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Sky Dance

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Part I: Yugi

Something moved in the dirt. A hideous scraping noise, long and slow, crept through the air, and for a moment the dragon froze. Then he heard it, recognizing the heavy thump of it falling back to the ground again. Before him, in a perfect formation of heavy artillery, the scales along the spine of the great red dragon rose into a bristle of only the slightest alarm.

The head of this dragon alone had spoken of immense size, but the tail said it was so much bigger than he had initially assumed.

"I am aware of your presence," the red beast murmured in a tone that was sluggish with sleep but lethal in its dismissive stance. The scraping noise was long gone now but he still had a judge of just how immense this creature truly was and it shook him to the core. "But I am not aware of your intentions within my land. What is your purpose for coming here?"

For only a moment he wished he might have the words to answer. But a part of him knew better than to be so foolish. So he raised his head again, drew in as big a breath as his primary lungs could hold, and let out a series of loud ringing booms from somewhere deep within his chest.

His call sparked immediate action.

The dragon before him opened a single eye, one the size of the sun beyond it, the same blazing color to mirror its intensity. There was no pupil. There was no slit of any kind. He could not judge its temperament upon seeing him and such blindness unnerved him even more than the rumors that circled around the dragon. There was nothing by which he could possibly judge if his cries had produced the effect he needed or not. But then the looming red dragon slowly raised its head.

When the very bone of its jaw rose, he could see the bare underbelly of its large neck, the serpentine design of it. The scales were a glistening black like that of slate stone, perfectly smooth and glittering even as the sun failed to touch their surface. Beneath each was the simplest stripe of white, deceptively soft upon the eyes, and he wondered if they shone rainbow under the sun if it were to angle its throat to do so.

The dragon stretched much like one of the humans' pet dogs, lower body stretched towards the sky and legs the size of tree trunks splayed forward. The smallest set of claws he had ever seen—there were only three of them, as opposed to the usual four or five—rose and flexed in the air for a moment before the tension was lost and they fell back against the dirt once more.

The thin bones of its body looked delicate and short where they rose towards the huge chest, a plate which lay there several times larger and sharper where the others seemed smooth like water and shadows. Two blades of metal—or perhaps they were bone—glinted a brilliant white like its great teeth, laying feet apart on the protective scale.

The wings, draped down and lying in the dirt, began to rise into high arches, so great in height that they were almost the same as the mountain peaks beyond them. He imagined if they were fully extended in this form they might block away the sun. The very crevice of their joints was crested with gleaming red, a covering of scales upon the spear of bone. But it did not unfurl them in an attempt to overwhelm and intimidate as another dragon might.

It simply shook its muscular neck out, the stripes rippling like smoke within the air. Then its head lowered and the dragon peered at him with glittering golden eyes, so deep and cold that he thought of the special metal. Slowly its wings folded back into its sides, resting horizontal to its body, and the long red coils began to twist and writhe, the dirt speaking of slithering movements as it stared back at him.

"You wish to challenge me for mating privileges?" it drawled in a voice as deep as the rumbling of gathering storm clouds. He blinked, because there was nothing recognizable or even natural in its timbre, as if it were built of a million voices rather than one. There was no definition to its volume. The red dragon gazed upon him for a long moment and the silence was steady between them.

He could not speak.

He would not speak.

"Perhaps my Origin Form inspires your mute voice."

He almost wanted to say it was gorgeous, far beyond what he had ever seen of another dragon. He wanted to tell them how the red scales shone beautifully beneath the sunlight, as if they were the very core of a perfect ruby. Or that the gem in his forehead, that brilliant sapphire, was the shade of the sky before the sun set and the gleam of it made his hearts pound. Or that the elegant crown of spikes upon his head were as brilliant as the curve of his claws and he thought them more beautiful than he could put into words. Or that both sets of teeth were as white as the snow that capped the mountains beyond them or the moon when its face was full. He wanted to tell it a million different things. But his tongue felt heavy with the weight of the words and the inclination that this dragon might come to hate him for such admiration.

So he stayed silent.

