AUTHOR’S NOTE: Jiao’s name has been changed to Xiaoyi.
DAY 4 : 1:12 PM : LUXOR
The events of yesterday were too grueling for any one person to bear. Maya, Yukio, and Sophia were exhausted the next day. They could barely sleep from the all the stress last night, their bones ached, and tolerance for stress thin. But they had to keep moving on. Maya’s fatigue brought back her college memories, where she lived alone in a small apartment, fighting in a duel stadium to pay tuition, her every day in class earned in a victory… and getting a Political Studies degree to make a career on top of that… and trying to work on her dramatic arts on top of that…
Time marched on relentlessly anyway, uncaring. Our protagonists had to keep up despite their aches and pains. It was mandatory. Maximus called every team that survived the Ghouls’ attacks and was still in the tournament to meet in the town square of the village workshop. Beyond the workshop lay a field of sand littered with small, sharp rocks and pottery fragments, and beyond the sand lay the tall, jagged hills of the Valley of the Kings, austere and intimidating. They sky was a perfect blue with no clouds or other blemishes, magnifying to yellow shine of the sand the might of the hills.
Our protagonists saw those wondrous scenes and vowed to see them more, but needed to move on. They huddled just inside a hovel over their laptop, deep into conversation.
June 3, 2009
Maya, Yukio, and Sophia tell the crew back home everything that happened last night.
JOLENE: “I’m so sorry everything happened to you, Sophia, and you too, cher and Yukio.”
HASSAN: “I offer my condolences.”
JC: “I do too. Sorry about everything.”
Did JC just apologize? And why? Maya can’t make out if JC apologized for what the Ghouls did last night or what JC did four years ago, or both.
MAYA: “It’s fine. What’s done is done. We can take care of ourselves.” Maya offers an equally ambiguous reply.
YUKIO: “We don’t know who is left in the tournament. It’s not unreasonable to think the Ghouls took out a lot of people.”
Maya: “Jolene, can you show us all the teams that are left?”
JOLENE: “No problem, cher. I don’t even need to hack anything. Kaibacorp keeps an open record of every duel that took place for spectators.” She then delves to find the records.
MAYA: “This tournament really is Battle Royale…” she mutters to herself. “It’s worse than the Superbowl.”
YUKIO: “Worse. It’s the Superbowl for douchebag fat bearded virgins who don’t bathe, euphoric over the thought of their own enlightenment, while everyone else faints as soon as they smell their armpits. It’s as if Conan the Barbarian, Broly, and Bandit Keith left their jockstraps in a locker room for a week.” He nudges Sophia and winks at her.
MAYA: “You’re not helping, honest as you are.”
SOPHIA: “I think you’re both being unfair to duelists everywhere. Think of Stella and Mathias. They’re great duelists and wonderful people.”
MAYA: “Girl, you need to wake up. Like chess, Yugioh is a game that consumes you totally if you’re not careful. People who resist this game’s corruption maintain their humanity. Most don’t. Among the damned there are only three types. One: the aforementioned neckbeard losers. Two: pedophiles with lolicons for Internet avatars. Three: worst of all, arrogant wannabe champions who netdeck each other.”
SOPHIA: “You mean like you, right?”
MAYA: “Honey, you need to step up your game, so burn it up your own ass. I’m still the American Champion and have been for the last four years. Please explain to me how I’m a generic meta player who netdecks everyone else.”
Sophia remains silent.
MAYA: “That’s what I thought.”
YUKIO: “You’re taking this really personally, aren’t you?”
MAYA: “The last few days have really put me under a lot of stress, and I hate everyone. My whole life is on the line in this tournament. What happens here will shape my future forever.”
SOPHIA: “As it will ours. Maybe Yukio and I don’t have everything to lose, but our lives are still on the line anyway.”
JOLENE: “Okay, guys. I have all of the teams still standing.” She downloads the information and sends it to Maya, Yukio, and Sophia, who examine it for themselves. Around twelve teams remained, including theirs, Baby Blast Furnace, holding three Item Cards. Team Stella remained, as did Buffalo Chicken, Ultimate Super Sayan Gods, and others.
