Twilight happened twice per day, every day, just before the sun rose and just after the sun set. It was something so common yet felt so rare and precious. This was how Maya saw it, now wide-awake at five AM. She was always an early bird, even when she went to bed late, dead tired. Her body seemed to have a mind of its own.
But whatever. She turned on a small reading lamp and read the small black book Jiao gave her four years ago. The book was a lot like the horizon and the city of Assiut she saw for she was on the balcony: wide-open, infinite, uplifting and awesome but unknown and dangerous at the same time. Perhaps this was what “great thinkers” were, brave explorers who wouldn’t shrink from anything whether sailing to the icy poles or climbing inside infernal volcanoes.
According to Jiao, Bakura wrote the small black book, but at this point it could be called Maya’s book too. She wrote hundreds of her own notes on the pages and even talked to the book. The ghost of Bakura that lurked in the pages would answer her questions or make a comment, and she would respond in kind.
BAKURA: Still worried about your future. It’s a big, big world out there after all.
MAYA: Of course. Even two college degrees are hard to find a job these days. I don’t feel capable of compromising myself with my music to fit modern tastes that I don’t like. I don’t know if I can ever succeed in becoming a professor. And as an activist, will the world change at all?
BAKURA: You hid something from Mathias and his group, didn’t you? You flirted with other paths, more exciting and dangerous paths. Why not go into crime? Selling heroine and cocaine will cure your troubles and you are smart enough to avoid arrest. Worried about illicit money? Laundering does wonders with that and you’re hands will be relatively clean.
MAYA: No. It’s wrong. I don’t want to ruin people’s lives.
BAKURA: Really? Down this old path of conventional morals again? You are a stubborn fool. Your virtues are really vices. I will fanatically stress it again: Name me a single human act that was ever universally condemned in all human history. You can’t. Even the most sordid acts from murder to rape to genocide have been not only tolerated in other areas of the world but celebrated. You studied anthropology in college diligently. It’s more than easy for me to draw examples from your mind…
MAYA: You don’t need to tell me. Even “my” culture celebrates murder and rape while pretending to otherwise. I’m well aware of our moral hypocrisies.
BAKURA: I’m sure you are. The very leaders of “your” nation dictate our moral creeds: free trade, merit, equal opportunity, equality before the law, no undue aggression, but they violate their own principles all the time. Their “free market” is aided and protected from collapse by the government, the wealthy inherit their fortunes, dirty bankers are excused from their crimes while the desperate poor turn to crime and are punished for it.
Why do you follow morals that are not even respected by your rulers? By doing so you fall into their trap and do what they want. No one has ever got their way in the world through good deeds. People achieve their goals and rise above their peers through sinister behavior and luck. Why play by the rules when the rules don’t even exist in the first place? Well, they really exist but are enforced on everyone else but a select few. As someone who studied political philosophy, anthropology, and urban studies, you know that understanding this is true enlightenment.
There are no rules except the fake ones the powerful in society create to herd in their flock. Why shouldn’t you commit crime when the very CEOs who sponsored the tournament you’re in right now commit it on a daily basis? All of the hardships and unfairness of your life and the lives of your friends boil down to the moral hypocrisies I described above. You all feel the same desperation, insecurity, and anger without truly knowing why. You know you’re playing a game that has been rigged by cheats before you were even born. You have every right to have hatred and want revenge. It is foolish to restrain yourself for such stupid reasons.
MAYA: I’m not interested in wheedling through your sophistries, Mickey Mouse de Sade. You’re very right what Pegasus, Kaiba, and “our” world leaders do, but I don’t want to sink to their level. Killing out of cruelty will debase me on every level: intellectual, creative, and spiritual. You don’t need conventional morals to figure that out.
And please stop trying to tempt me to the dark side, Darth Bakura. It’s not working. Seriously, you’re like, “I can feel your anger. Let you’re hate flow through you. I can feel it swelling. Yessss… Growing bigger and bigger… – Oh shit! Sorry, that was my dick the entire time. Never mind! Never mind! I get off on this shit! Don’t judge me!”
BAKURA: Laugh at me all you want, but you know I helped you grow. You once held a twisted mirror you thought you’re true reflection, with shards given to you by a society that hates you for who you are in every level: you’re beliefs, your race, your gender. For the longest time you thought that was who you really were but I helped you shatter that mirror.
