Yu-Gi-Oh!

Return from the Shadows

By Lucky_Ladybug

Notes: XD. The usual. The story's mine, the characters aren't (except for Khu and Velma; and Nuru is Des's!), and this isn't a yaoi ^_~ Thanx to JP for his plot help and the title! ^_^

The bus driver yawned wearily as the last passenger got off the vehicle and disappeared down the street. It had been a long, hard day filled with impatient, yelling travelers and now he was anxious for it to just end. Every night he went home and told his wife that he was going to see about a better career. But nothing ever seemed to work out for him. Each morning found him back at the bus station, getting behind the wheel of one of the vehicles. Now he wanted to go home to his wife and rest peacefully for another night before he was burdened with this job again.

But there was still one more passenger he was fated to chauffeur that night.

"Excuse me?"

Heaving a sigh, the man turned, all the while wondering what sort of person he would discover waiting. A lonely bachelor looking for his Ms. Right? An intense businessman whose car was broken down? Perhaps a hurried person on his way to a graveyard shift job. Much to the man's astonishment, he saw a sober teenage boy standing on the other side of the door. A teenager boy at this time of night who didn't look drunk or stoned in the least was an immense and welcome surprise.

"Will you let me onboard?" His soft eyes looked so sad and forlorn that the bus driver finally consented and opened the doors. The man wondered exactly what he was getting into, but this youth seemed harmless enough.

"Where are you going, son?" the driver asked. "It's late." He glanced at the clock on the city and county building just ahead. "Three in the morning, in fact." What teenager in his right mind would be out at three in the morning?!

"I'm going to Domino City," the boy replied quietly. The gold jewelry he was wearing clinked softly as he sat down. He didn't seem to be in much of a talking mood, but the news of his wanted location was so shocking that the driver couldn't help but comment on it.

"Domino City?" the man repeated. "Are you sure you want to go there?" He shook his head. "Lots of bad things have been happening there lately. Everything's just a mess."

The boy nodded, trying to keep the tears from spilling down his face. "I know. But my loved ones are in Domino City and I have not been able to contact them ever since I was taken away against my will. I do not even know if they are alive. Now that I am able, I must return and find them!" He spoke with a certain odd tone and also a slight accent.

The bus driver gave a startled exclamation and adjusted the mirror to look at him more closely. "It can't be!" he breathed. "You! You are the missing Ishtar boy!"

The youth gasped, looking stunned to be recognized. "Y-yes, I am he," he admitted. If it had gotten out that he was missing, perhaps there was hope that his siblings still lived as well! He leaned forward with a new interest in what this man had to say, the long blonde bangs brushing against his brow.

"You're considered dead!" the bus driver cried. "Do you know how long you've been gone?!" Word had been all over the city and the surrounding area at the time it had happened. Everyone in these parts knew of the strange army that had attacked the inhabitants of Domino and left many dead, including—they all thought—Marik Ishtar, who was now sitting just in back of one Rob Philips, bus driver!

"I know exactly how long I've been gone," the Ishtar boy replied in a bit of an irritated voice. "There was nothing I could have done to change that." He clenched his fists. "Tell me, do you have word of my sister and my brother?" he pleaded now. Desperation showed in his eyes and on his face. Rob wished that he could be the bearer of good news to this lonely soul. But he could not be.

"I know nothing of them," the bus driver said apologetically, "nor of anyone in Domino City. But ever since that crazy army rode into town, they've been wreaking havoc everywhere! I know there's a whole lot of people who're seriously hurt, and even some who're . . ." He trailed off, seeing the boy look away in anguish.

"Where the heck have you been all this time, anyway?!" Rob demanded now, feeling uncomfortable and trying to change the subject. "It must be what—three, four, maybe even six months since you skipped town!" It was actually only two, but things in Domino had deteriorated so much that to everyone around it seemed an eternity since they had led normal lives.

Marik's eyes narrowed. "I told you, I was gone against my will. I did not, as you so *kindly* put it, 'skip town,'" he added sarcastically. He didn't want to say more than that to this stranger, but the truth was that during most of his absence he had been delirious and near death. It was only by a miracle that he was alive and heading home at last to whatever and whoever remained at Domino City.

"Whatever you say, kid." Rob sighed and maneuvered onto the freeway. "But it's gonna take a long time to reach Domino City, so you might want to consider getting some sleep." It looked to him as though Marik hadn't slept in days, which actually wasn't far from the truth. He also had eaten the utmost minimum, as his face was rather pale and gaunt. And for an unknown reason, Rob felt very sad for him. He tried not to poke his nose into other people's lives, but the story of Marik's supposed death had circulated so much that the man almost felt as if he knew the boy already. He wanted Marik to be able to find his family, if they were still living.

"I cannot sleep," the Egyptian boy replied simply, turning to look out the window.

****

Many thoughts tumbled through Marik's mind as the bus rolled along—most of them unpleasant and dreary. Exactly how bad off *was* Domino City? Had anyone been killed when the ancient Egyptian zealots had been accidentally released from their Shadow Realm prison and had resumed their dreadful acts of violence? Were . . . were Ishizu and Rishid alive? The last time he'd seen them had been so long ago, when the army was first laying siege to the city of Domino.

The leader of this outrageous band—Marik thought he remembered that the man's name was Seth, but he wasn't sure—had been going after Ishizu in an attempt to give her unwanted affection and to have his way with her when Marik had stumbled upon the scene and had rushed to protect his sister. He had managed to stab the man with a pocketknife before he himself had been brutally stabbed multiple times and then left for dead. To this day he didn't know exactly what had happened to him after that—he only knew that he had survived. But he didn't know if anyone else had.

He had been abducted by an anonymous group who had wanted the secrets of the Pharaoh's power, but when he had finally regained consciousness after he didn't know how long, he remembered none of that. He had no way of knowing if he had said anything in his delirium that would assist the enemy, nor whether they had examined those cursed tattoos on his back and deciphered their meaning. Marik had actually escaped from them all and ran for hours through the streets in a half-dead condition, something he recalled now only in a misty part of his mind.

He had awakened in a strange village where a young girl who spoke neither English, Egyptian, or Arabic—the only languages Marik knew—was nursing him back to health. Once he had recovered—and had tried his best to thank his young rescuer in spite of their language differences—it had taken him many ages to cross through countryside, cities, and even over continents to return to Domino City. His money had not been taken by his abductors, and though he was extremely grateful for that, he found it rather odd. This alone let him know that they were after something extremely deadly and dangerous, even though he didn't remember what it was.

He had tried constantly to contact his family and then his friends as well, but in vain. It had been so many months since he had seen any of them. . . . By now the entire city had probably fallen into disrepair, to say nothing of the people. Tears filled Marik's lavender eyes. What would he do if . . . if those he loved had all perished? What would there be to live for then?

"Hey kid."

The bus driver's voice cut into his thoughts. "This is your stop," he continued.

Marik perked up, staring into the darkness outside. He could barely see anything at first, but then he thought he could make out the outlines of several decrepit buildings that he remembered were near the edge of town. Rust covered the outer walls now . . . or was it dried blood? Marik had the sickening feeling that it was the latter.

"That's Domino City, kid," the man told him. "What's left of it." His voice was gentle and a bit sad, almost as if asking, Do you really want to be let out here?

Marik got to his feet and ran to the door instantly. But then he paused, turned around, and tried to hand the bus driver several extra dollars. "Thank you for your trouble," he said softly.

Rob stared at the money. "You keep it, kid. You might need it."

Marik shook his head. "I will be fine. Please just accept it. I know you are tired and that you long to return to your home and family as I long to return to mine. Take a day off from work tomorrow and stay with your loved ones." Before they're gone, he added silently. The thoughts swirling through his mind were not pleasant. All he could think of was that he might never find Ishizu and Rishid . . . or that he might, but not alive. It was the worst possible nightmare for him. And what of little Mokuba, his friend? Where was he? Was Seto Kaiba keeping him safe? Were they both alive? As he looked out at the darkened buildings, poor Marik realized just how much he didn't know about the state of things now. He swallowed the lump of dread in his throat, knowing he had to face whatever there was to face.

Slowly Rob reached out and took the money from Marik, looking down. "I will," he promised. "And hey . . . good luck with your search," he added sincerely. It wasn't much, but he wanted to let Marik know that he was on the boy's side.

Marik nodded his thanks as he stepped outside into the cool, late-night air and looked around. "So this is Domino City," he murmured softly. Many of the buildings had been ravaged and were broken down, just as the ones he'd seen from the bus window were, but the KaibaCorp skyscraper still loomed over the city like a great watchtower or guard, apparently unscathed from the outside. The trees still stood, but most of them seemed to be drooping, as if saddened by what had taken place in the city they called home.

Marik walked down the deserted streets, looking for someone, anyone that he knew. It was early . . . would anyone be out? Or were they all cowering in fear from the ancient Egyptian army? Marik shook his head. How in the name of Heaven had those absurd, blood-thirsty vultures gotten released anyway?

A car drove by abruptly, the driver angrily honking his horn at Marik and cursing at him to get out of the way. The boy dashed to the safety of the sidewalk and stared after the automobile in annoyance. He had to get back to his home and see if anyone was there. But then . . . what if no one was? Or worse . . . what if he found their bodies?

But he shook his head. "I cannot think like that," he muttered. "They are alive. They have to be!!" He saw Ishizu and Rishid so clearly in his mind. His sister's bright laugh. His brother's caring smile. The way they both had always loved him unconditionally and saw the best in him. They couldn't be dead. Marik forced himself to concentrate on the thought that they were both alive at home and he would find them there.

Before long he passed by the Game Shop. The lights were all out and it looked rather lonely, but it hadn't been destroyed as so many of the other buildings had. The worst damage seemed to be a broken window that was covered by a piece of wood. For a moment Marik considered knocking on the door and seeing if Yugi was home and could tell him what was happening, but then he decided against it. He would go home first. If no one was there, then he would come back and try to find Yugi.

He darted on through the streets, noticing various other signs of disaster—broken street lamps, shattered car windows, and many demolished houses. The zealots had certainly been busy. Frankly, Marik found it amazing that the entire city hadn't been leveled by now.

Eventually he found his way over to the more classy part of town and just stared in shock at what had been done to so many of the homes. Some had been abandoned. Some were burned down completely or were scorched. Others had broken or boarded-up windows and were just falling apart. It unnerved the poor boy to see so many of the homes he had often passed by partially or completely destroyed. And what of his own home? Now that he was getting closer to it, he wondered all the more.

His stomach knotted a bit when he saw.

The once-proud home looked abandoned and dark. Marik's motorcycle was still in the driveway, but otherwise there were no signs of life. The windows had been mostly shot out and the paint was starting to peel off. Weeds were growing up in the yard and even through cracks in the sidewalk. Marik just stared, dumbfounded. It didn't look like anyone was living here. And yet he clung to hope. It was all he had to cling to at this point. With that resolution he ran up to the door and banged hard. "Ishizu!! Rishid!!" he screamed, praying for an answer. He received none, and instead the door creaked open noisily, revealing the disaster inside.

Furniture was overturned, the lights had all been shattered, and—to Marik's utter horror—there was blood on the walls. Seth's, perhaps, and his own . . . but was it someone else's as well?

"Ishizu? Rishid? Confound it all, where are you?!" Marik cried again. "Please . . . answer me!!" He gripped the doorframe as he passed it by. If there was still life in this abode, why hadn't this mess been cleaned up? The tears Marik had been holding back for so long at last spilled over.

But as he walked down the hall, he found an open door to his right and looked in. It was his old room, and it really didn't look any different than when he'd last seen it. All the furniture was still in order. The Rod lay on top of the desk. Then he noticed a dark figure standing near the window, emotionlessly staring out at the backyard. He instantly recognized the man's stance and his long ponytail.

"Rishid?" he said softly, stepping forward. He could hardly contain the excitement from his voice. But Marik had to wonder why Rishid hadn't answered him when he had entered the house. He had called so loud that he couldn't believe Rishid wouldn't have heard. Was Rishid . . . angry with him? Did his elder brother think that Marik had simply run away and never come back? Marik couldn't really believe Rishid would think that, but still he feared. Why did Rishid seem to be ignoring him?!

The man never turned. "Who is here?" he asked, speaking in a tone of ice. "How did you get in?"

Marik fell back, stunned. "Rishid, it's . . . it's Marik!" he cried. "You . . . you can't have forgotten me! We're brothers!!" His already pale complexion grew far more pale. Rishid didn't know him?! Did his poor brother have amnesia?! And what about Ishizu?! Marik couldn't stop the questions that flowed into his confused mind.

Rishid shook his head. "Don't talk to me about Marik. He is dead," he said coldly. "My brother is dead."

Marik grabbed the man's arm, panic taking hold of his heart. "No! No, Rishid, I am not dead!!" he protested, tears coming to his eyes. "Don't you recognize me?! I'm right here!"

Rishid pulled himself free and looked at Marik frigidly. "You are another demon from my mind, tormenting me. I know Marik can never return. He is gone." Tears filled the man's golden eyes, the first emotion Marik had seen from him since finding him here by the window. "I saw him die. He was stabbed to death while protecting his sister, and I wasn't able to do anything to prevent it. I couldn't get to him in time. By the time I got to where he had been, he was there no longer. His body was taken and burned!" Now his eyes were haunted. Marik had the horrible feeling that Rishid had been blaming himself for what had happened all this time.

