I'm sorry I took so long, guys, I really am :sweat drop: A lot of stuff has been going on lately. Yeah, that's my excuse.

CHAPTER SEVEN

A Great Man's Fall

There are some kings who were born, not made; they were kings before time began, and they will be kings long after it is gone. Pharaoh Aten of Khemet was one of these. A God among men, embodiment of the vitality of his land; warrior, priest, and King.

And yet, as the High Priest Seteh entered with his burden of news, Aten's proud head lowered and his eyes closed like a wounded animal's. "So," he said hoarsely. "The Thief King had struck at the sacred heart of our land, raiding the Temple of Auset itself."

"Are my thoughts so very obvious?" Seteh smiled slightly. "The Thief Lord is growing ever more bold, but at least no lasting damage was done."

"No lasting damage!" Aten's head jerked up, and he fixed the priest with a withering glare. "A boy sworn to the Goddess was stolen from the Temple, and you say there is no lasting damage! Every village and town in the Two Lands lives in terror of another such attack, and you say there is no lasting damage!" The Pharaoh's head lowered again. "As if it is not enough," he whispered. "As if it is not enough that the shadow-beasts ravage the land, that the harvests are suffering, that foreign invasions threatens our borders, this wolf must prey on the most vulnerable of my flock! And make no mistake, he will destroy them as surely as famine or a ravening army." He turned to the Priest. "Seteh, there is no way we can kill him?"

Something close to fear flickered across the Priest's usually expressionless mien. "No! He is a powerful necromancer; he might be more dangerous dead than alive."

Aten whispered a curse.

"However," Seteh continued, his smile growing; "What one cannot kill, one can cage. If you will listen to me, Majesty, I shall tell you my plan…."

888

To everyone's complete and utter bewilderment, Ryou showed no desire to return to the temple.

"There is nothing left for me there," he said when they asked him why. "I do not need them anymore, nor do they need me. Yes, I love them - I will always love them - but they are my past and you are my future."

"It is a hard life here," Tesemet said. "You are no warrior with a vengeance. Why do you wish to stay?"

"I have my reasons," Ryou replied simply. No one noticed that his eyes strayed to Bakura as he said this.

So he stayed, falling into the strange peace of the rhythms of camp life. Until the hawk came.

It swooped down out of the cloudless blue and landed at Bakura's feet. A tiny rolled-up piece of paper was tied to its leg, which it promptly thrust at him. The Thief King blinked.

The bird eyed him with its cold jewel-like eyes, squawked irritably and thrust its leg forward again. Delicately, Bakura untied the message, and the bird, as if summoned by an unseen force or simply wary of the stones Khalil and Keydi were gathering, took flight with a rustle of feathers. "A royal bird," Iniko muttered. Several of the thieves made the ancient sign for protection against evil.

Ryou was summoned to read it, being the only one who could. He recited it quietly to Bakura, until they reached the signature at the end.

The boy's eyes widened. "'From the Priest Seteh, Prince of the Royal Family, cousin to His Majesty Pharaoh Aten,'" he read, loud enough for everyone to hear.

Bakura did not react. To a stranger, his face would have shown no emotion, but those who knew him well saw the shadows come over his eyes. He turned and headed to his tent, saying he needed to think.

Ryou opened his mouth to call out to him, then thought better of it.

888

At sunset, Bakura called an assembly.

"I have received an offer of the kind a man receives only once in his life - a chance at the Pharaoh's life, and amnesty if I succeed." He paused for emphasis. "I mean to take it."

At once, debate erupted like wildfire among those gathered. War cries mingled with the mutters of the incredulous and fearful. "Do you believe this man is telling the truth?" Tesemet asked gravely, and Bakura replied, "I do not believe he would lie."

Yet one voice rose above all others.

"My lord!" Ryou pushed his way to the front of the crowd, and fixed Bakura with a fierce look. "I am going with you. I would not let you descend alone into the den of your enemies."

Bakura blinked. He had planned on going by himself; his vengeance was his own, and he would have no one else die for it. Yet even from where he stood, Bakura could see Ryou trembling, and he began to understand the desperation and courage it had taken the boy to say this.

And he knew, also, that wherever he went or would go in life, through adversity and triumph, sorrow and joy, this boy would be with him. It is a strange thing, for one who has lived so much of his life alone.

The crowd was utterly silent. Everyone waited on Bakura's answer.

He sighed. "All right," he said. "All right."

888

They left either very late at night or very early in the morning, depending on one's perspective; in those shadowy hours when the stars are far away and cold, and the mist hangs low over the desert, and even the wind seems to be sleeping.

