The dusk rain stained Domino City gray, gray, gray. His eyes were stark and vivid in this monochromatic dystopia, a red that gleamed and burned and shifted like shadows. The edges of his pale form wavered like a candle’s flame dancing in the breeze.
The apartment was empty. Half-filled diagrams were scattered across the table. Some had even drifted onto the floor. They were damp from the half-opened window. He stepped closer, and a black-gloved hand pressed the pane closed. He looked around again, crimson scanning the gray-cast abode.
A chair knocked over. Singe marks on the laminate flooring, some even on the mottled ceiling.
Yugi had fought back.
The figure growled, and the shadows draping the room shivered in response.
On the peninsula separating the small kitchen from the combined living/dining area rested a pendant. He drifted forward, blurred as if he were moving much faster.
A sword. Or perhaps a cross. Or perhaps both.
He reached down, plucked up the electrum chain as one might pick up a particularly dirty rag, and held it close to his face. Even through his gloves he could feel the burn of its power. Lips curling into a snarl, he sniffed. Magic trickled through his nostrils, scalded down his throat, into his ghostly lungs, and huffed back out to unfurl like smoke through his maw.
“Blessed,” he murmured, and it was as though the gray shadows whispered it, too. He pocketed the small necklace. He could feel the weight of it, the burn of it, percolate through his cold, foggy being. It was most unpleasant.
But he had the scent now. An essence so distinctive would be easily tracked.
He flickered, like electric lights might in a bad storm, and then he was gone.
Yugi’s apartment was once again empty.
The pout on your face nearly ached, but you didn’t let it up for one minute. Maybe the weather would notice and take pity and become just nice enough for a trip out to the dumpster. A thump. The glass felt cool on your forehead. The huff of your breath fogged the window and obscured your frowning reflection.
Your groan echoed back to you in the small foyer, and the bag squeaked and rustled when you grabbed it and carried it behind your shoulder.
“All hail trash Santa,” you muttered, and then the rain was soaking into your baggy sweater. Since darting between raindrops simply wasn't an option, you settled for simply trotting over the asphalt and occasionally hopping over a shallow puddle or two. Your free hand clutched at the hood of your sweater, and already the chilly dampness seemed to be eating into your bones.
With an admirable heave, the black trash bag was arching shallowly through the air and landing with a loud crumple inside the dumpster.
Your nose wrinkled.
Not even a good downpour could wash away the stench of trash.
The hairs on the back of your neck prickled, and you looked through the gloomy pre-dusk drizzle. No one. A shiver rattled down your rain-soaked spine, and you shook your head and made to dart back inside.
Then it was behind you. An overwhelming presence, hot and blistering like some raging inferno. You gasped, but it was choked by the cool metal suddenly wrapped around your throat.
The thick links of wet chain caught on your nails as you clawed and thrashed, animal-like in your wild panic. But the assailant held fast, even tightened that dangerous metallic grip on your neck. Despite the cool rain, your head was hot and swimming and your lungs and throat burned. Weakly, you reached back, and your nails snagged fabric-covered arms. Your knees wobbled and went weak, and it was only the chain around your throat keeping you up.
You blinked, choking and soundless, as your eyes went heavy.
You were about to pass out.
The loud burst of a gunshot rippled through your senses, stabbing like a knife, or perhaps striking like thunder. That fatal grip about your throat loosened, and you fell to your hands and knees and you gasped and choked and convulsed as air scorched its way into your heaving lungs.
You didn't have the energy to look to your attacker, or to anything, anything but the wet ground obscured by the panicked tears welling in your eyes. Dirty water splashed when you collapsed onto your side on the greasy pavement.
"Are you all right?" A deep voice asked. Though quiet, it resembled the boom of the gunshot in how it totally shocked your senses awake.
You still heaved, hands on your bruised throat, when you looked up.
Red eyes, so stark against the background of metropolis gray, peered back.
Words rested on your tongue, but they dared not to strain from your battered esophagus. The coughs wracked you, your lungs still spasming in pain, but you managed a nod.
Those red eyes were suddenly much closer, and a firm, slender gloved hand was guiding you up. You rested, limp, wan, trembling from the wet, the cold, the fright, the oxygen deprivation in this stranger's arms.
You stared at those red eyes, and suddenly you noticed the pale face they belonged to. You clawed at your savior's rough black jacket, moved to speak, and fell into a coughing fit again.
"Don't worry. They're gone now," he said, and with that deep voice so close to your ear, it tickled your nerves and made you twitch.
He held you there, in the rain, as you gained your breath. "Th-Thank you." The words were rough from abuse.
The man hummed, and suddenly your eyes were drawn to the way the blonde bits of hair dangling in his face clung to his wet, smooth cheek.
The next cough you muffled with your hand was more of out awkwardness than any lingering discomfort.
He stood, and gently he brought you with him, made sure your feet were firmly on the ground and that you wouldn't topple over.
"Thanks," you murmured again.
"Do you need a doctor?" The man asked, one gloved hand on the small of your back.
"N-No, I'm fine." A wave of vertigo washed over you, and you took a deep breath, but still his hand remained, holding you up. "We should… we should call the police."
"The police can't help with this," he said. He paused a moment, and his inscrutable face peered at you unnervingly.
"Whattaya mean?" You said, voice raising a little bit, and it sent you reeling into another coughing fit.
The man shook his head. "Let's not discuss this here. You need to get somewhere safe. He may come back."
A shudder ran through you at the implication. "O-Okay."
He gently nudged you forward and held onto your waist when you stumbled.
"Sorry," you groaned. "They still feel weak."
"Oxygen deprivation can do that," he replied, close behind you, and the feel of his hand pressing into you over your wet clothes made you knees weak for an entirely different reason.
Colors swam behind your eyelids when you squeezed them closed, and you shook your head. Focus .
"I don't know who you are or why you're here, but thank you," you murmured as you staggered up to the door, much like a newborn deer learning to walk.
He hummed in response and hesitated by the door when you fumbled it open.
You crossed the threshold and looked over your shoulder.
He stood there, rain slicking his slender form and matting his multi-toned hair to his skull. Those red eyes were stoic, but you could see the flicker of hesitation in their lurid depths.
Momentary doubt clawed its way from the back of your mind.
Could you really trust this stranger enough to let him into your home?
But if he wanted to hurt you, couldn't he have done it when you were choking and gasping amd weak in the alleyway?
Your sight was briefly shuttered by a slow blink.
But maybe he didn't want to do it where anyone could walk by and see.
He stepped back from the doorway, his foot placement foretelling a turn.
"Wait!" The cry strained your throat, and you coughed, stumbling and crashing into the doorframe.
A slender hand on your shoulder steadied you, and you looked back up into those red eyes, vivid as though from some fever dream.
Maybe you were a fucking idiot, but you couldn't help but to trust this man.
"Come in. You're sopping," you murmured.
He arched an eyebrow, and a moment of silence hovered thickly between you.
And then he stepped inside.
The tiny vestibule was growing ever darker in the approaching night. The wavering blast of the AC made more evident your own state of being completely saturated by rainwater. Your teeth chattered.
"U-Um, this way."
You turned toward a door. It opened to a stairwell.
"Are you certain you can climb these stairs in your condition?" He asked calmly.
"Yeah." You were feeling better already. Sure, your throat hurt, but… you shrugged. "No big deal."
A dark eyebrow arched again, and heat flooded your cheeks.
The pallor of his skin, much like marble, caught your attention again. He looked… ethereal. Exotic.
"Are you an Other?" The question burst from your lips almost before it occurred in your mind.
Those mesmerizing eyes widened fractionally, so much so that you wondered if it were only an optical illusion.
"Sorry, that was rude." You bit back a sheepish grimace and turned to clamber up the stairs.
"No, it's fine," he said quietly. You looked over. He was sanguinely ascending next to you.
His footsteps… were silent.
He didn't turn his head, but he still looked at you from the corner of his eye. "I am."
You hummed. "Knew it…" the rest of the climb up was spent in silence. On any other day, the ascent would have hardly winded you; today, on the other hand, you were red-faced, lungs and throat aching. You paused several times to catch your breath, and each time the stranger waited patiently beside you.
You unlocked the door to your floor. It was but a few scant yards down the hallway to your apartment. Each breath was short with trepidation.
You were about to let an Other into your apartment.
You shook off your nervousness.
No, you were about to let the man that saved your life into your apartment.
With shaking hands, you lifted the key to the lock. It took a few tries to do it, but you finally got the door open.
You held the door open for him, and quickly closed it behind him.
You laid your forehead on the door. Thank god you just got done cleaning the place.
"What happened out there?" You whispered. You turned. He was leaning against the entryway wall. Feline grace.
He gave you a pointed once-over. "You may want to change your attire. You'll catch your death."
You glanced down. The rainwater had slicked your clothing to your body. The fire in your cheeks blazed hotter, and you quickly banded your arms around yourself. "Y-Yeah."
The stranger tilted his head when you made no move to… well, move.
You didn't even know his name. "What's your name?"
A slow blink. "You may call me Yami."
"Yami…" you repeated. "Japanese?"
"Yes. The man who gave me a name is the child of Japanese immigrants," he replied. "What is yours?"
You murmured it shyly.
He repeated it, and his lips shaped slowly around the syllables.
You swallowed thickly.
"And… you're human, correct?" he asked, suddenly pensive, intrigued.
You nodded slowly and padded past him. "Yeah. Though I've had the Sight since I was little," you admitted. "I could see things other humans couldn't, sometimes what even Others can't." You brushed some of your wet hair out of your face and looked at him over your shoulder. “Try explaining to your parents that your childhood home is haunted by a ghost. Not fun.”
Dark brows furrowed, and Yami stared at the ground. The corners of his lips were tugged down.
He shook his head slowly. “Change your clothes, then I will tell.”
You scoffed at him. “Okay, mom .”
“I didn’t save your life so you could die from a cold,” he replied, and you froze a moment at the wry humor in his tone.
You sighed and looked at his sopping black jacket. “I’d tell you to take a seat and make yourself comfortable, but I really don’t want you to get water all over my furniture.”
“I have no need,” he replied.
A frown threatened to curl your lips, but you bit down on it and walked to your bedroom instead. You closed the door and locked it behind you, mostly so you could say, in the case of something bad happening, that you hadn’t trusted him blindly and wholeheartedly.
You grimaced instead, pulled your dripping sweatshirt over your head. You dropped it onto the laminate floor, and it made a wet slap . You picked out some dryer, warmer clothes, slipped them on, and scooped up your soaking old ones. The thought that a very handsome man waited for you in the other room was one that you had to frequently banish.
Before you returned to the living room, you tossed your wet clothes into the shower. You could wring them out later.
