It was twilight, just before sunrise, the place where sky and earth meet glowing in pink and blue paints. Gernand arrived to the arena where his schemes would manifest; he was so excited he even dared not to hide. But still, he was not fond of traveling these days, and once he cemented his great, massive body on a chair he refused to ever sit up. Neither did he have his small, mysterious apprentice to aid him. She was gone, but Matthew took her place.
Heishin left his office in Cairo to oversee the coming battle in Luxor himself, which was expected, as he was always a military man. He even perched the obese Gernand on top of the steep canyons in the Valley of the Kings just so his ringleader could have a front row seat and be safe from the conflict at the same time. But Heishin held his radio close at hand, ready to enter the fray the instant he would have to.
Gernand snapped his fingers and Heishin’s men served him a massive meal enough to feed ten men: ten cooked ducks, fifteen cups of coffee, five liters of win, and seven dessert cakes. The ogre was all too ready to feast on every morsel, his jaw yawning like the lion’s mouth of Hell, but he did complain how there was not enough food for him.
Heishin thought how he should bring his soldiers in to capture but not kill the duelists, and voices his plan to his overseer, but Gernand brushed it aside: “Why rush things so? Bring the Ghouls to battle first; let them torment their prey in a Dark Game, let the lions toy with the Christians you wish to sacrifice in our makeshift coliseum, play with the helpless animals before sacrificing them to the darkness.”
He brandished a greasy duck drumstick in front of the general, trying his hardest not to eat it so he could use it as an exhibit for his pedagogy. “So many little ducklings meet a grisly end before they can even grow into delicious mallards. All male babies and deformed female babies grown in your modern hatcheries are ground up alive in macerators. Nature is less cruel but nonetheless a most harsh mistress; the little runts die of the cold at night, the ibis, crocodile, and catfish swallow them whole, or they catch a contagion and become weak; the mother banishes the youngster from her brood lest the group suffers from the ills of one individual, and the little one is left to die amongst the elements.”
Gernand noticed Heishin’s patience but couldn’t care less, taking his time to fasten a handkerchief over his neck. “Do you not see the sublime beauty of Nature in this situation? We are the hungry crocodile while the duelists below us are the little ducklings, cast adrift with no old mallard to protect them. They can only huddle together in fear and desperately chirp for their mothers to save them as we clamp our jaws on our victims and devour them.”
Heishin cleared his throat, trying to put a stop to the cruel man’s fantasies. “I kill only when I must, not out of pleasure.” He said. “I only want this battle to be over soon. I am a man of honor. It gives me no satisfaction killing people who are basically innocent and defenseless.”
Gernand smirked at the general’s quaint remarks then gestured to Matthew. “Boy, do not forsake the dark powers my apprentice awakened within you. Maya desecrated your grandfather’s grave four years ago just so she could duel against you and win. She might as well have killed him herself. You’re grandfather confided in Pegasus to help him keep the Book of Isis safe only to be betrayed.” He took only a second to contrive an entire story to lead Matthew astray, “But the old man had the Book of Isis reburied in Egypt just before his death. Help us find the Book of Isis and you will gain all the powers of darkness to kill Pegasus and avenge your precious grandfather’s death.”
Matthew’s blood boiled, his tan face growing red, as Gernand wanted, but Matthew had other thoughts. He knew Gernand was less than trustworthy and, while he did grieve for his grandfather’s death and despised Maya for adding insult to injury, he wanted more than simple revenge. He wanted the truth: about his grandfather’s life, his forbidden dealings, the facts of his death, and, most of all, the Book of Isis itself. What mysteries did such a forbidden text guard? He knew his rivals held the same dark curiosity but he would unlock every secret first.
DAY 8 : 9:18 AM : LUXOR
Maya and Yukio still embraced each other, sometimes planting soft kisses on one another: on the lips, the cheeks, the neck, and chest. Throughout their lives they always felt alone and took it for granted they had no one but themselves to rely on. Even Yukio, who believed in the power of friendship more than anyone else, didn’t realize his own stubbornness and pride. But now both lovers realized they need not be alone, and they were never alone to begin with. They always had each other.
But would that bond last today’s test? They went to the rooftop, still nude, of the white building of clay and mortar to see the sunrise. Pink and blue turned to indigo, then orange, and finally fiery gold with sky blue. It was a beautiful sight but the air felt odd. The couple, especially bellicose Maya, expected a certain static tension in the air, the gathering hum and darkness before the storm, but this day looked no different than any other.