The red beast took a step, clearing distance it would have taken him seemingly forever to pass over. Then the second heralded a shimmering of bright red and electrifying yellow, of black streaked with white, of swirling winds and a booming crackling like ice breaking. The sound made his hearts pound as the wind began to dissipate again and the lights began to filter away into nonexistence once more.

It stood more akin his height now, the size of the tallest pine tree, with that same gorgeous crown of red spears that rose like the peaks of mountains. The mouths were still gaping pits of white teeth, so sharp they seemed to split the very air as the dragon exhaled loudly into the stillness of the coming night. The eyes were still free of any pupils, but now were almond in shape, with a more pronounced gleam like carved gold rather than an intense sunbeam.

But he noticed the bulk of its huge form was centered along the muscular formation of its larger body, the longer and thicker legs, the gleaming shield-shaped plates of armor upon its chest. When it moved again, he noticed that three claws had morphed into four, and a fifth sat along the insides of its legs towards the tip of the chest plates, the appendage smaller and almost akin a human's thumbs.

But, with this, he also realized that those claws had grown.

Not only were they no longer rounded along the tops, giving them a smooth sleek look like that of his fangs, now they stretched further outwards like talons. They arched up at the base, covering the formation of the dragon's knuckles, and reached the length of a human arm.

When it approached him now, it was not with grace but with ferocity, hate and power, which made the length of the spikes along its back rise in spears of red. He could hear bones snapping and stretching upwards, grating lightly along the tips of his scales where they pushed against them to rise in the hideous crests of painful daggers. The wings were still the majority of its upper body, so large that even tucked they seemed to double its muscular form along the shoulders and chest. And, now, rather than one red spike of bone where it jutted out beneath the scales, there were two. The first was still red, but the second glistened white and silver, mere inches apart, the tips rising furiously away as if in pronouncement of their abilities.

Its tail was what held his attention, however. As it slid along the ground, disturbing the air with the harsh noise and stunning speed, he realized it was still long. It was so unusual and otherworldly in its length that it was horrifying. It made up for the mass of bulkiness it had gained, coils upon coils of brilliant red where the end was feathered only slightly but tucked tightly together.

The dragon was not aiming to kill him as of yet.

"Do you even know my name?" the red dragon spat, and now the voice was a rich singular timbre, a savage baritone which splintered the air but caressed his ears. The golden eyes blinked and its head rose slightly as he remained silent. The tail lashed now, whipping a cloud of dust up in a rapid formation that nearly blinded him. The hate was clear in its brilliant eyes. "I suppose you came here to conquer the God Dragon of Domino. Shall I tell you the fate of others once in your predicament? The ones who have attempted to best me in battle or tournament, competition or will, hoping to force me to lay for them… Not one of them has ever known my true name. Can you speak it for me now? Do you know it?"

He blinked at the red dragon, his own eyes wide in shock at such spiteful words. His hearts plummeted for a moment, scales shuddering as he looked at him. How could anyone truly hope to court another if they did not even truly know their name? Of course he knew this dragon's name!

But to say it…

The top mouth clicked disdainfully as it snapped its teeth and its long tail lashed angrily in the dirt. The cloud of dust came in waves for a moment. A small stone flew towards him but missed by an inch. He almost backed up but the red dragon did not seem as if it meant to do him harm as of yet.

"I am Atem, the Sky Dragon the humans of the village beneath the mountains worship. I am the God Dragon of the East."

The vicious edge of Atem's words startled him faintly and he bristled, the hostility so open that it stabbed through him like teeth. He had to fight not to tremble, nor to simply flatten himself to the ground and speed off hastily.

Yet, when he still remained silent, Atem continuing to watch him, his anger swept outwards like waves crashing against the stones of the bottom cliffs. He tilted his head slightly, studying him with a resentment coming upon his senses.

This dragon…

He drew in a deep breath, but caught nothing more than a volcanic, ashen, berry-laden scent that faintly held a hint of pine needle. Even as his tongues scraped upon the tops of his mouths and slipped in forked formations from between his sharp teeth, he could catch nothing.

