The winter cold hit the city of Domino in icy waves, blowing in south from the mountains and bringing a light snowfall with it .
For most, this meant a Friday night in with family or friends. Huddled around a hot pot or a crowded table at a local bar, karaoke rooms booked out and homework forgotten.
If Ryou Inoue had any of those things waiting for him, he’d be out as well. But he didn’t. Just a lonely apartment and a broken heater. So, instead he was in the library, textbooks laid out before him in an organised mess, going between highlighted pages and the document open on his laptop .
Scanning his notes, he pulled one of the many books closer, the front printed with a stylized depiction of Egyptian hieroglyphs .
Opening it to a post-it note tabbed page, he trailed his fingers over the glossy text, already highlighted from the previous night’s study .
It's no secret that tomb robbing was a popular occupation in Ancient Egypt. Gold gilded coffins, amulets of precious stones, exotic imported artifacts all proved too tempting for thieves, many of who came from the lower classes of Egyptian society .
In some cases, tomb robbers would be aided by corrupt officials, from the necropolis employees charged with protecting the tombs, too the priests and scribes that performed the burial process .
Efforts to combat this were many, from protective charms to curses upon any that dared desecrate the tombs-
Ryou looked up, startled, his focus broken by a tired voice. Beside him, having appeared out of thin air, was a man.
His neck tingled as he took him in, from dark jeans to an oversized red hoodie, a backpack slung over one broad shoulder . His hair was ashen - sticking out at all ends around a square jaw, pale eyes like pearls against dark skin. He was intimidating, an assessment not helped by the jagged, pale edges of healed skin that tore down his left cheek . A scar.
“Ryou Inoue, right?” His voice was softer than his appearance.
“I - yes -” Ryou started, “Can I help you?” He moved his laptop to the side, attempting to play off his movement as a polite gesture, an invitation to sit, rather than suspicion .
“I’m your partner.”
“For the Ancient Life course? Anthropology? I’m Bakura.”
It had been four weeks, and Ryou had never seen him in class. He’d assumed he was a no show.
Ryou tried to pretend his confusion hadn’t happened. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realise you had gotten my message.” The one he had sent three weeks ago, and to which Bakura had never replied. “I’ve already started, so -”
“Egypt, huh?” Bakura’s gaze swept over the books. “What did you pick? Pharaohs?” A sneer.
“I - no," Ryou watched as Bakura tossed his bag on the ground and took the seat opposite him. "I decided to look at the life of a tomb robber, you know, thought it'd be more interesting-" he cut short, Bakura was still staring, his gaze curious now . Before Ryou could protest, he was pulling the laptop towards him. "Look, honestly I was planning on finishing up soon," a lie, "I can send you the file if you want to read it over."
"It won't take long to read." Bakura cut him off. "Anyway, need to catch up, don't I?" He smiled at him, his lips stretched thin.
“I suppose…” Ryou couldn't argue. He played with the ends of his sweater as Bakura’s eyes flickered across the page.
“It’s not finished, obviously , I just wanted to get the layout right,” Ryou said, disliking the silence.
“Hmm.” Bakura was still reading, gaze critical, brows pulling in as he reached the bottom of the page and scrolled to the next . Ryou couldn’t help but notice how hollow his cheeks looked, or the rings around his eyes. Was he ill?
“Are you enjoying the course?” He spoke before he could stop himself.
“A friend recommended it to me.”
“Oh! Are they at the university, too?”
A pause. “No.”
He took that as his warning to stop talking, and returned to watching Bakura, his eyes wandering down his frame and to his backpack . It was dark and worn, with some sort of patch stitched to the side. Golden and frayed, similar to the eye of Horus, though the design was all wrong.
“What bullshit .”
Ryou's head snapped up, and he found Bakura frowning at his screen. His words had been muttered , breathy, but Ryou was close enough to hear.
Bakura looked up, his frown stretching the scar on his cheek downwards. “What?”
Bakura met his eye. “Nothing is,” he said, a controlled expression on his face.