"But I didn't die, Rishid!" Marik cried, feeling the tears spill over from his own eyes. "My body wasn't burned! I . . . I was abducted and tortured, but I survived!" He looked up into Rishid's golden orbs. "I truly am here now, my brother! Please—you must believe me!!" He wanted to reach out and grip Rishid's shoulders, but he dared not. He didn't want to make the poor man more upset than ever.

Rishid stared at him blankly, not daring to believe. "Brother?" he said at last, speaking barely above a whisper. "Marik, is . . . is it really you?" He reached out a hand apprehensively, touching the boy's cheek to see if it was solid and real.

Marik nodded shakily. "It is I," he replied, collapsing into his dear friend's arms and embracing him. "I am home. Rishid, I am home!" Still he worried about Ishizu's whereabouts. But now Rishid was with him again! His elder brother, so highly treasured and thought of and missed, was at last here! And alive!

Rishid, now convinced that Marik was real and not just another hallucination, held him tightly, not wanting to let go. "Marik, I never thought I would see you again!" he exclaimed, his voice cracking. "Please . . . please, forgive my behavior," the man said quietly. So many days and nights he had come to Marik's room, longing to find him in his bed sound asleep, but it had never happened. Not in reality. But there had been countless times when the man's heart had played tricks on him and made him think Marik was there. Rishid had never been able to accept that his younger brother was dead. As he had told Ishizu once, "Marik is my life." Without the boy around, Rishid had felt so empty and lost. He swallowed hard, wishing Ishizu was here now to hold Marik close as well.

"There is nothing to forgive, Rishid," Marik replied gently. "You were hurting, as I would have been had things been reversed." There was no accusatory tone in his voice. Marik spoke the complete truth. He laid no blame on dear Rishid. He just wanted to continue being with him.

****

Marik and Rishid talked long into the hours, each sharing their experiences from the past months. Rishid was absolutely appalled to learn about the things Marik remembered as having happened to him, but the boy simply shrugged it off and then looked up at his brother pleadingly. "Rishid, where is Ishizu?" he cried. "I haven't seen her at all! And what has become of Mokuba and Yugi and all the others?" He knew Ishizu would have been in the house, if she were alright. Or maybe . . . possibly . . . she was at the museum, working late? Marik clung to this thought with every ounce of hope he possessed. And now that he had Rishid again, Marik's hope had increased.

Rishid sighed and looked away sadly, keeping his arm around the boy's shoulders as they sat on the couch, which had finally been righted. According to Rishid, yes, the house had been mostly cleaned up from the original mess, but in a fit of rage and grief he had overturned all the furniture once again. It was the only way he had been able to let out his hatred without hurting anyone. For Rishid hated the one who had stabbed Marik. Two long, agonizing months he had spent thinking that his brother had been murdered. The blood, he had added when Marik had asked, was his. He had been cut when a gang had driven by the previous night and shot out the front windows. But he hadn't been injured badly.

"Mokuba is alright," he said at last after mulling over how much to say. "Yugi and Joseph were injured in a recent battle with the spirits, but they are recovering now. No one who fought in that treacherous battle escaped completely unscathed." Rishid himself had sustained a bad wound, but he wasn't about to tell Marik about that. It was bad enough telling him about being cut with the glass. "Tristan, Téa, and Seto Kaiba were all harmed during the onslaught as well."

"What about Bakura?" Marik wanted to know. "And for Heaven's sake, Rishid, where is Ishizu?!" His voice rose in volume as his worry rose as well. He could tell that Rishid was avoiding answering where Ishizu was. And this frightened him.

"Bakura," Rishid repeated, hesitating once more. "His experience was truly a tragedy, I am afraid." He paused. "Bakura lost someone very dear to him."

Marik was stunned. "Rishid, you . . . you can't mean that . . ."

The Egyptian man nodded solemnly. "Bakura's Yami was killed—in a battle with Seth himself. Bakura cradled him in his arms until the thief spoke his last words and slipped away, his body vanishing as he died." He looked down at Marik, who was gaping in utter shock and disbelief.

"Bakura couldn't stand living in his house all alone," Rishid went on. "He couldn't stop remembering how things had been before. Even though it had just been him and his Yami, he had felt like he had a close friend with him." Bakura had fallen into the same depressed state as Rishid had. He didn't talk much any more, was quite filled with pain and anguish, and went through life in pretty much a complete daze. Only today had Rishid been brought out from this agony, but Bakura still lingered in his own. "Yugi soon invited him to stay at the Game Shop, and Bakura accepted the offer," he said n . "He is a very sad boy. No one wishes to spend the rest of their life alone." This last statement he meant as applying to himself as well. And Marik knew it.

The boy blinked away the tears, his heart breaking for his poor friend Bakura. But still he needed to know, "Where is Ishizu, Rishid?" He paused, the fear taking hold of him again. "Is . . . is she alive?" By all indications, Marik had decided that she probably was not. And he couldn't bear this.

Rishid held him close. "Brother . . . I do not know," he admitted sadly. "Several nights ago she went out without my knowledge . . . and she hasn't returned since then." He hesitated again, pondering on whether he dared to mention the rest of the story—that a woman resembling Ishizu had been seen going into a building that had exploded from unknown causes shortly afterward. It wasn't known for certain if the woman had been Ishizu, and Rishid didn't see how he could bear to burden Marik with the news that his sister truly might be dead—especially when she might actually be alive. He didn't want Marik to ever go through the agony that he himself had endured through the past months.

Marik sat still, mulling the news of Ishizu's disappearance over in his mind before embracing his brother and sobbing into his chest. Everything was so changed, so different now, as he had feared it might be. . . . And worst of all, what if Ishizu was . . . what if she was . . .

Oh! he couldn't even bear to think such a thing!

Vaguely he was aware of Rishid holding him closer and whispering comforting things, and he found himself so very thankful for such a loyal and devoted friend. Always had Rishid stood by him. And always would he, as long as he drew breath.

****

Bakura tossed and turned in his bed, reliving the horrid experience when his Yami had died. No matter how he tried to get the gruesome images to leave him be, they never would. Night after night he was forced to reexperience what he had those months past. And each time it seemed worse and more gory than the last.

He had seen the old thief fall at the hands of the wicked Seth, had seen him laying prostrate on the floor, bleeding profusely. And he couldn't do anything to stop those memories from returning once more. They came when he was awake, they came when he was asleep. Tears splashed on Bakura's pillow now, as they came again.

Flashback

"Yami!! Yami!!" Bakura screamed, running forward and kneeling next to his old friend. "Yami, please wake up!!" Gently he took his Yami's body into his arms, the thief's dark red blood pouring onto his flesh. Yes, Yami Bakura was his friend. At least for Bakura's part, he had considered him as such of late. The thief wasn't acting as terrible lately as he had sometimes. And now he had done something heroic.

Yami Bakura's eyes fluttered open at the sound of Bakura's voice and he looked up at the boy, his expression glazed and confused. "Seth has . . . he has . . . always . . . been . . . my greatest . . . adversary. . . ." he choked out.

"Always?" Bakura said shakily. "Yami, I didn't know you . . . you'd ever met Seth before!" He held the tomb raider's body close, his heart pounding. He didn't care that the blood was going all over his clothes and flesh.

"He . . . he destroyed . . . my life . . . in ancient . . . Egypt," Yami Bakura replied, obviously delirious. He would never reveal his innermost secrets if he was in his right mind, and Bakura realized this.

"Yami, you're hurt!" the boy sobbed. "Here, I'll get you away from this place. You . . . you'll be okay, Yami! You'll get better!" And yet, he was certain he wouldn't be able to lift Yami Bakura up without hurting him worse.

The tomb robber shook his head weakly. "You cannot . . . heal me . . . you dolt." He choked, coughing up blood. "You . . . you shan't . . . see me . . . again. . . ."

"No, Yami!!" Bakura wailed, embracing the old thief in a frightened panic. "That's not true!"

"You . . . you are . . . kind and good," he heard Yami Bakura say now, "but . . . but I . . . I am not."

"You *are* good, Yami!" Bakura protested. "You have good inside you! You . . . you rescued us from Seth! Please don't leave me, Yami! Please!! . . . I'll be all alone!" Tears cascaded down his face.

Yami Bakura shuddered. "Stop crying, foolish mortal." He muttered something about the ridiculous emotions of mortals before looking up at Bakura and saying his final words. "Don't . . . don't mourn for me. I'm not worth that. And the last thing I want is for you to become a weeping willow." Bakura felt his body grow more weak and limp and then vanish entirely.

End Flashback

"YAMI!!!"

Bakura sprang up in bed, his heart pounding. Every night it was the same thing—he would fall asleep and then re-experience that terrible ordeal again and again until he felt that his heart would break.

Now he sat in the bed, his head resting on his knees as he shook and sobbed. "Why?!" he wailed. "Why, Yami?!" He had witnessed the deaths of three of his loved ones by now, and he honestly didn't know if he could take any more. After Amane had died, he had sunk into such a deep depression that he hadn't known if he would ever emerge from it. A month had passed now since his Yami's death, and he still hadn't gotten over it.

Hours later Bakura finally fell asleep again, but still he couldn't escape the disturbing dreams. Now he was having a different one than the one that kept repeating itself every night—but it was every bit as distressing as that one.

Yami Bakura was chained to a wall, blood pouring from lacerations all over his body. He was barely able to stand and he was wearing only a tattered loincloth, causing Bakura to wonder if this was a scene from the ancient past. But in the next moment the truth was revealed.

A shadowy figure stepped out, a javelin in hand. "So we meet again, Bakaré," he said smoothly. His black hair was pulled back in a ponytail and the violet eyes glinted, framed by Egyptian eye liner and tan skin.

Yami Bakura growled and struggled, but he was much too weak to ever try to escape. "You've finally decided to show up," he remarked sarcastically. "I supposed you were simply planning to continue letting your lackeys mangle my body."

The man laughed in a sick, unfeeling way. "I couldn't let them have all the fun, could I?" He tickled Yami Bakura's bare, bleeding chest with the tip of the spear. "Now I can torment you myself as I once did." With that he shoved the treacherous weapon into the thief's side. "But this time you can't escape."

Yami Bakura's eyes went wide, but he gritted his teeth and tried not to cry out. As he was repeatedly stabbed and brutalized, however, a scream eventually tore from his lips.

Bakura screamed as well, but he didn't awaken from this horrible nightmare. He was forced to watch as the thief was tortured and beaten for no reason other than to satisfy the man's sadistic obsession.

By now Yami Bakura was struggling to hold himself upright. If he had not been shackled, he certainly would have dropped to the floor long before now. His silvery hair hung over his face and in his eyes, and as he looked up, shuddering, Bakura was horrified to see the blank, empty look in the dark brown orbs.

"Bakura!!" Yami Bakura cried out then. "Bakura, where are you?!"

And that was when the boy snapped awake once more.

"YAMI!!" he screamed again, feeling tears spill down his face. That was no vision of the ancient past, nor—Bakura was certain—an idle dream. He was seeing something that truly happened—and perhaps was happening right at that moment. His Yami was still alive, and he was being brutally tortured by an insane madman—Khu, from the sound of it.

"I have to save him!" Bakura wailed. "But how on earth will I?!"

****

Marik awoke slowly, finding himself in his own bed for the first time in months. He lay still for a while, just enjoying the feeling of being back home. It had been so long. He had almost forgotten what it was like to be in the familiar room, snuggled deep under the quilts and burrowed into the fluffy pillows. His sleep had been the most restful he'd had in a while, but still he wasn't satisfied. How could he ever have a completely relaxing sleep until he knew about his precious sister?!

"You fell asleep on the couch."

The boy looked up to see Rishid standing in the doorway and smiling. Marik smiled back. For Marik's devoted brother and friend, it felt as if no time had passed at all. He was remembering back in Egypt, when Marik—then about seven or eight—had curled up on the couch and promptly drifted off clutching a favorite book. Rishid had then come in and gently carried the boy to his bed, tucking him under the soft covers. Marik was much older now—about sixteen—but to Rishid he still had that same childlike quality that he had possessed years before. Perhaps it was buried under the ages of growing up Marik had had to do prematurely, but it was still there. Marik would always be Rishid's little brother. His most valued treasure.

Now the boy sat up, his lavender eyes shining worriedly. "Rishid, I have to find Ishizu!" he cried. "What if she's been taken prisoner by that confounded Seth?"

Rishid sighed sadly. He knew that was a possibility, but it was also possible that Ishizu truly had been the woman seen entering the building that had exploded. And if that was the case, he knew that it was very unlikely that she was still alive.

"Rishid?" Marik looked up at him. "You . . . you don't know where Ishizu is, do you?" He was certain Rishid knew more than he was willing to tell, but the boy just didn't know how much more. And in a way, he was fearful of the answer.

Quickly the man came in and sat on the edge of the bed. "No, brother," he said softly, "I do not know. But there is the very real possibility that she is . . . dead," he finished at last, regretfully.

A tear slipped down Marik's cheek. "But she can't be dead, Rishid," he whispered.

Rishid laid a hand on the boy's shoulder. "If she is alive, we will find her, Marik," he assured his brother.

Marik smiled weakly, then sobered again. "Rishid, please be honest with me—how great are the chances that Ishizu is still alive?" he asked, looking lost. Rishid and Ishizu both had tried to cover up truth in the past thinking it was for the best, but Marik truly wanted and needed to know these things.

