"A friendly desert community where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and mysterious lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep. Welcome to Waset."
The first time Yugi ever heard that voice, it was over a radio broadcast in the middle of nowhere. He and his team of archaeologists were on their way to a small desert community to investigate the strange happenings that occurred there. That smooth, velvety voice sounded like how dark chocolate tastes. Warm and rich, it soothed him down to his very soul, and once or twice he almost fell asleep on the drive over.
Hushing his crew, who were currently bickering in the back seat of the van like children, he turned the volume up a tad and rolled up the window. The breeze felt divine, but he wanted to hear more of that voice. There was a brief pause and a shuffling of notes before the sultry baritone voice returned.
"Hello listeners. To start things off, I've been asked to read this brief notice: the Pharaoh's Council announces the opening of a new dog park at the corner of Earl and Summerset near the Ralph's. They would like to remind everyone that dogs are not allowed in the dog park. People are not allowed in the dog park. It is possible you will see hooded figures in the dog park. Do not approach them. Do not approach the dog park. The fence is electrified and highly dangerous. Try not to look at the dog park, and especially do not look for any period of time at the hooded figures. The dog park will not harm you."
Well, that wasn't ominous at all. Especially coupled with the music paying in the background. He'd heard of the Pharaoh before, everyone had. He was supposed to be some kind of savior to the people of Egypt. If Yugi was lucky, he would get to meet this mysterious man. No one even knew what he sounded like, as no one in living memory had ever heard him speak. His advisers spoke on his behalf, and it was rumored that he rarely ever left the palace grounds.
"And now, the news."
In no time at all, they were rolling into town and unpacking their equipment from the van. They had rented a small lab, next to a burger joint of all things. It seems as though the layout of the town had no rhyme or reason to it, and Yugi wondered if he hadn't just set foot into the Twilight Zone.
The first thing he did was get their portable radio set up in the main room. Yugi didn't want to miss a second of the broadcast. He and his team were slated to stay for quite some time, so they may as well immerse themselves in the strange culture.
"Old Woman Cyndia out near the car lot says the angels revealed themselves to her; said they were ten feet tall, radiant, and one of them was black; said they helped her with various household chores. One of them changed a light bulb for her, the porch light. She's offering to sell the old light bulb, which has been touched by an angel. It was the black angel, if that sweetens the pot for anyone. If you're interested, contact Old Woman Cyndia. She's out near the car lot."
Angels? Did he really expect anyone to believe in that nonsense? The next words to emanate from the radio caused the entire team to freeze in their tracks, every head swiveling Yugi's way. A moment of silence reigned before laughter erupted. Yugi got the feeling he was being conned somehow.
"A new man came into town today. Who is he? What does he want from us? Why his perfect and beautiful haircut? Why his perfect and beautiful coat? He says he is an archaeologist. Well, we have all been archaeologists and one point or another in our lives. But why now? Why here, and just what does he plan to do with all those breakers and humming electrical instruments in that lab he is renting—the one next to Burger World? No one does a burger like Big Duke. No one."
Apparently, they were already the talk of the town, and they'd barely been there for a half hour! Yugi fumed, flushed to the tips of his ears and stomped off, intending to take a walk around town to cool his head. Who was this random stranger to talk about him like that? Someone must have told the radio jockey about their arrival, it was the only explanation. He had no idea what he'd walked into, but the flustered young archaeologist was going to do something to preserve his reputation in this town. That didn't stop the other members of his team from continuing to listen, however.
"Just a reminder to all the parents out there. Let's talk about safety when taking your children out to play in the Scrub Lands and the Sand Wastes. You need to give them plenty of water, make sure there's a shade tree in the area, and keep an eye on the helicopter colors. Are the unmarked helicopters circling the area black? Probably World Government. Not a good area for play that day. Are they blue? That's the Pharaoh's Secret Police. They'll keep a good eye on your kids, and hardly ever take one. Are they painted with complex murals depicting birds of prey diving? No one knows what those helicopters are, or what they want. Do not play in the area. Return to your home, and lock the doors until a Pharaoh's Secret Policeman leaves a lotus blossom on your porch to indicate that the danger has passed. Cover your ears to blot out the screams. Also, remember: Gatorade is basically soda, so give your kids plain old water, and maybe some orange slices when they play."
When Yugi had calmed down enough, he returned to the lab, stuffing his hands in his coat pockets. If one didn't know any better, you would think he was sulking. He didn't take compliments well, it was just something he'd always had trouble with. He'd never believed himself to be anything special, but he almost believed that lovely baritone voice when he'd complimented his hair like it was nothing, like it was something he did every day. Definitely not sulking, Yugi returned to work, barking orders with more bravado than he actually felt. Trepidation clinging to him like a second skin, he continued to listen to the radio broadcast despite his better judgement.
"A Nile River crocodile, one of the tame ones with a jeweled collar, disappeared today, only to reappear in the Waset Elementary gymnasium during handball practice, disrupting practice quite badly. The crocodile sauntered through the small gym for only a fraction of a second, and before it could strike any players or structure, it vanished again, this time apparently for good. There is no word yet on if or how this will affect Waset Lion's game schedule, and also, if this could perhaps be the work of their bitter rivals the Domino City Cacti. Domino City is always trying to show us up through fancier uniforms, better pregame snacks, and possibly, by transporting a tame Nile River crocodile into our gymnasium, delaying practice for several minutes at least. For shame, Domino City. For shame."
"All right, that's it!" Yugi exclaimed, slamming down the pencil he was using to take notes and nearly snapping it in half in the process.
"What's it?" His fellow scientist, one by the name of Yusei Fudo, asked. He'd been testing the equipment's functions and hardly paying attention to his surroundings, completely tuning out the voice coming from the radio in the center of the room.
"I'm calling a town meeting. This is just too creepy, there is absolutely no way this broadcast is legitimate."
In truth, he was still weirded out by the earlier compliments paid to him by the mysterious radio host. He was an archaeologist, he didn't believe in the nonsense this man was spouting.
An hour later, he was standing in front of what looked like all of Waset, wiping the sweat from his brow and stepping down from the dais. An elderly woman with wavy, greying blonde hair offered him a corn muffin. Not wanting to appear rude on his first day in town, he took it, thanking the old woman with a soft smile. It wasn't too bad, he supposed. Could use more salt, though. Yugi could swear he saw giant, incorporeal shapes hovering around her. He shook his head, watching her walk away to offer Yusei a muffin. Angels, pah! There were no such things.
He and his team returned to the lab in better spirits, having stopped by the restaurant next door to grab a burger. Who knew a small town in the middle of nowhere had such great burgers and fries? Yugi devoured his share eagerly, savoring the familiar taste. The radio in the center of the room was still broadcasting. Someone must have forgotten to turn the damned thing off before they left. He shrugged, thinking nothing of it, and was about tune the voice out altogether, but the next words out of the radio host's mouth shut down all coherent thought.
"That new archaeologist we now know is named Yugi called a town meeting. He has a soft, round jaw and teeth like a military cemetery. His hair is perfect, and we all hate and despair and love that perfect hair in equal measure. Old Woman Cyndia brought corn muffins, which were decent, but lacked salt. She said the angels had taken her salt for a godly mission, and she hadn't yet gotten around to buying more."
'Oh, my god..' Yugi thought, mouth agape and staring incredulously at the radio. He remembered thinking something along those lines not even half an hour ago! He kept listening, sure this was all one huge joke that the entire town had cooked up for their arrival.
"Yugi told us that we are, by far, the most scientifically interesting community in Kemet, and he had come to study just what is going on around here."
It was true, almost verbatim. This guy had to have been at the town meeting, there was no other explanation. Surely someone with such a voice would stand out in a crowd like that, right? He would be able to look at this person, and just know it was the same, velvety voice still issuing from the radio.
"He grinned, and everything about him was perfect, and I fell in love instantly. Government agents from a vague, yet menacing, agency were in the back watching. I fear for Yugi. I fear for Waset. I fear for anyone caught between what they know and what they don't yet know that they don't know."
French fry halfway to his mouth, it slipped from his fingers to land on top of his notes. Another round of snickers broke out, but Yugi ignored them. This stranger, with the voice of a god, thought he was perfect? A loud whistle from the back of the room broke the young archaeologist from his embarrassed musings.
"Yo, Yug'! This guy's totally got the hots for ya!"
Yes, he'd assumed as much, as he'd just announced that fact to the entire town, and then some. There was no avoiding this, was there? Completely forgetting his notes, and the rest of his food, Yugi focused all of his attention on the radio broadcast, even scooting his chair closer to the table it sat on, just so he wouldn't miss a single second.
"Yes, Joey, I'm aware. Now shush! Back to work! Shoo!"
He waved his friend off, who couldn't resist a final jab in the form of stealing the rest of Yugi's french fries and scarfing them down as though it was his last meal on earth. That was fine, he was full now anyway.
"We received a press release this morning. The Waset Business Association is proud to announce the opening of the brand new Waset Harbor and Waterfront Recreation Area. I have been to these facilities myself recently on their invitation, and I can tell you that it is absolutely top of the line and beautiful. Sturdy docking areas made from eco-friendly post-consumer material, a boardwalk for pedestrians, and plenty of stands ready for local food vendors and merchants to turn into a bustling public marketplace. Now, there is some concern about the fact that, given we are in the middle of a desert, there is no actual water at the waterfront—and that is a definite drawback, I agree. For instance, the boardwalk is currently overlooking cacti and rocks. The Business Association did not provide any specific remedies for this problem, but they assured me that the new harbor would be a big boost to Waset nonetheless. Maybe wait until a flash flood and head down there for the full waterfront experience."
There was a distinct pause on the other end of the broadcast as the music played softly in the background. A clinking sound met his ears, and Yugi assumed the man was drinking tea. That was definitely the clink of a cup and saucer, it had to be.
"The local chapter of the WRA is selling bumper stickers as part of their fundraising week. They sent the station one to get some publicity, and we're here to serve the community so I'm happy to let you all know about it. The stickers are made from good, sturdy papyrus, and they read, 'Swords Don't Kill People; It's Impossible To Be Killed By A Sword; We Are All Invincible To Weapons And It's A Miracle.' Stand outside of your front door and shout, "WRA," to order one."
Regrettably, there was work to be done around the community; that's what they came here to do after all. With a heavy sigh, Yugi got some of his team together and, lugging some of their equipment along, made their way around the back of the old elementary school. There were rumors circling of a disappearing house, and it was up to them to uncover the truth.
Almost two hours and a dozen experiments later, Yugi and his team trudged back to the lab, comparing results and chugging bottled water as if their life depended on it. It was obscenely hot, and there was no way Yugi was going to bed without a shower first. Amazingly, one of his subordinates had reported that as soon as they left, the radio broadcast simply stopped, and nothing they did could bring it back. The second they got situated, the music returned, and along with it, that voice of dark chocolate. It sounded how coffee smelled, and it lulled Yugi nearly to sleep. He didn't realize how much he missed that voice, and now he was determined to listen the whole way through.
"Yugi and his team of archaeologists warn that one of the houses in the new development of Desert Creek, out back of the old elementary school, doesn't actually exist. It seems like it exists, explained Yugi and his perfect hair, like it's just right there when you look at it. And it's between two identical houses, so it would make more sense for it to be there then not. But, he says, they have done experiments, and the house is definitely not there. At news time, the archaeologists are standing in a group in front of the nonexistent house, daring each other to go knock on the door."
He wasn't even surprised anymore. Sure, there had been some towns people that had come to observe the goings on, but none had that mesmerizing voice. Yugi would have blushed and fallen over himself had that been the case. In the end, only Jaden, the intern, had been brave enough to knock on the door of the house. He still had that hardened look in his eyes after he'd returned. There was something very different about him now, and Yugi wished he'd been able to stop the poor boy.
"A great howling was heard from the Waset Post Office yesterday. Postal workers claim no knowledge, although passersby described the sound as being a little like a human soul being destroyed through black magic. The Dinosaur Tracker—now, I don't know if you've seen this guy around; he's the one who appears to be of maybe Slavic origin, yet wears a dinosaur skull out of some racist cartoon and claims to be able to be able to read tracks on stone—he appeared on the scene, and swore that he would discover the truth. No one responded because it's really hard to take him seriously in that skull of his."
None of his team had seen or heard of this guy, but he sounded like one of those idiots who claimed to have magic powers, and Yugi wouldn't be surprised if he showed up one day to interfere with their research. Speaking of, Yugi snapped himself out of it, returning to his work, and making sure everyone else was doing the same. The music changed tack, shifting to something more orchestral in nature.
"Lights, seen in the sky above the Arby's. Not the glowing sign of Arby's; something higher and beyond that. We know the difference. We've caught onto their game. We understand the lights-above-Arby's game. Invaders from another world. Ladies and gentlemen, the future is here, and it's about a hundred feet above the Arby's."
First angels, and now he was saying that aliens existed, too? At this point, Yugi was starting to believe that anything was possible in this strange desert town. After getting himself and his team together a short while later, they made their way out to the monitoring station near Route 800 to monitor the seismic activity around the area. The results were impossible, yet they kept staring Yugi in the face. How were they supposed to research and conduct a dig site with the earth shifting so swiftly according to the results? After ten long minutes of tugging on his bleached blonde bangs and shouting obscenities at any unsuspecting scrap of earth, Yugi threw his hands into the air and recalled his team back to the lab, muttering about "supernatural bullshit" the whole ride back.
The second Yugi and his team returned from their outing, the voice of crushed velvet was waiting, wasting no time in picking back up from where it left off.
"Yugi and his archaeologists at the monitoring station near Route 800 say their seismic monitors have been indicating wild seismic shifts, meaning to say that the ground should be going up all over the place. I don't know about you folks, but the ground has been as still as the crust of a tiny globe rocketing through an endless void could be. Yugi says that they've double-checked the monitors and they are in perfect working order. To put it plainly, there appears to be catastrophic earthquakes happening right here in Waset that absolutely no one can feel. Well, plead for an audience with the Pharaoh anyway, see what you can get, right?"
Yugi snorted, shuffling his notes into a relatively neat pile. As far as he knew, no one got a direct audience with the Pharaoh. It was always the Pharaoh accompanied by the entire Qenbet, plus their servants. Then again, he trusted rumors about as much as he trusted their stupid equipment right now.
"Traffic time, listeners. Now, the medjai are issuing warnings about ghost chariots out on the highways, those chariots only visible in the distance, reaching unimaginable speeds, leaving destinations unknown for destinations more unknown. They would like to remind you that you should not set your speed by these aberrations, and doing so will not be considered following the flow of traffic. However, they do say that it's probably safe to match speed with the mysterious lights in the sky, as whatever entities or organization is responsible appear to be cautious and reasonable drivers."
"Ha! That'll be the day." Joey scoffed, angrily erasing something on the blackboard in the back. Yugi seconded the sentiment and shushed him anyway.
"And now, the weather."
Apparently "the weather" was someone playing what sounded like a guitar and singing a rather random, nonsensical song that was a bit dark for the happy tone emanating from the radio.
Yusei groaned loudly, threatening to turn the damn thing off. Yugi threatened him with bodily harm if he so much as touched the dial. Yusei promptly returned to work.
"Welcome back, listeners."
Jaden chose that moment to remind his boss of their next scheduled experiment. Yugi was tempted to forego it entirely, when Yusei pointed out of one of their only windows, muttering about the sunset. Yugi didn't think it was such a big deal. You see one sunset, you've seen them all. Then he actually looked out the window. The sun hadn't set yet. According to the weather report on his phone, the sun was scheduled to set exactly ten minutes ago. Normally, that wasn't a big deal, but this was Waset, Yugi reminded himself. The strangest things happened here, and he belatedly realized that electronic results of any kind were unreliable at best, and absolute indecipherable garbage at worst.
Yugi decided to take matters into his own hands. They were going to pay a visit to the sundial in the town square.
Ten minutes later, the sun had finally kissed the sand dunes proper. Yugi and his team of archaeologists sat around the sundial, staring at it and praying it would do its job of keeping time. Some of the townsfolk looked on, but one man actually approached. Gold dripped from his sun-kissed frame, bringing out the fire in the cold depths of his wine red eyes. Yugi sat frozen in place, unable to move.
'Oh gods, he's gorgeous' was the first thought that reared its ugly head. Swallowing the lump in his throat, Yugi stood to greet the auburn-haired stranger, whose bangs were streaked with gold and almost resembled his own. The stranger spoke not a word, preferring to use some form of sign language to communicate. Yugi barely understood a word, but that didn't stop them from holding a conversation. He wished he had something more concrete to offer the man, who refused to give his name, but judging by his clothing and amount of jewelry he wore, he was someone very important; possibly close to the Pharaoh. Yugi returned to his lab in high spirits, that wonderful voice waiting for their return, or so it was assumed.
"The sun didn't set at the correct time today, Yugi and his team of archaeologists report. They are quite certain about it. They checked multiple sundials, and the sun definitely set ten minutes later than it was supposed to. I asked them if they had any explanations, but they did not offer anything concrete. Mostly they sat in a circle around a sundial, staring at it, murmuring and cooing. Still, we must be grateful to have the sun at all. It's easy to forget in this hot, hot, hot desert climate, but things would actually be slightly harder for us without the sun. The next time the sun rises, whatever time that turns out to be, take a moment to feel grateful for all the warmth, and light, and even, yes, extreme heat that our desert community is gifted with."
As far as Yugi knew, the mysterious stranger garbed in gold and cream linen was the only person he spoke to, but there was a chance someone had approached another member of their team and he just hadn't been aware of it.
"The city council would like to remind you about the Tiered Heavens, and the Hierarchy of Gods. The reminder is that you should not know anything about this. The structure of Afterlife and the angelic organizational chart are privileged information known only to the city council members on a need-to-know basis. Please, do not speak to or acknowledge any gods that you might come across while shopping at the Ralph's or at the Desert Flower Bowling Alley and Arcade Fun Complex. They only tell lies, and do not exist. Report all God sightings to the city council for treatment."
Yugi paused, a pencil between his teeth. That kind of talk was blasphemous according to the religion practiced primarily in Egypt. No one heard any angry mutterings or worse, the makings of a mob, so he ignored it for now, returning to his work.
"And now for a brief public service announcement. Alligators. Can they kill your children? Yes."
"Of course they can kill," Jaden muttered, glaring at the blackboard as though it had wronged him in some way.
Joey chuckled but otherwise did not comment.
"Along those lines, to get personal for a moment, I think the best way to die would be swallowed by a giant snake. Going feet first and whole into a slimy maw would give your life perfect symmetry."
The music picked up in tempo, and it seemed to lift everyone's spirits.
"Personally I think this guy is nuts, but damn if he isn't funny."
Yugi threatened to dock Joey's pay if he so much as breathed too loudly during the broadcast. Joey immediately shut his mouth, locking it away and throwing out the imaginary key.
"Speaking of the Desert Flower Bowling Alley and Arcade Fun Complex, its owner, Pegasus Crawford, reports that he has found the entrance to a vast underground city in the pin retrieval area of lane five. He said he has not yet ventured into it, merely peered down at its strange spires and broad avenues. He also reports voices of a distant crowd in the depths of that subterranean metropolis. Apparently, the entrance was discovered when a bowling ball accidentally rolled into it, clattering down to the city below with sounds that echoed for miles across the impossibly huge cavern—so, you know, whatever population that city has, they know about us now, and we might be hearing from them very soon."
It was getting to be a bit late in the evening, so Yugi swallowed the nervous lump in his throat and declared that he was going to find the source of this voice, if only to satisfy his growing curiosity.
Ten minutes later, Yugi was standing in front of a door in the Pharaoh's palace with only a vague recollection of how he'd gotten there. He remembered a tall man garbed in blue, and a solid gold rod. The dim hall he stood in, a hypostyle hall if he wasn't mistaken, bore numerous pillars of stone that stretched towards the ceiling, which no amount of squinting would let him see.
The door before him creaked open slowly, startling the poor man, stark white coat tails fluttering in the sudden cool breeze that seemed to come from the dark room before him. Summoning what little resolve he possessed, Yugi walked purposefully inside, the door closing with a muffled click behind him. He briefly wondered why a room in the middle of the hypostyle hall held an exquisitely carved wooden door, hieroglyphs engraved in the surface telling a strange story of previous pharaohs and how they died.
Yugi found himself in a dark misty room, the only light coming from wall sconces lining each side of the room. Despite the relative open space, he found himself wishing for fresh air and a cool breeze. The purple mist clung to everything; the walls, floor, and ceiling dripping with the flowing gaseous substance. A large desk sat squarely in the middle of the room, the vague outline of a person sitting in front of it. He took note of all this in the brief moment before taking a cautious step forward, clutching the piece of equipment he brought close to his chest. Yugi swore he could hear his own heartbeat.
"Ah, Yugi! You may enter."
The voice came from the person sitting at the desk. It was distinctly male, and sent a frisson of heat rolling down his spine. It was that voice. The one from the radio broadcast, in the literal flesh.
"Come now, don't be shy. I won't bite."
Yugi sincerely doubted that, but what the hell. If he was going to die in a foreign country with nothing but the clothes on his back, then why not? He might even be happy about it if the man with that voice was his killer.
Taking a tentative step, Yugi cautiously approached the desk, which he saw was full of broadcasting equipment. The microphone was only a foot away now, but try as he might, Yugi could not make out the face of the man the voice belonged to. No amount of squinting or head tilting revealed anything but fiery crimson eyes that felt as though they were staring straight into his soul.
"You were, uh.. expecting me?" The hitch in his voice made him cringe.
