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I wrote this story for my daughter, so the content is probably okay for an 'G' rating; I rated it 'PG', however, for the occasional use of the word 'damn', which occurs more frequently in Part II than Part I...

Disclaimer:  I do not own Yu-Gi-Oh! or any of the characters therein

 

The Queen of Hearts: Part I - The Return 

By Lisa Ann McLean

 

Yugi Moto stepped out, squinting, into the blazing sunlight of a brilliant fall day, listening to the animated chatter of his classmates around him. Finally, school was out for the weekend—a long weekend. He had been having a hard time concentrating today. He was too preoccupied. How could he sit there and do math and history when he was going to meet his friends, Tristan, Joey and Téa, at the park after school for a game of Duel Monsters? Joey had said he wanted to try out some new cards…

Yugi’s steps lengthened as he hurried down the familiar sidewalks to the park. He wanted to see those cards as much as Joey wanted to use them. Duel Monsters was the most exciting game, to him. And it was when he played Duel Monsters that something special inside Yugi became apparent. He had been playing the game for a long time, now, and everyone knew that—though Yugi was small and quiet—when he played Duel Monsters, he became ruthless, driven and powerful. And when this special part of him came out, Yugi never lost the game. It was as if the other player became so much smaller than this other Yugi that he could see right through him—and outmaneuver him. This duality had become something that had marked him among those who knew him. They all knew that Yugi was an unusual boy. 

Just to look at him, he didn’t look so unusual. Small and quiet, his long red-blond hair stuck out at odd angles from his head in its own sort of style, no matter what he did to it. He had given up trying to do anything with it long ago. He wore jeans that were a bit too long, and a jean jacket that was a bit too big, and around his neck swung a long chain from which dangled a pyramid-shaped object—Yugi’s Millennium Puzzle. 

It was this puzzle that made Yugi so unusual. It had once been an artifact—an Egyptian puzzle that his Grandpa had given him to solve. The puzzle was magic. When he had solved the puzzle, its magic had become a part of him, and he was able to play Duel Monsters with this strange other presence guiding him. 

Why was this game so important? It was only a game, after all… 

Or was it? 

This other presence inside Yugi made it obvious to anyone who was Yugi’s friend that the game was much more. Already, Yugi and his friends had been in several adventures and dangerous spots where the magic of the game had shown them darker forces at work. Shadows and ghosts had shown their ugly faces, and they themselves had at times found themselves in a strange, altered world—the Shadow Realm—where the game was far more real, and far more dangerous, with far higher stakes. 

It was in these strange places that Yugi’s magic would help the most, since it seemed to be the most familiar there. And because of this, Yugi had kept all of his friends safe—and had earned their trust and respect. 

“Yugi! Over here!” 

Téa’s voice stopped Yugi in his tracks, and he turned, smiling, to his closest friend. Téa Gardiner was a tall, slender girl, who loved dancing more than Duel Monsters. She wasn’t a bad player, though, and had in the past beaten both Joey and Tristan with her own deck. She waved Yugi over, her short brown hair swinging around her moon-shaped face. 

“What took you so long?” she asked Yugi as he drew nearer. “You missed all the action.” 

“What action?” Yugi asked, curiosity piqued. After all they had been through together, when either Tristan, Joey or even Téa spoke of action, it was usually worth hearing. 

“Joey got himself in over his head again, I think,” Téa sighed, with a sidelong smile at Yugi. “Trying to save some little kid’s skin from some bully that was trying to cheat him out of his duel cards…” 

Yugi rolled his eyes, shaking his head slowly. “We’d better go help out,” Yugi smiled. 

They set off at a run, and didn’t have to go far before they saw Joey Wheeler, and a huge mountain of a teenager that looked something like a cross between a pig and a gorilla towering over his slender frame. Joey was shaking his small fist up at him. 

“Ya think you’re tough, huh?” Joey was yelling, fury bright in his dark eyes. “Real tough guy, cheatin’ a little kid outta his deck! I oughta teach you a lesson…” 

“You and what army, punk?” the big gorilla-pig snarled. 

Yugi sighed. This was so like Joey. Rash and impulsive, his street-hardened exterior concealed a boy who always defended a lost cause. And he always seemed to get himself into a lot of trouble doing it. How in the world was he going to take on this big ox? Although tall and stringy, Joey wasn’t much bigger bulk-wise than Yugi.

“C’mon! I can take ya!!” Joey barked back defiantly, as if in answer to Yugi’s thoughts. His sandy-blonde, shaggy hair had fallen over his eyes, and he pulled it out of the way. “Or do ya only beat up little kids?” 

Yugi groaned. He could see it coming. Téa covered her face. 

“Where’s Tristan?” Yugi whispered. 

“I don’t know. He didn’t show yet. I think he’s trying to hit on that new girl…” 

It figures, Yugi thought. Tall, brown-haired Tristan was Joey’s friend and self-appointed protector. It seemed he always showed up when Joey needed help. And if there was ever a time Joey needed help, it was now. But, according to Joey, he never needed help. And, to look at him, he didn’t look like he wanted it: standing there with his fists clenched and his teeth bared. Playing the hero, while the small kid (Yugi assumed this was the kid who had been wronged by Gorilla-Pig) cowered on the ground, his face smeared with tears and dirt, looking hopefully up at this tall, thin teenager who had risen to his defense. 

Boy, is he in for a surprise, Yugi thought desperately, Joey hasn’t got a chance against this guy… 

…unless… 

Something ignited in Yugi’s mind like a spark. He wasn’t sure what inspired it, but things like this happened to Yugi—and he always went with it.

“Joey!” he called out to his friend, “Joey! Challenge him to a Duel!” 

Joey started, and turned to look at Yugi. He looked like he hadn’t realized they had been watching. Then he grimaced. 

“What, are you kiddin’, Yug?” he shouted back incredulously, “’dis big oaf ain’t gonna know nothin’ about Duel Monsters…!” 

“’Duel Monsters’?” echoed the big oaf. “You know how to duel, punk?” 