Rishid was a bit startled at the sudden question, but he had also been expecting it to come sooner or later. "That would depend on where she went when she left here," he replied gently.

"I know," Marik said sadly. "But didn't anyone in the city see her?"

Rishid looked down, then back up at his brother. "I only know that someone matching her description was seen entering a building right before it . . . it exploded." He kept his arm around Marik comfortingly as he spoke. "Of course we can't know if it was actually her," the man hastened to add. But he was afraid that wouldn't be much comfort. Where could Ishizu be if not there?

Marik was silent for a long time. It was as he had feared, then. He shouldn't have hoped for everything to be like it always was. He wouldn't get to have his sister back.

"Marik?" Rishid asked in concern when the boy didn't speak. Fixing his golden orbs on the youth in his arms, Rishid noticed with immense sadness that Marik was crying. The boy who had always tried so hard to be strong was now openly crying. And Rishid held him closer. He knew it wasn't a sign of weakness to weep—but a sign of one's heart and their love for those special to them.

"It . . . it couldn't have been her!" Marik whispered at last, his eyes wide. "It . . . it just couldn't!" He clung to Rishid as if the man was his lifeline. And truly, he was.

****

Later that day Marik and Rishid went walking through Domino City and Rishid explained about some of what had happened during the invasion, at Marik's pleading.

"They had no regard for the city's buildings or for human life," the golden-eyed man said sadly as they passed down a street stained with blood. "There were many terrible battles between them and the citizens. Not even the police could stand against them. There were many casualties on both sides, but the army couldn't be defeated until the Pharaoh combined his powers with that of Bakura's Yami and several others who possess magical abilities."

Marik blinked in surprise. "Is . . . is that when Yami Bakura . . . died?" he asked quietly.

Rishid nodded. "For once he was fighting on the side of good and trying to stop Seth from chanting an evil incantation that would destroy everyone in the room. But while he was attempting his counterspell, something went wrong and the energies from both their incantations collided—causing all of the dark magic to strike Yami Bakura alone."

Marik looked down. He had heard about those sorts of spells and knew it must have been heart-breaking for Bakura to watch his Yami die as a result of one. The destruction was so painful that vicious wounds would open up all over the victim's body. He would not be able to stand seeing Ishizu or Rishid suffer that way.

When he looked up again, he found that they had traveled over to the Game Shop. Now it looked open for business, unlike the previous night.

"I haven't had the chance to tell any of my friends that I have returned," Marik mused now, walking up to the door. "I believe I will see how Yugi is doing." And of course he was anxious to see Mokuba. Phone service was out still in the Ishtars' neighborhood—and just about everywhere else—which was why he had never been able to get through when he had tried to call home. Now Marik decided he would simply show up at his friends' places instead of calling first. Calling and saying "Hey, you know what? I didn't die!" seemed so trivial.

"We're not open yet," Solomon called from inside when he heard the knocking, but then he stopped short and stared. "Marik? Marik Ishtar?!" he cried, hurrying to open the door. "Where in Heaven's name have you been?!" He gave Marik an accusatory look as he opened the door for him.

Marik shook his head. "It's a long story." He was about to ask if Yugi was there when the wide-eyed boy appeared.

"Marik?" he gasped, gazing in utter disbelief at the boy who had been away for so long. "No way! Rishid said you were . . ."

Marik held up his hands for silence. "I am alive," he said softly. "I only pray that . . ." He looked down sadly. ". . . That my sister is as well," he finished.

Before Yugi could reply, Joey came out of the backroom munching on an apple. "Hey, Yug, what's . . . YAAAAAA!! A ghost!" he yelled, pointing at Marik.

"He is not a ghost," Rishid said angrily.

Marik sighed in frustration. "I should have expected such a childish reaction from you, Joey," he said, managing a wry smile.

Joey stepped back and blinked. "You're not dead?"

"Of course not!" Marik snapped.

Abruptly Joey ran forward and grabbed the Egyptian boy viciously. "Whaddya mean by goin' off for months and makin' everyone think you passed on?!" he demanded. "Man, I thought you were through with your tricks! Do you know how upset everyone was when they thought you'd died on 'em?!"

Marik pried Joey's hands away in frustration. "I was taken against my will!" he explained for what seemed like the millionth time. "I had been stabbed and then left for dead. It has taken me all this time to recover and return home."

"Yeah?" Joey scratched his head. "Well, why didn't you try to contact someone?"

"I tried every day," Marik retorted.

"My brother has been through much," Rishid said defensively, stepping forward. "Just be grateful he is home," he added, laying his hand on the boy's shoulder.

"This creepy guy who's played with all our minds and gotten us into more than one mega disaster?" Joey said accusingly. "We should be glad he's back?"

"Joey!" Yugi cried, appalled. "Battle City was ages ago!"

Marik hung his head sadly. "I have tried to repent of all that," he said quietly.

Joey grinned suddenly and laid his own hand on Marik's other shoulder. "Hey, of course I'm glad to see this guy again!" he declared. "You're one of us now, Marik, and nothin' will change that! Welcome back, man." He had only been trying to get a rise out of the other boy, but truly, he had forgiven his friend for the past.

Marik looked up, surprised, then smiled. "Thank you," he said softly. It was rare for him to let his defenses down, but he was so overwhelmed by everything that had happened in the last few hours. And also to know that these people still wanted to be his friend and it hadn't been a fantasy.

Yugi smiled as well. "I'm so glad you're okay, Marik," he told him. "And I know Bakura and especially Mokuba will be happy to see you."

Solomon sighed and nodded. "Bakura's been so sad ever since . . ." He trailed off as the silvery-haired boy appeared at the top of the stairs and stared down into the game shop.

"I have to find my Yami!!" Bakura cried as he dashed down the staircase. He seemed oblivious to everything else and really didn't care how strange these words sounded to the others.

Joey blinked. "Uh, Bakura? Did you just say what I thought you said?"

"Of course," Bakura replied hurriedly. "I must find Yami!" He sounded almost frantic and tears slipped over his cheeks as he spoke.

"Bakura?" Marik said quietly. He could feel the other boy's pain so acutely. For it was his own. He wanted Ishizu.

Bakura froze and then stared. "Marik?" His voice was full of disbelief.

Marik smiled. "Yes, my friend. It is I."

Bakura brightened considerably. "I thought you were dead!" he exclaimed. Not only was he happy to have a friend back, but it gave him more hope that his Yami still lived as well.

Marik had to chuckle. "Yes, it seems that most people got that impression." He looked at Bakura in concern. "But are you alright, Bakura? I have heard that you have been going through a rough time."

Bakura looked down, his expression saddening. "My Yami has had an even worse time than I have," he said.

"Uh, Bakura?" Joey said uncomfortably. "Your Yami's, uh, well . . . you know, he's dead!" He felt bad saying it, but he didn't think Bakura should drift along in a fantasy for too long.

Bakura's head snapped up and he looked at Joey determinedly. "No," he replied firmly, "I don't think he is. I think he survived, somehow, and that he's . . . he's . . ." Again the tears glistened in his chocolate brown eyes. "That he's being tortured by Seth's brother Khu."

Everyone audibly gasped.

"What would give you that idea, Bakura?" Yugi asked in concern.

Bakura looked at him seriously. "You see," he said slowly, "I had a vivid dream last night. So vivid that I am certain it was not really a dream, but instead reality." With that he began to explain the details of the vision, including Yami Bakura calling deliriously for his descendant. "That was when I knew it wasn't a scene from the ancient past," the boy said quietly. "I'm certain that it was real."

"If it was, I wish you luck in finding him," Marik said sincerely. Oh! How he wished he could discover that Ishizu was alive! He envied Bakura. For though he had found that Yami Bakura was suffering horribly, Bakura had been given the chance to save him and have him around with him once more.

Bakura smiled weakly. "Thank you," he answered softly.

"Hey," Yugi said suddenly, "my Yami's up on the roof. Why don't you go talk to him, Bakura?" he suggested. "If there is a way that your Yami survived, I'm sure mine would know how to rescue him."

Bakura's eyes shone and he turned to climb up to the roof after thanking Yugi and again expressing his relief and joy that Marik was alive and back with them. "Please hold on, Yami," the silvery-haired boy whispered. "I'll save you. I promise I will!"

Now Marik turned back to Yugi, Joey, and Solomon. "I don't suppose you have had any news of Ishizu?" the boy asked without any hope of getting a positive response.

"No, we haven't," Yugi told him sadly, shaking his head. "I'm sorry, Marik."

Marik could tell by looking at them that they all assumed Ishizu was dead. "I will find her," he said in determination, then turned to leave. "It's good to see all of you again," he said, managing a small smile as he turned back again. "Before I leave, tell me, how are the others doing?"

Yugi smiled. "They're okay," he assured his Egyptian friend. "Tristan's been trying to win Serenity over again, but he's still getting competition from Duke."

Joey grunted in annoyance at the memories of the two boys fighting over his sister.

"And Téa's been going to a local dance studio," Yugi went on.

Marik nodded. "She always was a good dancer," he said, then paused. "But what about Mokuba?" he asked. "And his brother?"

"Kaiba's just as obnoxious as ever," Joey snorted. "Mokuba's fine, but he's been moping around and missing you, man. Other than his brother, you're his best friend."

"I am going to visit him now," Marik said, turning to leave. "Thank you for telling me."

"Hey man," Joey called after him, "I hope you find Ishizu."

"As do I," Marik replied quietly.

When they were outside again, he looked up at Rishid sadly. He had been going through a bit of an inner struggle over what he wanted to ask now, but after talking to Bakura he had made his decision. "Where is that building, Rishid?" he softly asked. He knew Rishid would know what he meant.

And he did. Rishid was silent for a time. Should he take Marik there? Would it make him feel better . . . or only worse? He couldn't stand to look at the spot where he had been certain Marik's body had burned. Even now, seeing that his brother was alive, it was not a place Rishid wanted to see again. But Marik wasn't him. And Rishid could see that his brother desperately wanted to go to the site. The man had to respect that. And so Rishid at last said reluctantly, "It is on the other side of the city." He had been to the building's skeleton before, looking for Ishizu among the bodies, but he had never found her there. He prayed that she truly had not been there, and that if she had been, somehow she had survived.

"I want to see it," Marik told him firmly.

Rishid turned to look at the boy. "Are you certain, Marik?" He still had his doubts, but if Marik truly wanted to go, Rishid would take him there.

Marik nodded, tears glistening in his eyes.

Rishid took a deep breath. "Alright then," he agreed, praying it wouldn't be a mistake.

****

Marik stared at the wreckage in disbelief, his eyes wide and horrified. The entire building had collapsed to the ground, and there was debris—broken glass, splintered wood, metal pipes—everywhere. Also caught between various pieces of the ruins were articles of clothing that had torn off from their wearers. Marik even thought he caught sight of a child's toy. He turned away from that sight quickly.

"How did this happen?" the boy breathed.

Rishid shook his head. "It's still under investigation, but the police do believe it was an accident," he told Marik gently. He knew it would make Marik so much more upset if it later wound up being discovered that someone had done it purposely. It would make he himself very angry as well. Many of the people in that building hadn't deserved the torment they had suffered.

Marik nodded almost mechanically, walking on ahead with a heavy heart. Suddenly he caught sight of something and knelt down near what used to be one of the building's corners. His heart immediately caught in his throat. No, he cried in despair, this isn't true! At first he didn't realize that he had screamed aloud, his voice echoing off every pillar and beam. It was only him and what he had found.

"What is it?" Rishid asked in concern, moving closer. Marik's cry tore at his very soul. His poor brother wouldn't wail so pitifully if he hadn't seen something drastic.

His hands shaking, Marik gently pulled a tattered scarf out from under a fallen beam. "Ishizu," he whispered. "This was hers." The years melted away and the boy looked as lost as he had when he had become confused in the many tunnels at five years of age. Only now it was much worse for him than simply losing track of which path to take. He had lost one precious to him.

Rishid didn't know what to say. His worst fears were realized. He didn't know how he'd overlooked the scarf before, but now he wished so fervently that Marik had not been the one to find it. And he knew their sister must be dead.

Now Marik held the ragged cloth up to his cheek. "Dear sister," he sobbed in realization, "you . . . you must truly be gone from this world. I . . . I miss you so very much . . ." He trailed off. "I thought I'd see you again, when I came home," he whispered, his voice cracking. "But you're not here. . . ."

Slowly Rishid laid his hand on Marik's shoulder as he knelt beside the stricken youth. Despair filled his soul. He didn't want Ishizu to be dead. He loved their sister with all his heart. She had been the last thing holding him back from complete insanity after Marik had been assumed dead. When Rishid had heard about the explosion and Ishizu's probable involvement, he hadn't known how he would even keep living. He had imagined Ishizu and Marik reuniting in Heaven and all he had wanted was to join them both.

Marik stared at the scarf blankly, his mind wandering. "I didn't even get to tell her how much I love her," he quavered. He had always idolized his precious sister, the same way he had always idolized Rishid. They both meant everything to him. They had saved him from the growing pit of darkness he had been falling into. "Or to thank her for what she has done for me . . ."

"She knows, my brother," Rishid told him gently. "The last time she saw you was when you . . . you almost died to save her. Wherever she is now, she knows you love her. And she knows how grateful you are for her love and example."