A ringing started in Ryou’s ears. “I - no,” He shook his head, pressure pressing at his temples as he spoke. Damned if he was going to let him lie to his face. “If you have a problem with it, you can write your own essay.”
“Excuse me? ” It was clear Bakura hadn’t expected such a response from Ryou, and was staring at him now, dumbfounded.
“Boys!” They both jumped, the librarian’s head sticking around a shelf. “This is a library, not parliament. Please keep it down.”
"I -" Ryou started. His head was aching. “I’m sorry.” he bowed in apology. “We were just finishing.” She hummed, casting her gaze over them both before disappearing back down the aisle.
He didn't look at Bakura as he reached over, snatching his laptop back and stuffing it into his bag.
"Oi, what are you doing?”
Ryou ignored him, collecting his books.
Ryou dodged Bakura’s hand, swinging his bag over his shoulder. “I’m going to contact the professor, you can write your own essay.”
Ryou could hear Bakura call out as he strode off, already halfway to the stairs. He stepped up two at a time, hurrying to the library entrance and nodding goodnight to a concerned looking security guard .
The dark clouds above threatened the city with snow, but his body was too flushed to notice the bite in the air. Every step made his head thump with pain, and he stumbled between two buildings, resting against the wall and catching his breath .
It felt as though an age passed, but soon the pain simmered, pulling back to a dull ache that left him feeling nauseous . It had been a while since he’d had an attack, and so without warning. Sweat trickled down his arms as he forced himself to straighten.
He was between two of the older university buildings, the nearby streetlight casting an orange glow down the path . Snow had started to fall while he waited. He turned his gaze upwards to the brick walls, immediately regretting it. Staring down at him were posters - worn by the rain and wind, the new peeling back to reveal the old. Faces of missing students.
You shouldn’t be out here alone.
A hand grabbed his shoulder.
He had no chance to think as he swung around, laptop bag in hand. Red and white blurred, his ears ringing. Someone swore with a sharp yell.
It was Bakura.
“Why-” Ryou panted, heart thumping with adrenaline.
Bakura was cursing, clutching his nose with one hand and holding something in the other.
Ryou took several steps back.
He had followed him? Why? He watched as he straightened up, trying to decide if he should run or not when Bakura finally spoke.
“You idiot, why did you hit me?!”
“I-” Why wouldn’t I hit you?! "Look, you know how it's been around here since -" He didn’t finish. Did he need to? The posters were all over campus.
Bakura just groaned, and Ryou could see blood dripping between his fingers. “Here,” he searched his pockets, taking out a tissue and handing it out at length. Bakura snatched it from his hand and began to stuff them up his nostrils.
And then he was stepping towards him, his pale eyes catching the light of the street lamp. “You left your wallet in the library.” He shoved it towards him, and Ryou fumbled as he took it, temples pounding. Something was off -
Bakura didn’t wait for any thanks, turning away with his hands shoved in his pockets, bloody tissues sticking out of his nose . "Be careful out here, Inoue."
Ryou watched as he dissolved into the dark, his feet rooted on the spot. A nearby car honked loudly in the distance, and pain shot through his head yet again, spurring him to move.
The walk home was as fast as it could be. He was hyper alert to every sound, every snap of a twig and rustle in the trees. His head was splitting open when he finally reached his door, and he slammed it shut, bolting it and stumbling through the dark to the bathroom .
His cheap ramen lunch was even worse coming up, and he leant over the toilet bowl, head and heart thumping together as he tried to understand what had just happened . His first migraine in years, and he’d nearly broken someone's nose.
His father would probably say it was his own fault.
He dragged himself to bed and proceeded to sleep through Saturday, only waking to take painkillers and force water down his throat .
When Sunday came, Ryou sat weakly up in bed, laptop propped up on his knees as he tried and failed several times to write an email to his tutor, to get Bakura out of his life as soon as possible .
Giving up, he opted to open the essay, reading through his hastily written notes and trying to figure out exactly what had upset the other so much - what was so bullshit .