Joey looked back at him with such an expression of disbelief on his face that Téa snorted with suppressed laughter. Yugi, however, remained serious—as he always did when Duel Monsters was involved. 

“Yeah,” Joey said slowly, “and … do you…?” 

“I bet I can duel your miserable pants off, punk,” Gorilla-Pig said menacingly. Joey glanced at Yugi wonderingly. Yugi always seemed to have some uncanny knowledge or sight into things that nobody should know. How did he know to suggest a Duel Monsters battle against this big jerk? How could he possibly know that he would accept? 

It didn’t matter, anyway. He might not be able to beat this guy in a fight, but if there was anything he was sure of, he could beat him in a Duel Monsters battle. Especially with Yugi here… 

“Alright,” he smirked, “you’re on. Winner gets the kid’s deck.” 

The kid looked horrified. Yugi looked questioningly at Téa. 

“The big oaf took the kid’s deck—said he wanted to look for trading cards,” Téa answered Yugi’s look. “Joey overheard the kid crying. That’s what started it all—he refused to give the kid back his deck. Said ‘you snooze, you lose’ and started laughing at him. You know Joey; it drove him nuts and he ran at the guy like some vigilante or something. Poor Joey. He really wants to help. He’s got such a big heart…” 

Yugi looked up at Joey’s determined face. “I think Joey’s gonna do just fine, Téa,” he said with an odd smile that made Téa look twice at him. “And you’re right—he does have a big heart. And so do his cards.” 

The Heart of the Cards. Another decidedly Yugi thing that he both spoke of and believed in. It was Yugi’s fault that they all believed in it now, because if there was anything that their adventures together had taught them, it was that the cards did have a heart—a guiding force that affected the outcome of a game. A force that could be called upon to work the game to the advantage of good. They didn’t really understand it—in fact, neither did Yugi, completely—but they had faith that it was there, and that it would help them. 

“You’re right, Yugi,” Téa smiled, then turned back to Joey, who was pulling out his deck along with Gorilla-Pig. “Come on, Joey! Show him what a real Duelist is made of!!” 

Always the cheerleader, Téa once again had taken up her position. Yugi chimed in with his usual exuberance. 

“Yeah, Joey! We’re right behind you!” 

“Yeah! All of us!” 

It was Tristan’s voice. He smiled sheepishly as they all raised their eyebrows at him. 

“You’re late,” Yugi said with mock accusation in his voice. 

“Yeah, well…” Tristan mumbled. 

“So, did she bite?” Téa asked innocently. 

“Nah. Said she’s got a boyfr…” Tristan trailed off, then looked indignantly at Téa, who had begun to laugh. “Hey! How did you know…?” 

Yugi grinned. He might have some special insight, but sometimes Téa was just as surprising… 

* * *
 

The duel had been going on for awhile now. Joey still hadn’t lost the reckless determination he had entered the battle with, but he had become more grim. The game wasn’t going too well for Joey. He had lost his Flame Swordsman—one of his best cards—early in the game to an attack by a Red-Eyes Black Dragon, which was still on the field and obliterating all of Joey’s cards. Gorilla-Pig had played a Defense Paralysis magic card, and Joey was stuck playing everything in attack mode, which wreaked havoc on his life points. Joey was mystified, as were Téa, Tristan and Yugi; the big bully was using the boy’s deck, but he seemed to be playing it as if it were his own, and he kept taunting Joey about it, which didn’t make Joey play any better. Worst of all, they knew he must be cheating, but they couldn’t tell how. 

“Aaah, you couldn’t duel your way out of a paper bag,” Gorilla-Pig jeered. “Look—there goes your Swamp Monster! Tough luck, nimrod!” 

Joey’s face reminded Yugi of a snarling dog. He wondered if his face looked the same, since he felt the same way himself. This was not right—the big bully was just toying with Joey. 

Yugi heard a small choking sound beside him. He remembered the kid that owned the deck Gorilla-Pig was playing with. He risked a glance at him. He looked so helpless. Poor kid, Yugi thought sympathetically, even our cheering section isn’t doing much for him… 

Yugi bent over the small boy. “Hey,” he said, “how did you get your hands on a Red Eyes Black Dragon? That’s a really rare card.” 

The kid turned big, brown tear-filled eyes to Yugi. “That’s not my card,” he said shakily. 

Yugi blinked. “What do you mean?” 

“I mean it’s not mine!” the kid repeated, tears still choking his voice. “That guy must have stacked it in my deck somehow. It just isn’t fair! How is anyone here supposed to win against him if he keeps slipping cards like that in?” 

Yugi felt a bright surge of injustice. So. He was stacking the deck. Stacking it with other cards he had probably stolen… 

Yugi turned to Téa and whispered to her what the distraught boy had just told him. 

“That’s not fair!” Téa hissed, echoing the little boy’s words. “He could have all kinds of monster cards and magic cards up his sleeve, if you’re right!” 

Yugi turned back to Joey, and suddenly found himself shouting. 

“Don’t give up, Joey! He’s cheating! He can’t win! Trust the Heart of the Cards…!” 

Yugi didn’t know what happened then. A light seemed to go on inside Joey’s head and he looked at Yugi. Then they all felt a sort of wind that seemed like it was blowing, not around them or over them, but through them. Then Yugi—and it seemed like it was only Yugi—saw the girl. 

She was standing, it seemed, right beside Joey—almost over top of him like a sort of cloak. She was slender, with ivory-coloured skin, silver hair and silvery-green eyes that were fixed on the big Gorilla-Pig with a kind of quiet fury. Yugi blinked and rubbed his eyes, but when he looked at Joey again she was still there—and her face was just as angry. Yugi glanced at Téa and Tristan, but they didn’t seem to be noticing anything strange. They just kept up their never-ending chorus of valiant cheers to keep Joey going. Almost frightened now, Yugi dragged his eyes back to the duel. 