Even so, the entire camp turned our to see Bakura and Ryou off. Kahlil and Keydi pelted them with flower petals under the pretext of a blessing; Yevuneh fussed over them anxiously; and Iniko led a whole groggy company in a war hymn for their honor.

"You'd think we were a pair of newlyweds," Bakura muttered, and Ryou laughed.

But as they continued on, the others fell back, one by one, until the two of them stood alone before the staggering darkness of the desert night.

888

They reached their destination just as the sky was beginning to turn gray. Ryou pulled his hood up to hide his hair and face, disguised in servant's robes, and continued with Bakura on to the royal palace above the sleeping capital city.

They reached the appointed place at the appointed time; the eastern servants' entrance just as the sun peered up over the horizon. A man was waiting for them there, a youth dressed in the clothes of a commoner, with honey-yellow hair and gentle brown eyes, of Hellene blood, if Bakura was not mistaken. Whoever he was, he was not the Priest Seteh.

The servant arched a brow at Ryou, but wisely said nothing. Wordlessly, he turned and led them into the depths of the building, through a maze of twisting corridors, until they came to a massive set of doors at the end of a great hall.

When the doors opened, Bakura's first thought was, Ye Gods, he thinks he is Pharaoh already.

Incense fires burned, sending their light and fragrant smoke dancing along wall etchings beautifully rendered and limned in gold. Carvings depicting the Priest making offers to the Gods - and the Gods accepting. Yet even the gold and the leaping flame could not conceal the inherent darkness of this place, the shadows that lurked in the corners, watching and waiting.

"So you have come."

Bakura's head snapped up. Across the room, upon a throne on a stone dais, the Priest smiled.

The High Priest Seteh was clad in the dark blue of his office, soft brown hair sneaking out from under his high crown. His icy blue eyes bored into Bakura and Ryou as they approached.

No servants appeared to offer stools to them. Clearly, they were meant to petition the Priest like common peasants. Bakura felt a twinge of irritation, but what could one do?

The Thief King and the Priest eyed each other warily as fighting dogs. Neither trusted a man that was so like himself.

Seteh cocked his head. "I could kill you now," he mused, gazing at Bakura, ignoring Ryou's presence entirely. "Who would stop me? No one would ever know."

Bakura roared with laughter. He was not intimidated, not with Ryou by his side; the boy's presence was oddly reassuring. Bakura felt there was nothing that he could not do.

"Tactless, aren't you?" Bakura grinned. "This is no way for a king to greet another king."

For a moment there was utter silence. Then Seteh said, "Such sincerity. I would never have guessed a killer and a thief to have such virtue," and he too began to laugh.

Bakura relaxed. He sensed that some undefined test had been passed, some barrier overcome. "I couldn't think of a good enough lie," he said. "However, I did not come here on the offer of witty banter."

"Ah yes," Seteh leaned forward, his pale eyes glittering. "As you may well understand, I, as the Pharaoh's advisor and next-of-kin, can get places that you cannot. And you, the King of Thieves, can do things cannot. This is my plan…"

When he had finished, he smirked, saying, "It's ingenious, don't you agree? It serves the interests of us both, and, in the unfortunate instance that one of us is caught, implicates neither."

Bakura touched a finger to his lips in thought. "What drives you to do this, Priest?" he finally asked. "One can tell a great deal about a person by what drives them."

Seteh gave a Sphinx-like smile, the coldness in his eyes never abating. "I would not expect you to understand the games of royalty. My motives are my own, suffice it to say."

But the darkness in the corners of the room seemed to take on a shape, the shape of a demon and a man. Bakura shivered at the sudden cold that pervaded the room, herald of evil. And at last, he understood.

"It is not simply power that you want, is it, Priest?" Bakura said quietly; "But vengeance. And this vengeance is not even your own."

Seteh's eyes widened, and the shape in the darkness began to sway. Yes this darkness in your blood, this shadow in your soul, Bakura thought. This is your destiny and this is your curse; it will follow you from life to life, and into eternity. Your life does not belong to you anymore, because it is ruled by this, your darkness.

Ryou, who had been silent all this time, quietly said, "He is in hell, and he doesn't even know it."

There was nothing, really, to say after that. Bakura and Ryou left. But just before they went out the massive door, the Thief Lord turned and murmured, "Heru's scion and Set's priest. Truly, the Gods have marked your body and soul as a battlefield." And then they were gone.

888

"Tell me, Seteh, did it work?"