And it occurred to him that he had never seen a dragon like this before. Perhaps the muddy brown and gray shade of color was not its true appearance, but the shape was unfamiliar to him as well. He had not known of a dragon with tusks that formed inward in a curled shape like sculpted ice and bone, sharp and almost ragged like the singular soft ridges of his claws. The beak of its mouth was sharp and long, overshadowing the length of its teeth by a few inches as his own did. But the bottom jaw stretched outwards in mimicry of this design, so that they almost closed in on each other almost like a second mouth. The head was sharper, angular, and the upwards crown of its head seemed to stretch to the length of a quarter its neck. There it was underlined by long spikes of scale which rose like pillars across its back. But it was only a singular line, much unlike his own and most other dragons he knew of.

But without coloration he could not tell for sure. And the large claws were much smoother than his own, but the ends looked thinner, as if etched away into a sharper point than his. But the front legs were slightly smaller, thinner and more fragile looking, while the hindquarters were far more developed. And its entire body was smoother than his own. He did not have the same reinforcement upon his chest, where his own plates took on a sharp downward formation for several scales and then smoothed out again.

And the wings were too tightly tucked for him to get a true sense. If he could not tell by the body and tail, he could almost always claim identity by wings alone.

But this dragon was layered with a soft paste of some sort, one which was unrelenting in its ability to fully mask its scent.

The most he could tell was that it, like him, was male.

And that made him bristle all the more.

"Have you no name then?" Atem snarled after a moment. Nerves began to prick at his growing anger. No dragon had ever had the sheer audacity to ignore him upon coming to attempt to claim right to mate with him.

Every one of his suitors had known of the privilege that was granted upon being able to claim a God Dragon, even more so one with the rare formation of two mouths. They especially desired the magic granted them by the three elements that the Sky Dragon as a species possessed.

Usually they were quite talkative, sneering and snarling, even making biting and striking motions at him while telling him what they planned to do with him. He'd mostly dealt with males of other species, with the rare few females who had obviously sought him out for power or beauty rather than affection of any kind.

By now, with an average suitor, he would have heard how he would be roaring with ecstasy or panting—perhaps mewling—or even possibly mute from the multiple mountings. And, oddly, at the moment, Atem could not tell the emotional charge within this dragon's eyes. There was nothing but the boldest claim of determination.

Whether it truly pertained to the act of breeding with him or simply the will to survive this encounter was something he could not tell.

Those eyes were shaded a brilliant silver from an extra lens upon its outside, but it did not do more than color the outer irises softly. It did not block away the color of them from his sight. They were a gorgeous violet, ringed with a generous amount of beautiful sapphire blue around its slit pupils.

And not once did they reveal even the smallest detail of intentions towards him.

But this dragon had performed a mating call, had he not?

Atem tipped his head to the side the slightest degree further.

He had heard the same call a few days before.

Hadn't Timaeus called out in a very similar way not even four days prior in an attempt to woo a female Wind Dragon?

Mating calls were specific for species. Atem knew that well enough. They were specifically designed for each dragon as well where timbre was involved, but all of them catered to a species in and of itself.

So that meant this dragon before him had to be a Wind Dragon. Or, at the very least, he possessed Wind Dragon genetics. But he was not built like a Wind Dragon—or perhaps not entirely. He had the smoother scales along the body, after all, but not along the back, and his tail was long and designed with enough muscle to stun an opponent should they be unfortunate enough to be whipped with it.

Atem narrowed his gaze, considering him for a moment longer. Was this unnamed dragon banking on his ability to produce asexually or was it expected of him to change his own sex to procure eggs? Either seemed out of the question for him. Especially when there was no opportunity to trigger such things in the time that it—

He bristled now, his tail lashing. The spears of bone along his back stretched further upwards as his body continued to react to his growing rage. Why was he even considering a loss? He had never lost before. He had never lost as a hatchling when it came to games and he never failed to outdo a suitor.

He had enough severed heads and piles of bones to prove that. This bastard would be just like the rest of them. He would cut his head from his body and throw it aside as he had so many others.

Or perhaps he might even do worse.

His silence was infuriating, after all.

But damn him for the determination in his eyes. It was daunting to look at and pledge vow against surrender to.

Atem snarled low in his throat and his lips twitched further as both mouths parted slightly in anger.

