Shadow: This chapter is…somewhat overdue. Again. (starts whistling in an attempt for innocence) I'd plead for my life but I do that too often and…yeah, I have my reasons for this chapter's lateness. Some are good, some are bad, and all take too long to explain.
Anyway – I'm rather sad to see this chapter go now, after everything that's gone into it. It's the end of some plot threads, and the beginning of something new…enjoy?
/Blah. / Yami to Yugi
(Blah.) Yugi to Yami
#Blah. # Ryou to Bakura
\Blah. \ Bakura to Ryou - because the dollar symbols aren't working right now.
'Blah.' Duel Monster, or some other kinda non-human mythical creature speaking.
Aibou - partner
Yami - darkness
Hikari - light
Nii-san – big brother
Yadounishi – landlord – Bakura's nickname for Ryou
Mon hitorou no boku – My other me
Ano – um
Che - expletive
Omote – face/exterior
Marhaba – Greetings/Hello
Character death, violence. Blood. Bit of language. Long rambling comment from the authoress at the end with extraordinarily little to do with the actual plot.
With a Wave of the Wand
Chapter 21: The Twisted Knight
Atemu had never really understood the point of all the sphinxes.
Sure, they made the entranceway to any temple look perfectly official and quite grand, but it was just plain creepy walking through the courtyard and up the boulevard to Horus' shrine and feeling a thousand and one pairs of your father's eyes boring into your back.
Wearily, Atemu trudged in the very centre of the procession to visit the god. There were only priests in the group – the guards that had accompanied the Crown Prince and four of his guardians from the palace had been forced to wait outside in the outer courtyard, as weapons of violence were forbidden in the holier inner precincts. Anyway…only the most blessed were allowed into the actual presence of the god, so it would be utterly pointless to kick up a fuss and drag the guards in a little way only to have them wait outside only a few chambers inside the temple building.
Seth was accompanying Atemu that day, as were Karimu, Shadi and Mahado. (It had been decided Isis should not attend – the girl had been ill with a fever for a few days, and was still recovering.) They were all off to pay tribute to Horus – the god was Atemu's patron, and it was felt the prince should go to His largest temple outside the palace to show proper respect.
The sun beat down overhead, and Atemu longed to return to the bathing pool back in one of the previous courtyards simply so he could cool down. The temple priests about him and his four palace companions were droning terribly, and the smoky incense from the braziers some of the holy men were carrying kept blowing back into Atemu's face and causing him to gag and choke. He'd stumbled once, almost blinded by the damned smoke, but Karimu had caught him and lightly set him straight back on his feet before anyone had really noticed or he'd managed to cause any damage.
Atemu felt hot, and irritated and wretched. Mahado had tried to cheer him up by pulling some funny faces as they walked along, but the elder boy had had to stop when one of the temple priests had glowered at him. Atemu's spirits had sunk lower than ever afterwards.
The distraction, when it came, was almost a relief.
It was little more than a distant muffled thud at first, the procession heading for the temple not missing a beat as they went on their way. Atemu and Mahado cocked an ear at the sound, not recognising it, but followed along with the group around them, not halting.
And then, someone screamed.
The procession shuddered to a halt almost instantly, confused eyes swivelling back to the outer courtyards, where the scream had come from. A roar was rising there: yelling, shouting, and the clanging of metal. It almost sounded like – fighting?
"How dare they?" The High Priest of the temple, and head of the procession, looked infuriated. "This is a holy place! You two," he motioned to two lowly acolytes near the rear, "go inquire to the reasoning behind this outrage. Weapons are not to be drawn in temple grounds for any reason-"
"Your Highness!" A soldier guard Atemu recognised from the palace burst through into the inner courtyard the procession was in, completely ignoring the dirty looks shot at him by the priests and racing over to Atemu. He bowed, briefly, and in a hurried gasp spoke: "Your Highness, you must get inside the temple at once. There are -" Another thud sounded behind him from an outer courtyard, much closer than the original. The clanging, screaming roar of noise seemed so much closer, the stamp of feet, and the soldier glanced over his shoulder quickly, before turning back to Atemu. "The temple has been attacked, your Highness, by bandits of some sort."
"How did this happen?" Seth demanded.
"We were all resting, Holiness, as you commanded." The soldier looked fearfully at the brunette. "Commoners entered to pay tribute in the outer courtyard where we rested, and left by the same door. It was a steady trickle, perfectly normal, so we did not find it alarming in any way. But then…two or three of them closed the great entrance door, and when one of the temple priests went over to demand an explanation, the group drew swords from under their cloaks and ran the man through."
"How many are there?" Seth was perfectly businesslike, his voice cool. He motioned to Atemu and the boy came to his side instantly, standing silently with dark eyes.
"At least three-quarters of the commoners in the outer courtyard that we first saw when we came in were bandits in disguise." The soldier sounded regretful. "We were overrun in an instant; the commander bade us to retreat into an inner courtyard and close the door. I was ordered to come warn his Highness."
"Right." A nod. "Gather all the guards into this inner precinct," (Seth ignored the indignant splutter the High Priest gave completely,) "and have them set up defensive lines guarding the temple. Make sure all the doors between there and here are shut."
"At once, Holiness." The guard turned and raced away.
"Karimu," Seth turned to his fellow companion, "could you summon a monster and send it to the palace for backup? I think we'll need it and-"
Seth turned, and fixed a withering gaze on the High Priest who'd interrupted him. "Yes, Holiness? How may I be of assistance to you?"
"I would have you remember your rank, boy." A haughty sniff. "This is my temple, and I will be the one organising defences here, thank you very much. You have forgotten your place muchly if you think you can just come in here and start ordering people around –"
"It is you who forget your place, High Priest." Seth's tone dripped ice. "I am the son of Pharaoh's brother, and guardian of the Crown Prince. To stall or hinder me in any way in such a situation as this would be regarded as deliberate endangerment of the royal line – and in being so, treason. Need I remind you of the punishment of sedition, Holiness?"
The small crowd around the two shifted awkwardly, the silence between them tense. Ringing clashes still echoed from the temple's outer courtyard and it was clear those gathered were eager to be off, further into the temple into a place of safety. Atemu raised his chin when fearful eyes swivelled his way from the surrounding acolytes, standing ground both for his own birthright, and Seth's as well.
There was a pause, the High Priest scowling dreadfully. "…Command the priesthood here as you will, Highness – but know that every death that occurs as a result of your commands will be heaped upon your head, and the Winged One and his kin will judge you for it."
It had to be just after dawn when Kaiba abruptly awoke. The curtains in the bedroom he shared with Mokuba at the Burrow hadn't been shut properly the night before, and early morning sunlight (still red-orange from the dawn) slid in through the gaps and streaked across the floor.
Pressing his hands to his cheeks Kaiba could still hear the dull thuds echoing from his dreams, the far-off clanging of swords and yells of soldiers. Feelings leftover from before lingered in the forefront of his mind, and it was they that caused Kaiba to slip out from his bed, crossing the room so he could crouch at his still-sleeping brother's side.
Mokuba was curled up, sound asleep, his hair little more than a black mop sticking out from under his duvet. Smiling at the reassuringly familiar scene Kaiba stretched out a hand, brushing some of his little brother's spiky mess off his face and out of his closed eyes.
Though some of his denied fears were alleviated not all of them were completely satisfied, and so Kaiba left his room, leaving Mokuba and Rhys (who slept in the ajar bottom drawer of the dresser beside his bed) and padding near-silently through the Burrow's corridors down to the room whose door was covered in scratches and burns.
There was a crack between the door and jamb, and so Kaiba pushed on it, at once glad that, as rundown as various things in the house were, everything was kept in pristine condition. The hinges made not a single squeak as the door attached to them opened, and so Kaiba was able to look inside without waking either occupant.
The room inside was dim; the curtains here properly closed so only the faintest red rim could be seen where the hung cloth met the sill. Dark blurs slumbered quietly in the beds on opposite ends of the chamber, their bite lost in the soft realms of sleep.
Kaiba watched one figure intently, his heart not settled till for himself he saw the other turn in their sleep with a gentle sigh, snuggling down into a pillow again without waking, hair falling over their cheek. Like Mokuba, Kaiba would've gone to move the strands away but…that wasn't his place. Nor was this really, standing here watching. No-one but Mokuba fell under his protection and jurisdiction.
'Master, let us.'
Kaiba twitched, unused to the voice(s) within his head. Had he been anyone else, he would have jumped. -: I beg your pardon? :–
'If you dare not watch them with your own eyes, use our eyes instead.' His dragon sounded placating, friendly and subservient.
-: And if they should see you? :-
'If you will it, they would not.'
-: Go then. :-
'As you will.'
There was the softest whisper then, at the back of his mind, the faintest sound of wings taking flight and a quiet lull – a pause in conversation where the speaker moves away a few steps but is still close enough to reach out and touch. A shimmer of light existed in the dim room in front of him where no shimmer ought to be, and rested calmly beside the treasured sleeper.
Put at ease and not entirely willing to admit it, Kaiba closed the scratched door as quietly as he'd opened it and moved back to the room he shared with Mokuba to get dressed.
