Ryou sat cross-legged on his bed, looking down at the ring of gold that lay on his blankets.
He hadn't really expected it would stay buried.
And he knew that his friends would probably think he was crazy to ever touch it again. This ring, or at least the spirit in it, had been responsible for him being possessed, shuffled into a lead figurine, nearly killed, stabbed twice and almost flamed to a crisp. The Spirit had ruthlessly manipulated his friends, carried the darkness that had nearly destroyed them all and made Ryou's life a very strange patchwork for years.
From the beginning, the Ring had turned his life inside out.
Ryou watched his new friends trapped on the game table and about to walk into destruction, and shuddered. He couldn't let this stand. He couldn't let it happen again.
Ryou moved in that strange way the Spirit had used to push him down, and gritted his teeth. Moving with or past the Spirit had been uncomfortable so far, hot and abrasive, but this, fighting his way through the Spirit's Zorc figurine, was horrible! Cold closed around him, viscous and slow, and he had to force himself through it, dragging himself along the thin, golden string of words spooled out from the vast, heavy shadow he thought was his pendant, the way it looked in this strange spirit world.
But however horrible it felt, he couldn't let this happen to his friends. It was his game the Spirit was using to trap them, and… and…
And it was his game!
He pushed part of himself out of Zorc's coldness, the lead or the spirit, he wasn't sure which, pulled substance around him, named it the White Wizard, and sank back with a breath of relief. It wasn't the first time he'd played with himself as one of the pieces, really, and now he'd just have to watch for his chances.
And hope he never had to touch that cold thing again.
Ryou watched Pegasus and Yuugi-kun duel, and felt the heat of the Spirit against his spine, as though someone actually stood right at his back, looking over his shoulder. It made his heart beat faster, and he couldn't tell whether the excitement was his own or the Spirit's. Certainly the Spirit's thoughts were affecting his.
At least he was fairly sure he'd never have told Yuugi-kun to kill Pegasus entirely of his own accord.
He bit his lip as Pegasus declared the match a Shadow Game, and knowledge flickered through his thoughts, indistinct and echoing with distance or time. The Spirit pressed tighter against his back, hot and sharp, moving into him, and he breathed in someone else's rhythm as his voice said, "They are in a world only they can see. That is the meaning of a Shadow Game."
He shivered and clung to the sights and sounds around him, not wanting to be pushed all the way down. Yuugi-kun was his friend; he needed to watch.
And he needed to know what the Millenium items were and did, and why one had come to him.
Laughter brushed past his ear. As you wish, my host.
Later, after another while away inside his own mind, when he came up to awareness on the steps of the castle as they were all leaving, the things he had seen were enough to stop him from asking the Spirit what he hadn't.
Ryou frowned at the striped shirt on top of his laundry basket; he didn't remember wearing that recently.
He fastened his uniform jacket neatly, thinking. None of his friends had said anything, so he'd thought that the Spirit was leaving them all alone, the way he'd promised. Well, not exactly promised, but said he would. Implied he would, at any rate. But he had been a bit more tired than usual some mornings, lately. If the Spirit had been coming out while Ryou slept, then he might not know. That was nice, in a way, that he wasn't interrupted in his day, but…
Perhaps he should ask Yuugi-kun if anything had happened, after all.
Heat prickled at him like a grumble. I've done nothing to your precious friends but help them.
"Well…" Ryou hesitated. It was true, when he'd woken up back in the Black Clown, Yuugi-kun had said the Spirit helped him. Finally he sighed. "All right, then."
He was sure his friends would mention if anything strange happened again.
Ryou had started to expect disorientation every now and then–waking somewhere he didn't remember going to. This time it was worse.
This time there was pain.
He couldn't catch his breath; it panted out of him with each jar and pulse and stab of pain from his arm, turning his sight dim.
What had happened? Had the Spirit fought something? Had he been beaten? The only thing he could feel of the Spirit, past the pain, was crazy-wild exultation, and sometimes he thought that meant danger and sometimes he thought that meant winning.
Either way, though, why had he been left like this?
Ryou collapsed against the taxi's seat cushions beside Yuugi-kun's grandfather, biting his lip to stifle a whimper as his arm was jostled. The question circled in his head through the car ride, through the exclamations of nurses and the bustle of being whisked off to a hospital room, through the sudden, dizzy relief of the injection that numbed the tearing hurt in his arm.
However they had been injured, why had the Spirit retreated and just left him bleeding, to be picked up by a stranger? Why was the Spirit gloating? What was going on?
This time, when he felt the rush of darkness over him, like the shadow of a cloud crossing land, he clung to his questions, pushed back to stay as close to the Spirit as he could. The echo of a laugh was familiar, the hint of teasing malice, the hot, uncontrolled anger and the stiff line of the Spirit's back.
And the heavy slide of chill.
That made Ryou retreat, fast. He remembered that cold.