"You have one chance left to speak," he bit out. The dust he stirred was almost enough to make him cough. He could barely see the other dragon now. But when he shot another rock into the air towards the silhouette against the dust, he stilled himself. He didn't want to hit him if it would not be by his own fangs and claws. "You may leave if you wish. I have many bodies lying around this mountain, scattered and broken by my will. I do not care for another."

The dragon blinked at him. The silver lens seemed to dissipate for a moment. Then it came back fully and it shielded his eyes completely, turning them the color of moonlight and afternoon shadows.

Slowly, with that same determination somehow boring into him despite the sheen of color, the dragon shook his head.

The red dragon snarled louder. Then he launched himself forward. Another might have cowered away. This dragon of smeared scales slipped beneath him like a droplet of water, using Atem's own upwards launch to weave his way under him. The God Dragon spun on him furiously. He thought to open his wings at the other creature.

The impact would have stunned at the very least.

It would have launched the other dragon at the very most.

Or perhaps it would have snapped bones where they collided.

It was amazing to him, however, that this dragon did not do as the last had. The challenger he'd most recently killed had tried to impale himself by way of releasing hormones to arouse the God Dragon, doubling the futile effort with soft tickles to his belly.

How easy it had been to kill him for it.

Atem flicked the edges of his wings. It was not too late to simply send him flying. Perhaps if he did that, they would back off. Or perhaps he might injure it enough to potentially kill should they continue.

But then he tucked his wings firmly again. He was not malicious. He did not wish to kill without the chance for another to win. He had, after all, some sense of honor despite the years.

This dragon looked a lot faster than most. The ability to weave beneath him as he had, with such ease and simplistic speed, was yet another sign of a mixed species. He was not pure Wind Dragon by any means. His scales were not smooth enough.

And the color of his eyes was far too exotic as well.

And what of his facial features? There still was no explanation for them. He did not know of a species that had such tusks or that unfamiliar immense crowning to their heads.

His own had been passed to him by his mother. As had the gem in his forehead, nestled upon the center of his skull so simply.

Atem struggled with such inability to name this dragon. He had been challenged by seemingly every species he could think of. He had killed an Earth Dragon whose name he'd forgotten, Anzu the Water Dragon, Vivian the Lightning Dragon whose head he'd cut off… There were a great many whom he'd forced himself to forget for the sake of his own sanity, as the fear had dragged him too far down before then.

There was, of course, the Ice Dragon, but their near extinction meant the lack of outward breeding. And Fire Dragons were almost unidentifiable as fire was the element that gave birth and wrought destruction. Every dragon was able to produce fire from their lungs and it was what kept dragons like himself from freezing in high altitudes. It was what allowed them even to fly.

Atem studied him for a long minute.

The dragon did not move.

It did not even lunge at him.

Atem thrashed his tail for a moment, thumping it against the earth. He supposed it did not matter. If this dragon was truly set upon mounting and breeding with him, he would have to best him. And to best him was all but impossible.

He had made sure of that.

He knew every weakness each dragon and their physical types possessed. He knew how to destroy them without even the slightest touch of his own elemental strengths.

He considered him a few moments longer. He didn't think he'd ever encountered such a slender form that heralded a barrel chest shape. And his wings were so tightly tucked against his body. But, by the gods, he swore he knew the slope of them from somewhere…

"I am tired of killing," the red dragon said in a deliberately soft, slow voice. Those golden eyes were glowing faintly, but he could not tell if it was with weariness or slight amusement. The gem on his forehead was perfectly sky blue in shade, giving him nothing. But his tail was scraping along the dirt as if to testify against his own statement. "So we shall make this a simple contest. Should you be able to pin me for more than a few seconds, I will declare you the winner."

The other dragon blinked, clearly startled, and Atem swore he saw something bright, gleaming and hopeful, within his gaze now. It was both alarming and stunning and the effect it had was instantaneous hatred for the red dragon.

His tail lashed again, infuriated.

"But I make this treaty on the core testament that neither of us shall use our magic. There will be no disappearing. There will be no fire, ice, lightning, wind—whatever set of lungs in your possession are not to be used. None of it is to be utilized. There shall be nothing more than physical combat. And, if you can pin me, then you may have me."

