Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! Welcome to Azure Week 2020, a week of Seto and Téa goodness! Azurite is bringing back this fun celebration of Azureshipping from September 16th through the 22nd, and I of course wanted in on it! This fic was written for the prompt Trapped. It takes place post-series, but not in my usual Pendulum Swings verse. Instead, it takes place in a similar verse where most of my stories will eventually happen in the same or slightly different form, but with the difference that the Big Five repented and joined the group much, much sooner. If I had the choice for a do-over, I would likely have that be their backstory in my main verse! Since I run a continuing timeline, that isn't possible, so I have to be content with exploring other verses. Shadi's dark tests are a call-back to the twisted tests he put Yugi and company through in the manga verse. Thanks to Azalea542 for plot help!
It had been a perfectly ordinary school day that Tuesday. Of course, every day had been ordinary ever since Atem had returned to the afterlife. There were no more Pharaohs, no ancient thieves, no white or black magic pulling them into save the world situations. There were only classes, tests, after-school jobs, and hanging out with friends in non-life-threatening scenarios.
The peace was nice.
At least, that was what Téa told herself. There were definitely things she didn't miss. She could never be thankful enough that they were no longer being pulled into deadly catastrophes. She didn't have to worry about her friends' lives or sanity and she had plenty of time to work on saving money for dance lessons.
But still . . . it was bittersweet, really.
Yugi still wasn't over Atem's departure. It had all been so abrupt, without really a proper chance to say Goodbye. He laughed and tried to be happy with everyone, but Téa could see the pain in his eyes.
Of course, she felt that pain too, and other pain unique to her. She missed Atem so much that her heart ached every day. She had never told him the full extent of her feelings for him. She had known he didn't share them, and she had never wanted to ruin the friendship they had by making things awkward between them. Not to mention the problem that once she had realized he was an ancient spirit trapped inside the Puzzle, she had known he couldn't stay always, nor would he want to. What kind of an existence was that, only able to live by sharing another's body and no longer having one of his own? It was all a hopeless cause, on multiple levels. But without him, a hole had been torn in her heart that she didn't know how to ever mend.
She sighed with relief when the last bell rang for the day. The school day had been long and monotonous and she was more than ready to go home. There likely wouldn't be a gathering of friends today. Yugi needed to help out at the Game Shop and Tristan at his father's factory. Joey was determined to start making good on his plans to become a professional Duelist. Téa had dance class.
A flash of white caught her eye as she got up from her desk. Bakura was hurrying off as usual, not making eye contact with anyone else and seeming to want to become invisible. He had always been a mysterious person, but with the spirit of the Millennium Ring gone Téa had thought Bakura might hang out with them more. Instead, he was more elusive than ever. She might have gone after him and tried to make conversation if she hadn't suddenly sensed a wave of tension from another direction. When she turned, Seto was glowering at his phone.
That was not at all what she had expected to see. Usually Seto was the first one out of the classroom, not wanting to end up mingling with anyone. Why he actually attended school despite having been tutored at home was a mystery.
Yugi still tried to make friends with Seto, but the others had pretty much given up. Téa, who had never liked Seto and had sometimes almost thought she hated him, had pretty much only had exchanges with him when she was upset with him for some justifiable reason. But he had saved her during Battle City and her plus all the others during their battle with Zorc. Who knew what would have happened to them if he hadn't been there? Téa's feelings towards him had softened a lot because of those things, and also because of his bond with Mokuba. Seeing how warm the cold-hearted businessman could be towards his younger brother definitely touched Téa's heart. Despite her eagerness to leave, she decided to linger and try to reach out to Seto.
"Um, is something wrong?" she asked in concern.
To her further surprise, Seto didn't brush her off. "My maid just found a note Mokuba left for me today," he growled. "He didn't go to school; he went to the Prism Cave."
"What?!" Téa gasped. "Why?!" Mokuba wasn't the type to play hooky from school. Only something dire could get him to go off elsewhere. But Seto was here safe. What else would worry him so much?
And why the Prism Cave? It was a beautiful and mysterious cave in Domino Canyon above the city. Most of it was colored in shades of pale blues, greens, and purples. Every room was a new and enchanting mystery. The city held tours for some areas of the cave, but others were blocked off for being too dangerous. If Mokuba had gone up there alone, he might wander into one of those areas. From Seto's expression, that was exactly what he feared.
"Mokuba called Lector and found out he and the rest of the Big Five are still missing after going up there yesterday," Seto growled. "Mokuba knew something had to be wrong and he went up there to try to help."
