Duel 1 – Gathering the Metals
Matthew lunged at Xiaoyi, who held his dear Alexis hostage, only to have the awful woman bat him away by smacking him in the face, as if he was but a large beetle; the astonishing force from the small woman landed him facedown in the sand, scorching his face. Matthew Howard Carter, one of the wealthiest men in New York City, virtual center of the world, heir to his grandfather’s fortune as former curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, former American National Champion, lost everything, as small and lost as an insect in the barren land far from home. His brown hair and tanned skin did little to protect him from the harsh sun and sand.
Xiaoyi, small and pale with a large head, features as fine as those of a porcelain doll, gave little regard to the red sunburn mounting on her cheeks like a blush, even seeming to enjoy the fiery sun above her. Matthew could not look at her without shielding his face with his hands for the sun made her long black hair burn with a bright light. Xiaoyi gripped Alexis, Matthew’s lover of many years by the hair, as black as hers, almost to the point of ripping it off her pale head, but Xiaoyi was deaf to her captive’s tears, giving Matthew a steady gaze with her dark brown eyes.
Her temperament phlegmatic, she spoke to him as if she read his thoughts, “No, Gregory, you couldn’t escape your plight even if you transformed into a bug and burrowed in the sand. Your failure to defeat the Saints, to even defeat your high school friend, doesn’t sit well with me. Frankly, I think you’re problem lies with motivation. While I’m no life coach I would like you to be more proactive in your career. You’re the boss of the Ghouls, aren’t you? I know Seeker, Umbra, Lumis, and Keith are all dead – God bless their souls their job was a huge commitment – but they would feel entitled to a promotion over you. They worked at their job for over a decade but the kid with the trust fund gets to be boss instead. I’d say it’s a little unfair too.”
Matthew threw a fistful of sand at Xiaoyi in a fit of rage, only for the woman to laugh at him, as aloof and cruel as the sun itself. But he, above it all, knew who to truly hate. Maya ruined his life. If the insolent fiend only accepted her loss at New York’s Duel Academy with dignity, she would never have formed an antimeta team with her degenerate high school friends, then she would never have dethroned him in the Nationals, then he would never have fallen into a pit of morose self-pity, then Xiaoyi and Gernand would never have come to his doorstop, then he wouldn’t fight Maya and her comrades again, then he would never be groveling in the sand as a scarab beetle. His downward spiral was an arrow, pointing straight to Maya. Everything stemmed from her.
Xiaoyi again seemed to have read his mind for she asked quizzically, “What if you let her win and enter the Academy?” then enjoyed herself watching Matthew violently reject even considering the idea of a different future. “Cheer up, kid. The scarab beetle is a symbol of eternal life but whether you become Gregory or are reborn again as a god is you’re choice. Pretentious Kafka references aside, not like you ever cared, remember that I gave you all your dark powers.” Matthew opened his shirt, revealing the palm-shaped black mark reminding him of his dark pact with her, the pact that gave him the power to use Horus the Black Flame Dragon as his Ka, his monster spirit as direct manifestation of his creative life force. Xiaoyi concluded, “You are linked to me by a red thread. Your thoughts are my thoughts and if I die so do you, so think twice before attacking me.”
She threw an dagger sheath coated with gold between his knees. “King Tut’s own dagger, forged from the iron of outer space, not like the incest-ridden gimp will need it anymore. Pretty cool, isn’t it?” She violently pointed at Alexis’ chest. “Use it to kill this whore. Severe the very last tie you have to another human being and you will truly be a man with nothing to lose, only then will you have the strength to destroy Maya and reclaim your life.” When Matthew hesitated, Xiaoyi barked so severely it shocked him. “DO IT! Kill her quickly or I will kill her slowly.”
Matthew stood up, picked up the dagger, trembling, his hand wavering, unable to step forward. Xiaoyi rolled her eyes, annoyed she had to further motivate the spoiled brat. She tore out Alexis’ left eye, Matthew heard a clear pop and Alexis shrieking in pain and terror, watched frozen in terror as Xiaoyi popped it into her mouth, chewed it carefully, swallowed it. When Matthew still refused to act, Xiaoyi tore out and gobbled Alexis’ other eye, frozen once more by his lovers’ screams. Xiaoyi pulled the unhappy woman up, licking the blood and tears off her face with enthusiasm. “The hero needs an inciting incident before undergoing his quest!”