She was still there—beautiful and imposing; her hand dropped down over Joey’s, which had just reached down to his deck… 

… and Yugi suddenly had the most bizarre sensation of recognition slide, quicksilver, through his mind. He knew this girl… or… spirit… or… ghost? But how? He was certain he had never seen her before. But even though he had not seen her before, that same unexplainable awareness he had lived with since his puzzle had become his left no uncertainty in his mind; he knew this … presence… or whatever she was… 

“Téa,” he whispered quietly to his friend beside him, “do you… see anything? Besides Joey and the Incredible Hulk there, I mean?” 

“Huh?” Téa replied absently. “What do you mean, Yug—oh!” 

Yugi’s eyes shot back to the game. Joey had drawn his cards. 

It was a deadly combination that followed; deadly, for Gorilla-Pig, that is. Joey played a series of cards—that included Reborn the Monster—which not only allowed him to bring back his Flame Swordsman, but also gave him the ability to obliterate the Red-Eyes Black Dragon, and all of Gorilla-Pig’s life points. With a scant 132 life points of his own, Joey had won the match in a matter of seconds. 

“Yes! Yes! Yes!” Téa cried out, jumping up and down like a kangaroo. 

“Way to go, Joe!!” Tristan yelled, punching at the air with his fist. 

Yugi, unusually subdued, smiled at Joey, who was thoroughly enjoying rubbing Gorilla-Pig’s nose in his victory. He waved the little boy’s cards in his face, saying “you snooze, you loose, dogface!”, while the little boy stared up at Joey with shining, adoring eyes and Tristan stood behind both of them, arms crossed, like a particularly malevolent shadow in case the big oaf tried anything stupid. 

Joey handed the cards back to the boy’s trembling hands, then waved at Yugi in a triumphant gesture. “The Heart of the Cards, Yug!” he shouted gleefully. 

Yugi smiled again and nodded. Yes, it was the Heart of the Cards, as he remembered saying to Joey just before he had seen the girl. Yugi thought hard, the smile on his face dissolving into a frown. He had seen her—she had stood there as real as Téa had stood next to him. He had seen her place her hand on the cards just as Joey had done the same. And Joey’s luck had turned, almost impossibly, to victory. And for just a moment he had seen her smile… and then she had disappeared. 

And one of the cards Joey had drawn—Yugi was sure he didn’t have it in his deck. 

Maybe he was wrong…but… 

He would find out for sure. Later. 

* * *
 

Later, at the Burger Palace, the four of them sat having a pop and Yugi told his friends what he had seen during the game. 

“You know,” Téa said, looking thoughtful, “I think something weird was going on there, too. I didn’t see anything, but I felt something. Like a … sort of … living wind or something …” 

Joey looked dubious. “Aaah, I don’ know,” he said. “Some girl, standin’ over me, guiding my cards? Sounds kinda far-fetched…” 

“A girl, huh?” Tristan broke in. “What did she look like?” 

Yugi didn’t know why Tristan’s question irritated him so much. “She looked like a girl,” he said shortly. Téa, hearing the note in his voice, shot him a look but didn’t press the issue. 

“Why does some magic girl have to be the reason I won?” Joey went on, oblivious to the brief discomfort in the air. “Can’t it just have been because of my superior duelin’ skills?” 

Téa cast him a withering look. “Oh, please,” she said. 

“Just what are you tryin’ to say, Téa?” 

“Joey, could I see your deck?” Yugi interrupted. 

Joey gave Yugi a strange look. “Sure. Why?” 

“In your last move, you played the Magical Hats,” Yugi explained. “I know I have that card in my deck, but I didn’t think you had it in yours…” 

“Are you sayin’ I was cheatin’?” Joey flared. 

“No,” Yugi answered quickly, “I just… didn’t know you had that card.” 

Joey’s indignant face suddenly became thoughtful. “Come to think of it,” he said quietly, “I don’t think I do have that card. But… how…?" 

“It would still be there if you have it,” Yugi said, rifling through Joey’s deck. 

“Well?” Joey asked apprehensively as Yugi reached the last card. Yugi stared at the deck for a minute before finally slowly raising his eyes to meet Joey’s. 

“It’s not here,” he said. 

* * *
 

They had all congregated at Téa’s house, watching a televised Duel Monsters game on Téa’s T.V. It was the best way they could think of to take their minds off of the bizarre incident that had happened at the park, since they had all pretty well exhausted their well of explanations. They had thrown around a few ideas, anything from a Duel Monster spirit of some sort, to the ghost of the kid’s great-great-great-great grandmother. They were all equally far-fetched, and none had satisfied the nagging unease that remained in Yugi’s stomach. So, for now they dismissed it, and watched another battle that had nothing to do with them. 

“Listen, guys, Les Sylphides is on in about ten minutes,” Téa said plaintively. “Can I please watch it? You’ve been watching those guys go at it for two hours!” 

“Yeah, yeah, don’t worry, Téa,” Joey said absently. “It’s coming to a head soon, I can feel it—dude, did ya see that?” 

“Yeah! Man, it seems like these guys are goin’ for blood!” Tristan exclaimed. 

Intrigued, Téa turned her attention back to the match, which had lost her interest an hour ago. Duel Monsters, being so competitive, could get nasty at times, depending on the combatants. These two, both of them regional champions, seemed to have something at stake. They looked like they should have been battling on the field instead of the very realistic KaibaCorp virtual monsters that were swinging swords and clubs at each other. 

“That guy plays like Seto Kaiba,” Yugi commented on one of the players. “He’s so ruthless and precise…” 

“Yeah, Yug, but Seto only played like that once wit’ you,” Joey reminded him. “Seto Kaiba usually liked to play wit’ people’s minds before he took ‘em down.” 

Yugi had to agree. Seto Kaiba, international champion—whom he could see watching in the stands with his usual cold scrutiny—had been ruthless and precise only once with him, and that one time, his brother’s soul had hung in the balance. Another of the weird, surreal shadow powers had been at work at the time, wielded by Maximilian Pegasus. At the time he had shown himself to be a power-hungry and soulless businessman, himself the creator of Duel Monsters, who also possessed a millennium item—the Millenium Eye—which gave him the power he had wanted, along with a sick, twisted desire (and ability) to suck in peoples’ souls to gain more. Yugi had beaten Seto Kaiba in their first match, which had shaken Seto’s cold confidence in his own abilities. In the match for his brother Mokuba’s soul, however, Seto had won—had won only because he had placed himself in a position of personal harm or even death had Yugi made the move required to win. 