"Oh no!" Téa exclaimed.
The Big Five had been another surprise. No one had realized that Seto had preserved their bodies instead of leaving them to die after the first misadventure in virtual reality. But Noa attempting to delete them from his world had resulted in them ending up back in the real world and pulled back into their bodies. They had regained consciousness fully in their right minds again, sobered and shaken and horrified over everything they had tried to do to the kids. They still had a somewhat rocky relationship with Seto, but discovering that he'd had enough humanity to keep their bodies alive had certainly helped to give them a new perspective. Mokuba had eventually bonded again with his and Seto's former caretaker Lector, especially after learning of how Lector had tried to protect him multiple times during the schemes and that Lector had honestly believed Mokuba was being mistreated by Seto. That had also helped a great deal in Seto's eyes. They were sort of considered part of the extended friend-family now, at least by Yugi and Téa.
Seto shoved his phone back in his pocket. "I'm going up there now."
"Alone?!" Téa said incredulously. "Then you might get into trouble yourself!"
"I'll be fine," Seto insisted.
"Kaiba . . . have you ever even been to the Prism Cave?" Téa frowned.
Seto paused. ". . . No," he admitted.
"Well, I have," Téa informed him. "Several times! And anyway, Mokuba and the Big Five are my friends. I want to help find them!"
Seto grunted. "I do my best work alone."
"Actually, when you and Atem teamed up against Dartz, I don't think I've ever seen you pull out a more spectacular duel," Téa said. "And you saved all of us in the fight against Zorc! Maybe you don't want to be a team player, Kaiba, but you've learned to be a good one! Besides, the more people looking for Mokuba, the better chance we'll find him sooner! The Big Five too—if they need help, and it sounds like they probably do, then there's more likely to be someone to help them if multiple people go up!"
Seto's eyes flickered. It was so often hard to tell what was going on in his mind, but right now Téa was almost sure she had made an impression. Seto responded well to logic.
". . . You'll have to keep up with me," he said.
"Since I'm the one who's actually been there, you should be keeping up with me," Téa pointed out.
Seto couldn't deny the logic of that, either. "We'll drop by your house so you can change into something better suited for spelunking," he said flatly.
"Are you going to wear your uniform?" Téa blinked in surprise.
"I keep spare clothes in the car," Seto replied. He started walking, taking firm, quick strides now that most of the other students had filed out of the classroom.
Téa swiftly caught up with him. "Kaiba . . . thanks," she said.
"I'd just better not regret this," Seto retorted.
"You won't," Téa insisted.
It didn't take long for Téa to hurry and change once the limousine pulled up in front of her house. She quickly threw together the outfit she had worn during a lot of their experiences in California with the Orichalcos. It seemed like appropriate attire for the situation at hand. She grabbed other possibly important items on the way downstairs, including a flashlight from her bedroom, a first aid kit from the bathroom, and several bottles of water and protein bars from the kitchen.
Part of her wished she could call Yugi and the others to also help out. She knew they would drop everything in an instant to do so if they knew there was trouble. But she hated to drag Yugi away when Solomon needed him, and Tristan's father might become angry at him if he backed out of his day to help at the family business. Joey, well . . . putting him and Seto together was never fun. Even if they didn't deliberately get each other's goat when the situation was so serious, their personalities would no doubt clash anyway. For now, Téa supposed, she would see if she and Seto could fix this mess without the others. But if she needed to, she would definitely have to break down and contact them.
"Where are you off to in such a hurry?" her mother asked. "It doesn't look like you're getting ready for your dance class!"
Téa started. In her haste to get back outside, she hadn't noticed the woman sitting in the living room and watching her frantic moves.
"Oh . . . I'm going up to the Prism Cave first to help some friends," she said. "Bye, Mom! I have to run!" She flew out the door before her mother could question her about the limousine parked out front.
It was good for someone to know where she was going, just in case they ran into trouble too. At this point, she really wasn't sure if they would get done in time for her to make it to her dance class. If they got up there and things looked bad, they should probably call the police and the park rangers before venturing into the cave. That was what she would like to do, anyway. But she imagined Seto would have other ideas.
Seto had used the tinted windows of the limousine to his advantage and had changed clothes while waiting. When Téa rushed back outside and into the car, Seto was sitting in his green shirt and pants and blue coat with folded arms.