I gave you the strength to no longer give credence to the words of rich liars like Matthew and thus no longer show obeisance to their absurd laws. I showed you how every major part of the society you live, comes from an amoral struggle, and how every belief its people have are delusions created from that war. You refuse to truly let yourself free, to put your desires in the center, but instead you follow chimeras. Your values of fairness, aesthetics, reason, social justice are as false as Yahweh, or Allah, or the lies tyrants like Matthew and JC say.
MAYA: No, it was never you. It was me all along. You’re just a figment of my imagination, a dark part of me. I helped myself the entire time. The struggle was mine from the beginning. The enemy I fight is myself. The doctrines I followed in Jiao’s book are only doctrines at the end of the day. They helped set me free but they can also trap me in a selfish and destructive life. If only I knew how to find a balance somewhere or find a way through…
A very small noise startled Maya and she quickly jerked her head to see what it was. Yukio had just woken up and set his laptop on the hotel room’s small circular table. Oh. Maya put the small black book away and sat next to Yukio. “Hey.”
“Hey.” Yukio touched her gently and smiled at just the right time, just when the sun was breaking through, announcing the morning with its golden rays. Just as darkness banishes the light the specter inside Maya’s head dissipated. Maya looked at Yukio, then Sophia, and found tender feelings in her heart for them. Yukio was so brave, noble, strong, incorruptible and Sophia so beautiful, sweet, sensitive, sinless…
Maya huddled on Yukio. “Whatcha’ doin’?’
“Boring shit. Checking my emails, checking on our friends back home, tweaking my deck, getting ready for my morning wank.”
“Shut up!” Maya punched him and laughed as hard as she could while suppressing it at the same time so she wouldn’t accidentally wake Sophia up. Yukio pretended to block her mock-punches, laughing back. After all, laughter is contagious. Yukio put his hand on Maya’s thigh and for about an hour they sat close together, randomly surfing the web for funny pictures.
Sophia woke up and rubbed her eyes. She looked like hell. Not even her dark red hair, soft dark eyes, and full lips could save her. But she didn’t mind. She snuck a few pictures with her camera. Everyone was only wearing a shirt and underwear.
Heishin cracked his knuckles and formed a pyramid with his elbows and fists. He sat behind the desk of his office, eying the two people in front of him. One was a young man with tan skin and brown hair, his short and strong body covered by the black cloak typical of the Ghouls. The other person was the petite young woman he saw before, Gernand’s apprentice.
Heishin’s mind was once again on his son, Hassan. He wondered where was he and how to retrieve him back to the homeland, which is what he did everyday. Using his soldier’s discipline, he effortlessly returned himself to the moment at hand.
He cleared his throat and said, “I am generally in favor this tournament. All the duelists coming here and media attention brings tourism back into full swing. This helps my country a lot. I need to repair the damage from the revolution and help my people. The Ghouls, they also build the economic back of Egypt. But now we have a conflict.”
Matthew eyed the small woman by his side. Her very presence made him feel uncomfortable. “What is the conflict of interests?”
“The conflict is with your master, Gernand. I want stability in my country, for the tournament to peacefully run its course, and to find my missing son. If Ghouls keep attacking the tournament it will cause more chaos and unrest and I don’t want any of that.”
“Be honest.” The woman said. “Tourism may give you a bit more money the Ghouls we united under your charge build the backbone of Egypt more than tourism ever can, and they will continue to do so long after the tournament goes away. We’re the real force that keeps you in power and you know it.”
“Perhaps,” Heishin had to admit it. “But I know you and Gernand have an ulterior motive behind all this. You want something from the tournament. I don’t know what it is but know this. I am the authority here.”
Matthew then spoke, “I have a plan of action. The Ghouls will attack key major cities tonight. They will leave out Cairo and Alexandria while going after cities deeper inland like Assiut, Luxor, and Aswan. Duelists have spread out throughout Egypt since the tournament began and there won’t be as much media attention there. You know the drill. The Ghouls attack, then you bring in your army and pretend to stop us. Rinse, lather, repeat.”
“You don’t need to tell me how to use a military.” Heishin snapped in anger and stress. “I own both the Egyptian militia and the Ghouls. I know how to use both to keep Egypt relatively peaceful. I am against this plan. I refuse to have it done. The chain of command begins at my desk. I tell the Ghouls what to do. Do you understand?”
