This chapter is dedicated to TheWittyPhanton of Tumblr, namesake of the character featured in this arc, and the patron saint of all Yu-Gi-Oh! videogames. It is her meticulous research that is responsible for the hints of 'Duelists of the Roses' within this story.
Book I | A Rose by Any Other Name
Legendary Heroes Arc
Seto Kaiba: 18 years old
Kisara Pegasus: 16 years old
A stream of colors engulfed him as his consciousness was pulled from his body. He was falling. Knowing that no one could see him, Kaiba smiled, his dream realized. The virtual reality world accessed at last.
He had returned to Domino City that morning. After a night's travel with Yugi and his cohort in the crammed space of the helicopter, his limbs screamed for sleep. The past weeks had been a trial on mind and body. He was all too happy to see the back of those idiots. That white haired one… Bakura… had given him unease.
Still, there was no time for such luxuries. His feet firmly planted on the Kaiba Corp. launch pad situated at the top of the Kaiba Corp skyscraper, he had left security to escort the pests from the premises while he and his brother took the elevator down one floor to the penthouse. To his treacherous business partners. To the Big Five. They had been… surprisingly deferent. He had expected rebellion. Promises of revenge. He'd had every plan of stripping them of their fortunes and tarnishing their careers beyond any hope of them ever being able to find work again.
Then they had told him the Virtual Pod was ready for market distribution. It had been too tempting to resist, even for him.
It was as Seto Kaiba materialized within the game's virtual reality that the attack came. Before he could take in the sensory wonders of the forest, the smell of moss or the sound of local fauna, out of nowhere, a Duel Monster named the Armed Ninja came at him. Instinct kicked in, as it always did, in the form of the Blue-Eyes that Kaiba summoned. However, before he could even enjoy the dragon being by his side once more, it came hurtling towards him.
A Dragon Capture Jar.
The memories of Duelist Kingdom flooded back, raw and unforgiving. The scream. The blood dripping thick out of her mouth. Kaiba froze, unable to move. He watched, helpless – helpless once again – as she was ripped from his side. That scream all over again. Numbly, he thought, Someone must have reprogramed the games combat protocols. Out loud, he screamed, "My Blue-Eyes! NO!"
And that was when the Ninja struck.
He was falling again. Only, there were no colors now. Only darkness. Seto convulsed. His armor. He needed his armor. Where was it? The signature metal plating masterfully crafted to resemble the face of the Blue-Eyes, the plates on his shoulders seamlessly melding into the plates of the Dragon's scales. Where was it?!
With a strain and a snap, he pulled the breastplate into place.
He brushed off one of his manservants. "Don't fuss," he snapped. The servant backed away, leaving Seto – Christian – alone in front of the mirror. He was to be knighted in a matter of hours. The silver-plated armored face of the dragon, its head resting on his shoulder, suited him well. The blue diamond set in as the eye of the beast sparkled in the candlelight of the castle. He had expected the armor to hang heavy upon him. Rather, it felt as though it were already becoming a part of his skin. He felt protected, as he had never felt before in his eighteen years of life. This dragon was his protection.
He smiled to himself. If what his patron told him had even a whisper of truth to it, he would find the dragon one day. She was his quest. The only lady he would ever acknowledge. His oath. His promise.
"His Majesty, King Edward IV, will be very pleased with the craftsmanship. After all, it's the best our little island can offer."
Seto turned to see the devil himself, his liege lord, Thomas Stanley, leaning against the stone doorframe and looking rather pleased with himself. Then again, 'Pegasus,' as Stanly had been nicknamed over the years, always looked pleased with himself. Deftly, he threw Seto a white rose, the symbol of their House of York, and their allegiance. "For the ceremony of your knighthood."
Seto caught it. As he did, a vision of white hair, soft as the petals of a rose, hiding a power far more acute than its thorns, flashed before his eyes. He shrugged, pointedly avoiding looking into the mirror again, much as he wanted to. "It'll do." Still, out of the corner of his eye, as he fixed the rose into his armor, he could not resist– and he looked.
His eyes went wide and the scream caught in his throat. He was staring down at his hands. Or rather, what was left of his hands. The metal of his deep blue heavy gauntlets had begun to warp. The sheets had begun to turn into, "Scales?!" The molten hot of the armor brought him to his knees. It was as though he was being cooked alive within his own suit of armor. And yet the fire was a part of him. It felt as though it were already becoming a part of his skin.