“Yami, by the way, I heard a gunshot,” you called as you walked out. “Where did the gun go?”
He was still in the entryway. He held a gloved hand up, his fingers curled, and in his grasp materialized a handgun, as if it surged up from the shadows.
You blinked, eyes wide, as you stared at the faint purple gleam on the gun’s sable metal. “A bound weapon. I’ve only ever seen those in movies, and never a gun.”
“It’s a dying practice,” he said monotonously. “Not many learn the art. They have no need.”
You did a mental double-take of his appearance. “Are you… dry?”
“What are you?” you whispered.
“I’d tell you to guess, but you would never get it on your own.”
You bit your lip. So it wasn’t something obvious.
“But, first I will tell you what happened this evening,” he said, and he uncurled his fingers. You tensed as the gun dropped, but it simply disappeared before hitting the ground. “I do not know who attacked you, or what exactly he wanted. But I do know he did not want to kill you, or he would have snapped your neck instead of trying to asphyxiate you into unconsciousness.” He crossed his arms. “Earlier today he kidnapped another. My friend, to be exact. He, too, is an Other, so I am confused as to why the assailant picked you.”
You scratched your head. “Besides having the Sight, I’m nothing special. It honestly felt random to me.”
He looked away, red eyes rolling up to the ceiling, and one slender hand gripping his chin. “My instincts tell me otherwise.”
“I still don’t get why we can’t call the police…”
Yami met your gaze again, and those crimson irises blazed with intensity. “Yugi is an extraordinary magic user, and an Other the likes of which even I have never seen. Whoever managed to kidnap him did so without Yugi’s entire apartment being blasted to smithereens, which means he subdued Yugi before the fight could escalate. Any and all police personnel would surely meet their demise facing him.”
You gulped. “You say ‘he.’”
Yami nodded, “Your assailant was definitely the one I am looking for -- in fact, I tracked him all the way to you, and he was definitely humanoid, and I doubt someone of that stature and breadth is a woman.”
“At any rate, you are not safe here. You are not safe anywhere. Though the encounter may seem random as you suggested, I feel he will come back for you. And I doubt you will be able to escape this time as you had previously,” he intoned, deep voice grave and eyes fervent.
The utter smallness of your voice stunned you. “What am I supposed to do then? I can’t stay here and I can’t run away.”
“You’ll come with me. If he comes after you, I can fend him off again, and hopefully rescue my friend in the process.”
“So you’re going to use me as bait?” you muttered bitterly. Like you had much choice otherwise. Before he could respond, you narrowed your eyes at him. “What are you, Yami?”
Those crimson irises seem to swirl and blaze with a dark fire, and the edges of his form wavered like smoke on the wind.
You blinked, nearly rubbed at your eyes, but his deep voice quickly took your attention.
“I,” he said your name and paused, as if the syllables themselves had their own gravity, “am a wraith.”
The blood in your veins froze like ice.
You couldn’t believe it.
You were staring at a dead man.
I’m gonna be honest; Seto Kaiba is probably my favorite YGO character, so it’s personally surprising that my reader-insert didn’t star him as a romantic interest. That being said, a *vast* majority of reader-inserts pair the reader with our good ol pal Kaiba, and I thought Atem/Yami needed some lovin’. Anyway, he’s a far better fit for this story, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s gorgeous, too.
Well, thanks for reading, and I hope you join me for future chapters!
Chapter 2: Wraith
In all honesty, you should’ve paid more attention in school. But, hey, at least you remembered things you learned in Cryptozoology & Xenology Studies.
Wraiths, for example.
Yami watched you stare at him. His expression was inscrutable as ever, if not more than before.
Wraiths… spirits of the dead.
The inhale you took expanded your lungs to the point of pain.
“Are you a spectre… or a revenant?” you asked, voice slow and hesitant and cautious. If he answered one way, perhaps you really were too quick to trust him.
Those involved with revenants only met pain and suffering.
He blinked at you, and suddenly you realized that he was otherwise entirely still. No breaths, no human twitches or shifts. Only that slow blinking.
The answer didn’t come, or at least it didn’t come fast enough for your tastes, and you stepped back.
The inner corners of his eyebrows ticked up so briefly it could have been dismissed as your mind playing tricks on you. “I… I don’t know.”
And that answer, that fleeting expression, and the barely-perceptible dip in his tone evinced a strange tug in your heart.
“You don’t know?” you repeated, and the quietness of your voice stunned you.
A slow shake of the head, but those vivid irises stayed glued on you. “No.”
You held your hand to your mouth, and your sigh gusted between your fingers. It was all too common for wraiths to completely forget their mortal lives, both revenants and spectres. Some never remembered anything, from either life or death. Some existed in a constant state of yearning for memories and never reaching them.
There were several smaller differences between the two categories of wraiths; spectres were brought back from outside means (some buildings were soultraps that sucked in the spirits of the dead, and there were tales of magic users powerful enough to bind a spirit to do their bidding), where revenants returned from the dead through their own sheer negative energy -- revenants were often the victims of brutal abuse and murder in life.
And revenants existed only for anger and revenge.
You’d met a revenant, once before. The incredible malevolence that they emanated could curdle one’s blood from rooms away.
Yami didn’t look evil; he looked like a man on a mission, but, as you’d learned, looks can be deceiving.
“You don’t… You don’t seem like a revenant,” you murmured.
He crossed his arms again, and you watched his black gloves as his hands moved.
“You could touch me,” you remembered. “You’re powerful.”
It took a lot of energy to assume a substantial form.
He inclined his head.
You palmed your face again. “This is a lot.”
“I know it is. Cancel any plans that you may have. We need to leave soon.”
The incredulity must have shown on your face, because he asserted, fervently, “You’re not safe here.”
You crossed your arms. “No. If you’re going to use me as bait, we should stay here. Set a trap for the bastard.”
Yami shook his head. “He will not approach while I am here. By now, he will recognize my presence. I doubt he wants more bullets flying at him. I can’t stay here and ward him off. I need to find Yugi. There’s no telling what’s being done to him at this moment.” He arched a dark eyebrow. “You must come with me.”
You gritted your teeth. “Ugh.”
“Surely a minor inconvenience is worth your life.”
“ Minor!? ” you hissed. “Where would we even go!?”
“The Underworld is vast. I don’t doubt there is an echoing whisper of what is happening in this city,” he replied, calm in the face of your indignation.
The Underworld. The vast network of Others that lived in Domino City; they were often socially isolated from the human population, and, like most would, over the years they’d formed a web of social connections to one another. It was more than a way to stave off loneliness; ever since the Purge in the early 1900s, knowing who disappeared and when was incredibly important.
After all, there were still rumors of so-called “hunters” and “holy knights” that enacted brutal “cleansing.” On the surface, these so-called vigilantes were punished by law. But so many times these people left prison without ever completing their sentences… Or even a fraction of them.
“Are you saying that Others could be disappearing?” you whispered.
Yami raised a shoulder. “I can’t be sure. But, if there are, I am going to hear about it.”
“Do you… do you think this guy fancies himself a hunter or something?”
“No. At least, not quite. Hunters don’t capture; they kill.”
“And I’m somehow involved in this? I’m not an Other,” you reminded.
He tapped a thin gloved finger on his pale chin. “Perhaps that doesn’t mean anything…”
Aghast. That was the only word to describe what you were feeling. “What?”
He shook his head. “Come on. We need to go.”
There was never a word you wanted to say so badly.
He reached forward, the fine material of his glove wrapping around your wrist. Without the anesthetic chilly wetness of your rain-drenched clothes, you could feel how cold his hand was, even through that stupid glove.
“Please. I cannot in good conscience leave you behind,” he said, and that deep voice speaking so softly to you made your cheeks heat up. “Come with me. I promise I will keep you safe.”
The hot lump in your throat ached on the way down when you gulped. “You promise?”
“I promise,” and his crimson eyes swirled with dark, fervent flames. “My word is my bond,” and he said your name quietly, as if it truly were a seal binding him to your safety.
Your breath felt like needles. “Okay,” you said it softly, breathy with adrenaline and fear and whatever strange emotions his intense gaze wrought within you. “Should I bring anything with me?”
He paused a moment. “Whatever you feel comfortable bringing. Certainly food. I don’t need to eat, and I can’t promise that I will remember that you do,” he admitted. “Perhaps a change of clothes.”
Copper blossomed on your tongue, and you suddenly realized that you had been worrying your bottom lip with your teeth. “How long do you think this will take?”
He shook his head slowly, and his expression – the sympathetically curved eyebrows, the downturn of his pale, shapely lips – seemed genuinely apologetic. “There’s no telling. It really depends on how much of a threat this man truly is.”
You sighed. So much uncertainty, it seemed to lurk around every corner and at the end of every hall. “Okay…” you said again, mostly to yourself, as your thoughts raced – food, a change of clothes, money, basic hygiene products (life in danger or not, you were not about to run about the city without a fucking toothbrush) – and you padded swiftly back into your bedroom. In your closet, there was still that old drawstring knapsack that used to double as a gym bag back in high school, so you snatched it off your hanger and stuffed it to near overflow with supplies.
Your reflection in your vanity mirror caught your attention. Or, at least, the ugly bruise forming on the flesh of your throat did. You gasped, leaned close.
“Jesus H. Christ.” You could see the ligature marks from the chain links.
A scarf, you thought decisively. You were going to need a scarf. No way in hell you were going to run around out in public when it looked like someone had tried to strangle you.
Which, someone had, but that was beside the point.
Knuckles rapped on your door, and Yami called your name sternly.
“Uh, just a minute!” you called back as your dug around for a suitable scarf. It was in the middle of summer, but, hopefully, a scarf would bring less attention than the black-blue-purple-green monstrosity blossoming on your neck.
“We need to go,” Yami reminded, monotonous but still so full of conviction.
“I know.” You dug around a bit more. “Aha!” It was pretty, decorative – you honestly hadn’t worn it yet – and something you definitely wouldn’t buy yourself. (Actually, your step-father got it for you when he went on a trip to some foreign country). You hastily wrapped it about your neck. “Damn.” You took a moment to rub it on your cheek. It was so soft.
And then Yami called your name again, this time with annoyance ringing in his deep voice.
“Coming!” and you burst through the door.
Immediately, a cold, gloved hand was wrapped around your wrist and Yami was hauling you toward the door. “Okay, okay, calm down.”
“I didn’t realize that an emergency excursion required you to accessorize,” he growled.
Your jaw dropped open. “Excuse me? I didn’t think it would be doing us any favors if I were wandering around with ligature marks on my fucking neck. I get you probably haven’t gotten any bruises in a very long time, but humans tend to notice and worry about that kind of stuff.”