"I got some supplies in case we need them," Téa told him breathlessly. "And you know, we should really contact the park rangers or someone instead of just going in there by ourselves!"
"Let's see what the situation is first," Seto said abruptly. Maybe he was concerned that if he contacted them, they wouldn't let him go inside. Still, he controlled pretty much all of the city. Téa doubted the park rangers could keep him out.
The ride up the canyon was tense and mostly wordless. Seto had lapsed into his usual silence and for once, Téa wasn't sure what to say. It was really hitting her what a surreal situation this truly was; she had never gone anywhere alone with Seto Kaiba. Even if she had tried to in the past, she doubted Seto would have allowed it. He had changed. No, they had both changed. And maybe . . . maybe they were each seeing things about the other that they hadn't before.
"So . . . why were the Big Five going up there anyway?" Téa wondered. Suddenly speaking after miles of silence felt very loud.
"I don't know," Seto said. "I don't think it was a pleasure trip."
"What's there to do if it's not a pleasure trip?" Téa frowned.
"You've been there. You tell me," Seto retorted.
Téa sighed. She was really at a loss for an explanation. ". . . I don't know," she had to admit.
Seto grunted in annoyance.
A frown crossed Téa's features. It had been almost impossible to drag conversation out of Atem when he had been grieving over losing Yugi to the Orichalcos. This was much the same problem, if not even more difficult. Still, she didn't like giving up. Riding in silence was always uncomfortable for her.
". . . It's nice that the Big Five have all wanted to turn their lives around," she said. "They're actually good guys."
Seto stared out the window. "Lector always cared about Mokuba," he remarked. "He devised the idea of the restore point at the end of that first virtual reality game, and although he never intended Mokuba to be in the game at all, that restore point was a saving grace. He also convinced the rest of the Big Five not to target Mokuba when they came after us in Noa's world. And from what he told me, he never knew that Mokuba wasn't a guest at Pegasus's castle. He didn't know what Pegasus really did to him." He gripped his arms. "But he still shouldn't have agreed to let Pegasus take Mokuba in the first place."
"No, he shouldn't have," Téa said quietly. "But it seems like he's really tried to make up for everything he did wrong. In the end, since we've all made mistakes, that's all any of us can do."
Seto didn't respond to that. If he realized Téa was also talking about him, he didn't acknowledge it.
Another stretch of silence. The sound of the tires on the road grew louder and louder, just like the roaring stillness inside the limousine. It was a relief on multiple levels when they pulled up in front of the cave.
Seto tensed as he opened the door on his side and got out. "There's some of them now," he growled.
Téa looked. Gansley, Crump, and Johnson, all looking ragged and rattled, were standing and slouched at the entrance to the Prism Cave. Gansley was slumped back against it, while Crump was leaning forward with his hands on his knees as he breathed heavily and Johnson just stood by, visibly shaken. All three of them stared at the limousine in disbelief, and when Seto emerged, that emotion increased a hundredfold.
"Mr. Kaiba," Johnson gasped.
"What happened here?" Seto demanded. "Have you seen Mokuba?"
"Mokuba?!" Gansley stared at him. "Why would we have seen him?"
"Because he came up here worried about Lector, and probably the rest of you by association!" Seto snapped.
Now they looked even more stunned, as well as worried.
"We haven't seen him at all," Johnson said. "Nor have we been able to find Lector and Nesbitt. We became separated in the cave. We only found a way out now, but they're not here."
"There's no cell service inside the cave," Crump said, "and we still can't reach them now, since they're still in there!"
"Well, why were you up here in the first place?!" Seto burst out in frustration.
Téa wanted to know that as well, but she could see this really wasn't the time to be demanding answers. Gansley especially looked completely winded, and the realization that two of their friends as well as a small child were still lost in the cave had zapped the rest of his strength. If Crump hadn't realized and reached to support him, Téa was sure the oldest member of the Big Five would have sank to his knees.
"We can ask questions like that later, Kaiba," she said. "They need to sit down! They're probably hungry and thirsty too!"
"Thank you," Gansley said quietly. "We had some provisions. But we most certainly weren't planning to get stranded overnight."
Crump kept a strong arm around him as they and Johnson walked to the limousine. "Me and Johnson are okay, but this mess has really taken a lot out of Gansley," he said worriedly.
"Bah! I'm not the one we need to be worrying about!" Gansley retorted. He sank onto the seat vacated by Téa and she handed him a bottle of water and a protein bar, which he accepted with a nod of thanks.