Marik smiled weakly through his tears, but then he began to cry again. "Why couldn't I have made it back sooner?" he moaned. "Perhaps then she wouldn't have gone out and . . ." It all seemed so horrible. If only he'd been able to return several days earlier!

Rishid held him close. "All the 'whys' and 'ifs' in the world will not return her to us now," he said quietly. "You cannot blame yourself, Marik. You were trying so hard to return home." He paused as Marik shuddered and then looked up at him. "You could not have gotten here any sooner than you did." The man shook his head sadly. "If anyone is to blame, it is I," he said. "I should have stopped her from leaving." He had blamed himself, and still did somewhat, but now he was saying this mainly to stress a point.

Marik's eyes widened. "No, Rishid!" he cried. "It isn't your fault! It isn't! You couldn't have known what would happen!" He gripped at Rishid's clothes, frantic to assure him that he wasn't at fault.

"You couldn't have, either, Marik," Rishid said gently. "No one is to blame. This was a tragic accident that, most likely, could never have been prevented." He knew his words were true. It wasn't his fault, nor was it Marik's. But that didn't stop the pain. He and Marik would mourn their sister together. Tenderly he held the boy close to him and Marik embraced him, still clutching the torn scarf in his hand.

****

Yami Yugi looked up when Bakura approached. "Hello," the Pharaoh acknowledged his young friend with a smile. He had been deep in thought, recalling events of the final battle against the army that had attacked them, but now he was brought back to the present by the appearance of the innocent, gentle Bakura.

"Hello," Bakura returned the greeting, his own smile weak and sad.

Yami Yugi studied the boy curiously. "What is it you have come to see me about?" he asked in a kind voice, leaning on the railing slightly. He and Bakura hadn't spoken that much since the boy had come to live with them. Bakura, usually so moody of late, was generally off by himself. But now he had come to the Pharaoh. Yami Yugi felt there was a definite purpose in this.

"Well . . ." Bakura's brown eyes were full of worry, nervousness, and a faint glimmer of hope. "I . . . I had a strange dream last night, and . . ." He searched for the right words before finally just blurting, "I think my Yami may yet be alive!" Then he stepped back a bit, wondering what would be thought of him. Would Yami Yugi decide he was insane as well? "I . . . I saw him being tortured by Khu," he added in a quavering whisper.

Yami Yugi's eyes narrowed thoughtfully. In a way this surprised him, but in another way it actually didn't. Why shouldn't Bakura have this feeling if he, the Pharaoh, did? "It is indeed odd that you would bring this up now," he said. "I, too, have had suspicions of those very possibilities since this morning."

Tears of joy glistened in Bakura's eyes at the news that the Pharaoh, too, believed Yami Bakura to be alive, but then he grew serious once more. "But . . . but how is it possible?" the boy wanted to know. "He . . . he died! Right in my arms, he died!" He bit his lip, remembering the moment so vividly. He had been so shocked when Yami Bakura had tried to rescue them all. Bakura knew that perhaps the thief just hadn't wanted Seth to win because he himself wanted to, but still Yami Bakura had saved lives. And Bakura was extremely thankful for that.

Yami Yugi shook his head. "It is possible that when his body disappeared, he was sent to the Shadow Realm—where Khu was free to torture him all he wished." Since the morning he had been pondering things. This was what he had come up with that made sense.

Bakura clapped a hand over his mouth in alarm at this thought. "Why?" he sobbed. "Even if he was only being good for one time, Yami rescued us! Why would he be sent to the Shadow Realm?!" It didn't make sense to him at all.

"Perhaps it was not supposed to happen," Yami Yugi said gently. "But I promise you, Bakura—we will rescue him."

"Thank you," Bakura said softly. He felt an immense weight lift from his shoulders. He had an ally in his quest.

****

Yami Bakura managed to force his eyes open a slit when he heard the door creak. He felt as if he'd been hanging from these blasted chains for an eternity. It was true that sometimes he inflicted pain on himself and didn't mind it. But enough was enough. And having someone else inflict it without permission was quite different than anything Yami Bakura had done to himself.

"Good morning," Khu sneered as he appeared silhouetted in the doorway. "I trust you're feeling yourself again after that little outburst yesterday."

Yami Bakura growled weakly. He didn't even remember what he'd said. In fact, he could barely remember anything clearly. He just wanted out.

Khu tickled the thief's already-bleeding chest with a deadly javelin. "You know, I don't see how you can even stay the slightest bit sane with what I've been doing to you." He jabbed the end of the spear into Yami Bakura's flesh, and the poor tomb raider cried out in agony. "Ah, now we're getting somewhere," Khu smirked. "You used to be able to resist screaming for hours on end. But I guess you've become too weakened after two months of this."

Yami Bakura sagged against the chains, too battered to even try to get away as he had tried to when this nightmare had first started. Many thoughts coursed through his mind, especially the memory of when Khu had tortured him in Egypt. That had been the day that had sealed their fate as enemies. Yami Bakura hated this man.

With a wicked grin, Khu channeled lightning through a knife and thrust it into the thief's side, stabbing and electrocuting him at the same time.

The pain was unbearable. Yami Bakura struggled vainly against the chains, his vision blurring as he fell back, bleeding profusely from the wounds in his mangled body. "Bakura," he moaned deliriously. Though he would never admit it in his right mind, he missed that boy and wanted more than anything to have him here now instead of Khu. Blast, what was he thinking. He'd like anyone here other than Khu.

Khu sneered. "Bakura can't save you. He thinks you're dead. And what's more, he's happy about it. You know he never liked you."

Vaguely through the fog, Yami Bakura heard the cruel man's voice and felt confused. That wasn't true . . . was it? No . . . Bakura cared about him. He was about the only one who ever had.

"Face it," Khu said unmercifully, "you're stranded here for the rest of eternity—or for however long you can last in this torture chamber, which probably won't be long at all." With that he resumed the torment once more.

****

Marik took a deep breath and walked up the long, winding driveway leading to the porch of the Kaiba mansion. After his terrible experience at the building's wreckage, which was several hours ago now, he hoped that visiting Mokuba would cheer them both up. Now he had bottled his emotions up again, as he usually did, and tried not to look sad. He didn't want to burden Mokuba with his sorrow. Eventually he climbed the steps to the front door, rang the bell, and waited impatiently for someone to answer.

It wasn't long before someone did—and their reaction was, of course, utter shock.

"Hello, welcome to Mr. Kaiba's place . . ." Velma trailed off when she saw who was standing on the porch and the woman let out an ear-piercing shriek, dropping the cleaning utensils she had been holding all over the floor.

Marik smiled wryly and leaned his arm on the doorframe. "I knew I should have called first," he joked, unsure of exactly why he even had the heart to wisecrack after what had happened to Ishizu. He didn't even usually make jokes at all, though occasionally he liked a dry wit.

Shakily Velma reached down to pick up the fallen Ajax, all the while gazing up nervously at the boy with disbelieving eyes. People didn't just stay dead for two months and then suddenly rise from the grave to turn up on their friend's doorstep!

"Velma?" Seto's irritated voice came from down the hall in his office. "What's going on out there? I told you I wanted complete silence while I worked. You're making a lot of noise."

Velma stood up and stuttered a reply. "Oh, um, Mr. Kaiba, I, er, I, that is, he . . ."

Seto grunted in annoyance and walked to the doorway. "Apparently I'll just have to see for myself," he said, pushing past Velma to stare in disbelief at the Egyptian boy. "You!" was all he said before crossing his arms and looking unruffled again. "You've been away long enough." It took a lot to startle Seto, and even more to keep him startled for a good while. He had seen so much in his life that he'd learned it wasn't a good idea to not expect the unexpected. And Marik was definitely the unexpected for today.

Marik nodded. "Much too long," he agreed. "But now I have returned. Where is Mokuba? I have heard that he has been feeling sad lately." He tried to see past Seto into the hall, hoping to catch sight of his young friend.

Seto nodded and ushered the other boy inside, already over the initial surprise. He was better at expecting the unexpected than he had been a few years ago. "He's thought you were dead," the young businessman stated seriously. "They never did find your body after the whole . . . incident when you were last seen, but everyone assumed that it had been incinerated along with the carcasses of Seth's army when someone set them on fire." They walked past Velma, who simply stared after them in shock before slowly returning to her housekeeper duties.

Marik shuddered at that. "No, actually I was seized and taken prisoner after I had been left for dead by Seth and his minions," he said angrily, and explained the little of what he remembered about his abduction.

As Seto listened, his expression remained impassive and impossible to read. "You know, Mokuba's not going to believe this," he remarked as they rounded a corner. The blue-eyed boy smiled slightly, obviously hopeful that his younger brother would finally be brought out of his depression. "You were his best friend."

Marik stopped walking and turned to look at Seto soberly. "No," he said, shaking his head. "You were—and are—Mokuba's best friend. Nothing will ever change that." He knew this was true. Though he and Mokuba were close, nothing could come between the bond the boy shared with his brother Seto. First and foremost, Seto was Mokuba's best friend.

Seto grunted and didn't answer as they reached Mokuba's room. "Mokuba?" he called, knocking softly. "A friend of yours has come to see you."

After a short pause, Mokuba came to the door and opened it. He looked just the same as Marik remembered him, save for being sad. "Who is it, big brother?" he asked, but then his eyes widened and he cried in delight. "Marik!!" he exclaimed, running forward to embrace his friend. "Oh Marik, you're alive!!!" He clutched at Marik's waist, hugging him as tightly as he could.

Marik smiled and held the younger boy close. "Yes," he said quietly. "I am alive."

"I missed you so much!!" Mokuba sobbed.

"And I missed you as well, Mokuba," the Egyptian boy replied, feeling tears in his own eyes. He was so very fond of this child and in fact thought of Mokuba as a younger brother. But still there was part of his heart that was missing. The part of his heart that Ishizu held. And no matter how happy he was to be with the others he loved, that void would not be able to be filled.

****

Yami Yugi watched as Bakura took off the Millennium Ring and handed it to him.

"Is there a way you could use this to find out if my Yami is alive?" the boy asked shakily, hope in his eyes. He didn't know much about the items of power, nor if one could use the Ring if they were not destined to hold it, but he would trust in Yami Yugi's powers.

The Pharaoh took the Ring and studied it. "Perhaps I can," he said slowly. As Bakura watched, Yami Yugi closed his eyes and concentrated hard. The Millennium Puzzle began to glow brightly, its light illuminating the entire roof and setting it apart from the twilight darkness around them.

Puzzle, Yami Yugi said silently, if the spirit of the Ring still lives, show me where he is at this moment.

Bakura prayed for good fortune as the Ring began to glow as well, its spindles turning wildly. Would it reveal where his Yami was? Or would it lay dormant, as it would if Yami Bakura had passed on?

Suddenly Yami Yugi gave a cry of pain and doubled over. Bakura gasped, horrified—and then the anguish overwhelmed him as well. "What's . . . what's happening?" the British boy cried. "I don't understand!! It . . . it hurts. . . ." He grabbed at his chest, which felt as if someone had placed a spear into it.

Yami Yugi looked up at him. "Your Yami is alive," he choked out, "but he's in agony. We are feeling the pain that he's going through right at this moment!" He grabbed at the Ring. "This is a compass. If we journey to the Shadow Realm, it—and your concern and compassion for him—will lead us to where he is." With a gasp, he straightened up and bid the Items to stop glowing.

A tear slipped down Bakura's cheek as he stood up again as well. "Yami," he wailed. Would he be able to get to him before . . . before he couldn't take any more of the pain? Bakura had only endured a portion of it for no longer than a minute, but he was already winded. Yami Bakura had been suffering for a month! Bakura could barely stand to think of it!

****

"Marik?"

The Egyptian boy looked at his young friend and smiled. "What is it?" he asked gently, seeing that Mokuba was completely serious. The two of them were sitting in the library at the Kaiba Manor. They had laughed and played for a couple of hours, and in truth, Marik was feeling slightly better, though the ache was still strong in his heart. In his pocket he still carried Ishizu's scarf. He didn't want to be parted from this tangible reminder of his sister.

Mokuba was silent for a long time before finally speaking. "Marik, do you . . . do you know about . . . Ishizu?" He was certain that his friend did, and just was trying not to show his anguish, but Mokuba wanted to share Marik's grief. He wanted to help his friend through this horrible time. And . . . he wanted to tell Marik something, he admitted silently, but he didn't want to burden the poor boy further.

Marik drew his breath in sharply at the question. "Yes," he said at last. "Yes, I do." Oh, how he knew! If only the news were not what it was. Unconsciously he reached in his pocket and withdrew the scarf, clutching it tightly. The tattered silk gave him a strange sense of comfort, but comfort it did in whatever small way it could.

Mokuba played with his locket. "Do you . . . think she's really . . ." He trailed off, realizing he probably shouldn't have asked.

"I don't know," Marik said softly. "She . . . she may very well be, but then again I keep clinging to the hope that she's still alive, somewhere." He blinked, feeling a tear in his eye. "I simply can't bring myself to believe that she's never coming back. That . . . she'll never wear this again." He ran his hand over the soft material. Yes, he realized, in spite of everything, he was still clinging to the hope that Ishizu had escaped the worst of the blast and would come home, even though it sounded preposterous even to him.

Mokuba smiled slightly. "Maybe . . . maybe she will," he whispered.

Marik smiled then as well. And he noticed something.