When Yugi awoke later, in that instant before reality focused itself and he became fully conscious, he could've sworn he saw something curled up beside him on his pillow. It glittered brightly at him through his half-closed lashes, and disappeared as soon as his dazed eyes had opened completely. He almost thought he had heard wings…but then, that couldn't be. From the vague pose he'd seen beside him it couldn't have been a bird, and Cleo had sleek black fur. So then…it had to be Rhys. On conferring with Mokuba later though, Yugi learned the little dragon had still been sound asleep at the time. Yugi had tried to double-check this with Kaiba, whom Rhys was still so firmly attached to, but the brunette was mysteriously absent – Mokuba said simply the CEO had said in a note he was 'going for a walk'. He'd been gone before Mokuba woke up, and Rhys was still asleep then.
After a time Yugi gave up asking, and eventually forgot about the whole incident altogether.
It was the day they were due to leave the Burrow and return to Hogwarts.
Ryou had gotten up rather later than everyone else, a little startled to find Yugi – the most notorious of their small group for loving his sleep – awake before him. Apparently the spiky-haired duelist had been hunting for Kaiba about something to do with Rhys – though what the temperamental little dragon had to do with anything was quite beyond the Brit.
And so Ryou had found himself eating his breakfast alone, packing alone, and dodging nimbly the various teenagers that ran past him in the corridor crying about their missing items of clothing, literature and, in the case of Ginny, a purple puffskein. (After Bakura's earlier mishap with the creature both it and its little pink brethren had been moved to the girl's room, whereupon Ginny had promptly fallen in love with the lavender one, and begged her elder twin brothers it as a gift. Fred and George had acquiesced to the request and Ginny had called her new pet 'Persephone' after the Greek myth, the purple colour of the puffskein relating to the purple-ish pomegranate seeds the fated Underworld's Queen had eaten. Inevitably, Ron decided to dub the puffskein 'Po'. When Ginny yelled at him the young man had only shrugged his shoulders, and queried certainly 'Po' was better than his original choice, 'Poo'? (Ginny ceased to argue the case further.))
But now… now, Ryou was sitting on a set of stairs in the Burrow, relishing in the quiet that had fallen over the house. Mrs. Weasley, having got a headache from all the yelling and running about her brood and company had done in the past few hours, had chucked them all outside for a long, bracing walk (thoroughly bundled up, of course) and forbidden them to return for at least an hour.
Sitting on the stairs hadn't really been a conscious decision on Ryou's part; he'd just been moving around so much and just…sat there, at the end of it all. Someone came and sat at his side and, turning his head, Ryou caught sight of red hair, brown eyes, and a cheeky grin.
"'Lo." Bill's smile was friendly. "You got sick of hanging around with the rest of the rabble?"
"I tried to keep out of 'the rest of the rabble's way from the start." Ryou gave his own small smile in response. "Much less painful to my eardrums and stress levels."
"I think holidays cause more stress than they're worth, sometimes." Bill leant back on the steps, tucking his arms behind his head and looking thoughtfully up at the ceiling. "I guess I'm glad to be going back to work…but then, there's the whole 'work' aspect of working I don't like so much."
A nod from his companion. "I agree – though I'm only to take part in a tournament for another month or so."
"Ah…Duel Monsters." Bill glanced Ryou's way again. "You're busy doing some riddles for the next round right now, aren't you? For…February sometime – is that right?"
"Yes, the next round is in February."
"You looking forward to it?"
"I suppose I am." The albino took up Bill's previous activity of looking up at the ceiling. "I should thank you for having us for this holiday."
Bill dismissed the other's thanks with a wave of his hand. "Don't thank me; it's been nice having you all here."
Ryou was persistent. "But what about your poor mother? I fear we've only caused her stress – it can't have been much of a Christmas season for her."
"Nonsense. She's over the moon. Your arrival here was the best Christmas present she got this year – Yugi's especially."
"'Yugi's'…?" Chocolate eyes were bewildered. "How…?"
Bill laughed at the Brit's clueless face. "She likes having Harry here so she can mother him, fatten him up and baby him. Yugi's almost identical – he's perfect 'coddling' material. Tragic past, loss of parents at a young age…not to mention he's small, sweet, polite, charming and - I quote – 'so dreadfully thin.'"
Ryou grinned. "Your mother likes to coddle people?"
"Just certain people, and Yugi falls directly into that category. Mum's made a pet of him; I don't think she'll want to let him go back to Hogwarts." A matching grin stole onto the Curse Breaker's face. "She's 'feeding him up' while she can, Harry as well, not to mention darling Mokuba. She'd mother you and Kaiba too, but you've both skilfully evaded her grasp insofar."
Ryou nodded, his eyes sparkling. "They're downstairs now?"
"We should go check on him."
"What, and see mum hasn't coddled him to death?"
"Yugi dear, you must have some more chocolate cake."
"Oh no, really, I couldn't-"
"Nonsense." Mrs. Weasley cut him another slice of the cake, and placed it on Yugi's plate. "You've hardly eaten anything." She eyed the young professor critically. "You're so dreadfully thin. I'm not sure you eat enough…" They were both in the kitchen; Mrs. Weasley cleaning up with her wand and flicking through a worn recipe book, and Yugi sitting at the kitchen table, being plied with cake at his hostess' insistence.
Yugi protested. "Really, Mrs. Weasley, I assure you – I eat plenty."
"Do you get enough sleep?"
"My bed and I have a wonderful relationship, one which I hope shall never change."
Molly smiled in spite of herself. "Oh…you children are all the same…"
Yugi choked on his cake at the 'children' bit. He coughed, and Mrs. Weasley fetched him a glass of milk to wash it down. When his breathing was normal again, the professor smiled shakily.
(I knew I was small, but surely not that much! I'm a child again now?)
Yami grinned from his place in his soulroom, leaning oh-so-casually on the wall of the corridor that bridged their minds. /Oh, for the innocence of youth… / A teasing glint entered his crimson eyes. /Something I believe all hikaris retain… That could explain the sandbox in your soulroom then aibou, wouldn't it? /
Yugi flushed red. (Shh, you! I swear you're responsible to the fact that won't disappear… Anyway, yes I'm a hikari – but I'm not a child!)
/Milk and chocolate cake? Isn't that what they give to chil- /
(You are treading a thin line here, mon hitorou no boku.)
Yami smiled. /You know, I'm surprised she hasn't started gushing about your hair yet. /
Almost as if on cue, Molly remarked (cutting yet another slice of chocolate cake), "You have lovely hair, Yugi. It's such an unusual mix of colours… How did you get it like that?"
"It is? The style as well?"
"Doesn't it ever lie flat?"
"No, it just springs up every time I try."
"Hmm…" The red-haired woman poured out some more milk. "Can I have a stab at it later?"
"A…a stab at it?" Yugi raised a protective hand to his multi-coloured hair, amethyst eyes horrified.
Mrs. Weasley smiled. "Yes, a stab at it. You know…as in having a go making it lie flat? It's an expression, dear."
The professor's face cleared of confusion, relief washing over him. "Oh…oh, yes, if you like. But…obviously, I'm returning to Hogwarts today – maybe the next time we meet?"
The woman smiled at him again. "Wonderful. Now," she planted another plateful of cake in front of Yugi, "eat up. Are you sure Hogwarts is feeding you…?"
"Mrs. Weasley, honestly I'm eating!"
There was a chuckle from the kitchen doorway. "Mum." Bill waltzed into the room, casually moving over to stand behind the duelist's chair. "Leave poor Yugi alone. I swear you're going to give him an inferiority complex or something with how you badger him about his eating habits."
"Good morning, Mrs. Weasley." Ryou nodded politely, and entered the room a little after his red-haired companion-of-the-stairs. The look he shot Yugi out of the corner of his eyes was amused, and not more than a little sympathetic. "Yugi….don't you have some more things to pack before we go this afternoon?"
"No, I think I already -" Yugi halted, suddenly cottoning on to his friend's unwavering, and pointed, gaze, "-uh. Um, actually I may still have to – I'll just go check." He stood up suddenly, his chair screeching backwards (- Bill had to step out of the way -), and leaving the room. Smiling, Ryou followed him, nodding once to Mrs. Weasley.
Bill wandered over to help himself to the leftover chocolate cake while his mother was still staring after their guests' backs. "You're gonna miss them, aren't you?"
"Hm?" Molly seemed distracted. "I…what do you think you're doing?" She snatched the plate of cake away before her son could get his fork in. "No snacks before lunch!"
Bill let out a whine. "But you gave Yugi-!"
"Yugi's different." His mother put away the dessert, tching as she re-found where she'd been in her recipe book. "He's a guest."
"So you'd starve your own son…?"
"Nonsense. You get plenty to eat."
"I'm the same waist size as Yugi!!"
A disbelieving glance.
Molly merely raised an eyebrow at her eldest, and turned the page to re-read her notes on making 'authentically scrumptious toad-in-the-hole'.
That afternoon, pandemonium reigned once more. Everyone seemed to descend upon the Burrow as one gigantic mass, Kaiba returning from his 'walk' only a few minutes earlier than the rest of those staying in the Weasley home, including the family itself.
