Chapter Ten
by Apollymi
Disclaimers: Yu-Gi-Oh! is owned by Takahashi Kazuki and all associated copyright holders. Therefore, unfortunately, I own nothing here, except the storyline.
Word Count: 6,374
Archive: DarkMagick(dot)net, FanFiction(dot)net, and Apollymi's Grimoire. Anyone else, ask first.

Okay, now that just sounded entirely too strange for his tastes. So, so far, they had him, this Yuugi person who looked like Atemu, and now a Ryou who looked like Bakura? Why would two of the listeners look like some of the gods? Beyond that, it begged the question of if there was a god he resembled. Was there a god out there, one that he obviously hadn't met yet, who possessed the same features as he did? To him, the idea was quietly terrifying. He preferred to think of himself as unique, but...

If there were two listeners here who were dead ringers for gods, then it would seem likely that the third one must be as well, no matter how little he liked the idea.

If Atemu's pronouncement stunned Bakura even half as much as it did Kaiba, he didn't let it show. Instead, he fired right back, "Well, then it shows he has good tastes, doesn't it, to turn you down flat and look like me? I can't wait to meet him."

"I have no doubt you two will get on like fire."

"Did we miss the fireworks? Aww, damn, have they already starting snipping at each other?" Malik's voice cut through the tension like a knife. He glanced up to see the blond god strolling in with Amane. He was an image of indolence: an arm slung around the waist of the woman at his side and an easy smirk on his face. Clearly, he was enjoying seeing Bakura and Atemu fight, like it was some sort of spectator sport for him. Still, if this was the fireworks portion of the show, he could live without witnessing it again.

"Atemu, must you antagonize my brother so?" Amane chided, still never raising her voice over a loud whisper. Somehow, it was more admonishing that way.

"Hela, Ninurta," Atemu greeted. It sounded like the two names came through gritted teeth. So that answered the question of whom Malik was. He didn't recognize the name, but that didn't mean anything. He hadn't recognized too many names he had heard so far. He would have to go through the rest of Bakura's books and see if he couldn't turn up anything on that name. "So good of you two to join us."

"Of course," Malik replied breezily. He held a hand out for Amane to balance with as she stepped over the bench to sit next to Kaiba, before he slid into the space next to her.

There were hundreds of other spots to sit in this gigantic place, but they chose to sit close to him and Bakura. More to the point, they chose to sit on the same side of the table as Bakura and opposite Atemu. It seemed like a calculated move, one that he was oddly more comfortable associating with Malik than with Amane, intended to show support for Bakura over Atemu. Did they dislike Atemu because of his attitude or solely to support Bakura in his hatred for the other god?

He could believe either one of the two; Atemu had already rubbed him the wrong way, the way he had showed up with all kinds of attitude and arrogance. If it annoyed the hell out of him, a human, then it definitely had to rankle these other gods.

"And Atemu," Amane scolded quietly, "what is the point of changing our names if we don't all use them?" She smiled, all sharp teeth and danger. "Unless you would prefer we switch back to calling you Perun?"

"I can't say it was one of Ahura Mazda's best ideas," Atemu grumbled, finally dropping to sit opposite them. Great, just what he hadn't wanted to happen: Atemu making himself comfortable here.

"Honda," Bakura corrected absently. "His name is Honda now."

Honda? That was-- No. No way. Surely it had to be another Honda. It couldn't have been the same Honda who had been in the room next to his at the hospital, the one who had committed suicide not too long before Bakura had arrived.

"I think it's an absolutely brilliant idea," Malik commented idly. Kaiba glanced past Amane to see the blond making himself comfortable, swinging his legs up to take up a good chunk of the bench next to where he sat. "Why should we be stuck being faithful to the old pantheons anymore? Most of us are the only survivors of our pantheons," Malik observed.

Now that was an unnerving thought. Bakura had said that the daevas made killing the gods look easy, but somehow he hadn't imagined it being so bad or so widespread. How many pantheons were there out there in the world? If most of those were down to one god remaining, then dear gods, how many had been cut down already? Hundreds at the least, surely. Every little bit of information he was able to parse out on the daevas made him wish the creatures didn't exist at all, because anything that could take gods so easily would quickly make mincemeat out of every human on the planet. Worse, so many humans didn't believe in the things that went bump in the night; he knew he hadn't before Bakura; so they would be caught utterly unaware if the gods didn't succeed.