"We're going to find the others," Téa promised him. "But if we knew why you came here, we might have a better idea of where to look."
"It's . . . not easy to explain," Johnson stammered. "A strange Egyptian told us we needed to come here, that we would find our destinies inside. Of course we all balked, but when Lector asked what he meant, he said that everything would become clear inside, and that if we still doubted that this was legitimate, we could ask Yugi about someone named Shadi."
"Shadi?!" Téa gasped.
Johnson nodded. "Yugi confirmed he knows someone by that name, so we assumed it was on the level and we came here. But . . ." He swallowed hard and shook his head. "Something went wrong. . . . We've lost Lector and Nesbitt somewhere in there, and now Mokuba Kaiba is in there . . . !"
"It's a nightmare!" Crump exclaimed. "We all wish now we'd never listened to the nut!"
From Seto's expression, he wished that too. He turned, storming towards the cave. "My chauffeur can look after you," he said over his shoulder. "Téa, let's go."
Téa gave the trio an apologetic look. After passing out water and food to Crump and Johnson as well, she straightened and shrugged back into her backpack. "I promise we'll find the others," she said again. "Don't worry!"
"Hey, thanks," Crump said. "I know you're probably mostly worried about the kid, but if you can find the guys too, we'd all be grateful."
"I'm worried about all of them," Téa said. "Where were you when you got separated?"
"In the first room, part of it is roped off," Johnson said. "We were avoiding that section, but the floor seemed to actually slant downward when one of us stepped on a particular part of it. All of us fell down that pathway and then it divided in two at the bottom. We were on the left-hand pathway. Lector and Nesbitt were apparently on the right-hand side."
"Thanks," Téa said. "That helps a lot."
Soon she was running after Seto, who was already going inside the cave. The walls glistened, lighting up in seafoam green, powder blue, and lavender. It was a truly fascinating sight, but there was certainly no time to enjoy it right now.
"You said you've been here before," Seto said shortly. "Where now?"
"It looks like we immediately have to go in a part that I haven't been in before," Téa admitted. She started walking towards the roped-off area. "Johnson said one of them stepped on a part of the floor that opened some kind of a slide that they all fell down. Lector and Nesbitt ended up on a path that's at the right at the bottom of the slide."
Seto immediately followed her. "We don't want to get separated, like they did." He grabbed her wrist without asking for permission.
Ordinarily Téa would have been furious at such a gesture, but under the circumstances she couldn't blame him. It was the right choice to make. Realizing that Seto was holding onto her was, however, making her feel a new wave of emotions that she really didn't understand. Trying to dwell on it made her uncomfortable.
She pushed the thoughts out of her mind just as she stepped down on a piece of floor that gave way under her. "I think I've found it!" she exclaimed.
They were soon both tumbling down the slide. Seto was now holding onto her waist and leaning right, forcing them both to tumble on the right side. At the bottom, they flew through a small doorway and a stone door slammed shut behind them.
"Oh my gosh!" Téa leaped up in an instant, turning to stare at the new problem. "We're locked in!"
Seto snarled. "This had better be the way Mokuba came," he said.
Téa bit her lip. Just because Lector and Nesbitt had apparently ended up down here didn't mean Mokuba had as well. "Let's start calling to him and the others," she said after kicking at and pushing on the barrier did nothing to budge it.
Seto promptly started off down the hall. "Mokuba!" he yelled. "Are you down here? Answer me!"
"Mokuba!" Téa echoed. "Lector? Nesbitt? Can any of you hear us?"
The cave glimmered, almost as if in response to their words. Téa had been going to reach for her flashlight, but the pathway was bright enough from something inside the walls that she really didn't need it. This tunnel was a deeper purple, almost amethyst in color, and the twinkling lights shone out from the walls, ceiling, and even the floor the deeper they went.
"This is so amazing," she couldn't help saying.
Seto grunted. ". . . Mokuba would love it," he said at last. "He always wanted to come here, but there was never any time."
Téa certainly hadn't expected such a revelation, although the fact of Seto not making time didn't particularly surprise her. He didn't seem to be the type of person who would or even could take pleasure from something such as this. He was usually so tightly wound up, occupied with his company and dueling and beating Atem. Of course, that last thing could never happen now.