He tilted his head, watching this dragon in front of him curiously. The eyes had grown thrice their former size, no longer almond in shape but more like a pair of twin moons in their roundness. They were shocked, incredibly so, and Atem found it almost laughable.

"I will not aim to kill you if, when I am victor, you leave of your own accord and never return here. Should you find your way back once more with the idea of claiming me, it shall be the last thing you will ever come to do, understand?"

Now something restless and unnerved peaked in the other's stance. Atem watched with amusement as the dragon stiffened considerably, wings flicking and claws shifting. Those bright eyes dimmed slightly and his mouth tugged into something like a grimace. The expression on his face could only be described as miserable, as though the very concept of losing the chance hurt far more than it managed to scare him. And then, as if he realized Atem was watching him with such growing delight, the muddied dragon raised and nodded his head, that fierce determination returning to his brilliant eyes.

The Sky Dragon studied him, wondering at the sight. When the silence continued, he felt himself bristling further. "My beauty must have swallowed your tongue," he sneered after a moment, frustrated by that altogether unwavering silence. He flicked his tongues and lashed his tail. In complete silence, the other dragon considered him.

Then, very slowly, its head dipped in a nod, tail sliding back and forth in something of a twitch. Had Atem not been so infuriated, he might have even considered it nervous. But the God Dragon was so enraged that not even the slightest hint of attention went towards such action.

Atem was baring his teeth again, snarling low in his throat. Was this bastard truly mocking him? What misguided bravery. He'd tear it out of him.

He clenched his toes, the claws slipping effortlessly into the earth. Then, with little thought, he launched himself forward again. This time he aimed lower rather than higher. He would not give him enough room to maneuver around him.

If he could corner him or force him back—

The other dragon sprang backwards as he came within range. He didn't give him enough room to so much as swipe at it. Its wings propelled it just far enough to escape his attack. The action made Atem snarl in frustration. He was a lot faster than the Sky Dragon had assumed.

But Wind Dragons were not best known for stamina. And whatever else he was mixed with probably suffered the same limitations in some form.

"You cannot take me in the air," Atem spat, lashing his tail. The other dragon tensed, its wings angled to push towards the air. The momentum would get it airborne. "The sky is my domain, you bastard, no matter what Wind Dragons might claim. They have none of my speed nor my grace. You might as well flee while you are still able if you wish to challenge me in the air."

The dragon hesitated for only a moment. Atem sprang again. This time the speed of his movement brought him down harder. The two of them collided harshly. His claws scraped at wings that flew outwards. The impact was as if he had run into a stone wall. Then they stretched further. The retaliation knocked the wind from Atem's lungs. He stumbled, forced back with another hit.

The appendages were much stronger than he'd initially assumed.

Instinct made him lash out harder. His tail slammed forward. The air whistled bitterly from the speed alone. It opened, the bones snapping to expose the keratin blades. He almost aimed for his throat. Then reality slammed into him.

He had said he would not strike him down.

Atem swung his tail downwards. The dust cloud that came blinded them both. He needed to recover his temper. This dragon may have been mocking him—he could feel it deep within his bones—but the Sky Dragon was honorable. And he had been truthful. He was tired of striking others down. But this mixed dragon was playing him. To think that he could rise into the air and hold his own against him was suicidal.

He really should cut his head off. He thumped his tail again, lashing it. The thought was oddly appealing despite earlier declaration.

The dust cleared. He snarled low in his throat. His opponent was frozen. Then he breathed in deeply. The two of them watched each other closely. Atem thought for a moment that he might be drawing air into a specific set of lungs. But the sound was too raspy. His challenger was simply unnerved and scared stiff. The momentary flash of his tail had shaken him.

He was not going to use his magic. He was simply trying to regain his nerves. Atem wondered for the smallest of seconds if his disappointment showed. If he'd broken his vow to play honorably, the Sky Dragon could simply kill him.

What a shame that he would truly have to fight him.

Atem launched himself again. The speed alone should have done enough. Yet, somehow this dragon was faster. It stunned the Sky Dragon. No dragon had ever bested him in speed before.