His shoulders settled from their bristled position. “You’re right. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. You’re worried about your friend,” you said quietly. “I get it.”
You locked your apartment door behind you. “Where are we going first?” you asked once he settled a hand on the small of your back and guided you down the hallway.
“We have two options, two people who are at the epicenter of social webs and the most likely to know something,” Yami replied. “Both are Others, but their respective hemispheres are vastly different. But, hopefully, the two will be enough to yield results enough to further our search.”
You adjusted the knapsack on your shoulder. “Who are they?”
Yami was silent a moment, perhaps in thought. You couldn’t be sure. “Duke Devlin, an incubus, owner of the night club The Black Crown, and Seto Kaiba, Dragonkin and president and CEO of Kaiba Corporation.”
Across the city, deep underground, water dripped steadily. A pale form, stripped to the nude and bound by thick black chains, dangled from the dark-cast ceiling. He’d long since stopped struggling – each movement caused those accursed black chains to sizzle and hiss against his flesh like a brand. The stress long since forced him to assume his natural form.
Now, even those brilliant wings were bound and spread, on display like a pinned butterfly. The dazzling white feathers sagged with moisture, some charred black where the metal of chains brushed against them. His chin hung down, rested on his delicate chest. Tear tracks, long since dried, cut through the grime on his youthful cheeks.
But those violet eyes blazed, glowing, casting the dank walls in furious light.
When the figure in the dark returned, massive and clothed in black, his nose curled into a snarl of disdain.
A gloved hand, huge and dwarfing his already small face, cupped his jaw, tilted his head up. A thick finger brushed a wet clump of blond from his face.
His lips, pink and delicate, twisted.
And he spat in the face of his captor.
“Just you wait,” he hissed. “You shall face his fury.”
“As if I care about your undead pet,” the deep voice rumbled. Another huge fist lifted up a small black chain.
It brushed across his exposed stomach. Burns, bright and angry and sizzling, bloomed on his pale flesh. He cried out, recoiling, only to jostle himself against his chains. Charred, scabbed flesh tore.
The smell of burning flesh mixed with that of stale air and stagnant water. Bright red blood dripped onto darker brown stains on the floor.
“He won’t matter. None of them will.”
It was still pouring out. The harsh night lights of Domino were muted and fogged and somehow amplified by the never-ending sheet of water. The pair of you, shadowed by the alleyway, rushed through the torrent. You tugged your already-slick rain jacket closer around your shoulders.
“How are we going to get there?” You had to raise your voice to hear yourself over the sound of rain plummeting to the pavement.
“By car,” he boomed back. “Follow me.”
Soon enough, you were ducking under awnings to take momentary shelter from the deluge. A block or two of cars roaring through curtains of water stained orange and yellow by the sickly streetlamps. A dimly-lit parking garage afforded you a more effective refuge from the downpour.
“This way,” Yami murmured, quiet, but still oddly deafening in the relative quiet of the parking garage.
“You have a car?” you replied. Yami may have been perhaps an inch shorter than you, but his strides were long and sure, and you had to trot to keep up with him.
“It’s not my car.”
You gaped at his stoic profile. “Did you steal it?”
“No,” he said, but the corner of his lip curled up at your aghast tone. “It’s Yugi’s.”
“Do you really even need a car?”
“No. I can phase from place to place, but the greater the distance, the more energy I expend. And, with the situation…”
“You need to save as much of it as possible,” you finished. He may need any scrap of energy, any morsel of power, if faced with the mystery assailant once again.
One level up from the ground, he paused at a silver vehicle. It was tinted a strange glittering green by the overhead florescent lights of the parking structure. Small and squat, it had splotches of peeling paint, but seemed to be in otherwise good condition.
It chirped and clicked when unlocked, headlights flashing a moment.
You shed your rain jacket, shook it off, and slung that and your dry knapsack (you wore it underneath the jacket) into the back seat as you slid into the faux leather seats. The material was hot and sticky from the humidity. You grimaced, glad you were wearing pants and not shorts or something. “It’s getting hotter out.”
“It’s about to storm,” Yami replied, sliding into his seat with all the grace of a languid cat. He shut the door with a heavy thump. “He must be in especially poor humor this evening.”
Yami chuckled sardonically. “You’ll see.” He procured the key, suddenly summoned up from the shadows.
You laughed, head whipped back, breathless. “You actually bound a car key?” you wailed hysterically.
“My copy of it, yes. I have a more difficult time than other people carrying solid objects with me,” he replied, voice thick with amusement and maybe a little self-defensive.
“Uh-huh,” you giggled, your breath settling. “At least you don’t have to worry about losing it, I guess.”
“Also true,” and he turned the ignition. The car purred quietly, and then you were off.
Silence ensued. You turned your head away, watched as illuminated drops of water danced and careened across your window. Sure enough, a fork of lightning flashed across the sky, and the accompanying boom of thunder wasn’t too far away. You jumped a little, though not truly startled. Perhaps it was only some strange, vestigial reflex. “Where are we headed, then?”
“You’ll see,” he replied, and his deep voice reminded you of that thunder, if it were softer and less sudden.
“You’ll see,” you mocked, dropping your pitch a comical amount. “Is that all you know how to say?”
“No. My English vocabulary is extensive,” he replied wryly.
“You’ll see,” you mocked again, almost coughing from the tickling in the throat it brought you. “You’re so eloquent.”
He snorted. “Fine. You shall bear witness to our destination momentarily .” Those burning eyes, glistening with the periodically passing streetlamps, cut a sly glance to you.
“ That’s laying it on thick. You sound like a pretentious old fart.”
“Maybe I am a pretentious old fart. You’ve no idea of my true age.”
“That’d explain everything !” you exclaimed, reeling back in your seat exaggeratedly. “That burning question has been answered!”
The low, purring sound that rolled from his chest made you whip your head to him. He laughed .
“You’re interesting. For a human,” he said, cutting another glance at you. Maybe intrigue, maybe humor burned in his eyes, but maybe that was just the way his eyes always looked.
“Thanks. I try,” you settled back, looked out the window again. Maybe it would stop you from ogling his defined profile. “I guess you’re not too bad. For a wraith.”
“Have you ever met a wraith previous?”
“Yes,” you replied. “A revenant.”
He hummed, contemplative, but said nothing else.
When the car gently banked around a curve, you saw it rising in the distance. The huge, glowing letters branded the night. KC -- KaibaCorp tower. You stared as you grew closer and closer. Lightning sundered the black of the sky with ever-growing frequency.
“I know you mentioned Seto Kaiba, but I didn’t realize we were going to see him in person,” you murmured, nervous. “How do you know him? Will he just let us in?” You looked back over.
Yami was smirking darkly. “We’re old acquaintances. Though he adamantly reviles the word, at least in relation to me. Despite what he might say, he’d never turn away a visit from me.”
Closer, closer. You were at the skyscraper’s feet. Yami pulled into a space that clearly said “VIP Parking.”
When he cut the ignition, he turned to you. “You’re about to meet the reason why this place has consistently unseasonable foul weather; Seto Kaiba, Dragon of Domino.”
As soon as the two of you crossed the threshold, a security guard turned his chin into his lapel and spoke quietly into a microphone.
As if on cue, a huge fork of lightning ravaged the sky, the cannon shot of thunder echoing a split-second after.
"Mr. Kaiba is not pleased, but he will give you audience," the guard said. His face was expressionless behind his dark sunglasses.
Yami said something back, but you were hardly listening at that point. The inside of KaibaCorp, which you had never seen until that very moment, was absolutely stunning. It was all chic, modern lines, clean edges, stark black-and-white palettes. Dark blue accents graced some surfaces.
But, most eye-catching of all, were the dragons. They were long and scrolling, their serpentine bodies coiling around corners and slinking down walls. They were stark, solid silhouettes on the modern matte backgrounds. They reminded you of decals on cars, but much more refined, classy, powerful even. They were wingless creatures with koi scaling and majestic manes and fierce eyes.
Dragonkin, Yami had said.
Well, Seto Kaiba certainly liked to flaunt his genealogy.
Who wouldn't, you thought to yourself, if one were descended from deities?
"Huh," you grunted to yourself. "Funny how he decorates a tech company."
"Seto Kaiba is many things, but humble is not one of them," Yami said, suddenly at your side again. "Dragonkin are revered, feared beings. He capitalizes on that fact."
Dragons have long since disappeared; the last sighting was in Scotland in 1933, but the one before that even longer. Ecologists hypothesized that industrialization killed them off; cryptozoologists suspected mass hibernation; theologians extolled that the beasts returned to the heavenly plane.
You wondered if, perhaps, it were a mixture of all three.
Sometimes, you would look up the old footage on YouTube. The video of The Last Dragon.
Even grainy and black-and-white, the viewer could see the sheer majesty of the beast. Its endless scaled coils undulated through the water like silk, the mane rolling and noble, leonine, the pronged antlers draped with moss and seaweed. Then, still with those soft, gentle undulations, it rose from the water, swam through the air. It seemed just as at home in the sky as it did the water.
Nessie, the locals had named the beast.
She'd blessed the surrounding area with gentle rains and mild springs until she mysteriously disappeared in the summer of 1933, never to be seen again, much like the rest of her kind.
The Dragonkin were the fading remnants of a grand legacy.
The resounding boom of thunder made you jump.
“We should go. He’s getting impatient,” Yami said, voice thick with wry humor.
Breathless, you nodded, and allowed him to guide you to the elevator. When the doors slid closed, you turned to Yami. “So he can control the weather?”
Yami chuckled. “‘Control,’ not really. It simply reacts to his moods. Which are generally foul. The dragon blood in his veins is too thin for him to have such power.”
“He’s been especially cantankerous ever since his younger brother left for college,” Yami said. And he lifted a shoulder. “It could be worse. He still has his daughter to curb his temper.”
You snorted. “I didn’t think that someone descended from such gentle beings would be so unpleasant.”
“Kaiba is simply selective in his tenderness,” Yami said. And he left it at that.
“Aren’t we all?” But the conversation ended there when the elevator lurched to a stop and the doors dinged open.
The sight before you made your jaw drop.
A huge aquarium, spanning an entire wall, luminated the sitting area with a soft blue light. Koi, of all sorts of beautiful shades, swam within, gliding lazily between pristine white dragon statues and opulent plants. The sitting area itself was decorated with brushed steel furniture with comfortable-looking black cushions. The chandelier above was mounted to the ceiling with a marble dragon head -- the crystals looked like raindrops falling from the beast’s maw.
“What’s with the fish?” you asked quietly.
“Ancients legends said that dragon larvae resembled koi until they became of age and developed the ability to fly.”