She frowned a bit. If Gozaburo hadn't warped Seto as much as he had, would Seto have been more likely to be able to enjoy something fascinating like this cave? It was a thought that hadn't occurred to her before, but now that it had, she suddenly felt sad. Once upon a time, maybe Seto hadn't been so different from the rest of them. What if they had met him then, before Gozaburo had ever gotten hold of him? What if they could have helped him and Mokuba so they never would have ended up in such a mess? If Seto had grown up with them, he and Mokuba likely wouldn't have ever been rich with money, but maybe they would have been happier.
She sighed to herself. It was pointless to think about things like that.
"Maybe once all this is over, you should make time," she said. "I mean, you wanted to run KaibaCorp so you and Mokuba would have a better life, but if you can't even spend time together, how is it a better life?"
Seto chose not to reply, but he frowned at the walls.
"Mokuba, if you can hear me, you'd better answer," he called instead.
"He'd never deliberately ignore you," Téa insisted. "He idolizes you!"
"I know," Seto retorted. "I don't know why he does, but I know he does."
"He does because he knows you've always been there for him no matter what," Téa said sincerely. "And no matter how ruthless you feel like you have to be in running the company, he never forgets that you're still his big brother."
Seto looked away, staring at the wall. "Sometimes I wonder if he'd be better off if he did."
"No!" Téa surprised herself with the fierceness in her voice. "That would never be the best thing! But if you're second-guessing yourself, Kaiba, maybe it's because deep down, you know that you don't like what you've become. I know that Gozaburo drilled a lot of terrible things into you, but we've all tried to show you that there's a better way to live." Her voice softened. "Don't you think that maybe you could try following that a little bit more, especially if you're not happy with the way you act?"
"If I'm soft, people will walk all over me," Seto snapped.
"Well, look at Atem!" Téa countered. "I can't feature you ever calling him soft, but he wasn't ruthless and he never let people walk all over him!"
That finally silenced Seto. He had no answer for that.
By now they were reaching the end of the amethyst hallway. It opened up into a brightly lit room of blues and purples. But as they hurried in, Téa's heart flew into her throat. "Oh my gosh!"
Next to her, Seto went stiff as well.
The two missing members of the Big Five were sprawled on the floor, motionless. Nesbitt was on his side, his arms limply laying on the floor at different angles. Lector was laying beside him, also on his side but with an arm draped over him. It almost looked like he had been crying, not a usual turn of affairs for the stern and polite man at all. Mokuba was kneeling behind him, laying over him with an arm around his shoulders. He had definitely been crying.
Seto broke into a run, tearing across the slippery amethyst floor and over to his younger brother. "Mokuba!" It was clear from his eyes and voice that he feared the worst, and as he fell to his knees he eased the child back from their former caregiver and into his arms. "Mokuba, can you hear me?! Wake up! Open your eyes!"
Téa sank to her knees beside the two men. "What happened here?!" she cried. Are they all dead?! She couldn't bring herself to ask that aloud, but she reached with a shaking hand to touch Nesbitt's wrist. When she couldn't feel the gentle throb of a pulse, she choked in horror. "No. . . ."
Seto was thoroughly occupied with Mokuba. When the boy finally, thankfully stirred, he immediately turned and clutched Seto as a sob wracked his body. "Seto . . . !"
Seto held him close. "Mokuba, why did you go off like this?!" he demanded. "You could have ended up like them!"
Mokuba shook his head. "I was trying so hard to find them, Seto," he choked out. "I didn't want them to be dead! I didn't . . ." He sobbed again. "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to make you worry, or come looking for me, but . . ."
"I know," Seto said. "But at least you could have come to me with your concerns and we could have come up together, or I could have come alone . . ."
Mokuba sniffled. "I didn't think you'd come at all. . . . Not when it was them. . . . I thought you'd insist they were okay. But . . . they're not okay, Seto! They're not . . ."
Seto looked to Téa helplessly, a silent question in his eyes. Are they both dead?
Téa was checking Lector now. The limp arm resting over his friend's body haunted and chilled her. She wasn't exactly close to the men, but she still considered them part of the extended group due to their sincere repentance and Mokuba's love for Lector. And in any case, seeing the obvious mourning over a loved one broke her heart.
". . . Lector's alive," she reported.
Lector moved under her grip, jerking his hand away from her. "Nesbitt," he whispered.
"Oh Lector . . . !" Mokuba dove at him, hugging him close. "I'm so glad you're okay! I was so worried. . . ."
Lector regained consciousness enough to open his eyes and focus on the boy in utter disbelief. "Mokuba . . . ?!"
Mokuba nodded. "I'm here! I came to find you! . . . And then Seto and Téa came to find us too. . . ."