Ron still hadn't finished packing his trunk and his mother was berating him, while Ginny stood outside and patronised him (having already packed all her things before she'd left that morning). Eventually, Mrs. Weasley turned and snapped at her, and her daughter flounced off in a huff. Everyone kept getting under everyone else's feet, and tempers were rife.
Someone had set the family owls, Errol and Pigwidgeon, loose. Feathers flew everywhere as the hyperactive 'Pig' bothered Cleo one too many times, and at one point Yugi's pet turned around trying to claw the little owl's wings off. Amber flew around hooting loudly, and Hedwig could be heard trying to outdo the other female from her cage in Ron's room.
Rhys seemed to realise something was up – how he could not with all the chaos would be a miracle in itself -, clinging to Kaiba with even more force than he usually did. The little dragon's devotion was almost heart-breaking, and Kaiba felt guilty every time the lizard's pleading eyes fixed on him, as if imploring him to stay.
But Kaiba had to go back to Hogwarts. As did Yami, Yugi, Bakura, Ryou, Mokuba, Harry, Ron and Ginny. And Rhys couldn't go with them.
And so, ten minutes before they were due to return by Floo to Hogwarts:
"C'mon Rhys…let go. Nii-san's got to go. Rhys!" Mokuba groaned exasperatedly, but Rhys only curled up closer to Kaiba, refusing to budge from inside the brunette's collar. Blue-grey eyes looked at the CEO. "Seto-nii, I don't think we're going to be able to get him to move."
"Rhys…" Even Kaiba himself was pleading (though in a much more restrained and dignified manner). He didn't want to leave the dragon, but he couldn't take it back to school with him. Dragons were illegal…
Rhys let out a small hiccupy sound – a dragon sob – cuddling in further to the brunette's neck. No-one had the heart to remove him except –
"Ra, Kaiba, when I said you were attached to the lizard I never meant for you to take it so literally." A grumpy Bakura stalked over to the CEO, deftly uncoiled the sniffling dragon from around the man's neck, and dumped the little creature unceremoniously in a surprised Charlie's hands. "Can we go now?"
"Er -" There was a long pause, where no-one knew quite what to say. Rhys struggled vainly in Charlie's arms to get back to Kaiba, but the Keeper restrained him.
Bakura sighed loudly, bending down to grab some of the bags littering the floor and shoving a couple into Kaiba's arms, pushing the CEO towards the fireplace at the same time. "Go, go! You think your little fanclub's gonna be kept back much longer?"
"Hm…" Yugi carefully shouldered his own bag, looking to his rival. "Kaiba-kun, for once I have to agree with Bakura. You should leave – it might make Rhys easier to handle."
"Very well." The brunette shifted his belongings so he had a better grip on them, moving confidently towards the fireplace to leave. On the hearth, he paused, turning to Mrs. Weasley, who was watching the scene with those of her brood that were also due to return to Hogwarts. "It has been most kind of you to have us here, at such work to yourself. You have my thanks." His words were a little stiff, his manner rather cold, but, the moment he'd turned and left amidst Floo's green flames:
"He meant that sincerely." Mokuba smiled at Molly. "Thank you Mrs. Weasley – really – for having us." He gave her a short, polite bow before snatching up his own stuff and darting into the fire after his brother.
One by one, those who were leaving said their goodbyes and thanks to those who were being left behind. Bakura, Harry, Ron and Ginny slowly disappeared, taking luggage and pets with them. Yugi was the last to go.
"Mrs. Weasley." He bowed formally to the woman. "You have my deepest thanks for -"
Molly yanked him out of his bow, and into a hug. Pulling back again she held the young – blushing – professor at arm's length, studying him shrewdly. (Bill smirked behind his hand.) "I'm sorry if that was rude, dear, but I just had to do that." She paused, smiling slightly. "You take care of yourself at that school, you hear me?"
"…Ano..." Yugi was still rather flushed. "…I will?"
"Good." Mrs. Weasley ruffled his hair affectionately, messing the spikes so the small male had a tousled look. "You should get going now, don't you think? Your friends will be wondering where you are."
Readily, Yugi escaped the woman's grip, reaching for his belongings – his bag had fallen from his shoulder when Molly pulled him into a hug. "Thank you for your concern, Mrs. Weasley, as well as your hospitality during this break." He headed for the fire. "…Ja ne, Bill – see you around." His smile was lost in the rush of green flames.
"Seth!" Atemu dug in his heels trying to get back out to the courtyard. "Seth, let go of me!"
His cousin didn't listen, pulling the Crown Prince into the outer sanctum. With a few guards helping the great doors of the temple were dragged shut.
"Seth!" Atemu didn't like this in the slightest. "My friends are out there! Let me go fight with them – I am the strongest Shadow-wielder in all Khemet." His crimson eyes were beseeching as he looked to his older guardian and relative. "What use am I in here?"
"You are safe in here." Seth's tone left no room for argument. "That is all that is required of you."
Atemu's temper flared. "Well maybe I don't care what is required of me!" He tugged at his arm sharply, breaking his older cousin's hold on him and darting away from the priest when the other tried to grab hold of him once more. "I want to help my friends, Seth! They are your friends too – do you not care for their lives?"
"Of course I care for their lives!" Seth's words were a sharp snap, his blue eyes stormy. "I hate leaving them out there to fight alone – but this is our duty, Atemu! What do you think all our years of training were for? We are your guardians, cousin,first and foremost. Your life above all others, including our own."
"But-" The Crown prince trembled, for the first time in his brief life the true purpose of his closest friends' lives sinking in. They lived for him. They lived to servehim, to advise him, to die for him. His life above all others…
Shaking, Atemu let his eyes trail over the faces of the guards who surrounded him, seeing the servitude there, seeing their willingness to face death to protect their sovereign's child. His gaze moved to Seth, his beloved cousin. Seth, the priest, who would one day be his High Priest, in whose eyes glowed duty, service and love. All these men…all these faces…how could they-? This was too much.
Atemu choked – he wasn't even eleven! All these people around him were so much older than him, wiser than him, and yet they – with their own families, own lives and hopes and dreams – would give up everything in a heartbeat for him.
Atemu was immensely grateful when Seth bent down on one knee and wrapped him in a warm hug. It was improper, it could almost be classed as blasphemous and Seth had done it so publicly-
Something smacked into the door of the temple with a tremendous boom. Startled the men inside jumped, and Atemu and Seth broke apart. Dust fell from the ceiling and some torches guttered, one or two going out and turning the already dim chamber darker still.
The door was thumped again, harder this time. Wood splintered, and all but two torches went out. Another smack, and it became clear the barrier was going to give. Seth barked some command or other, and the guards hastily stationed themselves either side of the door, weapons at the ready. Atemu found his hand held once more by his cousin, but didn't mind. His heart was pounding, his mouth was dry and – and –
And a giant, skeletal fist punched straight through the door, sending chunks of wood everywhere. The fist was pulled back and a snarling horned skull glowered through the hole in the ruined entrance.
A pit opened out in the base of Seth's stomach. That was a –
"Shadow monster!" A guard yelped, stumbling a few steps back in pure shock. And it was such a large one, hissing and powerful. Neither Seth nor Atemu had summoned a creature so great, let alone banished one. And there was no Millennium Item anywhere nearby to control the beast. This was bad. Very bad.
The skull punched the ailing door once more, and with a groan the wood crumpled and gave completely, blasted apart by the Shadow monster's immense strength. Over the creature's triumphant shriek the clang of metal could be heard, the beginnings of a war-cry. A wave of men streamed through the shattered door, only to smack into line of resolute guards.
Atemu found himself pushed non-too-ceremoniously behind his older cousin, the priest blocking the prince the view from the invading bandits. "Atemu," the brunette's voice was low, blue eyes never shifting from the great Skull ahead of him, "do not make lives lost today in vain. Do as I bid you. Stay safe."
Frightened by the Shadow monster, by the noise and the fighting and by the dark, serious tone in Seth's voice Atemu could only nod, and cling just that little bit tighter to the back of his older cousin's robes.
Bakura's translucent form leaned on the sill of the open window in his and Ryou's room, the tomb-robber's lips pressed into a thin line as his amber gaze swept across the view of the school grounds outside. \Something is not right in this school, hikari. \
Ryou, carefully unpacking the belongings they'd taken with them to the Weasleys (he refused to let a house-elf do it for them, preferring to do things himself), frowned, pausing in his work to look up at the other. "Whatever do you mean?" His reply was spoken aloud, startling his darker half a little.
"There is a bad feeling here, a darker presence…" Bakura glanced Ryou's way, brow creased in thought. "It's wrong."
"Nonsense." His hikari smiled. # You're being paranoid, yami. Everything looks fine to me. #
"I'm not wrong about these things, Ryou." Watchful eyes returned to looking out the window, the cold breeze blowing in and ruffling white bangs. "You should know that by now."
Ryou hesitated. Bakura was right about hardly ever getting it wrong…but it did seem rather like paranoia to the hikari. Carefully, he placed a pile of shirts he'd been folding on the room's bed, crossing over to stand beside his other at the window. Below crowds of students flocked into the school, chattering and laughing. "'Kura-kun, look at all the people smiling! Surely if something is so 'wrong' it would affect them somehow?"