Yugi put the memory from his mind. He never liked to think about that duel. Of all of them, that one had shaken him the most. He smiled to himself. He supposed Seto Kaiba had got him back after all… 

It was Seto Kaiba’s face, which he happened to be looking at just then, that brought Yugi roughly back into the present. Seto—who was usually about as animated as a rock and just as warm—had become very pale, his eyes wide and staring. Both of his slender hands clutched the chair he sat on so tightly that Yugi could see that his knuckles were white. Mystified, Yugi followed Seto’s panicked gaze… 

She was there. 

Yugi saw her—standing over one of the duelists, her hand on the deck. Tall, slender, Silver hair, silvery-green eyes—unmistakably the same girl. Yugi scrambled off of his chair, gaping at the television and pushing Joey roughly out of the way to get a closer look. 

“HEY! What the…?” 

“What’s going on, Yu—“ 

Téa’s sentence finished in a gasp as she looked again at the T. V. screen. 

“Who… who’s that?” she asked in a stunned voice. 

Yugi looked sharply up at Téa. “You… you see her too?” 

Téa’s large eyes left the screen only for a moment. She looked full at Yugi. Her face was as white as Kaiba’s. 

“Yes,” she whispered. “Yes, Yugi. If you mean the silver girl with the long hair, I see her…” 

Yugi’s mouth hung open as his eyes flew back to the T.V. She was still there, but it seemed that the duelists didn’t see her, nor did the audience. But from the look on Seto Kaiba’s face, he saw her. And so did Téa, as her stricken expression confirmed. 

“What are you guys blatherin’ about?” Joey spluttered, picking himself up from the floor where Yugi had pushed him. 

“Yeah. What girl? Where?” Tristan squinted into the T.V. 

Yugi couldn’t answer. At least he knew he hadn’t lost his mind, not if Kaiba and Téa could see her, too. Téa and Yugi watched, riveted, as Tristan and Joey craned and clambered behind them, making all kinds of indignant noises, trying to get a glimpse at the screen. Yugi saw the girl raise one slender hand, the other remaining on the duelist’s deck, and point at the opposing duelist. The expression on her exquisite face was severe—she looked commanding, almost frightening. Then Yugi became aware of a ….coldness around the other duelist. It was only an impression, just a sort of …darkness that seemed to hover around him like an aura. Yugi’s gaze shot to Seto Kaiba, who—as he had expected—had gone even more rigid, his face as pale as death. Yugi knew he was remembering their first match, when a dark power had surrounded Seto as well, and Yugi had banished it, breaking its control over him… 

He saw the girl draw a card—drawing it with the duelist—and her other hand remained pointing at the dark force around the opponent, as though holding it at bay. 

With that single card, the duelist mopped up. The game was over. He had won. 

“Yugi,” Téa whispered, “who is she?” 

Yugi leapt to the T.V., slamming his hands against the screen. 

“Who are you?” 

Suddenly, the girl looked at him—I mean, looked at him—as though she could see through the T.V. right into Yugi’s heart and soul. Yugi stared back, his eyes wide, feeling his heart pound wildly in his throat. 

And she was gone. 

Yugi sat back, closing his eyes, his heart still hammering. He could feel his hands shaking. He jumped when he felt Téa’s gentle hand on his own, and he opened his eyes to look searchingly into Téa’s. 

“Yugi,” she said quietly. “Maybe you should go to Professor Snow.” 

* * *
 

Yugi, who had looked so forward to the weekend, found himself at the school the next day standing in front of an office. The name on the door read ‘Professor J. Snow’. 

The school, of course, was deserted. Today was a P. D. Day, which was why Yugi hoped he would at least find Professor Snow at work. He had rehearsed what he was going to ask him, but he was nervous. He hated talking to teachers. 

Screwing up his resolve, Yugi tapped on the door. Waited. 

Probably too quiet, Yugi thought. He raised his hand to knock again… and jumped three feet backwards as the door swung open before he could touch it. Professor Snow’s tall, greying frame stepped into the doorway to look, surprised, at Yugi. 

Professor Snow was his History teacher. Ancient History was his specialty, as he had once been an archaeologist who had excavated many Egyptian ruins. He had been a colleague of Yugi’s grandfather, and where Grandpa had specialized in the Ancient Egyptian Duel Monsters game itself, Professor Snow had concentrated on the legends and the lore surrounding the origins of the game. If anyone would know anything about the strange apparition of the girl he had seen it was Professor Snow. 

“H-hello, Professor!” Yugi stammered too loudly. “I suppose you’re wondering why I’m here?” 

“The thought had crossed my mind,” Professer Snow said dryly. 

Yugi laughed, again too loudly, and he cursed inwardly at how idiotic he must sound. 

“Well, Professor,” Yugi tried again, “I just wanted… needed to talk to you.” 

“Well, Yugi, I have a meeting…” 

“Please, Professor, it will only take a minute!” Yugi persisted. Perhaps it was the desperate note in Yugi’s voice, but Professor Snow stepped back and gestured at Yugi to enter his office. 

The office was small and full of all kinds of books with titles like ‘The Great Pyramids: Solving the Mystery’ and ‘An Archaeologist’s Guide to Ancient Ruins’. Prints of Egyptian paintings hung on the wall, and a large imitation bust of Nefretiri stared blankly at Yugi from behind the desk that Professor Snow now moved behind. He folded his hands and indicated with his eyes that Yugi sit down at the chair in front of his desk. 

Yugi sat down, looking as though the slightest sound would cause him to shoot out of his chair and through the roof. He tried to calm down, but he didn’t like the vacant eyes of Nefretiri staring at him from behind Professor Snow. 

“So, Yugi, you have my attention,” Professor Snow said. “Please use it before I have to go.” 

“Professor, is there any ancient Duel Monsters legend about a girl?” Yugi blurted out. Professor Snow looked hard at Yugi. 