Well, that didn't answer his question at all. What an infuriating man!
"Okay.. Well, I'm here to test for materials. Do you mind..?"
Yugi trailed off intentionally, hoping the man would give up his name. He didn't want to call him that voice for the rest of his stay.
"You may. I am taking a little break, so feel free to test away."
A frown marred Yugi's perfect round face, but with a nod, he got to work. Once or twice he got within a foot of the man and his microphone, but still could not make out the top half of his face, other than those burning eyes. The man simply sat there, sipping from a brown earthenware mug, every now and again locking eyes with him.
When Yugi brought the device up to the microphone, it began beeping incessantly. Looking over the readings, he grew nervous. How was that even possible? He quickly turned the machine off and turned to go, completely forgetting his manners in the process. Just before his hand touched the doorknob, the man spoke again, his voice doing funny things to Yugi's libido.
"Leaving so soon? I was just about to go back on the air. Would you like to stay for a brief interview?"
Yugi was sorely tempted, but he was tired, sweaty, and in need of a shower and a hot meal.
"I'm sorry, uh.. sir. I really can't. You should evacuate the building, and take everyone else with you."
"Why ever should I do that?"
Was he trying to be funny? Yugi held his temper in check and turned back to face the mysterious radio jockey.
"There's something strange going on here, and I'm going to find out what it is."
"Welcome to Waset, Yugi."
With those words ringing in his ears, Yugi left the dark, misty room, feeling those wine red eyes bore into his back.
He watched the archaeologist go with a heavy heart. He really had been looking forward to having more of a conversation with the young man, but it seemed like he'd had other plans. Perhaps next time.
Yugi returned to the lab, only to shoo everyone else back to the hotel they were staying in. After closing up the place and shutting all the equipment off, he'd brought the radio with him on a whim. Flopping in bed after a nice, hot shower and a warm meal filling his belly, Yugi couldn't remembr the last time he'd dealt with that many strange events, and all in one day!
Laying on his back under the covers, Yugi stared drowsily at the ceiling, letting that rich, warm voice lull him into a dream-filled slumber.
"Yugi, perfect and beautiful, came into our studios during the break earlier, but declined to stay for an interview. He had some sort of blinking box in his hand covered with wires and tubes. Said he was testing the place for materials. I don't know what materials he meant, but that box sure whistled and beeped a lot. When he put it close to the microphone it sounded like, well, like a bunch of baby birds had just woken up, really went crazy. Yugi looked nervous. I've never seen that kind of look on someone with that strong of a jaw. He left in a hurry. Told us to evacuate the building. But then, who would be here to talk sweetly to all of you out there?"
'Of course,' Yugi thought before he drifted off to sleep. 'That voice will haunt my dreams for the rest of my life.'
"Settling in to be another clear night and pretty evening here in Waset. I hope all of you out there have someone to sleep through it with, or, at least, good memories of when you did."
"Good night, listeners. Good night."
The radio shut itself off after the last musical note faded into silence. For the first time in a long time, Yugi slept peacefully that night.
Today's proverb: Look to the north. There's nothing coming. Look to the south.
Chapter 2: The Mysterious Cloud
I went through the first chapter with a fine tooth comb and all the previous errors have been corrected! Sorry about that, I'm usually so on top of things. The same thing will be done for this chapter. I'll update this fic when I can, but Little Lifetimes takes priority, since it updates once a week.
Constructive criticism is always appreciated!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"The desert seems vast, even endless, and yet archaeologists tell us that somewhere, even now, there is snow. Welcome to Waset."
It was three weeks later to the day until the next time Yugi heard that voice over the radio. Three weeks of trying desperately to tune in to what he thought might be the right station, only to get incessant white noise for his troubles. Sometimes there were the ghostly whispers of children, or, just once, the wild shrieking of an unidentified female voice. That one in particular had scared Joey so bad that Yugi gave him the rest of the day off.
As the opening notes of the radio program began, Yugi sat up a little straighter in his swivel chair. He could put aside his latest project for the moment. Even Yusei, who had given up after the third try to tune in, turned his spiky head towards the radio.
"The Kemet Tourism Board's Visitable Waset campaign has kicked off with posters encouraging folks to take their family on a scenery-filled jaunt through the trails of the Valley of the Kings. Their slogan? ‘The view is literally breathtaking.' Posters will be placed at guard stations and frozen yogurt shops in nearby towns, along with promotional giveaways of plastic sheeting and re-breathers."
"What's a re-breather?" asked their new intern, a boy of maybe seventeen with sky blue hair and sporting a pince nez by the name of Syrus Truesdale.
"Beats me," voiced Jaden with a shrug.
Yugi shushed them both so he could hear the broadcast. At least Jaden seemed to be doing better these days. He'd been reassigned, only doing menial tasks, such as fetching Joey his coffee or delivering reports between team members. After the stunt with the house behind the elementary school, Yugi was just glad the boy was speaking to them again. That dead silence accompanied with empty brown eyes was the worst of it.
"And now, the news."
Here it was, the highlight of Yugi's day. Sure, talking to the folks of Waset was a decent way to catch up on town gossip and the like, but there was nothing like the sultry tones of the radio host to put one's mind at ease. It didn't hurt that he was smitten with the head archaeologist, either.
"Have any of our listeners seen the mysterious cloud that has been moving in from the west? Well, Mako Tsunami—you know, the fisherman?—he saw it over the western ridge this morning, said he would have thought it was the setting sun if it wasn't for the time of day. Apparently the cloud glows in a variety of colors, perhaps changing from observer to observer, although all report a low whistling when it draws near. One death has already been attributed to the mysterious cloud. But listen, it's probably nothing. If we had to shut down the town for every mysterious event that at least one death could be attributed to, we'd never have time to do anything, right? That's what the Pharaoh's Secret Police are saying, and I agree. Although, I would not go so far as to endorse their suggestion to run directly at the cloud, shrieking and waving your arms, just to see what it does."
Yugi snorted in disbelief, but scooted to the window, drawing back the thin drape to look out the window anyway. No mysterious cloud. No incessant hum. Not yet.
"The Dinosaur Tracker—and I remind you that this is that white guy who wears the huge and cartoonishly inaccurate dinosaur skull—has announced that he has found some disturbing evidence concerning the recent incident at the Waset Post Office, which has been sealed by the High Priests since the great screaming that was heard from it a few weeks ago. He said that using ancient magics, he slipped through high priest security into the post office, and observed that all the letters and packages had been thrown about as in a whirlwind, that there was the heavy stench of scorched flesh, that the words written in blood on the wall said, "More to come, and soon." Can you believe this guy said he used ancient magics? What an asshole."
Every person in the lab building, including little Syrus, and to everyone's amazement, Jaden, shook the roof with their laughter. Yugi joined in, though he at least tried to suppress it, unlike Joey, who was practically rolling on the floor in his mirth.
Yugi let them have it out for a couple of minutes before shooing them back off to work. They'd be having another laugh about that later, likely over a beer or two. Assuming they could find any in the middle of the desert.
"Here's something odd. There is a strange winged puffball hovering in the men's bathroom at the radio station here. He seems perfectly happy and healthy, but it's floating about four feet off the ground next to the sink. Doesn't seem to be able to move from its current hover spot. If you pet him, he coos, and he'll rub on your body like a cat if you get close enough. Fortunately, because he's right by the sink, it was pretty easy to leave some water and food where he could get it, and it's nice to have a station pet. Wish it wasn't trapped in a hovering prison in the men's bathroom, but listen: no pet is perfect. It becomes perfect when you learn to accept it for what it is."
Jaden tipped his head to the side at the announcement, seemingly not bothered at all by the music changing keys to something more slow and haunting, as though a record player had been forcibly tampered with. The boy seemed interested, and Yugi counted that as a good thing. Whatever could hold and keep his attention was a god send.
"And now, a message from our sponsors."
The music once again changed, this time, to match the tone of the soothing voice that had turned monotone and flat. This more than anything gave Yugi pause, glancing up from sanitizing some of the digging tools. Normally, Jaden would be the one doing this, but considering recent events, he didn't trust the boy around sharp objects.
"I took a walk on the cool sand dunes, brittle grass overgrown, and above me the night sky, above me I saw the multitude of stars glistening on Nut's corpulent belly. Bitter taste of unripe peaches and a smell I could not place nor could I escape. I remembered other times that I could not escape. I remembered other smells. The moon slunk like a wounded animal. The world spun like it had lost control. Concentrate only on breathing, and let go of ideas you had about nutrition and sundials. I took a walk on the cool sand dunes, brittle grass overgrown, and above me in the night sky, above me I saw.."
There was a distinct pause as the voice trailed off, the music abruptly coming to a stop. The lively tone returned as though nothing at all was amiss, and with it, a much livelier tune.
"This message was brought to you by Ramune."
There was a brief pause as the sound of shuffling paper filtered through the radio speakers.
"Yugi, did you ever find out more about this guy?" asked Yusei, looking up from organizing the payroll on his tablet.
He opened his mouth to answer his colleague, but the velvety voice returned sooner than expected. Mouthing 'later!', he turned his attention back to the broadcast.
"The Pharaoh's council, in cooperation with government agents from a vague, yet menacing agency, is asking all citizens to stop by the Waset Elementary School gymnasium tonight at seven for a brief questionnaire about mysterious sights that definitely no one saw, and strange thoughts that in no way occurred to anyone, because all of us are normal, and to be otherwise would make us outcasts from our own community. Remember: if you see something, say nothing, and drink to forget."
"Hey, uh.. not for nothin', Yug', but do you really think it's okay to keep listenin'? I'm kinda weirded out here."
From the way he kept glancing at the radio, it was clear that Joey still remembered the feminine shrieking from last week.
Yugi frowned, his thoughts turning inward. The voice was alluring, and if not for that voice, they never would have discovered the many wonders Waset had to offer. The voice was speaking again, so he tuned back in, nodding for his friend's benefit.
"The Boy Scouts of Waset have announced some slight changes to their hierarchy, which will now be the following: Cub Scout, Boy Scout, Eagle Scout, Blood Pact Scout, Weird Scout, Dreadnought Scout, Shadow Scout, Fear Scout, and finally, Eternal Scout. As always, signup is automatic and random, so please keep an eye out for the scarlet envelope that will let you know your son has been chosen for the process."
The beat picked up into something more lively. In response, the team picked up their work pace in time with the music. The sight made Yugi's heart swell with pride.
"This is probably nothing listeners, but Mako Tsunami—you know, the fisherman—he reports that the Mysterious Cloud is directly over Old Town, and appears to be raining small creatures upon the earth. Armadillos, lizards, a few crows—that kind of thing. Fortunately, the animals appear to be dead already, so the Waset Animal Control Department has said that it should be a snap to clean those up. They just have to be tossed on the Eternal Animal Pyre in Millennium Park, so, if that's the worst the Mysterious Cloud has for us, I say go ahead and do your daily errands. Just bring along a good strong umbrella capable of handling falling animals up to, say, ten pounds. More on the Mysterious Cloud as it continues to crawl across our sky. And hey, here's a tip: take your kids out, and use the Cloud's constantly mutating hue to teach him or her the names of colors. It's fun, and it shows them the real-life applications of learning."
At that point, it was time to make a food run. You could almost set your watch by Joey's stomach, which rumbled loudly every four hours or so. Since it was pointless to send out one of the interns, the whole team decided to pile into their van. Casting a regretful glance at the radio, Yugi shut the lights off before closing up the lab. Today, they would treat themselves to something on the nicer side of Waset. Joey hoped they could catch a glimpse of that Mysterious Cloud. Syrus hoped they never laid eyes on it.
After their hour long lunch break - Joey swore he saw a glowing nebula somewhere on the horizon about halfway through - the team of archaeologists returned to their lab in high spirits. Once they had settled back into their work, the radio crackled to life once more as though it had never stopped broadcasting.
"Alert: the Pharaoh's Secret Police are searching for a fugitive named Seto Kaiba, who escaped custody last night following a 9pm arrest. Kaiba is described as a tall brunet with three adolescent dragons at his command, approximately 6 feet tall, with mostly blue eyes and weighing about 150 pounds. He is suspected of insurance fraud. Kaiba was pulled over for speeding last night, and the Secret Police became suspicious when he allegedly gave the medjai a fake driver's license for a five foot eight man named Keith Howard. After discerning that Keith Howard was actually a three-headed dragon from somewhere other than our little world, the Secret Police searched Kaiba's vehicle. Representatives from local civil rights organizations have protested that the medjai had no legal grounds to search the vehicle, but they ceded the point when reminded by Secret Police officials that our backwards court system will uphold any old authoritarian rule made up on the fly by unsupervised spear-carrying thugs of a shadow government. The Secret Police say Kaiba escaped police custody by one of his dragons breathing white lightning, and he was last seen flying and shrieking over Kul Elna. Secret Police are asking for tips leading to the arrest of Seto Kaiba. They remind you that, if seen, he should not be approached, as he literally keeps three dragons as pets. Contact the Pharaoh's Secret Police if you have any information. Ask for Shada. Helpful tipsters will earn one stamp on their Alert Citizen card. Collect five stamps, and you get stop sign immunity for one year."
The voice paused, taking a lengthy break after that announcement. Yusei snorted, glancing up only once from teaching Jaden and Syrus how some of the bulkier equipment worked before turning back to his task. Yugi didn't hear him, too engrossed in trying to peace together some of the fossil fragments they found earlier in the week.
"And now, a look at the community calendar."
"They have one of those?" asked an incredulous Ryou Bakura, who had joined them only yesterday, preferring to stay quiet and observe rather than talk up a storm. He was mostly in charge of record keeping and organizing inventory, a task that had already earned him praise from the head archaeologist himself. He was mystified by the voice on the radio, and wondered what kind of person the man must be to talk about such nonsense as though it was completely normal. This, however, was more up his alley.
"At this point, nothin' surprises me anymore," muttered Joey from his place beside Yugi at the long table in the back.
Ryou, who had heard about the shrieking radio incident, nodded calmly and continued on with his work, a clipboard in one hand, a pencil in the other.
"Saturday, the public library will be unknowable. Citizens will forget the existence of the library from 6am Saturday morning until 11pm that night. The library will be under a sort of renovation. It is not important what kind of renovation."
"Sunday is Dot Day! Remember, red dots on what you love, blue dots on what you don't. Mixing those up can cause permanent consequences."
"Monday, Johnny Steps is offering bluegrass lessons in the back of Johnny's Music Shop. Of course, the shop burned down years ago, and Johnny skipped town immediately after with his insurance money, but he's sent word that you should bring your instrument to the crumbled ashy shell of where his shop once was, and pretend that he is there in the darkness teaching you. The price is $50 per lesson, payable in advance."
"Tuesday afternoon, join the Waset PTA for a bake sale to support Citizens for a Dark Game War. Proceeds will go to support time travel development and deployment to our outer Shadow Realm allies."
"Wednesday has been cancelled due to a scheduling error."
"And on Thursday is a free concert. And...that's all it says here."
"I'm callin' dibs on that concert!" cried Joey, nearly startling Yugi from replacing the fossil shards in their container.
Every head in the lab turned toward Jaden, who was pointing out of the window, shock written on his normally blank features.
"What is it?" asked Yugi, detaching himself from Joey's stranglehold to approach the window, all thoughts of throttling his best friend disappearing at the glowing sight that met their eyes. All the while, the voice on the radio continued its broadcast as though it hadn't a care in the world.
"New call in from Mako Tsunami—you know, the fisherman? Seems the Mysterious Cloud has doubled in size, enveloping all of Waset in its weird light and humming song. Little League administration has announced that they will be going ahead with the game, although there will be an awning built over the field due to the increasing size of the animal corpses being dropped. I've had multiple reports that a lion, like the kind you would see on the sun baked plains of Africa, or a pee-stained enclosure at a local zoo, fell on top of the White Sand Ice Cream Shop. The Shop is offering a free dipped cone to anyone who can figure out how to get the thing off."
"Hey, Yug', you think if we hop in the van and offer to get that lion off the ice cream place that they'd give us all a free cone?"
Yugi took all of three seconds to snap out of his thoughts, turning from the glowing mass outside of the window to stare at his friend, a questioning tip of the head his only answer.
"I doubt that's how it works, honestly."
Ryou is the first one to go back to work. The rest of the team follow suit. Only when the voice over the radio starts talking again does Yugi even attempt to return to his task.
"The Pharaoh's Secret Police have apparently taken to shouting questions at the Mysterious Cloud, trying to ascertain what exactly it wants. So far, the Mysterious Cloud has not answered. The Mysterious Cloud does not need to converse with us. It does not feel as we tiny humans feel. It has no need for thoughts or feelings of love. The Mysterious Cloud simply is. All hail the mighty Mysterious Cloud. All hail."
"All hail.." Jaden intoned, completely ignoring the stunned looks of his colleagues to remain at the window, the palm of his hand pressing against the sun warmed glass as he stared blankly into the distance.
"And now, slaves of the Cloud, the weather."
The team spent the duration of a song you might hear in a retro video game - something about a bus in the rain - wrangling Jaden into a chair and keeping him from exiting the lab. The curtains were drawn over the window and no one dared to venture outside until the last notes of the song faded out, the sultry voice of the radio host returning once more. It had lost its deeper cadence for something more light-hearted. Yugi would even go so far as to say the poor radio personality was confused about the incident that had just occurred.
"Sorry, listeners. Not sure what happened in that earlier section of the broadcast. As in, I actually don't remember what happened. Tried to play back the tapes, but they're all blank, and smell faintly of.. vanilla."
Jaden seemed to snap out of his daze with the return of that voice, looking around with half-lidded eyes at his colleagues. Everyone shared a momentary sigh of relief as Syrus untied the poor boy. Luckily, they had found a length of sturdy cable lying around that wasn't currently in use.
The incessant hum had slowly flowed over them as the mysterious cloud moved over Waset, making it nearly impossible to think. Yugi cautiously drew back the curtain, afraid of what he might see. Dead animals littered the streets and rooftops; the townsfolk were now out and about once more, checking in on neighbors, exchanging gossip, or helping some of the Pharaoh's Secret Police to clean up the carcasses.
"The Mysterious Cloud, meanwhile, has moved on. It is now just a glowing spot in the distance, humming east to destinations unknown. We may never fully understand, or, understand at all what it was and why it dumped a lot of dead animals on our community. But, and I'm going to get a little personal here, that's the essence of life, isn't it? Sometimes you go through things that seem huge at the time, like a mysterious glowing cloud devouring your entire community. While they're happening, they feel like the only thing that matters, and you can hardly imagine that there's a world out there that might have anything else going on. And then the Mysterious Cloud moves on. And you move on. And the event is behind you. And you may find that, as time passes, you remember it less and less—or not at all, in my case. And you are left with nothing but a powerful wonder at the fleeting nature of even the most important things in life, and the faint, but pretty, smell of vanilla."
The smell of vanilla hung over the town as the team of archaeologists parted ways, returning to their beds at the hotel. Jaden continued to be confused when Syrus tried to tell him about the way he'd been acting lately, especially the Mysterious Cloud incident. Yugi shook his head, bidding his team goodnight. It was getting a bit late now, the sun kissing the sand dunes goodnight before dipping below the horizon.
"Dear listeners, here is a list of things. Emotions you don't understand upon viewing a sunset. Lost pets, found. Lost pets, unfound. A secret lost pet city on the moon. Trees that see. Restaurants that hear. A void that thinks. A face half seen just before falling asleep. Trembling hands reaching for desperately needed items. Sandwiches. Silence when there should be noise. Noise when there should be silence. Nothing when you want something. Something when you thought there was nothing. Clear plastic binder sheets. Scented dryer sheets. Rain coming down in sheets. Night. Rest. Sleep. End."
Yugi flopped into bed later that night with that voice in his ears and a strange feeling in his chest. The last thing he saw before closing his eyes was the portable radio now sitting on the bedside table. He had no memory of how it had gotten there.
"Goodnight, listeners. Goodnight."
Today's proverb: Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, Earth is a hallucination, Podcasts are Dreams.
Chapter 3: Divine Management
This chapter was a lot of fun to write, I hope everyone enjoys it.~
Unfortunately, I'll have to bump this back to bi-weekly updates for the sake of my sanity (and sleep schedule).
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"The Arctic is lit by the midnight sun. The surface of the moon is lit by the face of the Earth. Our little town is lit too, by lights just above that we cannot explain. Welcome to Waset."
Another day on the job, another broadcast starring the soothing, sultry voice of the radio host. Today, Yugi and his band of archaeologists were conducting a dig near the outskirts of Waset, the Nile river a gleaming silver band within walking distance. Their aim was to uncover an unmarked grave rumored to belong to a lost soldier who had served in the last great Shadow War, according to a local source.
Ducking into the cool confines of his tent, Yugi flopped onto the thin straw mattress they gave him, huffing and sweating right through his shirt. These days, the portable radio went wherever he did. The inside joke among his colleagues sprung up that he even took it with him when going to the bathroom. His objections had fallen on deaf ears, so he dropped the matter entirely to save face.
The velvety voice issuing from the radio following the familiar opening notes of the show filled Yugi with relief. Flopping onto his back and staring up at the soft folds of the tent's ceiling, he let voice wash over him, cooling fried nerves and soothing his exhausted soul.
"The Waset Daily Journal has announced that they will be cutting back their publication schedule to Monday through Thursday only, due to the economic downturn and a massive decline in the literate population. The Thursday Daily Journal will now be called the Weekend Edition, and on Sundays, newspaper kiosks usually filled with important newsprint will be filled with 2% milk. When asked why milk, the Journal's publishing editor Rebecca Hawkins said, "It is important that we maintain an unbiased approach to news reporting."