The woman countered, “Sorry, but you don’t head the Ghouls. Gernand does, and you’d better remember it.”
“I don’t care about your obese, decadent master. This is my country! In this land, I am commander!”
Heishin would have gone further but his blackened hand, his claw, felt like it was burning uncontrollably. He tried to lift his arms up but couldn’t and collapsed on the ground behind his desk. It was as if his claw weighed hundreds of pounds. Before he fell down he saw that the woman had only lifted a single finger.
This small woman kneeled over this large, mighty man and looked down on him as if he was the lowly scarab beetle. “My master’s word is the last word. Remember that.”
“You won’t humiliate me and take away my dignity!” Heishin vehemently spat what he could while under the extreme pain. “I am not a slave! I am a man!”
“Man is but a worm.” The woman said matter-of-factly. She stood up and left for the door. “Matthew, proceed with your plan.”
Matthew followed her and the office door shut. The devilish pain tearing Heishin’s arm apart ceased as abruptly as it began, leaving Heishin on the floor wheezing, gasping for air.
“Ghouls, report!” Matthew commanded, reclining back on a large, golden-coated chair near total darkness. During the reign of Malik Ishtar, the Ghouls carved out an abandoned tomb in the Valley of the Kings, turning it and the landscape into their base of operations. When Malik fell during the first Battle City, the Ghouls dispersed and the base fell into disarray. But now that they were drawing together once more, their base once again became active and it was just now revitalizing.
Matthew enjoyed his privileged, golden seat, and let it sink in that he was now the king of the world’s greatest crime syndicate, and sat on the same chair as the immortal duelist Malik himself. Except he wasn’t. The mysterious Gernand and the young woman who imprinted him with the magic of the gods were the true masters.
The hand-sized charred mark on Matthew’s chest burned. Matthew winced and clutched it. He imaged the great dragon spirit, Horus the Black Flame Dragon, looming over him so vividly he almost hallucinated. Horus called his name from somewhere deep in his heart, a power that was inside him his entire life, waiting until the right moment to awaken…
“Master?” One of the anonymous Ghouls asked.
Matthew shook his head violently, trying to bring himself back to the here and now. “Report again.”
The Ghouls told him of their tactical situation. They were poised to attack the cities of Assiut, Luxor, and Aswan. As Matthew looked at the Ghouls more closely he realized for the first time how sinister they really were. It wasn’t just their ominous black cloaks. Each Ghoul wore a cheap mask. Some were classic black ski mass while some were more elaborate, whether because they looked like Halloween masks, or because plain masks were decorated with red and blue paint, making them look like monstrous clowns. The plain white masks were the most unsettling at all. They were so expressionless and looked like death at the same time.
“Did you capture the prisoner?”
“Yeah.” One of the Ghouls wearing a plain white mask answered. Each mask the Ghouls wore had a vocabulator that distorted their voice by lowering the pitch. It was the final touch in making them absolutely disturbing.
“Bring him in!”
The Ghoul disappeared but soon returned, along with two other Ghouls, very high in rank. One of them was tall and lean yet brutish while the other was short and plump yet surprisingly fast and agile. They even wore complimentary masks that were elaborately decorated as if they were celebrating a Day of the Dead festival in Mexico, the former’s black and red, the latter’s white and blue. They were a strange pair, a Laurel and Hardy of sorts, but their comical appearance belied their fearsome powers and their brutality.
“Report, Umbra and Lumis!”
Lumis, the short, fat man with the white mask, was all too happy to chime in. “We caught the little boy easily by surprise! He was a tough cookie but as predictable as a bull in a china shop, I tell you! A simple Mask of Restrict blew him over like a stack of cards!’
“That’s right.” Umbra, the tall, lean man with the black mask, was softer spoken than his partner but gloated no less at their victory. “I present you with Japan’s National ‘Champion’!” He kicked the prisoner in front of Matthew and removed the prisoner’s mask, exposing the bruised and bloodied face of a boy barely fifteen years old.
