It couldn't have been more than an hour later when there was a knock on the door. It felt like it had been a lot longer: maybe a year or so. He was so very uncomfortable with talking in front of people, especially with explaining something that he wasn't a hundred percent certain he knew all the facts on.
Yuugi had a way of asking questions he wouldn't have thought of, about things that never would have occurred to him, and that was disconcerting to say the very least. But then, he had never credited himself with an overabundance of imagination, so maybe it was just as well that they now had someone like Yuugi around too.
Ryou, on the other hand, seemed to be having some difficulty in believing all of this. He couldn't say he blamed the other man. If he had not seen so many very obvious examples of what these gods were and what they could do, he probably wouldn't have believed it himself. He wasn't so good at taking anything on faith, a trait Ryou in turn seemed to share.
But, speaking of Ryou, the tapping at the door had him sitting up straight as a post and looking a combination of angry and terrified. It wasn't all that long ago, after all, that he had confessed that Atemu scared him a bit. He could appreciate that, but it wasn't like he was going to admit that Atemu intimidated the hell out of him.
"I'll get it," Yuugi volunteered, already bouncing to his feet before Ryou even got a chance to answer. Seriously, he didn't know where the other man got all this energy, but it couldn't be natural. No one was that bouncy and active naturally. (Now, he had seen one of the patients back at the hospital accidentally get an extra dose of the quote-unquote 'happy pills' and act like that, but that was chemical and, again, not natural.)
Ryou did actually look terrified, and part of him wanted to comfort him like he would Mokuba, but somehow he didn't think Ryou would react very well to that. He would probably fare better than if Yuugi tried it, but still it wasn't something that should be done lightly.
As if sensing where his thoughts were going, Ryou offered him a tight smile that had nothing at all to do with joy. Instead, it was just for shared pain and worry.
"Hello..." Yuugi's voice echoed as he stretched the word out long. He didn't sound annoyed or even concerned. Instead, Kaiba could pick up nothing but confusion -- and perhaps something a little warmer -- in his voice.
He leaned away from the wall a bit to try to glance around the door to see who was there -- and relaxed instantly. "Hello, Mai," he greeted the blond woman. Hell, his voice was even warm for it being him.
"...nurse," Yuugi finished more quietly. Because apparently it was a little hard to do the whole 'hello nurse' at a pretty woman thing when someone else was greeting her by name.
It didn't stop him from turning around and mouthing to Ryou and Kaiba something along the lines of had they seen those, completely with appropriate hand gestures centering around his own chest area.
Kaiba didn't even bother holding back from rolling his eyes -- nor from speaking at a regular volume. "Yes, I've seen them. It's hard to miss them." Especially when Yuugi was around the same height as Mokuba and was practically eye-to-eye -- or rather, eye to something -- with them.
Yuugi seemed to visibly deflate, at least until Mai laughed and ruffled a hand through that unusual hair he had in common with Atemu. "It's all right, boyo. You can stare at them all you like. Most people talk to them too."
No matter how many times he heard Mai say that, he didn't think he was ever going to believe it. Okay, scratch that: he could believe that people talked to her chest all the time. He definitely had no trouble believing that. The part he was having difficulties with was where she apparently had not problem with it. Maybe if it happened enough over the years -- the millennia, he corrected himself -- then it would cease to matter, but it still boggled his mind.
Although Yuugi's chirped "All right" boggled his mind even further.
That only seemed to make Mai laugh harder, and so with a smile on her face and quiet laughter still escaping, she turned past Yuugi to look further into the room. She seemed to take a brief second to classify everything in here, which only made him wonder if Atemu never let a soul other than Mana in here, before her eyes lit on him and the other man. "Wow," she shook her head, even if the smile didn't even begin to dim, "they weren't kidding when they said you look a lot like Kura."
Thankfully he had remembered to cover the lookalike bit during that frightful explanation time, so it wasn't too much of a surprise. Still, Ryou looked a little... disappointed maybe? He wasn't too sure if he could follow the complex emotions flitting quickly across the other man's face.
He settled on a sort of careful neutrality and moved to stand before her. "Hi, I'm Ryou."
"Mai," she returned, grasping it.
"I'm very pleased to meet you, Mai," he in turn replied.