XIAOYI: “Oh, you guys survived the second Ghoul attack? You sweethearts are tough cookies, aren’t you?”
MAYA: “Xiaoyi, how are you useful again?”
XIAOYI: “I provide the hovel so your friends to talk to you together, not unlike the hovel you’re in. Listen, I have a tip for you. Notice how Umbra, Lumis, and Bandit Keith went after your team?”
MAYA: “Yes, but Bandit Keith attacked for personal reasons.”
XIAOYI: “That aside, notice how the Ghouls attacked you with their lieutenants, not their foot soldiers. There is clearly an order in their attacks. The capos bring down the biggest threats while the rest of the crew takes out the small fry. Expect Umbra and Lumis to confront you again soon and next time I doubt they’ll use a proxy.”
MAYA: “You know an awful lot about Ghouls.” Xiaoyi sounds like Bakura in her black book.
XIAOYI: “Common induction. Elementary, my dear Watson. Even someone as naive as Sophia could figure it out. Most criminals aren’t very smart. Only strong people can wield evil and not get burned.”
JOLENE: “Anything else going on?”
YUKIO: “Mathias wants everyone to meet up at the town square. Well, village square really. He wants to prepare us for the Ghouls.”
JOLENE: “That makes sense.”
HASSAN: “Before we hang up, I need to tell you something. I had another dream. Among the three snakes, one of them slithers towards with guile and strikes her. The second snake strikes back at the first and they war with each other while the third snake tries to protect the second one.”
JC: “Don’t be ridiculous! Only idiots think bad dreams actually mean anything!”
Maya agrees with JC in silent. It’s not like they have the time to ponder the vague and dim babbling of prophecies anyway.
Mathias called everyone to gather round the square and the meeting was held in short order. Mathias stated his case, “Duelists everywhere, look around you. When the tournament began there were seventy teams. Now, only twelve remain. We don’t know when the Ghouls will strike again. We need to stick together. Maybe we should stop dueling each other entirely until the worst is over. Everyone who agrees, raise their hand and say ‘Aye!’”
Maximus, Ivy, Maria, Stella, Yukio, Sophia and others raised their hand “Aye!”
Maya did not. She furrowed her brow, pondering her thoughts briefly, then spoke, “We can’t stop dueling entirely. We’re still in a tournament after all. What if the Ghouls strike us at the last day? The tournament will end and we’ll all be fair game.”
“But if we duel each other we’ll still weaken ourselves either way.”
“I see your point, but keep in mind our duels are televised all around the world. The tournament is a fight for survival for us but for Kaiba and Pegasus it’s reality TV. They don’t care about us. If we don’t entertain them, if we don’t give them revenue, they’ll make us duel in some devious way, which makes our situation even worse. Besides, the Ghouls care less about technically eliminating us and more about terrorizing us. Why do you think they go to such lengths to destroy the marketplaces, even set tingfires on them?”
Maria took a deep sigh. She disliked Maya in every way, from her brazen impudence towards everyone who was her superior to her rude, perverse, and violent personality to her hatred of everything right and normal about Yugioh and everything. She was Lucifer, wildly trying to grasp the cosmos to bend it to her pride and will.
But Maya had a point. She knew Kaiba loved her, that he would always defend her and never put her in danger. But when Seeker attacked her, he let her get disqualified. Only Maya stepped up to her and saved her. She despised owning a debt to someone like Maya but her doubts of Kaiba’s love overpowered those feelings. Perhaps Kaiba was just testing her or being fair, not to give her any advantage over anyone else. She hoped.
She said, “A compromise, maybe?”
Maximus nodded curtly. He put his foot down on the matter. “We should duel each other, but each team can only duel another team only once per day. No one can leave Luxor. We need to stick together. Everyone agree?”
“Aye!” The group chanted. The meeting was over.