“Akira Ryu.” Matthew spoke to the prisoner with distain. “Japan has really lowered its standards if it’s picking little boys for champions. At least I had to enforce my privileged position in America.” To the Ghouls, he said, “Well done. Now I want you to use Akira to draw out Team Baby Blast Furnace. Isolate the duelist named Marina Bozovic and defeat her. Kill her if necessary. If she dies, our mission to ransack all duelists for what they’re worth and find the Book of Isis will be much easier.”
“Y-you won’t get away with this, you bastards.” Akira stuttered, utterly terrified yet trying his best to mask his fear for the sake of his pride. “You Ghouls are the sc-scum of the earth, with no d-d-duelist’s honor.”
Lumis smacked Akira’s head with his duel disk, planting his face on the ground. “You’re actually dumb enough to believe that shit! ‘Duelist’s honor’ is nothing more than a marketing catchphrase to sell children’s trading cards to stupid, bug-eyed little brats like you! Kids these days, I tell you!”
Lumis was about to smack Akira in the head again but Matthew quickly raised his hand. “Do not harm him!” And Lumis stopped instantly. “You want this kid to beat Marina, right? Stop manhandling him like a sack of meat. He is a strong and competent duelist in the end of the day.”
“Now listen up, all of you: Umbra, Lumis, Akira. I’ll only say this once. Maya is a cunning and inventive duelist, but see past that. At heart she is a blood knight. She loves a challenge, loves to tackle the difficult and dangerous and come out on top, loves to solve the toughest problems with brilliant solutions. And the challenges that give her the biggest kick are ones that let her overthrow a perceived injustice and convention. She is a deeply angry, unstable person and has a score to settle with Akira. Use those fact to your advantage.”
“Got it! Got it!” Lumis nodded enthusiastically.
“I’m not done yet!” Matthew interrupted. “Akira, you can use our card treasury to upgrade your deck. I suggest you make it into Turbo Towers. Lumis, Umbra, stack his deck before the duel to make sure he wins. Don’t take any chances. And Akira,” Matthew knelt before the kneeling, frightened man, lifting his face so he could look Matthew in the eye. “If you defeat Maya, we will set you free and never bother you again. You have my word. I’m giving you every advantage I can to set you free.”
Akira had no choice but to silently nod to Matthew’s terms.
“Ghouls, you are dismissed! You are free to use any means at your disposal.”
Umbra tossed two metal collars in the air that looked like medieval torture devices. “We haven’t played with these toys in a long time. This is going to be fun.” Matthew couldn’t see his face but his voice was so thick with smugness, even through the vocabulator, it was almost unbearable.
Umbra, Lumis, and Akira obeyed their master and silently left.
DAY 3 : 3:31 PM : ASSIUT
Maya, Yukio, and Sophia spent too much of the day already sightseeing but they now regretted it. Many duelists flooded the city, so much so they saw a duel every half an hour, but no one wanted to challenge them. Word got around about their duels with Team Stella and Team Buffalo Chicken, and so no one wanted anything to do with them. Most teams declined their challenges entirely and some even fled upon seeing them. They were becoming one lonely group of duelists very, very fast, and they only had four Millennium Item cards.
Funny. Being lonely in a crowd of strangers was global.
“Come on! These cowards are going to have to challenge us sometime!” Maya was as exhausted as she was annoyed.
“I couldn’t agree more, honestly.” Yukio jugged down an entire bottle of water.
They were so desperate for a duel Sophia even suggested they go to a marketplace. Maybe they would find a team obscure enough to duel them. And so they went, and what a terrible trip it was. At every angle poor marketers who were desperate to sell their cheap knock-offs harassed them from every angle.
“Come get alabaster souvenir! No hassle! No hassle!” A storeowner with shady sunglasses shouted from the corner. It goes without saying his “alabaster” trinkets of Egyptian cats and pharaohs were fakes. “Come on! Buy my cloths! Only five dollars! No hassle!” Another storeowner, with a smile on his face and fraud in his heart, hassled from another corner, flashing one of his dresses, which he decorated with beads so fake it would shame even Mardi Gras party animals. When our protagonists hurried away, uninterested, he shouted after them, “Come on, man! You won’t get this stuff anywhere else!”
One seller kept trying to wheedle Sophia to buy a beautiful scarf. “You Russian? You can wear lovely scarf over your head or on your neck. Only five dollars!” Sophia wanted to say no, but couldn’t. Her shyness and politeness prevented her. “How about three dollars? Three dollars good?” He then said, “You are so beautiful! If you marry me I’ll give you ten thousand camels!” Sophia, laughing, beamed a smile as bright as the rising sun. Exasperated, she finally satisfied him and Maya came out of nowhere to yank her away, admonishing the seller as if he was some creep.