He blinked wide eyes and lashed his tail again. The challenger was up the air. And he was flying swiftly. Had he headed the same way he'd come, Atem might not have given chase. He simply would have viewed it as a surrender and allowed him to leave.

But then the dragon headed straight into the trees. And the direction it headed led to his den. The realization further angered him.

How long had this dragon been plotting this?

Had he been watching him to know the direction he needed to go in order to make the Sky Dragon give chase?

Atem was in the air immediately. His wings tucked back into his sides after a single beat. His legs were folded as he rushed forward. The distance the other had managed to put between them was swallowed almost completely.

Yet, somehow the other remained a few feet ahead.

It was clear, however, that this dragon did not possess the same grace to maneuver as Atem did. The Sky Dragon pushed his toes together. The claws clicked together almost painfully but the tighter formation allowed his body to move faster. His body was as straight as an arrow now. A rumbling growl sounded deep within his chest.

And, abruptly, without a sign, the other dragon shot upwards. The sharp turn startled him. Atem went right past him. The challenger banked swiftly to the right. Then he spun, flanks heaving, and hovered. The gentle gusts of air he loosed as he flapped his wings stirred the branches only slightly. He was panting as he watched.

The Sky Dragon attempted to bank. But the trees were too tightly fit around him. If he turned, he would risk cutting a flank. And with his wings so tightly drawn he might snap a bone if the angle was too sharp.

And then what he might be able to do?

If he could not fly he was utterly useless.

So he angled towards the ground. His legs unfolded. He craned his neck back slightly. The new distribution of weight did him well to slow his speed.

He spread his toes and angled his claws towards the earth. If he could press his weight into them, he could use it to pivot.

He was inches from the ground.

A branch snapped.

Atem blinked.

Had he touched it?

He had not felt anything…

And then a sense of panic descended upon him.

Something had grabbed him.

Something was draped upon his back—

Atem snarled. His tail lashed. His balance was lost in an instant. A dismal noise left him.

He plummeted. He struggled. His wings tried to expand. But they were glued to his sides. His entire body was heavy now. And, by the gods, he could not see a threat.

But, when he snapped his teeth, he felt something. And he could not name it for a moment. Yet, a delirious sense of pain came from the action. Furiously, he crashed.

His body rolled twice. Then he lay in a heap upon his belly. The trees had snapped directly around him. Several fell in crashing, thunderous booms. Branches whipped past his face. One landed precariously close to his tail. An inch further and his bones would have snapped.

Atem panted, fear holding him still. He was unable to bring himself to his feet. He blinked and his eyes focused only slightly, with slow fuzzy details.

The panic grew tenfold. Another bellow left him.

Humans? Humans had trapped him?! It was one of their deer-catchers—he knew the fibers of their ropes. He knew the design of the weight traps they produced for hunting.

What were they called?

Nets?

Was that the word?

He shuddered and squirmed. His entire body was wracked with tremors. If he could not shake this human trap, what was to stop his challenger from…?

He bellowed again. But it was rapidly becoming a distress call. His panic seized his lungs. His breathing came in an erratic fit. His primary lungs ached and burned, screaming.

Again he lashed his tail, struggling. But his landing had captured him entirely. He could hardly move but for quivering and lashing his tail.

He could feel the terrible weight of the net across his body. But somehow, it remained mostly upon the top. He quivered and his body ached as the wind stirred. Immediately he looked up again.

His challenger was coming forward now. The flight was unlike that which he had seen before. Now, the dragon was lazy, slower. And when he banked this time, he did it a few feet away, landing easily. Atem wondered if his panicked bellowing had called him forward. And, for the briefest of moments, he was hopeful.

But the expression within the other's eyes was not shock. There was no sense of indignation on his behalf. There was not the lightest touch of remorse. There was not even bewilderment.

It was, to Atem's shock, very simplistic delight.

And he felt his hearts begin to shatter in his chest.

He was not upset.

Because he had been the one to set this trap.

Atem trembled, then snarled loudly. His tail thrashed again. He tried to struggle out from beneath the net. But it weighed him down too heavily. His lungs were too tight but he breathed out of his nose in hatred.