Mokuba looked lost and scared. He kept turning the locket around in his hands, and opening it every now and then to look at the picture of Seto inside. Tears were glistening in the child's eyes. Marik could tell that something was bothering the younger boy and he waited patiently for Mokuba to speak again. But he knew Mokuba probably wasn't going to speak of his problem unless Marik assured him it was alright to do so.

"What troubles you, my friend?" he asked quietly. "I can see something is wrong. Tell me what it is."

Mokuba shook his head and then finally spoke, unable to contain his emotions longer. It was a relief to hear Marik reassure him that he wanted to know. "Marik . . . I . . . I'm worried about Seto," the dark-haired boy admitted at last, his gray-blue eyes brimming with tears of his own. He trembled as he looked up at his friend.

Marik looked at him in concern. "Your brother didn't seem any different than he ever has. At least," he added then, "I haven't noticed anything odd."

"He'd never show it," Mokuba said shakily. "But he got hurt really bad during that last fight with those spirits. That was a while after you . . . after everyone thought you were dead, and . . . and I was afraid that . . . that I was gonna lose Seto as well." He paused, collecting his thoughts before continuing on.

"Seto got better and everything, but then he acted really moody and depressed." Mokuba looked upset at the memories. "I'd try to ask him what was wrong, but he'd always say that nothing was, and one time he even kinda snapped at me." A tear escaped his eye and the boy angrily brushed it away.

Marik was shocked. And very concerned. He knew that Seto never snapped at his brother. And he wondered if Seto had ever fully recovered from what had happened to him during the battle.

"So between all that and losing you—my other best friend—I've been pretty depressed lately myself," Mokuba finished with a sigh. "But I know you didn't mean to go away, and that you'd never've want us to think you were dead." He tried to give a shaky smile.

Marik laid a hand on the younger boy's shoulder. "I am so sorry you have had to go through all this, Mokuba," he said quietly. "Doesn't your brother realize how much you are suffering?" Despite Seto's outward coldness, Marik knew how much Seto treasured his brother. He couldn't believe that Mokuba's suffering wouldn't be seen by him.

Mokuba shrugged sadly. "I think he's sure that I've only been upset 'cause I thought you were dead," he replied. "I'm pretty sure he doesn't know that there's been any other reason too." He hesitated. "And if something is wrong with him, I know he wouldn't wanna say anything. He wouldn't wanna worry me. But I AM worried!" he burst out with a sob. "I'm so worried. . . ."

Then Marik took the child in his arms, holding him close. "I know," he said softly. "Of course you're worried about him."

"I'm so glad you're back, Marik," Mokuba smiled, hugging his friend. "But I'm afraid that . . . that I might lose my big brother!" The tears flowed freely over his cheeks. Now Mokuba didn't try to pretend they weren't there. He knew it, and he knew Marik knew it. And he didn't care.

Marik brushed the long bangs out of Mokuba's eyes, something that Seto often did. "I will speak with your brother," he vowed. "And I promise you, by the sands of Egypt, I will find out what is happening." He smiled.

Mokuba giggled. "Thanks," he said, smiling back.

****

When Yugi finished dinner and went into the living room, he found Bakura staring out the window. The silvery-haired boy looked sad and pale. He'd barely eaten all day, if he'd had anything at all. The new knowledge he'd received today both overjoyed him and made him feel more sick than ever. Who knew what Yami Bakura could be going through right now?! Bakura just didn't feel right eating now that he knew the thief was suffering so greatly.

"Are you okay, Bakura?" the violet-eyed boy asked uneasily. "You need to eat something." He came over closer, gathering what Bakura's feelings were. Yugi knew that he himself would feel the same if it was his Yami who was being hurt.

Bakura turned to face him. "Oh . . . I'm alright," he said weakly. "I'm just worried about Yami. What if he's been tortured all this time? What if we can't rescue him? Or what if we do, but he's hurt so terribly that . . . that he can't ever get better?" The questions spilled out of Bakura's mouth before he could stop them.

"He'll be okay, Bakura," Yugi said comfortingly, laying a hand on the other boy's shoulder. "He's pretty tough, you know."

"But if this has been going on for two months, how do we know how badly he's hurt?" Bakura sobbed. "Khu probably uses some terrible dark magic to enhance the pain!"

"Well . . ." Yugi smiled gently. "My Yami says we should save him as soon as possible. He's planning to go to the Shadow Realm tomorrow and get him out."

Bakura perked up. "I have to go with him!" he exclaimed instantly.

"It's bound to be extremely dangerous," Yami Yugi said grimly, stepping into the room. He had been listening to all of the conversation, and none of it was unexpected. He had known all along that Bakura would want to come.

"I don't care!" Bakura cried. "He's my Yami. I have to help in the rescue! I would be a coward to stay behind!"

Yami Yugi sighed. "Well, I know it will be impossible to convince you otherwise. You may come, of course, but you must be very cautious and stay right with me." He glared at Bakura warningly. "If anything happens there, I may not be able to protect you. The Shadow Realm is not a place to be dealt with lightly."

Bakura nodded shakily, tears in his eyes. He knew that, of course. But it didn't change his mind. If anything, it made his resolve stronger. He would go into the Shadow Realm and bring his Yami back out!

****

"Seto Kaiba?"

Seto looked up when he heard the voice and the knock on the door. "What is it?" he yelled in irritation, staring at the ugly mark on his chest. He was busy. He didn't have time for such interruptions. Carefully he buttoned his shirt and sat down at his desk again. No sense in letting anyone know what he had been up to just now. But as he eased himself into his chair, a certain sick feeling came over him. It was getting worse. He knew it was. So hard he had tried to keep the knowledge from Mokuba while he searched for the cure, but none seemed to be forthcoming. He knew there wasn't going to be one.

Marik opened the office door and went in, his earrings clinking softly. "I have been talking with your brother," he announced.

Seto put down the papers he had started going over and looked up. "Yes, I'd expected as much. Otherwise there wouldn't be much reason for you to be in my house." Oh, he didn't dislike Marik. Not anymore. But Seto spoke the truth and he and Marik both knew it. If it weren't for the odd but sweet friendship that had formed between Seto's brother and Marik, the Egyptian boy wouldn't likely be coming to the Kaiba Manor.

Marik calmly shut the door behind him and sat down in a nearby chair. "He told me how frightened he has been lately," he said, his eyes never leaving Seto. He wanted to show the other boy that he wasn't going to back down from this.

"Of course he was frightened," Seto grunted. "You were dead to him. He was afraid that he would lose everyone else who was close to him as well." He shuffled the papers and laid them down on the desk again. Somehow he had to make this conversation end quickly.

"And he is still afraid he'll lose you," Marik pointed out.

Seto's eyes narrowed. "That's ridiculous. I'll never leave him."

Marik leaned forward, his lavender eyes piercing through to Seto's very soul. "What happened to you when you were injured in that battle?" he demanded to know.

"What?" Seto snapped.

"You heard me." Marik laced his fingers together. "What happened to you in the final battle with Seth's army?"

Seto stood up, his expression a storm cloud. "I was hurt badly, but I recovered," he said coldly. What right did Marik have to be prying around like this? Of course Seto realized that Mokuba must have put him up to it. Marik wouldn't just come in out of the blue and begin questioning like this. That was more Marik's sister's speed.

"Mokuba tells me how moody you became afterwards," Marik persisted. "And that you even spoke harshly to him when he asked what was wrong."

Seto looked as if he wanted to throw Marik out the window, but somehow he restrained himself. "What business do you have prying into my life?" he growled instead.

Marik now stood up as well, but he still kept his voice even and composed. "We both care about Mokuba a great deal," he replied. "While it is true that he was upset over my 'death,' he was—and still is—also disturbed by your recent behavior. Perhaps you think that you have been doing a good job of hiding it from him, but he knows that something isn't right."

Seto turned away, staring out the window. "I can't tell him," he muttered before realizing he was saying it.

Marik walked over to stand next to him. "Whatever it is, you must," he said quietly. "You do not have to tell me, but you do need to tell Mokuba. He deserves to know."

Seto whirled to face him angrily. "Does he deserve to know that his brother might die?" he growled. So many sleepless nights he had spent worrying over what would happen to Mokuba once he had died. Mokuba would inherit KaibaCorp, but Seto didn't want to leave the responsibility on one so young. His brother didn't need that kind of pressure at this time in his life. All Seto wanted was for Mokuba to enjoy a happy, normal existence. But it didn't look like that would happen. Mokuba's existence was far from normal.

Marik stood his ground. He had suspected all along that it was something like this, and now his suspicions were confirmed. "Yes, he does deserve to know, and you know it, Kaiba. Mokuba will feel worse if you die and he never knew that you were even sick." He spoke just as coldly as Seto was prone to do, just wanting to get his point across. With Marik's own situation currently, this struck too close to home.

"I'm not sick," Seto grunted.

"I would give almost anything to be able to see Ishizu again," Marik said softly, ignoring that comment, "and to tell her how much I love her. If I had known that we would never meet again in this life after that fateful battle, I would have wanted to spend much more time with her. Lately you have been distancing yourself from Mokuba quite a bit, haven't you." It was a statement, not a question.

"I have a lot of work." Seto clenched his fists. Why wouldn't this irritation just leave him alone?!

"That is your excuse." Marik folded his arms. "But the truth is that you are terrified that Mokuba will find out what is actually wrong."

"You're crazy." Seto glared daggers at the other boy. "I want you out of my office right now. Is that understood?"

Marik nodded solemnly and turned to leave. "Tell him, Kaiba," he said as he turned the doorknob. "Tell him everything. And while you're at it, tell him how much you love him. Trust me, it can never be said enough." And with that he was gone, leaving Seto to ponder over what had been said.

****

As Marik walked home from the Kaiba Manor that night, so many thoughts swirling through his mind, he met up with Téa coming out of the local dance studio.

"Hey, Marik!" the blue-eyed girl called cheerfully, waving to him.

"Hello." Marik smiled and came over to where she was. They chatted for several minutes as they started to head for Téa's neighborhood and then Marik asked if she knew what was happening with Bakura.

Téa blinked, a worried look coming over her face. "His Yami's alive, but he's being held prisoner in the Shadow Realm. Yugi's Yami is going to go rescue him tomorrow, and well, you know Bakura." She sighed. "He insists on going with him. I'm afraid he's going to get hurt!"

"Hmm." Marik paused thoughtfully. "You know," he said at last, "Bakura's Yami saved Rishid's life during Battle City. I owe him for that. I will accompany Yami Yugi and Bakura on their quest," he decided now. The decision was made almost instantaneously, but Marik felt almost as if he *had* to go along and that he would never be at peace if he didn't. He didn't understand why, but since he usually didn't have such strong impressions he thought it wise to follow this one.

Téa paused. "Maybe," she mused, "I should get Tristan and Joey and we'll all go. If you guys are all going to go off and get into danger again, I wouldn't feel right if I didn't come along and try to help out, and I know Joey and Tristan would feel the same way."

Marik looked at her warmly. "You are brave," he commented. He had always thought so, ever since the first time he had seen her during Battle City. He was not interested in the least in romance, but he was certain that Téa would make some man very happy some day.

Téa blushed. "Not really," she said. "I just don't like to leave things for others to deal with when I know I can help."

They walked the rest of the way to Téa's home in silence and then parted company. Téa waved to Marik as she hurried inside the front door and he smiled, waving back before continuing on his way.

****

When Marik arrived home he found Rishid waiting for him. The man had gotten the house back into a more presentable state by now and was right by the door when Marik opened it. He had missed Marik immensely while he had been gone, though it had only been a few hours. But when Marik had been dead to Rishid for two months, he wanted to spend every moment with the boy that he could. A part of him had wondered if it was all a dream, that his brother had returned. It seemed so incredible . . . so impossible. . . . But no! Here was Marik now, coming in the front door. It had all been real. Rishid hastened forward to welcome him home when he noticed the youth's troubled expression.

"Marik, are you alright?" Rishid asked worriedly, stopping in front of him and gazing into the tired lavender eyes.

Marik smiled weakly. "I am fine, my brother," he replied. "But I am going on a rescue mission tomorrow." Hastily he explained while Rishid listened in concern.

"I will come with you then," the man said at the conclusion, laying his hand on Marik's shoulder. Certainly he would not allow his dear brother to travel through such a horrible place as the Shadow Realm without he himself, Rishid, by his side.

Marik knew it was useless to protest, and anyway, he had to admit that he would feel more at ease knowing that Rishid was with him. After a quiet "thank you," Marik went into his room and fell across his bed in exhaustion. Slowly he pulled the tattered scarf out of his pocket again and held it, letting the tears he had kept bottled up all day long flood over. He wanted his sister. His life simply could not be complete without her.

****

The following day everyone gathered at the Game Shop. Yami Yugi looked startled at first when he saw them all troop in. He felt almost like Elrond in the first Lord of the Rings movie, when first Sam and then Merry and Pippin had announced that they were all joining the Fellowship.

"This is ridiculous!" the Pharaoh cried, his eyes widening in disbelief. Here was Joey, and Tristan, and Téa, and Marik and Rishid! "There is too much danger involved in this mission. I can't let all of you come." He folded his arms and looked at the posse sternly. If he had had his say, only he would be going. But Bakura had wanted to come, and then Yugi, and now everyone else!

"Hey, we're a team, right?" Joey grinned. "We stick together! We're all comin' along, man, and there's just no gettin' around it!" He slammed his fist into his palm in emphasis.