“Huh. I didn’t know that.”
“I’m not surprised. It’s a rather obscure myth.”
Larvae. You frowned. Dragons and humans didn’t seem remotely biologically compatible.
Which was probably why first-generation Dragonkin were said to be conceived immaculately.
After all, dragons were deities of fertility; why wouldn’t they be able to impregnate a woman with a single touch?
A virgin birth. No wonder Dragonkin were considered to be holy in some cultures.
“ You ,” a voice growled, and the heavens themselves rumbled with the sound. The skin on the back of your neck prickled into goosebumps, and the air in the sitting area seemed to be charged with electricity.
“Always one for melodramatics…” Yami replied with a sly grin.
A tall form emerged from around one end of the aquarium. You realized suddenly that it acted as a divider between his office and the lounge area.
He towered over the two of you, even from across the room. His eyes were mesmerizing, too blue to be truly human, though his elongated, nearly slitted pupils gave him away first. Seto Kaiba scowled fiercely, and even through what you imagined were high-quality walls, you could hear the wind screaming against the sides of KaibaCorp tower.
His lips parted, and you couldn’t help but notice his sharp, longer-than-human canines. “What the fuck do you want?” He snarled in your general direction, and you shrunk into yourself. “And who the hell is this?”
Yami’s face immediately fell into solemnity. “It’s an emergency. Yugi has gone missing, captured by some unknown assailant, and --” he gestured to you “-- this young woman right here was nearly taken, too.”
Kaiba’s eyebrows ticked together momentarily, but he soon settled back into his fiercely sour expression. “What does any of this have to do with me?”
“Whoever captured him did it with frightening ease. And I fear he may have kidnapped others. I’ve come to ask you if you have heard anything amiss.”
Static crackled momentarily in the air. Lightning forked through the sky and flashed the walls of the room with white light.
“No. I’ve heard nothing,” Kaiba replied, still harsh but somehow less so. “When did he disappear?”
“Earlier today,” Yami said quietly.
“And where were you?”
Yami’s jaw clenched, and the edges of his form wavered, dark, like ink smudges. “You do not need to rub it in my face. I know that I failed to protect him.”
The rising tension made your skin crawl uncomfortably. You gulped dryly. “Mr. Kaiba?”
He grunted, snapping those unnerving, inhuman eyes back onto you.
“Can I use your bathroom?” you asked shakily.
He pointed to a door to his left. “Don’t make a mess.”
You stumbled over to it, when the door closed behind you, you slid down to the floor and panted. Apparently, that was what happened when someone put a standoffish Dragonkin and powerful wraith in a room together. You took a moment to catch your breath.
He waited for the door to close completely before he said anything. “I don’t like her. Get her out of here as soon as possible,” he hissed.
Red eyes flared brighter. “Why?”
Kaiba snarled. “Don’t tell me you don’t feel it. There’s something wrong with that girl. I smell trouble all over her. Get her out of here.”
Yami’s lips sank into a thin line. “There’s something happening in this city, Seto. I advise you to take care. If he went after Yugi, there’s no telling who or when he might strike next.” Those crimson irises churned like a firestorm. “Keep an eye on Kisara at all times.”
Kaiba stiffened, and several booms of thunder followed each other within a split-second. “Don’t you tell me how to protect my daughter.”
“No matter how much you deny what she is, she could be next,” Yami snapped.
Kaiba growled, a response on his tongue, but Yami was suddenly before him and thrusting something into his palm.
“I found this at Yugi’s apartment. Do you know what it is?”
Kaiba recoiled, not from pain, but from the overwhelming aura of the pendant in his grasp. “What the fuck?” he growled. The electrum chain dangled from his fingertips. A sword, its guard and handle exaggerated to take the shape of a cross. “No, I don’t know what this is. What do you think this place is, a pawn shop?” He whipped it back, and Yami gingerly snatched it from the air, his discomfort with the jewelry more than apparent. “I deal in technology, not so-called holy relics.”
The door opened, and Kaiba’s skin prickled. “Get her out of here,” he hissed, bent low so only Yami could hear. “And never bring her near me again.”
Yami’s face hardened, stonelike. “Thank you for your time.”
“Oh, fuck off.”
Whenever Kaiba’s draconic instincts told him that someone was a threat, he was quick to listen. His multi-billion dollar corporation was more than enough evidence that it hadn’t failed him yet.
The pair quickly left, the girl with a nervous glance and that god-forsaken wraith with a lazy wave. Kaiba retreated to his office and watched on the monitors until the two were in Yugi’s trash vehicle and speeding off into the stormy night.
He lifted his phone and dialed his PA. “Mr. Kaiba?” her gentle voice floated over the speaker.
“Is Kisara with you?” he asked harshly.
“Of course. I’m getting her ready for bed.”
Kaiba wondered if his sudden slumping in his chair was audible. He couldn’t help it; he was nearly boneless with relief.
“Seto? Is something the matter?” Her voice took a firm edge. “Something I need to know?’
“It’s nothing,” he dismissed. “Just… don’t let her leave your sight until I get home.”
“When will that be?”
He stood and grabbed his jacket. “As soon as possible.”
Another shiver wracked your body. The static electricity that that unpleasant man had exuded seemed to cling to your clothes and hair.
“He gets like that. Basically a wool blanket when you irritate him,” Yami said.
“So he’s like that all the time?” you muttered, trying to rub the static from your shirt.
“Particularly around me. The thought that I exist alone can send him into a temper tantrum.”
“He hates you that much? I thought you said you were acquaintances…”
“We are, but… he doesn’t like the fact that science can’t explain how I exist. I am a blatant sign that some form of an afterlife exists, something that occurs after death, and he despises it.”
“That’s rich, coming from Dragonkin,” you said with a sarcastic snort.
“I’ve tried telling him that. But that man is the most pig-headed creature I’ve ever met. You’d sooner stop the tides from turning than convince him of anything over than his own beliefs.”
“I know the type,” you muttered. The night sky was still tumultuous. With how often that man seemed to be in a bad mood, he would probably die of heart problems. “How did you meet him?”
“Yugi and he went to the same high school,” Yami explained. “Yugi was my host at the time, so, by extension, Kaiba was my classmate, too.”
“You possessed his body?” you asked, quiet from exhaustion and disbelief, though not in equal parts.
“He allowed me to,” Yami replied quietly. “I fed from his vitality until I could exist separately from him.” They slowed to a stop at a red light. He looked even more ethereal in that red glow. “Yugi, even then, was powerful enough to sustain me and probably another if he so chose.”
“How did you end up possessing him?”
“I was bound to an ancient puzzle box. When Yugi solved it, it freed my spirit. I latched onto the nearest thing.”
“Lucky for you someone so powerful solved it, then,” you said quietly, turning in your seat. Your shoulder leaned against the back, your head tilting to slump on the headrest.
“Lucky, indeed,” he murmured.
“So, you were technically a shade for some time?” you said quietly.
Wraiths, spectres and revenants both, were only one subset the xenology community labeled “undead spirits.” Ghosts, shades, and wraiths made up the three types.
Ghosts were what people called “residual hauntings.” The soulless shells of the dead, going through never-ending loops like a tape stuck on replay. They lived and relived and relived fragments of their lives (things they did often when they were alive), or, more disturbingly, their own deaths. They had no awareness -- they did not know they were dead, and they could not see or interact with the living. Often, only those with the Sight could even detect the; that, however was not always the case.
Next came shades. They had more sentience and awareness than ghosts, but, they were bound to objects, and they could possess these objects, and objects only. Anyone who came in close contact with said object could feel the shade’s effects; the emotions the shade felt could latch onto the living and make them feel it, too. Shades can only be seen by those with the Sight.
And then wraiths. The most powerful of the undead spirits. Believed to be relatives to shades, they could possess people’s bodies if they were not powerful enough (or perhaps too lazy) to manufacture a substantial form of their own.
“Mm, perhaps only in a semantic sense,” he replied. “I suppose a genie trapped in a bottle would be a better comparison.”
“Did you give Yugi three wishes?” you said with a tired grin.
Those bright red eyes cut you a glance. “You sound tired. Perhaps you should rest.”
“It’s probably your fault. I’m a night owl,” you mumbled.
“It probably is,” he admitted sheepishly. “I can’t control what energy sources I draw from.”
Electricity. Warmth. Human vitality. Undead spirits were energy vampires.
“I bet you got quite a boost from that Kaiba dude with how much static he was shooting off.” You were curling down into the seat.
“I did,” Yami admitted smugly.
“Wherewegoin’?” You slurred.
“The Black Crown. It’s on the other side of town. Plenty of time for you to sleep.”
You didn’t hear half of his sentence, and, what you didn’t hear, sounded like jumbled nonsense. You were already falling asleep.
He held the limp form on one strong shoulder. The pure white hair spilled down his front. Even in the dark, it seemed to glow. He stroked it with one gloved hand. The owner of those brilliant locks whimpered, but dared not squirm against the accursed black chains wrapped about his lanky body.
“What have you been doing here, Holy One?” the huge man asked, and his deep voice was more than a fitting match for his hulking stature. “This earth is too wretched for your grace.”
“It… hurts…” came the whimper, and, though agonized, it rang with a certain musicality that was far too pleasing to the mortal ear.
“Yes, I’m sure it does. You’re not used to pain, are you?” He asked, rather matter-of-factly.
“Ah, no. I can’t release you yet. But, don’t worry, once I’m all done, you can go back to where you came from,” he said, confident, righteous. “Since you’re pure, I won’t need too much more. Your kin are relatively easy to find.”
A tortured groan as they descended some steps. It echoed off the subterranean walls like a haunted, beautiful song.
“I just need the others. Your opposites,” he ignored the fresh blood, pale and gold like electrum, that stained his black robes from reopened wounds. “Deprecit scum, those.”
The smell of blood and charred flesh inundated the captive’s nose and made him whimper again. “What… what have you done?”
That huge hand returned to his white hair, and his head was yanked up. “Why don’t you see for yourself?”
The bound man cried in pain, but those tears turned into ones of horror as he set his eyes upon the nightmare before him.
“Isn’t he just beautiful?”
The captive’s soft brown eyes met glassy violet ones. “Yugi…” he whimpered, choking down a sob to see his friend bound and skewered like an insect.
“Ryou!” Yugi cried back.
“Oh? So you know each other?”
Ryou shook his head. “Please, release him. I’ll do as you wish. Just let Yugi go!”
“Tempting, but no. I need both of you for this plan to work.” He all but tossed Ryou to the ground. “I’ll be back. Don’t have too much fun while I’m gone.”