How in the world might another dragon be so deluded as to think this to be okay?

He watched him, eyes hard and glittering. The hatred swelled further. How could he do this to him?

Atem blinked and snarled low in his throat. His own mother had asked him similarly, however, he remembered. She had been horrified upon bearing witness to the cruel murder of his first potential mate. The female had tried to lure him upon her after losing a physical altercation with him. And, had his mother not stared at him in shock and horror? Had she not watched the blood drip from his claws and stared at the beautiful spears of his tail as the feathered blades shut?

Atem glared up at him, breathing out angrily once more. His flanks were heaving with desperation. His tail slithered in the dirt as his hatred grew to make him tremble. His claws stretched as he tried to flex his paws beneath the net which pinned him so easily.

"You used a dirty human trick," he spat, his scales elongating along his spine with horror. The netting was so thick, laced with metal, weighted at the edges where they seemed almost held by spears. Atem realized he could not bite through it. And he did not know that his tail could cut it away either. He would damage his gums or perhaps break the bones of his tail.

The other dragon was gasping, almost wheezing. It opened its mouth wide, gulping in air, and the blue-rimmed violet eyes appeared mostly unfocused with the task of recovery.

Atem snarled again, low in his throat. His tail lashed again, swinging painfully back and forth. But his body was too heavy and he could not fight it. Now, while this bastard was struggling, would have been the opportune moment to cut through him.

Finally, slowly, however, as its flanks ceased their constant collapsing, his challenger turned to him.

"I couldn't beat you matching brute strength," it revealed, eyes brightening further. A simple shake of its head shed away some of the crusted mud around its face and Atem watched the flakes with growing interest. "And it took me moons to figure out how to use a net properly. I stayed with the humans for almost a year, begging them to teach me."

"And they did?"

How interesting. He had never known a dragon to go to humans and truly receive the help they requested.

"No." The dragon deflated slightly and Atem could see the glow of an orange streak where the sunset touched the black of its beak. It sighed and its wings drooped for only a moment before the dragon again grew pleased. "I had to hide and shadow them because none of them would teach me."

There was a moment of silence. Atem studied him, the ache in his gut burning. He wanted to raise his head, to look at him more fully. But he was unable to. The net weighed too much. He wouldn't be able to stop him if he decided that this was the perfect opportunity to force himself upon him.

He wanted to growl but fear seemed to swallow him whole.

Finally, slightly curious or perhaps confused, the other dragon tilted his head, voice thoughtful. "I remember them being much nicer when I was younger."

Something about the oddly misplaced nature of the comment made Atem calm slightly. His tail flicked but his throat did not feel swollen as it had before. But the anger was still there, boiling within his blood.

"Yes, well, the humans age rapidly and thus their judgments change with them," he growled, lashing his tail now. "They develop much bias and disregard for themselves and others."

Now his opponent watched his tail with wary eyes, shifting his body as if to bunch his muscles together and make himself smaller. "I'm going to pull the net off of you in a second." He eyed him again, their gazes locking fully for the first time. He didn't look as if he wanted to overpower the God Dragon or force him to remain upon his belly like this. "But I want you to swear that I've won, that you concede, and you will not kill me because I am going to let you go."

Atem peeled his lips back further on both mouths, so that the ridges of his teeth rose further. He snarled angrily now, the rumble so deep that it seemed to make the very air quake. His wings had begun to throb, the net bearing down so forcefully that he felt they might snap from the pressure. He snorted and lashed his tail, biting out, "I am not unjust. I play my games honorably. I do not challenge other dragons without the intent of upholding my own end of such bargains. I swore to you that if you could pin me I would see you as victor. You have done so."

He shook his head. "I know that you are honorable, Atem," he answered in such a gentle voice it made Atem quake, "but I also know that you're angry. And I know how unreasonable such emotions make us."

The Sky Dragon thumped his tail, folding the scissors of keratin and scale shut tightly once more. "My wings ache too much to attack you," he pleaded in a small voice, not above the urge to beg him for release. "I'm tired."