At least Ryou didn't try to go for the whole kissing the hand thing. He wasn't too sure he could have handled that after the weirdness of the last couple of days. He did hold it lightly for a few seconds longer than was strictly necessary or maybe even appropriate, before he finally let go.
Well... Maybe there was some hope of Ryou getting a new god -- or rather goddess -- of his very own to replace the one he wanted a refund on. Mai had expressed an interest in having a one-woman man of her very own, so maybe the whole thing might even work out wonderfully. He mentally noted the need to ask Bakura about this as well. After all, he had known Mai the longest.
Yuugi stepped back. He was shaking his head, but it seemed to be with fond exasperation instead of real frustration, like he couldn't understand how Ryou was getting a better reaction than he had, despite his methods.
"Right, um..." Mai was floundering. Now that part was a bit astounding to him. He hadn't thought it was possible to put someone as assured as Mai off her poise, but somehow Ryou had deftly managed that. When he glanced back over, she had actually taken a few steps back into the hallway, as if she needed the extra breathing space. "It's almost time for dinner, so I'm here to guide you back to the main hall."
"Is it that hard to get around in here?" Yuugi asked him in a sotto voice.
"It's not easy," he replied. He wasn't going to say how completely turned around backwards he had gotten on the way to Yuugi and Jounouchi's rooms. Of course, Annwn was supposed to be the realm of the Fair Folk as well as the dead; it only made sense that it would difficult for living mortals to navigate it.
"I'll have to see about mapping it out, then." And this was a totally different side of Yuugi than he had previously been seeing. Apparently, he was capable of being serious. That was good: he liked the smaller man well enough, but that could have very easily changed if Yuugi started getting on his nerves.
Mai was quickly recovering, responding seriously, "The halls change sometimes, but that might not be a bad idea... Yuugi, right?" He nodded. "It really is uncanny."
With that said, she took another few steps back and gestured in a way that vaguely said, 'Right this way.' He waited until Yuugi and Ryou were out the door before he pushed completely off the wall and followed.
Mai was trailing towards the back, occasionally calling out when a turn was needed and which direction to go, so he settled for keeping pace with her. "How did the war council go?"
She sighed in loud annoyance. "About as well as it could with both Atemu and Kura and Honda and Malik in the same room. Jounouchi got some quality video and has threatened to put it on YouTube if they don't start taking all this seriously enough not to fight amongst themselves all the time."
That... could be really interesting. As long as it didn't break the Internet, he clarified to himself. With gods involved, who knew what the odds of that were?
He glanced ahead of them, but really, there was little hope that the other two weren't listening in to their entire conversation. He probably would have been, had the situations been reversed. "Mai? If Yuugi and Ryou look like Atemu and Bakura..."
"Yes, you look like one of us, Kaiba," she answered quietly, "but the daevas killed Set a very, very long time ago, pretty quickly after Osiris went down." She reached over and patted his arm gently. "I promise, we weren't keeping it from you, Kaiba. It's just that none of us really like talking about the ones we have lost."
"So why now?" he couldn't help asking. If no one liked talking about it, why answer his question at all now.
"Because Isis should be back by now, and I thought you should know before she mentions something about it." Almost as an afterthought, she added, "Also, you'll find that she is the only one of us who didn't change her name. It's her way of honoring her dead family, I suppose." She sighed quietly. "Personally, I'm waiting until this war is over to begin mourning. That way, I know how many people I need to mourn for."
It made a very cynical sense, and that probably wasn't good thing, he thought.
She sighed and offered him a wan smile. "Kura was asking about you earlier, about how you were getting along. I said you were doing well."
If he were as pale as Ryou, then he had no doubt his entire face would have been bright red. As it was, hell, it probably was red. Why it embarrassed him, he wasn't sure. Maybe that he was happy that Bakura was thinking about him, even in the midst of everything else that was going on.
"Thank you, Mai." Somehow he managed to keep his voice very even, and right now, that was a huge accomplishment.
"I swear to you: I've known Kura for countless centuries now." It sounded as though she was just musing aloud, but somehow he got the feeling it was a bit more than that. It did seem as though Mai was trying to make sure he and Kura -- Bakura -- were together and stayed together. "I have never before seen him like he is with you and about you. It's amazing to see."
Now she was just trying to see if she could get another flush out of him, he decided. It was probably about time to change the subject. "Is Mokuba still with the hounds?"