Sophia climbed up to the rooftop, took one glance at them, and covered her eyes and red cheeks in embarrassment, her modesty offended. “Oh my God! Can you two put your clothes on, please?”
“You’re not a little girl, Sophia. Deal with it.” Maya curtly rebuked her.
“It’s not just me. Mathias wants everyone gathered at the square now.” Sophia tossed a cell phone at Maya’s bare lap. Maya read the txt message and gave a sly, even slightly wicked grin. The great battle would test every ability she had and would herald even greater battles to come. She trembled with anxiety of all the wrong things that could happen but at the same time, how could she not tremble with excitement?
All remaining duelists in the tournament gathered in the village square while Mathias, surrounded by soldiers, gave them a briefing. Both Heishin’s troops and the Ghouls would arrive to attack them. The Saints would use their powers to protect the duelists from the crude weapons of guns and bombs but in Dark Games the duelists would only have their wills and wits by their side. All duelists would stay put in a tight group and defend each other. The village would be their fortified position. The battle would take place there.
A young man stood just behind Matthew as a leader – None other than Hassan himself! – Receiving aid from a renegade officer, ready to take Egypt back. Mathias finished the briefing. Every soldier instantly surrounded the duelists, shielding them in a cage of camouflage colors.
The briefing upset Maya. Always when the armies of mighty kings and soldiers fought, in all wars ancient and the modern, innocent people would get caught in the middle and suffer the most. Like the refugees and deformed children of so many drone bombings, the villagers would get in the crosshairs. Matthew ordered the villagers to evacuate but Maya was not reassured.
There was no more time to worry. All the duelists pointed to the rising sun in awe. Did they see a real-life monster soaring among the sunbeams? By Re, it was a mighty dragon of silver and red, Horus the Black Flame Dragon LV8! And flying on its left side was a dragon of deep blue, a moon beside the sun, Trishula, Dragon of the Ice Barrier!
The sight took everyone’s breath away in pure astonishment and wonder, but before they could even blink the black flame dragon hailed a storm of fire and brimstone on the village, shattering the brick huts and buildings into dusty rubble, raging fire engulfing the small streets. Next the ice dragon dove under, flying over the village, beating its wings, and ice joined fire.
“Stay on formation!” Hassan and Mathias said, repeating it over and over again. Soldiers and duelists followed orders, huddling close to each other, buffering themselves as a tortoise shell, bearing the brunt of the fire and ice.
The supernatural storm faded and our tiny army could breath. Then stranger wonders of nature happened. Bright noon blotted into night. Dark clouds shrouded the entire village. Everyone could barely breath, as if a cork was jammed down their throats, and shivered in the cold. Mathias answered their worries with a warning. The Ghouls began a dark game, playing to kill. The only way to beat them was to duel them.
Stella gasped in disbelief, “Dark games are real!?”
Ranks of people shrouded in black cloaks and hoods appeared; the procession of a death cult. Hassan and his superior ordered their soldiers to ready their guns to attack, but of no use. Two Ghouls came out on front, taking off their veils. It was Matthew and Alexis. The queen of Ghouls smacked a card on her duel disk while evoking her dark powers, summoning a massive undead turtle made of skulls: Bone Snapper. Hassan ordered the soldiers to fire but their bullets bounced off the beast harmlessly.
“Bone Shatter Earthquake!” Alexis screamed her order. The huge zombie leveled the ground, shaking the earth, shattering it with such force the entire rebel formation broke. Matthew commanded his dragon to besiege the village with a firestorm, scattering their opponents in a panic. Hassan’s militia tried its best to fight back but was no match for the Ghouls’ dark powers. The duelists defended themselves by summoning their own monsters, something they could do in the dark realm, forcing the Ghouls to duel them.
Maya, Yukio, and Sophia clasped each other’s hands into a chain, desperate to keep each other from separating. Soon they ran into Matthew himself. He pointed at Maya and Yukio, “I finally got you two rats! You’ll pay for desecrating my grandfather’s grave and ruining my dueling career!”
“Fine but leave Sophia out of this.” Maya instinctively shielded the girl from view.
Yukio saw the wicked light in Matthew’s eyes. “Bad move.” He said to Maya, who all too quickly grasped the truth.
Matthew smirked at his rivals. “I was always better than you, always of higher class and quality. My strong Ka will prove my divine rights once and for all! Horus, attack!”