Joey trudged in a few minutes later, followed closely by Yusei and Jaden, looking tired, sweaty, and in Joey's case, grumpy. Yugi hoped the voice would at least cheer them up with its perky nonsense.
"The Waset Business Association is proud to announce the new Millennium Stadium, next to Waset Harbor and Waterfront Recreation Area. The stadium will be able to seat 50,000, but will be closed all nights of the year except for November 10th, for the annual parade of the mysterious hooded figures, in which all of our favorite ominous hooded figures—the one that lurks under the slide in the Waset Elementary playground, the ones that meet regularly in the dog park, and the one that will occasionally steal babies, and for reasons no one can understand, we all stand by and let him do it—all of them will be parading proudly through Millennium Stadium. I tell you, with these new facilities, it promises to be quite a spectacle. And then, it promises to be a vast, dark, and echo-y space for the other meaningless 364 days of the year."
Ryou Bakura, the intern in charge of inventory, drew back the flaps of the tent, doe brown eyes lighting up at the mention of the hooded figures. Apparently, the nineteen year old had a thing for the paranormal, and had done some research on the hooded figures; all data associated with his research mysteriously went up in flames the next day. He did not attempt to gather any more data, content with retaining all his limbs.
"Here at the radio station, it's contract negotiation season with Divine Management again! That's always an interesting time. Now, obviously, I'm not allowed to go into details, but negotiation is tricky when you're never allowed to glimpse what you're negotiating with. Divine Management stays inside their office at all times, only communicating with us through sealed envelopes that are spat out from under the door like a sunflower shell through teeth. Then, in order to respond, you just kind of shout at the closed door and hope that management hears. Sometimes you can see movements through the frosted glass, large shapes shifting around, strange tendrils whipping through the air. Architecturally speaking, the apparent size of Divine Management's office does not physically make sense given the size of the building, but it's hard to say really, as no one has ever seen the actual office. Only its translucence."
A pregnant pause followed this announcement, the voice hesitating before continuing with the broadcast. Perhaps the voice was distracted by something going on at his end.
"Look, I've probably said too much. I can see down the hall that an envelope just came flying out. I pray it's not another HR retraining session in the Shadow Box. Uhhhhhg. But what can I say? I'm a reporter at heart! I can't not report."
The sound of paper shuffling met their ears, the music in the background ceasing momentarily. The rest of their team eventually trudged wearily into the tent, seeking a respite from the relentless sun, grabbing some water from the cooler and finding a spot to sit and relax for a time.
"Oh! My. Let's go to the seven-day outlook. Your daily shades of the sky forecast. Monday: turquoise. Tuesday: taupe. Wednesday: robin's egg. Thursday: turquoise-taupe. Friday: coal dust. Saturday: coal dust with chances of indigo in the late afternoon. Sunday: void."
"I guess everyone gets the day off on Sunday, then." chimed Yugi from his place on the straw mat. Half-hearted laughter followed suit, each member focusing to varying degrees to not pass out from heat stroke.
"The Pharaoh's Council has asked me to remind everyone about the new drive to clean up litter. Waset is our home, and who wants to leave trash all over their home? Put it in the garbage can, listeners. And if you see any trash around, pick it up, and throw it away! Do your part. Unless the trash is marked with a small red flag. The council has asked me to remind you that any litter marked with a red flag is not to be picked up or approached. Remember the slogan: No flag? Goes in the bag. Red flag? Run."
Joey poked his head in the tent flap, jerking a thumb behind him. His blonde hair and shoulders were drenched, likely from literally dumping the contents of half a cold bottle of water over his head a moment before.
"Hey, there's a piece of trash like ten feet away with a red flag thing on it."
"Did you run?" asked Ryou, removing his kufiya to put his long white hair up into a bun.
"Well, yeah. Wouldn't you?" With that, Joey withdrew his head, Yusei following him out a minute later.
"Listeners, we are currently fielding numerous reports that books have stopped working. It seems that all over Waset, books have simply ceased functioning. The archaeologists are studying one of the broken books to see if they can understand just what is going on here. The exact problem is currently unclear, but some of the words being used include ‘sparks,' ‘meat smell,' ‘biting,' and ‘lethal gas.' For your own safety, please do not attempt to open a book until we have more information on the nature and cause of these problems. The Pharaoh's Council has released only a brief statement, indicating that their stance on books has not changed, and that, as always, they believe that books are dangerous and inadvisable, and should not be kept in private homes."
To test out this ludicrous piece of news, Jaden crossed the tent in three strides, picking up a book marked in Arabic and flipping open the cover. His archaeologist senses tingling, Yugi joined the growing crowd forming around the young intern. As the voice had predicted, the pages were indeed blank. How the voice knew they were going to test it out was beyond Yugi's understanding. Perhaps another visit was in order. Not now, of course. He had the makings of a headache pounding at his temples, and still no mummified corpses to speak of.
When the book started to emit tiny gold sparks, it was quickly dropped and kicked outside the tent. No one was going to bother that thing until further notice.
"Another warning for Waset residents. Sources say that the Used and Discount Sporting Goods Store on Flint Dr. is a front for the World Government. This is based on extensive study of the location, and also because it has a black helicopter pad on which black helicopters regularly depart and land; fairly unusual for a used and discount sporting goods store. We sent our intern, Chazz, to try buying a tennis racket, and have not heard back from him for several weeks. This brings me to a related point. To the parents of Chazz the intern: we regret to inform you that your son was lost in the line of community radio duty, and that he will be missed, and never forgotten. May you all feel blessed to have the family that you have, and if you're looking for sporting goods, check out Play Ball right over by our own community radio station! Play Ball is only a front for the Pharaoh's Secret Police, and so can be completely trusted."
The team, including those just outside the tent within earshot, poured one out for Chazz the radio intern, heads bowed in respect. An unspoken moment of silence passed before everyone filed out of the tent, returning to the arid heat, shifting desert sands, and shoveling mounds of rock and earth in the hopes that they might actually find the mummified cadaver of the Shadow Soldier.
Yugi ducked out of the tent after his team; after all, the dig would not be possible without the head archaeologist present.
Three hours later, and still no rotting corpse, Yugi called it quits for the day, heading back to the lab with what they did manage to find instead: an old tome wrapped in faded linen, and four canopic jars to be returned to the Pharaoh's council after processing. The radio continued its broadcast on the drive back, most of the team zoning out with the return of that voice.
"Crow Hogan out on the edge of town reported that a creeping fear came into Waset today. He felt it first as a mild apprehension, then, a growing worry, and finally, a mortal panic. It passed from him to the employees at the car lot, who crouched behind their cars and cast fearful eyes at the empty sky. It did not affect Old Woman Cyndia, presumably because of her angelic protection, but it went from there to the rest of the town until we all were shivering in anticipation for a terrible thing we could not yet see. I myself was frozen, sure that any movement would lead to death, that any word would be my last. Of course, that also could have been the contracts negotiations with Divine Management, and the hideous envelope I just received. Also, I'm battling Lyme disease."
Yugi frowned, letting the air conditioner blast against his face, providing a soothing, cool relief from the day's eternal heat. The team muttered amongst themselves for a time. Ryou fidgeted in between Jaden and Syrus in the back seat; Joey mumbled under his breath; Yusei stared blankly out the window at nothing. All in all, not the most eventful drive back to the lab.
"Meanwhile, the creeping fear passed, first leaving Crow Hogan out on the edge of town, and then the car lot, where they went back to offering gently used cars at affordable prices, and finally, the rest of us, who could go back to living with the knowledge that at any given moment we will either live or die, and it's no use guessing which. It is not currently known where the creeping fear will go next—hopefully, to Domino City. It would serve them right."
Once back at the lab, Yugi informed the team that he had a couple of errands to run and that he would be back in a couple of hours.
"Ya headed off to meet yer boyfriend?" Joey teased, nudging his best friend in the ribs gently, eyebrows waggling suggestively.
Yugi did not like the way boyfriend rolled off his tongue. Drawing himself up to his full height, an impressive five foot three, Yugi shook him off, shoving him on over to the table at the back to help Ryou with organizing their finds for the day.
"We've talked literally once, he's not my boyfriend. If you haven't noticed, with a voice like that, he's probably way out of my league anyway. Now, shoo! I won't be gone long."
Chuckling, Joey relented, plopping himself in the chair next to Ryou, who shot him a quick smile in appreciation before looking back down between the clipboard and table.
Yugi wandered the dusty streets for a time, waving to those who knew him, and a few who did not. The townspeople were friendly enough; Old Woman Cyndia happened by, two vaguely opaque shapes hiding in her shadow. Yugi stopped her to ask for directions; he got the distinct feeling one of the angelic beings who followed in her wake stared straight into his soul.
A sharp frisson of heat rolled down his spine, but he shook it off. He still did not believe in angels -- was almost stubbornly adamant about it -- but did not voice his objections to the sweet old lady who handed him a piece of freshly baked bread from her basket.
Ten minutes later and the piece of bread sitting happily in his stomach, the head archaeologist entered the barber shop, hesitating on the thresh hold, just letting the blessed air conditioner blast into his face. The place wasn't very busy, only two other patrons were present. Both were having their hair done, and Yugi waved shyly from his spot. Both were older females, who immediately recognized that distinctive spiky hair and took to whispering behind their hands.
A short, stocky man with a mustache guided him into the third chair in front of a large, brightly lit mirror.
"What can Bobasa do for you today, Mister Mutou?" The man's jovial accent swept over Yugi, momentarily distracting him from the two ladies, who were now trying very hard not to look his way.
"I'm looking to trim my hair up a bit. There's not much of a market for hair gel here, so it might help with the heat factor."
"Right you are, Mister Mutou! Bobasa has you covered. Just sit back, and keep very, very still."
An hour and a half later, Yugi exited the barber shop, his wallet a bit lighter, and the back of his neck free from the gentle, red-tipped curls. He could probably get those done again later on down the road. Besides, it's not like it wouldn't grow back.
He returned to the lab in high spirits; not even Joey's merciless teasing about how short it was could ruin his mood. He'd asked the barber very nicely if he could keep his blonde bangs at least a little longer than the rest of his hair, and he'd grudgingly obliged. At least he still had some semblance of the old locks, although now that he thought about it, it was awfully silent.
Glancing at his desk, where the portable radio had its own place of honor on the back corner, Yugi immediately knew the answer. The radio had stopped broadcasting. But now that he was back, shouldn't the voice be back as well?
His thought was answered a second later, when a hauntingly pleasant tune emanated from the radio, followed closely by the increasingly agitated voice Yugi had come to rely on.
"Two hawk-eyed listeners sent in reports that Yugi, our curious scientific visitor, was seen getting his beautiful, beautiful hair cut. He was having his gorgeous hair shorn! Cut! Cut short! So very short from his perfectly shaped brilliant head. Listeners, I am not one to gossip even if it is a local celebrity, but please explain to me why Yugi would strip away, decimate, any part of his thick black hair—not to ignore the dignified touch of red at the tips. What treacherous barber should agree to such depravity? Who takes mere money, or even soulless joy, in depriving our small community of such a simple, but important act as luridly admiring Yugi's stunning coif? Reports from two intrepid sources are that it was Bobasa the Barber. Bobasa, who likes handball, and has posters of combs and carpets. Bobasa the Barber seems to be the one who betrayed our community. Bobasa the Barber. It is Bobasa the Barber at the corner of southwest 5th Street and Old Musk Road with the red and white spinning pole and the sign that says, ‘Bobasa's.' Bobasa is about five foot five with a small mustache and a thick potbelly. He talks with an accent, and smiles. Bobasa the Barber cut Yugi's beautiful hair. According to reports. Bobasa."
Dead silence seeped into the lab, oozing from the walls. You could literally hear a pen drop; actually, that was Ryou, whose mouth hung open in shock, the pen rolling across the floor by his feet. No one said a word; not even Joey had a suggestive comment. All heads slowly turned Yugi's way. Blushing to the tips of his once tri-colored hair, he quickly turned his back on the team of archaeologists slowly coming out of their stunned silence.
It started with whispers here and there, which turned to murmured questions. Finally, Joey himself broke the silence, his loud accent cutting through the gossip like a knife through butter.
"Awright, awright, back to work! We can gossip about the boss' love life later, ya dweebs."
Light laughter broke out while everyone filtered off back to their stations. a heavy sigh of relief gusting from Yugi's lips as the blush slowly receded from his cheeks.
"Now, while I gather myself, let's have a look at traffic."
'Thank the gods..' Yugi thought wearily, head falling onto his arms now pillowed on the desk.
A sound to his left made him look up. Jaden had set a steaming mug of tea by his side. With a faint smile, the intern drifted off to where Yusei was working on repairing one of the computer terminals, his spiky head shoved into the depths of the tower, his chest, arms, and legs the only thing visible.
With an appreciative sigh, the head archaeologist sipped at his tea -- chai, if he wasn't mistaken -- while letting the surprised voice fill him with amusement. The background music had ceased entirely, adding to the effect of the traffic report, in Yugi's opinion anyway.
"Oh. Wow! ...Well, that looks pretty good. Yup. Yeeeess. Okay, not too bad there either I see. Oh! That gentleman needs to slow it down! It is not a race my friend! Not a literal one, anyway."
Not long after finishing his tea, Yugi made a note to thank Jaden once their shift ended later that day.
"That has been traffic. And now for an editorial."
An organ began playing softly in the background, adding a haunting ambiance to the room.
"I don't ask favors much, dear listeners, that you know, but I'm asking all of you right now to conduct a letter writing campaign to Divine Management, which was not pleased with my discussion of their physical attributes and behavior, and is now threatening to shut down my show—or possibly, my life. For good. Their wording was... kind of ambiguous. Obviously we will not be able to deliver the letters directly to the management per se, as no one has ever opened their door, but we can shout the content of the letters outside their office and, we presume, given an anatomy that includes ears, they will be able to hear what you have to say. So if you like this show, and you want to hear more of it, then we need to hear from you. Make your voice heard to whatever it is that lies in wait behind that darkened office door."
The voice was pleading by this point, and Yugi felt for the man behind that alluring, mysterious voice. A thunderous crash crackled through the speakers a moment later, followed closely by the faint cry of some fearsome entity Yugi had no name for. Everyone within five feet of the radio covered their ears. Unfortunately, Yugi got the worst of it, actually falling out of his swivel chair, landing with a startled cry on his rump.
"Oh! Um, I'm sorry dear listeners—we'll be back after this word from our sponsors."
The ominous noises vanished, leaving a cheery voice in its wake. This part of the program was obviously recorded sometime previously, possibly that morning.
"This segment has been brought to us by Big Duke's Pizza. Listeners, we are proud to have Big Duke's as a sponsor of our show. You will not find a better pizza joint in all of Waset then Big Duke's. Just the other night, I stopped by Big Duke's. I was in the mood for a delicious pizza slice, and since Big Duke's is the only pizza place in Waset that has not burned to the ground in an unsolved arson case, and did I mention, is also the best pizza in town, I ordered a single Duke's slice with two authentic toppings. And boy, was I satisfied. The flavor was scrumptious. The taste was also scrumptious. And it was warm, the pizza slice! I have been told that even the hooded figures eat there; the wait staff look like they avert their hollow gazes quite a bit. Even the Pharaoh's Council offers its ringing endorsement of Big Duke's. All Waset citizens are mandated to eat at Big Duke's once a week. It is a misdemeanor not to. Big Duke's Pizza. No one does a slice like Big Duke, folks! No one."
The cheery voice was once again replaced by the distant thunder of footsteps and the faint whispering of the doomed radio host.
"And now, sweet, sweet listeners... the weather."
This time, the "weather" was a man singing about his love for a woman named Annie. It was a rather soulful tune, full of warmth and light. It gave the team some time to recover after the earlier, distressing sounds leaking through the speakers.
When the voice returned, it was filled with fear and uncertainty. Yugi's heart went out to the poor guy. There was nothing he could do but listen and hope. Faint sounds of crashing and deafening roars could be heard in the background.
"Hello, radio audience. I come to you live from under my desk, where I have dragged my microphone, and am currently hiding in the fetal position. Did you write letters? Then you should not do this anymore. Divine Management has opened its door for the first time in my memory, and is now roaming the building. I don't know exactly what management looks like, as that is when I took cover under my desk, and I can only hope that they are not listening to what's going out right now or else I may have sealed my fate. I can hear only a kind of clicking footstep, and a faint hissing sound like releasing steam. An intern went to see what management wanted and has not returned. If you are related to Paul McGreggor, afternoon board operator at Waset Community Radio, I am sorry to inform you that he is probably dead or at least corporally absorbed into management permanently. Paul and Chazz the interns will both be missed, but we will surely see them in the Thanksgiving Day Dead Citizens Impersonation Contest, which this year will be in the employee lounge under the Waset Mall from 11am to 9:45pm." A soft sob choked down the line before the voice recovered. "There will be a cash bar and two twister boards."
The sharp intake of breath echoed throughout the lab. Everyone was staring incredulously at the portable radio in the corner of Yugi's desk, fear swirling behind their eyes.
"I am going to see if I can make a break for the door. If you don't hear from me again, it has truly been a pleasure. Good night, Waset. And goodbye!"
The sounds of crashing footsteps and the deafening cries of the unholy entity slowly faded, leaving behind crackling static in its wake. Hesitantly, as though afraid it might bite, Syrus bravely approached the desk as Yugi finally picked himself up from the floor, quickly flicking the knob on the old-fashioned device and scooting back, arms thrown up in front of his face in a defensive gesture.
When nothing further happened, everyone exhaled a collective sigh of relief, all except for Yugi, who stared at the radio with a fierce kind of longing.
A gentle hand dropped onto his shoulder. Tearing his gaze from the radio, Yugi looked up into the kind eyes of his best friend Joey, who dutifully steered him towards the lab exit. He waited patiently as closing measures were observed, saying nothing until the last team member filed into the van.
Riding shotgun, Yugi stared out the window as Joey drove them all back to their hotel room. No one spoke a word, creating an awkward silence that hung in thick sheets, blotting out all rational thought.
Joey consoled his friend the best he could, but there was no wiping the frown from his round face, or the empty look in his normally bright, expressive amethyst eyes.
Yugi flopped into bed face first that night, curling around his pillow. One last thought rebounded around his brain before he eventually drifted off into a fitful, nightmare-ridden sleep.
Would he ever hear that glorious baritone voice again?
Today's proverb: There's a special place in Hell. It's really hip. Very exclusive.
Chapter 4: Attack of the Pteradons - er, Pterodactyls!
Gosh, I had to really struggle to get this out, idk what is up with my brain lately..
Anyway! I'm thinking about starting yet another fic (show of hands who is surprised) and will need some input on whether or not I should go for AU, or post-canon fix it.
Twitter poll is up! Let me know your thoughts.~
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"The sun has grown so very, very old. How long cold, fading death? How long? Welcome to Waset."
Yugi nearly dropped the cleaning utensil he was using to brush the extra dirt and detritus from the corpse of the Shadow Warrior he and his team had finally managed to excavate earlier that week. The amount of red tape he had to go through with the Pharaoh's High Priests -- he assumed that's who they were, judging by the way they dressed and the golden items they all possessed -- was ridiculous. You'd think he wanted to keep the crusty old thing!
The radio in the corner of his desk had turned itself on just a moment ago, the deep sonorous baritone a welcome reprieve from a long, frustrating week. As the opening notes of the program began to play, Joey and Yusei, his senior team members, both turned to stare at the radio as though it were on fire.
Yugi's mouth dropped open behind the surgical face mask he wore, eyes shining in delight.
"It's him," he whispered, the reverence in his tone unmistakable. "He's alive!"
"Y'know, Yug' " Joey frowned, pointing to the radio with an accusing pair of scissors. "I wanna say I'm surprised, but I'm just.. not."
"I'm definitely not," Yusei muttered, turning to frown down at the mummified corpse laying on the steel autopsy table in front of them. "At this point, anything that happens here is just normal."
Across the room, staring blankly at the blackboard in front of his face, Jaden shushed them, quickly erasing part of a formula he had been studying, only to write something else in its place.
"Our top story: last night's Waset PTA meeting ended in bloodshed, as a rift in space-time split open in the Main Street Recreation Center Auditorium, setting loose several confused and physically aggressive pteranodons. The glowing portal remained open and shrieked incessantly, an unholy sound that witnesses say resembled noisy urchin children caught in a combine harvester, and then slowed down and amped up through some kind of open source, easy-to-use audio editing software. The pteranodons mostly attacked women with glasses. Authorities are still unsure why, as Waset's only flying dinosaur expert, Tyranno Hassleberry, still has not recovered from last year's bout with throat spiders. It took most of an hour to corral the panicked beasts back into the vortex and resume the meeting, which had mostly been upon recent lunchroom price hikes, and had devolved into name calling because Catherine called Mrs. Andrews's son Nelson 'a bit tubby,' and that 'maybe he needs a financial incentive to eat less.' In this reporter's opinion, Catherine is dangerously obsessed with the New York Times bestselling Freakonomics books. Dangerously so. Fortunately, no one was injured or killed in the incident, although experts from Raizo's Auditorium Repair Contractors Inc. estimate close to $50,000 in damage has been done to the Rec Center Auditorium—and that cost includes free storm windows and a complementary seasonal installation consultation."
Syrus almost choked on his coffee, Jaden quickly abandoning the blackboard to give him a rough pat on the back. Ryou dropped his pen - poor thing had been doing that a lot lately - and rushed to pick it up before it rolled away under a server. Joey snorted so loudly Yugi swore he saw a booger go sailing halfway across the room. The head archaeologist himself sighed heavily, Yusei mimicking the action with a shake of his spiky head.