Lector slowly hugged his former charge, still stunned that he was here. "I never meant to cause so much commotion, but I'm grateful," he said quietly. "I only wish . . ." He trailed off, but the rest of his sentence was all too sadly obvious. I wish it could have been before Nesbitt was gone. . . .
"What happened?" Seto demanded. "When we came in, all three of you were lying still!"
Lector turned his head to the side and coughed. "Excuse me. There must be some kind of gas in here. That isn't what affected Nesbitt, but when I was here trying to revive him, I grew dizzy and weak and collapsed."
"I felt like that too," Mokuba said. "But I didn't smell anything. . . ."
Seto growled. "And the passageway we came through is blocked off. Great. We have to find another way out!"
Mokuba got to his feet. "There has to be a way out of here!" he exclaimed.
Lector reached for Nesbitt and pulled the still body to him as he struggled to stand as well. "I'm afraid there isn't," he said sadly. "We both tried so hard to find the way out. When Nesbitt . . . went down, it was because I was trying to open a small compartment in the rock. Somehow it was electrically charged. It would have electrocuted me if Nesbitt hadn't pushed me away and taken the hit instead. But now he's . . ." Lector trailed off and just held the body close to him.
"I'm so sorry," Téa said in horror.
Mokuba blinked back tears. "That's awful. . . ."
Seto was frowning. "How could there be electricity in here?" he said in disbelief.
"There was, Mr. Kaiba," Lector insisted, his voice clipped. "It was right over there." He nodded to a particular section of rock.
"Seto!" Mokuba exclaimed. "Please don't do anything that could get you hurt!"
"If there's no other way out, the solution must be there!" Seto said. "If we can get past this electricity, we might have our escape route!" He walked over, stopped, and threw a coin at the rock. It bounced back with a sizzle.
"This is totally nuts!" Mokuba exclaimed.
"Maybe there is another way out," Téa suggested. "What if there's a secret panel without electricity somewhere else in here?"
"We went over the entire room and there isn't," Lector insisted. "Somehow that panel has to be connected with the way out."
Seto went closer to study the area without touching it. ". . . It looks like there's something written here," he announced.
"Huh?!" Téa came over with her flashlight. "What would that be?"
"Hopefully the key to escaping." Seto squinted at the worn and carved words. "'To care for others leads to your doom. Think only about yourself to escape from this room.'"
"That is ludicrous!" Lector burst out.
Mokuba looked stricken. "If I hadn't come, you'd be able to do that," he said softly. "You wouldn't have anyone else to think about. . . ."
"Yes, I would, because I'm not leaving Nesbitt's body in here!" Lector exclaimed.
"That just can't be right," Téa said. "Maybe it's some kind of test, like in the Capsule Monsters world!" But those riddles had never seemed to mean the exact opposite of what they said. If this was like those riddles, then one way or another it would be literal.
Seto growled. "It doesn't make sense!"
Téa bit her lip. With Mokuba here, Seto would never agree to go along with such a choice. But if Mokuba wasn't a factor, would Seto decide to abandon her and Lector to get out himself? She would have believed that once, and Joey or Tristan might still believe it. But somehow, she couldn't feature Seto doing that. Not now that she understood him a little better. He still had honor.
Finally Seto snarled and turned away from the panel. "I'm not going to be bound by an insane rule like this!" he spat. "Let's find something to short the electricity out with. That panel must control the way out!"
Téa hesitantly slipped out of her backpack. "I have more bottled water, but we might need it if you're wrong, Kaiba. . . ." She gave a bottle to Lector and one to Mokuba before handing a third to Seto.
Lector nodded in polite gratitude, although he didn't feel much like eating or drinking anything at the moment. He was too devastated from the loss of his friend.
"I'm not wrong," Seto insisted. "This is some sick trap and I'm not going to stand for it!" He started to twist open the lid.
"Wait." A familiar figure appeared in their midst.
"Shadi!" Téa exclaimed.
"What is this?!" Lector demanded. "Why did you trick us into coming in this cave?! The only thing we found in here was death!" He clutched Nesbitt close to him.
"It's just sick!" Mokuba said angrily.
"There was more in this cave than death," Shadi said, "and by sacrificing himself for you, Mr. Lector, your friend ensured that he will not die here."
"What?!" Lector looked down at Nesbitt again.
The younger man groaned, slowly opening his eyes.