The black flame dragon, silently perched on the ruins of a building like a bird of prey, opened fire without warning, the fiery missile pummeling straight at Sophia. Maya leaped at Sophia, taking the full attack on her back! Everyone; Matthew, Yukio, Sophia, was astonished. “Why isn’t she burned to ashes? Horus, kill her!”
His dragon amped the pressure; breathing down on Maya with more fury and brimstone. But Maya called forth her own powers, awakened by the Saints to do her bidding. Barely a novice, she could still at least summon some of the tough, scaly back of her own Ka to protect her back. But it wasn’t enough. Her skin was burning. She whined in agony. She couldn’t last much longer.
Yukio had to act. He dashed at Matthew, fists raised to pummel him to oblivion. Matthew stretched his hands, the darkness surrounding bellowing at Yukio as a fierce wind, cutting his body like icy, sharp blades. But Yukio kept coming, calling forth his own will, his own power, his own Ka. Matthew’s eyes widened in fear, seeing Yukio plowing through, his warrior spirit undaunted. “HEY, ASSHOLE!” Yukio roared with a strength that would impress Maya. Drawing all his strength, he smashed Matthew’s face, hurling Matthew yards away.
The Horus dragon vanished, its breath stopped. Maya collapsed into Sophia’s arms, the girl weeping at her friend’s suffering. Yukio rushed to help Maya out. Her back, hips, and shoulders were badly burned and she was unconscious. Yukio slapped her face. “Wake up! Wake up, you idiot!”
Matthew clenched his jaw, nearly broken, spitting out blood and, to his horror, two teeth. Matthew seethed at his enemies in resentment. How did they learn to use shadow magic!? He called his strongest henchman, “Your jailbait is here! Get her!”
Maya woke up in a fit, wincing at her burning pains. Her friends hugged her, thankful she was all right, and she did the same with the same relief and gratitude. Sophia and Yukio were also fine.
Their relief was not meant to last. Bandit Keith appeared on the scene, followed by Umbra and Lumis. Keith’s grin was worse than Matthew’s. Our heroes knew they would kill them without hesitation so they gave themselves a fighting chance. They readied their duel disks and challenged the three Ghouls to a duel, knowing a dark game could never be refused.
This irked Keith a bit but he laughed, brushing it off. He gave his toadies a nod. Time for Plan B. He summoned his Ka, Barrel Dragon. The machine locked and loaded the three guns on its head and arms, and fired at heroes with a precise shot. The bullets hit just in front of them, enough to blast them apart from each other.
Keith pounced on Sophia the way a beast of prey attacks a wounded animal, yanking the girl away by the scruff of her neck. Maya and Yukio called Sophia’s name, scrambling to rescue her, but Umbra and Lumis locked two explosive collars on their neck. Lumis pointed his finger at a button. “Duel us, now! One move from you motherfuckers and you’ll be blown to bits, I tell you!”
Maya and Yukio let themselves drop in dejection. There was no way out but to beat those clowns. And to make matters worse, Matthew said, “Don’t think you’re buddies in America are safe. Ghouls are coming to get them too!” He let himself enjoy the thought of their friends being mercilessly killed before letting Umbra and Lumis do their work. He returned to the battle at large, his dragon’s wings blazing.
Meanwhile, the Ghouls cornered the Saints from every direction, challenging them all to a duel. Maximus and Ivy easily took care of all comers but Mathias had an extra opponent to face, Seeker. The squad of Ghouls cleared away, letting their leader begin the deadly game.
“Guys! Guys! Are you there? Guys!” Jolene shouted into the phone, desperate to call her friends but there was no answer. The battle must have begun, but she wanted to know if they were OK. With no answer, she could only imagine the worst.
Loud noises thundered in Jolene’s house as a legion of Ghouls battered her door and smashed her windows. JC grabbed her hand. “Time to go!” They escaped through a back door and ran for their lives. But the Ghouls knew Chicago’s streets far better than Jolene and JC ever could. Soon they were cornered in an alley.
Two Ghouls approached them, wearing frightening clown masks under their hoods, the stuff children’s nightmares were made of. “You can call me Leftie. My partner is Gonzo.” The first Ghoul said in a low, distorted voice; a towering giant next to his short and thin partner in crime. The two Ghouls revealed their duel disks from their cloaks, brandishing them the way apes display their fangs. “I’ll give you two one chance.” Leftie said. “Beat us and we let you go. I’m a man of my word.”
Jolene and JC accepted his challenge. There was no other option.