The yami smiled bitterly. "It already has, yadounishi dearest. I see their smiling faces, hikari, and I see the smiles fading into scowls, their banter to malicious rumours, their cheery laughter to mocking glee. I see liars and cheats, ill-will and discontent. I see friends turning against one another and a school divided, ready to crumble but for a few pillars…" Amber eyes glinted. \I see hate, my hikari, and it seethes and bubbles so. \
#Schools are always like that. # Ryou tried to dismiss the idea. #School rivalries are not uncommon. #
\This is no 'school rivalry', hikari mine – it runs deeper than that… \ Bakura paused, his expression distant. \It is like an apple, smooth and fresh and rosy, that falls from the tree to the ground below. It appears undamaged, so it is placed in the barn with the other apples to keep during the cold season. All winter long the apple is hidden. It festers, grows mouldy and rotten in the dark, spreading its poison to the other, yet untainted, fruit. Come spring the barn is opened, and all the apples are rotten, smelling and foul. All the fruit is spoilt due to that one, fallen apple. Ryou…this…this wrongness I feel…it has been here a long, long while, and it is festering. It is old, and it is quite, quite spoilt. Slowly, ever so slowly, it is damaging all the fruit. \
Kaiba Seto was annoyed. This was not an uncommon occurrence where Kaiba Seto was concerned, as very many things annoyed him. One of the most important things Kaiba Mokuba had learned, in growing up, was that if you did not want Kaiba Seto annoyed there were the things You Did Not Mention. These things were great and wide-reaching, and at their peak – generally when Kaiba Seto was most infuriated – the things You Did Not Mention encompassed pretty much everything.
But…as time had passed, Mokuba's big brother learned some temperance. A little patience – not much, mind you, but a little. It was an improvement. And the things You Did Not Mention were reduced somewhat, and became what was commonly referred to by Yugi-tachi and Mokuba as The List.
The List…varied. As deadlines loomed for KaibaCorp products it grew longer, shortening only after the new item had been launched and the company's CEO had been reintroduced to the wonder of actual honest-to-god sleep. With a pillow. In a bed. Not a quick nap over a keyboard while the coffee percolator gurgled in the background.
But…The List. In general, it compromised such things as Pegasus, being defeated by Yami or Yugi in a duel, laptops that continuously broke, being defeated by Yami or Yugi in a duel, broken coffee-makers, dripping taps, babbling females, being defeated by Yami or Yugi in a duel, incompetent staff, the mention of magic and –
Had it been mentioned that Seto hated being defeated by Yami or Yugi in a duel? Yes? Well…that was the primary item on The List. The big thing You Did Not Mention. Ever.
But…Kaiba and Yami/Yugi hadn't dueled for a few months now…
Mokuba had to wonder what was irritating his older brother. Seto had been leaning over the desk in his room for the past hour or so, writing on some sheets of paper. Well – it was more like stabbing the paper in a fits and bursts of temper, occasionally breaking out into fits of muttering and cursing. Generally though it was the infamous Kaiba eye-twitch – but the poor sheets of paper were still suffering substantial abuse.
"Onii-sama?" The question was tentative, Mokuba standing at the doorway of his brother's room a little nervously. Seto was unpredictable at the best of times, that the brunette was now acting so strangely… "Nii-san, are you feeling alright?"
A pause in the paper-stabbing – ah, so there was hope for Kaiba Seto's sanity then. "Mokuba?" A vague look.
"Seto." Solidly, Mokuba stood his ground, straightening his posture and meeting bright blue with smoky blue-grey. "Is something bothering you?"
"No." A short reply. "I'm just thinking."
"Obviously." Mokuba couldn't help the faintest traces of sarcasm leaking into his voice – but luckily Seto wasn't really paying enough attention again to rebuke him. Sighing, the teenager took a seat on his brother's bed, determined to wait until his elder sibling's strange mood had worn off.
-: Go away, I'm trying to work. :-
'You are not 'trying to work'; you're deliberately ignoring us.'
-: I refuse to indulge voices in my head. :- Kaiba's sheer stubbornness had risen to a head again, along with it a strong sense of denial. Acknowledging three Blue Eyes White Dragons had taken up residence in his mind was somewhat alarming to him at that moment in time, and so with the mindset of the most recalcitrant of mules, Kaiba refused to budge on the matter.
'High Priest -'
-: I am not a High Priest! I was never a High Priest; I never waved that frickin' golden bauble-on-a-stick around; I am do not have 'memories of a past life' and I am not Egyptian!! :-
'Oh?' The voice in his inner mind sounded amused. 'Have you been looking at what you've been writing for the past half hour or so, Kai-imakhu?'
Coming back to himself, Kaiba stared down at the paper he'd started out that morning trying to write some computer code on for one of his latest programs. The top of the first sheet was fine, filled with neat notes and some binary but everything past that –
Scowling, Kaiba scrunched up every piece of paper in front of him, flinging it under his desk in a fit of pique and storming out of his room, his coat whirling about him, dragons snickering annoyingly in his head. Preoccupied, he completely missed his wide-eyed little brother staring after him.
Mokuba frowned, watching as his elder brother stomped away. Waiting until the brunette had disappeared out the door he dived under the desk, grabbing the scrunched up sheets of paper Seto had tossed aside and smoothing them out on his lap.
Mokuba's frown grew, confusion written across his features.
The paper – five whole sheets of plain, A4-sized paper – was covered, on both sides, with rows and rows of flawlessly-drawn hieratic.
Madame Hooch was an extremely awkward woman to find when you wanted her. There were a thousand thousand and one places for her to vanish to inside of Hogwarts – and that wasn't even including the exterior grounds. But then…if you didn't want to find her (generally when you were a teacher who hadn't handed in a certain amount of paperwork as promised a week beforehand, or you were a student out of bed after dark) the woman was everywhere you didn't want her to be.
Yugi, currently, was trying for the former, more impossible action. Having arrived back at Hogwarts he'd come face to face with the chaos that was paperwork, a bunch of forms stuffed in his face by Professor McGonagall. Some bright spark up in the Ministry had decided it was best all duelists participating in the tournament got a few, oh-so-friendly little forms to fill in to say they'd arrived back at the school safe and sound, and, as a teacher, Yugi got a double-whammy of paperwork – apparently that same bright little spark had decided the hosts of the competition needed to fill in forms saying they'd received all the necessary forms, and then trawl through the piles of health and safety jargon heaped therein.
….If Yugi ever got hold of the little spark he was going to wring the little idiot's neck…
Not to mention his headache. His mental barrier against the majority of Hogwarts' foreign magic – the one Yami had forced him to share – was taking a battering again. Having been away from Hogwarts for awhile his own Shadow powers needed time to readapt to the school's natural magical ebb and flow – some peace and quiet would have been fantastic. Sadly, both were to be denied, and so Yugi was feeling a little vicious at the world as he stomped a little heavier than usual down Hogwarts' corridors in the hope of finding Madame Hooch – the lady who Yugi had been told to hand his forms in to.
Eventually – after three hours searching – Yugi found her, happily sipping a cup of tea in the staffroom. It was the third time he'd checked that chamber so his temper wasn't the best, but he forcedly shoved away his irritation and concentrated on feeling relieved his hunt was finally over.
"Tea?" apparently Yugi hadn't hidden his irritation well enough, for Madame Hooch was all sympathy towards him from the moment she laid eyes on him. When Yugi pulled a face, she swiftly amended her offer. "Coffee?"
"Please." The History professor sank down into a seat with unfeigned gratefulness. With even more appreciation he accepted the mug of steaming ambrosia offered him, taking a sip of the bitter liquid and sighing in bliss.
"…I take it you've been faced with the dreaded forms as well?" At Yugi's wince, Madame Hooch laughed. "I thought so. You finished yours?" A sheaf of papers was tossed her way. Quickly, she flipped through them. "These all seem to be fine…"
"Thank kami-sama for that." Yugi burrowed a little deeper into the cushions plumping up his seat, allowing some of the stress of his day to fade away somewhat. "If I have to fill in one more form I'm going to strangle someone."
His companion laughed, picking up her own abandoned tea and taking a sip of it. "What do you think I feel like? I'm the poor soul Minerva's getting to file all these." She tapped a fingernail off the paper-sheaf.
Yugi made a sympathetic noise, but offered no verbal consolation – it was a given, as everyone loathed the Ministry's favourite brand of torture - the paperwork of DOOM. Yugi knew his friends would've been hit with a lot of it and he could imagine their expressions. Kaiba would've been fine with it, Ryou too, but people such as Joey and Marik – hm. Speaking of the latter blonde, he hadn't seen him yet. "…Would you have happened to see my friend, Marik this year yet? Last name's Ishtar."
"Mr. Ishtar?" Madame Hooch nodded. "Yes, he's back. Arrived the other day. He seemed a little ill if you ask me, something about him felt…off, somehow. He wanted to know if you were back yet and I told him no, and he asked me to let you know he wants to see you as soon as possible. He said it was important…" The flying mistress shrugged. "He wouldn't say why."
Yugi frowned, setting down his then nearly-empty cup and leaning forward in his seat. "Do you know if he's in his chambers?"
"Well, I've never seen him outside his rooms – not even for food."