Something was very, very wrong.
Ryou felt very strange.
Guess what, little host? the Spirit murmured to him. I've arranged for you to be able to play in the Battle City finals with your friends. Won't that be fun?
Yes, it would. Ryou liked very much to play with his friends. If only he didn't feel so fuzzy…
So here's your deck and winnings, and friends. Talk to them.
Yes. Yes, he should. Oh, and look, the nice young man who had helped him earlier was here too. That was good. He should say thank you, so his friends would know how nice the young man was. Yes.
How odd that his arm didn't hurt. The hospital must have done a good job; yes, of course they must.
If only he didn't feel so peculiar.
The gauziness over Ryou's senses ripped away and it was ten times worse than the last time. Pain blugeoned him, cold and pressure and the ripping fire in his arm. He couldn't make the world around him make sense.
Yuugi-kun. He recognized Yuugi-kun, in front of him. But what was going on?
The pain and dizziness and knife-like cold made it so hard to think.
And then it was gone again, pain and fear blocked away along with the world, and for a moment all he could do was pant for breath and try to understand. When he managed to look up, the Spirit's back was in front of him again, the Spirit's arms spread out as if to embrace the blinding light beyond, and that wild laugh echoed through both their minds.
The Spirit was burning, burning in the light, and it suited him somehow to welcome such mad destruction, even his own. Ryou could only kneel in the shelter of his shadow, stunned.
When the world snapped back into focus, crashing down on him with light and cold and fire, passing out seemed the only sensible thing to do.
Ryou had only just gotten himself settled in his own mind again when he felt a very peculiar jostling. He was used to the Spirit's rough passage, and the creeping chill that he always tried to avoid, but this was… fuller.
His first reaction was absolute exasperation. His mind wasn't some kind of clown-car! How many spirits or boarders or, or meddlers was he supposed to contain?
The echo of the Spirit's vicious exultation suggested a game or a fight, though, and Ryou supposed he should be used to strangeness surrounding all such things, by now. It had ever since he first touched the Ring. Sometimes he wondered why he hadn't just found a fire to throw the thing in.
But it felt right in his hand.
Was this bizarre clutteredness supposed to feel right in his mind, then?
Before he could decide whether to try to come close, to find out who else was here, his mind started sliding out of place around him. Walls, floors, space melted and the jagged heat of the Spirit swept past him, swept him up and along with it, and they were moving, shifting.
When the world stilled again, it was dark and snug, and downright radiated heat, all around him. Ryou reached out, cautiously, blindly, feeling for his surroundings, and felt only roughness lick against his fingers like sand-heavy wind. This heat… he knew it.
Was he inside the Spirit's mind?!
Ryou wished, earnestly, for a wall to bang his head against. What had the Spirit done now? Where on earth could they be, that the Spirit was his host? He couldn't see a thing, and all he could hear was a faint echo, like footsteps on stone.
At least, he decided, rubbing his incorporeal forehead, the coldness didn't seem to be near.
Or, if it was, the Spirit's close, rough heat sheltered him from it.
When the world changed again, it turned inside out. The rough pressure of the Spirit's mind all around him faded away and Ryou found himself staring up at the sky. Levering himself up confirmed that he was back in his body, with all the aches and pains of a body that had, apparently, been lying in a pile of rubble.
At least his arm felt better than it had.
He felt chilly, though, especially considering he was sitting outside in full sunlight. He reached for the Ring, to reassure himself.
It was gone.
Conflicting feelings whirled through his heart. He missed the Ring's weight on his chest, and he missed the Spirit's prickly heat against him and he was nearly wild with frustration because now he couldn't ask what had happened! Not that the Spirit told him very often, but he did sometimes, if Ryou insisted.
Ryou hauled himself out of the rubble and made his way back to the Battle Ship, where he at least knew there was hot water and towels. And, just maybe, someone who could tell him what was going on.
And where his Ring was.
He had a great many questions for the his Spirit, this time.
Ryou had felt the heat of the Spirit's presence, making him that odd sort of drowsy he hated, when Yuugi's own Spirit had been drawn away into memories, but it had broken when Bobasa sent him away. Or maybe the heat of his own anger buried it. How dare some stranger send him away from his friends! The Spirit had said nothing and even seemed a bit distracted while Ryou found a deserted gallery and leaned against the wall stifling tears of frustration.
So he was completely unprepared for the wild swirl of heat and sinking cold that sucked him down into darkness.
Coldness was all around him.
Everywhere he turned, everywhere he tried to draw back to, was the touch of that leaden cold. Finally, in desperation to escape it, he searched for the Spirit. Even the scouring edge of the Spirit's presence would be better than this.
The Spirit's sharp glee wasn't hard to locate, and Ryou hesitated, fearing just what kind of game he would find his tenant playing now. But he slipped closer on disembodied tiptoes anyway, easing up against the heat of the Spirit's 'back'. The closer he came the stranger he felt, though. He frowned and snuck closer still.