Bakura smiled when he saw his friends there. His heart was completely touched. "It means a lot that you would all come to help," he said softly. "I know that none of you—other than Marik, perhaps—really like my Yami."

"Hey," Tristan shrugged, "he's usually a creep, but during that battle he took the hit for all of us, even if that wasn't his original intention."

"We'll get 'im back for ya, pal," Joey assured Bakura kindly, who nodded gratefully in acknowledgment.

"Alright," Yami Yugi's stern voice cut in. "We'll have to leave now. And whatever you do, DON'T get lost from each other. The Shadow Realm is not a place to be wandering around in by yourself."

"Heck, that goes without sayin'," Joey muttered.

Yami Yugi concentrated hard and a bright glow bathed over each member of the rescue team. Slowly the scenery around them faded to a deep bluish-purple, signaling their arrival in the dreaded Shadow Realm.

The Pharaoh opened his eyes. "Bakura, what direction are your Ring's spindles pointing in?" he asked.

"Straight ahead," Bakura replied softly. Please hold on, Yami, he added in his heart. Memories of when Yami Bakura had nursed him back to health after the hapless boy had been struck by lightning entered his mind again. He would find his Yami, and then it would be Bakura's turn to care for him.

****

Yugi looked around uneasily. He wasn't under the strain of dueling, so he could manage to survive in the Shadow Realm this time—but he could also sense a nearby danger. Rescuing Yami Bakura would not be as easy as simply going to wherever Khu was holding him prisoner, he knew. There were many dangerous creatures loose in the Shadow Realm—those who had been banished there over many centuries worth of time for their evil deeds and were out for vengeance.

**If any of them find that we are here, they will attack,** Yami Yugi told him through their mental connection. **They are full of hatred and malice.**

~We can face them!~ Yugi replied bravely.

It wasn't long before Joey felt a chill run up his spine. "Hey, what gives?!" he cried. "Man, someone must be hidin' out around here. . . ." Before he could say more, a dark force suddenly reached out and grabbed him, trying to pull him into the shadows.

The others gasped.

"Joey!" Téa shrieked.

"Hang on, buddy, I'll get you free!" Tristan yelled, prepared to leap into the fray.

"Wait!" Yami Yugi said in a commanding voice as he stepped forward. "You don't comprehend what you are dealing with." The third eye on his forehead glowed brightly as he ordered the evil presence to release Joey.

"It's not working!" Téa cried, wide-eyed, seeing the vicious beast determined to keep its hold on their friend.

Joey gasped, struggling with its endless supply of arms. "It's like some kinda crazy octopus!" he yelled, shoving another tentacle away from him.

"It must be draining him of his energy!" Bakura gasped, utterly horrified.

Yami Yugi wasn't about to give up. Furious now, he unleashed a violent spell that caused the creature's tentacles to shrivel up and become useless. The beast gave a cry of pain as it dropped Joey's limp form to the ground and sank back into the darkness.

Instantly the others gathered around the Brooklyn boy anxiously.

"Joey?" Tristan said worriedly. "Are you okay, buddy?"

Joey lay gasping for breath on the ground, his strength depleted. "Hey," he grinned weakly, "I'm fine. Don't let me . . . hold you up. . . ."

Yugi laid a hand on his best friend's shoulder. "Joey, you're hurt!" he said, shaking his head. "You can't stay in the Shadow Realm like this. It might overtake you!" He remembered only too well what had happened during his duel with Pegasus. The weaker one got, the harder it was to withstand the powers of the ghastly dimension.

"Yugi is right," Yami Yugi said grimly. "Joey either must go back or someone else must stay with him until we return." He paused. "But the thought of leaving him and one of you here alone doesn't make me feel peaceful. I can sense other dark forces lurking in the shadows, just waiting to attack any unsuspecting mortal." The Pharaoh tensed, hearing something that apparently none of the others did. But nothing was visible.

Joey struggled to stand. "Hey," he managed to say, "I can still come with you! See? I'm standin' . . ." He trailed off as he started to fall backwards. Swiftly Yami Yugi caught and supported him, still looking somber.

"We're all fortunate that the creature didn't complete the draining process," the ancient Pharaoh remarked, "but still you are weak, Joey. You won't be able to handle the dangers of the Shadow Realm. I must send you back."

"Joey may come with me."

Everyone looked up with a start as Shadi appeared, out of nowhere as he always did. No one knew exactly who this strange Egyptian was or where he had originally came from and when, but they were always grateful for any assistance he could give.

"What are you doing here, Shadi?" Yugi exclaimed, his violet eyes wide.

"I sensed an imbalance in the Millennium Items," Shadi replied. In his hand he held the Millennium Ankh, which glistened in the eerie darkness that surrounded them all. His blue eyes, devoid of pupils, studied each member of the group in turn as if searching for something that he did not find.

"Yeah, we know there's one," Tristan said, slamming his fist into his palm. "We came here to rescue Bakura's Yami and then some freaky thing just reached out and grabbed Joey!" He gestured with his hands, imitating the octopus-like creature's movements.

"Tristan, you're too good at that," Joey remarked uncomfortably.

"I know why you are here," Shadi said, taking Joey from Yami Yugi's grasp. Yami Yugi relinquished him, more than willing to send the weakened blonde away with someone he could trust.

"H-hey, now, wait a sec," Joey exclaimed, looking nervous. "Just where . . . the heck are you . . . takin' me?!" He regarded Shadi with apprehension. This person had always spooked him immensely. And now Joey was supposed to go with him?!

"I sense that you are still of great importance to this mission," Shadi told him. "I will take you where you can regain your strength." And with that cryptic statement, he opened a vortex in the floor and vanished into it with Joey.

"Man, that was weird!" Tristan cried.

Téa glared at the Pharaoh. "Are you sure we should've let him cart Joey off like that?!" she exclaimed. "How do we know what'll happen to him?!"

"Joey will be safe with Shadi," Yami Yugi replied, turning away. "Now. We must continue on our journey."

****

Yami Bakura moaned as he hung from the chains like a ragdoll. Khu's plans were utter brutality—he would torment the thief unmercifully for days and then leave him alone long enough for the wounds to just begin to heal. Then he would come in once more and start the entire process all over again.

This was supposed to be one of the days that Yami Bakura was left to his own thoughts, but instead he felt himself being slapped viciously by the Pharaoh's former bodyguard. Blood spilled down his cheek, but the tomb raider barely noticed.

"You old fool," Khu sneered. "You escaped my clutches once before, but I can assure you that it will never happen again!" He stabbed Yami Bakura violently in the leg, causing the thief to jerk away in pain, moaning.

Yami Bakura wanted to say that if Khu continued to treat him this way, there wouldn't be any of him left to torture further—but he had been too badly injured to speak.

"Can a spirit die?" Khu mused. "You know, I do wonder." Powering up his weapon with the dark lightning, he attacked once more.

Yami Bakura screamed in agony, sinking backward as far as he could.

****

Bakura gasped, doubling over in pain.

"What's wrong?" Yugi cried in horror as he turned wide violet eyes to stare at his friend.

"Y-Yami's nearby," Bakura replied quietly as the feelings of anguish passed. Slowly he stood up straight again, seeing the Ring glow even brighter. "And, oh! Khu's still hurting him!"

"It's alright," Téa said gently. "We'll find him."

Abruptly an evil cackling was heard and an army began to materialize out of the shadows—a very familiar army. Everyone tensed. Rishid pulled Marik closer to him, though he was certain Marik wouldn't appreciate the protective gesture. But these people had nearly taken his brother away before. Rishid wasn't going to let it happen again!

"How amusing," Seth sneered, stepping forward to poke the Pharaoh in the chest. "I never thought my enemies would come to join me in my abode." He whirled around, his cloak flying out with the motion. "But I will defeat you—in one dimension or another!" His eyes burned with madness. Centuries spent in the Shadow Realm had made him more insane than he had ever been before.

"We don't have time for this!" Yami Yugi growled. Secretly he had feared that they would encounter Seth's entourage while they were in this dark realm, another reason why he hadn't wanted anyone else to come. But there was nothing to do now but fight. And pray that they would win. Now they were on Seth's turf. There was no telling what tricks he might try to use. And succeed in using.

"Oh?" Seth raised his hand high and then dropped it, signaling for his army to attack. They rushed forward furiously, spears drawn out in a dangerous manner. "Perhaps you had best . . . make the time." And with that he melted back into the shadows, leaving the group to contend with the vicious army. A stern woman with cold eyes led the assault, directing the men in the ancient Egyptian tongue.

"Tristan! Look out!" Téa shrieked, and the boy turned just in time to intercept a flying javelin.

"Whoa, that was close," he breathed, his hazel eyes wide.

Yami Yugi matched wits with the woman, glaring at her angrily as the Puzzle began to glow. "Who are you?" he demanded. Vaguely he seemed to remember one like her from Ancient Egypt. One mysterious and usually in the shadows. She hadn't liked to do physical combat herself, but had always left it up to her minions. The ones she controlled . . .

"Who am I?" the woman repeated, in English this time. "I am sure that is the last of your worries right now." With that she raised her hand, preparing to chant a deadly spell. "Your friends are mere mortals. They won't be able to stand up to Lord Seth's army—or to the power of my spells." For centuries she had stayed by Seth's side. Now she had grown so used to him being there that she knew she would never willingly leave. There was nowhere else for her to go.

"Leave my friends out of this!" Yami Yugi said forcefully, holding out his own hands to block her dark magic.

Bakura struggled with another soldier, crying out as his shoulder was grazed by the tip of a sword. Extremely upset, he turned to face his attacker and grabbed his wrist. "I'm here to save my Yami!" he declared. "I won't fight with you!"

"You'll have to," the soldier replied nastily.

"Hey, leave him alone," Tristan growled, coming up from behind and punching the man hard. Groaning, the soldier slumped over to the ground.

Bakura watched with wide eyes. "Thank you," he said shakily, smiling at his friend.

"Don't thank me just yet," Tristan said grimly as they were instantly surrounded by several more of Seth's army.

Bakura gulped. "Oh my," he whispered.

Rishid was finding himself surrounded as well. Angrily he threw a zealot back hard into the seemingly endless shadows and then was attacked from behind as another one dug a weapon into his shoulder. The man shouted in pain and whirled to wrench the javelin out of his assailant's hands. Unbeknownst to him, he was about to be stabbed fatally in the neck by another.

Suddenly Marik ran forward, pushing several zealots out of his way. "Leave him alone, you vile beast!!" he screamed, jumping the would-be murderer from behind and bringing him to the ground. His eyes burned with outrage. They were trying to kill Rishid! His Rishid, his precious elder brother! One who had always believed in him when no one else had. The one Marik considered his closest friend. The one who had told him to never give up and to keep fighting. Marik had defeated his Yami because of what Rishid had done for him. Never would he let harm come to his brother when he could prevent it! Perhaps he had lost Ishizu. But he wouldn't lose another member of his family that he loved!

"Marik!!" Rishid cried in shock when he saw the boy leaping to his rescue. Marik would surely be harmed! He moved forward to pull the youth back. But it was just like before. Rishid wasn't able to reach him in time. The poor man had a sense of deja vu as he beheld the horror before him.

Marik struggled to keep the soldier pinned to the ground. He gripped the man's shoulders and slammed him hard when he tried to get up. But when he moved to stand again and go to his brother, the boy's eyes widened and he collapsed across his opponent lifelessly. Rishid could see blood. Marik had been stabbed! With a maniacal laugh, the zealot pushed Marik's body roughly to the ground and then stood up, a bloodied weapon held in his hands. He pressed his foot into the boy's back unbearably, laughing as he heard Marik moan in pain.

Rishid felt a rage burn in his heart. This would not be like last time! He was here now, and he would make certain this fiend never did anything more to Marik! This time Marik would not be harmed to the point of death. "Get away from him!!" the man growled, stepping forward and grabbing the soldier harshly. Without another word, he threw the evil-doer backwards against several other zealots and then turned back to his fallen friend and brother. "Marik!!" he screamed, kneeling next to Marik's limp body and gently turning him over. He could see that the boy had been stabbed viciously in the chest. It could be fatal. . . . Rishid knew it could be.

Marik was still conscious. "It's alright . . . Rishid," he said weakly, managing a smile. "I saved you. I saved my brother." Rishid could not tell if Marik was still feeling pain. He looked almost as if. . . . The man swallowed hard. Marik looked as if he was half in the mortal world and half in the next.

Rishid held him close, feeling panic-stricken. "Marik, you just came back. You cannot leave me again!" he screamed. He felt life draining from the youth. But no! It couldn't end this way! Why would Rishid be allowed to have him back only to lose him again?! God couldn't be so cruel to them!

"Don't worry . . ." Marik coughed, his lavender eyes closing half-way. "Rishid, you must help the others. They need you." He squeezed the man's hand gently. "I love you, my brother." The boy fell limp, his eyes still partially open.

Rishid gasped, his golden eyes filling with tears. "Marik," he whispered in disbelief. Shakily he moved his hand across his brother's eyelids, letting them close completely, and then checked for the life he was afraid he wouldn't find.

****

Yugi ducked as another soldier nearly managed to embed his weapon in the boy's shoulder. "Oh!" he gasped, watching the weapon strike right where he had just been standing. He felt his heart skip a beat.