Then again, apparently, if the gods didn't succeed and were in fact all killed, then at least three gods - if not more, reading between the lines of what Bakura had said -- capable of ending the world would be released, so maybe not too many humans would fall prey to the daevas before the world ended.

Amane was nodding in agreement with her -- with Malik; that was still something he didn't to place too much thought into. "I would like to believe," she commented softly, "that we are forming our own pantheon, with as few of the old prejudices as possible." Okay, that was a dig at either Atemu, Bakura, or the both of them and their ongoing rivalry. "I would like to believe that we can move beyond the old lines and be all the stronger for it."

"I could get behind that," another familiar voice piped up. Seconds later, Jounouchi dropped down to sit next to Atemu. Unlike Malik and Amane, it didn't seem to be a calculated move. Instead, it seemed to have more to do with that being an empty seat, so he had laid claim to it. "Food?"

"It's on the way," Bakura replied, glancing over at a door he hadn't noticed before. Seconds later, nearly translucent shades of people began carrying in food, much of which he couldn't readily identify. It seemed to cover the world -- or at least the nations represented at this table. Of the myriad dishes that were eventually set down, the bowl of apples held before Amane for her to choose a single one was a bit incongruous.

"Thank you," she stated simply to the shade who had offered the dish to her as she took one. The shade nodded and retreated back through the side door, which must have lead to a kitchen or something.

His confusion must have showed on his face because Bakura leaned closer to explain, "Amane is Norse. Their immortality and youth are maintained by those apples."

"Really?" he whispered back, taking a glance to the side to see Amane take a huge bite into the apple she had selected.

Bakura nodded. "We only have so many, though. Hera had an orchard in the far western corner of the world, but the daevas seem to have destroyed it. We haven't been able to find it since they turned up in Greece. The only orchard left is in Asgard, and that's been iffy at best with fruit."

Okay, now that just sounded odd. It sounded to him, again reading between the lines, like these apples could grant anyone immortality, at least as long as they had at least one a day. Irreverently, the thought occurred to him that maybe that was where the expression about an apple a day keeping the doctor away had come from.

He glanced around, taking in the relative number of gods sitting at the table. There weren't that many: Bakura, Amane, Malik, Jounouchi, and Atemu. Surely, there had to be more gods here than just these five. Okay, they had mentioned three more -- Honda, Mana, and Mai, even if he was a bit uncertain if Mana was a goddess or a human like him -- which still made a small number compared to what it sounded like they were facing.

"Is this everyone?" he hissed back over to Bakura.

The white-haired man took a quick glance around and then shook his head. "Nah, Mana and Mai aren't here. Honda should be showing up sooner or later. He and Malik don't really get along too well, so we try to keep them separated." They kept Malik and Honda separated, while instead they all but sold tickets to Atemu and Bakura's arguments? That didn't make a lot of sense to him, but what did he know about this? Group dynamics weren't exactly his strong suit, what with the lack thereof he had known until now. He had always been a bit of a loner, partially by necessity and partially by choice. "I think--" He glanced across the table and spoke up a bit louder. "Hey, Jounouchi, is Varon still out and about?"

The blond man rolled amber eyes exaggeratedly. "Yeah, last I heard, he's still on walkabout. Did we need him back for anything?"

Bakura shook his head. "Nah, I'm just trying to get an idea who's here and who isn't." Jounouchi cast a glance over at him, as if guessing that he was why Bakura wanted to know. Thankfully, though, he didn't say anything. "So where's this Yuugi guy?"

Jounouchi shook his head. "He decided he wasn't quite ready to meet even this many gods at once. I'm going to bring him something back to eat. Maybe next time, though." Amber eyes turned to Kaiba. "Maybe if he knows there are other humans here..."

"Maybe so," he offered quietly, barely speaking any louder than Amane would have. He glanced across from him to make certain he hadn't attracted too much attention.

Thankfully, though, Atemu's attention seemed to be fixed on a brunette slipping in the main doorway accompanied by a much taller blonde woman. So maybe this was Mana and Mai? The brunette lacked the air of power that all the gods had, so if Mana was indeed human, then this must be Mana; that meant the blonde was Mai -- and Persephone. All these names were a bit confusing; he could see why they wanted to pick one name and stick with it.