The cold was threaded throughout the Spirit's presence, gleaming and oily.
Ryou started to draw back, horrified, only to be caught by a glimpse 'past' the Spirit.
That was his diorama! The one he'd made for his father's exhibit! And it was full of tiny figures, now…
And Yuugi's other was beyond it, glaring, teeth bared.
Fury and indignation burned through him, hot as the Spirit's passage usually was. Another RPG! Another of his games! The Spirit was playing another RPG with his friends! Again!
Or… the coldness was playing. It flexed and darkened and the Spirit moved with its motion.
Ryou scowled in the interior darkness, immaterial fingers flexing. They'd just see about this. He'd turned the game the last time; perhaps he could again.
He pressed closer, reaching out to touch the golden strands of magic or words or whatever they were from the Ring, slipping his soul between the threads of dark cold to see what the Spirit was doing.
Apparently what he was doing was winning, or almost, and Ryou chewed his lip. This would take… strategy.
How lucky for everyone that was what he was good at.
He took a breath and whispered to the Spirit, Easy games are boring, aren't they? Give them a clue.
The Spirit's own heat flared and grated against the grip of the coldness and Ryou narrowed his eyes in satisfaction. Hope rose as he heard the echo of the other Yuugi's words about how a real RPG player would play out their encounter, only to be caught back, along with the Spirit's forward rush of response, by that twining net of coldness. He glared at those strands of darkness.
This was personal, now.
He frowned listening to the echo of outer-world words coming down the threads of the Ring's magic. It felt… like both the Spirit and that cold thing. Were they actually connected, somehow? He listened closer.
…any duelist… …thrill, facing a worthy opponent… …but I'm just a killer…
He shuddered. That, that, wasn't the Spirit at all.
The coldness flinched, cracked for a moment, and he pressed forward, tighter against the Spirit, whispering to him that he did want the thrill, he didn't want the game to end badly, did he? But the cold tightened down again, spreading, and Ryou could only stare in horror as the third hourglass turned and the whole table begant to fall apart.
His damn table!
He gritted his teeth and reached around and through the coldness and shook the Spirit hard. This is your game! Yours and mine! Play it!
The sharp arrogance of the Spirit flashed and dragged back up against the iron cold, and he heard the Spirit laugh, taunting the other Yuugi, holding the final blow with gleeful malice just to grind the defeat in. Ryou prodded and whispered while the coldness stirred impatiently, playing for time, hoping their friends would figure their part out and do it!
Light burst up from the table and the cold recoiled, lashing through them both until Ryou could only scream. He'd come too close–
But the darkness that sucked him down was warm.
Ryou wasn't sure how he felt about not wearing the Ring. On the one hand, the knowledge that the heavy cold he'd felt in the Ring and around the Spirit had been a piece of pure evil made him shudder every time he thought about it. He was deeply glad that he'd never feel that thing again. And, just personally, it was also nice to know that his games wouldn't be stolen again for the purposes of tormenting his friends. On the other hand…
He missed the beauty of those golden strands of words, of magic; he missed touching and listening to them.
In an odd way, he missed the Spirit; he'd been arrogant and annoying and more than a little crazed, and dealing with him had been like handling sandpaper by and large, but he'd also been heat and brightness that Ryou had never seen before.
The thought tickled the back of his mind, as they made the round of Egypt's tourist sites, as they sailed down the river, as they stepped slowly down into an underground temple, that perhaps Yuugi hadn't been the only one whose Spirit had taught him new things.
Ryou stroked his fingers along the cold, gleaming curve of gold lying on his bed, feeling only the natural chill of metal. "He's gone, isn't he? Zorc. "
"Good!" Ryou declared fervently. "So? What is it that you want?" The Spirit was silent and he sighed, exasperated. "You wouldn't have come back if you didn't still want something for yourself." It wasn't just his friends who forgot he was a strategist and gamesman himself.
My village, the Spirit said slowly. My family. The Items were buried but not destroyed. I wasn't released from this Ring. Is it just me, or are all of their souls still trapped by the damned things?
Ryou bit his lip. Family. He understood that. But still…
"I want to see what's happening," he said, firmly. "When you're in front. I want to know what's going on."
For the first time, speaking like this, he caught a glimpse of the Spirit's face. He was smirking. Whatever you wish, of course.
Ryou had second and third thoughts, at that, but no matter how alarming it was it had to be better to know. He took a deep breath. "Promise."
The smirk had a thoughtful edge, now. All right. I promise you. You'll be aware of it all.
Ryou let his breath out. "All right." He lifted the Ring and slipped the cord over his head. "Oh, yes. One more thing."
The Spirit's smile was downright unnerving, all gleaming teeth and bright eyes. Hmmm?
"No more stabbing!"