When nothing obvious stood out, Ryou’s mind began to make up answers. What if Bakura were Egyptian? Maybe he’d inadvertently written something offensive to top off everything else. Maybe that’s why he was so hostile.
Why he'd stolen his wallet.
W hy he'd followed him.
If there was one thing Ryou had learnt during his childhood in Europe, it was to keep your wallet secured . His was always in his bag, hidden behind a buttoned pocket, rarely taken out.
There was no way he would have left it in the library. Unless Bakura had stolen it.
So why would he steal it, only to return it? Unless it was his plan to follow him all along. To get him alone -
The thought made his stomach turn, and he groaned, flopping back down against the pillow.
Since that night, he hadn't been able to shake the feeling of dread that had come over him - the warning Bakura had left him. The way his eyes had flashed under the light of the street lamp.
Had he imagined that?
“You’re just on edge, like everyone else.” Ryou muttered to himself, reprimanding his thoughts as if it would quell the anxiety in his chest. “That’s all.”
By the time his alarm sounded for Monday classes, Ryou’s migraine had finally subsided. He took his usual detour to get coffee and cake, the cafe busy and much too loud for how early it was. Ryou caught himself gazing at the television on the wall as he waited. The dull voice of the news reporter made his tired brain foggy, but he was quickly alerted by the sound of a breaking news report .
“...and this makes the third student in two months; the latest victim being a 16 year old from Domino High, who went missing last Friday night . The police report no leads thus far - you can call...”
All around the cafe, the chorus of chattering students lowered to a nervous hum.
Ryou’s throat dried as they showed the victim’s photo on the screen, a familiar uniform. He could remember the first attack with sickening clarity. It had been a year ago, a girl had gone missing after leaving home to meet with friends, only for her to show up several days later - catatonic . Unresponsive. She was still in hospital, as far as he knew, and was considered one of the lucky ones - others disappeared entirely . All them students.
Some thought it was Yakuza, others thought it was an online cult. The police didn’t seem to have any theories - and the body count was growing higher every month.
Eventually , the cafe manager came out to change the channel; Murders and kidnappings didn’t make for a relaxing Monday morning breakfast, though everyone quickly switched to read the report their phones .
Ryou carried his lukewarm coffee to class, late . When he finally made it to the lecture hall, most of the seats were taken . In fact, all the seats were taken . But one.
For the first time in five weeks, Bakura had made it to class. He had his hoodie on, up despite being indoors. Ryou forced himself to climb the stairs to the back row and take his spot beside him.
Bakura said nothing to him, and Ryou made himself busy as he set up his laptop and flipped open his textbook, hurrying to catch up with the tutor’s presentation . He couldn’t help but glance at Bakura’s screen, wondering if he’d at least been following the lecture, and froze.
Another Student Taken: Domino in Terror
Bakura was reading the article intensely , his eyes moving fast across the page. The bags under his eyes seemed even darker now, his skin greyish and oily, lips dry. Ryou stared.
He was sure - positive - he had hit Bakura hard enough to leave a bruise, but his nose was free of any marks. No sign of being bludgeoned with a laptop.
Pouting a bit, Ryou glanced back at Bakura’s laptop screen. He was on another article now, with pictures of the poor missing teen plastered across the page. Ryou tore his eyes away.
He had a bad habit of jumping to conclusions, but It helped none that the classmate that had followed him into a dark alleyway was now obsessively following the coverage of a missing student . It additionally helped none that he felt wrong. That his presence seemed to conjure up an uneasy feeling in the pit of Ryou’s chest.
Uncomfortable, his stomach squirmed as he did all he could to focus on the teacher, failing more than once as curiosity turned his gaze back to his neighbour . Two pale eyes met his.
Ryou wanted to run, but instead he forced his eyes away from Bakura’s face, smiling banely . “ Just … noticed the articles,” he replied in a hushed voice. The lecture was nearly over, and the students around them where already preemptively packing their bags . “It’s terrible, isn’t it?”
Ryou swallowed, daring to glance at him again. “You -”
“Weren’t you going to ditch me? Now would be the best time to talk to the teacher’.” Bakura said, meeting his eyes.