The brunette, Mana, slid into the seat next to Atemu. Meanwhile, the blonde, Mai, sat down beside Jounouchi. "Rumor has it you had some good luck last night, little brother," she purred.

Jounouchi shrugged nonchalantly, even if he barely glanced away from the food in front of him. "More or less, I suppose. Between me, Atemu, and Bakura, we have three listeners here now." Mai's indigo eyes turned to him, and he fought the urge to squirm in his seat.

He might not have been in the least bit interested in her or even someone like her, but it was still unnerving to have someone as beautiful as her staring directly at him. Mai was... Well, it was no wonder that she was the Goddess of Spring.

"So you're Kaiba, right?" she demanded, her voice one of someone clearly used to commanding attention. He nodded, quietly pleased to himself that he didn't shake in the least in the movement. "Glad to meet you. I guess you know I'm Mai. Don't let anyone tell you different, but I'm second-in-command around here. If there's anything you need and you can't find Kura there, you come get me. I'll take care of you."

'Kura'? Now that was an interesting nickname. Somehow it seemed to fit Bakura too. "All right," he answered, still not raising his voice.

It was too late, though: a glance out of the corner of his eye showed blood-red eyes fixed directly on him. He couldn't remember a time ever in his life where he had felt less like a person and more like an object to be appraised. Somehow he got the feeling he was being assessed, weighed, measured, and ultimately rejected from the potential pool of people to grace Atemu's bed. A quick glance to the side revealed Mana stirring listlessly at the food in front of her. As luck would have it, however, Atemu followed his gaze back over to the brunette at his side and returned all his attention to her.

A glance to first Bakura then Mai revealed both of them rolling their eyes heavily, the white-haired man at his side miming slapping the hell out of someone and the blonde woman smothering giggles into her napkin. Perhaps it would be safe to venture a guess that neither of them approved of Atemu making the rounds on Mana. He had to wonder, why didn't she say something or do something about it? Or maybe they weren't together. Maybe he was just reading too much into this. He had never really had the imagination for coming up with stuff like this anyway. He had always left the imagination part to Mokuba -- and that suddenly made a whole lot more sense now, knowing what he did.

To some extent, he was still waiting for the other shoe to drop on that particular little revelation. Mokuba was still his brother in the ways that counted. They shared a mother, if not a father. Maybe they weren't related by blood, but they had stuck together through thick and thin. A minor bombshell like Mokuba not even being human wasn't going to do a thing to change that. As Mokuba had reminded him: they were Kaibas, and Kaibas stuck together.

"So what's the news going around on the top side?" Bakura asked, once most of the food seemed to be gone, and everyone was starting to truly settle in.

"There were daevas spotted about two hundred kilometers from Glastonbury Tor, two nights ago," Malik reported, a suddenly serious turn in his voice, one that Kaiba might not have suspected given what he knew of the blond so far. "Varon's leading them around in circles right now, but they're getting closer to the door to Annwn." He sighed heavily. "It's only a matter of time now."

Amane leaned closer to him, settling her head on his shoulder. "Two hundred kilometers is getting way too close. Pretty soon they'll be knocking on the front door." She glanced past Kaiba to favor Bakura a smirk. "If we had a front door of course."

"How many people?" To his surprise, that came from Mana. She had barely glanced up from the plate still in front of her and her face looked nearly lifeless, but it had been her who spoke. When another second or two passed without response, she further clarified, "How many people did the daevas get to?"

"Forty," Amane responded finally. "Mostly tourists and hikers. It wasn't as bad as it could have been. Chances are good, though, that someone is going to start taking notice soon, and then we really will be in trouble."

"No, we won't," Malik commented almost cheerfully. Looking around Amane, he could see a manic grin on the blonde's face. "We'll be screwed blue."

Mai rolled her eyes and pushed herself to her feet. "And I think that's my cue to get out of here. Have you gotten the tour of the place yet, Kaiba?"

He nearly started off his seat, completely not expecting to be spoken to again any time soon. Soon, though, he was able to answer. "No, not really."

"Come on then. I'll give you the two pound tour. I'm sure you have questions."