All teams dispersed. Our protagonists wandered the village to find a shelter from the sun’s blazing heat. The day was especially hot. Sweat poured over their heads so much it sometimes got in their eyes, blinding them.
“Have you guys noticed that Heishin, the Egyptian governor, lets the tournament go on in spite of the Ghouls wrecking his country?” Yukio said, wiping huge beads of sweat off his forehead. “Furthermore, his soldiers always come to stop the Ghouls a little too late, when all the damage has been done.”
“Heishin may be in league with the Ghouls.” Maya concluded. “It’s not uncommon for politicians to make deals with organized crime.”
Sophia interjected, “That makes so sense. The tournament attracts more tourists. Egypt makes a big profit just accommodating us duelists. Why would Heishin sabotage his own profits?”
Against Sophia’s doubts Maya could only repeat a point she made before, “Heishin may be working with someone else who has other motives.”
The team kept pondering their thoughts as they looked for shelter. It wasn’t easy because heckles kept breaking their concentration. “Come buy alabaster jar! Three dollars! No hassle! No hassle!” The team had no choice but to run away to escape the hassling.
Their exhaustion, the sweltering heat, worrying about the Ghouls, and the store hecklers started to get to the team. Their blood boiled under the sun. Maya and Yukio sounded more irate while Sophia became more sullen. Her eyes were in pain, the horrors of last night still all too fresh to her. Whenever she looked at someone it was almost as if she was pleading for someone to pity her.
The team briefly stopped under the shade of a palm tree. It was nowhere near a good enough place to stay but they could rest for a while. Maya and Yukio guzzled down bottles of water. When they offered Sophia a bottle she refused despite the heat practically melting her. She seemed to withdraw inside herself like a caterpillar into a cocoon, or worse, like a butterfly returning into a cocoon. Whenever the team bumped into another duelist Sophia would almost cry. The duelist would ask what happened to her, she would answer and ask for a hug, which the duelist would then give. Her melancholy degraded into simpering.
Maybe the broiling heat was too much but Maya had enough. When the team was out of earshot from anyone who knew English, Maya turned around and met Sophia face to face. “You really need some cold water to the face and not from an overpriced bottle. You’re self-pity is revolting and precludes any sympathy given to you. It’s fine to feel terrible but you indulge in your melancholy like it was comfort food. Then you display it publicly, sacrificing your dignity so random people will comfort you. How dare you exploit your assault this way!”
The words stung Sophia as a blast of icy wind. She suddenly felt very cold. She looked even more hurt than before. “I – I don’t understand. W – What are you talking about? What’s wrong with you?” She chocked, holding back tears.
“You honestly think all the people who hugged you actually cared? You think they would really stop Bandit Keith from harassing you or would they enjoy the show?”
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Yukio stepped in. “Can’t you see she’s trying to heal herself?”
“Bullshit. She’s exploiting her suffering and weakening herself in the process.” To Sophia, she said, “You’re very privileged people treat you as a lily white delicate flower. I was assaulted too at seventeen. I was coerced into having sex in a punk concert bathroom stall over an unflushed toilet. The man was ten years older, kept grabbing me in places and hurting me even when I told him not to. Nobody gave a shit about me. You know what I did the next day? I got up, went to school, and went to work afterwards. Like nothing happened. Because if I told someone, no one would care. I never got to be a delicate flower.”
Sophia burst into sobs. “Why do you hate me?” She cried out again and again.
“Way to go getting Sophia to like you.” Yukio said.
“She’s training herself to become a victim.” Maya rebuked. “She’ll live a life where she keeps ending up with bad men over and over again and won’t be able to stop the vicious cycle. Sympathetic people aren’t drawn to the vulnerable. Predators are.”
Yukio had enough. “You know what, Maya? You’re like a drug addict, except instead of being addicted to coke you’re addicted to being destructive to yourself and everyone else. I bet a million dollars your entire life will be a story of self-destruction. You delude yourself into thinking you’re some kind of freedom-fighting iconoclast when all you are is a MASSIVE BITCH!”