“Several, as a matter of fact,” he said, smiling in a kind way that calmed Yugi’s jangling nerves slightly. “Perhaps you should be a little more specific.” 

So, taking a deep breath, Yugi told him about the girl he had seen twice now at two different matches. When he had finished, Professor Snow looked thoughtful. 

“Really?” he asked suddenly. “A girl, you say?” 

“Yes,” Yugi affirmed. “She seemed like—a spirit. But she seemed solid at the same time. She couldn’t have been human; she was too…”—Yugi groped for words, then shrugged—“too perfect.” 

“Curious,” the professor said, screwing up his face. “There is a particular legend about a girl…” 

“There is?” Yugi piped up at once. Professor Snow smiled. 

“Yes. The Legend of the Queen of Hearts. Ironically enough, Yugi, it has to do with… the Heart of the Cards, which you are so devoted to.” 

Yugi blanched. The Heart of the Cards…? 

“The legend has its roots at the origins of the Duel Monsters game in ancient Egypt,” the professor continued. “It was said that when the game was created, the duelists used their magic to conjure real monsters from the Shadow Realm. The monsters were basically good in nature and the game was only played to hone magic skills, and for good-natured competition. 

“As time went on, however, the game became corrupt. Power, as it so often does, had twisted the minds of some of the magic-users, and they began conjuring up darker beasts so as to gain more control over their colleagues. These evil monsters had no concern for fairness or the welfare of the duelists, only power and evil. They began to overpower the good forces, as the dark ones became more numerous…” 

The professor paused. Yugi listened intently, not realizing that his fists were clenched. 

“Those magicians who had fought for good—one in particular—decided to put a stop to the growing control of evil. Each of the magicians had his own way of controlling each beast he had at his disposal. This was his Heart, Yugi. His own controlling magic and ability to summon the beast he needed to win. What this particular magic-user decided to do was to call upon a spirit—a good spirit—who would be given the power to control the game for fairness and right. She would have ultimate control over the Hearts of the magicians and the beasts that were summoned, and could change at will the outcome of the game. She was the Queen of Hearts. 

“What he didn’t prepare for was his own heart. When he summoned the Queen, he fell in love with her.” 

“But,” Yugi broke the short silence that followed with a nervous whisper, “how could he fall in love… with a spirit?” 

“How indeed,” the professor smiled wistfully. “Love is a strange thing, Yugi. You see, the Queen could be solid—physical, that is, like you or I—at some times in this world. When she was, she was vulnerable, and that vulnerability put her at risk from the dark forces that wished to destroy her. The magic-user who had conjured her had to protect her. Maybe that is how he fell in love with her. But love cannot make a spirit human. Nor can it make a human the same type of spirit she was. Knowing this, they both knew this was an impossible love. So they instead swore to protect one another and fight for one another, always for the good.” 

“So, did… did this Queen of Hearts work? Did it save the game?” 

Professor Snow frowned, and looked seriously at Yugi. 

“Legend has it that their love was their downfall, but no one knows how,” he said quietly. “Often times he protected the Queen at risk to himself. Perhaps she became vulnerable and he was not able to draw enough power to save her—I don’t know. All that is known is that this same magic-user who conjured the Queen of Hearts was also the one who trapped the power of the game inside the Millenium Items.” 

Professor Snow stood up and looked down at the ashen face of Yugi, who suddenly seemed very small in his big clothes. When he spoke, Yugi could hear a sympathetic note to his voice. 

“Did it work? I don’t know, Yugi. One thing I can say is that if this girl is the Queen of Hearts, there must be some terribly dark forces at work in this Duel Monster game we are resurrecting now. Dark enough so that the need for the Queen has summoned her. 

“And now,” he said, moving briskly from behind his desk, “I really must get to that meeting. I’m late as it is. See you on Monday, Yugi.” 

Without waiting for a reply, he walked out of the room, leaving Yugi with a very large mess to clean up in his head. 

* * *
 

When Yugi returned to his friends, he told them what he had learned. 

“The Queen of Hearts,” Téa mused after hearing Yugi relay what Professor Snow had told him. “Do you really think that’s who she is, Yugi?” 

“I don’t know, Téa,” Yugi sighed. “It just seems to make the most sense. It’s only a legend, though…” 

“Yeah, but so’s the whole Duel Monsters thing, and we seen it work before, too,” Joey interjected. “An’ how about your Millennium Puzzle, an’ the Shadow Realm, an’ the Millennium Eye, an—“ 

“Yes, I know, Joey, I get the point,” Yugi laughed. “Boy, am I glad we’re camping in the park tonight. I need to get away from all this.” 

“Yeah,” Téa agreed emphatically, “and, for once I want to do something else besides Duel Monsters!” 

* * *
 

Yugi, Téa, Tristan and Joey set up camp in the early evening when the long shadows of the trees still let enough sun through to warm the air. They had built a fire, but had spilt a whole bag of marshmallows on the ground. This had ended up in a marshmallow fight, which had left them all laughing and breathless, and for an hour they were pulling marshmallows out of the most amazing places. 

They then decided to try staring contests, which gave them all the giggles. Yugi was thoroughly enjoying watching as Téa and Tristan went at it, but a movement among the trees beyond caught his eye. Getting up, he walked to the edge of their campsite and peered into the bushes. 

Silver. He saw a gleam of silver… 

Completely serious now, he ducked into prickly branches and leaves that pulled and scratched him, following the silver movement ahead. It moved with a fluid grace, soundless, and he cursed inwardly as he fought the whiplike branches that bent and sprang back around him, trying incessantly to grab his clothes and trip him up. Leaves rustling, twigs snapping as he passed, he was the direct opposite in movement to the silver form ahead. He was just berating himself for even trying this in the first place when he almost collided with the girl. She was standing in front of him. 

Speechless, Yugi just stared at her. He had never been so close to her, and from this distance he could see how truly flawless she was. It was almost unnatural, like some artist’s impression of perfection. Her silver hair shimmered in the waning sunlight, and for a long moment they just stared at each other. Then her eyes dropped curiously to Yugi’s Millennium Puzzle. When she brought her gaze up to meet his again, her eyes once again seemed to look through him, as though she was trying to see something more. 