Helplessly, he turned back to look at Bakura. The white-haired man nodded. "Go on. Mai's good people. She'll make sure you're okay. Besides, we're just going to plot war. It won't be that interesting."

"All right," he responded quietly, pushing himself to his feet, setting Mokuba down as he did so, and stepping back over the bench. He was in no way surprised when Gwyllgi wiggled out from under the table as well to trail close to Mokuba. The giant dog seemed to have taken a real shine to his little brother.

"I'll find you when we're done," Bakura promised before he could even think of extracting such a vow. Either there was mind reading going on there, which he still didn't like the thought of, or else Bakura was coming to know him well enough to judge what he was about to say. That wasn't very reassuring either, not after only five days.

"All right," he answered slowly, slowly rounding the table to meet Mai at the door.

Honestly, he felt a bit like he was leading a processional, with both Mokuba and Gwyllgi following him. Of course, he was following Mai, so let her be the one to deal with the line that was building up. She was probably much better equipped to deal with it.

Once they were out of the dining hall area, Mai finally spoke up again. "So I have your name, and Gwyllgi's an old friend of mine, but I don't know the kid." She grinned over her shoulder at them.

"Mokuba," Kaiba answered, "my little brother." He debated on adding the bit about him being a changeling, but rather instead, he felt the need to play that one close to his chest. Only Bakura and Jounouchi had been able to tell that about his brother right away, so maybe it might be best kept quiet, at least until he knew Mai better. Just because his first instinctive thought was to trust this woman in front of him did not mean he should just give in to the urge.

"Pleased to meet you then, Mokuba."

"Same here," Mokuba answered quickly. He might have worried about that, thought perhaps something was wrong from how fast that answer came. It was fairly obviously why, though, now that he took a closer glance at the boy. Mokuba's eyes were fixed like glue on Mai's (frankly impressive) chest, and it seemed to have his complete and utter attention. He wasn't even thinking about what he was saying.

Mai finally glanced back again in time to catch Mokuba staring - and to his surprise only laughed. Some confusion must have showed on his face because she then proceeded to explain, "I get that way more often than you'd think. What can you do? They're there, and a lot of guys like to talk to them. Some chicks do too, interested or not, though that's a whole other thing. I have to say: you might be the second person who hasn't decided to direct all conversation at my chest instead of my face," she shrugged, obviously relenting, "after Bakura."

"You're really Persephone?" he blurted out. He hadn't meant to say it, and really, if he could take it back, he probably would have. It seemed incredibly rude, even more so than talking to Mai's breasts.

To his relief, she only laughed. "Now that's one I haven't gotten in a long time. Yep, I'm Persephone, Goddess of Spring." She grinned shrewdly. "And no, you have nothing to worry about from me. I have no claim over Kura except as a friend. I might be his best friend in fact, discounting his adopted little sister."

"Is that why you're second-in-command here?"

"That has more to do with the legends. Once they're told enough and believed in enough, they gain a power of their own. And in the legends, Persephone is Queen of the Underworld. Therefore..." She trailed off, looking at him expectantly.

"Therefore Mai is second-in-command of the Otherworld -- of Annwn," he corrected himself. "It makes sense. Bakura was saying something about, without belief, you gods not being as strong as you could be."

"Kura's being self-deprecating. There are enough Neo Pagans in the world that some of us still have worshippers. It's just not enough to bring us back to our old strengths. If we were still at our old strength, this war would have been over years ago." She sighed. "Unfortunately, though, fighting this war became more important that maintaining worshipers, so we fell out and started losing power. All of us are so much less than we once were. I mean, we're a tenth of what we used to be."

"A tenth?" He could admit it: he squeaked that one out. Each one of these gods' powers was nearly overwhelming his senses, even with them not doing anything, and that was with them weakened. If they had been at full power... He probably wouldn't have been able to stand it. Then again, if they were at full power, they wouldn't have need listeners. "No offense, but I'm already reeling off what I'm picking up from you. Anything more, and..." This time, it was he who trailed off.

"I can imagine," Mai agreed with a nod. "Mana said much the same thing when Kura brought her here, and even then we were weakened."

"Mana is... Is Mana human?" He had to ask. He had to know. There was just something unsettling about the other woman, and he had to work out exactly what it was.