“This is coming from an overgrown wannabe rock star manchild who still lives in mommy’s basement. You’re lamer than Jack Black. Blood Velvet is a band name as original and inspiring as Mystic Spiral. You might want to think of changing it. Tell me, Trent Lane, when will Mystic Spiral finally get off the ground and top the charts? When you’re thirty-five? Fifty-five? When you’re dying a nursing home?”
“Fuck you. You’re an evil person. You’re living proof the Devil is a woman.” Yukio rebuked.
“Don’t flatter me.” Maya shouted over her shoulder as she stormed off.
Yukio tried to put his hand over Sophia’s shoulder to comfort her. “She’s talking more about herself than anyone else.” He said, but she was too distressed to listen to him.
Maya walked only a short distance away. Her rage dissolved into despair. She fell against the wall of a hut, crying. The stakes for her in the tournament, her promise to Hassan, her feelings for Sophia were too much. The black cloud of depression shrouded her vision wherever she walked. Everything looked far worse than it really was but she could never see how things really were. The bright desert looked black as night to her. Where would she go if she lost the tournament? How would she pay her college debts? Her duelist career debts? And even if she won where would she go? Where was her proper place in life?
Worst of all was her guilt. “Sophia.” She moaned, the only thing she could say. She failed to protect Sophia against Bandit Keith. It was all her fault for letting her get kidnapped. The very thought of Sophia being abused again frightened her and seeing Sophia pity herself guaranteed to her it would happen again. She realized she had to confess to herself she yet only knew in her innermost thoughts. She summoned all her courage to speak her knowledge openly to herself. She loved Sophia. Yes, she liked Yukio and Jolene but she loved Sophia, the first person she ever loved.
She felt so worn out and tired. She wanted to die and sleep in a tomb forever, never to be disturbed, but her thoughts were ahead of her as always. She needed to apologize to Sophia. There was no other way around it. She nodded to herself as if she made a point to convince herself and wiped away her tears. The villagers looked at her as if she was insane.
Maya returned to her friends. “Sophia, I’m so sorry. Anger got the better of me. I didn’t know what I was saying.”
Sophia dried her red, raw eyes, but said nothing. She sniffed and crossed her arms in an almost haughty and defiant gesture.
Maya let her knees hit the sand. She was not a religious person but it was as if she was at confession. “Please forgive me. I beg you to forgive me. You are the only person in the world who can put me on my knees. I love you. Seeing what Bandit Keith did to you drove me insane with guilt. I felt like the biggest failure in the world. I don’t want to see you sad. I want to see you happy. You’re smile twinkles more brightly than all the stars of heaven.”
Sophia, moved to sympathy by Maya’s words knelt down across from her. They became equals. “I care for you. I care what happened to you.”
Maya reached into her bag and gave Sophia the rarest card she owned. “It’s called Sophia, Goddess of Rebirth. It’s not the most practical card but it’s definitely one of the strongest. It’s stronger than any god card. It symbolizes what I see in you, buried deep inside you.”
Sophia and Maya hugged.
Our protagonists found a small bedroom under the ownership of a local who loaned it for a few dollars a night. The bedroom, no the whole building, was a hovel and no hotel in any sense. However, it did have a massive, noisy fan, which eased the burden of the oppressive heat.
As they unpacked their bags, Yukio reminded them of the dueling grounds a duelist mentioned to them. Dueling grounds, places people could just hang out and duel for fun, were everywhere but were very popular in poorer towns and countries where duel disks were not frequently imported. The workshop village in Luxor was no exception. It supposedly even had a duel box, an ancient precursor to the massive duel arenas of the old Duelist Kingdom days.
But first things first. Our protagonists took a hearty bite from the portable food they carried and set out to improve their decks. Their opponents would soon know how to counter their tactics. They had to evolve, always exploring new ideas to keep their opponents on their toes. They tweaked and play tested their decks again and again until they were at last satisfied. Exhausted, they fell comatose on their cots, eager to win a victory later tonight.