"He hasn't eaten?" The frown was replaced by an expression of worry, Yugi standing in a sudden rush. "I…I need to go see him. Now. Excuse me…" Distractedly, Yugi left the staffroom, breaking into a loping jog as soon as he'd left the room behind him and entered the corridor. The Hogwarts surroundings passed him a blur, one thing and one thing alone on his mind – what's wrong with Marik? It was unlike the Egyptian to be off his food, but the blonde had been a little odd in the old year as well so maybe…maybe there was something wrong with the Clan?
Halfway to Marik's chambers, the preoccupied Yugi found himself quite abruptly within his soul room, Yami having taken control of the body. Surprised, Yugi could only ask: (Yami?)
/Not yet, aibou. /
Even more confused, Yugi sat back in his room, a puzzled frown on his face. Usually Yami asked him for control, or provided a reason for taking the body. But…this time he hadn't so what was…?
Yami stopped outside the room belonging to Marik, a portrait of a summer garden hanging on the wall in front of him – the door. Acting on a hunch Yami pushed lightly on it, proving his guess to be accurate when it swung aside, revealing the doorway. Their Egyptian friend had left his room open…
The chambers inside were dim, the pharaoh stepping into the gloom, ruby eyes slowly adjusting to the light change as the portrait-door swung closed behind him. "Ma-kun?" The query was directed at the room's bed, where Yami could see a figure sitting in the murk, but was unable to make out any more than that. "You wanted to see us?"
A low laugh. "He's been trying to speak with you for quite some time…"
"'He'?" A low stirring of unease started in Yami's gut, a familiar feeling prickling along his skin, though he couldn't quite place its origin.
"Yes, 'he'." A sudden swift movement in the shadows, and the pharaoh sensed the other was standing. A cold feeling snaked around the monarch's ankles and, looking down, he saw purple mist curl around slim leather boots.
The Shadow Realm.
The Shadows brought to him, their master, strength, their darkness, but they also amplified the magic radiating off his partner, letting it swirl about him, choking and blinding, the metallic taste of chaos on his tongue.
It reeked of madness.
With rising dread, crimson eyes travelled up and across to their companion, their fears confirmed when the Millennium Rod glowed back at them, the golden light cutting harshly across a man's tanned face, illuminating crazed violet orbs which shown almost as brightly as the Item.
Malik smirked, his voice carrying easily through the Shadows to Yami. "Marhaba, Pharaoh! Long time no see…"
A familiar feeling, cold and prickling, crept around Bakura's heart, inching up his spine and touching his mind with its bittersweet, poisonous caress. Insidious, it worked its way through his system, raising his hand to touch the cold windowpane in his room, breath suddenly just a little bit harder to catch.
# Bakura…# Ryou appeared beside him, the Millennium Ring glowing brightly in the face of such sneaking seduction, such rampant magic suddenly coursing along the castle's natural channels as to fill every breath with the sweet reek, to lure any attuned to the changing drifts out to play. #Bakura - # Even Ryou's eyes were smoky with the want for it – he was the Thief King's other half, after all, and if there was one thing Bakura had always desired more of, nearly driven himself to destruction for it was –
Power, pure and sweet and deadly was roaming the castle, the watergate opened and the river roaring through the wizards' delicate charms and spells and tainting everything with shrieking Shadow. Shadow, the darkness lurking within a Black Hole, deep and dark and enough to swallow one hole, drive someone mad. Shadow, tinged with that wonderful edge that came from being worked by one who was already insane –
"It's not our place." Bakura's hand had long since curled into a claw, his whole body tense as he visibly restrained himself from running out into Hogwarts' corridors and stealing the power source for himself… "It's not our fight."
"How can it not be our fight?" Ryou too was tense, lips pressed tightly together when he wasn't speaking. "They're our friends."
"It's not our fight." Bakura repeated the words, trying to detach himself from that aching need – "It's not our cause. Not yet."
His hikari's reply was quiet. "…I thought we were beyond fighting solely for ourselves?"
"We are." Bluntness. "To a degree. But now is not the time to fling ourselves into a pointless scramble – we'd only be getting in the way."
A pause, Ryou catching the touch of prediction in his yami's voice, the lingering words of fate. "…Later?"
A stiff, composed nod. "Later."
Atemu wished he could close his eyes and pretend this was all just a bad dream. But he couldn't, oh he couldn't. The screams of the dying, the shriek of the monster…the nightmares of reality chased him even behind his closed lids, hounding him so that his small heart beat fast, double-fast, and he would've stood shock still in horror had not Seth been dragging at his wrist, pulling him away from those who were trying to kill him.
Another pull at his arm and Atemu was yanked sharply to the right, out of the path of a flying chunk of rubble the giant Skull had flung their way. The Crown Prince heard it whistle as it flew past him, striking some poor unfortunate who hadn't been so lucky to get out of the way. Atemu dearly hoped it was one of the brigands who had attacked the temple, but his wish was soon lost as his delicate sandal caught on something on the floor, and he stumbled.
Seth moved to catch him but Atemu had already looked down, breath catching in his throat and mind freezing in horror as he looked down into the face of a dead Egyptian clothed in the garb of one of his guards. The man's neck had been torn clean open, sluggish red blood trickling down to stain the floor, some of it smearing on the sandal that had got caught.
Bile rose in Atemu's throat and the young royal had the sudden urge to be violently sick, turning aside just in time so as not to dishonour the body of the fallen soldier that had fought for him that day. Atemu retched until nothing came up but acid and air, shuddering when Seth drew him into his chest with one arm, focusing some spell or other over his head with his free hand.
"Seth – Seth – oh how could they – it's wrong, it's wrong!"
"I know." His cousin's voice was calm again, blue eyes not looking down at him – Seth was focusing on the battle, on keeping his smaller charge safe.
"Why…Seth, why..?" Atemu was still too shocked to give words to his thoughts, but thankfully his companion seemed to understand the unspoken part of his question.
"Because there is evil in the world, Atemu." Seth's whole attention, distracted by the plea in the voice of the trembling child in his protection. "And as long as there is evil, there will be death, and pain, and suffering. Evil killed that man." A gentle touch to the prince's cheek, a kind glance from his older cousin to try and quell his shaking. "Think of the old tales, little cousin. Has evil ever completely won?"
"'Little cousin'?" A sneering voice interrupted their conversation, Atemu's hands suddenly tightening into fists clutching at the front of Seth's robes when a long blade, gleaming silver, its end sticky red, slid in alongside the smooth skin of the priest's neck, laid against the underside of Seth's jaw. A sneaking brigand had crept up on them while Seth had been distracted… "How sweet." The other had moved closer, foul lips curving upwards into a cruel grin. "The two little royal heirs, curled up together like frightened rats."
Atemu shivered, swallowing once. Defiant, he raised his chin, as if to angrily retort, but Seth laid a hand atop his, carefully unplucking smaller fingers from his clothes. Confused the Crown Prince looked to his cousin, seeking explanation, but Seth merely pushed him once, gently, blue eyes as serious as ever his younger companion had seen them.
Obediently, as he had promised, Atemu broke away from his cousin, and ran.
Milton had got it right in his great work Paradise Lost Kaiba decided, for within himself Hell he most certainly brought, and from the Hell he could not take one more step than he could take leave of his own body, wherever he roamed. (1) Madness lurked within his own mind – he just managed to hide it well (sometimes) -, whether it took the form of a pompous dragon, irritating voice, or a door that out of complete sheer stubbornness refused to open.
At the moment, stealing a few moments of peace in some abandoned room within an abandoned room in the labyrinth some crackpot decided to call a school, it was the latter two reflections that were causing Kaiba stress. The dragons had finally taken the hint and flown off somewhere sounding rather aggrieved (– where exactly they'd flown off to, Kaiba just didn't really want to either know or think about-), but when they'd left they'd pulled Kaiba 'in' like they'd done the time before, and yet again the brunette was sitting scowling outside an annoyingly obtuse grey-metal door.
"Irritated, akee?" In his mind's eye Seto could almost see a bed of grass, a lean form casually sprawled out on it with daises scattered on his stomach, absent-mindedly threading the stems together to make a chain.
"It's been a long day." Kaiba wasn't in the mood to argue, least of all with these faceless children's voices.
"The day hasn't even really yet begun…" Splashing in the background, far-away giggling of two others in the water…
"It's been long enough."
"If you say so… Look." For an instant Kaiba truly saw the daisy chain held up for his perusal, the flash of white teeth behind in a pleased grin. Tanned, small fingers were stained green at their tips by the juices from the plants, leaves clinging down all one brown arm where skin had pressed against the ground.
Kaiba blinked, and the image was gone. Confused, he laid a hand on the door between himself and the other speaking to him. "How did you…?"
A contented pause, the child no doubt setting his chain back down again, perhaps laying it across his lap. "You opened your eyes."
A thinking quiet. "…Someone once told me when you opened your eyes; you only ever saw what you expected to see."
"Who told you that?" Kaiba was curious.
"I…I don't really remember." The child sounded pained. "It was a long, long time ago."
Silence fell for a little while, broken by Kaiba's soft question: "Why won't you ever open the door?"
"I would, akee, but I am not such a one as to possess the key."
"Then who owns the key?"
"Then where do I keep it?"
