Kaiba, since you run Duel Academies you could create some kind of army of trained duelists. Not from the students themselves of course, but professionals based there. I could even send my best protégés.”
Kaiba carefully pondered Pegasus’s words and responded, “It is a plan. I’ll assemble a special duelist task force to take out those Ghoul vermin once and for all. I’ll even contact the Egyptian government so my duelists can work with them. I expect you to hold your end of the bargain, Pegasus, and send your own duelists.”
“Yes, of course…”
“Then business is settled. Good day to you.” Kaiba swiftly stood up, cordial but cold, and left Pegasus to his worries.
DAY 2 : 5:26PM : ASSIUT
Team Baby Blast Furnace bade farewell to Team Stella and joined Team Buffalo Chicken to form a party of travelers. Sadly, there wasn’t any time left to have Sophia climb Khufu’s Pyramid. Yukio didn’t want to climb the Pyramid, seeing himself as unworthy of it after losing, and Sophia didn’t want to go it alone.
They traveled to the city of Assiut to spend the night, a modest city in the middle of Egypt. The streetlights lit the city’s universities, mosques, and hotels, making them stand out against the lonely, starless, dark sky. Mathias bawled how hungry he was, desperate to find a pizzeria in Egypt, so they searched everywhere they could for one.
The city crawled with militia, as Heishin wanted to cement his control of the land, which meant putting down any counter revolutionary insurgents. At one point Maya, Yukio, and Sophia lost their way and saw such a ghastly sight tucked back in a small street alley. A platoon of soldiers brought a three blindfolded men, throwing them in front of the platoon’s lieutenant. They spoke entirely in Arabic so our protagonists couldn’t understand them. But they could understand the body language. The soldiers tortured the men, beating them, hitting them with their guns, and breaking their fingers. The men finally snapped and seemed to confess something while pleading for their lives. The lieutenant shouted an order and the soldiers shot the men dead in their heads, leaving their bodies in the alley.
Sophia clasped her mouth in horror, almost in tears at the sight of murder. Maya and Yukio could only gaze at the sight, shocked and disturbed, but only briefly. Sophia nearly whelped out loud, but it was enough to make Maya and Yukio panic, fearing the soldiers would see them. They grabbed Sophia’s mouth and hand and fled as quickly as they could, hoping they wouldn’t be followed.
They met Mathias, Maximus, and Ivy in one of the main streets of the city. “Woah, you guys OK? You look like you saw someone got murdered.” Maximus said.
Maya, Yukio, and Sophia looked at each other and nonverbally decided it was best not to talk about it.
Both teams found a pizzeria in the more westernized part of town and Mathias finally got his fresh massive load of buffalo chicken pizza. Everyone else chowed down on the same dish, almost like Mathias was their leader. The pizza was very strong and filling. It made everyone much happier.
“You guys can’t be a bunch of counterculture rebel duelists with an empty stomach?” Mathias joked to the gang. “Better?
Maya, Yukio, and Sophia nodded. “Better.”
In good spirits, Mathias, Maximus, and Ivy told Maya, Yukio, and Sophia of their many stories and exploits. They hailed from California as the Saints, a secretive group of top class duelists who offset their opponents with unusual decks. They loved to challenge arrogant champions like Matthew and kick them to the curb to show how much they really sucked. They even made one former world champion cry.
“Ah, dueling to live by.” Maya commented before taking a bite of tasty pizza.
They told of their heroic deeds: stopping Set and his gang of Eternal Hunters, putting down the renegade Shinobi, a former Saint who let his resentment and arrogance corrupt him to darkness. They defeated Venom, Set’s understudy, and sealed the demon Loki back where he came from. When the Furies descended on the dueling world, the Saints took the mantle again and defeated them, gaining Ivy as a new member along the way. Finally, they defeated the monk Apep who masterminded all prior events.
“So what about you guys?” Ivy asked. She was usually the quiet one.
