Little Narmer runs to his mother who still sleeps under the green light of dawn. “Mommy! Mommy! Wake up!” He calls, but his mother might as well be a rock. He nudges her, pushes her, jumps on her back, but the mother slumbers. “Mommy, I’m hungry!” He demands, but he gets nothing. He jumps on her again. She remains a stone. He jumps on his mother once more, but she loses no beauty sleep.
He slams into Maya, who in her dream sees everything happening to her from above, and she wakes up. She expects to see her child by her side and her husband in the living room, but instead topples through the air to meet the harsh yellow light and arid sand of the desert. She sees a sphinx, which barely surpasses her height by sitting on a granite slab, but the beast appears colossal, and its head has the silky black hair, pale skin, and narrow dark brown eyes that can only belong to Yifan.
Maya notices for the first time a legion of men draped in black robes and cowles like the Ghouls, each man waiting his turn in line before admission to the sphinx’s presence. The sphinx poses no riddle but each wise man rattles on and on in monologue for days, weeks, years. His beard turns grey, his eyes get dull and misty, his body shrivels like an old grape, becoming smaller and smaller until he vanishes. The next man meets the same fate, as does the man after that, and the man after that, but the sphinx files her nails in boredom.
Maya recalls reading book after book on philosophy, politics, and literature during high school and college, determined not only to find some answers, to find things to believe in, but also to beat the white man at his own game. Well, it seems the old men are playing themselves. The sphinx gives Maya the side eye as if Yifan is asking her if everything she has done was a waste of time.
Maya ignores the creature and sets out in the desert alone only to realize she is on a planet made of shattered glass. She meets someone else in this desert, a tall man with broad shoulders and stern countenance garbed in his trademark white trench coat. It is Kaiba, but Maya sees the fractured reflections of Sofia’s face in the shattered glass everywhere.
They duel instantly and, as soon as they do, the sun transforms into a satellite, which then expands in a crystalline dome enveloping the entire world. Maya executes a strategy, but it fails miserably, like Kaiba knows exactly what she is doing, what she is thinking. Maya wonders why in frustration until she sees the cards in her hand reflected off the dome.
Maya throws the duel disk at the dome, shattering it, and the crystalline shards fall on her like solid rain. She fears she will die but then wakes up, seeing her son by her side. Maya hugs and kisses him like she has not seen him for years, and she goes to the kitchen to make pancakes with her husband, but everything vanishes as a mirage in the desert, and she encounters Yifan as the sphinx once more.
Maya startles, noticing she is deep in the ocean inside the small submarine she used to escort Sofia half round the world and back. Where’s Sofia? She might as well wear a red and white shirt because she is nowhere to be found. Maya does not even know why she is ten leagues beneath the sea in the first place. What country would she go to? North America? She is the most wanted terrorist. Europe? Same. Africa? Looking at the same place over and over again never finds what is lost. Asia? Yifan rules the land with an iron fist in a leather glove, and she would probably screw with Maya in the real world as well as in dreams.
Maya gives up, returning to Egypt. She meets Hassan, also meets Yukio who brought Mathias along. Narmer is understandably not there but Maya still feels like there is a whole in her chest. They discuss a strategy to take out Anubisius, the next high mage with a Millennium Item. Their plan is to secretly send a small task force to Anubisius’ poppy plantation and raid it. Maya, Yukio, and Mathias only use their Ka after Anubisius sends reinforcements to do maximum damage with the few precious minutes they have to exert such great magical power. Then everyone is dismissed.
Maya returns to the Ghouls hideout to sit on her throne as their new leader. Maya adjusts herself many times in discomfort, her butt hurting more than after Yukio gets kinky with her. How did Malik sit on this thing? Pandora, now the underboss, and several goombas give Maya their obesciences. “What shall be your bidding master…” Pandora stops, having no idea how to address his new superior. “Master Maya? Miss Maya? Mistress of All Evil? Your Malignancy?”
“Please stop.” Maya groans.
Pandora gets sillier. “Darth Maladicta? Satine the Satanic? Empress of Eternal Darkness? Stalina the Sinister? Ghoul Goddess? Shadow Game Sorceress? Duchess Dunkelheit?”
Maya settles on a name. “‘Miss Maya’ should be fine.”
“That hardly sounds evil or threatening.” Pandora objects. “You sound like a schoolteacher who has to watch over petulant children.”
“That’s exactly how I feel.” Maya puts it bluntly. “And I will show you how much fear I can put in two innocent little words.”
With that in mind, Maya gathers her Ka as if itching for a fight and summons every Ghoul to the main hall of their hideout. She explains to them Hassan’s plan. “I need you to fight an army and burn a poppy plantation to the ground. My friend, Hassan Mubarak, needs you to supplement his army, but he must see which thieves and prostitutes among you have the fortitude to even begin training, so you’ll begin tryouts at his place first.”
“Ooh! I love tryouts!” Adam squeals in delight, jumping up like a puppy. “Give me a G! Give me an H! Give me a – ”
“Pandora, kill him.” Maya quickly orders. When Pandora fails to obey, Maya pulls out a small but lethal gun and fires a bullet into Adam’s head. The Ghouls watch in stunned horror as the body of their comrade falls to the ground and his life instantly disappears. Maya brandishes a butterfly dagger at Pandora, causing the underboss to squeak in a panic. “Disobey me again and Adam will ruin your afterlife forever.”
Clarence manages to speak up despite being terrified. “You know, Malik would brainwash us before killing us, and he never sent us to fight actual wars either. Evil masterminds monologue first and make convoluted plans later. You’re being too straightforward. Very unprofessional.”