– From nowhere a small, swift, dark-skinned man swiped Maya’s duel disk clean from her hand! He unlocked the duel disk from her arm and took it so swiftly she couldn’t react on time! Maya, Yukio, and Sophia instinctively ran after the thief without thinking twice!
They twisted and turned through the narrow, winding streets and alleys between stores. Sophia tried keeping up with them but fell in exhaustion. “Guys! Wait up!” A dark-cloaked, masked man leering at Sophia from the shadows took advantage of her fatigue. He swiftly leapt from the shade and grabbed her…
Maya and Yukio kept losing the thief in the alleyways, made even worse by the fact they were carrying backpacks with them, yet for some reason always somehow caught up to him. “Is it me – huff! – or does he want us to follow him?” Yukio gasped during a brief moment of respite.
“He’s leading us into – huff! – a trap but we have no choice.” Maya said in between wheezes.
Yukio nodded and they went after the thief again. Maya couldn’t lose her deck! She couldn’t afford to lose the tournament! She would be broke with nowhere to go! Her fear and desperation sped her heels. She launched her body and crashed into the thief. She wrenched her duel disk free from his grasp and smacked him on the head with it for her troubles.
The thief grabbed his head and limped away, moaning in pain – then a small, fat man wearing a black cloak and a white mask flashed out of nowhere, running so quickly his feet didn’t seem to touch the ground. He threw two metal collars at Maya and Yukio and they locked into place on their necks. Maya and Yukio desperately tried to wrench the devices off their necks but it was useless.
The man brandished a switch from his cloak. “Notice the tiny counter on your collars? It is a bomb! If I press this switch at any time your heads will go KABLOOIE! But there is a way out! Maya must defeat a rival! Right now, the bombs on your necks are set to explode at 5:30 PM exact! Meet your rival and me at 5:00PM exact by the Meer Necropolis at the west side! You have one hour! Got it?” And he vanished with his blinding speed.
Maya and Yukio were left stunned, as if frozen. They were now in a game to the death. Their hearts raced inside them, beating so violently they felt they could erupt from their chests any second now, but they were powerless to do anything. Though the sun hit the dessert with sweltering heat, Maya and Yukio felt deathly cold.
Yukio broke the silence with a small thought, which became a small word. “Sophia…”
Maya looked around. She was nowhere to be seen! She only saw more black robed men running everywhere. She heard the whirring sounds of holographic summoning and the clashes and yells of dueling. The Ghouls had struck again.
Maya trembled with rage. “I’ll kill them…” She screamed. “I’LL KILL THEM!” She slammed her fists unto the street until they bled.
Yukio grabbed her and shook her until she calmed down. “Sophia has to stay strong! We don’t have any other choice right now!”
They concocted a plan to find the Ghouls and beat them. Yukio sprung his duel disk into action and slapped the Millennium Puzzle Card. “Show us who stopped dueling since the morning!” The holographic Millennium Puzzle materialized and projected from its eye about a dozen images.
“Akira!” Maya deduced. “They wouldn’t challenge me with anything les than a National Champion!” She opened her bag, taking out a few cards.
“What are you doing?” Yukio said. We have to go.
“We talked about how we always carry a lot of cards, antimeta or otherwise, that we tech in so we can beat our opponents. You know, having a hundred card side deck of sorts? Akira uses Qliphorts and knowing how staid and snobbish he is I doubt he’ll change. I need to retool my deck, actually, rebuild it. I know how to make it better.”
“We don’t have time!” Yukio shouted angrily at her.
“I know!” Maya shot back. Her anger was still near the blowing point. “We’ll do it while running! Well, try to!”
And they headed off, somewhere between a walk and run, forced to multitask under the incredible pressure the Ghouls imposed on them. But Maya felt exhilaration too. What an incredible challenge it was! What an adventure! They were getting closer to helping Hassan liberate Egypt from the Ghouls!
She wasn’t alone. Yukio felt the same feelings. It was time to burn away villainy with the blazing torch of heroism! In front of him was a real wild ride far better than concert he ever performed or any high he ever chased!