You dreamed of your father. You dreamed of crying. You dreamed of choking. You dreamed of dying. You dreamed of red eyes. You dreamed of fire. You dreamed of darkness. You dreamed of lightning. You dreamed of thunder.
You dreamed of wings. You dreamed of rain. You dreamed of shadows.
You dreamed of a beast in the sky. You dreamed that it devoured the world after it had squeezed the life from it with its huge dark coils.
You dreamed of your name, being called over and over again.
You dreamed of a cold hand on your shoulder, gently shaking you.
“C’mon. We’re here.”
You opened your eyes. You saw red. And you forgot what you had dreamt, only that it had scared you.
“Yami,” you murmured.
“Are you okay?” he asked quietly, and then his hand was cupping your forehead.
You leaned into his cool touch. “I… I don’t know.” You leaned more and more, and, suddenly, you were in his icy embrace. But it was still so comforting. “Something bad is happening…” you whispered against his shoulder. You weren’t even sure of what you were even saying anymore.
A gloved hand petted your hair, and red eyes stared out into the stormy night.
So, just a note, dragons in this universe are comprised entirely of Asian dragons -- and their similar South American counterparts (i.e. feathered serpents). Eurpean dragons and their placement in this universe will be discussed later. Also, the whole “First-gen Dragonkin are conceived immaculately” means they are conceived without intercourse. I based this off of the legend of Liu Bang, a Chinese emperor who claimed that his mother became pregnant with him after she had been caught in a rainstorm, took shelter under a bridge, and awoke to find a dragon hovering over her.
Jesus is low-key Dragonkin, yall.
Anyways, hope to see you next time!
Chapter 4: The Black Crown
The cold was anesthetic, wrapped around you like this. Each numbing pass of his hand, each ticking second, that awful, awful feeling drifted away until you were just sitting there, blinking, confused in his arms. His hand settled on the back of your neck, cold and solid and making your breath short, when you drew away the slightest amount. Despite the chill of his embrace, your cheeks were ablaze.
You wondered if he felt the heat of your breath on his cold face.
“I’m sorry,” you murmured, glancing away from the intense crimson eyes boring into your soul.
Lightning blazed through the sky, brightly illuminating his pallid face for the barest second.
He said nothing, only released you, the fabric of his glove brushing your jaw.
You moved back, unable to bring your eyes away from him, even when he turned and opened his door.
He got out and closed the door without a word.
You swallowed hard, frowning, and getting out as well. You were greeted by a brick wall of a building. Rather blank and boring.
“C’mon,” you heard Yami say over the sound of rain on wet pavement and windshield glass.
Your shoes splashed in the gathering puddles as you followed. Yami was striding away fast, and you trotted to keep up with him. You rounded the corner on the building. And the flashing lights nearly blinded you. They were a cool ultraviolet, gleaming eerily in the night and the rain.
The Black Crown
In silky, elegant font. Even in the rain and the storm, a line twined outside, waiting to get in. You frowned, kept close to Yami’s back as you passed by the rain-soaked revelers. You caught a glimpse of yellow eyes, a fanged grin, of filmy wings fluttering and spraying rain drops.
“They’re Others,” you whispered. The shuffling of cloven hooves, a hyena-like cackle, a cooing titter.
“Yes. The Black Crown is a popular night club catering to Others,” Yami explained quietly. “I’m surprised you haven’t heard of it.”
“I don’t get out much…” you muttered, giving a shaky smile when a man with a rather lupine face waved at you with seductive fingers and grinned sharply.
“Stay close,” he said. “Other culture is different from that of humans. Entering an establishment like this unmarked is an open invitation to be made a meal out of by some of the more… predatory species.”
You pinched the back of his jacket between your thumb and a joint on your forefinger. You felt like a little kid holding onto her father’s coat. “Like…?”
“Vampires, incubi or succubi, perhaps even a ghoul or wendigo, if you aren’t careful,” he murmured.
The only thought scarier than a flesh-consuming being was that there were humans that fetishized being eaten alive by them (you've snooped around on the internet several times, and yes , erotic cannibalism might as well have its own genre in pornographic media at this point. Whatever floats people's boats, you thought. Or, in this case, whatever sinks their ships...). “... Neat…”
“I’ll keep you safe. Just stay close.” Firm. As if he would ever suggest anything otherwise.
“I plan on it,” you whispered back.
He walked up to the bouncer, a tall, hulking man. You peered curiously from behind Yami’s shoulder. Mottled skin gleamed under the blacklights. Wild dark hair tamed into an impressive Nord-esque braid. You blinked. A troll.
“Yami,” the troll said, voice deep and rough, like gravel grinding beneath one’s boot.
“Is Duke here tonight?” Yami asked, unintimidated by the troll’s sheer size.
A firm nod.
“Good. I need to talk to him.”
And the troll immediately lifted the rope for the pair of you, much to the very vocal displeasure to the Others behind you. You shrank down, threw a sheepish grimace over your shoulder as Yami stepped over the threshold. You weren’t quite sure what music you expected, but heavy, grinding metal wasn’t it in the slightest. A whispery voice groaned almost sexually over the speakers, and the very sound of it was dark and sensual.
You actually kind of liked it. But, with your eclectic tastes in music, you liked damn near everything and anything.
Yami suddenly stopped, and you bumped into his back, all cold and firm. He turned to you, your fingers slipping from his jacket, and shifted your positions. Him at your side, his hand on the small of your back.
"I want you in my line of sight," he said quietly, and you gave a short nod. The anxiety fogging you alleviated lightly. "Don't accept anything from anyone. No drinks, no food."
Another short, shaky nod. Curiosity burned the tip of your tongue, but you remained quiet.
"There are chemicals in the refreshments that are potentially toxic to humans. The effects range from mild giddiness to death," he explained monotonously.
"Got it. No food, no drink," you murmured.
And then those intense crimson irises were focused forward, and he was nudging you deeper into the club.
A sea of bodies undulated under strobing blacklights. Here, the Others were comfortable, and their menagerie of strange forms flashed vividly against one another like puzzle pieces that didn't quite fit. Wings, tails, fangs, eyes that glowed like beacons in the near dark. It looked like a scene straight out of Film Noir.
Yami's eyes darted around, searching, until they locked onto some person or thing on the opposite side of the cavernous room. He nudged you forward, closer to the tangle of bodies.
His jacket brushed your side, and you realized you were shrinking into his side the nearer you got to that heaving mass of beings, most of which you've only ever read about, much less seen in person.
But it parted like the Red Sea for Moses, when Yami guided you into its bowels. Ethereal faces stared, at you, at Yami, at the wraith and the human navigating through their numbers. A few hands trailed along your shirt sleeve and shoulder, some flirtatious, some merely curious, but Yami's hand slid to your waist, and with the slightest pressure from his fingers, tugged you protectively into his embrace. Cold emanated from him, threatening, and you wondered if it was just an effect of the strobing blacklights or if the shadows really were squirming around the two of you like a knot of snakes. You couldn't be sure, but the touches stopped immediately.
If the music weren't blaring so loudly, you would've heard the whispers settling over The Black Crown like a blanket of static.
"I don't know if I like this place," you murmured.
Yami's hand gave the curve of your waist a reassuring squeeze, but he said nothing.
"Yami! It's good to see you, though I'd prefer you not to disturb my lovely patrons!" A voice boomed.
The source was a lanky, lithe young man. He had tumbling, long black hair, glossy in the ultraviolet, and bright, vivid eyes peering from beneath shapely eyebrows.
He stalked closer, swaying like a panther in the moonlight -- all confidence and charisma, and stared at you up and down with nothing short of utter lechery. "Who do we have here? Mm, mm, mm ."
You blushed, irritated, but yet still bashful under the attention of a beautiful young man. Something you didn’t receive often.
He extended a hand, fine-boned, lovely, and sensual, and you reached to accept it for a shake, and Yami was hissing "Don't touch him!" in your ear, his hands lightly tugging you back. But it was already too late.
This young man's hands were warm, burning like fire, and he lifted your hand up to his perfectly-bowed lips to lay a kiss on your knuckles. "Duke Devlin, at your service."
You murmured your own name back and tugged your hand out of his with a frown. "You're weird."
Yami's hand had a deathgrip on your waist and you turned to him with a frown. He stared at you with wide eyes, his lips parted.
You stared between him and the Duke Devlin fellow, who looked just as confused and perhaps twice that amount miffed.
"What?" You asked, shrinking into yourself a little.
"You felt… nothing?" Yami asked.
"When he touched you."
"Well, I felt awkward, if that's what you're asking. Kissing people's hands is just weird. He has no idea where my hand has been," you replied, hasty and babbling.
And then Duke Devlin was laughing, head tipped back, one hand over his mouth and the other slapping his leather-clad thigh. It was all rather loud, and he strangely maintained that sensual grace of his.
You frowned, confused, and looked to Yami, who just lifted a shoulder.
Finally, through gasping breaths, Duke pointed at you. "You're… you're… oh god, this is great… you're a virgin !"
You gasped, a little scandalized. "Um, no, actually." You definitely did the dirty with your ex. Many times. The bastard was grade A at marathon sex but grade F at being a dcent human being.
Duke was making a show of carefully wiping his eyes, though his perfect eyeliner was hardly ruined. "Sure, sure, honey."
"Why does it matter, anyway?" You snapped, getting a little irritated with this Duke Devlin dude.
"He's an incubus," Yami murmured into your ear.
"So a literal sex fiend, I got it. I just don't know what my chastity --" or lack thereof "-- has anything to do with it,” you growled waspishly. The assumption irritated you, and then his utter denial of your response made you furious.
“Baby, you would’ve been tripping all over yourself to get some of this if you weren’t,” Duke simpered, languidly gesturing to his leather-clad body.
You made a face at him. Okay, you’d thought that he was good-looking, but he was souring it rather quickly. At the same time, you were a little stunned; your adventurous online excursions taught you about erotic cannibalism but not how actual incubi worked? Strange -- ironic, really. Clearly, you were looking in the wrong places, because you could only imagine how abundant incubi-centric erotic literature was.
Yami decided that enough was enough and that more pressing matters needed to be addressed -- which you whole-heartedly agreed with.
“Yugi is missing,” Yami said, deep voice ringing and somber, like a church bell. “He was taken earlier today. The man that captured him attempted to do the same with this young woman.” His fingers tensed on your waist again, and it made you jump a little. “I came to learn what you might know.”
The simpering, lecherous expression fell away, and a stunned one took its place. “Yugi…”
“Yes. Has anyone else gone missing recently?”
Duke crossed his arms, his chin falling. “Ryou…”
Yami’s intake was sharp enough to cut flesh. “ What ?”