Maya and Yukio laughed awkwardly. Compared to the mighty deeds of these Saints their resumes were rather small. Still, they told their story. Originally, Maya and Yukio were part of Team Dark Duelists with JC as their leader. They defeated Matthew’s cronies who wanted to monopolize the metagame for their power-hungry and ideological ends. Then JC betrayed them for the sake of power and turned Team Dark Duelists into another corporate contracted team. It was up to Maya to wreck Matthew in the 2005 Nationals, which she did with extreme prejudice.
“I take it you’re new to the gang?” Ivy asked Sophia, who was also a quiet one.
“I just joined them before this tournament started. Before that Pegasus took me in to be one of his protégés. In Iceland I met Maya and Yukio. They seem like pretty nice guys.”
“You were taken in by Pegasus? That means you’re probably an orphan. Poor thing…”
Sophia said nothing to Ivy in return.
“How old are you guys? You seem pretty young.” Maximus asked the group.
Our team answered back. Maya was 22, Yukio was 23, while Sophia was 17.
“You’re only 17, Sophia? YOU’RE A BABY!” Mathias exclaimed as if he saw a cut puppy.
Sophia blushed. She hid her hands inside her sleeves and then used her sleeves to hide her face. She was embarrassed but also liked getting the warmth and attention.
At this point everyone was stuffed and the waiters cleared the table. Mathias proposed a little fun game where everyone put down each other’s favorite card on the table and talk about their futures. “Where will you go in life once the tournament is over?”
Mathias, Maximus, and Ivy, produced their cards: Horus the Black Flame Dragon LV8, Swordswoman Crusader LV7, and Dual Vapor Dragon. They all said they planned on going back to California after the tournament and keep being the Saints.
It was now Maya’s, Sophia’s, and Yukio’s turn. Yukio went first. He put down his favorite card: Number 39: Utopia. “This card represents to me hope, fighting spirit, and infinite possibilities. I duel professionally and try to get a band off the ground, but my main job is middle management. If we win this tournament I’ll use the winnings to get my band off the ground. I don’t want to duel forever. I want to be a rock musician and a comedian. I hope that happens one day.” He was about to mention returning back to his family to apologize to his mother, but he didn’t. He vowed to himself he would do that.
Sophia put down her card: Fortune Lady Light. “I like her because she is innocent and pure. She is a sage who sees far and wide. She is strong but graceful. Even when angry or scared or against the odds, she never loses her will or hope. After the tournament I want to complete my schooling under Pegasus. I want to study Russian Literature and Photography either in Russia or in America. I want to become a photojournalist, to show what’s happening in the world, to make people think, and to make them better people.”
It was Maya’s turn, but she didn’t know what card to pick. She admitted she didn’t know what her favorite card was. Her thoughts about her future were as nebulous. She thought it was best to figure things out peace by peace, so she started with how she got here. “After I won the Nationals in 2005, I went to the University of Chicago to get degrees in Urban Studies and Music. I succeeded but I couldn’t go to the graduation ceremony. I worked odd jobs and tried to make ends meet as a pro duelist, but it wasn’t easy. I didn’t use any heat for the winter.” She was even homeless, living in a shelter for a few weeks.
Maya paused for a minute, thinking of where to go now. “I don’t want to be a concert pianist and I don’t feel I can make money composing. I was thinking of even joining Yukio’s band. But at the same time I have an obligation to fix American society and help people. I could be an activist or anthropologist, maybe both. I have two doors to my future, but they’re shut, not open. I don’t feel hope.”
“Why not?” Yukio asked gently.
“I compose mostly classical music, music people don’t pay for anymore. My music is clever but I don’t let my feelings through, writing what I really want to write about. I’m thinking of ways to write music in new ways, to integrate classical music in a new style, to put together musical forms in new ways to tell a story, and find ways to put my feelings onto paper. I wish I could do the last step, but there is…” She knew the answer but didn’t say it. It was a wall in her heart. If she let it open, she would be naked, and a river of pain would flow in. It would be chaotic and horrible.
“As an activist, I would always fight a war against the ‘system’ or whatever you want to call it. Once the ‘system’ is destroyed I won’t have anything left to do. I need to fight the ‘system’. I want to win and fight like I want to win, but at the same time I don’t want to actually win even though I really want to win, if that makes any sense.”
