A/N: I don't own Yu-Gi-Oh! And I'm only saying it once!
It should have just been a border-scouting mission where the most they should have had to deal with was some small-time bandits or other crooks. As such, they had only about twenty good men with them and their Captain, and they wore light, metal studded leather armor rather than full mail. Men from the Palace were generally well-received by the villagers, so they'd only taken enough supplies with them to reach the first village on their circuit, starting by heading straight for the border area nearest their own lands. Traveling unhindered and in a straight line from the capital meant they'd reach the border region by dark if they set out shortly after dawn, which they had done, and the rest of their scouting could be done at a more leisurely pace.
They had just set up their camp at an oasis for the night when one of the men suddenly shouted, "Captain, come quick!" The group's Captain went around the side of the tent, wondering what was wrong—only to stop and stare for a moment before swearing vividly for well over a minute.
Other soldiers came to see—and all promptly bowed in shock and awe when they saw the frowning teenager with bronzed skin, crimson-amethyst eyes, and red-tipped black, spiky hair with surprisingly pale bangs. He dressed in a white commander's military robe, sleeveless and falling nearly to the knee, with archer's arm-guards, sturdy leather boots, and several regal decorations—a golden tiara, some armlets and bracelets, and the pendant of the Wings of Ra, denoting the Crown Prince of the land. It seemed he'd come with the intent to fight, as he carried a ready bow and wore both a good sword and a full quiver of arrows.
"We're going back to the Palace immediately, Your Highness," the Captain growled, not bowing like the other soldiers—why should he when he was the boy's arms trainer?
"I want to see my kingdom, and I want to meet my people, find out what's important to them! I don't want to rule blindly the way my father and grandfather did!" the Prince announced stubbornly. "I'll fight, too, and I'll help with the work in camp—you know I can, because you taught me how, yourself, Captain."
"No. It's too dangerous!" the older man glared at their apparent 'stowaway'. "What do you think would happen if you died, Your Highness?"
"I'm staying!" the sixteen-year-old announced. "Take me with you. That's an order!"
"What about your father's orders?" the Captain retorted.
"Irrelevant," the teen said simply. At the man's furious expression, the younger male elaborated, "He said I could leave the Palace in your company, and he didn't say anything more detailed, so until he finds out how I chose to interpret it, he can't actually say anything, and he can't blame anyone but himself. Now, everyone, get up and treat me like another of your number."
The men traded worried looks from where they bowed, then slowly began rising from their places as their Captain said, "Until tomorrow morning. You have until morning to convince me. If you can't, we're going back to the Palace, and I'm sending a different unit to do the patrol in my place. I won't have your stubborn streak cost my men and I our lives or our livelihoods, so the likelihood that I'll agree is almost none, Prince Atem. Don't try my patience."
"Sir, there's a party approaching from the west!" a man, one of the two camp night guards called urgently. "They seem to have equal or possibly greater numbers than ours, and they don't hold themselves like any bandits I've ever seen!"
With wide eyes, the Captain looked in the direction the shout had come from, then seized Prince Atem's elbow and called, "Everyone, prepare for a battle, just to be on the safe side, but don't attack first in case they're a party like ours from the other side of the border." He looked down at the boy as he began pulling him to the central location his men were gathering in and ordered, "Stay close to me, Your Highness. On my life, you will live, you must live."
"I'll fight, t—" Atem began.
"No!" the man replied, his tone urgent and desperate rather than furious. "You need to survive! If I thought you'd be safer running right now, I'd have a man take you on our fastest horse, but I know it won't help against these people, enemy or ally. If they mean harm and see a runner, they'll be after you regardless."
Atem didn't have time to reply as the riders reached them—and began cutting them down mercilessly. As the soldiers jumped into action against the cloaked, hooded men, total chaos erupted, and the Prince froze for a moment as he just stared at the battle scene and death in front of him. It was his first real experience with battle, with death, seeing the blood of both his allies and enemies on the ground. With metal clanging and shouting and screaming sounding all around him, he suddenly had no urge to stray from the Captain's side.
The man was an impenetrable wall, so Atem decided—loudness and gore aside—he still had to help, so drew his bow and began firing arrows. He saved several men that way, but as he looked back at the Captain—
His head flew, and blood splattered.