Duke shook his head, glossy hair splaying out. “I didn’t think anything of it. I went to visit him earlier, but he was gone. I mean, I… it wouldn’t have been the first time that something like that had happened, you know? He does just tend to… go off on his own. But… if Yugi’s gone… I fear…”
Yami’s hand shook against your side. Something too much like terror swirled in his eyes. “This is very, very bad.”
Suddenly, it flashed behind your eyes. Fire raining from the sky, dark coils writhing and tightening. Something burned at the tip of your tongue, but you couldn’t spit it out.
“I know,” Yami said quickly. “I’ve already told Kaiba. How much of it he took seriously, I am unsure.”
“What’s… what’s going on?” you whispered.
Yami’s frenzied eyes turned to yours, and the lump in your throat hurt when you swallowed. “There are too many ears here. I’ll explain later.” He turned back to Duke. He pulled an amulet from his pocket, and you gasped, lurching back, tearing from Yami’s hold. Duke had much the same reaction, but those wide red eyes were fixed on you again. He called your name. “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know,” you whimpered, watching the cross-shaped electrum flash deliriously in the strobing blacklights.
You blinked, and there it was, on the back of your eyelids, like lightning cracking. That amulet laying against a broad chest, white light illuminating every notched curve of metal.
“Paladin,” you gasped, your tongue heavy with the syllables, and you wondered if the entire world were swirling or if it were just you.
“What? What do you mean? Do you know this symbol?” Yami asked, his cold hand curling around your arm and anchoring you.
You shook your head, eyes slipping unsteadily across his pale face. “I don’t know.”
“What do you mean, you don’t know? ” Yami snarled. “Clearly, you know something .”
You whimpered again when his hand tightened and he shook you. “Yami, you’re hurting me. Please stop…”
He tore his hand away from you, and, instead, brought the amulet close to your face. Its presence was oppressive, crushing, and you ducked away. “‘Paladin,’ what do you mean?”
You would’ve slapped the pendant away, but you couldn’t bring yourself to touch it. You pushed Yami away by the wrist instead. “That’s…” but it pulsed, effervescent in your mind, “... that’s what he calls himself.” Your tongue rolled dryly against your teeth a moment. “The Paladin.”
“How do you know that?” Yami’s voice was raising, nearly shouting.
You cowered, shaking. “I-I don’t know, I swear --”
“Leave her be,” Duke snapped, stepping between you.
But those red eyes were still boring into you. They swirled like fire. “Did you lie to me when you said you are human?”
“N-No.” You were so confused. Dear god, what was even happening?
“Have you heard of this ‘Paladin’?” Yami asked Duke swiftly.
Duke shook his head. “No.”
A growl, and yes, the shadows rippled about him, tension building like the storm brewing outside. “We’re leaving.” He didn’t even step around Duke; he phased through him, flickering like the strobes, and then his hand, icy and solid, was around your arm again. He tugged you close once more, and you tensed, a little afraid.
“I’m sorry,” you whispered, your breath quivering on your lips. Those two words were the only things you could bring yourself to say with fierce red glaring down on you.
His hard grip softened, his eyebrows drawing together and his lips parting.
A loud snarl, loud enough to pierce the throbbing metal, ripped from the other side of the room. Those crimson irises were suddenly darting about, but you couldn’t tear your gaze away from his face.
“Joseph, always causing trouble,” he muttered, and then the two of you were spinning. The impact of your back against a brick wall shoved the air from your lungs, and Yami’s cold, lean body was pressed to yours. The rough material of his jacket brushed against your cheek; he was holding your face protectively against him as glass burst against brick and rained down around you. “Bar fight,” he whispered, lips close to your ear. It was like an icy winter breeze, sending shivers down your spine. Your fingers curled into his jacket tighter.
He smelled like ashes and rain.
A howl, long and blood-curdling, and you shivered for an entirely different reason.
“That’s our cue to leave,” he said, just as utter chaos erupted in The Black Crown.
Quickly, he was tugging you along the wall. Your shoulder brushed bricks, but you didn’t mind, since Yami was using his body to shield you from the crush of frenzied revelers. “What’s going on?” you asked, your hand tightening, and you realized there were slender gloved fingers wrapped in yours.
“Werewolves having a tussle. It’s more common than would be convenient,” he murmured. “Especially when you get Keith and Joseph in the same room together.”
And then he lunged again, pressing you tight to the brick as a metal barstool went flying across the room.
This time, your face wasn’t tucked into his jacket, and instead his face was unnervingly close to yours, his intense, unblinking eyes on your face.
You swallowed hard. “So this happens a lot…?”
Finally, he looked away. “Yes.” He looked over his shoulder. You couldn’t help watching the tendons and muscles in his defined neck move. “Let’s go.”
His hand gave yours a squeeze, and then you were back to shuffling along the wall to the exit. Cries, all across the spectrum from vaguely humanoid to this will haunt your nightmares until you die , arced across the cavernous room. The music was still playing, and, mixed with the sound of glass breaking and metal shrieking in protest, it made a head-splitting cacophony.
“How close are we?” you asked. It was nearly impossible for you to see anything.
“We’re near the emergency exit. It’ll have to be good enough,” he said, deep voice rumbling right next to your ear when he ducked close to save you from glass shards again.
Before long, there it was, and you both simultaneously lunged and burst out into the rainy night air. It was just dribbling now, and the heat of the storm seemed to be long gone. You didn’t realize just how damn hot it was in there until you were in the cool of the night.
“Oh, thank god,” you gasped, bending over and setting your hands on your knees. “That place was giving me anxiety.”
A hand on your shoulder. “Let’s get to the car.” His voice was hard, stern. “There’s much we need to discuss.”
You shivered and nodded slowly. You were damn near next to the car, anyway.
When the doors shut, there was a moment of quiet, filled only with the sound of rain pattering on the roof of the car and splatting on the windshield.
“What happened in there?” Yami asked, and then red was boring into the side of your face like he had laser vision.
You shook your head, held your cheeks in your hands. “I don’t know.”
A hard, cutting edge to his voice made you flinch. “ I don’t know isn’t a sufficient answer.”
You leaned back, and took a deep, shaky breath and blew it out through pursed lips. “Okay.” You thought a moment, about what you had felt, what you had seen, what you had known . It was so vivid, yet so foggy, like a fever dream. “I… Well, you pulled out that amulet, and I saw something.”
He remained silent, but you felt the expectation for you to continue.
“I saw someone wearing it, only saw it resting on their chest. But…” you rubbed your arms. “It was crushing me. His presence. It was the same one from the alleyway. And I knew . The word came to me and I just had to say it.” You finally chanced a glance at him. And sure enough, his stare was affixed to your face. “That’s… that’s it, Yami.” You looked back out the window. “I’m sorry that I don’t know more…”
He sighed. “There’s nothing for you to apologize for. I should be the one apologizing.” He said your name softly. “Look at me.” His finger, gentle and hesitant, touched your chin, and you turned your head back toward him. Those crimson eyes burned softly, as if a light of single candle burned behind the tinted windows of his irises. “I’m sorry. For how I treated you.”
You gulped, but could only nod. You couldn’t say, it’s okay , because it wasn’t. You were already confused -- tossed suddenly into this situation less than four hours ago -- and he’d been interrogating you as if you had taken Yugi.
“Have you always had visions?” he asked quietly, taking his hand from your face.
You shook your head. “I… I don’t know. I’ve always had really vivid dreams, but I’ve been told that that’s just because of my overactive imagination. And… I get… Like, dejavu…? A lot. Like I’ve seen something before. But, I’ve grown not to think much of it.” You shrugged, face hot. “It probably sounds like a bunch of coincidental nonsense.”
“Hm, it doesn’t,” he replied, words measure, slow, thoughtful. “It sounds to me like you might have latent and repressed psychic tendencies.”
You frowned and looked at him again. But he was staring blankly out the windshield, his fingers drumming on the steering wheel.
And then he was looking back at you. “Do you have Unhindered Sight?”
The frown on your face deepened to the point of aching. “I… I don’t know.”
He blinked at you, and then he was holding a hand up, index and middle finger extended. “How many fingers am I holding up?”
And his eyes widened, bright red saucers in the city-lit dim. “Even those with the Sight wouldn’t have been able to see me. Most Others, too.”
The Unhindered Sight.
The ability to see through illusions. Some even claimed those with the Unhindered Sight could into worlds beyond the mortal plane.
“Psychics always have Unhindered Sight,” he said, eyeing you again, as if looking at you for the first time.
“I mean, but not all people with Unhindered Sight are psychics, right?” you asked. Psychic. It just sounded too far-fetched. At least for someone as plain as you.
He only hummed, and suddenly the car keys were in his hands, and he was putting them into the ignition. “Do you know what a ‘paladin’ is?”
“Yeah. A holy knight, basically,” you replied, watching as he threw the shift into reverse, and then the vehicle was backing out the space.
“Yes. It only confirms my suspicions,” he replied, face tense, somber.
“And what are those?” you asked quietly.
“He’s targeting a specific kind of Other,” he said, and then the two of you were waiting for the road to clear to pull out of the parking lot.
“Others like Yugi?”
“What is Yugi?” you asked. Though it felt like a taboo subject.
He glanced over at you. “I have to have your word that you will not tell a soul on this earth. If word of this gets out, it could have consequences the likes of which you may not comprehend.”
You nodded, keeping your eyes firmly on him although he was focussed on turning the car and merging into traffic. “I swear on my life. It’s not like I really have anyone to tell, anyway.”
A pause. Tense. “Yugi is…” a tight breath. “Yugi is Nephilim.”
You froze. Everything you knew about Xenology screamed at you that this couldn’t be possible, and yet, Yami had not once lied to you, and this was definitely no joking matter.
“He’s a half-angel.”
Chapter 5: Imprint
I did my best to proof this, but I have been so fried lately. Thanks for putting up with it, anyway.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“How…” you whispered, breathless with shock.
“But… angels…” you began. “People say they’re just… a fairy tale. Religious bunk. Or cases of mistaken identity.”
The quick, cutting glance of red eyes. “That’s what they say, yes. But angels do exist. As do their half-human offspring.” Half-turned in your seat, your back facing your door, you stared at his face. He glanced quickly into the rearview mirror. “Angels are incredibly rare on this plane of existence.”
You tilted your temple against the headrest. “So they’re like… from another dimension?”
“More or less,” Yami replied. “Those that know of its existence call it the Beyond.”
“How clever,” you muttered, rather facetiously. “So Yugi and this… Ryou guy are nephilim?”
“No.” Yami’s voice was grave. “Ryou is an angel.”
“I’m going to guess you mean in the literal sense and not the figurative one.” Your breath shook. The thoughts in your head all rubbed up on one another, like each one was a piece of cotton stuffed into your skull until it was at capacity and threatening to burst at the seams.