"I've had enough of this," Yami Yugi growled. "Mind crush!!" he yelled, raising his hand out forcefully. He didn't come here to go to war!

"Whoa," Tristan exclaimed as the soldiers fell back and collapsed. "You can use that attack on other spirits?"

Yami Yugi nodded curtly, watching as the army's leader crumpled to the ground as well. "Let's go," he said.

"Wait!" Bakura cried, casting his eyes about. "Where are Marik and Rishid?!"

"I don't see them," Téa said in horror. "Oh, what if they're hurt?!"

"Hey!" Tristan yelled. "There's Rishid over there." He pointed to where the Egyptian man was emerging from the shadows, an unreadable expression showing in his eyes. "But where's Marik?!"

Rishid looked stern as he approached, the recent memories swirling through his mind. Still he could barely believe what had happened.

Flashback

Rishid held Marik's body close to his heart, weeping for his fallen brother. He had tried to restart the boy's heart again, but he hadn't been able to. Now he pulled back slightly, staring again at the youth in his arms. Marik's expression was a strange sort of mixture of both peace and sadness. He was dead. This time he was dead. But Rishid refused to give up. He tried again, and then a third time. He would not decide that there was no hope! It was too much to think of losing his brother again, and so soon.

Then a woman dressed in white approached him and gently laid a hand on his shoulder. "Rishid?" Her voice was soft and melodious. Rishid didn't know where she had come from, nor how she could have come right up to him without him noticing. But then, he was so filled with panic and grief that most all was lost to his senses.

The man looked up, startled. "Who . . . are you?" he demanded, gazing into the deep blue eyes that looked out at him from amid the many scarves that covered her face and hair. He brought Marik a bit closer to him, wondering if he should be on guard. But something told him that this person meant no harm and that he shouldn't fear her in the least.

And she proved that, indeed, there was no need for fear. "Rishid . . . it is I." The woman removed the scarf that concealed the lower part of her face, revealing herself as their sister.

Rishid gasped. "Ishizu," he whispered. It was impossible, again . . . but she was here. Ishizu—lovely, kind, patient Ishizu! Just as Marik had appeared several scant days before, here was Ishizu, alive and well. She looked beautiful and queenly, as an angel.

The woman smiled and nodded, then knelt down next to him and touched Marik's cool cheek. "Go back to the others, Rishid," she said gently. "Marik wanted it that way." Her eyes glistened as she took Marik's limp hand, searching for a pulse that was not there.

Rishid looked down at the boy sadly. "I can't leave him," he said quietly. Marik had wanted to see his sister again. Now she was here, somehow alive, and Marik could not know. Rishid's heart was breaking.

"I will take him," Ishizu replied, reaching out to pull Marik into her arms. "I believe I can still save his life." She cradled the boy gently, taking one of her scarfs to press against the wound. "He wanted you to help protect his friends, Rishid."

Reluctantly Rishid stood up, his mind racing. What was Ishizu doing here in the Shadow Realm? Could she save Marik?

"It is alright, Rishid," Ishizu told him, sensing his thoughts. "Go. I promise, I will save our brother."

Rishid knelt beside her. "I will go," he agreed, "but . . . I want to help you first, Ishizu. I want to do something to bring Marik back." Tears gathered in his eyes. Neither time had he been able to prevent Marik from being stabbed. And now he hadn't been able to get the boy's heart to beat again. Why couldn't he help his brother?!

Ishizu bent down, applying artificial respiration to their younger brother's pale form. She looked up at Rishid, smiling sincerely. "You have, Rishid," she whispered, thinking of how Marik had finally had the strength to fight once more against his Yami at Alcatraz Tower after Rishid had struggled to run to him. "You've done so very much to bring him back."

Rishid looked down. He remembered as well. He had saved Marik before. And from a fate worse than death. Carefully he pressed on Marik's chest again, trying to avoid the wound as he struggled to stimulate his heart. Tears spilled from Rishid's eyes as he watched the body jerk from the pressure and then lay still once more.

But then Marik jerked independent of anyone else's doings. Immediately Ishizu bent down, checking him again, and then straightened up with a gentle smile. "He lives," she whispers. "His heart is beating."

Rishid gazed in awe. Yes, Marik was alive! He could feel a pulse. But he struggled with whether to leave or not. How could he go and allow Ishizu to stay here in the Shadow Realm all alone with an injured Marik? How had Ishizu survived being here for so many days?! No, Rishid couldn't possibly leave them now. But then on the other hand . . . how could he take them with him back into the battle, if it was still going on? Truly, this decision was almost impossible to make.

Then there was a soft glow and Shadi appeared once more. He was alone, and he knelt down beside Ishizu. "It is safe to leave now, Rishid," he said calmly. "I will see that no harm comes to your siblings. Now your presence is needed elsewhere."

Rishid stared at him and at the others for a long time. It was true that Marik had wanted him to go help the others. He wanted to keep his promise. And now that he knew Marik's heart was beating again, perhaps he could. "Very well," he said at last, embracing Ishizu tightly before turning to go back. He also gripped at Marik's hand in case the boy could sense him there. "Stay with us, my brother," he requested softly, his voice faltering. "I am going to fulfill your wish. Please . . . be here when I have completed it all."

And Marik, though he couldn't answer, seemed to perk up slightly as if to say, Of course I will be here.

End Flashback

"Rishid?"

The man was again startled out of his thoughts, this time by a worried Yugi.

"Rishid, where's Marik?" Yugi asked worriedly.

Rishid shook his head, looking tired. "With his sister," he said at last. He didn't know what Shadi was planning to do with them, but he trusted that the mysterious Egyptian would indeed keep them safe and then return them both to him.

Yugi and the others were taken aback. "But Rishid, Ishizu is . . ." Yugi trailed off as Yami Yugi abruptly stopped walking and stared ahead at what looked like an endless nothing. "Yami, what is it?" the boy wanted to know.

"According to the Millennium Ring, Bakura's Yami is somewhere on the other side of this vortex," Yami Yugi replied grimly.

A blood-curdling scream rent through the air, causing everyone to freeze in horror.

And Bakura couldn't stand it. "Yami!!!" he screamed, dashing into the vortex before anyone could stop him.

"Bakura!" Yami Yugi yelled, his eyes narrowed.

Tristan rushed forward. "Come on!" he directed. "After him!!" He knew that his gentle, innocent friend wasn't prepared for whatever he might meet. The Shadow Realm was not a place for any mortal, but especially not ones such as Bakura.

Quickly the others entered the portal as well, hoping to find the sweet, innocent boy before anything happened to him.

"Rishid," Yugi asked as they dashed down the ominous street, "is . . . is Marik okay?" He asked the question with hesitation. Rishid hadn't been making much sense, and the boy worried about his friend's and Rishid's brother's welfare.

"He must be," Rishid replied quietly, looking lost. "I cannot lose him again." Again he saw the expression in Marik's eyes as he had collapsed, bleeding, to the ground. It haunted him. Every time Marik was hurt it haunted him. The memories would stay in his mind for ages after Marik recovered, plaguing his dreams at night. Often he was afraid that the time would come when Marik would fall and never get up again.

****

Khu plunged the javelin into Yami Bakura's battered body once more, using his mastery of the dark arts to again send lightning coursing through the old thief's limbs. His violet eyes gleamed insanely as he did this. The Shadow Realm did many things to a mind through passing years. Perhaps if Khu had truly been sane, his mind released of the realm's powers, he wouldn't be doing what he was. One could only contemplate on and be confused and disturbed by what he was doing.

"Stop!! Stop it!!!" The voice cut into Khu's fun and the man whirled around to find himself looking at an infuriated Bakura. "Ah, so you actually did come," Khu smirked, not looking at all surprised.

"I won't let you hurt Yami any more!!" Bakura cried angrily. "He's done nothing to you!" Tears glistened in his eyes. "You have no right to . . . to . . ." The boy stared at his Yami's mangled form, utterly horrified. "Oh Yami!!!" he wailed, feeling faint at the sight. But he refused to pass out now. If he was feeling sick just looking at the poor thief, how must he be feeling?!

"How touching," Khu said sarcastically, pushing Yami Bakura hard. "He doesn't even recognize you, you know."

Bakura came closer, the tears threatening to spill over. "Yami?" he quavered. "You know me, don't you?"

The thief acted if he hadn't heard, his tortured eyes glazed and unseeing.

"He might be dead," Khu said flippantly. "I can't tell whether he's still breathing or not."

Bakura stood, shaking, his own eyes full of disbelief, outrage, and horror. "You . . . you terrible monster!!" he screamed.

Khu shrugged, heading for the door. "Take your friend, if you wish," he said. "If he's dead, I have no further use for him. Though Nuru might." He sneered maliciously. "She can control zombies, you know."

The silvery-haired boy gasped. "She can't have him!!" he wailed. "But he's . . . he's not dead!!" he added then, just then digesting Khu's other remarks.

"Are you sure?" Khu smirked as he left the room, leaving Bakura alone with the tortured form that had been his Yami. The door clanged shut as the man exited, but Bakura barely heard.

Sobbing, the kindhearted boy ran to his old friend and looked for something he could use to pick the locks on the shackles, all the while trying to talk to him.

"Yami, you . . . you saved us during that battle!" Bakura choked out, unable to stop the tears. "I . . . I know you weren't trying to redirect the attack so it would hit you instead of everyone else, but that's what happened, and even if it hadn't, you *were* trying to save us!" Frantically he took off the Ring and began using the spindles in a desperate attempt to open the manacles. "You . . . you still know me, Yami," he said shakily, "don't you? Please say you know!"

Yami Bakura moaned and coughed as Bakura managed to unlock the chains binding his left wrist. His arm—which was bleeding profusely—fell limply to his side. Before long Bakura had the other shackle undone as well, and the thief toppled forward into the boy's arms, unable to keep himself upright. Bakura realized in horror that the chains had been the only things keeping him from collapsing ages ago. "Bakura," the Yami rasped, barely above a whisper. His eyes rolled back into his head and the heavy lids closed.

"Yami!!!" Bakura sobbed, holding him close while trying to open the locks around the thief's ankles. He was still remembered. He knew Yami Bakura wouldn't forget him if he could at all help it.

Eventually he had Yami Bakura completely free and now turned to the problem of how to carry him out. He realized soon that there was only one solution. Shakily Bakura lifted the old thief up piggyback style with his arms hanging heavily over Bakura's shoulders. "It's alright, Yami," he whispered, firmly taking hold of his legs and heading for the door. "You're going to be okay . . ." He trailed off as the sobs shook his body. Blood spilled down over his hands. "Oh, how could anyone be so cruel?!" he wailed.

****

Ishizu held her brother's body gently as she leaned down to see if his heart was still beating. "I know you are not truly dead, Marik," she whispered, laying him down and applying artificial respiration once more. Marik's heart was still beating gently, but still he was not breathing.

Shadi stood by, but said nothing. He knew Ishizu wanted this moment without his interference. But if he was needed, he would assist her.

Ishizu leaned back, smoothing Marik's bangs. "Dear brother," she whispered. "I am so sorry you thought I had perished. In actuality I was somehow sent here—to the Shadow Realm—by the explosion. I was trying to assist a sweet boy in escaping from the building. You know," she added, relieved as her brother gasped for breath, "he reminded me of you." She smiled at the memory. During her stay in the Shadow Realm, it had been revealed to her that Marik was still alive and that he was journeying into the other dimension. This was why she hadn't been surprised when she had seen him and Rishid several minutes before. But she *had* been overjoyed.

Marik's eyes fluttered open. "Sister?" He smiled weakly and reached out to embrace Ishizu. Was he in a dream? Or was this real? At this point, in his current state, he didn't care. As long as she could hold him close, it would be real enough.

The Egyptian woman enfolded the boy in her arms before he had his own out all the way. "My precious brother," she said softly. She hadn't been able to hold him for months. Joyous tears fell from her eyes as she held his living form now.

"I love you, Ishizu," Marik whispered happily, wrapping his arms weakly around her neck.

"And I love you, Marik," Ishizu smiled, feeling his hair touching her throat.

****

"Bakura!" Yugi gasped, seeing the boy running toward them, his nearly-dead Yami on his back. As he came closer, Yugi could see more clearly the results of the immense torture Yami Bakura had endured. He turned away slightly, shaking with dizziness and alarm. Yami Yugi laid a hand on his shoulder.

"We have to get home," Bakura sobbed as he approached. "He's hurt so terribly!" He shifted his position gently, trying to make it more comfortable for the ancient Egyptian he was carrying.

Téa, even though she didn't like Bakura's Yami, couldn't help feeling sorry for him when she saw his broken body. "Poor thing," she said softly. No one deserved to go through such agony as this!

Yami Yugi looked grim as he touched Yami Bakura's shoulder and then pulled his hand away, red with the thief's blood. "We do have to get him back immediately if we want to save his life," the Pharaoh declared. "Let's be off."

"What about Joey?" Tristan cried. "And Marik?" He paused, staring off into the distance. "And, oh man, what about them?!" He pointed up ahead to where a concourse of dark, grotesque beasts were emerging from all directions.

"Shadow Creatures," Yami Yugi said soberly.

There was a flash of light and Shadi appeared, along with a well and strong Joey. Ishizu and Marik were right behind them, but not visible as of yet.

"Buddy!" Tristan cried happily, seeing Joey appear.