“I-” Ryou paused, glancing away and messaging his temple, a threatening pressure starting in his head . “I’m happy to work with you if you want to. Otherwise I'll just finish it by myself. That was my plan, regardless.”
Beside him, Bakura closed his laptop with a click. “You’re just gonna let me ride out with your mark? Are you stupid?” Ryou’s head snapped up to look at him.
“No. I'm responsible.”
He watched as surprise flickered in Bakura’s eyes, and followed his movements as he stood, slow, considering, collecting his backpack . There was a pause -
“Fine. Friday, then. I’ll be at the library.”
“F-fine,” Ryou replied.
To his surprise, Bakura grinned, an unnerving expression, his face half shadowed by his hood . Ryou could feel his skin prickle with warning. “See you then, Inoue.”
He watched him go, stalking out of the lecture theatre with the rest of the students, his hands in his pockets and backpack slung over one shoulder .
It wasn’t until he was out of sight that Ryou let out the breath he’d be holding, flopping back against his seat and holding a hand to his chest . His heart felt like it might break past his ribs.
There was definitely something off about Bakura.
Ryou, as always, was early. He had a favourite spot in the library, a table hidden behind some shelves that was out of the way of other students. No battling for table space, no unnecessary noise. He set up his laptop and spread out his books, taking time to place them in order of subject and relevance. Once he was done , he checked the time.
It was still too early to expect Bakura, if he showed at all.
Seeing no point in starting without him, he rest his head in his arms. It had been a long week, but not because of university. He hadn’t been sleeping. His head had been aching on and off, and his dreams had been strange. Memories of Bakura’s bright eyes peering at him from the dark, of hands grabbing him and dragging him into the unknown . He was sure his father would say he was overthinking things. Always over thinking, overreacting, daydreaming. But Ryou knew there was something off about Bakura. His scars and odd behaviour, his clear obsession with the missing students.
And so, because Ryou was interested in Bakura, he’d started looking into the disappearances, too .
At first it had just been the basic news articles, the things he’d seen on TV and on Bakura’s laptop screen the day of the last disappearance . Information Ryou already knew off hand; 21 missing now, all from different areas, all young and hopeful according to friends and family .
Because of course they were, they always were.
As Ryou had suspected, whatever made the police think the cases were tied was being withheld from the media . It made sense - they didn’t want copy cats. But that didn’t stop people from talking. Forums dedicated to missing persons had started cropping up in his searches, conspiracy websites and youtube videos giving hits again and again .
Think about it, you’ve got missing kids, wide area, they could easily tell us if they were related by family or work or ties. No. This is something gruesome. A calling sign, something cult. We’ve seen this in the past, the investigators are trying to keep it on the down low. Whoever is getting them is leaving a mark that’s scaring them enough to keep it out of the public.
Back from work, one of our reporters made it to the scene early, said the amount of cops hanging around was way too large for a simple missing persons .
They’re not letting us talk to the parents.
Ryou woke in the dark.
At first he was too disoriented to move, his head aching as he lifted it from his arms, heavy and stiff. It was cold, and he shivered as he looked about blindly , trying to make out his surroundings. The digital clock on the wall blurred as his eyes attempted to focus, heart beating loudly in his ears.
Right. The library.
It was well past closing, somehow security had missed him tucked behind the shelves, and now he was alone, in the dark . It was the lower floor, where there were no windows to let in the light from outside - only the dull glow of the LED clock and ominous pinpricks of red from the emergency sensors .
Ryou had never been scared of the dark, never superstitious. He was a frequent watcher of horror movies. He loved a good scary story. But this was different. Finding yourself alone and isolated was a frightening reality, even more so when you’d been researching missing persons cases .
It took all his willpower to force himself to move, to collect his things, wincing at every noise he made. The snap as his laptop closed, the thump of the books in his bag.
His neck was prickling with anxiety as he used the light from his phone to navigate past the shelves, his breath sounding unbearably loud . His legs lead him forward, to the stairwell. He could see the light from the upper floor, and dashed up so fast he got vertigo, the main floor welcoming him as he made it to the top, breathless .