Reprimanding: "That's not the right question."
"Then what is the right question?"
"You've got to ask it, not me."
Kaiba thought silently to himself for a few moments. He had the key apparently, but he didn't know where that key was so – "Then how do I find the key?"
Pleased laughter, the sounds of someone clapping their hands together in delight. "You go look for it, of course!" Kaiba groaned, and changed the subject.
He lost track of time, after a while, leaning with his back against the impossible doorway talking with the occupant within. They had spoken of many things, idly talking and getting to know one another better. It was…peaceful, oddly enough.
"I'm touched you came to visit me, akee." The child-speaker sounded sincere when he spoke, voice firm if topic a little abstract.
"Oh, please." Kaiba snorted. "There are two other people there besides you; maybe I came to visit them."
"If you came to visit them, akee, they would be here." The voice sounded smug. "This is your soul, after all." Damn the child.He had a good point, and Kaiba could find no response to counter it. Able only to growl the brunette was forced to endure teasing laughter, about to snarl some insult or other when –
Gasp. Choking, and concern saw hands reach up to try and ease pressure around a slim throat. The splashing in the background was still there, but then there was a worried shriek, someone staggering onto land and –
"Onii-sama!" Another child's voice, worried and full of anguish.
What had gone wrong? Only one child – the youngest-sounding – out of three, the other two –
Tears. "They can't breathe."
Mortals had managed to change the smell of death. The Grim Reaper smelled of bitter, pungent antiseptic, of stiff linen and cold metal that gleamed under hospital lights, accompanying the deceased to the beyond with the shrieking of ambulances or the heart monitor's relentless cry. The morgue, with the rows upon rows off filled cases containing nameless remains, the shiny wooden coffins lined up to be buried alongside graves' dark maws in the never-ending march of time. Death's scent had been made clean.
But not chaos…oh, never chaos. Chaos was always, always so very different, but the underlying feel of it was always the same. Always changing, with that acrid bitterness, sweet and delightful, tangy, sour. A bite some detested, others craved. Madness, lurking as a coat to cloak oneself with, hiding in the crazy violet light of the eyes of whom many referred to simply as 'Malik'.
The yami. The dark one. The one who was completely insane.
"I banished you." Yami stared the other spirit down coldly, ignoring the swirling Shadows about him, the tendrils that curled up his legs, twined about his chest. They felt…colder than usual to him, if that were possible, and darker than before. Their purple was more like black than ever he had seen it before, and that was something new for the Shadows' Master.
A snort from Malik, long arms crossed and a sneer touching the Egyptian's lips. "For the good that did." The Shadows crept higher around Yami, seeking some sort of comfort from the one who usually kept them tame, but still they felt different, felt odd. Felt…familiar…but…not in a way that brought back good recollections. There was something… "Haven't you ever noticed, Pharaoh, things you banish have the tendency to decide to come back and hit at you like a boomerang?"
"That's not…" Yami faltered for a moment, catching just a hint of truth in the question – alright a lot of truth, and Yugi's little noises in the affirmative from the Puzzle didn't help much -, but regained his usual brazenness in time to keep face, and scowl at the other yami. "Some people just don't take a hint."
"Yourself being one of them?" Malik was smug, as well as dangerous. "You'd think you'd pick up on the fact you're wanted dead when so many others make it their personal mission."
"Like yours is?"
"Please, you're nothing more than an errand on the side to save myself a bit of effort later on." Malik approached, Yami's pride refusing to allow him to step back even though the other man was both taller and broader than he. A sudden swift movement – when had Malik grown so quick? -, no time to do anything but take one half-step back in utter surprise,and his hand was about the king's neck, squeezing tightly.
Yami choked, hands flying to his throat in an effort to release the pressure there. It did little good – Malik's grip was firm, his thumb digging squarely into Yami's windpipe and cutting off the pharaoh's vital oxygen supply. The Shadows, his pets usually, withdrew and blanketed the room around them totally, icy cold like the touch of…
That Realm with Kaiba!! The Shadows were full of…that feeling the Dark Realm had had, the creeping coldness, sliding alongside the Shadows, tainting them –
"You see, Pharaoh," Malik's grip tightened about Yami's throat, his smile becoming just a touch more sadistic, "I've had plenty of time to think things through in my 'hibernation', gained a lot of insight from watching the world passively through the eyes of my other half."
Yami bared his teeth in a hiss, scratching at the fingers curled so strongly around his neck. His Puzzle flared with light once, feebly, but the spark guttered and died. "You're nothing more than a malignant parasite."
A sneer. "And that makes you…what? You're the same as me."
"I am not! I work with Yugi, not against -"
"My omote and I are working perfectly in cohesion, Pharaoh."
"Marik would never-!" A choked gasp, Malik slamming Yami back into the wall with a smirk, the king's head smacking painfully against stone.
"Keep telling yourself that."
Horus himself could not have caught Atemu in full flight, the Crown Prince fleet of foot by nature, complimenting his small stature. Most in the temple's hall saw only a glittering, multicoloured blur pass them by, hands reaching out to snatch at the boy long after the child had already passed. Only one set of eyes followed Atemu exactly, and they were lost deep in the blackness of their sockets, the darkness of Chaos from which their master had been summoned.
The Skull. Catching sight of the prince alone it stepped further into the temple, men scattering from where its heavy feet thudded into the stone floor. Atemu could not fail to hear its approach, like the death knell, his face whitening under its usual tan, his feet stopping their mad dash for an instant as he stared at the approaching horror.
This Shadow creature was going to kill him, Atemu knew that. It was going to kill him, and devastate Egypt. It was going to kill him, and kill Seth, and leave Khemet heirless and open for war.
The Skull advanced.
Atemu stumbled back a few steps, unable to tear his eyes away from the monster's. His feet led him deeper and deeper into the temple, away from the main battle. Eventually he reached the innermost sanctum, the home of the god, and found himself unable to retreat any further, his back pressed tightly against the stone front of the god Horus.
The Skull smirked.
Atemu was frightened. The Skull was so close to him; he could smell its rotting skin, practically taste the foul stench the monster brought with itself upon his tongue. It made him feel ill, and he longed to throw up. He was just a boy…a young idiotic boy, barely ten years, and this…this monster was so much bigger than him and his guards were elsewhere fighting bandits and – and Seth –
"Seth!!" Atemu yelled for his guardian as he'd been taught to do since a young age, his own fear mingling with worry for his cousin. His shriek went unheard though, drowned out by the fighting. The Skull kept coming, clawed hands reaching out for him and –
"Atemu! In the name of Ra – move!!" Seth's voice.
The Crown prince followed the brunette's words instinctively, dodging just in time to avoid a particularly nasty swipe from the Skull harassing him. The monster was too large to fit into the inner sanctum, but its arms were long enough to reach for him. Seth was too far away to help him – Atemu could see his cousin now; the young priest was hampered in one of the outside chambers by at least two men, neither of which seemed to be taking the blue-eyed youth's hint and just dying. So…the monster was Atemu's concern.
Atemu's temper flared again. This stupid monster had been summoned up by a bunch of even stupider men and for what? To disrupt and to hurt and to kill. To create useless chaos and ruin peace and he hated it! It wasn't fair and it wasn't right and –
"Go away!" Atemu's yell was that of a frustrated preteen, annoyed and confused and driven beyond belief. He was frightened and he wanted his father, and he was sick and tired and thought he was going to die. "Stop following me and just go away!"
The Skull…paused for a moment, gazing at the Crown Prince with something that was almost awe, mingled with clear hesitation. The monster's quiet commanded the attention of most of the men in the hall, Seth's eyes widening when he saw the slight control his cousin held over the Skull.
"Atemu, command it again!"
"I – I – Seth, what shall I say?!" Atemu's voice was a wail. The Skull was coming back to itself, one long claw reaching for the youngest royal once more.
"Just tell it to go away again!" Seth finally gave up on his magic blasts, and settled instead on punching one of his assailants solidly in the face. With some satisfaction the brunette watched the man drop like a stone.
"I – I – you." Atemu glared down the monster who had been swiping at him. "You –" No deep meaningful name sprang to his mind, and so the crimson-eyed royal went with the first name that entered his head. "Summoned Skull." Something entered his voice then, some divine authority leaking into the voice of a pre-adolescent. Horus-the-child spoke, and his voice was everything befitting of the one who would grow up to become the True King, his iron will prevalent at even such a tender age.
Though…the words themselves could do with a bit of work…
"I name you Summoned Skull – now leave us all ALONE!!"
The Summoned Skull jarred to a halt, clawed hands falling. There were cries of dismay from the brigands when what looked like purple strands appeared from nowhere and wrapped around the monster, digging into the bones and widening, turning into bars. Slowly, the Skull faded away into purple mist.
Atemu stared. He'd done it. He'd actually done it. He, Atemu, Crown Prince of Egypt, boy of thirty seasons, had banished a powerful Shadow creature single-handedly, without the use of a Millennium Item. Elation bubbled in Atemu's stomach, a giddy smile erupting on his lips as he span –
White-hot pain tore through his abdomen, cold metal driving clean through him and out the other side to slam into the statue of the god. Dully, Atemu glanced down at the sword that held him pinned to the stone deity, following the limb attached to the blade up…up to the leering face of one of the bandits who had first started the attack.