Through the tears streaming down his face he looked to his left and right, only to see his two fellow knights, dressed in red and green, contorted similarly. He was filled with horror. Was that a tail that Hermos had just sprouted? He again opened his mouth to scream, only for his jaw to be forced open with teeth far too large and sharp– He heard his jawbone splinter and crack before he felt it.
The world was engulfed in magma and water. The Ionic columns crumbled. The temples cracked. He felt the earth tremble as the island collapsed into the sea, all tinged with that same sickly greenish hue they had fought against for so long. The Orichalcos was victorious.
Kaiba groaned, his head splitting. His hands numb. At least the sensory functions are still active within this virtual reality, he thought dryly, trying to flex his fingers. They tingled and stung. He raised his head to see that he'd been shackled to a great stone cross, his toes barely scraping the floor. Though this was a game, the cleaving sensation as his shoulder blades bit into his back felt very real. As did the heat.
"Where… am I?" He appeared to be in some sort of cave. Perhaps sealed within a restless volcano. Stalagmites and stalactites rose from the floor and hung from the cavern ceiling. His eyes adjusted to the semi-darkness, he was drawn to the one source of light – a boiling ocean of lava and magma, bubbling in lakes far below, on all sides. How could his fingers be so cold, and the glow from the lava so hot?
Kaiba's mind flickered to a different island, boiling over with cataclysmic disaster. Molten lava, just like this. A boiling sea. Kaiba's head was pounding. He squinted his eyes shut, trying to mute out the red glow, but it pierced through his eyelids. What was this? What was he thinking of? Duelist Kingdom? No. Not Duelist Kingdom. Another island. An older island. Multiple islands? But if it wasn't Duelist Kingdom, why did Kisara Pegasus still rise to the forefront of his mind–
"You're with me, Seto Kaiba," a grating voice cut through Kaiba's groggy mind as its owner materialized out of the stone floor before him. Yellow haired, with acid green eyed, and wearing a violet suit and violet fedora in hand, it was of the very Duel Monster that Kaiba had programed into this virtual reality. His own creation had taken him prisoner in his game.
The Witty Phantom set his fedora smartly on his head as he straightened out of a bow. "This is no longer your world to command. Your game's been reprogramed. You're late to the party, Kaiba."
"I never liked parties," Kaiba growled, a sneer hitching onto his face as he thought of the Intercontinental Duel Monster's Tournament gala of one year before.
"But you're the guest of honor. Or at least you will be," Witty Phantom said playfully, spreading his arms wide, the gesture almost inviting, if it weren't so sinister. "You see, Kaiba, you will have the great privilege of being our offering to the Mythic Dragon." His poison green eyes squinted with delight. "Till then," he flourished a deep bow, "your misery will be in my capable hands."
Kaiba now remembered. Yes, it had been at the gala that he had gotten the idea for the Witty Phantom's speech patterns and mannerisms. And the penchant for horribly colored suits. It was as though Maxamillion Pegasus was laughing at him, even from his disgrace on the secluded island of Duelist Kingdom. "That's enough," Kaiba snarled, straining against his clamps, "Override protocol. End this simulation."
Nothing happened. The Witty Phantom shook a finger at him slowly. "Tsk, tsk, tsk. I told you things have changed," he cooed in an all too familiar lilt. If Kaiba ever got out of here he would fire the voice-actor for doing too good a job. "Your code's been rewritten, and now all of your silly safety precautions are a thing of the past." He tilted his fedora to Kaiba, and winked. "Now excuse me, there's much to do." Kaiba strained against his bonds, even as the Witty Phantom disappeared before his very eyes.
His chains…. Why did this feel so familiar? Not him handing from this rock. No. Not him. Someone else… chained… leaning forward… straining against her imprisonment within the rock. Stonehenge? Why was he thinking of Stonehenge…? Why was he dressed in armor, welded into the shape of a Blue-Eyes? Was it the medieval atmosphere of the virtual reality that had induced this hallucination? Seto's vision blurred.
"You're here much sooner than expected," Seto addressed Jake Cade, or Bakura as he would come to be known. …Bakura? Why was he talking to Bakura…
His vision blurred again. …Again, he was looking up at her form, chained to one of the great pillars of Stonehenge, her hair falling over her face, her hands shackled, as his were now. "The time has come…" he whispered, his armor clanking as he fell to one knee, arms outstretched, "to realize the dreams of my ancestors! No… not my ancestors. My past lives. Lady of the White Dragon… I've found you!"
Her bare, pale shoulder wrenched against her bonds as she tried to pull herself free. And her dilated blue eyes met his.