Now blinded, Alexis could take it no longer. “Kill me, Matthew!” She implored to him. “Take your revenge on Maya to reclaim your life! I will do anything, even lose my life, to see you happy again!” Matthew slowly paced to her, his blood so frozen he felt cold in the middle of the desert. Alexis could no longer see him but she gripped Matthew’s hand tight with one hand, caressed his tearful face with another, and told him goodbye. Matthew stabbed her in the heart with the dagger of kings, relieved to see her die so quickly, then attacked Xiaoyi in rage only for her to smack the dagger out of his hands and point it at his throat.
“Destroy Maya and everyone else who challenges you in a shadow game, your dark powers will increase enough so you may challenge me. Follow this path if you want to kill me.” Matthew collapsed to the ground in sobs, knowing there was nothing else he could do, but learned to embrace his fate. In his despair he found a small hope, that perhaps he could shed his old skin as the beetle does and emerge into a better person with a better life. That hope was all he had left.
Meanwhile, off in the distance, hiding behind a ruined temple wall, a man named Hannibal Davis saw the whole terrible ordeal. He checked to see was in the clear, he dashed into his van and drove at a furious pace to Cairo airport, wiping the sweat off the stubble on his round tan face, the grease off his curly dark hair, airing his round overweight body with his shirt, all caused by nervousness less than the heat itself. He stumbled to the airport gate, himself a tournament finalist, telling the news to none other than the Saints themselves.
Mathias, the Saint’s leader, a gentle giant, dropped his slice of Buffalo Chicken Pizza, the gaiety of the Saints evaporated. A resilient, gregarious man, almost nothing could fade Mathias Blackheart, except something like this. His comrades; the small, thin, red-headed Maximus, and the fit, equally fiery-headed Ivy, knew everything Mathias did. Long before the tournament began, the Headmaster of their Irish monastery foretold to them the prophecies of Revelations; he predicted a Red Dragon, sired by Zorc Necrophades the Satan and demiurge of this world, rising from a fiery pit to destroy humankind, a woman clothed in sun giving birth to the Savior who will defeat the Red Dragon after a long war over the fate of the human race.
The Red Dragon is none other than Matthew Carter, Mathias thought to himself, since he wielded Horus the Black Flame Dragon as his Ka. The woman clothed in sun is Maria Wight, fair as the daystar, holding the power of the Blue-Eyes White Dragon within her, and the Savior the son she would one day have with Seto Kaiba. But these answers did not satisfy him. His own Ka was none other than Horus the Black Flame Dragon as well. Was he the Red Dragon? Impossible! A righteous man like him could never be a minion of the Devil! He eyed Maximus with glaring suspicion, his brother in arms wielded Shining Swordswoman, did that entitle him to the role as the Archangel Michael and the privilege of smiting the Devil? Maximus always wanted to surpass him as a duelist but in now way would Mathias give him this right even if he did become the better duelist!
Mathias told his comrades he needed a break, that too much pizza made you shit worse than eating too many chilidogs. He patted Maximus in the shoulder, whispered in his ear, “Don’t get too proud or your hubris will be your downfall.” leaving Maximus bewildered. He was almost out of earshot when Maximus reminded him behind is back, “Same applies to you.”
Stella Nova joined Maya by the airport window. The two women, of similar height and temperaments, seemed a bit like long lost sororal twins on virtue of looking as different as the sun and the moon. Stella was a woman of handsome features with a prominent nose, both hair and eyes falsely colored pink by dyes and contacts, wearing a tie-dye shirt and jeans that closely hugged her body. “Are you ready for the finals?” She tentatively asked Maya, who said she didn’t know, and Stella replied, “Not so sure either.”
Maya turned to her counterpart to talk about politics, one of their favorite subjects, to get her apprehensions out of her mind. Most people saw politics as rather serious and grown-up but Maya saw how experience trumped popular belief; she found politics to be the most childish and frivolous thing in the world, and far easier to handle than her hidden thoughts. The obvious proof was in watching politicians and celebrities do their work. You may say the errors of leaders lead to war and suffering of all kinds, but the grave cost of buffoons’ mistakes only adds to the farce. But then politics reminded Maya of how she murdered Heishin in cold blood and would rather not think of that either. She was trapped.
Stella noticed one man and several women in black burqa’s pass by them, seeming to view the two duelists with caution and mistrust, a rightful attitude since Pegasus and Kaiba exploited Egypt for its history and current turmoil for publicity while Heishin himself wanted more tourist revenue, and Maya said as much. Stella told Maya her outrage, “It’s horrible how people in America, Britain, and even Germany are talking about banning burqas. People of nonwhite ethnicities have the right to cultural expression and should not be culturally oppressed by laws coming from such problematic normative perspectives.”