Yukio offered his explanation, “You always need to be the rebel. You define yourself not by what you actually like but what you hate, and then mold yourself to oppose what you hate. But if you actually win and what you advocate becomes a trend then you’ll need to fight against the very trend you started. When you want to be an activist you care more about this need you have than actual people needing help.”
“Yeah, that’s true…” Maya had no choice but to admit it.
Sophia decided to overcome her shyness and chime in with her own thoughts. “I do some music myself. I’m an alto singer. There is a quote from Mozart that basically says, ‘Genius doesn’t come from complexity or a fancy imagination but from love.’ You don’t have love, but most people don’t anyway. Love isn’t an infatuation you instantly get and have forever. Love is something that grows. It is a way of maturing and appreciating things and learning how to live. Love is something you learn.”
Maya widened her eyes ever so slightly but it said everything. It was a revelation. But Maya then denied it. “I don’t feel so optimistic about things. I have so much weight on me, the crushing burden, my forehead and chest feel crushed and sometimes feel I can’t breath. I wish I could just take the burden off but I can’t and I wouldn’t want to even if I could, because I have to. And is it even worth it? People can’t change even if they want to. The world will always be a brutal place and people will always be self-deluding hypocrites. It is rational to see life as the farce that it is and maybe just take your own life to spare yourself the pain of living. What is irrational? Hope.”
A dismal silence set in. It lasted for several minutes and definitely threatened to kill lively spirit from earlier. “Sorry for killing the mood. I’m 22 and already I’m forced to become a philosopher.”
“Well, that was edgy.” Maximus said jokingly, breaking the silence. “You may want to join Linkin Park or maybe Black Sabbath if that is not edgy enough for you.”
Maya joined in on the joke. “Black Sabbath is a pussy band. You need to know your bands more. Ask Yukio.” She mockingly sang one of Linkin Park’s best songs, grabbing an imaginary microphone. “CRAAAAAWLING IIIN MY SKIIIIIN! THESE WOOOUUNDS THEY WIIIIILL NOT HEEEAAAAL! FEEEAAR IS HOOOOW I FAAAAAAALL!” She couldn’t do it anymore and broke down with a hearty laugh and everyone joined in.
Team Buffalo Chicken and Team Baby Blast Furnace crashed in the Partner Tut Hotel and wished each other a good night. The room had only two beds so Maya and Yukio slept together while Sophia slept in the next bed. Sophia drifted to sleep first, Yukio second, but Maya stayed awake for a little while longer.
She couldn’t help but think about the three blindfolded men, executed, shot in the back of the head. In truth it stayed on her mind during the entire pizza dinner but it wasn’t so noticeable. Now, in the most lonely, terrifying minutes of the day, where you are alone with only your thoughts, the men’s deaths consumed her.
It was the second time she saw someone die. The first was her mother, succumbing to lung cancer in a hospital when Maya was ten. She and father put warm blankets and pillows on mother and held her hands to comfort her as she made the final journey. Mother was stoic and happy in her final moments, never once confused. Father asked for mother’s forgiveness for the times he hit her and yelled at her and mother forgave him. Mother then asked Maya’s forgiveness for not being strong enough to pursue her dreams and for not protecting Maya enough. Maya said there was no need for forgiveness for no offense was given. Maya watched her mother’s death rattle and saw the light leave her mother’s eyes.
What did it mean to die? Sometimes she thought death was a precious relief from the pain of living. It was sweeter than going to bed at last after a very long day. At other times she was scared of it, scared of not existing, scared of losing consciousness forever, scared of the infinite blackness. Or did your entire life unfold at your last moment and you floated in the sea of your memories forever? In either case, was there a moment of judgment where your whole life appears before you and all answers revealed themselves? Were you a good person? Did you do the right things? Did you live your life well?
How do you face your final moment? It was almost like you had to spend your whole life preparing for it. It seemed that you not only needed to know how to live but also know how to die.
As Maya slipped into the darkness of sleep, she envied people who didn’t dream. She often did, and they were always strange places. Sometimes they were merely disturbing, sometimes nightmares, but never pleasant. Strange lands… Like how she wrote music… Like dreams…