In the Prince's mind, that scene would remain frozen for a long time, even as the same blade which had just killed his teacher and friend took aim at him. Mechanically, mind and body still in a state of shock, he lifted his bow—
It was cut in half, and the sword had to take time to reverse. He couldn't even see who was holding the blade, just the weapon itself, and he'd lost the last little bit of strength he'd had. As the blade came at him, one of the other soldiers jumped in the way, getting cut down much like the Captain, but with a blood-curdling scream of pain as he fell.
All at once, Atem yelled, "No!" It was enough to unfreeze him as pure fury and sorrow took over his mind, and this time, when the sword headed for him, he was able to draw his own and block it.
Tears of fury and pain ran silently down his cheeks as he fought—fought and killed. He was blind to everything except killing the ones who had attacked them for no reason at all. He fought with a fury even he hadn't known he possessed until then, and he was so filled with high energy and emotion that he didn't feel any minor injuries he got from the attackers' blades before he took their lives. When the men began withdrawing from him, when they began pulling back, he pursued them, intending to finish what he'd begun as soon as he drew his sword.
Instead, he felt something collide with his leg, throwing him off-balance just enough to miss his current target—only for the man he'd just missed to catch his wrist. With a sudden yank, he got his hand free and slashed, cutting the man down, then—
Sudden impact with his waist—
He stabbed downward onto the man—
Hands, many pairs of hands—
He couldn't use his arms or legs—
Another impact with his chest—
This time, he was knocked to the ground, where sudden pain burst from the back of his skull to make him dizzy and the air was knocked from his lungs.
As he looked up, he saw a blade about to come down on him as men pinned down both his arms and legs and the one who held the sword was hovering above him, putting all his weight on the teen's hips and waist. He closed his eyes, expecting to die in the next moment.
"Stop! Don't kill the brat!" a voice suddenly called out sharply.
"I know what he did, but look at the pendant he's wearing," the sharp voice said. A long silence fell as Atem opened his eyes to see the man above him lowering his sword in shock. The speaker then added smugly, "Egypt's Crown Prince is infinitely better for us alive than dead, you see?"
"Kill me now or I'll kill you!" Atem growled at the man above him. "The others—"
"They're all dead, Your Highness," the speaker replied in a dryly amused tone. "Take a look around and see for yourself, spit-fire."
Slowly, because his head still hurt, Atem turned his head to look around—and all he could see from the ground was a sea of dead bodies, gore, and blood. Other than the cloaked, hooded men, not a soul was alive or standing, and he could see most of the soldiers' bodies from his position.
He was alone.
"It was rather careless of your father to send you from the Palace, though, wasn't it, young spit-fire?" the same man as before asked, only for the teen to meet his eyes.
"He doesn't know," the teen answered quietly, feeling cold, pale, and drawn. "Well, he's probably looking for me by now, but he doesn't know I came with the scouts."
"Shouldn't he notice sooner? I pity you for having such a neglectful father," the man snorted—he didn't 'pity' a thing, his tone made that clear.
"I often skip morning and noon meals," Atem replied, then his voice went hard as he said, "And don't say things you don't mean. You don't pity a damned thing. If I'm supposed to be your hostage, don't bother with any niceties. I don't need them."
"Oh?" the man asked with a raised brow and a smirk. "Well, then, to dispense with the formalities, regardless of your rank or your skill, you still single-handedly killed almost as many of our men as all your soldiers combined did, so you have to be punished. I'll let a few of the guys you injured rough you up a bit on our way to our Palace and our King—I'm sure Majesty will be quite pleased with the gift we're bringing back with us, besides the horses and any other valuables your group had on you."
Atem's eyes widened when he heard what they were going to do, even as the man motioned a few others towards him—ones he remembered having cut as they pulled back from him. They began beating on him, but he still couldn't move, pinned down as he was, so all he could do was take it and grit his teeth against the pain. If it had been just a general beating, that would have been bad enough, but they aimed for spots they knew would cause pain, but which wouldn't endanger his life—lessons he had also taken. There were certain places and ways to hit in order to kill, certain others to cause non-lethal pain, and still more which would maim others. These men deliberately used the second to their greatest advantage.
When they finished, his wrists were tied behind his back and he was picked up and thrown over someone's shoulder.
It didn't take long for them to start moving after that, and he was too exhausted and sore to bother trying to shift his position, or even to ask where they were going. Then again, it didn't especially matter to him where they were headed, since he'd know when they got there. It was too much effort to think about something like that when so many other things were occupying his mind, and it was all so overwhelming he didn't even want to think about any of it at all.