"In a way," Mai shrugged in answer. "She's been here a really long time, a good few thousand years, since her father died." She leaned forward to whisper conspiratorially at a stage whisper just loud enough for Mokuba to hear too. It seemed she wasn't trying to keep this a secret from Mokuba, but was instead letting him in on a secret. "Apparently, she didn't much care for her suitor and found the Otherworld preferable to his presence." She laughed brightly. "I can relate. I got Kura to 'nap me because I was sick of my mother being so overbearing, not to mention Apollo not being able to catch a hint about things being over. Kura seems to have a soft spot for people in situations like that, and I'm ever so glad for it."

"I can't say I was in a good place either before Bakura brought me here," he admitted. Mai arched a single elegant eyebrow, and he felt compelled to continue. "I was in a state hospital for the insane. I mean, they don't call it that, but that's really what it is: a place to hide away the crazies."

She lifted a finger to her lips and studied him intently. "Pardon me for saying it, Kaiba, but you don't seem too crazy to me."

"I could hear the gods talking." He glanced to the side at where his brother stood looking sheepish. "Also no one believed me that my brother was standing right there beside me."

"So hearing voices and hallucinating, as far as they knew," she surmised. "No wonder they thought you were crazy. I probably would have too. But crazy fits right in around here, so you don't have to worry on that front. So, you must have questions. I know this place keeps Kura too busy to stay around long enough to answer them, so I'll see what I can do. Hit me with 'em."

"What is this place, exactly?" he blurted out. After all, as blunt as Mai seemed to be already, there was every chance she would tell it all to him exactly as it was, no holds barred. Bakura might have been inclined to tell him the whole truth as well, but then Bakura also liked him and wanted him to stay; that was a reason there not to say everything, not to share the bad parts.

"Well, that's fairly to the point now, isn't it?" She didn't seem upset though; in fact, he would venture a guess to say he had amused her a bit. Not a lot or anything but some all the same; and he was going to temporarily place that in the 'good' category. "All right."

She turned on her heel and stalked into another doorway, as he trailed after her. Honestly, this place was huge. There was every chance that he wasn't going to find his way back. Well, at least they had Gwyllgi with them; perhaps the hound could do what he himself couldn't.

Mai turned down another hall then one more before finally opening a door into a room at least as big as Bakura's suites. Actually, he would venture a guess as to say it was bigger. Of course, everyone talked about 'Mai and Mana' or 'Mana and Mai', so maybe the two women shared a common living space. It would have been larger in that case. Two people versus one, ruler of the realm or not, more space was a definite.

Mai caught him looking around and grinned. "I share this place with Mana. Honestly, it's easiest for two single women to share than both of us trying to live alone. Annwn is like the human world in that respect."

'Single'? "I thought--"

"Mana and Atemu?" she guessed, even if it didn't sound too much like a question, and in answer, he nodded. "She's been pining after him since he first showed up. The guy's not my type; I demand faithfulness, and Atemu is not one to give that to anyone, like any one of the All Fathers; but she has it bad for him." She flopped down on a sofa, dislodging a few magazines as she fell. He recognized the cover of a couple of them: some of the nurses at the hospital had read them less than a week ago. What that meant, except that obviously no one was confined here, he didn't know.

That wasn't why he was here anyway. He sat down cautiously in a chair across from Mai's sofa, and out of the corner of his eye, he saw Mokuba and Gwyllgi wandering into the rest of the place. "So?" he prompted.

"So, yes, you want to know what Annwn is." He nodded. "Annwn is the Otherworld in these parts." He started to speak up, to ask another question, but Mai carried on as if he hadn't even attempted to speak. "As for where we are, roughly, we're below Wales. This is the old Welsh afterlife, where no one has come since the days of King Arthur. Annwn is one of the places where the dead used to go once they shuffled the mortal coil, but not so much lately." She grinned conspiratorially. "It's also the home of the Tylwyth Teg, the Fair Folk or the fairies," she translated before he could ask.

"Bakura mentioned them. Something about how they all fled."

"Yes, they did." Mai seemed a bit saddened by that. But then, these creatures could have been great allies in a war where they needed all the help they could get, and instead they ran away. "I don't know if they found a better bit of fairy land to hide or if they're trying to blend in with the humans now, but they have abandoned Annwn."