Now Lector's knees were weak. "Oh Nesbitt . . . !" He sank down with Nesbitt, pulling him into a firm embrace. Groggy and confused, Nesbitt shakily hugged back. Téa and Mokuba watched in sheer joy.
"Then it was a test, wasn't it?!" Téa exclaimed. "We weren't really expected to abandon everyone!"
"No, then you would have failed," Shadi said. "Because every one of you objected, you are all free to go." Behind him, another passageway rumbled open, leading the way along a path of sapphire blue rock.
Lector got back to his feet, bringing Nesbitt up with him.
"But what was the point of this?" Nesbitt mumbled. "I don't like being electrocuted just to prove a point."
"There was more to it," Shadi said. "It was to see if you were worthy to wield your ancestors' rings."
"What?!" Seto snorted.
"The other three went through a different test, but for the same reason," Shadi said. "They did not tell you about their experience."
"There wasn't any time," Téa said.
"Their path was very steep and difficult," Shadi said. "Several times it would have made more sense to abandon those less able to travel with them, but they always refused. Mr. Gansley would have been willing to stay behind to better ensure the others' safety, but they wouldn't hear of it."
Lector stiffened. "Are they alright?!"
Nesbitt's eyes flickered with concern as well.
"I think so," Téa told him. "They're just really worried about you guys."
Shadi produced an oblong wooden box, carved with Egyptian symbols and a detailed picture of six men on the lid. "This contains the rings of your ancestors, who protected Egypt alongside the Pharaoh Seto. When you are all outside, I will present them to you."
Everyone slowly headed for the sapphire path, but there were still plenty more questions.
"These rings wouldn't just be jewelry pieces," Nesbitt growled. "They must be magic."
"You are correct," Shadi said. "You had to be tested to be proven worthy of the power they hold." He looked to Seto. "There are six rings. The sixth was held by the Pharaoh. Their greatest power came when all six were used together."
Seto stopped walking. "What. You expect me to wield a magic ring?!"
Téa grimaced. This would not go over well. Seto considered magic to be the bane of his existence.
"If you do not, it will be much more difficult to keep the world safe for your brother," Shadi said. "Only you, the direct descendant of the Pharaoh Seto, are able to wield the Light element ring."
Seto snarled. "Well, I don't appreciate your little tests of worthiness. My brother could have been killed because of what you did! I have a mind to refuse your ring on those grounds alone, and if the Big Five are smart, they'll do the same thing! No one has the right to toy with our lives like this, for any reason!"
Téa had to admit, Seto really did have a point. "That's true!" she exclaimed. "I mean, was it really necessary to go this far?! What if any of us or the rest of the Big Five had really died?!"
"I don't often agree with Mr. Kaiba, but I believe this time he is correct, Sir," Lector said icily. "And I am certain that when my associates and I vote on the matter, we will all be in complete agreement!"
"What you think of me and this test is irrelevant," Shadi said. "If you do not accept the rings, many of you and your loved ones may very well perish in the upcoming calamities."
Téa's heart dropped somewhere around her knees. "There's going to be more?!" she cried. "I thought it was all over. . . ."
"Unfortunately, evil rarely sleeps," Shadi said. "It takes on many new forms. These men must be prepared to face it. They are our next line of defense."
Mokuba bit his lip. "They're really the only ones who can do this?" he said softly. "Why?"
"Their ancestors willed it so, in the hope that the magic would not be misused," Shadi explained.
Lector's expression was still dark, but he didn't speak. He focused on helping Nesbitt, who was still weakened and wobbly, to walk.
Téa came alongside Seto. She still wasn't sure what to think. The tests had gone much too far, but if they didn't accept the rings and more evil came, what would all of them ever do? The Millennium Items were gone, Atem was gone. . . . Seto had proved on many occasions that he could be a competent hero. Téa once would have been horrified to learn that Seto was supposed to step up and take Atem's place, as his ancestor had done in Egypt. But after all she had seen, it no longer sounded like a frightening thought. They would be in good hands.
". . . What are you gonna do, Seto?" Mokuba finally voiced the question that hung heavily on Téa's mind.
Seto set his jaw. "My future shouldn't depend on my ancestor's past," he growled. At least it was an improvement over everyone insisting he himself had been the Egyptian priest and later Pharaoh. But he was still angry.
"I know it's a lot to have sprung on you all of a sudden," Téa said. "And I don't like what Shadi did here either. But . . . what will we do if something like Zorc or Yami Marik shows up again and no one has any good magic to fight them off? What if the Big Five are targeted, or Mokuba?"