Maya turned around, not to see if the one man and several women were still around but to see if any of Stella’s fanbase was present, unlikely as it was. She gave Stella a funny look, when Stella asked what was the problem she obliged, “Stop talking like a columnist from Jezebel. I sometimes wonder if you’re making a PR move when you say such canned phrases. No feminist fan is here to judge you for using the wrong pronouns or judge me for appropriating my mother’s own culture when in high school. I want to know what you really think.”
Stella hugged Maya instead until they were uncomfortably close. “We slept together more than once before you got a boyfriend but no matter how close we got we always felt far apart; I always feel a certain small desperate loneliness that can never be bridged. I sometimes think it has something to do with being a progressive celebrity for so many naïve kids.”
This struck a chord within Maya who had a similar feeling deep inside; she could never let down her guard to reveal what was really inside her because if she became weak someone would hurt her, like father did, sometimes even mother, and like many clever animals built a wall to protect herself. But she wanted to reach out across the infinite void that is between two minds to make contact but she could never do it, she never even dared. Instead she pressured Stella to tell her true opinion about burqas only to have Stella push her away. Another conversation on politics became fruitless, no surprise there at all.
Maya by returned to her dear friends Yukio and Sophia to play dominoes Yukio brought along with them. Maya may have been their best duelist but she was terrible at dominoes, loosing every game. She scratched her head in bewildered amusement, wondering what was going on, “I’m getting a brick hand so bad like I did in Duelists Orochi 2.” Making Yukio and Sophia laughed at her in good cheer, Yukio saying, “You’re overthinking it. It’s just dominoes.”
Maya scanned the faces of her friends. Yukio, tall and stringy, with short spiky black hair, some black stubble, and an idealists’ light in his eyes, glinted with mischief. Sophia, of pale but average body, dark red hair tied in a single compact braid, impressionable dark brown eyes, and introspective look, had the same mischievous shade on her face. “You two must be working together to beat me.” She leapt behind them to see their hidden dominoes for herself. The plot revealed, she shouted, “The conspiracy is real!”
“You mean like that one made by that fartknocker Alex Jones where the Illuminati are making kids gay by putting estrogen in their juice cartons?”
“No, I’m the Butthead of the group. I’m more cool and rational. You’re the impulsive lunatic, Beavis.”
“Butthead is rational?”
“Relatively speaking, yes.”
Sophia had to roll her eyes at them for their mock argument. “Speaking of which,” she commented. “You dorks are more like Rex and Weevil than you know.” inciting Maya and Yukio to protest such an absurd and slanderous idea before debating between each other whether the flat earth theory or the hollow earth theory was the dumbest conspiracy in existence. Sophia vouched for one conspiracy an ignorant woman posted on YouTube claiming rainbows in the mist made by backyard sprinklers was from the government putting something in the water supply. Maya and Yukio gave her a gold medal for effort but dismissed her in the end.
The trio heard Maria gliding away at the piano near a café, something Maya could tell by the choice of music and playing style – Her eyes may sometimes fail her but her ears never did – and saw the Saints and a few other people crowd around her. Maria, Maya judged, was very much a musician of the later Romantic style; playing slowly, using the pedal as if the piano was a car, long arching lyrics, her face contorting into all manner of expressions. She played some fine Tchaikovsky and Chopin indeed, with all the Victorian malaise of a House of Mourning. Maya could almost hear the coughing of the sensitive artist with consumption, too good for this cruel world.
Maria finished, the Saints cheered, Maya as well, she asked Maria for her turn to play. Maria, tall and fair as a statue, an albino with pensive blue eyes, brushed by Maya with typical aloof contempt, like Maya was someone horribly offensive by her very existence. Maya returned the gesture with typical defiance and wit. Maya thundered on the piano with her own repertoire of Cherubini and Beethoven, her face showing concentration but otherwise betraying no emotion. Maria judged Maya to be using Classical and early Romantic styles; with a fast and vivid tempo, crisp, dynamic volumes and colors with lightning fast transitions, forceful and deliberate use of rhythm. Oh yes, the vain noise and pride of Lucifer before the fall, much like so many radicals in that period, cruel and ugly, making light of things that should be beyond humor, disrespectful to the natural laws of art. The Saints cheered for Maya when she finished her program like they did for Maria.