Kaiba didn't know how long he hung there. There was no natural light to mark the passage of time, and the only sound was the gurgling of the molten lava below. However, time did pass, and with it, came the return of his captor. "Wake up, Kaiba," the Witty Phantom cooed.
Kaiba raised his head.
"You programmed me to torment my captives, not let them sleep," the Phantom stepped into the red-tinted light, balancing his fedora on a single gloved finger. What irony it was that Kaiba had written the Witty Phantom's code long before he'd become a 'guest' in Pegasus's castle – and programmed him so accurately too.
Then, out of nowhere, came his salvation.
Mokuba materialized within the volcano pit, just as the Witty Phantom had dematerialized earlier. Dressed in armor of his own, ready for battle, Kaiba could barely recognize the child of mere months ago. With a self-satisfied grin and a flick of his wrist, Mokuba summoned a monster that cut through Seto's chains. Kaiba's fingers burned with heat as blood that had been restricted from them now pumped into them, uninhibited. His toes, which had scraped the floor for hours, barely managed to straighten out as his feet were forced to once again take the weight of his full body. He stumbled forward, liberated from the rock. Yet did I manage to liberate her? What mattered now was Mokuba was here, and he had freed Seto from the Witty Phantom, as Seto had once made to free Mokuba from Pegasus.
"Wait, no!" The Witty Phantom recoiled, knowing what was coming next.
Kaiba smiled cruelly at the purple clad buffoon, all of the helplessness of the hours before turning into vicious action. You were always right Hermos, he thought dizzily. My methods never were as knightly as yours or Timaeus's. But you never could argue with my results!
He took the deck Mokuba had handed him. His deck. "Go, Blue-Eyes White Dragon!" For the second time in this game, she was beside him. The Phantom unleashed a bloodcurdling shriek and scampered. The attack caught him in the back and hurtled him forward. The last that Kaiba saw of the imp was his disintegrating flesh.
Their victory was short lived however, as Armed Ninjas appeared, armed with Dragon Capture Jars, eager for another Blue-Eyes to add to their hoard. Well, Seto was not going to let that happen again. Not to her.
He killed them all.
With their enemies destroyed, he turned to his little brother to find out how it was possible that he'd come to his rescue – at which he discovered that Yugi Mutou and Joey Wheeler had come as well. Alongside Mai Valentine, another finalist of Pegasus's tournament.
"Kaiba! Mokuba! What a relief. We've been all worried!" Joey was the first to spot them. As he skidded in front of them, wearing some ridiculous medieval outfit of his own, his face split into a grin of genuine relief. One which Kaiba could not understand. Yet it seemed… familiar. Yugi – the more statuesque Yugi – followed quickly at his heels, dressed in his own bizarre assortment of breastplate, gauntlets and cape. He too smiled up at Kaiba. …This entire scene, of the three of them …standing in a fortress… clad in different armor… it all seemed familiar. Twice over familiar. Mai Valentine stepped into to take a place by Wheeler's side, a cocky and confident smile on her ruby lips.
And then the Big Five activated the final level of the virtual reality. Their laughter echoed through the fortress. A vortex to the final level of the game appeared. They had surmounted the need for a sacrifice in the molten lava pit, and had summoned the Mythic Dragon themselves. It manifested out of nothing, and grew into a goliath. Its five heads rose above the players – one head of water, one of fire, one of sand, one of rock, and one of steel. One for each of the treacherous bodies of Kaiba's company. All mounted on one monstrous body.
"Oh man…" Joey whispered, taking a few steps back, his head craning upwards, looking at the colossus.
"Alright everyone," Yugi commanded, planting his feet, taking on the position of authority, as he always did. "Stay close. We'll win together," he growled. "Or together we'll fall."
With that final ominous phrase Kaiba again felt that they had been here before. The three of them. Facing a creature of immeasurable strength…
Each summoned his and her own dragon to combat the threat. Yugi and Joey both summoned Curse of Dragon and Red-Eyes Black Dragon respectively. Despite the dire nature of the situation, Kaiba could not help the hint of a smile. There was some comfort in having these people at his back. But there was one in their number that did not have a dragon, and the laughter of the Big Five as they cooed out this fact made Kaiba's blood run cold. "Wait. No. You wouldn't," he breathed. They did. The Mythic Dragon's head of sand blasted its attack. Kaiba turned, too far from Mokuba to be able to pull his brother out of the way. Yet he could block the attack with his Blue-Eyes. He opened his mouth to do so– and he faltered. How could he sacrifice her once again? Once again put her in harm's way? It was true… she no longer bore the tear on her body that had linked her to his misuse, but– he hesitated.