"Your Highness." The man's lips drew back in a mocking sneer as he spoke, even as he wrenched free the sword driven through the prince's lower half, tearing more of Atemu's flesh as it went.
Atemu slid to the floor almost immediately, whimpering. Gods, he hurt so much! Fiery hot pain radiated from his wound, his whole body screaming in agony while blood
- red as his own eyes –
ran down his limbs, ruing the linen he wore and forming a pool
- of tears oh no no no no no no no –
that spread about him on the floor. Atemu could only gasp, each breath harder to take than the last, and his vision was dimming
- dark dark dark he didn't like the dark please stop this –
but he could hear someone shrieking his name
- Seth –
again and again and again and again and –
Seth it hurts.
Atemu blacked out.
The Millennium Puzzle hanging on its chain around the neck of Yami flashed angrily in the face of the one assaulting its Bearer, the metal's golden glow flaring brightly, and almost reaching out to lunge –
The darkness roiled, swarmed, swept across to engulf the Puzzle in black, and the Item's light
died a cold, quick death for the second time that day. Crimson eyes widened, astonished that such a thing could happen, fingers for an instant pausing the scratching at Malik's wrist, lost in surprise. Malik's smirk was smug and mocking, and rage flashed through Yami at the sight of it. The pharaoh arched his body, trying to draw in more breath. "What have you done?" His words were a hiss through his teeth. It took great power to alter the natural state of the Shadow Realm, more so than any Yami himself possessed, and he was the Master of the Shadows.
"It was already that way." Malik saw the angry disbelief present on his companion's face and shrugged. "I'm merely taking advantage of it. The Items won't work properly in the Shadow Realm anymore; in some patches of the Realm they don't work altogether." The insane smirk was back, one tanned hand tapping at the Puzzle between them. "As you've just found out." Yami let out another sound, furious, swiping at the hand daring to touch his Item, but Malik had already moved his limb away, laughing at the other spirit. "Quite pathetic without your Item, aren't you, pharaoh?" Malik's fingers tightened even further on Yami's neck, digging his nails into the king's soft throat until the skin broke and blood bubbled up. Yami was struggling not to wince, his eyes watering, the skin around the orbs reddening with pent-up tears.
"Cry if you want to;" Malik whispered insidiously, smirking, "it would be quite amusing to see the 'great pharaoh' whimpering piteously like the dog he is before he dies -" increased pressure, the breath leaving Yami's lips as little more than a wheeze, "or would you prefer to end your days like some tired dog too old to do anything but dream of how soon it will die?" Malik lifted his hand, raising his captive up off the ground, holding him inches off of the floor by the throat alone. "Now -"
The air tightened around them, contracting, the briefest flicker of surprise flashing through eyes of mad violet, the thrum of wingbeats in the air as the Shadows thickened to cover the approach of…what?
Malik frowned, the Shadows slightly parting. "It would appear we have a guest…"
A deadly snarl from the darkness, wickedly sharp teeth bare and glistening behind Malik's shoulder, ice eyes colder than arctic frost fixed and glowering upon the deranged spirit. Every hair rose on the nape of Yami's neck, small streaks of lightning prickling between his fingertips, sparks dancing across his lips, the surface of his skin. Lights danced before his eyes – whether it was the crackling threads of lightning or oxygen deprivation he didn't quite know –
"Let him go." Dark, chilling tones, frost-laced with sharpened icicles dripping from the demanded terms. Yami couldn't see who it was who had spoken but the voice was familiar…
"And if I don't?" Malik glanced back over his shoulder with a smug smirk.
A dragon roared.
Hot air more dry and burning than any furnace's fire blasted over Yami, whipping the moisture from his body in an instant, his skin searing, reddening, blistering under the intense heat. He felt Malik's grip around his throat loosen in shock, himself drop to the ground, knees impacting painfully with the hard floor. Instinctively his body curled in upon itself, hands pressed to his skull in a futile effort to block out the unceasing, deafening roaring that shook their surroundings, the splitting thunder that felt as if it would rend his head in two with its furious raging, the agonising pain. It went on and on and on…
The silence afterwards was as loud as the noise.
In the thunderous quiet, there was the sound of footsteps. A hand hesitantly touched Yami's forehead, brushing back the mussed fringe.
"D-don't." Yami extended a hand shakily, his head ringing too much for him to think straight. "I – I would not -"
"My apologies, my pharaoh." Gentle fingers curled around Yami's wrist, a tall figure crouching down at his side. "I forget what it is to be on the receiving end of a dragon's temper." Carefully, the other helped Yami to straighten out, uncurl. "Your pain was not my intention."
"S-Seto?" Blearily Yami blinked at the brunette, his head still aching horribly, his throat and chest burning with pain. His skin was still sore with blisters in some places, the ground an agony to lie upon, but Yami had not the strength to stand. A direct attack in the Shadow Realm -
"My liege." 'Seto' looked different. His eyes were wider, bluer, his words tinged with some forgotten inflection that stirred dusty memories in Yami's mind. "I regret my deck is devoid of magic cards to heal else -"
"Side-deck." The battered king murmured quietly.
"What?" His companion looked confused.
"My side-deck." Yami explained wearily. "In my deck holster. Around my waist." As Kaiba carefully moved to pull the deck out, fanning the cards – "…Seto?" The brunette looked down at him, expression lost somewhere between worry and confusion. Yami reached up with one hand, brushing his cheek, searching his suddenly alien eyes. "…Where are you?"
"My pharaoh, I -" The aquamarine gaze abruptly slid aside, a green Magic card moved into Yami's view: Dian Keto the Cure Master. "I can use this."
That wasn't what you were going to say… Yami sighed, closing his eyes and nodding. "Yes. Where's…what happened to Malik?" The young king felt rather than saw the Magic card activated, light warmth bathing his form and soothing his hurt.
"I don't know." 'Seto's' voice was neutral. "I saw my Dragon's blast hit him – but he vanished after that…"
"I suppose it's too much to assume he's completely gone then…" Yami winced as magic coursed through seared nerves, brief pain flaring like pinpricks across his skin as blisters receded, vanished, skin healing and growing anew over burned flesh. It probably wouldn't be able to do much about bruising though… "And you," a thoughtful pause, slight glance between half-closed lashes, "you are -"
"I am Kaiba Seto."
"And Kaiba Seto is feeling not quite himself at this present moment in time – correct?"
Contemplative, serious silence before an answer, careful hands checking Dian Keto had done her work while their master thought: "…Some might say Kaiba Seto felt never more himself than at this present time."
Yami smiled dryly, feeling the magic ebb within himself, its work done. He sat up, thankful of the steadying grip that moved immediately to his shoulders. "And I'd generally be inclined to agree with them but – and I can't believe I'm saying this – I'm beginning to miss the usual sarcasm."
"But – in such a mindset he is – I am – hopeless; how-?"
"He's getting there." Slowly, Yami stood, pleased to note Dian Keto had cured all his aches and pains – even the ones not inflicted by Dragon. They'd probably come back later though – the priest was not a healer by nature. The pharaoh smiled at his doubtful cousin, reassuring. "Slowly, I'll admit, but he's getting there. And…that is what counts, is it not?"
"Soon…he and I…?"
"You said it before," leaning into a hug of all things, Seth/Seto's arms wrapping around him more out of ancient habit than ought else, "you are Kaiba Seto. And Seto is you."
"Hn…" nose buried in spiky hair and, just for a short, short while – blessed peace. And then, the body stiffened, forced itself to relax for a few moments but unfailingly stiffened again –
"Mouto-baka – are you going to let go of me anytime soon?" More familiar dry tones, and Yami knew if he looked up blue irises would be back to their ordinary crystal shade. "I'd like the use of my limbs sometimes today."
Well, thought Yami to himself, smiling ruefully as he stepped back and opened the link with Yugi in his mind once more so his hikari's frantic babble could pass through, it was good while it lasted.
By nature, many assumed Marik Ishtar was a loud, bright creature. Always smiling, laughing, joking…the platinum blonde took very little seriously, and could find some spark of humour in most situations. His friends and associates he loved to torment with his glib, often rapier, wit, and he dressed and acted flamboyantly, elegantly, pulling off honed stupidity and trickery with great aplomb. He was admired for his good lucks, for his intelligence and skills, and no-one in a million years outside of Marik's close circle of family and friends would ever assume that anything could possibly ever actually trouble the Egyptian, and Marik preferred it that way.
Marik was scared.
He had heard the expression to 'let your anger take over', but never before had the expression been so useful, so perfect to describe the situation – had another human being in the history of Man ever lost himself to anger the same way he, Marik Ishtar, had? Such anger that was bubbling, seething, detached from himself, another personality –
His lightness, his humour…did it all stem from the fact all his darkness had been poured away into the creation of new, shadowed life? Was he incapable of hatred because all his hatred was Malik…? A person could only hate so much…
Perhaps Khafril had been right, back in Egypt. Perhaps Marik really was a coward, a desecrator, someone not fit to look at, speak to or even speak of someone as light and untainted as Yugi Mouto, vessel to the Pharaoh's golden soul.
Marik was scared.