You might be a psychic. Angels were real. This was too much at once. You breathed out slowly.
“Are… are demons real, too?” you asked quietly.
His answer same, swift and firm like the stormy breezes screaming along the metal contours of the car. “Yes. Though demons aren’t quite what most people think they are.”
“Why isn’t this common knowledge?” Yami knew. That Duke guy knew. How many others were privy to this ground-breaking knowledge?
“As I said before, angels in the mortal plane are far and few between. And when they are here, they exist as silent guardians, revealing themselves to few. Nephilim lead the same guarded lives -- history has not been kind to them, so they have learned to blend in with humans and Others alike. Demons, much the same.”
You swallowed thickly. “How many… angelic people do you know?”
“Three. Yugi, Ryou, and Kaiba’s daughter, Kisara.”
He strode in from the drizzling night. The manor was all but black, but he sensed them deeper in the halls. Sure enough, in the west wing, where all the bedrooms were, faint golden light slanted from a doorway. Still clad in his jacket and shoes, he walked right to the threshold.
His shoulders fell when he took the two in.
His personal assistant -- or, more accurately, the only person trusted to be Kisara’s caretaker -- was sitting on the edge of the bed. Her hand was stroking through the long hair of the little girl tucked beneath the pastel blue covers. Each pale strand caught the yellow light and gleamed like electrum.
Her blue eyes, the very same slitted eyes Seto saw in the mirror every morning, popped open, wide. And she was suddenly very much awake and springing from under the blankets and across the room.
He fluidly knelt to catch the happy bundle of long, silky hair and thin pale limbs in his arms. Her little hands were settling on the back of his neck, and she was dangling from him like a sloth from a branch. His hands -- braced gently on her back -- brushed long, luxurious locks of hair and silky soft -- so soft they felt unreal -- feathers.
“Hi, Daddy,” she giggled, pressing her lips to his cheek. “You’re home early.”
“Hi, Princess,” he whispered back, voice unsteady with the relief overwhelming him.
Her wings arched, platinum feathers splaying out and reflecting the light so wholly, like a mirror or the moon, and fluttered happily.
“What are those doing out?” he asked sternly, though each time he saw them, they left him breathless.
“They were getting claustrophobic,” she murmured.
He laughed softly. “Just remember--”
“-- No wings in public,” she finished for him.
He grunted, but his fingers in her hair were gentle. “All right, get back to bed. It’s too late as it is.”
His personal assistant gave him a sheepish grimace. “She’s been full of energy today.”
“I can tell,” he replied, and carried his eight-year-old daughter back to her bed. With a pout, she disentangled from him, and, careful of her wings, he tucked her back into the blankets. “You can go home now,” he said quietly to the woman still sitting on the edge of the bed.
She nodded once, and then smiled down at the little girl she spent many days caring for and looking after. “I’ll see you tomorrow, ‘kay, Kisara?”
“Mmmkay. Love you,” Kisara murmured quietly, words muffled by the blankets pressed near her mouth.
The woman’s smile turned tender, nearly wistful. “I love you, too.”
Seto said nothing about the exchange, but turned his head when the woman’s hand gently touched his arm. “Take it easy, Kaiba. Make sure he gets some sleep, Kisara.” And with steps nearly without sound, she departed from the bedroom.
Jewel-like blue eyes glimmered at him from behind fluffy blankets. They were shining with youthful energy, but something about their glow spoke of wisdom and knowledge far behind her scant years. Her stare carried a weight that deeply unsettled her father at times. “She takes good care of me, Daddy.”
He pressed his lips together and stroked her white hair from her face. “I know.”
“She takes good care of you, too,” she whispered.
“... I know,” and then he sighed tightly. “Get some sleep.”
“Something’s happening, Daddy. I’m scared,” she said, voice wobbling.
“It’s okay. I’ll be right here.”
He spent the night in a chair by her bedside.
You had fallen silent. There just seemed to be too much information to sift through. You were tired, overstimulated, and, honestly, a little hungry. Your stomach was gnawing at your insides desperately. Okay, a lot hungry.
With a short breath through your nose, you were leaning around your seat to grab your bag. You tried desperately to ignore how your side brushed against Yami’s arm, but the coldness of him still made your shiver. With a huff and your bag in hand, you settled back into your seat.
Red eyes glanced curiously, but you thought the fact that you pulled out a snack bar was answer enough. It was meager, not nearly enough to sate your appetite. You rolled your eyes. Of course, thinking about it now, you realized that you had missed dinner.
The crinkling of a wrapper filled the silence, and you looked a moment at the road before you. Before you took a bite, you asked, “Where are we going?”
“Yugi’s apartment,” Yami replied.
With your mouth full of bland, bland snack bar, you only grunted, but your eyebrows were raised to show that your curiosity was not sated.
“It was where he was kidnapped from…” a short, tense pause. “I want to see if you have any reaction to anything there.’
You shuddered, and your sudden inhale nearly made you choke on your food. This did not sound like a fun idea. If it felt anything like the experience at The Black Crown… No. Not fun.
“I know,” Yami replied. His voice was soft with sympathy but firm and stern all the while. “But we need any bit of information we can get our hands on.”
You frowned out the window, your snack forgotten in your hand. All other leads had gone no where. The trail was cold.
You were Yami's last hope.
"I fear what this all may mean," he admitted. Low, grave, it gave you goosebumps. "He has Yugi. He may already have Ryou." His fingers tightened audibly on the steering wheel. "Paladin… holy knight…" a grunt, and he fell silent.
"And where do I fall in all of this?" You whispered, touching your tender neck still hidden by your scarf.
"That, too, is a mystery."
Did this Paladin know something about yourself that you didn't? Yami was adamant that you were more than a simple human caught in the crossfire. But a psychic? What would this Paladin want with a psychic?
The sigh that heaved from your lungs did nothing to relieve the tangle of thoughts and emotions harassing you. You leaned your forehead against the window.
You couldn’t possibly guess what he would want. After all, what would he want with nephilim and angels in the first place?
Each blink came slower and slower, your eyelids remaining shut for longer and longer periods of times. Without even realizing it, you were drifting off to sleep again.
Lightning and a holy sword flashed through the hazy waves of your dreams, but all the while you heard the coils of a snake tightening and rasping together. Scales on scales, innumerable and dark like the night and twice as foreboding.
The car turned, and you roused, gasping a little, your forehead slipping on the glass.
“Are you all right?” Yami asked quietly, and you only grunted in response. What remained of your snack bar was clutched in your grasp.
You glanced at the clock on the radio. While you were definitely a night owl, you were generally in bed by this hour.
“We close?” The words were slurred by the exhaustion weighing down your sleep-thick tongue.
“Yes,” came the soft reply. “Perhaps you should rest there. I’m sure Yugi wouldn’t mind if you slept in his bed.”
“That’s…” a heavy sigh. “We don’t have the time. And I doubt he would appreciate a stranger sleeping in his bed.”
“I don’t mean to sound harsh, but you’re no good to me half asleep,” Yami said with a snort. And, perhaps with anyone else, those words would most certainly have offended you, but, with those scarlet eyes so soft with concern, you couldn’t muster up the emotional energy to get even the slightest bit mad. "And Yugi would give a stranger the shirt off his back. He even let me share his body with him. I doubt he would mind if you rested in his bed. In fact, I think he would give me some very stern words had I not offered it to you."
You hardly had the energy to keep your eyes open, let alone argue with him. The only response you could manage was a hum.
Each blink was still slow, but you managed to fight off the heaviness of your eyelids to stay awake the rest of the drive. You realized, with a tight huff of breath that fogged the rain-streaked window, that you were getting back into your neighborhood.
Yugi lived close to you. Which, to your sleep-addled mind, made some sense. Maybe that was why Yami had saved your hide in such a timely manner.
"Lucky," you murmured, rubbing your cheek with your free hand.
You could feel Yami's gaze on you, and could even see the eerie red reflection in the glass, but he said nothing.
It was only a few minutes before you were turning into a parking garage. The same one as before, you realized with a jolt. Yami even got the same parking spot. You made a sound, low and soft in your throat. With a deep breath, you turned to get your knapsack out of the backseat.
Yami was already out and waiting for you. You tried your best to hurry and walk around the car to him, but all of your limbs felt leaden.
With eyes so impassive and sanguine as his, it was hard to tell if he minded.
But you made it to his side, and his hand settled on the small of your back. It was cold and firm but strangely comforting. It made you want to lean in, rest yourself against his side. Bask in his cool, steady presence and oddly warm scent. Like burning leaves in the fall, so out of place in this balmy summer weather.
"How far do we have to walk?" You croaked. The question was mostly to distract yourself.
Yami was still a stranger to you, and you were walking there thinking about smelling him.
"Just across the street," his deep voice intoned near your ear.
Out in the night, the rain had dissipated from a drizzle to the few occasional drops. The mugginess had subsided to a residual warmth, and the air smelled of ozone and water and city.
Seto Kaiba must've been in a better mood, or he had left the city.
You frowned and remembered the man's surly demeanor. It was probably the second one.
No cars were coming from either side, so the pair of you crossed the street. Up a set of stairs, which your legs protested tiredly, and Yami lifted a hand, a key suddenly perched between his fingertips, and you were in the apartment vestibule.
It was warmly lit, lined with quaint red-bricked walls. It was nicer than your apartment building, if only a little. But you supposed that good lighting could go a long way in making a place look more welcoming.
"This way," Yami said, gently nudging you forward.
The thought of climbing up more stairs made you positively miserable, so you could only sigh in relief when Yami guided you to a cage-like elevator. The metal bars dug into your back when you leaned against them, but you could only blink hazily as the contraption rattled a moment before ascending with a mechanical hum. Yami stood beside you, shoulder-to-cold-shoulder, but his head was turned just enough to watch you out of the corner of his eye.
You met his gaze. The corner of your lip twitched up, and then you let your eyes close.
"You've had a long night," Yami said quietly, and the vibrations of his deep voice vibrated from his shoulder into yours.
"You, too," you murmured back. "Do you need to rest?"
"I don't sleep," he replied.
"Mmm," you sighed. "That's not what I asked."
A small grunt, and the elevator stopped with a jolt. In your languid state, it did not startle you as it normally would have.
He said you name, deep and low, and you shivered before nodding and stepping forward. His hand fell back to your waist, and you couldn't help the way you chuckled a little. You liked the contact way too much.
"You're still avoiding the question," you murmured, nudging him with your elbow.
A grunt. "I will suspend my corporeal form as you rest."
You hummed. "Neat."
He chuckled at that. At the end of the hallway, he summoned up another key and opened the door.