"BLOCK IT, RED-EYES!" Joey bellowed. In a bluster of wind his dragon soared over Kaiba's head, throwing itself between the eleven year old Mokuba and the searing blast. Dragon and man cried out as one as the Red-Eyes Black Dragon took the full brunt of a scorching sandstorm, and as the dragon was obliterated along with Joey's lifepoints. Joey buckled to the ground, shaking, his eyes wide with excruciating pain, sweat pooling down his face.
"No! Joey!" Mai Valentine was by his side in an instant, taking his face in her hand, running her hand through his hair. "Stay with us, please."
"Joey!" Yugi was by his other side.
Joey, teeth grit against the pain, coughed out "So long… I'm done for…" Courageous smirk firmly in place, he disintegrating before their very eyes.
"Joey!" Mai Valentine desperately tried to capture in her arms the thin air into which he had vanished. When she could not, the cry that ripped from her throat chilled the blood.
Kaiba blinked. Why had he done that? Why had Joey gone out of his way to save Mokuba? What was a Kaiba brother to Joey Wheeler? What was this sense of loyalty and outrage that this place and setting was evoking in him? He felt as though this had all happened before. He could practically feel the armor searing into his hands as it melted into his skin on that distant island. He felt as though he knew the answers… However, in the next instant, the Mythic Dragon attacked again, now aiming for her, his Blue-Eyes.
"Seto," Mokuba cried out, "it's not your dragon he's attacking! It's you!"
Before he could feel fear for his Blue-Eyes… before he could feel fear for himself… Kaiba felt small hands press into his lower back. He felt himself stumble involuntarily out of the way. He heard Mokuba's voice hitch on the final blast as he took the direct hit. Kaiba turned just in time to see his little brother's charred form teeter. He'd seen this before. Someone had once put themselves between him and harm's way before. Not on an island. No. In a desert land. He had failed a loved one like this …before.
"…Se…to…" His little brother staggered forward, and fell. Seto opened his arms to catch him. Mokuba disintegrated into thin air before he could even touch him. His last breath wafted through Kaiba's fingers.
"…No." He stared vacantly ahead of him. "NO." Not after they had safely escaped Duelist Kingdom. Not after everything. "Mokuba." This was a digital reality. It couldn't be real. Could it? The Witty Phantom's words echoed in his head: Your code's been rewritten, and now all of your silly safety precautions are a thing of the past. …The Big Five would not have gone so far. Surely not. There were so many memories jostling around in Kaiba's head. These memories of him, Yugi and Joey, each in different styles of armor, all three battling some sort of biblical monster. Then these memories of him… of Kisara Pegasus… somewhere hot, somewhere that stretched for miles of sand. And now… now these new, strange memories. Of castles and kings. Or roses. Of a… stone tablet.
As though he had lived three different lives before now.
As he knew he always could, he called on her for help. Once more, the Blue-Eyes Ultimate Dragon cast its protective shadow over him. In a blast of Kaiba and Yugi's combined powers the Mythic Dragon was incinerated, and the power of the Big Five with it. Kaiba and Yugi watched mutely in the face of the brutal destruction. However, in the next instant the ground had disintegrated beneath their feet, and Kaiba and Yugi plummeted into darkness.
Kisara walked down the hallway to her room. She had asked Croquet if he might send her dinner up after her. He had practically tripped over himself in obliging. Croquet had always been like an uncle to her, keeping a weather eye out for her when her father could not. The last few months, and the abuse she had suffered during the Duelist Kingdom Tournament, might almost have been as great a trial on the old Head of Security as they had been on her. Almost.
The smell of warm soup reached Kisara. She smiled contentedly. As much as she knew it was the height of decadence to eat dinner in bed, she could not bring herself to feel any guilt about it. She felt as though she could sleep for a week after everything that had happened.
Without much thought, she cast a glance to either side at two of the tall mirrors that lined the palatial halls of the castle as she passed them. Kisara froze, and doubled back. Once again, now slowly, she looked from right to left, and right again. All she saw was her own reflections – satisfyingly upright and no longer hunched over, even with the aid of a cane – yet still her reflection.
Kisara swallowed. She could have sworn that, only a moment before, she had seen two very different reflections looking back at her. On her right, a knight, his pale armor gleaming, the head of a Blue-Eyes carved into his shoulder-plate, a diamond imbedded for an eye. And on the right, another knight. This one in deep blue armor, wielding an ancient sword.