"Yes. He will come, Majesty. He would not say so, but I know that he will come. Is everything else in order?"

"Naturally."

"Good. Then tomorrow it will be over at last."

There was a pause. Then: "No. No, it is not yet over. It has only just begun."

888

On a hill overlooking the lights of Uast and the Palace, Bakura and Ryou settled in for the night. After a brief, wordless supper of honey cakes in the twilight, they lay down to sleep, wrapped in their traveling robes.

Ryou had never slept in the open before, exposed and virtually alone. He shivered at the cold and the dark (they did not dare risk a fire), jumping at the myriad small noises of the desert night.

Finally, Bakura got up. He gathered the boy in his arms, and covered him with his cloak. Ryou sighed and snuggled happily into the warmth of Bakura's body.

He gazed up at the Thief King with beautiful, desperate eyes. You do not have to do this, you do not have to kill the Pharaoh," he said softly. "We could live this place, and never go back. We could spend our lives wandering, going wherever we desire. We could spend the rest of our lives like this, Bakura."

Yes, lives of beauty and peace, Bakura thought. The kind of life that accomplishes nothing. All he would have to do was give up the vengeance he had cherished for so much of his life. "No," Bakura said. "I have waited too long for this. Hatred has grown old and ugly with me. Tomorrow, I shall kill him."

Ryou pushed himself up so that he was facing Bakura. His pale hair and face glowed with reflected starlight. "Bakura!" he cried. "Do you not see what you are doing? A great man shall fall tomorrow. A great man is falling even now."

"Then let him fall, Ryou." Bakura turned away and lay back down. After a little while, he heard Ryou settle in also. So close, yet Bakura understood he could not touch him now. Silence descended, a silence crueler than any words ever spoken.

Bitterly, Bakura shut his eyes, ignorant of the trap snapping shut behind him.

888

"Do you wish to kill the Pharaoh?" Seteh had said. "Do you remember the servants' way you came here by? When the morning star sets, enter it. There will be a series of red torches in brackets in the walls. Follow them, and you will come to this very chamber. At the moment the sun rises, they will open from within. Within there will be the Pharaoh, alone. I trust you know what to do from there."

Light was filling the halls like water fills a cup. Bakura shivered with anticipation and predatory delight. Ah, ye Gods, he had waited so long for this.

He had left Ryou by the servants' gate: he refused to witness this, and Bakura would not make him. He had avoided meeting the boy's eyes as they parted, knowing all too well the sorrow and bitterness he would find there.

The doors were beginning to open. Adrenaline rushed through Bakura's veins like liquid fire, and his hand closed tight around the hilt of the shadow-knife.

The doors swung back. And there, as Seteh had said, there was the Pharaoh, with his royal silk robes and strange spiked-up hair. Bakura had never seen him in person before; all that he had time to think was that His Majesty was a very short man.

For there, too, were some two dozen armed men, their weapons pointed at Bakura. He could hear more filling the corridors behind him.

A trap, he thought, feeling the noose tightening around his throat. He remembered Ryou's last words to him - A great man shall fall tomorrow. And finally he understood. It was he, Bakura, who would fall.

Pharaoh Aten gave a small smile, almost tragic, and made a strange gesture toward the Thief. At once, Bakura felt the shadow and wind surround him, dragging him into the other world.

His last conscious thought was of Ryou. What would become of him? "Ryou!" he screamed, and distantly he heard the boy answer him. And then there was only darkness….

To be continued…

Notes:

"Seteh" is the most accurate English translation of the name of the God of Darkness, so that's what I've used here. Besides, I like how it sounds. Seteh, Seteh, Seteh….

Hawks, FYI, are considered living symbols of the Horus (Heru), and by extension, the present Pharaoh. The hawk was able to find the camp because magic doesn't affect animals in the same way it affects humans (so Seteh and the Pharaoh couldn't find the camp themselves…I probably should have put this in the fic, but I wasn't sure how :sweat drop:)

The city of Uast is Memphis, the capital of Egypt at this point in time.

Those of you loyal to the Japanese version of the anime will recall that Seteh gets possessed by Zorc…or whatever his name is. So yeah, that's the darkness in the throne room.

Anything I forget? Well, probably, but just ask me in a review.

Also, I'll try to have the next chapter up a lot sooner, especially considering it's such a good one. The Bakura x Ryou romance really heats up.

I'd also like to say that I typed a lot of this up in the Harvard College Library. There were all these world scholars and brilliant students around me, and here I am, writing fan fiction XD XD XD

Review!