"At least no one was hurt?" ventured the newest member of their team, a young man named Jesse Anderson, who sported a Southern American accent that twanged pleasantly, his teal hair a stark contrast to the blue blazer he always wore, even in the relentless Egyptian heat. Since Duel Academy kept sending Yugi their best alumni, he would keep putting them to work.
"For now.." Yugi murmured, once again taking up the brush he'd been using to clean and returning to work on ridding the corpse of excess dirt.
"It's election season again, and you know what that means! Pharaoh's Secret Police will be coming by to collect certain family members so that everyone votes for the correct council seats and there's no confusion. These family members will be held in a secure and undisclosed location, which everyone knows is the abandoned mine shaft outside of town. But, don't let the name fool you, listeners: it's been used for years for so many kidnappings and illegal detentions that the abandoned mine shaft outside of town is actually a pretty nice location these days, featuring king-sized beds, free Wi-Fi, and HBO. Also torture cubicles, but I don't think anyone's going to make the council use those. Remember, this is Khemet. Vote correctly, or never see your loved ones again. This message brought to you by the Pharaoh's Council."
The music in the background grew menacing, the upbeat notes fading into something slightly jarring to the senses. The team of archaeologists stopped whatever they were doing to huddle a bit closer to one another. Jesse stood somewhat protectively over Jaden, who had gone back to scribbling on the blackboard, not a care in the world.
"The Waset Daily Journal today announced that, due to the recent economic downturn, they will start running ads on the front page. Any business interested in running one of these Platinum Premium Ads should contact editor Rebecca Hawkins. Hawkins mentioned that they have also created a write-your-own-news-story program for interested citizens. Because every writer has been laid off, the Daily Journal now needs these community contributions to supply Waset with important news and features. The first Platinum Premium Ad runs next Monday, and features the terrified face of an infant primate with a superimposed spoon that has been stone-sharpened to a rough point, and the tagline 'Better Use Tide.' Hawkins also said that last year's explosion that decimated the Daily Journal's distribution plant is still totally an accident, and would like her insurance rep to call her back. Please. Call her back."
Joey opened his mouth, probably to suggest they send in one of their own ads; Yugi shot him a withering look, explaining to the rest of the team why that would be a Bad Idea.
"Look, even in Waset of all places, no one is going to see the humor in a stupid green frog riding a unicycle, okay?"
The subject was promptly dropped, though not without a few sniggers from some of the younger internet savvy team members.
"This just came across the wire: the Pharaoh's Secret Police have issued a new statement shedding more light onto last night's PTA meeting incident. The noisy portal and subsequent dinosaur attack that brutally interrupted discussion of swing set repairs on the elementary school playground, stayed open long after Recreation Center employees thought they had rounded up all of the ancestral avian beasts, and authorities warn there is still at least one more pteranodon on the loose. Citizens should cover themselves with a low-SPF sunscreen and hide in a tiled bathroom."
Jesse, who was currently taking down beverage orders in preparation for another coffee run, paled considerably, tossing wary glances at the radio. Jaden thumped him on the back and cheerfully told him it was no big deal, things like that happened around here all the time.
"You get used to it after awhile," he murmured, wide grin fading slowly to be replaced by a more somber expression, staring passed Jesse's teal spikes with a blank look in those normally expressive brown eyes.
Jesse left a few minutes later, the soft, sultry voice emanating from the radio haunting his footsteps until he finally made it down the road and out of earshot.
"Several curious handball players in the court next to the auditorium actually popped their heads into the portal just to see what was on the other side of the vortex, and came back dramatically changed. The players aged several thousand years in what bystanders experienced as only a few seconds. Those handball players now straddle the unenviable border of millennially wizened and cripplingly insane. Since psychologically and emotional damages are no longer considered valid claims by the greater medical insurance community, we are still reporting zero injuries. We'll update you as further details surface in our special ongoing and very special coverage of Pteranodon Attack Gate. Are we safe from dinosaurs? No way."
Worried murmurs broke out among the team of archaeologists as they moved the mummified corpse into its container, getting it ready for transport up to the Great House. Swallowing thickly, Yugi followed Joey and Yusei out of the lab, watching them load the carefully prepared body in the back of their van.
The entire drive was dead silent; Joey kept glancing in the back, as though afraid the dead body would spring to life and devour his brains. Ryou, the only intern brave enough to tag along, snickered behind his hand as they approached the front gates.
Twenty minutes and one foggy encounter with a tall, blue-eyed priest later, Yugi and the others arrived back at the lab with only a vague recollection of how they'd gotten there. Shaking the drowsiness off, they returned to work, the merry voice of the radio host dancing in their ears.
"The Pharaoh's Council has asked me to read the following message. If you notice strange auras around any of the following objects in your house: blender, showerhead, dog, husband, wife, table, chair, doorknob, baseboard, vacation souvenirs or photos, collectibles of any kind, especially those depicting or involving horses, DVDs, especially Cliffhanger, There's Something About Mana, and The Wire 4th Season, and any bagged lettuce from California or Mexico, please, report to the council for indefinite detention."
About an hour later, a member of the Pharaoh's court came by the lab with a personal invitation to the council meeting being held the very next day. Yugi's eyes lit up at the prospect. There was the very real possibility they could even meet the Pharaoh himself!
Thanking the servant profusely and sending the boy on his way with a refreshing bottle of water, Yugi turned to his team, excitement gleaming in the depths of those intense amethyst eyes.
"This could be our chance to actually make a difference! We can't let this opportunity go by without at least checking it out, right?"
A roar of hearty agreements shook the roof, each member of the team rushing to get their job done for the day. When the next day arrived, a flurry of activity could be seen and heard from the lab, everyone abuzz with excitement at the prospect of attending a real Council meeting.
Yugi, his hair neatly combed back, golden fringe tucked smartly behind his ears and his coat tails flaring dramatically everywhere he went, could not sit still. He kept wandering around the lab, much to Joey's amusement. He just couldn't help the restless feeling that pervaded his senses.
With Jaden and Jesse holding down the fort, the head archaeologist and his team piled into the van, Yugi flicking on the radio out of sheer habit.
The next few days were a feverish blur. No one was sure when they had returned from the meeting, or even what had transpired.
"Ugh, no more Big Duke's before anymore important meetings from now on.." Joey groaned, sprawled out on the couch against the far right wall, an arm dramatically thrown over his eyes, a can of ginger ale with a bendy straw held loosely in the other. Ryou, sitting at the other end of the couch with Joey's feet in his lap, yawned extensively, giving one of the legs a sympathetic pat.
"Don't let the poor radio host hear you say that," he joked, reaching over to the side table to grab his notes. They weren't going to proof read themselves, after all.
No one bothered to question the soft piano music that began to filter into the room, so used to the strange habits of their little radio by now. The only one who acknowledged it was Yugi, who shushed his team and turned up the volume.
"Speaking of the Pharaoh's Council, it voted this week to remove the large, lead-plated door from the northeastern-most crook of the Valley of the Kings. You know, the area pulsing with green light and soto voce basso humming. Proponents of the measure said the large yellow emblem and red lettering that spelled out 'DANGER. PLUTONIUM. DO NOT OPEN DOOR. RISK OF DEATH,' were at worst an offensive eyesore and, at best, a hacky sci-fi cliché. Many Waset citizens attended the meeting, including, it was said, several angels—although no angel is admitted to have been present for the Council meeting or any other event ever, for that matter. Old Woman Cyndia agreed with the measure, adding that lead is a health hazard, and that the old door was nothing but a ticking time bomb. According to the meeting minutes, Cyndia said, "That old door. Oooooohhhhh, that door. Someone's gonna get some kind of lead poisoning."
"So, you think we'll finally get to know what happened at this meeting?"
Yusei, who just sauntered out of the bathroom, gloriously shirtless with a damp towel around his neck and usual navy spikes in disarray, voiced his curiosity. Syrus, flushing to the tips of his sky blue hair, nearly ran into the corner of the black board as he walked by, a tray of recently polished and sanitized set of surgical tools clutched tightly in his tiny, shaking hands. Apologizing profusely, he gave the shirtless man a wide berth, unused to anyone that toned being in his general vicinity.
"Yugi, beautiful Yugi, tragically shorn of his locks, reportedly was the only dissenting voice—but it is not clear he actually opposed the measure, as the minutes only report him stating, "There is no time. No more time," into a black rectangle in his hand, and then running, winded, from the community hall. According to Old Woman Cyndia, he was still absolutely perfect, and smelled of lavender chewing gum."
"Please tell me I didn't do that in front of the Pharaoh.." Groaning loudly, Yugi's forehead hit his desk with a muffled thump, clutching at what was left of his short, beautiful locks. He vaguely remembered chewing the last piece of his gum that day, and hardly anything else.
"More breaking news on the pteranodons. We humbly offer the following retractions from our previous reports: Pharaoh's Secret Police are now reporting that the offending beasts were not pteranodons after all, but pterodactyls. Also, pteranodons aren't even dinosaurs as this station previously stated, just winged reptiles that lived about seventy million years after pterodactyls. Finally, earlier we reported a death toll of zero, when in fact the number is closer to 38. We regret these errors."
The news was taken with a moment of silence, each member bowing their heads respectfully; a murmured prayer circulated through the room before it was back to business as usual.
"It's almost football season, and the Waset Scorpions are gearing up for a defense of the high school division title. But really, as long as we beat Domino City, fans and hooded figures alike will feel just fine. Coach Siamun Muran told reporters he's particularly excited for the progress junior quarterback Declan Akaba made during the off-season, after that sentient lightning bolt struck him and give him the strength of two jeeps and the intelligence of a heavily concussed Rene Descartes. But, if Waset is going to beat their bitter rivals this year, and stave off the government-administered pestilence the follows a losing season record, Akaba will have to improve his accuracy. Last year, Akaba only completed two out of 130 pass attempts—most notably, because he was in advanced stages of cerebral palsy, and because his throwing hand had been removed due to several overdue library books. Apparently, the off-season lightning strike had healed Akaba of his terminal ailments and court-ordered amputations, and he's ready to take on Domino City, which is probably the worst team ever. God. They're dreadful."
Yusei, no longer shirtless, but still mostly damp, had returned to his job of equipment upkeep and general maintenance. Syrus was immensely thankful, and resolved to be more open and accepting of his coworker's showering habits from then on. They were all male, but that didn't make him any less nervous about it.
"And now, an editorial."
Jesse, chewing thoughtfully on the cap of his pen, paused in his task of translating some ancient text to eye the radio and its ever changing background music warily, exchanging confused looks with Jaden across the table.
"Let's talk for a moment about apartment building etiquette. Now, I myself do not live in an apartment building, but there is a compassion and acceptance you have to have for a certain level of annoyance. It's people in close proximity to each other, and so there will be some things that you don't like, and still have to let go. But, other things are absolutely unacceptable! For instance, a certain level of strange radiating light or heat on shared walls is expected, but any oozings or visible membranes are rude and thoughtless to all of your neighbors. Gibbering, howling, and chants in long-dead languages are the kind of thing that is fine at 1pm, but absolutely not fine at 1am. We are all in this together. Put your trash in the cans! Not in the hallway leading to the cans. Put on some clothes when standing in front of your windows, and keep any rituals or crazed experiments to hours in which no one is trying to sleep. It doesn't have to be hard."
The background music faded, and with it, the voice of the radio host. For a time, there was silence, nothing but the shuffling of paper, the steady beeping and humming of machinery providing a pleasant background soundtrack to their otherwise tedious, though enjoyable workday.
When the voice did return, it was more lively than Yugi had ever heard it; he could feel the excitement even through the tiny radio speakers. It was so endearing, he forgot himself for a moment, listening with half-lidded eyes and his chin propped up in his hand, elbow resting near the edge of the desk.
"We have a very unexpected treat today, dear listeners. Live in the studio we have one of the mysterious hooded figures often seen around town. We did not actually invite him here; he just was waiting for us when we unlocked the studio this morning. He has not moved, nor spoken since then, and I'll be honest: I am only guessing that he is a he, because physical attributes are hard to determine under these robes, and the face is entirely hidden in shadow as empty and as black as the void of space. But hey, we're doing radio! He's in a radio station. Let's see if we can get an interview."
A slight pause and minute creaking followed this announcement. Yugi listened carefully, unaware that Joey had abandoned his comfortable position on the couch with Ryou to sneak up on his other side.
"Mr. Hooded Figure, how are you doing today?"
Muffled static issued through the speakers. At first, it was barely acknowledged. The team of archaeologists and their interns were quite used to white noise by now.
"Huh! Okay. Care to comment on the recent expansion of the forbidden dog park?"
The static continued, steadily rising into a crescendo of white noise that was unbearable to listen to. Everyone within ten feet of the radio plugged their ears; the rest of the team slowly backed away towards the nearest wall.
"Any comments at all? Anything you'd like to tell the ordinary folk of Waset about your organization?"
The static only grew louder; even the voice of the radio host was barely audible at this point. Yugi fruitlessly tried turning the volume down, but the knob seemed to be stuck. Quickly giving it up as a bad job, he ducked beneath his desk, squirming into the small space beside Joey, who had taken up residence there a moment earlier.
"Listeners, I'm sure you can hear this. It's not a problem with your radio or our transmitters. The hooded figure is making those noises in our studio. It's pretty deafening, actually. Alright! I don't think he's going to stop, and he's started to levitate, so, let's go to the weather."
The team of archaeologists exhaled a collective sigh of relief as the pleasant voice of a young woman, accompanied by a piano and string instrument began to sing, her voice wavering with some unnamed emotion. Squeezing passed Joey's bulk, Yugi flopped into his desk chair, the sheer stress of the past week finally seeming to catch up with him. Even as the last of the notes faded and the voice of crushed velvet returned, Yugi felt no better. Maybe a nice soak in a hot bath would do the trick once he got back to his motel room.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, we have just received word from the Pharaoh's Secret Police that the rip in space-time that opened at last night's PTA meeting has been sealed at last. The final missing pterodactyl has been returned to its own timeline in either prehistoric or alternate universe Waset. The creature's lifeless body was found a dozen yards outside of the dog park entrance, stripped of all flesh, and with most of the organs inverted and strung around its exposed skull, like an old fashioned soft meats crown, as worn by the 18th century religious leaders who settled our fair burgh. The dinosaur's body was returned to the vortex, the gateway closed, and the PTA meeting rescheduled for next Tuesday at 6pm. That meeting will continue to address the important issue of backpacks, and whether or not they are causing autism. There will also be a memorial service for the 38 parents and teachers who lost their lives in the attack, followed by a raffle. Remember, winners must be present at the time of the drawing to claim their prizes."
"I think I'm gonna hurl," Joey moaned, clutching at his stomach. Yugi didn't blame him really.
"City council and the Pharaoh's Secret Police have issued a reminder that Waset citizens of all species and all geologic eras are not to enter, look at, or think too long about the dog park. This reminder, they say, is completely unrelated to anything that may or may not have happened today."
"Now hold on a tick," Jesse began, helping Jaden and Syrus pack up for the day. "What happened earlier today?"
The question was met with confused glances, a noncommittal grunt, and three shrugs.
"My money is on the hooded figures."
That cheery tone could only belong to Ryou, whose soft brown eyes shown with enthusiasm at the prospect. Joey sighed heavily, gently pushing the white-haired intern out of the door before he could make anymore overly cheerful remarks about anything supernatural related.
"Coming up next, stay tuned for our one-hour special, 'Morse Code for Trumpet Quintets.' And listeners, Waset is an ancient place, full of history and secrets... as we were reminded today. But it is also a place of the present moment, full of life, and of us. If you can hear my voice speaking live, then you know: we are not history yet. We are happening now. How miraculous is that? Goodnight, listeners. Goodnight."
The music seemed to warp as the voice spoke, the final notes fading out into silence. Even as Yugi closed the lab up for the night, he tossed a tired smile toward the radio as it shut itself off.
"Until the next broadcast.." he whispered, shutting off the lights and locking all the doors. For the first time in a week, he had a distinct feeling that he would rest easy that night.
Today's Proverb: What has four legs in the morning, two legs at noon, and three legs in the evening? I don't know, but I trapped it in my bedroom. Send help.
Chapter 5: We Don't Talk About... That
So.. I think we all know why this chapter was delayed. Got sick (again!!), stress + anxiety over the election, not enough sleep, work, etc. I'm a mess right now, but really wanted to get this out for you guys. This chapter is so long, I wanted to hurl myself into bed and never look at it again. Expect delays on future chapters until I can get my stuff together.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"Close your eyes. Let my words wash over you. You are safe now. Welcome to Waset."
As the first notes of the radio program began to play, and with it, the deep melodious baritone of the host, a loud crash sounded from the small kitchenette in the far back corner of the lab.
Yugi, muttering curses and wiping the scalding coffee from the his hand, burst around the partition that separated the kitchen and bathroom, breathless and wide eyed.
"Has it already started? Dammit, Joey! I told you to tell me when the radio came on!"
"It started!" Joey called out from across the lab, a box of ancient scrolls in his arms as he made his way in from the loading zone outside.
"Oh, real funny!"
Yugi would have playfully flipped him the bird, but his hands were also full. As soon as his hands were clean, the head archaeologist flopped into the swivel chair in front of his desk, setting his warm mug of coffee within reach and pulling a set of papers toward him, officially beginning the work day.
"Local historians are protesting the removal of the Shape in Millennium Park that No One Acknowledges or Speaks About. While their protest has been hampered by the fact that none of them will acknowledge or speak about it, they did — through a system of gestures and grimaces — convey the message that, whatever the Shape is, and whatever its effects on nearby neighborhoods, it is a Waset landmark and should be protected."
"Oh, so that's what I saw on the way to work today." Jaden mused, popping his head over Yusei's shoulder to stare at the radio.
From his spot in front of one of the monitors, Yusei snorted, pausing in his typing to give Jaden a raised eyebrow.
"I didn't see anything, and I'm the one who brought you to work."
"The Shape itself offered no comment — only a low moaning and gelatinous quiver. The Pharaoh's Council would not provide any reason for the removal, but they did say that any work in Millennium Park was making way for a new swing set, picnic area, and bloodstone circle, which we all can agree are good contributions to our community."
"Did I just hear the words 'bloodstone circle' before I had my morning coffee?"
The question came from Ryou, who walked in the door not five minutes ago, making straight for the kitchenette in the back. He popped his head around the corner a moment later, motioning towards the ceramic mug in his hand to the room at large.
"Unfortunately," muttered Syrus, yawning fit to burst and writing down their tasks for the day on the blackboard.
Ryou looked far too cheery for someone who had just walked in the door, currently in the middle of bringing Joey his coffee. Ryou wished Joey would get with the supernatural program already. Joey wished he would stop looking up haunted kitchen utensils in the middle of the work day.
Yugi wished they would just fuck already and let him win the lab "When are Joey and Ryou Gonna Announce Their Engagement" pool. The smart money was on six weeks from this Tuesday.
"The Waset Green Market Co-Op announces today that, after 15 years, they will begin selling fruits and vegetables. Green Market Board President Tristan Taylor said that recent customer surveys indicated that shoppers have grown tired of empty pickup trucks and vacant tents lining the Great House parking lot every Sunday morning in the summer and fall."
Deep, soulful piano music began to play, accentuating the serious tone of the announcement. Jesse, who had just walked in the door and made a beeline for the bathroom, snorted in disbelief. Who waits fifteen years before actually selling food at a food market? Ridiculous!
"Taylor said that research indicates consumers are more likely to buy products if they are available and for sale, and that Green Market and Grocery shoppers tend to purchase food items. Taylor says that the decision to sell food at the Green Market was a controversial one, as many board members and Co-Op shareholders feel fruit and vegetable sales will interfere with their ongoing secretive domestic espionage operations."
"Guess we'll be buyin' from the market tomorrow?" Joey asked, head swiveling around to get the confirmation from Yugi. Without looking up from his work, the head archaeologist gave a thumbs up.
"When reached for comment, our source within the Pharaoh's Secret Police only breathed heavily into the phone while tapping an as-yet uncracked code into the receiver."
In the brief pause where the voice stopped to take a sip from what was presumably a tea cup, Yugi sighed, giving the old radio a fond smile, fervently wishing he at least knew the name behind that voice.
"Declan Akaba, starting quarterback for the Waset Scorpions, has reportedly grown a second head. It is not currently known whether this is a result of the previously reported lightning strike, or just another odd coincidence in the kid's odd life."
"Hey, Yug', has that list of possible new interns come in yet?" asked Joey right before taking a considerabe gulp of coffee. Yugi shook his head, rifling though his inbox while his best friend tried not to look too desperate as he fled to the kitchen to drink straight from the faucet.
"People in the know say that the new head is better looking, smarter than the first one, and even Declan's mother has issued a statement indicating that she likes it much better than her son. And that she will be changing the rankings on the public "Which of My Children I Like Best" board outside of her house."
Joey returned a minute later, snagging a napkin to wipe his mouth off and tossing it in the bin in the corner.
"Akaba could not be reached for comment. Probably. We didn't really try."
Yugi snorted, a smile tugging at the corners of his lips. So far, it was a rather uneventful day in Waset. He probably shouldn't have thought that so soon.