Two knights, lost in time, staring back at her through the reflection of a mirror.
Kaiba and Yugi awoke to the singing of the Princess programed into the virtual reality, whose role it was it send the players to defeat the Mythic Dragon. Her arms spread wide, the Princess levitated into the air and before them and, with a laugh, transformed… into the Mythical Elf. She became a Duel Monster with shimmering blue skin, flowing green garments, all engulfed in an ethereal glow. "The Princess is actually the Mythical Elf," Yugi whispered hazelly. "She… she's casting a spell to bring back our friends!" A failsafe. Even at their most diabolical, the Big Five had been unable to surmount all of Kaiba's programing, including this final failsafe, lest anyone ever thought to weaponize his game, as someone had once tried…
The Princess's singing filled the air with the most beautiful melody Seto had ever heard. It was the sweetest music, designed to respond to the sensory functions of each player, different to each ear that heard it. To Seto… it was his mother's lullaby.
A blue beam of light shone down into the castle courtyard, where he and Yugi had awoken. Joey, Mai and Mokuba all materialized on the paving stones before them. "Mokuba…" Kaiba's eyes went wide. He could not believe it. And yet, in the next instant, Mokuba had slammed into him and was hugging the air right out of him. Just as he had done the very day before, in the courtyard of Duelist Kingdom. His little brother was alive. The exit portal appeared before them. Kaiba straightened out. "…Let's go, Mokuba," was all he could manage.
"Hey, hold it a sec, Kaiba!" It was Joey. Kaiba stopped. "Don't you think the very least you could do is say 'thank you' or something?"
Kaiba smirked, remembering the feeling of comfort, fighting side by side with Yugi and Joey, and the inexplicable emotions that had coursed through him when Joey had taken the fall for Mokuba when they had all thought it could mean his very real death. "I never asked for your help. And as far as I'm concerned, I never needed it." Over Joey's audible shower of exasperated expletives, Seto turned his head a fraction to look back. "Yugi, you on the other hand I will offer some gratitude." The situation felt so similar to that night he had landed on Duelist Kingdom in his helicopter, with warnings of Pegasus. And yet it was different. They were both… all three… different men now. Whatever their pasts had held. Whatever it was Kaiba couldn't quite remember.
Yugi looked surprised. Kaiba continued. "We made a good team, you and I." His memories stirred. He suppressed them. "But don't think it means we'll be partnering up in true reality."
Yugi smiled, "Very well. I believed in the heart of my cards and… I dare say… I think you did the same." All present knew which card he referred to. "And," he continued, "despite whatever grudge you may still hold against me and the others, perhaps you could at least begin to stop looking at us as just adversaries, and more as friends."
Friends. Kaiba turned, brother and hand, and walked back to the real world.
The man who would come to be Seto Kaiba and the man who would come to be Joseph Wheeler stood before each other in the shadow of Stonehenge, England. The year was 1485 of our Lord, Jesus Christ, when Seto was Christian Rosenkreuz and when Joseph was Christopher Urswick. The names do not matter. As William Shakespeare would say less than two hundred years hence, "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."
The wind howled, whistling between the great stones. "Why did you come to warn me?" the man who would become Seto rasped.
The blond knight looked upon him mournfully. Had it truly been eleven years since they were knighted in the same ceremony, side by side? He had galloped at breakneck speed from where Henry Tudor, who would one day be known as Yugi Motou, had just been victorious in battle. In this one victory Henry had become King, and the man who would be Seto had become outlaw. "We were friends once, weren't we?" Joseph said. "You, me and Henry?"
Seto smiled bitterly. "Were we?"
"The battle's over. The Yorkists have lost. Whatever you do and wherever you go, I hope you can find your peace with it." Joseph reached out a hand to Seto. "Goodbye, Christian."
Seto looked down, and then looked up at one of the great rocks of Stonehenge. He had risked everything – his position, his land, his lifelong friendships, all for this. He could not turn back now. After all, she was his quest. His oath. His promise. Seto clasped Joseph by the arm, his gauntleted fingers gripping around Joseph's elbow. "Goodbye, Christopher. And Godspeed."
The end of Book I seemed an appropriate time to introduce the Atlantis Arc and the Duelist of the Roses Arc. I hope you enjoy the upcoming Book II, which shall cover the Battle City Arc and Forbidden Memories Arc, with some twists, of course. Please critique and review with any and all suggestion.
To be Continued… Book II: Battle City Tournament…