Joey grinned at his friend, then blinked. "Man, I still don't get how he does that," he remarked, referring to the sudden teleportation. "But so, hey, are we gonna go home now?" He looked around hopefully.

"We cannot leave without Marik and Ishizu," Rishid spoke up firmly.

Tristan blinked. "What's he babbling about?" he wondered. But they were all about to get a wonderful surprise.

"We are here," Ishizu said softly as she emerged from the shadows, supporting her brother as he stumbled along as well. Marik, though weak, was able to walk with his sister's help.

The others gasped, all manner of surprised and astonished expressions on their faces. "Whoa, where the heck did Ishizu come from?" Tristan exclaimed finally, breaking the silence. But no one answered his query. They were all gazing in awe. Before, the Shadow Realm had meant only death and destruction. But now . . . now for these weary travellers, they found that it held life as well.

Rishid ran forward and embraced his brother joyously. "Marik!" he cried. "You are alive! You are alive!!" He blinked back the tears of happiness that filled his eyes. The boy had truly survived! His heart still beat within his chest!

Marik smiled gently as he returned the embrace. "We are all together again," he whispered, looking up at Ishizu. "It's as it should be."

"Oh, c'mon, you guys," Joey interrupted suddenly, wiping away a tear before anyone could see. "You and your family reunions! Things are gettin' too mushy. Why don't we go home for cryin' out loud?!" He had thought he would never be more surprised than when Shadi had came to get him from the strange chamber where he'd been recovering and had brought along Ishizu and an injured Marik.

Yami Yugi smiled wryly. "We're going to." He sighed then, however. "But first . . . we have one more challenge."

"WHAT?!" Joey cried in irritation.

Shadi stared ahead. "We must get past the Shadow Creatures in order to return to our own dimension," he announced.

"And that's where I come in?" Joey grinned at this. "Super Joey to the rescue!" He punched the air with a fist.

"Do not become prideful," Shadi cautioned as the beasts advanced, "as it comes before a downfall."

Joey looked at him in frustration. "Yeah? Well, why don't you try havin' a bit of personality sometime instead of always bein' up on your ethereal plane?"

Shadi ignored him.

Rishid positioned himself to fight the monstrosities, narrowing his golden eyes. Marik was too injured to possibly engage in battle with the beasts. So Rishid would fight for him.

"Uh, Yug? How exactly do we defeat a Shadow Creature?" Joey whispered nervously. Yugi could only give him a helpless shrug.

"They play games with your minds," Yami Yugi said solemnly. "They will try to turn us against one another."

"Me, turn against my friends?" Joey said indignantly. "No way!"

And then the mind games began.

~No one is your friend. No one can be trusted but yourself. If it came down to a life or death situation, it would be every man for himself.~

"That's enough!" Yami Yugi screamed. Bakura shifted his Yami's weight nervously, his soft brown eyes wide and concerned.

"Man, is that the best you've got?" Joey taunted the creatures. "Heck, I'm not even rattled!"

"They have not even begun to toy with your minds yet," Shadi said grimly. "They will try to alter your very memories!" He had dealt with such creatures before and knew many of their tricks.

"What? That's crazy!" Tristan gasped.

He wound up being their first victim. Being unable to stop the creatures' probing, Tristan could only stand by and scream and shout in protest as recollections of the good times he'd had with Joey began fading away and were replaced with memories of things that hadn't even actually happened—at least, Tristan was certain that they'd never happened. Now he was having memories of Joey acting evil and dangerous and trying to harm Yugi and Téa and everyone else, including Tristan himself. Everyone here is the enemy, a voice hissed. All those around you must perish!

Bakura looked around, watching in horror as nearly everyone struggled with the false memories that were being implanted in their minds. "Why am I not affected?!" he cried.

"Your Millennium Item protects you somewhat from their assault," Shadi replied, concentrating hard on a counterspell. "But that does not mean that you would immediately fall prey to them if the Ring were to be removed. It actually does very little. The very strong are not effected at all, or else not enough to be a concern. For them, control can be broken without the aid of any Millennium Items. But for the very weak . . . the Shadow Creatures will have full reign over them, no matter how hard they struggle." He glanced over at some of the others.

Rishid himself was struggling hard to force the creatures' thoughts out of his mind. No! Marik would never attack him! And neither would Ishizu! They loved him! They were a family!

No, it wasn't Battle City any longer. No, that was not Marik standing over him with the dagger drawn—it was the Yami! No, no, no!

Marik, who was also struggling, fell to his knees beside his brother. The two looked over at each other, receiving renewed strength to fight.

Bakura gasped as Tristan suddenly loomed over him, his hazel eyes aflame with fury. "Tristan!" the silvery-haired boy exclaimed in panic. "What are you doing?! Please stop it! I . . . I am not the enemy here!" He backed up shakily, still frantically holding on to his lifeless Yami's body. What would he do if Tristan attacked?!

"GET OUTTA MY HEAD!!!"

Joey's scream brought everyone to attention. Slowly those affected began again to struggle to separate the real memories from the phony ones, and now the Shadow Creatures backed up uneasily.

Yami Yugi, who also had not been affected by the mind games, glared at the beasts in righteous indignation. "You toy with the minds of those who are free to leave the Shadow Realm because you are bitter that you yourselves cannot," he said sternly. A bright glow lit up the entire area as the Pharaoh uttered an incantation that then destroyed their enemies before they could cause more harm.

Shadi looked about at each member of the rescue team in turn as the creatures' spell over them was completely destroyed. "We must all depart this realm at once," the Egyptian man announced.

"Heck, I'm all for that," Joey remarked as the Millennium Puzzle began to glow.

****

Gently Bakura laid his Yami down on the bed in the guestroom at the Game Shop, his eyes full of tears again. Now that they were home again he could more clearly see what had been done to the old thief, and Bakura was utterly sickened and appalled at the many wounds he found.

"Man," Tristan said, shaking his head, "Khu sure did a number on him."

"And what the heck is he wearing?!" Joey exclaimed.

Bakura barely heard, if he did at all. Carefully he began cleaning and bandaging the abrasions on the tomb raider's body, the tears spilling over his cheeks again. "Do you . . . do you think he'll be alright?" the boy whispered.

Yami Yugi leaned over to examine Yami Bakura more closely, his violet eyes narrowed in concern. "If he awakens and has knowledge of who he is and who you are, Bakura, then he most likely will be alright," he said at last.

"You know, what creeps me out is the way Khu just let you take him," Joey spoke up. "He must've figured Yami B was pretty far gone."

"Don't say that!!" Bakura wailed.

****

Seto was sitting at his desk, running his hands through his long bangs, when the phone rang. Curtly he snapped it up before any of the maids could. "Kaiba," he said coldly into the receiver, then listened as his caller spoke. "Oh really?" he mused, relaxing a bit. "I see." His eyes narrowed. "How is that possible? You said it wasn't, under any circumstances!"

Unseen by his brother, Mokuba was listening in at the door, hoping desperately to find out some clue as to what was wrong with Seto. Finally he heard the older boy hang up and walk over to the window overlooking the property. He knew he had to make his move.

Slowly he let the door creak open. "Seto?" he asked quaveringly.

Seto turned, a wry smile on his face. "Come in, Mokuba," he said, gesturing for the younger boy to come stand by him. "I knew you were there."

Mokuba blinked. "Really, big brother?"

"You know I'm not that easily fooled." Seto ruffled Mokuba's hair.

"Who was on the phone, Seto?" Mokuba wondered.

Seto hesitated for the longest time. At last he admitted, "It was a doctor, Mokuba." It was time that Mokuba knew the truth.

Mokuba looked up at him with his innocent blue-gray eyes. "Oh Seto, what's wrong with you?" he moaned sadly. Somehow he had known the answer before Seto spoke it. He had known his brother must be gravely ill.

To his surprise, the older boy's smile only deepened. "Nothing anymore, it seems," he said.

Mokuba blinked. "Huh?"

Seto walked over to the couch and his brother followed curiously. When they were both comfortably settled on it, Seto turned to look into Mokuba's eyes.

"Kid, something happened to me during that battle that you didn't know about," he said quietly. "I still don't know how it happened, exactly, but the doctors found a mysterious poison in my system that had apparently entered my body through a wound that never quite healed all the way. They said that it was similar to a poison that they were familiar with that would, in time, slowly corrode all of my organs and eventually kill me."

Mokuba let out a strangled cry, his eyes wide as tears glistened in them. Gently Seto brushed the tears away.

"They told me that there was nothing they could do to help me," Seto continued, "and that I only had a few months left to live. I didn't believe them, of course. . . . I went to every specialist I could think of in the hopes that one of them would have a cure, but they all said the same thing." He laid a hand on the younger boy's shoulder. "I realize I must have treated you terribly at times, kid. . . . I was terrified that you would find out what was wrong, and . . . I couldn't let that happen."

Mokuba looked up at him, holding on to his strong hand. "But you said that nothing's wrong with you anymore, big brother," he said in confusion.

"I know," Seto admitted. "No one can explain what happened, least of all the doctors—but they did another test and found that the poison isn't in my system anymore. They did the test several times over to be sure, but it always came out the same way. I can't explain it."

"I can," Mokuba said softly as he climbed into Seto's arms and hugged him tightly. "You're not supposed to leave me, big brother." He buried his face in his brother's chest. "I'm so glad to have you back!"

Seto smiled tenderly and held his younger brother close. "I promise, Mokuba—whatever happens in the future, I won't try to keep it from you," he vowed.

Mokuba looked up at him and grinned. "You'd better not!"

****

Bakura pulled the quilt up around his Yami's shoulders gently and sat back down next to the bed, his eyes bloodshot and mirroring his distress. It had been days now, or at least it seemed like days. Yami Bakura had been in this comatose state ever since he had fallen unconscious back at Khu's hideout. Now he stirred slightly and Bakura perked up, looking hopeful. "Yami?" he asked. "Oh, please wake up!"

"Kythiopia?" the thief mumbled, his eyes opening half-way.

Bakura blinked in surprise. "No, Yami," he said gently, "Kythiopia isn't here."

Yami Bakura grunted, managing to get his eyes focused. He looked about in confusion, as if unable to grasp what he was doing in a soft bed instead of hanging from the cruel chains Khu had set up in the Shadow Realm.

"You're safe, Yami," Bakura told him, smiling through tears of happiness and relief. "We . . . we rescued you."

The old thief stared at him in disbelief. "'We'?" he repeated, his voice raspy and much more gravelly than usual.

"Yes," Bakura said softly. "We all did."

"Why?" Yami Bakura asked. "Why would all of your foolish friends help you in such a venture?"

Bakura paused. "Because you rescued all of them, Yami—and me, as well—when Seth was trying to attack us," he said at last.

"I certainly didn't intend to strike myself down to rescue you," Yami Bakura growled.

"No," Bakura agreed, "but you knew you were taking that risk . . . and you took it anyway." Impulsively he leaned over and embraced his friend. "I'm so glad you're alright, Yami," he declared.

Yami Bakura grunted, but didn't push the boy away. "Foolish mortal," he muttered, a trace of a grateful smile on his lips. Bakura had been willing to face the dangers of the Shadow Realm just to free him—an old, battle-scared, embittered thief. That, he knew, was something special.

Later on, when Bakura had finally drifted off to sleep wearily in the chair next to the bed and Yami Bakura was certain the boy wouldn't hear him, he forced himself to sit up as much as he possibly could and then draped the quilt across his descendant. "Thank you, Bakura," he muttered low before laying back down and wrapping himself up in the sheet. Cursed cold weather.

****

Marik sat with Ishizu and Rishid on the couch back at their home, just enjoying having things back to normal. For weeks he had dreamed about just such a moment, but so often it had seemed out of his reach. Eventually he had believed that never would he see both of his siblings again. But now here they were, surrounding him, loving him. As always.

"You know," Marik said quietly, "if I hadn't decided to go with the others into the Shadow Realm, I most likely would never have seen you again, dear sister." He looked highly troubled by this thought—which he was, of course. Ishizu could have been lost to him forever when she wasn't even dead! Never could he have forgiven himself if anything of the kind had happened.

Ishizu smiled gently and brushed the bangs out of his eyes. "You would have seen me again, Marik," she told him. "I am certain of it. I would have found my way back somehow."

Marik smiled weakly, then turned serious again. "During those months when I was recovering from my experience and trying so desperately to return home, I often wondered what state things would be in when I did get back—if the city would still be in existence, if it would be in shambles . . . but most of all, I was terrified that I would come home and find that everyone I loved was dead." He looked down, shaking his head and trying not to cry. "This whole experience has been a miracle. We are all still alive and well and now we are together again—even though it could have turned out differently several times."

Rishid laid his hand on the boy's shoulder. "Yes, we are reunited once more, Marik," he agreed softly, "and I pray that we will never have to be apart again."

****

Later that night, Marik went up onto the balcony of the house and looked out over the city of Domino. In time, he knew, it could all be repaired and someday soon look just as it did before the spirits had been unleashed. And the people were healing, which was most important.

Slowly he put his hand in his pocket and withdrew Ishizu's scarf. Still he was carrying it with him. He smiled to himself. He would have to remember to give it back to her when he went back inside.

The wind gently blew his long blonde hair about as he again contemplated all of the recent events. It was finally over, he thought to himself. He had returned from the shadows, in a sense, and now he was home again, with those he loved more than life itself. "Thank You," he whispered softly. "Thank You for this immense blessing."

And slowly he turned and walked back inside.