He spotted the security guard soon enough, the aging man was leaning against the wall near the doors, reading what looked like a romance novel in the light from outside .
The man jumped when he approached, pulling out his baton in shock. Ryou waved nervously .
“I fell asleep back there. I’d love if you could let me out.”
“Jesus christ kid, you nearly killed me! Could be a ghost with hair like that.” The man exclaimed, checking over his student card with a doubtful look. “It’s past ten now, be careful out there. You know how it is.”
You don’t need to remind me, Ryou thought dryly , nodding all the same. He was about to leave, when a thought struck him.
Hair like that.
“Um, odd question, but... have you seen a man with white hair? I- I mean-” the guard was raising his eyebrows pointedly and Ryou’s own head. “He has darker skin? I was supposed to meet him here.”
The man paused, giving him a weary look, his lips pursing with distaste. “I did, now that you mention it. Saw him meet a guy out there a couple hours ago. You know, another one of those types.”
“Those types?” Ryou frowned. The guard snorted. “Biker jacket. Probably a gang. Why would you want to find someone like that?”
Ryou felt like arguing that a biker jacket had no bearing on the likelihood of someone being in a gang, but bit his tongue in favour of learning more . “I - well, i’m family.” The guard looked less convinced by the minute. “I’m worried about him. Did you see which way they went?”
The old man decided Ryou wasn't worth the trouble, and pointed towards the south of the university, where Ryou knew there were a strip of coffee shops, hipster burger joints, and a popular night club .
He bowed low, thanking the guard and hurrying outside, immediately starting down the tree lined path, the branches lit with fairy lights .
Only the nightclub would be open, not that it mattered. He was sure that was where he would find them - Bakura and the man he’d stood him up for. He could hear his father’s voice telling him how foolish he was as he rounded the corner and onto the footpath in front of the club .
The walkway was busy, a line of students and other youth waiting at the entrance. Ryou hovered back and glanced over the crowd. Of course, there was no sign of white hair or a red hoodie, or of whoever Bakura had been meeting.
He wondered if he could wait there until they closed. Wait until Bakura came out, if he were in there at all. He wondered what he would say when he saw him. ‘Hey! Fancy seeing you here!’ Only that sounded fake even as he imagined it. ‘ You see, I'm stalking you because I think you’re involved with the missing students.’
Now, that was truthful.
He wandered past pairs of well dressed girls, businessmen and guys he was sure where already drunk, receiving questioning looks from those that noticed him . The collared shirt poking out from the top of his sweater was not what one wore to a club, and he ducked down to the end of the line as quickly as he could .
There, he leant against the wall, a laneyway for deliveries and employee entry close by.
“DON’T!” A screech, Ryou looked up with a start as laughter followed, a group of girls pouring over another's phone. “God, people will think we’re getting kidnapped!” Giggling. Ryou’s neck prickled.
He looked around, away from the crowd and towards the laneway entrance. Before he could think, his feet were pulling him forward, around the corner and into the neon-lit alley. It stunk like rubbish, the dumpster overflowing, bags of half opened trash bags piled up against the wall .
The red hoodie stuck out like a sore thumb.
Panic rose in Ryou’s chest, a cry threatening to escape, and he rushed forward, nearly tripping on the wet pavement as he did .
Bakura was slumped against the wall amongst the trash, his hoodie torn by three long, parallel slash marks . Ryou tugged at him frantically , fear forgotten as he tried to shake him, unable to ignore the dark stains around the tears .
“Bakura, please -” The other groaned, and Ryou squeaked, hands patting down his front. Was he hurt? Was he still bleeding?
“Malik-?” He looked dazed, his pale eyes unfocused.
“Ryou! It’s Ryou. Don’t move, I think you’re… hurt…” He stopped, staring as he pulled up Bakura’s top. His skin was stained with blood, as was his shirt. Which made no sense, because there were no wounds.
“...Ryou?” Bakura was trying to sit up, and Ryou didn’t know what to do. He could feel the hair on his arms prickle with warning.