"Friends, listeners; there's a real tarantula problem here in Waset. Many residents have called in to report that illiteracy, unwanted pregnancy, and violent crime are on the rise in the tarantula communities. Animal control is addressing these concerns through after school programs called 'Teach a Spider to Read — Stop the Madness.' "
Syrus shuddered from his place beside Jaden, who was currently dusting off one of the shelves. He kept a weather eye out for the eight-legged hellspawn from that point on.
"Those interested in volunteering should stand in their bathtubs and weep until it is all gone. Nothing left. You can let go now. Let go. Shhhhh. Let go."
The voice was almost whispering by this point, the soft baritone lovingly caressing their ears, dulling their senses, and causing eyelids to droop. Yugi sighed wistfully, resting his head in his arms, eyes falling shut. For a time, he drifted off in the strange half-space between waking and sleeping. No one had the heart to rouse him. It was a slow day anyway.
"And now a message from our sponsor. Tired of your home? Sick of comfort? Come to the hole in the vacant lot out back of the Ralph's and huddle with us. Who are we? Good question. Come to the hole in the vacant lot out back of the Ralph's and huddle with us. Why do we want you to come? Why did we spend money for this air time? We understand you are confused, but. Hole. Vacant lot. Ralph's. Huddle. Us. For the low, low price, act today, or tomorrow. Not Wednesday. Wednesday is no good for us. Anyway, we're almost out of air time, so just come on down to the hole in the vacant lot in the back of the Ralph's, and huddle with us. Or else."
The rhythmic tapping that had begun at the start of the sponsor reading faded, and with it, Yugi rose from his power nap, seeming refreshed and pleasantly content. Eyeing his coffee mug, he shrugged, picked it up, and took a hesitant sip. It was still warm, so he didn't need to bother getting up to nuke it in the microwave. Actually, it was probably best that he didn't. Joey had learned the hard way yesterday, nearly burning his hands when his skin came into contact with the scalding ceramic.
Yusei had lowered the power level five minutes later.
"And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming."
Apparently, slow days in Waset never lasted very long. That afternoon, long after Ryou had sorted through the new inventory items, the crew decided to head for a nice lunch at the local Subway. Jaden grinned, reminded somewhat of home. His infectious grin spread from Jesse to Syrus, who flanked him on either side as they all walked in to place their order.
The pretty girl who worked the counter kept stealing glances at Yugi when she thought no one was looking. Joey had to break it to her that he was already taken by "the hot radio host". Her face drained of color and she had to excuse herself, fleeing into the back with a hand over her mouth.
Yugi punched him in the arm for that one.
"Ladies and gentlemen, the rumor mill is abuzz. We've had a celebrity sighting in our little burgh!"
Yusei groaned the second they stepped foot back into the lab after lunch, frowning at the back of Yugi's tragically shorn locks.
"Old Woman Cyndia and one of her Angel friends reportedly saw Vivian Wong getting gas at the Fuel ‘n Go over by the bowling alley. Vivian Wong, ladies and gentlemen! Right here in Waset. Can you believe it? Old Woman Cyndia said that Vivian was looking a little bit older, moderately obese, and considerably more Chinese, but the Angel assured her it was indeed Vivian. And he is an Angel after all... he would know, right? Wow ! Vivian Wong! Here in Waset! Just imagine!"
Yugi turned to stick his tongue out at Yusei's retreating form as he made his way back to the monitor bank.
"It wasn't me this time!" he cried, flopping back into his desk chair.
"He sounds like a bit of a fan boy, this one," Jesse jerked a thumb towards the antique radio sitting on the corner of Yugi's desk.
The head archaeologist himself just shrugged. That might be true, but he thought it was kind of endearing. He pictured the man behind the voice, all glowing crimson eyes and shadowy upper half lounging in his chair, holding onto the mic stem and twirling a lock of hair around an index finger while happily gossiping. The mental image earned him a good laugh that sustained him through the rest of the day.
"Update on the Shape Formerly in Millennium Park that No One Acknowledges or Speaks About: it seems the Pharaoh's Council, in their superhuman mercy and all-seeing glory, have chosen to move the Shape directly in front of our own radio station, where it is continuing to be what can only be described as indescribable."
"A shame they couldn't move it in front of the lab.."
Ryou was currently chewing on the end of a pen, probably lamenting the loss of a really interesting subject to study. Joey thanked whatever gods existed that the Shape had kept its distance.
"The Shape was not available for comment as I could find no one willing to speak to it, or even meet my eye when I mentioned it. It has occurred to me that I may be the only one able to see it."
"I saw it," Jaden muttered sullenly, flicking a scrap of papyrus into Syrus' sky blue spikes.
"Now that I think about it, I have also never bothered to actually check whether this mic is attached to any sort of recording or broadcasting device."
"Is this what you'd call a 'midlife crisis' ?" Joey asked, scratching the back of his messy blond head with the eraser end of a pencil.
"And it is possible that I am alone, in an empty universe, speaking to no one, unaware that the world is held aloft merely by my delusions and my smooth, sonorous voice."
"No, this is what you call an 'existential crisis'." Yusei muttered, his arm stuck up to the elbow inside the tower of one of the computers.
" 'More on this story as it develops,' I say, possibly only to myself."
A steady hum permeated the lab. After looking around for the source, Jaden proudly concluded it was coming from the radio speakers.
"The Waset Community Theater is holding auditions for its fall show, Once On This Island. Interested thespians should bring a headshot and resume to the Recreation Center auditorium on Thursday night."
Joey opened his mouth, possibly to offer himself up for the part. Everyone in the lab, save for Jesse, promptly vetoed the decision before it was even made with a very loud, very firm "No!".
"All auditionees must perform a one-minute monologue and sing one song. Bring sheet music along if you would like piano accompaniment. Auditionees will also be required to do a cold reading, and give blood and stool samples along with mandatory radiation testing following the auditions. Do not sing anything from South Pacific."
Jesse patted his elder on the back kindly, offering murmured consolations. Joey's sullen aura could be felt from halfway across the large room.
"People of color are urged to audition, as Waset Community Theater is an equal-opportunity employer. Also, actors with long-range sniper training, FORTRAN computer programming, and top-notch wilderness survival skills are a plus. Final casting will be announced in secret via dirigible. No one can ever know."
Dead silence, save for the occasional beep and whir of a monitor, the clicking of a mouse, and the shuffling of papers. Yugi sighed, idly wishing something more interesting would happen today. With his current job, one would think he'd be begging for more days like this. Truthfully, since he'd come to the fair town of Waset, he'd been much happier, despite the constant embarrassment he had to endure, all thanks to the smitten local radio host.
"Update on the Green Market situation from earlier in our broadcast. Everything is exactly the same as when we last reported on it, and there is no new information."
Speak of the devil, and he shall appear. In metaphorical terms, at least. He only just remembered running into the man he once spoke with out by the sundial in the main square, his gentle wine red eyes and expressive use of sign language as he spoke were kind of hard to forget. Not to mention, he was positively dripping in gold jewelry from head to toe. Why he was able to recall that now was a mystery.
"Listeners, do you ever think about the moon? I was sitting outside last night looking at the moon and I thought, does anyone actually know what that thing is? Have there been any studies on it? I went to ask Yugi, but he hasn't been seen much since that treacherous Bobasa's vile haircut."
"I've been busy!" Yugi moaned to the ceiling, swiveling back and forth in his desk chair while Joey snickered behind his hand one desk over. Yugi balled up an old invoice, chucking it at the mop of messy blond poking over the separator. He missed, but it was the principle of the act that mattered.
"The moon's weird though, right? It's there, and there, and then suddenly it's not. And it seems to be pretty far up. Is it – is it watching us? If not, what is it watching instead? Is there something more interesting than us? Hey, watch us moon! We may not always be the best show in the universe, but we try."
Maybe I should go back to that room I found on my first day here, Yugi mused, twirling a pen between his fingers, watching the silver metal flash in the overhead lighting. It would add a certain kind of flair to his life he'd been missing ever since.
"This has been today's Children's Fun Fact Science Corner."
Ryou sincerely hoped that segment showed up more often. Joey actually agreed with him for a change. Yugi switched up his bet for the lab pool to three weeks from today. There was no way he could lose out on it now.
"Speaking of which, the Waset School District has announced some changes to the elementary school curriculum. They are as follows: In response to parent feedback, history classes will focus more heavily on textbook readings and traditional exams, rather than live ammo drills."
Jesse, horribly confused, mouthed 'live ammo drills?' across the table, hoping one of his fellow interns could shine some light on such a ridiculous notion. Jaden chucked a paper football at Jesse's face and told him not to worry about it.
"Geology is adding a new type of rock on the grounds that it's been a while since anybody has done that. The new type of rock is "orichalcum," and it is categorized by its pale green color, and the fact that it is completely edible. Points will be awarded to the first student to discover a real-world example of it."
"Math and English are switching names. Their curriculum will stay exactly the same."
"Astronomy will now be conducting stargazing sessions only with blindfolds on every participant, in order to protect them from the existential terror of the void. Also, Pluto has been declared imaginary."
A cry of outrage shook the roof of the lab, jolting Yugi out of his focus. He had to hurriedly shush his fellow science nerds so he could hear the rest of the curriculum report. He was undeniably on their side, and felt as though Pluto had been treated unfairly for too long.
"All classrooms will be equipped with at least one teacher physically present for the entire instruction period. Astral projection will no longer be used in any classroom."
A disappointed groan drew everyone's attention. Ryou, realizing his mistake, flushed a lovely rosy shade all the way to the tips of his snow white hair and shoved his nose in a book. Joey chuckled, ruffling the feathery locks and earning a stern glare for his trouble.
"Finally, in addition to the current foreign language offerings of Spanish, French, and Modified Egyptian, schools will now be offering Double Spanish, Weird Spanish, Coptic Spanish, Russian, and Unmodified Egyptian."
"Guess I'll be brushing up on my Modified Egyptian," Yugi muttered, finally getting back to work after putting Joey in a headlock. Considering how many times he had to endure that himself, he felt it was justified payback from their high school days.
"And now a continuation of our previous investigation into whether I am literally the only person in the world, speaking to myself in a fit of madness caused by my inability to admit the tragedy of my own existence."
The team of archaeologists and their interns exchanged worried glances. Even Yugi couldn't ignore how utterly absurd that sounded, and he was the one in charge of studying this place!
"Intern Lenny recently brought me a cup of coffee. He is no longer in my field of vision, but I do still have the cup of coffee. Which is well made, and is giving me that needed pick-me-up to continue considering this terrifying possibility. Is it possible that I only imagined Lenny, and forgot making myself this cup of coffee? But then, who would have grown this coffee? Where was this cup procured from?"
"Too much coffee is bad for you, you know," Jaden quipped, doodling in the margins of his study notes.
"Oh, Lenny is, uh, back in the room, and he's waving at me — um, hello, Lenny — uh, he's saying... wait, what was that, Lenny? I see."
"I hope this Lenny guy lasts longer than the last poor guy."
Yugi could not agree more with Joey if he tried. They didn't even have any alcohol to toast Lenny's memory should things go south.
"He's saying that the Shape has turned a molten red, and is causing small whirlwinds in front of our radio station doors. There is the sound of a great many voices chanting, as though it were an army giving out a battle cry before raining down destruction on our arid little hamlet."
Joey opened his mouth, possibly to suggest they go down to the radio station - assuming they could even find it - and check out the Shape for themselves.
Yusei promptly strode across the room to clamp a hand over his mouth.
"Oh, he has stopped shouting, and is now writing furiously on a piece of paper. I have to say, Lenny's existence, as well as his finally speaking about the Shape Which No One Else Would Speak About, has reassured me greatly about my lonely and solipsistic vigil here at this microphone."
"I think I speak for everyone here," Yusei ventured, gearing up to deliver one his patented one liners. "This guy needs to get laid."
Yugi choked on the last dregs of his tea Jaden had brought him some time ago during a lull in the broadcast. Joey wriggled out of Yusei's hold to pat his friend on the back.
"He is handing me the note — thank you, Lenny — let me see here... ahh."
Ryou eyed the radio with wide, hopeful eyes.
"It says that the Pharaoh's Council believes the reason for the violent reaction of the Shape Formerly in Millennium Park that No One Acknowledges or Speaks About is because I have been acknowledging and speaking about it, which has made it angry. They urge me to stop speaking of it, and never do it again. And in exchange, they'll move it somewhere else so we can get our front loading zone back."
The voice paused for all of two minutes, where silence filled the void left behind. When it did finally return, the entire lab was on the edge of its seat, waiting for the verdict.
"After brief consideration, I have decided to accept the Council's offer, because they are trustworthy leaders looking out for our better future. And also because Lenny just now got vaporized by a strange red light emanating from the station entrance."
A collective sigh of defeat seeped through the walls of the lab, settling over every available surface.
"To the family of Lenny, we thank you for his service to the cause of community radio, and we join you in mourning his loss."
"I'll go get some drinks." Syrus trudged off behind the back partition, rummaging around in the fridge. No one moved until he got back, getting Jaden and Jesse to help hand them out to everyone.
"To Lenny, the poor intern for Waset Community Radio who lost his life in the line of duty." Yugi intoned, raising his water glass high.
"To Lenny!" The chant echoed in the large space, the clinking of glasses and mugs loud in Yugi's ears as he drank to a man he had never met.
"And, without further ado, nor ever again mentioning anything we shouldn't, let's go to the weather."
The steady strumming of a guitar, followed by a man's voice - a little too upbeat for the situation, in Yugi's opinion - filled the lab with its soulful melody. Wavering nonsense spilled from his lips, as though the singer only meant to fill the space with his voice, rather than concentrate on evoking deep emotional reactions from the listeners.
"Hello, listeners. In breaking news, the sky. The earth. Life. Existence as an unchanging plane, with horizons of birth and death in the faint distance. We have nothing to speak about. There never was. Words are an unnecessary trouble. Expression is time wasting away. Any communication is just a yelp in the darkness."
"So.. do we still gotta come to work tomorrow?" asked Joey, turning his trademark cheeky grin Yugi's way.
"What do you think?"
Yugi rolled his eyes in the unnatural silence that followed. Before he knew it, the work day was over, everyone was packing up, the lab doors were shut, and the portable radio tucked against his chest as he piled into the passenger's seat of the van.
Not a peep came from its speakers until Yugi bid his team farewell for the night, setting his radio gently on a side table while he went to order dinner.
"Ladies, gentlemen, listeners, you. I am speaking now but I am saying nothing. I am just making noises and, as it happens, they are organized in words but you should not draw any meaning from this."
He decided on a simple dish, relying on room service to cater to his cravings. While his order of chicken and pasta cooked, Yugi flopped on the love seat, cradling a pillow close to his chest and letting the soothing voice of the as yet unnamed radio host wash over him.
"The service for Lenny will be lovely. We will throw flowers and weep. He will be buried in the break room, as is our custom. His family will come, and moon around the office, as though we have answers. We do not have answers. I am not certain that we even have questions. I have chosen to not be certain of anything at all."
When room service finally delivered, the sun had long since dipped below the horizon, the lights of the city flickering to life one by one outside his window.
"This is Yami, generally, speaking to you, metaphorically, for Waset Community Radio. And I would like to say in the most nebulous terms possible, and with no real-world implications or insinuations of objective meaning: Goodnight, listeners. Goodnight."
With his mouth full of perfectly seasoned pasta, Yugi stared at the radio as the last notes of the program faded into oblivion.
Yami, he mused.
His name is Yami...
Today's Proverb: A million dollars isn't cool. You know what's cool? A basilisk.
Chapter 6: The Drawbridge Debacle
Another bout of depression struck, so ya'll get this chapter a couple days early.
The rating has been upped from General Audiences to Teen in light of some.. recent additions.
Honestly, I'm not sure if I should be proud of this, or if I need to be Stopped immediately.
As always, comments/kudos keep my fics alive and keep me writing. I hope you all enjoy!!
If any of the Arabic Yami uses is incorrect, please don't be afraid to correct me! I will fix it asap.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"Rabbits are not what they seem to be. Welcome to Waset."
"...and this is the reason why we can't have the radio on while I lecture," sighed Yugi, pausing mid lecture to pinch the bridge of his nose while the interns snickered behind their hands.
The archaeology team huddled on the floor in front of the blackboard at the back of the room, each member of the team lounging around on a cushion while Yugi gave a presentation on the correct method of excavating ancient artifacts.
At least, that's what he had been doing before the first notes of the broadcast began to play of their own accord, Yami's sultry voice washing over them in fluid waves.
About an hour ago, all power to the lab had been mysteriously cut off without explanation. At first, he'd thought Joey had forgotten to pay the bill. Then Jaden had begun to act strangely. Well, more so than usual.
Eventually, after snagging his old dueling deck from a desk drawer - and losing soundly, to everyone's surprise - Joey determined that something had finally cleared the fog from the boy's mind since the House Incident on their very first day in Waset.
After their duel, Yugi decided that no time was like the present for one of his patented Nerd Moments, so there they all were, huddled on the floor at the back of the lab with nothing but a few flash lights to illuminate the space.
He continued with the lecture, even as the lights flickered back on, much to everyone's relief. At least until the radio decided to interrupt.
Oh well, he thought, watching his team as they began to disperse back to their stations, frustrated pout melting away at the sound of Yami's voice. At least I get my fix for the week.
"We've had some power outages reported throughout Waset in the last couple of hours. If you're experiencing one, well then you can't hear me, can you? The Waset Municipal Utility Department said that they are still working to determine the cause of the outages, which are roving back and forth across town in a continuous motion, like a great pacing beast. Those whose neighborhoods have been hit by the outages reported the shriek of hawks overhead, and that when the lights came back on, they felt that perhaps they were different people, their memories and identities were the same as always, but suddenly felt like costumes that didn't fit exactly, as though it all were actually brand new to them. As though they had been switched out with someone who was exactly like them. As though all that was familiar would ever after be strange. Keep some flashlights with spare batteries and a childhood photo album by you tonight, just in case."
Syrus clung to his friend as though his life depended on it and all but sobbed with relief on his shoulder. Jesse had to peel the poor boy off, patting the sky blue spikes with a fond smile. Jaden dealt them both the Noogie of Ultimate Friendship while Yusei looked on, a laugh bubbling up from his normally stoic countenance.
"The revitalization of the Old Town Drawbridge experienced another setback this week, as engineers determined that the furniture upholstery used to construct the bridge towers soaks up water and creates an unstable foundation. This week's collapse was the third in as many months. Construction crews have tried building the bridge tower base supports from corrugated cardboard, non-dairy creamer, and ceramic bowls. Nothing has worked. Engineers are asking for help in determining how proper bridge towers are made. If you have any tips, please write them on notebook paper and mail them to Bridge Magic, LLC, PO Box 1616. Do not use cursive or long words. Clearly labeled drawings are preferred."
Yusei, smile wiped from existence as though it had never been there to begin with, strode over to his desk, dropped himself into the chair, and booted up his computer without a word. Sensing something afoot, Yugi gave his colleague a wide berth, gesturing for Joey to do the same.
"Ladies and gentlemen, it's that time of year again. Time for our annual pledge drive. Sorry to have to do this, but, you know, Waset has a lot of community-supported radio, and the thing about community-supported radio - it's supported by listeners like you. As well as Guatemala and some teamsters, who are, sometimes, just too generous. Any amount you can give will help us continue our community programming. A dollar, or two, or even plasma. Take WZZZ, our local numbers station, broadcasting from that strange and tall antenna built out back of the abandoned gas station on Karnak Street. Did you know that it broadcasts a monotone female voice reading out seemingly random numbers interspersed with chimes twenty four hours a day, seven days a week? As you can imagine, that kind of work doesn't bring in a lot of money - unless it does. To be honest, here at Waset Radio, we don't know exactly what that station is for, or what master it is serving. But I do know that it is a vital part of this community, and we should pitch in to help it. We welcome your support. Give us a call! We don't have a number; just whisper, "Forsaken Algonquinia" into your phone receiver, and angels, or Facebook, or something, will deliver an appropriate contribution from your bank account."
Yusei did not emerge from his self-imposed silence for half an hour, slamming a hastily written letter and hand-drawn bridge schematic on Yugi's desk, startling the poor man silly.
"This is for the Drawbridge. Make sure it gets to the right place."
The head archaeologist could only nod as his coworker returned to his station, slowly relaxing once more.
"Man, when he gets serious, it's scary," Syrus murmurs, safely across the room with the other interns at their designated work table.
"Who, Yusei? Nah, he's not scary!"
"Easy for you to say, Jay," Syrus huffs. "nothing ruffles your feathers."
The brunet shrugs in response, leaning over Jesse's shoulder to observe his partner's neat handwriting.
"More on the Drawbridge debacle. It was turmoil in city headquarters this morning. Following this latest in a long line of municipal failures, the Pharaoh's council has come under fire from concerned citizens for wasting taxpayer money on inefficient services that go over budget and over schedule. One critic, who wished to remain anonymous, said, "We don't even have a river or bay in Waset. There would never be a boat to necessitate a drawbridge!" He continued to... you know what? Forget it. I can tell you right now that it was Thief King Bakura who said that, and he is such a spoilsport, that Bakura! Have you ever noticed how he never replaces his horses? It's laziness, pure and simple. Laziness. I just can't let him ruin our town by denying Waset a drawbridge when he can't even care for a tan mustang!"
Yugi had a feeling he would be hearing a lot about this Thief King in the future. Yami's irritated voice ground out of the speakers, screaming rivalry! with every breath.
"The Waset Daily Journal has announced that, due to spiraling printing costs, they will be replacing the print edition of the paper with a special new Imagination Edition. Editor Rebecca Hawkins explains, "Instead of confining our customers to the outdated modes of ink on paper, we are allowing them to choose the news that interests them by imagining whatever news they want. This will not only save costs, but allow customers to experience the news as a full-color, full-motion experience taking place in a mental world that is tailored to their needs." Subscription to this edition will be compulsory and automatic, and will cost a mere $60 a month."