"You could have used them," he surmised.

To no shock, Mai snorted inelegantly. "Damn straight we could have used them. The Fair Folk can't do a lot more than cast glamours, curdle milk, and replace children with their own, but they could have set the daevas to chasing their tails for a bit."

"So," he ventured again after a few moments, "if Annwn is all those things, then--"

"Then, yes, Bakura does rule Annwn. Because he rules Annwn, he's also technically the King of the Fair Folk, but right now..." She trailed her words off, wincing.

When he thought about it some more, he winced as well. It would be hard to rule a nation with no people. "So the dead that are here..."

"Died millennia ago. Most of them just enjoy the afterlife. Some of them miss their old lives, and we find the things to do that are close, like the dead you saw earlier with lunch."

"Okay," he answered. He paused a moment, trying to think of what he was going to say before he let the next question rush out. In the end, though, there was really no other way to do it. "What am I getting involved with here?"

Mai only looked vaguely puzzled, which was somewhat amazing considering he wasn't even completely certain what he had been trying to ask. Still, she did have to ask to clarify, "Getting involved with the war or getting involved with Kura?"

"Either. Both." He sighed, raking a hand through his hair. "I figure, you've known Bakura about the longest of anyone here. If you don't mind me saying," she in turn gestured for him to continue speaking, "I like him -- a lot, in truth -- but I need to know what I'm doing, what's going on."

The blond woman nodded. "You're the opposite of me. I tend to leap in head first without studying all the angles. Kura is... Kura's a death god. He doesn't-- None of us hold a lot of sway in the every day world, not anymore, Neo Pagans or not, but to some extent, that still means something. It means he's intense, somewhat pathological, and perhaps a little OCD. He doesn't do things without reasons, and I'm sure that includes bringing you here."

"I'm here to help in this war, to try to listen in on the daevas' plans."

And she shook her head. "No, Kaiba, sweetie. Like you said, I know Kura, and I have known him the longest of everyone here. He had another reason for bringing you here besides just that. Otherwise, you wouldn't still be staying in his suites. He wouldn't be acting like a dryad with a crush around you: all slow caution and caring. If you were only here to assist in the war, he would probably treat you like he treats Jounouchi. You saw that, right?" He nodded a yes, and Mai continued. "He treats you very differently, like I haven't seen a god treat someone in years." She chuckled, but it didn't sound amused. "Kura definitely cares for you, Kaiba. Make no mistake about that. And if you decide to stay here with him, you would be treated well, better than the human world could ever provide."

"You have known him a long time." They had both said it before, but really, it bore repeating once again. "And then there's all the legends..." He took a deep breath that hurt all the way in. "Are you and Bakura-"

This time, Mai's laugh sounded very genuine, and she almost rolled off the couch with the force of it. Clearly, he had said something that amused her again. "Me and Kura?" she wheezed out. "Together? Not a chance in-- Well, not a chance in hell. Kura's never shown any interest in anyone, aside from kidnapping people out of bad situations. He's never shown the kind of interest I've seen him show you ever. I think it's good for him. I haven't seen him so alive in forever. And yeah, maybe I should be jealous, but mostly, I'm just happy. It makes me happy to see Kura happy. If you can make him happy, then you're my new second best friend," she winked, "after Kura."

"So you two never..." God, he was doing a lot of trailing off today, and he was starting to feel like the flush was going to be permanently stuck to his face. He had to get his answers now, though. He wasn't too sure he would have the nerve to ask again later. "You never..."

"Jumped his bones?" she filled in. "Saved a horse, rode a death god? Get all up in that? Any of those other amusing little human phrases for 'fucked his brains out'?" Weakly he nodded, and again she laughed. "Nope, the two of us never bumped pelvises. I might have offered a time or thirty, but nope." She sighed, though the cheerful look never faded from her face. "I grew up in the Greek pantheon, but you would find it in almost every other one if you looked hard enough. Very, very few gods are loyal to only one lover. My father had more bastards than a dog has fleas, even if he only had the one wife. My mother never married, but if she took other lovers after my father, she was discreet about it. That was the way of life for us back then. I think some of the ones of us who are still here are unique in that we crave one person to spend the rest of eternity with. Amane has found that with Malik, and I'm starting to think Kura might have found that with you. Now we just need to get the rest of us settled down."