The stench of char hovered thickly on the air, and you lifted your arm to cough into your sleeve. "Dear god."
“A battle of magic tends to end with things… singed,” Yami said darkly.
“Huh,” you rasped, your mouth and nose still hidden behind your sleeve.
He nudged you inside. It was rather spacious, and the numerous windows lining one side opened it up greatly. The city lights twinkled through the glass, and the streetlights outside gave off just enough of an orange glow for you to see. You stepped in farther, almost drifting like a cloth in the breeze.
Singe marks on the floors, ceilings, walls. Upended dining chairs, scattered papers. Something ceramic had fallen to the floor and shattered everywhere. The table looked a little crooked in relation to the rest of the room, as if it had been shoved aside. You touched it with two fingers. Cool, smooth wood, but, behind your eyelids when you blinked, you saw the dusky gray light of a rainy evening. Heavy footsteps on wood. The rasp of a window sliding open.
“He came through the window,” you choked out, head spinning and aching, and suddenly you were nauseous. You tightly gripped the table to keep from keeling right over.
A cool hand was on your shoulder, steadying and anchoring you. “You see something?”
Flashes of light, bursts of flame, purple eyes glowing. The Paladin had towered over him.
“He st-struggled,” you gasped, your breath sharp in your throat, “he fought back.”
Black chain, thick arms flexing, the searing of flesh, slender fingers grasping at a trapped throat.
“Strangled,” the word escaped like a virulent cough. “He was strangled.” You held a hand over your mouth, tears pricked at your eyes. You could smell it . “It burned him. The chain did.”
“Chains?” a deep voice echoed in your ear, and it rippled, muffled, like a pebble disturbing a pond.
“Black chains,” you breathed. “They were black and they burned him.”
“Where did he take Yugi?”
The limp body slung over a broad shoulder. Hands with charred black skin hung, seemingly lifeless. The barest hint of red blood. “Back out the window. He climbed out the window. But he left it behind.” In your minds’s eye, light glistened off of electrum, wavering like a mirage in the desert. “He left it behind on purpose.”
“Swordsman,” you babbled, holding your burning forehead. “The Swordsman of Paradise.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know,” you groaned. “It’s a warning. He left it as a warning.” A hot wave of nausea. “The Swordsman of Paradise.”
Suddenly, you felt a tug in your chest, and cold bands around you pulled you from the haze, pulled you like you were a fish on a hook. You gasped, scrabbling out, your hands catching on rough material with firmness underneath.
You blinked, and those haunting red eyes came into focus.
“Yami…” you said, your tongue thick and heavy in your dry mouth.
His reply was your name, soft and low and urgent. “Are you all right?”
“... ‘m feeling like shit,” you murmured back, your head lolling against his bicep, and you realized you all but lying in his arms -- you had been about to fall and he had caught you. “Sorry.”
His hand, cool and smooth from his glove, touched your face, brushed your hair out of your eyes. You couldn’t help but lean into the soothing sensation.
“Have you ever had a vision like that before?” he asked softly.
“No,” a whimpering moan, and your eyes closed. Your eyebrows furrowed in the center of your forehead. “Yugi… Yugi made sure.” You buried your face in the crook of Yami’s shoulder. “Yugi made sure someone would see it.”
Like a video tape to be played by someone with the capability to watch it.
Yami said nothing, but his cool hand was touching your cheek again. You turned your head to blink up at him.
“You’re burning up. You should get some rest.”
“I don’t think I can stand,” you groaned. “Not without redecorating your friend’s floor with the contents of my stomach.”
His chuckle vibrated into you, and you smiled weakly but genuinely. He adjusted his hold on you. “That just won’t do. This place is already a mess,” he murmured, voice thick with humor. One of his arms slid under your knees, the other still cushioning your head and supporting your shoulders. He stood easily, as if you weighted nothing. His arms were as cold and firm as steel. A benefit to manufacturing one’s own body, you supposed.
He stepped carefully, easily, through the apartment. With heavy-lidded eyes, you watched the orange glow of streetlamps pass over his elegant, ethereal face. “Thank you,” you croaked.
He only cut those red eyes down to you. Maybe it was just a trick of the light, but it truly seemed as if those crimson depths flickered and danced like the tongues of a flame.
“You’re welcome,” a pause, and then he said your name. Clear and gentle.
A swaying step, and he’d turned his body just so to fit the both of you through another doorway. Posters for games and characters evenly lined the walls, and the personal, homey feeling of it brought a small smile to your lips. Before you knew it, Yami was leaning down, gently settling you onto a soft mattress covered with softer blankets.
A breathless chuckle left you, and the spike of pain it added to your building migraine made you wince, but you still breathed out, “First time a man besides my father ever carried me to bed.”
His arms stiffened a moment, but then they were slipping away from you. His cold hands wrapped around your ankles, and then he was gently working off your shoes. You blinked up at the ceiling -- dappled with orange light -- and you heard your shoes hit the wood flooring with dull thuds. And then Yami was leaning into your line of sight.
“I’m going to take your scarf off,” he said. “I’m sure you would rather not accidentally strangle yourself in your sleep.”
“You right, you right,” you murmured, and weakly clawed at the buttery material yourself.
His gloved fingers pushed yours away. “I said I will do it,” he intoned sternly.
“Okay, sure, whatever, doesn’t matter to me,” the drowsy mutterings came.
How his fingers could still be so cold through a layer of fabric, you weren’t sure, but you shivered when his fingertips brushed your still-tender throat. With delicate tugs, he loosened the material until he could pull it free. Through half-lidded, bleary eyes, you watched his own eyes widen. “My god,” he muttered, leaning closer for inspection. “Those look horrible.”
“Yes.” Gentle fingertips on your chin tilted your head this way and that for his aghast perusal. “Do they still hurt?”
“They’re a little tender,” you admitted, and you watched his brows furrow, and suddenly he was leaning even closer.
“What’s this?” his breath, cold and wavering on your flesh, and his deep voice made the nerves tickle and shudder. You bit your lip to fight your gasp. His fingertips brushed just under your jaw, on one of the tendons to your neck.
“What’s what?” you bit out, and you were glad it didn’t come out like the squeak it had wanted to be. He probably wasn’t even that close -- his breath was just that cold -- but you couldn’t help but imagine his cool lips pressing to your sensitive neck.
“You have a mark,” he said, and a single pad of a gloved finger pressed gently on the spot. “It’s little, and red. Maybe the size of a dime.”
“Oh,” you breathed. “I have a birthmark there.” That old thing. You always forgot about it. Obviously. And it didn’t help that you had a pretty wraith literally breathing down your neck.
He hummed, and you felt it, and you watched as his brows furrowed again. He spent a few more minutes tracing it, wholly absent-mindedly. The dryness in your mouth couldn’t be swallowed down, but you tried, and the motions your throat made beneath his finger made his eyes snap open wide and he snatched his hand away. He abruptly sat up straight.
“Pardon,” he coughed. “I…” his lips twisted around, and you bit back your giggle. An awkward Yami was a cute Yami, it seemed. “I thought I recognized it.”
A frown tugged at the corner of your lips. “You think you’ve… seen it before?”
He lifted his shoulders.
A Very Awkward Yami, indeed.
“I cannot be sure. I… do not remember a great many things.”
You chuckled a little, shifting yourself into a more comfortable position. On your side, knees slightly bent. You were just barely curled around Yami where he was still sitting on the edge of the bed. “What, do you think we met in a past life or something?” You wrinkled your nose. “How terribly cliched.” You snorted. “I’ve had my fill of that from my experiences reading young-adult fiction.”
Yami was quiet a moment, his brilliant eyes contemplative as he stared down at you. He blinked, and then his ghostly pale lips were moving. “No. I know I’ve never met someone quite like you.”
You couldn’t keep your eyes open anymore, but still you murmured, “How can you be sure? You barely know me.”
The warm abyss of sleep was rushing upon you, and you were already too far gone to hear his reply. But you felt a cool hand card through your hair, and the sigh that left you was sleepy and contented. The slight, fuzzy weight of a blanket fell over you, and you murmured again, some garbled bastardization of thank you .
You were far into the depths of slumber when the additional weight to the mattress faded away.
He sat there a while. His eyes drifted from her bruised neck to that little red mark to the bridge of her nose and the place where her eyelashes casted shadows on her cheeks. Even through his gloves, he could tell that her hair was soft, and, despite all that she had been through that day, rather fragrant.
The thoughts made him pause, black-clad fingers still tangled in the strands, and he slowly disengaged from their gentle hold. His lips worked tightly, before falling into a firm line, and he brought his hand back to his lap. His fingers twitched a moment and then settled.
Do you need to rest?
He looked down at himself. He stood. Like cobwebs falling away, his solid form dissipated. He had grown used to the feeling of walking for the past several hours, so simply phasing where he wanted to be was… strange, and rather unwelcomed.
Soon enough, he was standing in the kitchen. Red, insubstantial eyes scrutinized the singe marks scattered about the place.
It burned him. The chain did.
Fiendmetal. It was the first answer that washed up on the shores of Yami’s mind. From the darker half of the Beyond, it harmed only that which was foreign to it. Angels, mortals. But, most agonizingly of all, angels and nephilim, whose flesh was seared on contact.
Yami snarled. Cruel. This Paladin had meant business, no holds barred. He would leave with a nephilim, dead or alive.
And while it didn’t have an effect of that magnitude, it often left red, swelling heat blisters on the skin of mortals.
It struck him suddenly. Bruised, swollen flesh. But no blistering, no signs of heat stress.
Had he used the same chains in his attempt to detain her ?
Yami shook the thought off. It wouldn’t make sense for him to. She had no magical prowess. Any simple chain would have asphyxiated her just as easily.
He cursed. The shadows hanging about flickered uneasily.
Even with her vision, no questions had been answered. In fact, only more questions had arisen.
With a long sigh, he stepped up to the window.
There was nothing he could do now but wait.
Dark brown eyes, sharp and diligent, watched the movement in the windows.
Red-painted lips pouted.
No, that just didn’t do. Long, thin legs minutely twitched. All eight of them moved in a strange dance to propel her forward.
She’d show that little interloper.
So this chapter ended up a lot longer than any of the other ones. I hope you guys like longer chapters. I honestly have an obsession with increasing my words-per-chapter average with each chapter. It motivates me to write more.
Also, I’d like to state that, all throughout this story, I am leaving openings for spin-offs if anyone wants one. Here, a proposed spin-off for Kaiba. I’ve also come up with ideas for one for Joey, one for Bandit Keith, one for Marik, and one for Bakura and Duke. And maybe one for Yugi, too.
Anyways, I hope you enjoyed this chapter! I’ll see you next time!