It might have been possible that local pedestrians just passing by their lab couldn't hear the exceptionally loud groan emanate from the building, but then again, Yugi wouldn't bet on it. He spent a good five minutes getting everyone to chill while Ryou dutifully checked their billing statements.
"This Friday, at Waset High's Battle City Stadium, it's the annual softball showdown between the Waset Fire Department and the Pharaoh's Secret Police. Proceeds from the game will go to support development of nuclear weaponry for a strongly religious Indonesian militia that is looking to overthrow their heretical government, as well as to the Make-A-Wish foundation. So, even if you don't like softball, come on out and support a couple of great causes. Last year's game ended in a rout, as the secret police hit three home runs in the eighth and ninth innings. The firefighters claimed that there was some foul play involved - pun intended, dear listeners - as their entire bullpen was assassinated in the middle innings with blow darts. Those murders remain unsolved and completely uninvestigated. Our hearts go out to the families of the deceased relief pitchers. Rest in peace. It should be a fun one! Expect a real revenge-minded fire department to take the field on Friday. Tickets are only $10, or $5 if you bring enriched yellowcake uranium. Black helicopters will be mind-scanning the town on game day, hunting down those who do not attend. The first 500 fans will receive surgically applied working gills."
No one even noticed when the background music changed. Joey was too busy buying them all tickets online. Just in case, of course.
"Notice: there is no digital, static-y hum coming from the dog park, Mayor Mai Valentine announced today. The mayor stressed repeatedly in her ninety-second impromptu press conference that there is no unbearable, soul-tearing sound that rips at the sinews of your very being coming from the dog park. Mayor Valentine continued with a plea for all Waset residents to understand that there could not possibly be a deeply coded message emanating from a small, fenced-in patch of municipal grass and dirt. Citizens are not even supposed to be consciously aware of the dog park, so they could not possibly be receiving a menacing and unearthly voice instructing listeners to bring precious metals and toddlers to the dog park. "Dog park," she repeated. "That could never, ever be real," the mayor shouted, pounding the podium with her bleeding fists. There were no follow-up questions."
Jaden scratched at the back of his head, feeling a sense of déjà vu overtake him, and unaware of the reason why. He decided to ignore it.
"And now, a word from our sponsors!"
A long, drawn out sensual moan erupted from the radio speakers, halting everyone in their tracks.
Everyone, save Jesse, Yusei, and Joey, flushed bright red, the tips of their ears flaming scarlet. Yugi, trying to deflate some of the tension, fanned his face and cleared his throat repeatedly to no avail.
It only lasted for a total of thirty seconds, petering out into a high, reedy whine, but Yugi thought they may have been the longest thirty seconds of his life. He suddenly found himself unable to stand up, and sequestered himself at his desk with thoughts of his grandfather dancing around the lab in a speedo to calm his racing heart.
"And now, traffic."
The sigh of relief could have been heard from space. It was another five minutes before anyone could even think of returning to work. Lots of cold showers would be taken tonight.
"There's a stalled car on the northbound on-ramp to the eastern expressway just south of Route 800. Commuters should have little delays, as highway patrol is fiercely denying this report. In fact, medjai representatives have just issued a statement claiming that there are no cars anywhere, and, "What are you doing, talking about them, talking silly lies, you silly people, there are no cars! What is this fiction? Oh, please, did you seriously believe for a second? Wait. Wait, you thought that cars were real?" The highway patrol continued, "Oh, that is rich." All other roads seem clear. Expect delays, of course, at the drawbridge construction site, because it is years away from being competently finished."
Yusei could be felt side-eyeing the radio all the way from the kitchen, though he was no longer within view.
"Here are this week's horoscopes."
"Oh, I was hoping for something like this to pop up!" Ryou spouted excitedly, looking up from a computer terminal where he was currently researching the local history.
"Virgo: go see a movie today. It's a great escape! Especially from all this pollution and dangerous UV radiation. Say, is that mole new?"
"Hey Ryou, ain't you a Virgo?" Joey asked, approaching the back of his chair and leaning into the man's personal space.
"I'm surprised you remembered," the intern quipped, humming delightedly as Joey casually placed his hand atop the fluffy white fringe.
Yugi crossed his fingers under the desk, hoping his bet was still accurate.
Jaden tapped a forefinger to his lips thoughtfully before jotting down a quick note on a scrap of paper and shoving it in his pocket for later. At Jesse's inquisitive look, he simply smiled and shrugged, jerking a thumb back at the radio.
"Libra: your dreams will be filled with prophetic visions. Write them down. Hopefully, there are some lottery numbers or sports scores in there."
Syrus had to contain his whoop of joy, masking it with a slight cough and fist pump when no one was looking. Even if he didn't believe in this sort of thing, it couldn't hurt to keep a close eye on his dreams for the next week.
"Scorpio: curse you. Curse your family. Curse your children. And your children's children. Vile, vile Scorpio. Sagittarius: eat well today! You've earned it. And by it, I mean massive food allergies. And by earned, I mean acquired. I should proof this stuff before I read it out loud. Let's try that again. You've acquired massive food allergies. Yes, much cleaner. Eat well! Capricorn: those were not contact lenses you put in this morning. Best not think about this again. Aquarius: the white ball will be under the middle shell. Trust the stars. Invest all your money in this lucrative street game."
Joey grinned, whipping out his phone and inputting a reminder to hit up the gambler's den on his day off. He was practically a regular there by now, and who knows, maybe he could finally wipe the smirks off the faces of every ne'er do well in the joint.
"Pisces: you've won a brand new car! Aries: you will feel a haunting sadness about times gone by. Today's smell is wheat grass and toast."
Yusei paused, a half-eaten slice of buttered cinnamon toast to his mouth. Wrinkling his nose, he set the bread aside, wiping his hands off on a napkin before throwing himself back into calculating payroll for the week.
"Taurus: today is your annual Crime Day. All Tauruses are exempt from laws today. Gemini: you will meet someone today who will have no effect on your life, and who you will immediately forget. Retain hope for a possible future."
Yugi snorted, filing the information for Gemini away for later.
Jesse, completely oblivious, was paying more attention to Jaden than anything else. Ryou, highly observant and meticulous, would remind his fellow intern later. Everyone's birthday was cataloged in their application form, so it didn't take a genius to figure out astrological signs from there.
"Cancer: I've gotta pay my phone bill, and also get some more milk. That wasn't me talking - that is what the stars say today. Interpret it as you will. Leo: it's better that I don't read this aloud. Better that you not know. Tell your family that you love them."
Ryou sincerely hoped no one he knew was a Leo. If Yami's ominous tone was anything to go by, those born under the Lion would have a tough week.
"That has been this week's horoscopes."
"What nonsense," Yusei muttered, returning from the kitchenette with a mug of tea in one hand, the other stuffed into a pocket. He refused to look at his unfinished toast beside his work space.
Jesse shrugged, glancing over the new intern list to see who else would be joining them for future excavations, noting their birthdays with special interest.
"Good news for radio-controlled airplane hobbyists. Those unidentifiable black metallic trees that suddenly appeared by the library back in June and caused all airborne objects above thirty feet to catch fire? Well, they've finally been cleared away, as a new strip mall and parking lot are being developed. The Waset Airport, local birdwatchers, and that nice epileptic couple who run the Emergency Services helicopter are just pleased as pleased can be about the news. Several petitions, however, have cropped up from neighborhood improvement organizations. Tea Gardner, head of one such organization, Waset Or Nothing, said, "...treeeeees... they are us..." Gardner then paused for several minutes without blinking and whispered again, "...treeeeeees," before collapsing into tears and loud moaning. Gardner was then taken by helicopter to Waset General Hospital, where she is reportedly in stable condition. This morning, Gardner's lawyer issued a statement saying: "My client fully recognizes the irony of this helicopter trip, but she stands by her earlier pronouncement, 'Trees, trees; they are us.' "
A solemn piano tune began to play midway through the report, adding to the ambiance. For his part, Yugi sincerely hoped Miss Gardner would be all right. It was still in his nature to care for others far more than himself, even after all these years.
"Meanwhile, I hear from trustworthy informants that there will be a Pinkberry at the new strip mall. Delicious!"
"Hey, maybe we could stop by after they open. Whaddaya say, Yug'?"
"We'll see," was his cryptic response. "Not on a work day, though. We'll make a day of it, or something."
Smiling as though the sun shone through his very pores, Jesse hopped up to mark the possible outing on the dry erase board/calendar. It was a nice step up from having to use the chalk board at the very back all the time. Jaden, with hearts in his eyes, watched his fellow intern take his seat one he was done, chin propped up in one hand, a lazy grin stretching the corners of his lips.
"This just in on Drawbridge Gate. The city council said that, in response to this week's collapse, they will increase the project budget by twenty million dollars over the next fourteen years—the new timeline for the bridge. Money for these extra expenses will come from school lunch programs, a 65% hotel tax, and a $276 bridge toll, which will be discounted to $249 with E-Z Pass."
Mouth agape, Joey bent to pick up the pencil that fell from between his teeth at the announcement. With a long suffering sigh, Yugi dialed his bank, re-configuring their budget, student loans, and even checking to see how much more it would take to pay off their one and only van.
"And now for a station editorial. Large, expensive projects are not uncommon in Waset. We are a patient but resilient little city. We have big dreams - sometimes scary, unforgettable dreams that repeat on the same date every year and are shared by every person in town - but we make those big dreams come true. Remember the clock tower? It took eight years and twenty three million dollars to build, and despite its invisibility and constant teleportation, it is a lovely structure that keeps impeccable time. It's a classy signature for Waset's growing skyline, unlike that hideous sports arena Domino City built last spring. Domino City can't do anything right. That's where Thief King Bakura belongs! Gods, what a jerk."
"Honestly, that explains a lot," muttered Yugi, halfway through his midday cup of tea.
"And now, the weather!"
A loud, thumping beat startled poor Syrus from his desk chair. It was one of those songs you often hear while out clubbing, the beat thumping along to the rhythm of your heart. As it was, no one got any work done while the song played, choosing to hold an impromptu dance party in the empty space by the black board instead.
Yugi let them have at it, refusing to join them under the mumbled pretense of "I can't dance." Needless to say, Joey wasn't having any of it, and dragged his best friend out into the middle of the group.
"At least there are no cute girls around to witness my shame," Syrus moaned, giving Yusei a wide berth as he sauntered by.
Then again, he thought, body moving clumsily along to the rapid words, maybe there should be.
No one understood half of what was sung, the words flowed from one to the next, until they petered out, stopping abruptly as though someone had forcibly cut them off.
Breathless, everyone returned to their stations, flushed but smiling. Yami's smooth voice returned a moment later. Yugi swore he could hear the smile behind the deep baritone, as though he had been witness to every second of the ridiculous antics.
"Apparently, the Pharaoh's Secret Police agree with me about old Thief King Bakura, dear listeners. We just received a report from a reliable witness that two days ago, Bakura was whisked into the back of a windowless van, only to reappear earlier this morning wearing thick head bandages and eating vellum shaped like an ice cream cone."
Yugi briefly wondered if he would ever meet this Thief King, but judging by Yami's disdainful descriptions of the man, he would be wise to stay as far from him as humanly possible.
"I want to take this moment to thank all of you out there, for all of the generous donations that you may or may not be aware that you just made. During this show, we have raised just a hair over $45,000, which includes a $45,000 donation from a certain anonymous world leader. I can't tell you who - let's just say, shukraan jazila, Alsyd Alrrayiys! Lakum, min 'aemaq qalbi."
Swallowing thickly, Yugi quietly adjusted himself, crossing his legs under the desk. Having minored in Middle Eastern Languages back in college, he understood every bit of Arabic that poured smoothly from Yami's lips. It did nothing to calm his infatuation with the man and his voice of crushed velvet. That, and his unmistakable boner that made getting up for the next half hour impossible.
"Thank you again for your involuntary support of community radio. We couldn't do it without the support of listeners like you, in conjunction with unethical contributions from nefarious organizations. And with that, I leave you alone with your thoughts, folks. Stay tuned next for Zydeco Note By Note, a special two-hour verbal description of what zydeco music sounds like."
"Yugi, are you all right?"
"Tusbih ealaa khayr, Waset. Good night."
Yugi's head hit the desk with a solid thump, hands fisting in his painfully short plum locks, eyes wide and cheeks aflame.
"Just peachy, Ryou."
Mercifully, the radio shut itself off for the day, but Yugi refused to move from his spot until all he could think about was Joey in a dog suit, galloping about the Sand Wastes and howling at the full moon.
Bury me beneath the sand for all eternity, he thought fiercely, fed up with himself and his stupid traitorous body.
Or better yet, his secret kinky side whispered, bury me under Yami's bed sheets and never let me leave..
Today's Proverb: Lost? Confused? Lacking direction? Need to find a purpose in your life?
Chapter 7: History Maker
So.. it's been a minute since the last update. I'm just gonna go ahead and update this fic whenever I can find the time. I'm moving soon, so things are a lil hectic right now. Sorry for the inconvenience!
Also, I regret nothing as far as the chapter name goes.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"It is almost complete. It is almost complete at last. Welcome to Waset."
"They'd better be talking about the drawbridge," Yusei muttered, strolling into the lab, a steaming mug of coffee in one hand, a rolled up newspaper in the other.
Yugi snorted, idly jiggling a heavy boot clad foot to the opening notes of the broadcast. It wasn't likely, but he could hope. After all, other good things had happened just this last week.
The lab had undergone some recent upgrades now that they were in a better financial situation. Thanks to Yusei's quick technical thinking on drawing up new plans for the drawbridge, they'd been praised by the Pharaoh himself! Not directly, of course. The Pharaoh never spoke to anyone aloud, but his messenger had assured Yugi that he was most pleased, and that the new developments for the drawbridge construction would go underway as soon as possible.
The Pharaoh's praise wasn't the only thing they had gotten out of it. Better computer terminals that no longer needed constant maintenance, a cafeteria area where the archaeologists and their interns could socialize during their lunch break without ever having to set foot into Ra's scorching rays, as well as a larger space to work in general. No longer stuck in a one room warehouse, they had access to a quaint little building just up the road from the Great House. It had window box gardens filled with tiny succulents, for Ra's sake!
The move took three days, and now that they were closer to the Great House, they had a bit more wiggle room as to the types of research they could conduct. Under the watchful eyes of the Pharaoh and his advisors, anything Yugi needed - short of a trip to Domino City, which he would have refused anyway - the head archaeologist didn't want for anything. It was a far cry from their first few weeks in Waset, where they had to struggle for any kind of cooperation from the townsfolk.
"Hello, there. As you well know, faithful listeners, it is Waset History Week, in which we all learn a little bit about what made our bustling little town what it is. Or, as the official motto released by the Pharaoh's Council goes, 'Poke about in the black recesses of the past until it devours our fragile present.' "
"Well, he sure sounds cheerful this morning!" Jesse remarked, arriving with Jaden and Syrus in tow and immediately heading for the break area for their morning coffee.
Jaden looked rather cheerful himself, Yugi noted. He seemed only too happy to follow in the newest intern's shadow, occasionally piping up to instruct the Southerner on how things were kept and how to file important documents.
Tapping his fellow senior archaeologist Yusei on the shoulder, Yugi held an impromptu meeting at the water cooler. It was time to change the bets on the lab "When Are Ryou and Joey Announcing Their Engagement" pool to include "When Are Jaden And Jesse Going To Start Dating". He had an intuition about these things, and though it was all in good fun, he sincerely wished for their happiness.
"In the interest of civic participation, Waset Community Radio will be pitching in with short lessons about some points of interest from our town's history, starting with 1550 B.C."
A bunch of shuffling off in the cubicle area caught Ryou's attention. He was the only other one there, but he could see Yusei and Yugi make their way back down the hall towards them through the window.
Joey was tossing his notes about, digging for something in particular judging by the determined gleam in his warm brown eyes. Curious, Ryou poked his head into Joey's cubicle, only to be hit in the face with a thick manila file folder. A resigned sigh left his lips as he bent to pick it up, carefully arranging the contents before tucking it under his arm.
"There ya are!" Joey exclaimed, clutching a sheaf of A4 to his chest. His triumphant grin froze at the sight of the exasperated look on his boyfriend's face.
"Archaeologists believe that this is the earliest date of human settlement in Waset. Little remains of these ancient inhabitants except a few hieroglyphs of their towns and their hunting practices, and of the dark shapes that would watch them in the distance. Inhuman, shimmering shapes that never came closer or farther away, but whose presence could be felt even with eyes shut tight, huddled in animal skin, linen, and the company of another human's naked skin. Or so I'm extrapolating from the evidence."
Ryou simply shook his head, handing over the file folder before heading back to his own cubicle. Yugi and Yusei entered the area, heading to their respective work stations. As usual, Yugi was pining over the radio host, and Yusei couldn't wait until they finally decided to tie the knot.
"The hieroglyphs mainly resemble worn etchings now, after their original discoverer attempted to power-grind them off the wall because he, on religious grounds, did not believe in the past."
Everyone froze dead in their tracks as the serene back ground music faded. The interns exchanged fearful glances from across the hall, eyeing the senior archaeologists carefully. Yugi looked ike he'd been personally offended and was about to rain down hell from above; Joey looked like he'd just spit out something sour and unpleasant; Yusei stared blankly at the wall in front of him, painted in a beautiful mural that told the story of the most recent Pharaoh's accomplishments.
Jaden gulped, scooting closer to Jesse, who offered his shoulder to lean on. Ryou, sensing the tension in the air, cleared his throat.
"Well, it's a good thing we're here to fix all that, hm?"
He received mumbled acknowledgements in return. Well, it was a start.
"And now the news: The Waset Tourism Board asks that whoever is telepathically assaulting the tourists, please stop."
"Again?" Joey muttered, poring over the notes he'd rescued from the chaos of his cubicle earlier. Something Yami said had triggered his memory, and he was determined to find out why.
"According to the WTB executive director, Ray Akaba, there were two separate incidents in one week of entire tour buses suddenly shrieking in unbridled terror and trying to blind themselves using rolled-up 'Visitable Waset' brochures — all to the utter confusion of the bus drivers. Akaba added, "We just had those brochures printed."
"If it's not one thing, it's another," Yugi muttered into his late morning tea.
Yusei snorted lightly, flicking his wrists to adjust the newspaper and turn it to the next page. He was knee deep in the automobile advertisements and it wasn't even ten in the morning yet.
"Akaba claims that tourism accounts for tens of thousands of dollars annually for Waset, and the town prides itself on hospitality. She said that if good-hearted families travel to Waset only to find their subconsciouses besieged with unforgettable revelations, horrors buried so deep as to be completely indescribable, revealing wholly unbearable new truths, then we certainly can't expect these people to return.. let alone leave good Yelp ratings for local businesses."
Lab morale was stagnant this morning. The new location hype had worn off sooner than Yugi expected. He was only just now getting used to the shorter ride to work, although the fabulous close up of the Pharaoh's palace as they passed the front gates every morning was well worth it in his eyes. Plus, all that new room to work in certainly helped.
"The city is asking residents for help in determining who, or what, is causing these psychological infractions. The tourism board is offering puppies as a reward for information on this case. Or, even if you don't have information, the city asks that you come get a puppy or two anyway. Seriously. Downtown municipal offices are overrun with them. In the trees, walls, carpentry.. the exterminators are completely stymied by this infestation. Please help."
Before the words could even leave his mouth, Joey was interrupted by a firm "No." from Yugi, who hadn't even bothered to look up from his paperwork. Resigning himself to pouting for the next half hour, a cheeky grin took its place at the thumbs up Ryou shot him from across the room. They were so getting a puppy.
"It has been several weeks since anyone in Waset has seen the Dinosaur Tracker — that white guy who wears the inaccurate and horribly offensive dinosaur skull headdress everywhere. He has not been seen since he began investigating the Great Screaming heard at the post office, and the words written in blood inside. Also the entire structure of his house has vanished, and the lot where it stood is now a bucolic meadow that neighborhood kids will not ever enter for reasons even they are unable to explain. I think I speak for everyone in the community when I say good riddance to that local embarrassment. He made the whole town look ignorant and racist."
The lack of back ground music made it much easier for those listening intently to the broadcast to the note the faint creak of a swivel chair, or the clink of a saucer against a tea cup as Yami spoke. As enamored as Yugi undoubtedly was, he still contrived to remain professional. He still had not been able to find his way back to the room at the Great House where he met the mysterious figure shrouded in shadows, much to his chagrin.
Anyone he bothered to ask about the man either refused further eye contact with him, or in the case of the more tactful residents, made up some silly excuse before power walking away. It was ridiculous, but Yugi concluded that the only way he would ever find Yami again was if he stopped looking. For now.
"And now, let us continue with our Waset History Week special feature."
Before their lunch hour, Joey snuck out under the guise of 'picking up some grub'. Yugi hoped the puppy was worth it.
"The year 1745: The first white men arrived in Waset. Which was not Waset then, but was rather just another part of a large and featureless desert. I think we can all agree, though, that even as large and featureless as the desert was, the part that would eventually become Domino City was still probably awful and drab in comparison to our part. In any case, the story goes that a party of explorers came to the area that would be Waset, looked around, and immediately left to go find somewhere with more water, and maybe some trees. Then another three parties of explorers did the same thing. Then finally, one party of explorers all looked at each other, shrugged, and plopped down their stuff.. and thus was a proud city born."