Seto was so tense Téa was amazed he wasn't walking like a robot. "Wanting the power to protect my brother is the only possible thing that could get me to accept that ring," he admitted. "I won't be powerless to do that ever again! I just loathe that I have to bow down to magic to do it."
Téa imagined that loathe was a mild word to describe how Seto felt about it.
"I know that must seem like a terrible fate to you," she said, "but the alternative is worse. And . . ." She took a deep breath. "I know we'd be safe with you protecting us."
Seto stared at her in disbelief. "You really mean that," he realized.
"Of course I do!" Téa insisted. "Kaiba, I know we still don't often see eye to eye, but any time we've been in danger, you've protected us! You saved me in Battle City! And you saved all of us from Zorc!" She smiled. "I know you would look out for us well."
"I know that too, Seto," Mokuba said quietly. "But . . . I worry for you and the Big Five to have to get into danger like that. . . ."
"I don't like it either," Nesbitt growled low. "I believe in science, not magic."
They reached the end of the passageway and the wall creaked open to the outside. Seto strode through, not speaking for another moment. "We'll see," he said abruptly.
The rest of the Big Five were still waiting in the limousine, tense and worried. As soon as they saw the group coming, Crump leaped up and out the open door. "Hey, they're here!" he exclaimed.
Johnson quickly followed him out. Gansley, who still looked exhausted, gripped his cane and looked like he was debating whether to chance standing up yet or not.
Crump ran over to meet them. "What the heck happened?!" he cried. "Are you guys okay?!"
"Nesbitt needs to rest," Lector said worriedly. "And I'm afraid we have a great deal to discuss."
"Why?" Gansley frowned.
"Apparently all our futures depend on what we do next," Lector said.
They all gathered in the limousine and Téa passed around more water and energy bars while the conversation and explanations commenced. All of the Big Five were furious. From Seto's storm cloud expression, his feelings hadn't lessened yet either. Téa and Mokuba just sat and listened as everyone debated the best course of action, while Shadi stood by outside the vehicle and waited for their conclusion.
At last Gansley said, "We need to return home and recover. This is too much to think about and too momentous a decision to make while we're upset and concerned for each other."
The rest of the Big Five nodded and murmured in agreement. Seto, however, scowled. "Maybe all of you need more time, but I know I'll never feel any differently than I do right now. I despise this with every fiber of my being, but I would do it to save Mokuba."
"As we would do it to protect each other," Gansley said. "But we would still like more time to think."
Shadi nodded. "The box can only be opened when all of you are in agreement. I will give it to you, and if or when you reach your decision, it will be here for you." He held it out to Gansley, who took it and studied the carved picture on top.
". . . That really does look like us, doesn't it?" Crump blinked. "You can sure tell those guys are related to us!"
Seto folded his arms and just looked irritated. When Shadi vanished in front of their eyes, everyone except him jumped.
Nesbitt slumped back in the seat with a grimace and a hand to his forehead. "Ugh. I thought we were done with outlandish and illogical things."
"All of us did," Gansley grunted.
"But I am afraid, my friends, that the truly outlandish and illogical things are just beginning," Lector remarked.
Mokuba bit his lip. "You guys are probably all gonna go through with this, huh?" he said quietly.
They all looked at each other.
"Well, while we can't say for certain yet, I wouldn't count out the possibility," Gansley said. "But it would be strange, wouldn't it, going into business with Seto Kaiba again?"
"Creepy deja vu, is more like it," Crump said.
Lector sighed. "Going into business to protect those dear to us might turn out better than our business ventures did," he said. He looked to Mokuba. "And I never did thank you for coming to try to find us, Mokuba. I don't know what would have happened to any of us if you hadn't come."
"I don't even want to think about it," Mokuba said softly. "I thought you guys were dead when I found you. . . ."
Lector drew an arm around his young friend and hugged him close. "I am so sorry."
Seto looked to Téa, and she felt the heat coming into her cheeks. With Thank Yous going around, would he say anything to her? Or would he feel that she had been unnecessary and he could have dealt with this situation without her?
When Seto finally did speak, it sounded like he was struggling to figure out exactly how to word it. "Thank you, for today. . . . Your concern is . . . appreciated."
Téa stared at him. She hadn't expected that. In the past she might have gotten angry. But now, somehow, it just seemed . . . sad.
"Kaiba . . . you don't have to thank me for caring," she said quietly.
Seto finally looked at her. "I know," he said.