As a subject change, it was a rather abrupt one, but aside from an elegantly lifted eyebrow, Mai didn't comment on it. "Nah, Gwyllgi and Shuck are taking him to the main hall as well. He did seem to be quite the hit with them. He had every last hound acting like a puppy, instead of a big, bag harbinger of death." She grinned slyly, barely glancing at him out of the corner of her eye. "When we get him his own room, I'll have to make certain it's near the kennels."
Coincidentally close but not next door to Bakura's rooms, he was sure. Well, two could play at that. "We also need to see to it that Ryou gets his own set of rooms. Maybe there are some over near yours and Mana's."
Score one point for Kaiba: that at least achieved the purpose of getting the subject back off of him and Bakura. Gods of the Ancient World and the only things standing between humanity and a painful death they might have been, but apparently, some of them were some of the biggest gossips on the planet.
Two more turns and several more long hallways, now walking in near silence, and they were back in the main hall. The same long tables and benches were still set up, though he could easily see where some of them had been disturbed since lunch. Apparently, the war council got a bit animated earlier. Of the gods he could immediately see -- Bakura, Malik, Atemu, Amane, and a tall woman with straight black hair, probably Isis -- no one seemed any the worse for wear, so maybe it was all okay for now.
In front of him, he could see Yuugi straining, trying to spot someone, probably Jounouchi, he decided. For all of his checking out Mai's chest, he was obviously quite stuck on the god that had brought him here. That was a sentiment he could get behind: he was finding himself to be in a similar state of mind regarding Bakura.
Speaking of whom... The white-haired god seemed to be in deep conversation with both Amane and the woman he had not previously met. Mokuba was sitting at the table next to Bakura, working on something he couldn't quite see from here. Ordinarily, he would have headed over, but with the addition of this new person, Isis, he found himself reluctant to do so. If she was mourning and he really did look like one of the people she was mourning, then she might start crying, and he was no good around crying women. No, scratch that: he was no good around crying anyone. It turned him into a big pile of useless.
He could deal with a crying Mokuba. A crying Mokuba, now that he could handle. A liberal application of sweets usually did wonders on that front. He wasn't delusional enough to think that would hold true for anyone else, however. He wasn't that brand of crazy.
Thankfully, though, Bakura seemed to spot him over Amane's shoulder and offered him both a grin and a beckoning wave, neither of which he felt too inclined to deny. Without another word, he walked over that way, pausing only long enough to see that Mokuba was working on a picture of what seemed to be a few dozen dogs. Most of them were pitch black and were only differentiated by their size or eye color, but a few were only done in outlines and so seemed to be white.
And now he was something he had never thought he would ever think, but was his baby brother really the age he thought he was? Mokuba was supposed to be four years younger than he was. He certainly didn't act like he was getting ready to leave his teens. In fact, he acted more like he was about to enter them. Add to that the fact that everyone here kept calling Mokuba a kid, and he had to wonder if maybe he was missing something. It wouldn't be that hard, not with him seeing Mokuba every day; he could easily miss any growth spurts by seeing them all the time.
But hadn't he noted just a few moments ago that Mokuba and Yuugi were of a similar height? What that meant, he didn't know. He wasn't going to put too much thought into it right now.
"Have a good time downstairs, Mokuba?" he asked quietly, taking a seat next to his little brother, not even bothering to swing his legs over the side of the bench.
The look Mokuba turned on him was pure skeptical disbelief for a long moment before it was replaced with a more familiar grin. "Niisama, it was awesome! You need to come with me next time. It's all kinds of awesome!"
"Did you break Gwyllgi's heart, or is he still your favorite?"
In response, Mokuba rolled his eyes. "Of course. Gwyllgi's awesome. The others are cool, and Shuck is awesome, but Gwyllgi's the most awesome."
"Shuck?" This wasn't the first time he had heard that name recently, and he did remember a little bit about the Black Shuck from what he had read this morning. That didn't mean everything was rushing right back to him; it had been a very busy day.
Before Mokuba could answer, something from beneath the table shoved him hard. For a moment, he flailed, almost losing his balance and tumbling to the floor. Somehow, however, he caught himself before he slid all the way off, and he turned to glare at whomever was behind him.
No, scratch that. Not whomever was behind him, but instead whatever was behind him.
He would have thought he was looking at Gwyllgi for a brief second, until the dog moved into the limited light that streamed throughout the main hall but barely pierced the gloom beneath the tables.