"Is that even historically accurate?" Ryou, currently up to his ears in cataloging a new shipment of artifacts, looked up from his third canopic jar in the last thirty minutes to pose the question aloud to the rest of his coworkers.
Loud shuffling followed by a muffled curse came from somewhere beyond the mound of inventory he was processing. It had to be Joey, no one else used such language around the interns.
"Hang on, I got a textbook here! We'll be able to find out the real deal, just gimme a sec."
"And now, traffic."
For the next segment, Joey silently scanned the text book, assuring himself that he could find the answer. Ryou idly wondered where he'd hidden their new puppy.
"Crews from the Department of Public Safety will be repainting highway lane markers this week. The common white dashes and double yellow lane dividers will be replaced with colorful ceramic mosaics depicting disgruntled South American workers rising en masse against an abusive capitalist hegemony."
Jaden stared blankly down at the pen in his hand, mumbling to himself. Having heard the strange stories of his mysterious condition after the House Incident, Jesse peered over his shoulder, concerned.
What he heard nearly caused him to fall out of his chair.
"Capitalist hedge.. hee geh.. money? What even..?"
Needless to say, Jaden was fine.
"The protective steel barriers along curves in the road will be taken down to make room for some really lovely and provocative butcher-paper silhouettes of slavery-era self-mutilation, reflective of several centuries of slow genocide and dehumanization by Western imperialists, designed by contemporary art darling Alexis Rhodes."
As used to Yami's dark musings as they all were, even that was a bit much for some of them. Joey looked like he was halfway between wanting to throw up and wanting to punch something. Yugi coughed, the sound echoing down the halls as he shifted awkwardly in his chair.
"Also, Exits 15 to 17 along Route 800 will be closed for the next two Saturdays because of the biennial Lee Marvin Film Retrospective. So please watch for working crews this weekend, lower your speed, and don't forget to tip the DPS shift leaders. Twenty percent of your current mileage is standard. Lack of tipping is the leading cause of sinkholes in the U.S."
"Ain't that the truth," Joey muttered, finally giving up his hunt for information. After two hours of unsuccessful trial and error, he was ready to throw in the towel.
"The year 1824: The first meeting of the Town Elder Council, predecessors to the Pharaoh's Council. Picture them: ivory robes and soft meat crowns (as was traditional at the time), setting the groundwork for the splendor of today's Waset."
"Meat crowns?" whispered Syrus, unable to bear the strange silence that had fallen over the lab.
"Sounds delicious to me!"
"You would think so, Jay." Jesse quipped with a friendly noogie to his brown and beige head.
"A number of elements of our modern civic process were invented in that single three-hour meeting, including the city Council membership (since unchanged); the lovably Byzantine tax system (as well as the system of brutal penalties for mistakes); and the official town song, chant, and moan. All records of this meeting were destroyed, and... according to a note being passed to me just now, I am to report to the Great House for re-education effective tomorrow morning. Oh, dear.."
A heavy sigh hissed through the speakers, followed by the sound of shuffling paper. Yami sounded so forlorn, though not at all surprised. Yugi had the inkling he'd been through the ordeal before.
"The results of a recent survey of Waset residents came to light this week. The study found widespread dissatisfaction with our town's public library. And, when considering the facts, it's easy to see why. The public computers for internet use are outdated and slow. The lending period of 14 days is not nearly long enough to read lengthier books, given the busy schedules of all our lives. The fatality rate is also well above the national average for public libraries. The library bloodstone circle does not appear to have seen any maintenance or cleaning in some time. There are reports of a faceless spectre moving about the Biography section, picking off lone browsers one by one."
A low hum transcending into a steady beat wound its way into the air. At the mention of bloodstone circles, Ryou's brown eyes sparkled, twirling a lock of snow white hair around a finger as he held his pen aloft, poised and ready to take notes. At the mention of a spectre, Joey shuddered, burying his nose into his previously discarded text book.
"And that Biography section, by the way, is far too small and has been oddly curated - containing 33 copies of the official biography of Kisara, and no other books. From top to bottom, the public library is a disgrace to our fair city and I can only hope the Pharaoh's Council does something about that soon, or I may find myself hoping that the faceless spectre puts the library to the same mysterious, violent end as its many victims."
"If any of you go to the library within the next week or so," Yugi began, swiveling around in his chair to face his team, "I highly suggest you abide by whatever rules they have, no matter how crazy they sound."
He received nothing but affirmative nods in return.
"Good, now let's grab lunch."
Lunch was held in the break area; each member picked out their favorite spot and sat talking amongst themselves, laughing quietly at Joey's exaggerated stories. No one dared talk above the sound of Yami's gentle voice, which carried through the lab easily, considering the radio hadn't budged from its spot on the back corner of Yugi's desk.
"Waset High won the grudge match against the Domino City Vultures last night. Two-headed quarterback Declan Akaba credits the win to help from Angels! The Angels have made an adamant denial of any involvement whatsoever in the game. The school district ethics committee has announced that they will look into any possible 'Angelic interference'."
"That reminds me of this one movie about this guy on a baseball team who can see angels.." Jaden proceeded to launch into an account of a rather obscure American movie from the nineties without prompting from his peers. No one really had the heart to stop him.
"Speaking of which, Waset High School is adding metal detectors, and parents and students alike are outraged. Several parents we talked to said that WHS students have long been recipients of shadow government-issued Uzis and rifles, as well as khopesh and armor-piercing munitions. The School Board's decision to put up metal detectors, according to parents, impinges on the clandestine operation's rights as a vast underground conspiracy of giant megacorporations and corrupt world leaders to bear arms via teenage paramilitary proxies."
Thankfully, Jesse took the initiative and clapped a hand over Jaden's mouth just before Yugi could grow annoyed. Muttering something into his ear, Jesse only released his fellow intern when he promised - in no uncertain terms - that he wouldn't disturb the flow of the radio broadcast. At the enthusiastic nod around the hand over his mouth, Jaden gulped in lungfuls of air once the hand finally left his face. The dazzling grin left in its wake startled Jesse into silence.
"The School Board countered that studies indicate that weapons distract from educators' ability to educate, and that students who bring firearms to classrooms are more likely to use firearms than students without firearms. The School Board says that school shootings can only get in the way of a quality education."
"Well... at the risk of becoming too much a part of this story, dear listeners, might I say that the Waset School District is overstepping its bounds by telling us whether or not our children can be armed by undercover militants? Should it be a school's job to say, "No, child, you cannot have spears or assault rifles in the classroom"? I think not!"
Yugi's phone beeped, signaling the end of their lunch break. He was almost glad, as it meant returning to the scheduled monotany where the strange goings on in Waset had very minimal affect on the merry band of archaeologists. At least, that was the case since they moved locations.
"Beginning November first, all students at WHS will enter the school through metal detectors. Any firearms or weaponry found will be confiscated and held in the counselor's office until after school, when the students can pick them up again. Seriously, listeners, what's next? Removing the line "Praise the beams, praise, o ye knowing beams that guide our lives, our hearts, our souls; praise o highest to ye all-powerful beams" from the Pledge of Allegiance?!"
Syrus took note of this sudden change to a pledge that, to his knowledge, had not changed since his academy days.
"Let's return to another key moment in Waset history. The year 1943: As part of the war effort, Waset citizens dedicated themselves to chanting. The young, the old, men and women alike gathered around their bloodstones and chanted for the victory of Khemet. While some credit must be given to the strategic planning of the Pharaoh, and to the brave fighting of Khemet soldiers, most reputable scholars believe that Waset's chanting was the deciding factor in Khemet's eventual victory over the Dark powers. The city Council erected a seven-story monument in Millennium Park saying so in large, neon letters... until a federal lawsuit forced them to take it down."
"That sounds.. wild."
Yusei shook his head in disbelief. Waset was so drastically different from the Satellite, he wasn't sure if he would ever get used to this.
"And now, a word from our sponsors. That word is carp."
A smattering of snickers from the intern section of their cubicles made Yugi roll his eyes, tossing a crumpled up old invoice over the barrier and relishing in the soft smack of paper hitting flesh.
"This next installment in our exploration of Waset's storied past takes place in the future."
Yugi sat up attentively, abandoning the prospect of work for another few minutes just to listen to Yami's smooth baritone as it flowed through the speakers.
"The year 2052: The scion of the Dark Order will descend, realize he mistimed the prophecy, and re-ascend. The Seventh Siege of the Luxor Temple will rage on. The plague of buzzing boils will kill thousands, and annoy thousands more, with its buzzing. The Pharaoh's Council will reveal its true form and eat half of Waset's population. Approval ratings for the mayor will hover in the low forties, which will be surprising, as there will have been no mayor for over thirty years."
"And now, the weather!"
The weather for today reminded the interns of pop punk from the mid 2000s. Having voiced as much, Yusei, Joey, and Yugi all exchanged knowing looks and shudders. That experience was not lost on the older archaeologists. High school was a strange time for them all.
"The Waset Business Association announced today that the Waset Harbor and Waterfront Recreation Area was not actually something that ever existed in reality, but was instead a shared hallucination of the entire town's population. As such, they are proud to declare that they have never suffered any sort of disastrous business failure, and the reportedly massive amounts of money lost on building waterfront facilities in a desert are fabrications of our collective consciousness."
Yusei, unable to contain his derisive snort, left the cubicle area to inspect the servers in the back room.
"They recommend consulting your dream interpretation manuals to determine exactly what this 'Waset Harbor' vision could mean. They also said that if you happen to stumble on the Waterfront buildings out in the desert exactly where you remembered them, and they seem completely real, standing as vacant and useless as the day they were built, that's because you are still hallucinating and should seek medical treatment immediately. Or have a member of the Pharaoh's Council howl at you if you are of the Olden Faith, and do not believe in modern medicine."
The work day was nearly over, for which Yugi was glad. Tomorrow, he would try his hand to once again attempt to find the room in the Great House where he meat Yami.
"For our final story in this week's featured look into the history of Waset, let's look at the very recent past. Yesterday: I had cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, steak for dinner. Cars were driven, cars were not driven. The sun disk gave a great shout of light and then, after several hours of thought, quietly retracted the statement."
The sun itself was creeping towards the horizon, casting its ruddy golden glow over the barren land.
"Old Woman Cyndia dug up a box in a shady corner of her yard and carried it, cradled in her arms like a baby or a delicate explosive, to another part of her yard where she buried it again."
"I always thought she was kinda fishy," Joey proclaimed as he helped Yugi shut down the lab for the evening.
"Until she gives you one of her muffins," Ryou smirked, gently nudging the blond in the ribs and dancing out of reach as he made to retaliate. Yugi hoped they announced their engagement next week.
"An unknown person did something that no one else saw, the nature and extent of which is impossible to determine, and the result of which will be lost in the chaotic chain of causation and consequence that is history."
Yugi chuckled, hand propped in his chin on the ride back to his hotel as he stared out the passenger side window into the vast expanse of sand and scrub that made up the majority of Waset. It was beautiful, he supposed. The harsh, bright kind of beauty that took your breath away. Literally, if you weren't careful.
"But most importantly, all of us — all of us here in Waset, in Khemet, in the world, in the secret orbital bases — all of us got through another day. We passed the time from one end of twelve to the other without stopping once. Well done, us! Good job, people who experience time! Time experiencers! Good job!"
Once back in his hotel room after bidding his colleagues good night, Yugi flopped in bed, toeing off his shoes and letting them fall where they may. It hadn't been frightfully busy like some days had been this past week, but he was feeling a different kind of fatigue, one he couldn't put a name to.
"And, from this moment in history, the one that's happening right now... Good night."
After realizing with a jolt that Yami's sultry voice had once again followed him to his temporary home away from home, he stripped, showered, had dinner, and climbed back into bed, more refreshed than when he left it.
Tomorrow is the day, he decided.
The day I find Yami..
Today's proverb: It must be 3:23pm somewhere. Maybe space?
Chapter 8: The Lights in the Necropolis
First, I feel really bad I let this thing sit unfinished for over a year. I wasn't in a good place to continue writing this fic after I moved, but now that I moved back home where I belong, I feel a lot better about going back to write more for this.
There will be a change in writing style, and I apologize if it seems too drastic. I've improved a lot over the past year and then some, and I hope you'll keep sticking with me, because I still have a lot to learn.
For this chapter, I felt like a glimpse into Atem's point of view was a worthwhile avenue to explore, and I may come back to that from time to time whenever I run out of ideas for things to do for Yugi and the crew.
Before I blabber on too much, please enjoy the long-awaited update!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
To Atem, it felt like over a year had passed since he'd last had the pleasure of speaking with his favorite archeologist, Yugi Mutou; but in reality, it had been no time at all. Time was something to be treasured and feared, here in the heart of the desert wastes. One second, you were sitting at your desk, pouring over ancient manuscripts; the next, you were watching the love of your life command an entire population, all from the safety of his quarters.
Time was a different mistress in Waset, and the pharaoh of Khemet knew all too well how it affected the citizens in his quaint little desert community.
It was nearly midday, almost too hot to be awake, but Atem knew better than to dally for too much longer before the heat grew too vicious. He had much to do today, and if he were honest, the next thing on his mental agenda gave him butterflies. Straightening the usekh collar around his throat, he glanced around the shift of fabric blocking his view of the audience hall.
Standing before the gilded throne, twisting a lock of his tragically shorn plum hair, stood Yugi Mutou. His current interpreter was Seth, his cousin and beloved high priest, standing beside the throne and looking for all the world like he would rather be anywhere but here.
Khemet's ruler did not speak, preferring to use sign language as a means of communicating with his subjects.
Atem made several gestures in greeting once his retainer had announced his presence, taking a seat on the hard-backed chair -- a boy in the seat of the gods. Seth, garbed in blue and gold from head to toe, dutifully translated the swift and eager movements of his hands.
"Pharaoh apologizes for his lateness, Yugi Mutou," he says, cutting eyes to his king, bright like chips of moonlight scattered across deep water. "Though he should have been here an hour previously."
Atem shrugs, unrepentant. He knows Yugi is intimately familiar with Middle Egyptian, so he has no trouble understanding the high priest. He is also fluent in Japanese, Upper Egyptian, Lower Egyptian, and Nondenominational Hebrew.
"That's okay, I haven't been waiting long." He smiles, friendly as always, and Atem falls just a little bit more in love.
He shakes his head, making a few small gestures. Yugi flicks his eyes over to Seth for a translation.
"Then let's get down to business." Atem frowns, tapping a fingernail to the throne for attention. Unfortunately, Seth doesn't miss a beat. "No, I'm not translating that."
Yugi tilts his head, perhaps trying in vain to translate the silent exchange for himself.
Atem throws his hands in the air and flops against the back of the throne, crossing his legs with a huff. He gestures to Yugi, who takes that as his cue to speak. Seth was Seth, he supposed, their shared blood not stopping him from testing Atem at every gods-given opportunity.
"Right, well. I was just wondering about the lights coming from the Necropolis. We were out there this past weekend, and one of my archeologists got a bit spooked." Yugi chuckles, stilted and nervous, toeing the edge of a boot into the sandstone tile beneath his feet.
Seth leans down to murmur in his ear. Goosebumps break out along his arms, but now is certainly not the time for such thoughts. Atem waves him back, making a few quick gestures in response. He wasn't unduly worried; the Necropolis - more commonly known as the Valley of the Kings - housed all sorts of vengeful spirits and creatures of the night. That was the sole reason they entombed their dead along the miles of sand and blood drenched stone.
"We will look into this matter ourselves," Seth eventually says, clasping his hands in front of him, The Millenium Rod a faintly shining reminder of the power he carried.
"There could be some kind of sinister forces at work, or something. Will you at least warn people from going out there?" Yugi's distress seemed genuine, standing firm and locking gazes with the divine like it was something he did every day. Atem would never find malice in the depths of those eyes - dark as ink, but lovely and kind.
Yugi met him halfway, pulled no punches, and gave as much as he was given. Maybe that's why the pharaoh was so smitten.
Atem nods, making a series of flowing gestures before turning to his cousin expectantly.
Seth sighs, a huff of breath on warm, still air. "Pharaoh has taken your concern into account, and an announcement will be made later in the evening." Atem catches the ire in Seth's blue eyes as they roll skyward. "And I refuse to relay the last part."
It's all Atem can do to keep his annoyance to a light smack on Seth's shoulder and nothing more. How was he supposed to woo the man if his cousin kept ruining his every attempt?
"Okay, what am I missing?" Yugi asks, eyes darting from Atem to Seth in swift succession, arms loosely folded across his chest.
"Nothing, Pharaoh likes to see himself speak." Seth's lips twitch, the ghost of a smirk.
Atem nearly opens his mouth to berate his cousin, but Mahaad chooses that moment to enter the hall, ascending the dais and kneeling before his king.
"My apologies, my king. There was an.. incident with the last practice spell."
He forgot all about admonishments, focusing his attention on the kneeling priest before him. At the last second, he closes his mouth around a sigh, signalling for Mahaad to rise after paying the appropriate respect his king was due. After all, they still had an audience, and bickering could wait.
Mahaad stands, taking his place at Atem's other side and offering Yugi one of his kind, rare smiles.
"Did she blow up half the west wing again?" Seth asks, casually examining his nails.
"Not this time," Mahaad replies dryly.
Atem holds up a hand for silence, motioning for Yugi to speak once more.
"Um, there were also noises to go with the flickering lights." Yugi taps a finger to his arm as he thinks, and Atem's eyes follow the movement.
"What sorts of noises?" Seth asks, attention once more focused on the meeting at hand.
"I dunno," Yugi shrugs, a quick bird-like dip of his shoulders. "Unintelligible code, maybe?" A flash of teeth catches onto his bottom lip, the scrape of sand beneath his toes a testament to his hesitation. "I'm scared for you," he murmurs, glancing up from beneath dark lashes to lock eyes with the god on his throne. "I'm scared for all of you in this strange town."
Atem takes several moments to consider that perhaps the village of thieves is not as dead as he once assumed. He takes a deep breath and thanks Yugi for his time, wordlessly praising the man for his unyielding wit and bravery in the face of such danger.
If he threw in a compliment about his smile, no one had to be the wiser, since Seth wouldn't stoop to translating it anyway.
"Pharaoh is grateful you decided to report this, Yugi Mutou." Seth taps a fingernail against the wedjat carved into the Rod's face, impatience lining his tone. "But if there is anything to be scared of, it is the power Pharaoh wields to repel the forces of darkness, not the pesky spirits of old."
"He also says you have a lovely smile, one that even rivals Ra's flaming chariot, soaring across the firmament to provide light in the darkest of shadows."
All eyes slowly lock on Mahaad, who seems completely unconcerned about helping Atem in getting a date with the cute archaeologist.
Atem flicks sunset eyes over to Yugi, noting the fine dusting of pink blooming in the arches of his cheeks. Were he able to speak in front of others, the pharaoh would make a quick decree that no one was allowed to embarrass him in front of an audience; hiding his face in the safety of his hands would have to do for now.
"Must you?" Seth asks, glaring icy daggers at his fellow priest.
"Someone has to."
Atem knew he was destined to die young, and maybe the gods would have mercy and take him here and now.
"Ah, thank.. you?" Yugi's voice tilts on the end of a question, as though unsure whether to accept the compliment or not. "Um, thank you for seeing me on such short notice, too." he continues, scratching the base of his skull, right where his lovely and untamed curls once sat. "But I should get going."
Mahaad bows his head, the Millennium Ring around his neck tinkling faintly with the movement. Atem quickly signs a farewell, asking him out to dinner as a last minute after-thought.
"Pharaoh wishes you safe travels," Seth intones, hipbone barely grazing the throne as he shifts his weight.
"He also extends an invitation to dinner at your earliest convenience," Mahaad adds, grey eyes calculating as they bore into Yugi's retreating figure.
"I'll think about it!" Yugi calls, tossing a wave over his shoulder and hurrying from the audience hall.
As he disappears back into the sand-tossed desert, Atem makes sure his heart goes with him.
"It wasn't a no, my king," Mahaad murmurs, as though he could read the thoughts etched on Atem's brow.
"I'm sure he'll take solace in that fact."
Seth's tone drips with sarcasm, but that doesn't stop Atem from kindling an ember of hope in his chest anyway. He leans into his cousin's space, arms flush, skin to skin to gold, and rests his chin in the palm of his hand; Seth tenses, but wisely remains in place.
The king sighs, a long slip of breath, content for the moment to tap out a staccato rhythm against the inside of Seth's wrist with his free hand; he relishes in feeling the pulse quicken just slightly, sharing a private smile with Mahaad, who is never far from reach.
The moment is broken when a breathless Mana rushes into the hall, tiny staff in hand.
"Atem! There you are!" The tiny mage apprentice rushes up to the dais, reaching out to tug lightly at his cape. "You're going to be late if you don't get a move on over to the station!"
Ah, the only thing left on the agenda today was the broadcast. He certainly couldn't miss that.
"What did you break this time, Mana?" Seth asks, gently prying his arm free from Atem's tender hold.
"Nothing," Mana pouts, folding her arms. "There was just a slight mishap with the execution of the spell!"
"We'll go over it again in a bit. Why don't you escort the pharaoh down to the station?"
Atem sighs, standing to stretch his arms, back arching at a satisfying angle. The throne of his ancestors was lovely, but no one sat comfortably upon the god's chair.
"Sure thing, Master!" Mana brightens at the prospect, sticking her tongue out at Seth as she passes. His cousin has more decorum than to stoop to her level, but Mana was still a cherished friend all the same. "Come on, Atem. The people are waiting.~"
Atem is shoved out the door without further preamble, Mahaad's gentle laughter following in his wake.