“Let’s try this again. Pandora, kill him.” Maya orders. Pandora instantly draws his own gun and ends Clarence’s life. The Ghouls are so stiff with fear they might as well be statues.
Maya smirks with amusement and gives them comforting words in a sardonic tone. “Listen, you must simply obey me. I don’t want your love, admiration, or even respect. This is not the mafia. There are no blood ties here. Only my will exists. There is no way but my way.”
Three Ghouls point their guns at Maya. “We don’t have to listen to you.” They declare, firing their weapons. Maya easily catches each bullet between her fingers, astounding the would-be killers.
Maya pops her fingers, one by one, at a leisurely place. “Force lightning Akhenaten style.” She then leans forward as if about to say something grave and important. “Boo.” The Ghouls cower back in fear.
“Was that really necessary?” Pandora timidly asks. “I mean, you have a gun.”
“I overdid it, didn’t I?”
“If I may say so, yes. And, honestly, I can tell you’re new to the whole evil mastermind thing. I get the feeling you’re desperately winging it to establish your authority.”
“You are correct.” Maya admits with a certain innocent candor.
She reaches for an iPhone. “I believe you guys use your own underground Internet called the ‘Dark Cloud.’ Correct?” The Ghouls quickly nod. “Pandora, what’s the WiFi password around here?” She receives the password, muttering while carefully typing it. “Password… One… Two… Three…” A moment later, and all is set. “You now have the coordinates to Hassan’s location. Be there tomorrow at nine before noon. No excuses for being late.”
“Um, I accidentally left my phone at home.” One of the Ghouls says in a sheepish tone.
“Then share with a friend.”
“Can I go to the bathroom?” Another Ghoul asks.
“Not until I dismiss you.”
“But Miss Maya, I really gotta go.” He whines.
“You will literally become a soldier tomorrow. Get some discipline.”
Before Maya takes her leave, she says, “Pandora will be your substitute teacher while I’m gone. If any of you misbehave, he will tell me and I will deal with you personally. And you,” She points to a Ghoul shivering near the pile of ashes that was once his comrade. “Get a broom and put your friend in a ceramic pot. At least give him a decent burial.”
The next day, Hassan arrives with his army to put the Ghouls through boot camp. Though the Ghouls are clearly no strangers to violence and subterfuge they lack proper military training and discipline, and it is up to Hassan to put them through a crash course to set them reasonably straight.
Maya oversees the training just in case Hassan’s army teaches a Ghoul a technique that can be used against her, but she teaches no one her black arts. She uses the time to reflect on the dream she had, puzzling its meaning. Yifan taught her how to reach people through dreams and Maya taught it to Sofia in turn. The strengths of dreams are the ability to travel to different worlds and communicate to people in a way that cannot easily be detected. However, the communication itself is vague at best.
Yifan and Sofia were trying to tell Maya something, but what? Maya dismisses Yifan’s boastful message as a pretentious taunt, at least for now. Sofia is a different matter. Why did she disguise herself as Kaiba? Would Kaiba use his space station to somehow see through Maya’s tactics when they dueled? It doesn’t make sense. Maya would sing something to be a cheerleader of sorts, but she concludes that this chapter fills enough pages as it is.
A month of intensive training passes. Maya spars with Yukio and Mathias several times and spends her free time looking for Sofia in vain. The leaders gather their forces and march for days through the Middle Eastern desserts at night, camping near Anubisius’s plantation.
A Ghoul lights a cigarette and comments, “Blood and opium, huh. Such is life. Such is death.” The man behind the cowl must have been an arts major before turning to crime. His comment has the trappings of philosophy but not its substance.
Mathias, Yukio, and Maya huddle together on the eve of battle. Mathias and Yukio have been talking to each other for a while and Mathias decides to speak to Maya first. “Your decision to lead the Ghouls was disturbing on many levels. I know we need reinforcements for our revolution but why not train the displaced people living in tent cities?”
Maya answers, “The Ghouls are a ready supply that needed little training. They also provide many resources since they are an international crime syndicate. There is no room for a clean conscience in a war this big. This is not a crusade. It is impossible to be a good soldier and a good Christian.”
Mathias refutes her. “I disagree. You say you’re pragmatic but it’s really about convenience and power. The means justify the ends. There is no point in fighting for freedom and the planet when you betray your very principles by letting criminals run amok. The Ghouls will make the world a less safe and less free place to live. Even in times of darkness, one can be a good Christian.”
Maya counterargues, “The alternative, possible human extinction while a handful of despots govern a burning planet, is much worse. The Ghouls will at most do childish antics like raping and murdering some people. I will deal with that problem later. When the war is won, I will make the Ghouls disappear. The new world is not for me or them. I will be the bad guy to make the dream of countless people come true. Those are the sacrifices I’m willing to make.”
Mathias shakes his head, clutching his glowing pendant. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve lived for over a century thanks to my philosopher’s stone, and I’ve seen countless men fall to darkness in this way. They thought they could separate themselves from their dark deeds but they became their dark deeds. Man cannot defeat his sinful nature.”
Yukio holds Maya’s hands. “Heed his warning. Also, be careful with Sofia. You went out of your way to save her a few chapters back. People now know she is your weak spot, and they will exploit it. I wish you treated our child with as much love.”
Maya pushes Yukio away. “How dare you say that! I would die for Narmer!”
Now the army sleeps as much as it can, for it will attack before dawn. Maya, with her eyes closed, suddenly understands her dream. Kaiba and Anubisius know of Maya’s tactic. She is stepping into their trap. “Oh…” She says flatly. “Oh… Shrink-and-an-Enemy-Controller.”