“Why are you following me?” she asked abruptly. Her voice was something like music, like bells. 

“I… I… need to know… who you are,” Yugi stammered. 

“It is none of your concern.” 

She turned to go, but Yugi impulsively reached for her and grabbed her arm. To his surprise, it was solid. 

“Please,” Yugi pleaded. 

She looked at him—only looked at him—but he withered under the gaze that was as cold and sharp as a steel blade. He suddenly felt terribly uncomfortable, and dropped her arm as though it was hurting him. Her eyes didn’t leave his face, though, and her expression softened. She spoke again, but this time her voice was more gentle. 

“You must go. It is not safe here.” 

She turned and melted into the trees. 

Yugi stood for a fraction of a second, then fought furiously back to their camp through the bushes, ignoring the pain as the branches whipped and slapped his face. He burst with a flurry of leaves into the clearing where his friends sat, still engrossed in their staring battle. 

“I saw her!!” he panted. 

Téa and Tristan broke their intense concentration. They turned, startled, to Yugi. 

“What? Saw who?” Téa asked. 

“That girl!” Yugi was almost shouting. “She was just over there. She was solid, but then…” 

What came after ‘then’ was lost in a terrible noise. It sounded like something halfway between a roar and a ripping sound, and the temperature of the air around them plummeted drastically. But the cold was not just in temperature alone. It was death-like, soulless—something magical, something evil. Something they had all felt before—in the Shadow Realm. 

They were all on their feet in an instant. 

“Let’s go!” Yugi shouted. Without hesitation, the four of them tore off in the direction of the sound. 

“It came from over here!” Téa cried. Yugi, Tristan, and Joey raced into what seemed like a small clearing on the edge of a rather steep rock cliff. Standing in the clearing—and they all saw her this time—was the girl, but she was not alone. 

”Holy crap, what is that thing?” 

Joey’s loud exclamation voiced all of their thoughts as they raised their eyes (‘way up!) to the… thing that stood menacingly over the girl. It was impossible to tell if its shape was human or animal. It was black, and looked like some sort of… hole in the fabric of life. And it was like a vacuum that sucked in the life from around it, as though it was keeping itself alive from it. Yugi suddenly felt very cold. 

“It looks like some sort of Duel Monster!” Tristan cried, looking around frantically. “Is somebody havin’ a duel around here…?” 

Yugi looked at the thing, and he felt a large, black foreboding growing in his chest. No, he thought, this is no Duel Monster… 

It was a presence, a strong presence, that didn’t belong here. It belonged in another world, another time. The dark power resonating from the thing touched something inside Yugi—something that awoke that all-too-familiar presence within his soul, the presence that had become an intrinsic part of him when he had solved his millennium puzzle, and he felt it course through him as it always did when he needed it, strong and powerful. Then he looked at the silver-haired girl through these eyes… 

…and that spark of recognition finally made a connection inside his mind. My god, he thought, it can’t be… 

And the girl, as though sensing his presence, looked at him—and her silver-green eyes, too, widened as she looked into his own, and he saw recognition there, too—recognition, and fear. 

“Stop!” she cried out, “You cannot! You’re not ready! Please…!” 

He didn’t know what she was talking about, but… yet… he did somehow. Somehow, that altered presence within him knew, and harnessed itself with a terrible strength… 

But her moment of distraction was fatal. The creature before her reared back, calling a black power from within itself. A power that it flung at her heart… 

The girl’s scream rent the air as the flung power hit her with enough force to throw her three hundred feet backwards. Backwards, and over the edge of the cliff to the jagged, rocky ground below. 

“Cora!!” 

Yugi heard his voice—but not his voice—explode out of his chest with all of the strength he had harnessed at the girl’s bidding. It was her name—he knew he had shouted her name, but how he knew it was a mystery to him. A mystery he could not fathom now because he suddenly felt an overwhelming sorrow and remorse, but this time it was not his own, but the presence within him that felt it. And his mind—his own mind—flashed several things across his memory in that fraction of a second of suspended time: 

He saw the moment when Maximilian Pegasus had stolen Grandpa’s soul. He remembered his altered presence—the presence coursing through his veins now—how it had evaporated from him like water drops flung on a fire… 

He saw another battle, where the virtual monsters had seemed so real, where he had harnessed that presence with nothing short of a mammoth strength of his own, so that his own attack would not take Seto Kaiba’s life… 

He remembered these things, remembered them only because this time it seemed as if his persona was working in reverse. Where, in each of those instances, his own sorrow, his own remorse had caused the presence within him to diminish; so this time, the sorrow and remorse of his power, his altered presence, caused himself to diminish, and the presence to grow more powerful… 

He took a few steps forward. He noticed, distantly, his friends looking at him, saw growing terror in their eyes as they looked at his face. But he was too enveloped with the power that was pulsing through him like a tempest, fueled by an immeasurable rage against what this thing had done to Cora. 

He drew his hands together in a way he had never done before, but yet had done countless times, somewhere, somehow… The power was a light, a pulsing light that was growing between his hands. He pulled his hands slowly apart, and the light between them grew. 

He heard Téa’s scream from a long way off, but he was too far away. He only saw the creature before him, and he flung his hands out towards it, flinging his own power at it. He was aware of the lightning shooting far out, striking the creature fully in the chest. It roared and screeched—and disappeared. 

Yugi ran forward, the creature forgotten. He ran to the cliff and leapt off of it in the strength of the power coursing blindingly within him. He touched lightly down on the rocks, and stumbled to Cora’s broken figure crumpled there. 

Cora’s eyes were closed, but she seemed to know he was there. She tried to lift her head, and winced horribly. 

“Don’t,” Yugi heard himself say. He was so aware of the profound pain in his heart, and some distant part of him wondered why he felt this way about someone he didn’t even know… 

…but… 

Cora opened her eyes. The pain there struck him deeply as if it were his own. Her eyes met his, narrowing as she looked deeply into them. 

“Yami…” she whispered brokenly, “Yami…” 

Her eyes rolled up into her head, and closed. 