There was no way to stop it, so he finally gave up and let himself fall into unconsciousness...
By the time he woke, the sun had risen fairly high in the sky, and he was no longer draped over the man's shoulder; rather, he was being held against the man's chest, wrapped in a cloak and with his wrists still tied behind him. His mind was numb, his emotions dulled, so he wondered vaguely how long it would be before he saw his home again, but felt nothing about it.
A bustle of people surrounded him, so he turned his head to look around—they had entered a northern city—the chill during daytime told him it was further north than the Inland Sea. Since the man wasn't wearing his cloak, Atem could see the icon he wore, and knew it as a land's where they were so war-like they never made friends or alliances, only attacked and took what they wanted. In that regard, they, the Nihons (1), were no better than bandits—or worse, since they used their organized military to act as thieves. The realization of where they were answered most of his questions and told him something else as well—he'd be tortured before he ever made it home.
Not long after, when it was approaching noon, they entered the Palace, revealing to the Prince that they had reached their capital with him in one night. How? Even crossing the Inland Sea should have taken longer than a single night...
When the one carrying him dismounted, the larger man slung him over his shoulder again to carry him, but it wasn't until they were well inside the Palace before another man slipped the cloak off the teen. Finally, a large set of doors was thrown open and the man from the night before announced loudly, "We have returned, Majesty!"
"What, already? Why?" a bored, commanding, surprisingly young voice asked. "And why did you bring a body back with you?"
"Not a 'body', Majesty," the man from before smirked, and a moment later, Atem was pulled off his carrier's shoulder, put on the ground facing the Throne (he only caught a glimpse of it), and was forced to kneel and bow his head by hands on his shoulders and one gripping his hair. The one in his hair then pulled his head up by said hair, making the teen wince as the man went on, "We found an interesting gift."
Opening his eyes, Atem saw a young man only a little older than him gazing at him with sapphire eyes which transitioned quickly from bored to curious to recognition to great amusement. He had paler skin than Atem's and fairly short, brown hair with a rather tall stature and who dressed in dark pants and shirt under a long, white, sleeveless device like a robe. Northern people dressed with the intent to protect from cold rather than to release heat, so the teen understood why the crowned brunet on the Throne dressed in so many layers which covered him so well. A sword was at his side.
Shouldn't the King of Nihon have been older and more gruff?
With a smirk, the apparent ruler of the northern kingdom said, "A gift indeed." He then motioned, and Atem's hair was released, but the hands stayed on his shoulders, even as the 'King' asked, "Where's the rest of the party? Looting?"
"This little spit-fire killed about half of them himself, Majesty," the other man replied.
A long silence fell as Atem met the King's startled gaze, then the older teen asked, "What happened to have put you in such a position?"
"Egypt's Prince knows archery as well as swordsmanship, and he turned out to be a real force in that battle—just with his sword, he killed almost a dozen men, and it took five of us just to pin him down. He's been quite well-behaved since then, though, so his skill may have been something from the heat of the moment," the man said.
"Do you agree with that assessment, Your Highness? I'd hate for your skills to be belittled like that," the young King said to the Prince.
"Don't lie to me," Atem spat, causing a shocked silence to fall. "You don't give a damned about me besides how much money you can get from my father for returning me alive. My 'skills' don't mean anything right now, regardless of what they are or are not, and I have no interest in playing pointless political games with a kingdom of bandits who have no honor, anyway."
"We have no honor?" the King asked darkly. "You have a lot of gall to say that to me in my own Throne Room. Do I need to remind you whose mercy you're at? I could refuse to give you medical care and have you thrown in the dungeons like any common criminal for behaving that way. It's in your own interests to behave, Prince Atem."
For some reason, the words made Atem feel like he should laugh, so he gave a small one and asked, "It's in my interests to behave when I'll be tortured and thrown in the dungeons, regardless of my behavior?"
"What? How insulting—" the young King began to say, his expression furious.
"That's what I know from other political prisoners your people have had here from my land," Atem cut him off coldly. "Even if they did everything they were told to, they were tortured brutally, and they aren't fully sane, even today—I know three of them personally! If you're going to torture me, then be open about it, because I have no intention of cooperating—at least that way, there's a reason I'll be able to associate with whatever horrors you decide I should suffer."
"You little—" one of the men around him began, and he braced himself for a blow he knew would hurt by the way he'd spoken to the King.