Exasperated, Atem waves her off. His appearance matters little in the broadcast room, where no one but the darkness can bear witness.
"I know you can't talk right now," Mana murmurs, lowering her voice and glancing up and down the hall. "But remember to keep Yugi Mutou away from the Necropolis, okay?"
Atem tips his chin in her direction, keeping her in his peripheral. He makes a few jerky motions, pointing to the stretch of blank wall before them.
Only, it isn't so devoid of decoration anymore.
Hand painted murals line each side of a set of double stone doors, carved with the faces and names of previous Station managers; the three silhouettes of the gods loom threateningly above.
"Alright, I understand." Mana pats him on the shoulder, good-natured and kind. "Go save Waset, the only way you know how."
Atem nods, tossing a farewell thumbs up over his shoulder as he enters the room -- a solemn parable of amazing grace, clothed in god's flesh and human frailty in equal parts.
The doors fold shut behind him, blocking out all light, Mana's retreating figure but a fading memory.
The room is as he left it: dark and chaotic, filled with silence only a grave can provide.
Papers await his thorough hand, mic stand at the ready, and there's even a steaming mug of coffee placed lovingly beside his headphones.
He'll have to thank the intern later, assuming they're still alive.
The shadows welcome him with open arms, carressing his calves like a dog eager to receive praise from its master. Atem chuckles, warm and belly deep; the sound resonates, scattering smears of violet and orange, gold and rust along the edges of the void.
"Alright, let's begin."
The very sound of his voice sets the shadows vibrating, a gentle hum not unlike bees buzzing in the peak of Springtime. They scatter and reform, encasing him in a swirl of indigo and black.
His crown dissolves into sparkling fragments, and Atem has never been so glad to be rid of the weight of the world lining his brow. Cape and tunic follow suit, the shadows themselves clothing him from head to toe in every day attire.
A crisp white button up, sleeves rolled to the crook of his elbow and fine cufflinks in the shape of ankhs peeking between the folds. Leather pants and heeled boots, all standard regulation. Elegant gold cuffs line the curve of his ears, and a dark pinstripe vest ties the look together nicely.
Atem tucks a lock of gold behind his ear and nods, satisfied. Now his hair can flow freely down his back, a cascade of burnished copper coils, unraveled from the elegant updo reserved for the pharaonic days of old.
With a parting caress, the shadows disperse, back to line the edges of the void as they have always done.
He slides into the desk chair and gets to work immediately: booting up the equipment with practiced ease, slotting the headphones comfortably over lightning-shaped bangs and launching into the broadcast with his usual flair.
"Silence is golden. Words are vibrations. Thoughts are magic. Welcome to Waset."
The familiar jingle plays through his headphone speakers, and Atem is content in the knowledge that Yugi must be listening, even now.
In fact, the shadows coalesce into an opaque screen, where he can watch the goings on at the archaeologists' headquarters in relative comfort. He felt a bit bad, spying like this, but the shadows themselves were out of his control. Atem had to obey their will, as dictated by Station managers of the past.
"Next Saturday is the big lottery drawing, listeners, right out in front of the Great House. And your community radio station has put together a few helpful tips for winning."
As usual, Yugi and his team were gathered in the main room, working quietly, but definitely listening.
"The lottery is, of course, mandatory, but how can you get the best odds for drawing a blank white paper, and not one of the purple pieces that means you'll be ceremonially disemboweled and eaten by the wolves at the Waset Petting Zoo and Makeshift Carnival?"
As far as he was concerned, Yugi and his team were off limits. His word was law, and although things had already slipped right through his fingers like the mighty Nile waters, Atem was determined to leave the group of scholars to their studies unhindered.
"I know to some of you young people, this lottery seems like a barbarous, outdated tradition. But, if not for a municipally-planned citizen sacrifice each quarter, how else would we find satisfactory meats to feed those sad, scrawny animals?"
It was a sad fact of life, the endless loop of life and death, but honestly? Anything was better than what Domino City had to offer.
"So here now are the "Three I's" of playing the lottery. 'I' one: Identify. Learn to sense colors. Purple has a grittier emotional aura than white. 'I' two: Ignite. Set fire to your home. While it's not true that wolves refuse to eat arsonists, it's a scientific fact that they're unable to detect the presence of one. 'I' three: Imitate. If you happen to draw a purple piece, impersonate someone who drew a white piece. You might be mistaken for a person who is color blind. This, of course, will lead to months of painful color re-education at the Great House. But, in most cultures, that's better than being eaten by wolves."
Out of his peripheral, he noticed Yugi had stopped writing on the white board, marker poised in midair, lips slightly parted in shock as he stared across the room, aghast at his radio.
Atem frowned. Poor thing, he shouldn't spook his potential date so soon with completely normal, albeit morbid, topics.
"Also, make sure to visit the Food Truck Festival, which will be downtown as part of the lottery festivities. Popular truck treats include Korean barbecue, vegetarian chili, and veal ice cream."
There, much better. Yugi's expression relaxed, and Atem continued on as normal.
"Yugi, this station's favorite scientist (no offense to Dr. Hawkins in the Waset Community College chemistry department) dropped by our broadcasting station earlier this morning for a little chat."
The man in question dropped the dry erase marker halfway through the equation, an embarrassed flush tinting the ridges of his cheeks pink, like rose petals in the sun. Atem's lips spread in a wicked grin as he remembered their earlier conversation.
"Sadly, dinner or weekend plans were not among the topics."
Not yet anyway, Atem thought, tracing the rim of his mug with a delicate finger.
"However, Yugi did request that we ask listeners for anyone who saw a series of bright, colorful flickers coming from the Necropolis this past weekend. These flickers would also have also been accompanied by unintelligible noises — possibly some form of coded communication or signal-jamming technique."
In the silence of the room, he clearly heard Joey's friendly ribbing, even beyond the scope of his headphones. Yugi waved him off, picking up his marker and resuming his note taking with renewed vigor, even as the blush deepened into a lovely, petal-smeared painting.
"Yugi suggested that there could be some very sinister forces at work here. He declined to be interviewed live, claiming only that he was scared for us. Scared for all of us in our strange town. Then he drove away quickly in his economical but attractively sporty hybrid coupe."
The car had arrived some days previously, drenched in the new leather smell and gasoline of a modern convenience. At any rate, it was a step up from the ratty, used vehicle he came in.
"If anyone out there knows anything about these otherworldly lights and sounds, please contact us immediately."
Atem took the time between news topics to take a sip from his drink, letting the warmth seep deep into his skin, all the way down, until all he felt was bliss.
"Waset school superintendent Chancellor Shepherd announced today that the Glow Cloud has joined the School Board. The Glow Cloud passed over the entirety of Waset several weeks ago — dropping small and large animal carcasses, controlling our thoughts and tertiary muscle groups, and erasing every last recording device. We're still unsure the Glow Cloud even existed, as no one remembers it, nor has any digital record of it. If not for a few intrepid citizens who used old-fashioned pens and pencils to record the event in their diaries, we would have no remaining knowledge of that day."
His own diary entries were fairly vague that day, having mostly written his and Yugi's names surrounded by little hearts over and over again until his fingers grew numb and he ran out of space.
"I, of course, can only thank those journal writers anonymously here on the air, as the Waset City Council long ago banned writing utensils — along with margarita glasses and bar code scanners — and I don't want to get my fellow reporters in any trouble with the Pharaoh's Secret Police."
The police in question -- a step down from his personal medjai warriors -- would never catch wind of a multitude of things he himself hid from their eyes. It was for the best, he knew.
"According to Superintendent Shepherd, the Glow Cloud's visit on that nearly-forgotten day was simply an effort to find a nice neighborhood with good schools to raise a child. Now what kind of progeny a powerful, formless cloud formed of noxious nightmares and spiritual destruction might produce, I dare not even speculate. But I do know one thing: that little cloud is going to get one heck of an education in the Waset School District."
He thumbed a set of papers, double checking over the Cloud's registration. Everything seemed to be in order, so he let the matter slide.
"And isn't it heartening to hear that that little puff of despair's father, or mother, will serve on the School Board? I mean, no matter how good the school, a student can only get out as much as the parents put in. We should all take such an impactful role in our children's scholastic lives. Especially you, Thief King Bakura. You don't do anything except bring unacceptably dry scones to PTA meetings and take grammatically disastrous minutes on your shifts as meeting secretary. Get it together, Bakura!"
That Bakura would probably give him trouble well into the Afterlife. Atem sent up a prayer to the gods, hoping at least one of them would tune in this time.
"Superintendent Shepherd offered the following statement of support for the newest school board member: All hail! Kneel for the Glow Cloud. Sacrifice. Pestilence. Sores. All hail the Glow Cloud!"
Even the archaeologists in their lab paused to give the Cloud its proper respect. Atem couldn't be more proud.
"And now, traffic."
His second favorite bit of news to relay, accompanied by an appropriate haunting tune.
"This morning, I saw a running man. He passed by my home. Panting. Limping. Running desperate. I tried to stop him, but he would not meet my eye. This noon time, I saw a running man. He was coming down from the mountain, holding a bag. His knees were bloody, and face covered in tears. This evening, I saw a running man. He was leaving town, legs pumping like a terrified heart. I think he was missing a hand."
One of Yugi's interns -- Jaden, he thought -- paused in his task to stare wistfully out of the nearest window.
"Is it that he wouldn't meet my eye, or that he had no eyes? Now I wish I could remember. There are many things I wish I could remember."
Perhaps there was more to this boy than he previously thought. Atem made a mental note to keep an eye on him in future.
"This has been traffic."
He took another short respite to sip his coffee and enjoy the relative silence.
"New billboards have appeared all over town, bearing the image of a turkey sandwich and the single word 'HARLOT' in large, block letters. These billboards have caused some confusion — both due to their ambiguous message and to the fact that the entire structure of the billboards materialized overnight in places billboards are not usually constructed; such as the living rooms of local homes, the middle of busy thoroughfares (causing multiple car accidents), and, in one case, directly through a living dog, who does not appear harmed by the addition to his body, and has carried the entire billboard around town while going about his usual canine business."
Atem wished he could smooth out the furrowed lines forming between Yugi's brow at this newest bit of news. Perhaps he was concerned for the dog's welfare. A foolish, but adorable sentiment.
"The Department of Health and Human Services recently claimed responsibility for the billboards, saying that they were part of a campaign to promote nutrition and healthy living among children. The original draft of the release also mentioned something about an offering to a long-dead god, but this was altered to "fun, active lifestyles are important for kids of all ages" in a subsequent addendum."
Cutting his eyes to the shadows, he was pleased to see Yugi's expression soften about the corners, returning to his daily research and casting fond glances at the radio every now and again.
Atem decided that he should update his erstwhile crush on the flickering light situation -- anything to keep his gentle, roughened fingers away from the Necropolis.
He picked up on the second ring.
It was a fairly short conversation, owing to the fact that several machines kept beeping and churning -- a slight annoyance that persisted, grating on his nerves with each passing moment.
It was worth it to hear Yugi's sweet voice, even for just a brief span of time.
Atem hung up the phone with a sigh, propping his chin in hand and picking up the broadcast right where he left off. Of course, it had been common sense to mute his microphone before hand.
He didn't want any riots occuring on his watch.
"We're receiving several phone calls from listeners, and from the Parks Department, that those flickering lights and unintelligible noises we reported on earlier were coming from the Pink Floyd Multimedia Laser Spectacular. I contacted Yugi about this, and he said that the situation is even worse than he imagined. He, again, did not mention weekend plans."
Perhaps one day soon he would gather the necessary courage and ask out the object of his affections.
"A sports scandal has shook our quiet little town. The Waset Scorpions have faced multiple allegations of possible game tampering this football season. Representatives for the Domino City School District, speaking in unpleasant and high-pitched voices indicative of weakness of will and character, complained to the Regional Handball and Traffic Code Authority that Waset quarterback Declan Akaba's recently-grown second head counts as a twelfth man on the field, thus invalidating the wins brought on by his also recently-acquired superhuman agility and strength."
It was a frankly ridiculous notion, one that Atem himself would debunk.
"The RFTCA said that they would look into these allegations with the utmost seriousness, along with their concurrent investigation into whether Waset's "invisible crosswalk" policy is actually a desperate bid to save town funds at the cost of pedestrian lives."
A rhythmic tapping sounded through his headphones, adding to the atmosphere.
"Meanwhile, the School Board is due to announce its decision in the ongoing hearings as to whether appealing to Angels for a win constitutes illegal game tampering. Several Angels agreed to testify at the hearings, however their testimonials were cut short when it became apparent that the hearings were actually elaborate traps set up by the Pharaoh's Council to finally capture the Angels, whom the Council does not recognize as actually existing."
As Old Woman Cyndia was the only Angel advocate in Waset, it was rather difficult to establish a committee solely focused on Divine Rights. Perhaps he could lend a hand without the Council knowing.
"Fortunately, the Angels easily escaped from their cages in a blaze of heavenly light, presumably returning to Old Woman Cyndia's house, out near the Car Lot, which has become something of an informal shelter for local Angels."
Atem was glad the Angels had a safe place they could return to; it was much easier letting them exist in peace, rather than starting a holy war like the Council kept suggesting.
"When asked about the controversy over his team's winning record, Coach Siamun Muran said, "Our boys are good boys. They're good boys at football. We win 'em. With the boys. The football." Then he smiled vacantly, waved at no one, and wandered off in the direction of the woods. More on this story as it develops."
The light-hearted music Atem added to the background gradually faded, making way for the next segment.
"And now, a word from our sponsor. Step into your nearest Subway restaurant today, and try their new 6-inch mashed potato sub! Top it with a delicious assortment of fresh vegetables, like french fries and Nutella. They'll even toast or poach it for you! There are several Subway locations in Waset, all easily accessible through witchcraft and chanting. And between now and November 30, buy nine reverse colonics and get a free 40-ounce soda or freshly baked tobacco cookie. Subway: Devour your own empty heart."
Subway was not his first choice in fast food; Atem preferred Duke's Pizza to most anything else.
Falafel was a close second.
"Exciting news about the Abandoned Mine Shaft outside of town, where people who vote incorrectly are taken by the secret police: HBO On Demand will be made available to prisoners during their indefinite detention. All your favorite shows, such as The Wire, Sex and the City, and even new hits like Game Of Thrones, will be available in every cell."
The Pharaoh himself was not overly fond of some of the themes present in Game of Thrones, although it did make for an interesting study in what not to do when ruling your lands.
"Additionally, the secret police announced that they will be randomly executing one prisoner a day until all incorrect votes are corrected."
Solemn music drifted in through his headphones, an appropriate addition after such a morbid topic. The shadows did always know just what to play to sooth his soul.
At least until the phone began to ring.
"This just in: We're receiving word from the Pharaoh's Council that there was absolutely not a Pink Floyd Multimedia Laser Spectacular this weekend at the Necropolis... that there was never a Pink Floyd Multimedia Laser Spectacular ever near Waset. "Pink Floyd is not even a thing," said the Council in a very stern, but quiet, statement just received by me, here, via phone."
Atem's fingers shook slightly as he replaced the reciever. Taking a deep breath, he relayed the rest of their message, word for word.
"The Council... and this is strange... the entire Council — not just a representative of the Council, the entire Council — issued this statement, all speaking in unison, just now, over the phone: that Waset citizens are prohibited from discussing any lights or sounds coming from the Necropolis this past weekend, and that they should just stop remembering Pink Floyd shows altogether."
Yugi seemed startled; another intern -- Ryou perhaps, distinguishable by his feather-white hair and soft brown eyes -- voiced his own opinion on the matter in hushed tones.
"The Council reiterated that there is no way that they are huge Floyd fans, privately using public funds on a laser-powered seance to talk "hard-rockin' classic jams" with the ghost of original front man Syd Barrett, and that Syd "wouldn't even say anything juicy anyway, because he is such a gentleman, and an artist." This did not happen at all."
Well, as long as he was allowed an ounce of leniency, he was going to push that ounce as far as it would go.
"So, listeners, we urge you to look away from the Necropolis. Avert your eyes, ears, and memories from that which is no longer allowed you. Comfort and distract yourselves with dense food and television programming. As the old adage goes: A life of pain is the pain of life, and you can never escape it — only hope it hides, unknown, in a drawer like a poisonous spider and never comes out again, even though it probably will, in unexpected and horrific fashion, scaring you from being able to comfortably conduct even the most mundane, quotidian tasks. Or, at least, that's how my grandparents always phrased it."
Now Yugi and his retinue of archaeologists paused in their various tasks to crowd around the radio, situated lovingly in its place of honor at the back edge of his desk.
"And now, the weather."
As the song played, Atem took the time to kick back and finish the rest of his coffee, twirling a forefinger around a loose auburn curl and quietly observing the shadows as they focused on Yugi according to his whims.
He was so beautiful, it was a miracle he was allowed even this small gift. The jaunty tune played on, the subject of entertaining gossip among the void-like abyss of the room.
Atem accepted the shadows as they were: ink-stained and massive, voluminous and comforting. They were there for him when no one else could be, and he wouldn't soon forget the debt he owed them.
As the song faded out, he set his empty mug among the disordered clutter that became his desk, returning to the program right where he left off. Broadcasting was a messy affair; that's what interns were for, after all.
"Pegasus Crawford, over at the Desert Flower Bowling Alley and Arcade Fun Complex, has an update on the doorway into that vast, underground city he found in the pin retrieval area of Lane Five. He says that every window of the city is now glowing both day and night. And he heard the shouts and footsteps of what sounds like an army marching upwards toward the world above. He also said that, given that nothing really matters now, bowling is half-off and each game comes with a free basket of wings."
That got a laugh out of Yugi, a silver melody Atem wouldn't trade for the world.
"Mmm, nothing like those Desert Flower wings!"
A final twang of a soft piano, the perfect aria for the end of a perfect broadcast.
"Let me leave you with this, dear listeners. We lead frantic lives. Filled with needs and responsibilities, but completely devoid of any actual purpose. I say let's try to enjoy the simple things. Life should be like a basket of chicken wings: salty, full of fat and vinegar, and surrounded by celery you'll never actually eat, even when you're greedily sopping up the last viscous streaks of buffalo sauce from the wax paper with your spit-stained index finger. Yes, that is as life should be, Waset."
Yugi's face revealed disgust, and Atem vowed to take a closer look on food reports in future. Just because he himself found no qualms with the script he was given, didn't mean his potential boyfriend felt the same.
"Stay tuned next for a special live broadcast of the Waset Symphony Orchestra performing Eugene O'Neill's classic play The Iceman Cometh."
He was learning the intern's names one by one; this time it was Syrus who caught his attention, pumping his fist in the air and cheering.
Eugene still has the magic touch after all, it seems.
"It is a good night, listeners. Goodnight."
The shadows disperse, slinking back into the drafty corners of the room and taking Yugi's gorgeous face with them. Atem sighs, a thin wisp of breath on the still air. Placing his headphones by the mic, he shut down the equipment and stood, arching his back and stretching.
It was exhausting work, speaking for so long, but Atem knew it was better than the alternative.
A swirling shift of golden light brought back the pharaonic regalia; the sweeping crown returning to its place on his brow, indigo cape fluttering in a semblance of dark wings; cold metal hugging his neck, forearms, and calves.
He stood out in the hall once more, clothed in soft linen and too weary for words.
Alone in the Great House, he spied the multitude of twinkling stars from between soaring pillars and knew it was time to return to his chambers.
Stifling a yawn, he wandered the sandstone halls, resplendent in hand painted murals of kings past, lining each wall and carving a well-worn path to his bed.
Once he was finally in the privacy of his own rooms, Atem found he was not alone. Two bodies could be distinguished from the darkness, twin silhouettes carved from sun-kissed marble, intertwined as only lovers are.
Atem's lips spread in a slow, endearing grin. Undressing as quietly as he can, he slips beneath the covers to join them, pressing a forefinger to Mahaad's lips as he stirs.
"Go back to sleep, beloved," he whispers, reaching out to slide an arm around his waist. It's immediately scooped up by Seth, pressing treasured kisses to the bend of each knuckle.
"Yes, my heart." Mahaad's voice is still thick with sleep, but no less lovely for it.
"The only time you deign to speak, and it's when we have to be up before the dawn."
Seth's complaints are drowned out in the shape of Atem's arms as he situates himself between both men. His cousin is quick to wrap tender arms around his waist and back, burying his nose in the slope of his neck and breathing in the scent of his hair, now in soft dissaray.
Mahaad sighs and follows suit, pressing full lips to his king's brow and curling his tall frame to fit Atem's.
"Good night, my loves," Atem murmurs, nestled securely in a crowded but loving heat.
(Today's Proverb: We are living in an immaterial world. A ghost world, and I am an immaterial girl. A ghost.)
My plans have changed for this fic, and so have the ships! I may decide to go in a different direction for some characters, adding and subtracting them as I see fit. For the most part, everyone is here to stay. As I become more familiar with other ygo series, I may add more characters as time goes on.
Please don't expect frequent updates to this fic. I have a job now, and my sleep schedule was once again forced to change with the move, so I'm exhausted most of the time now. That said, I'll find whatever time to write that I can, because my stories mean a lot to me. They kept me going last year during the toughest time of my life, and I hope to continue writing for the foreseeable future.
If you have any questions about the Nightvale verse, or just wanna scream about random things, you can hit me up on tumblr, I'm doughnutdarling there, and @donutdarling on twitter!!
I love you all, and thank you so much for reading!! <3