Yes, the dog was as big as, if not larger than, Gwyllgi, but that was where the similarities stopped. This one was as black as pitch and shaggy as hell; if he had to compare it to any dog he had ever seen, he would have called it a gigantically massive Irish wolfhound, a larger version of an already large dog. The most disturbing part was the glowing red eyes. That part made him involuntarily want to shiver, as tiny bits of what he had read this morning flashed through his mind: death omens, spectral hounds, the Wild Hunt.
"This is Black Shuck," Mokuba cheerily stated, reaching under the table to pet the massive creature as if it was nothing more than an oversize dog.
He had to admit that, for a second, his heart felt like it stopped in his chest. Gwyllgi was one thing; Bakura had introduced both him and Mokuba to the gigantic dog. This Black Shuck was a bit of an unknown quality, and Kaiba couldn't say that he cared much for that. He didn't think Gwyllgi would let anything dangerous anywhere near Mokuba, but...
"I see you've met Shuck." Once again, he nearly started out of his seat. This time, at least, Mai was the one who had caused it. Mutely, he nodded, never taking his eyes off the dog, even as the blond woman sank down to sit beside him on the bench and leaned over behind him to pet the massive thing as well. "I thought, if you're going to be listening in on the daeva, you might need a bodyguard. Shuck is the best at that there is."
So... this thing was going to be with him all the time? Great, just great. Still, it could have been worse. Someone could have decided they had a sense of humor and have Atemu follow him around. With Bakura... Yeah, he could see that going so well.
"I hope you don't mind," Mai continued. A smirk spread over her face quickly, and his stomach dropped just as swiftly. "I would hate for Kura's first steady romance to disappear, after all. I'm just looking out for you guys."
"Mai?" he deadpanned. "You're evil." She laughed at that.
"I could have told you that years ago," Bakura commented, stepping in front of him. He glanced up to see the dark-haired woman -- Isis, he supposed -- staring at him, even as Amane was trying valiantly to keep her attention on their conversation. "What's she done now?"
Mai climbed to her feet gracefully, offering Bakura an easy smile. "I'm just looking out for Kaiba, that's all, Kura." She shrugged an elegant shoulder. "I asked Shuck to keep an eye on him for me."
Bakura raised an eyebrow at that, and he actually looked a bit impressed. "I'm trying to decide if that's overkill or not." He paused, humming quietly, even as he sank down to sit in the spot Mai had just vacated. "It's sort of like going to a knife fight and bringing an H-bomb."
"I believe in if you're going to do something, do it well and thoroughly -- and leave no witnesses that you did it begin with." With a wink and a jaunty wave, Mai stepped away, saying, "I'm going to go see if I can't find where Jounouchi has disappeared to. You kids behave."
Bakura waited until Mai was a few steps away before leaning closer to talk as privately as possible in a room that was rapidly filling with people -- well, humans and gods. "It sounds like she's been in rare form all day today."
"I would hate to see her in any other form," he muttered under his breath. "Apparently, I'm fun for her to pick on."
"I could have told you that too."
On his other side, Mokuba elbowed him sharply. "Get a room, you two. I don't want to see that."
He might have almost been convincing if he hadn't been grinning so broadly.
01 August 2010
I finally got pissed off of tying myself up in needles (I'm trying to learn how to knit, emphasis on the "trying") so I decided now was the perfect time to come post this chapter here. It's looking like there will be at least another 10,000 words still to go, but probably it will be a lot more than that.
Now that JulNoWriMo is over, I can also work on other things, so I will be starting to do edits on Verdant: The Preterhumans Book 2 soonish. I've started buying up stock of Amaranth: The Preterhumans Book 1 to take to NecronomiCon. If you'll be in the Tampa/Saint Petersburg, FL area on 22 through 24 October this year, stop by. I'll be selling the copies I have on hand and signing any that show up. I'm also hoping to do a meet-up that Saturday, maybe at the hotel Starbucks, maybe elsewhere in walking distance; I'm still playing it by ear. NecronomiCon is a relatively inexpensive con, as science fiction/fantasy cons go, and there's lots for gamers to do as well. Yes, I'm pimping the con; it's the only one I can still afford to go to really. That's why the book sales are becoming so important.
Anyway, it's time to go start lunch, so I hope you enjoyed, and I'll see you in Chapter 13.