Only for the King to cut in sharply with, "Stay your hands, all of you!" Slowly, Atem looked up at him, and was surprised to see there was no anger in the King, just a terse expression as his lips pressed together in a thin line.
"But—" one of the men began, different from the one just before.
"No 'buts'! I am not my father, and I forbade torture!" the King replied in a cold, sharp tone, making Atem's eyes widen. The other teen then sat back on his Throne and pressed the tips of his fingers from each hand together as he said, "I suppose most of the Prince's current injuries came from you disobeying that order? I should have seen it sooner. You'll be justly punished once I'm done with Prince Atem," the King informed the other men coldly. His eyes then went to the other teen's as he said, "My father did indeed relish in such cruelty—I, myself, have suffered physical torture at his hands." The words made the Prince's eyes widen again.
"I'm not him, and if you behave, you'll be treated like a guest here during your stay, with only the restriction of staying within the Palace unless you have my express permission to leave it. You'll be given care for your injures and for any illness or injury you acquire while here, any lessons or entertainment you want, a proper room and food. If you choose not to behave, you'll be staying in the dungeons, but you shouldn't come to any harm unless you go out of your way to cause it. That's my rule, Cousin. Will you choose to behave?"
The King had used the term 'Cousin' to reference another of royal blood, not a family relation, and in spite of himself, Atem had to look down in uncertainty. Could he believe those words from the Nihon King? He then looked up and asked, "How do I know I can believe you?"
"I suppose you can't until you see for yourself," the King answered calmly. "I became King too recently for anyone else to have met me, and unlike your father, who had you at his side to meet dignitaries, I was never allowed near him on his official business. My name is Seto. Yes, it sounds decidedly like one of your people's names," the other teen said slightly wryly. "But 'Set' in your pantheon isn't exactly good, so maybe that's why my father liked the name enough to give it to me."
Despite the answer—something which actually put the Prince at ease for the honesty of it—Atem was still suspicious. "You realize that isn't a point in your favor, right, King Seto?"
He snorted and rose, moving down to Atem and kneeling in front of him. "Do you feel well enough to have a sword match with me? I want to see your skills for myself, and you apparently need more time to decide you should behave, so we'll use up some time—and some of your energy—with some fun." The King had taken the moment to seize one of the soldiers' swords, which he used to cut the binds at Atem's wrists, then put the sword in the other teen's hand as he drew his own and rose.
Looking down at the blade for a moment, the Prince asked, "Why should I waste time and energy on such a pointless activity? What terms are you applying to this?"
"I'm not applying any, since I just legitimately want to see your skills," Seto replied dryly. "What would you suggest, since you seem to need a reason? Well, you are injured, so I suppose it makes sense you'd need a real reason to put out so much effort in your condition. I can't imagine they made those wounds pleasant for you."
"If I win, I'm free to go home. Now, without a ransom," Atem replied, looking up.
"We'll just drop you in the middle of the desert if that's your term," the other teen answered with a raised brow. "And what do I get if I win?"
"I'm a desert resident—you can drop me anywhere and I'll make it home safely," the Prince said dryly. "And if you win, I'll behave. Properly."
"...That's redundant, and isn't much of a reward," Seto snorted.
"No, I mean it as two independent terms. I'm good at looking like I'm behaving, only to suddenly disappear—just my 'behaving' means I'd take the first available chance to escape. Or to try to kill you, whichever came first. If I'm 'behaving properly', I won't do anything like trying to escape or trying to kill you," the younger teen explained calmly. "I will cause you problems if I just 'behave'."
After a pause, the King held his blade to Atem's throat and said, "Not just 'behave', but obey, and only my orders, no one else's, not for any reason. Then it's worth my while, Prince Atem."
That time, it was Atem's turn to be silent, then he replied, "Within reason. As long as you don't order me to take or cause harm of any sort, not to myself or to others around you or me."
"Very well." His sword went down and he shifted into a battle stance as he smirked at the amount of freedom he'd been given by the Prince under that term, and he knew the Prince was aware of it, too.
In the next moment, he'd launched an attack—only to be blocked on the sword he'd passed to the smaller Prince. With a bit of a smirking grin, he attacked again, knowing he'd enjoy himself for a change.
(1) Nihon = the actual Japanese spelling of 'Japan', used as a deliberate play on words for the purposes of a fictional story taking place on another world.