"And win the war," he finished.

"And win the war," Mai repeated. "I have to say, though: you are a confident one, Kaiba. We are vastly outnumbered, our list of allies is growing thin, and our enemies are numerous."

"But now you have three spies who can tell you their plans," he countered. He wasn't going to let himself delve into the possibilities that any part of this ridiculous plan could go wrong. There were just too many of them. "I have to know, though, Mai. If you and Bakura aren't... together," he hedged diplomatically," and you never have been together... Why are you second-in-command?"

"What's the legend of Hades and Persephone?" She didn't even give him a chance to answer before she pressed on. "Hades kidnaps Persephone to the Underworld. While she's there, she eats several seeds from a pomegranate. Because she's tasted the food of the Land of the Dead, when it comes time for Hades to release her, she has to promise to return for several months out of the year every year to be the Queen of the Underworld.

"That isn't... exactly how it happened. I asked Kura to kidnap me away from Mother and Apollo, and I eventually volunteered to help rule the dead. They need the touch of both a god and a goddess in truth. Mother pitched an unholy fit, so I agreed to come back to Olympus several months out of the year, and that arrangement lasted until the daevas appeared on Olympus and the slaughter began." She offered him a weak smile. "So now I'm the full-time Goddess of the Underworld. I run Annwn when Kura isn't here; I see to the needs of the dead -- and there are a surprising lot -- and I deal with the hounds."

"'The hounds'?" he echoed. He had almost forgotten about that, that Bakura had said that there were more hounds here besides Gwyllgi. "There's more than one?"

She laughed again, tilting her head back to let a full-throated and very unladylike laugh escape her. "There is an entire pack here, if not several. The Cŵn Annwn - the hounds of Annwn - and Black Shuck are probably all in residence. As for the others, I don't know. They might be around."

"When I first met Bakura, he didn't strike me as a dog person," he had to admit. "Meeting Gwyllgi came as quite a surprise."

"Gwyllgi in general likes to be a surprise. Don't let his big, dumb ox of a dog look he has fool you; he's one of the smartest creatures I know of - and I know of quite a lot." She glanced around, apparently trying to see where Mokuba and the dog in question where. "I can take you to meet the ones that are here if you would like."

"I would. I know Mokuba would too, if that's all right."

She shook her head. "No problem. Go grab the kid. I'll wait."

He headed back into the back part of the suite of rooms where Mokuba and Gwyllgi had vanished earlier. It was really no surprise that he found his little brother going through someone's belongings. He had always had this sort of insatiable curiosity; he supposed it made sense now.

"Come on, Mokuba," he called. Once his brother looked up at him, a questioning expression on his face, he elaborated. "Mai's going to take us to go see the other hounds."

"Really? Let's go then!" The words were almost shrieked out, and he had to fight the urge to cover his ears. Mokuba had always had volume control issues. Maybe that was another thing explained as well.

"Excited that much, are we?" Mai's voice commented from the doorway. She sounded a lot calmer than she had during their little story time, so maybe the brief break had done her some good.

"Is it far?" His brother was all but jumping up and down in joy. He had been excited about the idea of these hounds from the first moment they had heard Gwyllgi howl. "Can we go now?"

"Yeah, sure," Mai agreed. "Come on, kid."

Mokuba was after her like a light, and he found himself trailing behind, an oversized hound at his side. Really, he had gotten so used to seeing Gwyllgi towering next to Mokuba that he hadn't thought to see him next to himself; the hound measured up to the bottom of his ribcage. If there was ever any doubt that this dog was something supernatural, the size alone should have been a dead giveaway.

Gwyllgi was plodding slowly next to him, almost like he was pouting, and without thought, he commented, "I'm sure you'll still be his favorite even after the meet-and-greet, Gwyllgi. Don't worry too much about it."

The oversized dog bumped against his side, apparently in a form of agreement, and it nearly knocked him down.

"We do need to have a talk about hound to human weight ratios and how you're going to knock me the hell down if you do that again, though. Just so you know."

He could have sworn the dog laughed through the chuffing breaths he took.

31 July 2010

I'm behind in posting these again.


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