No, Yugi thought, tears burning in his eyes, Cora, please… 

Part of him still didn’t understand this depth of emotion, stronger and more painful than any he had ever experienced. He felt himself draw once more on that power that was still so strong within him, felt it course through him again, and he took Cora up into his arms. 

He held her close to him, cradling her against him and he felt his power transmit itself to Cora, felt it course through them both as though they were one being. And he felt Cora inhale and exhale deeply. Again. 

Yugi drew back from her, and looked into her face, so close to his own now. He saw the creases of pain smooth out, and felt her rhythmic breathing, which was easy and peaceful. 

Only then did Yugi come to himself, and feel that power withdraw deep back inside, and he was abruptly aware of where he was and what he was doing. And he felt, also, an overpowering weakness, as though he had just used up an amazing amount of something that was keeping him alive. 

He became aware that he was holding Cora more tenderly than he ever had held anyone in his young life, and he was at once embarrassed and ashamed and he pushed her rather roughly away. His arms and legs felt like jelly as he stumbled backwards and sat down hard, and he tried desperately to piece together what had just happened to him. 

“My god, Yugi…” 

He hadn’t even heard them approach, but he turned his head up to see Téa, Joey and Tristan standing behind him. How long had they been there? They were staring at him as though he was someone they didn’t even know, like they were afraid of him. 

But… guys… you’re my friends… my best friends… 

Joey’s eyes were riveted on Yugi’s hands. Yugi looked down at them. They were burnt and blistered, as though he had thrust them into a fire. 

Heart pounding, he glared wildly back up at each of them in turn, suddenly frightened. He began to tremble and shake violently. He felt his blood rush up to his head in a wave of dizziness, and bright stars showered past his eyes. Behind them, his friends, and the world around them tilted crazily as he clutched at a sudden and severe pain in his head… 

Yugi never felt the ground when he hit it. 

* * *
 

Disturbing dreams and images were flying randomly through Yugi’s mind. Terrible monsters, blinding light, overwhelming sadness… 

His eyes half-opened, and he was aware of Téa’s careworn face staring into his own. The fear he had seen earlier was still in her eyes, but it was overshadowed now by concern for him. Good old Téa, he thought, I knew she would come through… 

He blinked awake. “What happened?” he asked muzzily. 

“You passed out,” Téa replied in a strained voice. 

Remembering, he looked at his hands. They were bandaged. “Where’s Cora?” 

Téa flinched, but answered steadily. “She’s over there. She’s still sleeping. Yugi…?” 

Yugi looked expectantly at her. 

“Yugi, what happened to you…?” 

“I… I don’t know. Aaaugh…” 

He had tried to sit up, and the pain seared through his head again. He sank back down. “What did I do…?” 

“You damn near scared the crap out of us, Yug.” 

He hadn’t noticed Joey sitting on his opposite side. Téa shook her head. 

“Do you mean to tell me you don’t remember anything you did? Anything at all?” 

“Yes… I mean…” Yugi trailed off. Did he remember? There was a beast—a beast that hurt Cora. And… 

“I remember I was really angry,” Yugi answered weakly. His head was starting to throb again. 

“But, why, Yugi? Who is she? Is she…?” 

Téa didn’t finish her question. Yugi knew she wanted to know if Cora was the Queen of Hearts. But she seemed to want to know about him, too. What did he have to do with the Queen? She looked like she was really trying to understand. So Yugi really tried to remember. He closed his eyes. 

“I don’t know. It has something to do with my puzzle…I think…” 

Téa and Joey exchanged nervous glances. “It’s just that…we ain’t never seen you like that, Yug” Joey stammered. “Not even when you battle. You’s is different then, but, this time… it was like you was someone else completely…” 

Yugi’s eyes flew open. “Why? What happened? Tell me!” He felt an ice of fear heavy in his stomach again. “Please. I need to know.” 

Téa and Joey exchanged glances again. “Well,” Téa began haltingly, “where do you want us to start?” 

“How about,” Yugi said as he tried to sit up again, and winced, “what happened to that monster.” 

“You don’t remember?” 

“Well, sort of …” Frustration writhed through Yugi’s innards, and the pain in his head increased again. “There was a… light…” He looked again at his bandaged hands, then closed his eyes once more. 

“We were just standing there,” Téa continued, her face apprehensive, “and that thing shot something at the girl… Cora…” 

“I remember that,” Yugi interjected, more irritably that he had wanted. His head was really starting to hurt. 

“Yes, well, she flew over the cliff, and then, well… I don’t know, Yugi. I felt this—incredible power beside me, and I looked at you…and…” 

“I never seen you look like that before, Yug,” Joey broke in as Téa trailed off. “You was scary, man! Your eyes…” 

“It was like you… I don’t know, Yugi,” Téa jumped in again, “you changed, somehow. I mean… really changed…” 

“Did you ever,” Joey agreed emphatically. “Then, you sorta did like this”—Joey drew his hands together, and drew them apart slowly; Yugi’s stomach gave an awful lurch—“and there was this lightning that shot out of your hands. You shot it right at that thing…” 

“Lightning?” Yugi felt the blood draining from his face. “I shot lightning out of my hands…?” This is ridiculous… “Are you sure you saw this? Maybe you were seeing things…” 

“We all saw it, Yugi,” Téa replied, sounding a little exasperated. “If only one of us had seen it, maybe you could say that. But all three of us?” 

“Maybe it was that creature! Maybe it had you under some sort of spell…” Yugi grasped desperately at something, anything that would change what they were telling him—what he didn’t want to admit was true. Téa’s expression killed his attempts. 

“Your hands, Yugi, remember?” 

Yugi didn’t want to look at his bandaged hands again. “Okay,” he mumbled. 

“Anyways, that lightning—you know, the stuff that came out of your burned up hands—that lightning hit the monster, and it sort of… disintegrated. Just like a virtual Duel Monster…” 

Yugi said nothing, even though he knew they so wanted him to say something. His stomach was doing horrible, plunging somersaults. 