The contest continued, the two duelists rotating from one new piece after all, determined to wear the other down. Yukio and Hannibal were impressed with witnessed the two lionesses bite and scrape the other. “By Jove himself, it’s as if Minverva and Ishtar fought for the title of wisest and most powerful goddess!” Hannibal couldn’t help himself from stammering. Yukio put his hand on Hannibal’s arm, “Calm down, dude. No woman is worth worshipping.” And before Hannibal could object to such a sexist claim Yukio quickly added, “Men even less so.”
Three hours passed, the combatants not quite exhausted but starting to get there. Maya had no choice but to play the wild card she kept in store until this very moment. Maya decided to play her second favorite piece of music, Handel’s Suite in Bb, Beethoven’s Große Fugue being her first, Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag being her third. She danced with Handel, enthusiastic but graceful and light on her feet, going through the prelude, sonata, and variations. Now she arrived at the minor minuet she decided now to take a completely different direction, the improvisations she made up in her mind during the whole contest would now be unleashed. She played a minor variation of Handel’s theme, similar to the minuet itself in form but different in substance, then a minor singing variation, then bursting the tension with a violent tarantella. She returned to Bb to play more variations, each one faster and more volcanic than the last one – she would not let Maria win! – until she came to playing small dotted rhythms and 64th notes triplets – “Ack!” Maya clutched her cramped wrist but quickly went back, playing the last bars of her last variation, before clasping her wrist again.
Everyone applauded, except Maria who turned away from the crowd, thinking Maya vastly overstepped her bounds. It was mortal sin for a performer to play outside the composer’s intentions, as if someone today could dare suggest to a genius of the past. No Handel or Beethoven existed today because people like that are no longer born in our decadent age. Mathias threw Maya’s afflicted hand into the air to announce her victor only to cramp Maya’s arm by accident, Maya taking the pain in stride. All this only revealed the philistine, vulgar, and shallow attitudes of modern times, the crowd whooping as if at the circus.
Weevil Underwood and Rex Raptor, Weevil being our remaining finalist, were doing less dignified things. “Goddamn it Rex I need to use the bathroom! I gotta’ PEE!” Weevil jumped up and down like a grasshopper; his teal blue hair, molded in a Beatles haircut, and his huge round green glasses bouncing with him.
“We’re getting there, butt-muncher.” Rex said as he evened out his dirty aged red beanie and scratched his long greasy brown hair.
“Up yours, asswipe!” Weevil met Rex, his narrow squinting blue eyes meeting Rex’s sharp brown ones. The two got lost in their quest for the public bathroom, Weevil now almost ready to burst.
“Remember that time at Charles de Gaul Airport when we got lost so long you did pee yourself and everybody laughed.” Rex himself chuckled a bit at the fun memory. “Man, that airport looks like a schizophrenic made it.”
“Not helping!” Weevil desperately shouted. They saw a man named Tamas, the last finalist and a nondescript man after his short blond hair and black leather coat, and his teammates play testing each other for the finals. Weevil asked him for directions to the bathroom, Tamas answered, Weevil relieved himself, the two asked Tamas again for directions back to the right gate, Tamas again pointed, the two went their way.
Weevil witnessed the crowd surrounding Maya and Maria and got a wonderful idea, he whispered it to Rex, who grinned at the thought. Weevil promised Rex twenty dollars if he did what he wanted, to which Rex accepted, and he dashed around the airport, pinching every female finalist’s butt. They all yelped, much to Rex and Weevil’s delight. Stella claimed sexual harassment, Maria condemned the horrible disrespect to women, Maya chased after them to beat them up.
“WEEVIL! BUDDY!” Mathias caught Weevil, giving him the biggest bear hug in his live, enjoying watching Weevil squirm in his embrace. The insect shouted, “I have a restraining order and I will sue you as soon as I get home! Rex did it! It was his idea but I told him not to do it because it was sexual harassment punishable by castration and sensitivity training but did he listen? No!”
“You have a home?” Maya said in mock surprise. “You look like a chain-smoking stoner, so I guess you do live under a bridge or in your mother’s basement.”
“Ha ha! Very original!” Weevil tried his best to point at Rex. “There’s the culprit, get him!” Yukio caught Rex by the scruff of his neck, who squirmed under his grasp, babbling everything he could to save himself but nothing helped him. Mathias threw Weevil at Maya, telling her to hold him. “Sometimes you need 1950s parenting.” He remarked. With Weevil and Rex pinned to the wall, he let loose his belt on their asses, cracking it on their butts tender as a baby’s. The two stooges pleaded for mercy but none was given. Weevil threatened to call his lawyer but no one cared. Rex said he would sleep with any woman nice enough to free him, thinking his little trick would work. It didn’t.