“Y-you didn’t come to the library, and I fell asleep, and..” Ryou realised how panicked his voice sounded the more he talked. “I was worried ! I-”
“ Ryou?” Bakura seemed to have come to his senses, because he was looking at him now with a panic that matched Ryou’s own. “ You - you can’t be here, you have to get away from me -”
“No! No way -.” His neck tingled, and he wondered if it was going to snow again. It was getting way too cold.
Bakura grabbed his arm. “We have to get out of here - I,” he seemed to be battling with himself, because he held onto his words for a long pause, before forcing himself to his feet and pulling Ryou up with him . “Your apartment is close, right? We’ll be safe there.”
Ryou was too confused to form an argument, his stomach was turning in knots. Something bad was coming, something - “Ok.” He nodded. “This way,” he pointed down the alley, grabbing Bakura’s arm and tugging him along.
“Oi, slow down - hey!” Bakura was following, though with a stagger in his step, his voice strained.
Ryou didn’t even know what they were running from, but he knew that whatever or whoever had hurt Bakura was going to come back . He pulled him around the corner of the alley and down to the side street that circled the university, leaving the sound of the club behind .
“Shit, shit, why did you look for me?” Bakura was swearing with every step, glancing around them like a scared animal.
“I told you,” Ryou hissed, growing frustrated with all the noise he was making. Couldn’t he feel it? “You didn’t show up and - and -” “So you followed me like some idiot that can’t just mind his own business.”
Ryou could have screamed, but bit his tongue, wishing on every star above them that they go faster, get out of the dark and the cold - “How can you say that after you followed me home last week ?”
“I-” a pause, “- isn’t that your apartment?”
Ryou stopped, double taking as Bakura pulled him back. It was. It was his apartment. They were on his street. He glanced back the way they came, trying to figure out how they’d gotten there so quickly .
“What are you doing, standing there? Come on!” Bakura began to tug him along, still limping. He swore when he saw the stairs. “That’s it? There’s no elevator? Fuck. What floor are you on?”
“...the top floor,” Ryou replied meekly .
Bakura looked up, inspecting the height of the five story apartment complex, and then the stairs again . His expression didn't change from the tired, annoyed look he seemed to carry everywhere, but his eyes did . His gaze hardened as he looked back at Ryou.
At one moment Ryou was standing on the wet concrete path, and the next he was choking, his shirt held with an inhuman grip as the ground disappeared beneath him and the freezing night air whipped at his skin . His stomach felt like it had been left behind, the ascent so fast that he had no time to prepare or even think as the railing of the apartment building rushed towards him, and he was lifted over it mid-flight like one would toss a ragdoll .
The landing was all concrete, Ryou's hands meeting the ground and burning as he stopped himself from falling on his face . The breath had been thoroughly kicked out of him, and he choked and heaved desperately in an attempt to get it back.
Beside him, Bakura coughed. It sounded wet, the kind of cough you'd go to the doctor with after several years of smoking. Ryou forced himself up and onto his knees, finding the other leaning shakily against the nearby wall .
"Get your keys." Bakura rasped, and Ryou finally noticed his door beside them. " Now."
Ryou nodded frantically , swallowing the rest of his question and hurling himself to his feet . His legs shook beneath him as he fumbled to take out his key chain, Bakura breathing practically in his ear.
But it wasn't him that was setting off the instinctual sense of dread that was rising in his gut, it wasn't him that suddenly slammed against the railing behind them, metal screeching and bending under its weight .
"Fuck, fuck -" Ryou was swearing now, Bakura was gripping him hard, and the door was unlocked . He rushed in, grabbing Bakura by the front of his hoodie and pulling him forward, whining desperately when he wouldn't come, wouldn't pass the threshold . Behind him, something freakishly tall and dark began to advance.
"Ryou," Bakura was clutching his arm, and his eyes looked like full moons reflected in black pools. Ryou was drowning in them. "Invite me in."
He did, and they fell forward, and the door slammed shut behind them with a deafening bang.