The other dragon let out a disgruntled noise that almost sounded pained by his words. Atem watched him as he sprang forward to grab the net where it encompassed the crown of red spikes that rested on his head. Atem stared at an underbelly of pure muscle, the scales smooth and solid, with the formation of strength that spoke greatly of Wind Dragon genetics.

Then he closed his eyes tightly as claws lightly scraped the surface of his head in order to grip the rope and metal properly. Thank the gods his heavy breathing had pushed it from his mouth before now, as the other did not pause before launching himself into the air. There was the smallest gust of wind as it hovered, barely flicking the tips of its wings now, and very slowly bunched the material up in his paws. They pulled it upwards, oddly gentle in the action, considerate of the elongated spikes along his back where he was still bristling fearfully.

It took only a moment for him to feel it lift away. Atem scrambled for his paws, raced forward a few steps, and turned back. His tail was lashing and his wings felt caught at his sides. The net dropped loudly next to a boulder he'd been beside, and at the ends he could see large black stones. The dragon had weighted them enough to hold him.

He snapped his wings up immediately, head turning and craning to inspect them. There did not seem to be any true damage. His wings appeared as leathery and firm as they always had, without the slightest touch of blood or broken bone. He flexed them further, but they did not appear to be truly harmed.

It bewildered him.

They had been aching beneath the weight of the net. But they were still perfectly unscathed.

"Are you all right?" the other dragon asked in a gentle, concerned voice. He looked scared for only a fraction of a second as Atem spun upon him angrily. "Are your wings okay? I didn't harm them, did I?"

He lashed his tail and snapped his teeth, flexing his claws for a moment. Then he looked away again for a split second. The lack of weight did well to make his skin tingle for a heartbeat. He watched him from the corner of his eye.

He looked very familiar to him now, without all of that mud and clay scent clinging to his form. Atem tilted his head. "Who are you?"

The other dragon blinked wide blue-violet eyes. Then he flicked his wings. The rest of the flakes of mud began to fall away from the force of the action. They fell in soft shavings, drifting minutely in the air for a moment or two before landing at his feet comfortably. The dragon shook himself out again, like a wet dog, and his entire body rippled with muscle and glittering scales.

Atem was frozen at the very sight of him. Dread crept through him and his first impulse was an aggressive one. He wanted to launch himself at him again, tear through his armor and claw him to pieces.

He knew those gems that appeared within the other's scales, perfectly circular and lined in brilliant silver the shade of polished metal. He recognized the blood red sheen of them, the way they glittered even without the direct touch of sunlight. They trailed the entirety of his muscular body, falling into nonexistence only where the tail came to a complete end.

The gleaming black—much darker than even that of his own underbelly—was unmistakable. As it had before, it reminded Atem of staring directly into the night sky forming around them. His eyes were glittering in the dark, more playful than he had ever seen another dragon when they peered at him, and it was odd to behold such simplistic emotion aimed at him.

The jump the dragon loosed, a joyful spring of motion, allowed Atem the sight of his long claws where they hooked delicately at the end. They were made for burrowing, for cutting, for climbing sheer stones. They were made for evisceration, as Atem's own were, but these could cut further, could rip through the intestines as they were tugged through the underbelly.

He looked at the fangs that protruded from the sides of his mouth. He was hopeful for the smallest millisecond—oh gods was he hopeful—that he was wrong. And then he saw the tips, where they curled inwards and the length of them, the way they sat close enough for the dragon to slide his jaw and sharpen a tooth upon them, and his hearts plummeted.

He'd lost…

And he'd lost to a…

"You're a Gandora Dragon."

"And you're a Slifer," the other quipped, not the least bit deterred by his use of the human name for his species. He took a seat again, eyes bright and warm with excitement. "But I prefer my given name, don't you, Atem? Or shall I call you Slifer instead?"

He blinked and bore his immense teeth for a moment. He had the very intense urge to simply snap his tail and send the other flying. He was so close to him…

"Why yes, of course," he sneered bitterly. "I had forgotten that my suitor had not given me the courtesy of his name."

The other dragon frowned noticeably now, tilting his head to the side. Again he seemed almost to fold in on himself as he tucked his wings tighter and wrapped his tail around his paws.

"My name is Yugi."