“Well, you didn’t stop there,” Téa continued crisply. “You ran to the cliff and jumped off…” 

“What?” The word came out before Yugi could stop it. 

“You jumped off the cliff, Yug,” Joey chimed in. “You jumped off, and landed on your feet on the rocks down there like some sort of super cat…” 

“And the way you looked at… her,” Téa sounded irritated. “I never saw you look at anyone like that before, Yugi…” 

“She should’a been dead,” Joey interrupted solemnly. “She should’a been dead. She was all crumpled up down there like some kid’s rag doll. Her neck…” He trailed off, looking deliberately away from Yugi. 

“You picked her up and held her against you,” Téa, too, looked away. “You… just held her there, and…” 

“You was like, glowing, sort of. I… don’t know, Yug. But then she…” 

“She sort of straightened out…” Téa finished for Joey. 

“Yeah. Then… you looked at her—like, uh, she was,” Joey groped for words, looking extremely uncomfortable, “someone real special.” 

Yugi blushed scarlet, wanting them to stop, but needing to hear it all. He felt like his head was going to split open. He remembered. He remembered. And, oh, it hurt. It hurt… 

“Where’s Cora?” he asked again, his eyes squinting from the pain. 

“We told you already,” Téa replied, the concern in her face mounting as she became aware of Yugi’s obvious discomfort, “she’s sleeping over there. Tristan’s watching her…” 

“I need to talk to her.” 

“You need to rest…” 

“No! I need to talk to her, Téa! Now!” 

Téa and Joey once again exchanged worried glances, but Téa nodded. They stood up, and helped Yugi, wincing, to his feet. Yugi tried to make his boneless legs work as they stepped slowly towards the edge of the camp where Tristan was… 

…and they found him fast asleep. Alone. 

“Tristan! Tristan, wake up!” Joey cried out to him. 

“Huhnn?” Tristan mumbled. He saw them and started awake. “What’s up? What…?” 

“She’s gone,” Yugi’s voice sounded as hollow as he felt. 

They stood helplessly, staring around them, Tristan looking sheepish and terribly guilty. 

“I… I’m sorry, Yugi,” he finally said timidly. “I was watchin’ her. Then I just got real sleepy…” 

Yugi sighed heavily. “She would have left anyway, Tristan. It’s not your fault…” 

“What do you mean…?” Téa asked sharply. 

“I… don’t know. I just… know she would have gone…” 

“Yug! Look!” 

Joey’s voice shook him into the present. He turned quickly to him, and saw him holding a small, makeshift envelope. There was a name scrawled on the front: Yami 

Yugi started. An image flashed into his mind: 

He saw himself standing over Cora, crumpled at the base of the cliff. She had looked up into his face, and had said a name: “Yami” 

Yugi took the envelope and opened it slowly. No one asked him why he took it. No one asked him about the name on the envelope. No one asked him anything. 

There was a note inside. A note, and… 

“Cards…?” Joey stammered. 

“Duel Cards…?” Yugi trailed off, turning the cards over. Again, he felt his heart pound faster, felt a dizzying rush of blood to his head. 

“No way,” Joey’s voice was hoarse with incredulity. “No way…” 

“Joey… this can’t be…” there was a tremor in Yugi’s voice. “These… my god… they’re my… Exodia Cards…” 

“But… how…?” Téa whispered. 

Yugi said nothing, staring at the note. 

“What sort of language is that?” Tristan asked. 

“It’s Egyptian,” Yugi answered vaguely. “Egyptian hieroglyphs.” 

“What does it say?” Joey asked. 

“I don’t know,” Yugi answered quickly, averting his eyes. Joey pursed his lips, looking disappointed, and shrugged. Téa, though, looked sharply up at Yugi, and he knew she could tell he was lying, and he waited for the accusation, the piercing stare… 

…but she said nothing. Maybe she understood why he had lied. Or she didn’t want to know. 

Yugi shoved the note into his pocket. 

* * *
 

Later, as the three of his friends lay asleep around the fire, Yugi sat next to the dying light, holding the note in his hands. He knew what it said, and he had been reading it over and over since his friends had drifted off: 

Yami 

I am sorry I had to draw on your power so soon. Please forgive me for not seeing who you were before now. Had I known, I would not have allowed you to do what you did. I would have been far more careful. 

It is happening again, which is why I have returned, but I suppose you know this. After all, you, also, have returned. For this reason, I know you will understand why I must leave. I’m afraid, Yami. I don’t want past mistakes to happen again, and I hope I have not already drawn you into danger. Just know that I will always fight at your side, as I had sworn to always do. 

I return the Exodia Cards to you. You had lost them once. Guard them carefully, this time. 

Cora 

He read it over again. His head had stopped hurting awhile ago, but it didn’t stop his mind from churning in futile waves over Cora’s words. What did she mean, ‘it’s happening again’? Was it the dark powers Professor Snow had talked about? But ‘past mistakes’, and not seeing who he was sooner—what did that have to do with? Was it the part of the legend that Professor Snow didn’t know about? The fall of the Queen? 

…and—who was Yami…? 

And how did she get his Exodia Cards back? They had had been thrown into the ocean by a deceitful duelist in an attempt to cheat him of victory. They had been lost forever… 

…but here they were… 

She must be, then. The Queen of Hearts. How else could she have returned Exodia? But he was still confused. There were so many things he didn’t know: about Cora, about his own dark power, about the past that this presence within him might have had. If this note was for him—and he was sure it was—she had told him she had sworn to protect him. Did this mean—and his heart gave a lurch—that this presence within him was somehow the same magician who had fallen in love with Cora? And what did that mean for him, for Yugi? 

Yugi sighed. There was only one thing he knew right now: Even though he knew she was still out there somewhere, he felt a profound emptiness within him since Cora had left them. 

Yugi curled up on the ground, watching the fire’s embers glow warmly in the dark, as sleep began to descend in a heavy, welcome weight onto his head. And in that twilight, halfway between awake and asleep, there was another thing he knew too, somehow, from that presence that lived inside him now: there was a magic, a power in Cora that was one with his own. And now that she had returned, he did not feel so completely alone in what he had to do…

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