He wrapped his arms around himself, deep within his broken soul, and silently pleaded for the silver tears to stop trailing down his cheeks. He was an adult, and yet so easily reduced to the state of being like a child…must all his life by formed of blood and pain?
The space around him was dark, velvet Shadows, Malik's soul stronger and deeper and twisting like thorns around the few ribbons of light that were left. Biting, cruel and deep, a cage of barbs snaring Marik and locking him within himself, a passenger within his own body, unable to see, unable to speak, unable to act….powerless.
Marik was scared.
Malik was running rampant in the world outside – there was no telling what the other was doing to Marik's friends, to Hogwarts, to the world… Marik certainly couldn't stop him, caged so neatly within his own mind, Malik's twisted affections – if one could call them that – making sure Marik was never alone – how could one been alone with another's mind curled around yours like a second skin, dark and disgusting and poisonous enough to Marik feel sick…? Malik was free to do what the hell he liked.
Marik was scared. Whether he was scared more for himself or his friends, he had no idea.
Ryou pressed his forehead to the cold glass of the windowpane in his room, trying to soothe a rising headache that pounded away at his temples. "Bakura…" he spoke to the entity within his Ring, the spirit of the thief having stolen away to….to do whatever he did in his locked soulroom within the Item. "Bakura, why do these things always happen to us…?"
A stirring within the Ring, the grinding of a great stone door pushed slightly aside. \...Who is 'us', yadounishi? \
"You, and I, and Yugi, and Yami, Marik, Joey, Kaiba…our friends. Why us?"
A thoughtful pause. \I could speak of destiny, Ryou, and fate – but that is not what you wish to hear, is it? \
\Then I can give you no answer. \ The Ring flashed once, golden-bright, and Bakura stood beside his other half, part-solid, laying his head on his hikari's shoulder. "Some of us are just cursed with misfortune…" Both of them could feel the Shadows streaking about Hogwarts, the Darkness and what acted within it. The flare of the Puzzle's power, an answering dragon's roar. "The gods decree we are born to give the lives of others purpose."
Ryou swallowed, his head throbbing. "Do the gods also decree that that purpose is more important than our own lives?"
"I don't know."
Tears now, pricking at his eyelids, hot and uncomfortable. The itching feeling of the magic in the school he daren't touch, the situation he could only join in after conclusion. The question – he daren't voice it aloud –
#Yami, is Marik going to die? #
There was no answer. Bakura remained silent, a heavy, breathing weight against Ryou's shoulder.
The world was made of fire.
Atemu stumbled and ran as baying jackals snapped at his heels, gleaming teeth overrunning with spittle and foam. Howls chased him through hellish night, roaring, leaping flames that burst from nowhere and seared his skin his only light. Geysers spat and belched great clouds of burning mist, and the cruelly glittering stones of the heated sands below tore the skin from Atemu's knees and arms when he stumbled and fell. It felt as if the jaws of the Underworld had opened and swallowed the young prince whole, the demons that lurked in the darkness hounding him, needling him, allowing the child no rest, no safety, no sanctuary or home.
Occasionally warped whispers slid past his ears, garbled half-sentences that snatched at his attention and mocked him with their vague familiarity to – to what? He couldn't quite recall, too busy running, running –
"…to be protecting him!"
"The monster -"
But still the demons kept up, always a few leaps behind him. Everything was blood, and pain, and fire.
"…my boy, my boy, my only boy…"
"…are the gods themselves against us?"
"…what use is blessing if he's dead?!"
The landscape stretched on ahead, unrelenting. The snarls of the jackals were louder – had they neared to him, or was he slowing? Atemu just felt so, so tired…
A light on the horizon, golden-white, soft and – familiar – and –
He ran for the light, the dawn of the darkness, and the demons shrieked behind him, gibbering displeasure, anger and hate –
"…I'm sorry, I'm sorry -"
"…will 'temu be alright?"
"Shh, Mana, let the royal family be -"
Into the light, into the first rays streaking across the sand, into the soft cooling breeze of the morning. Hope, and a yelp as something struck the jackals behind, yips as the demons sped away, thankfully away –
Arms swept around Atemu, golden and light and gentle, and the Crown Prince buried his face in a comforting chest, small fingers clutching at the soft, soft feathers beneath his hands –
Someone said something soothing to him but Atemu lost the words, gentle tones breaking over him like the Nile River lapping at its banks. Ancient, familiar, safe.
Crimson eyes cracked open, clouded with the last traces of a fading fever, and met worried, repentant blue, azure irises red around the edges from…crying…?
"…Seth…?" Atemu's voice was croaky when he spoke, husky from disuse. Heads snapped up around the room Atemu was lying in bed in, but he paid them no heed, concentrating on his cousin. "Seth, what's wrong…?"
The priest looked up at him, wonder suddenly touching the young man's expression. "Atemu, you're – you're –" words failed the brunette.
"Why have you been crying?" The Crown Prince insisted.
Seth raised a hand slowly, using it to push down the thin covers that covered Atemu from chest down, splaying fingers across rough linen bandages around the boy's stomach. "…Doesn't it hurt?"
Atemu's mind froze as he stared at the bandages, at Seth's solemn gaze, at his father's expression just behind the priest, at his uncle's face, just beside his father. At the servants and physicians all around his bed, at the simultaneously worried and relieved gazes of Mahado, Isis and Mana all peeping in through the slightly open door to his room.
His voice was small. "…Have I been sick very long?"
They stared each other down in the courtyard, the school clock above them time ticking onwards. Through the glass face a blonde figure watched, worried, luggage piled at his feet, but none on the ground noticed him, focused on themselves and each other.
Malik. Yami. Kaiba. A triangle of sorts, the latter two ranged on one side while Malik stood facing them, the insane spirit clearly the worse for the wear after being subjected to the Blue Eyes' White Lightning.
Shadows pooled and stained the ground around them, blank tendrils twining with the climbing plants growing on the school face and blanketing the stone, covering windows and blocking the sight of anyone glancing out. It was a good thing most of the students had yet to return from their holiday… No Shadow thought to cover the clock.
Malik had chosen the ground. Already at a disadvantage due to being the only one left physically injured the spirit had been determined not to let an opportunity pass him by – deciding the ground upon which he was to meet his opponents gave him just that little bit of an edge. But then there was the problem of Kaiba –
Malik hadn't counted on a second adversary. None of his plans factored in one glaring, blue-eyed brunette, his assumptions that the CEO would try to stay as far as physically possible from anything Shadow magic-related apparently incorrect. Everyone else knew to mind their business, but Kaiba Seto just had to be awkward, even if –
Back in the tainted Shadows, after the light of the Puzzle died, the air had been alive. Everything had been throbbing, dancing, swirling and churning with sheer, awesome power. Kaiba Seto had always had the flare of magic within him; the flames that fanned themselves into a great fire whenever he leapt to protect his loved ones, but…back in the Shadows, Kaiba's strength had been a furnace. Roaring, shrieking, hissing, burning, greedily reaching up and snatching awe out of minds and mouths –
Something new had been entered into Kaiba Seto's equation.
Violet eyes studied Kaiba's tall form, a sneer curling across Malik's lips. There was always something of the priest in you, watching how the other leaned towards the proud pharaoh, ever-protective, and yet it took you until now to find him?
In a one-on-one battle designed for two there wasn't room for one more, especially when the spare wheel could so dangerously tip the carefully-set scales pre-arranged before the match. And so, when the Shadows rose again and arced over Yami's and Malik's heads Kaiba found himself cut off, a bubble of darkness sealing the two spirits from his sight and aid. He himself was locked within a Shadow-pool of his own, and from the murky Realm around him distant shrieks echoed, proclaiming he was not alone.
Here be monsters…
Scuttling, crawling things moved in the Shadows, high-pitched laughter trailing after blurs of gloom that prowled in ever-narrowing circles. Kaiba was the epicentre of their circle, all the slime scraped from the bottom of the Shadow Realm drawing near. The brunette knew such denizens of the Realm never had any good purposes in mind, so blue eyes were wary as they scanned the darkness for movement.
When a decomposing hyena slunk from the murk – some card Kaiba didn't recognise – Kaiba automatically took a step back from it, his dragons letting out a warning growl at the back of his mind, low rumbling thunder that warmed his insides in the inky icy black.
-: Wait. :-
'For what? You to be attacked and mauled? Master -'
-: I said wait. :-
Reluctantly, the dragons lowered themselves into cautious reticence.
Harry wasn't sure why, but even kitted out in his traditional Christmas jumper from Mrs. Weasley, a pair of fingerless gloves and a scarf he was still freezing cold. It...wasn't the same sort of cold as he was usually accustomed to, this one felt more…internal, curling around his insides, spreading like a dark fog through his veins. Even sitting directly beside the fire in Gryffindor common room did little to dispel the chill. But if it wasn't the usual type of cold disturbing Harry then what-?
Since huddling under a blanket in the tower did little good Harry had taken to pacing the corridors of the school, the strange coldness within him making his steps brisk, footfalls echoing off of bare stone. His usual route took him to the out-of-the-way places, to the unused classrooms, the dusty far-off corridors rarely visited by any but the most antisocial of Hogwarts' ghosts. Ron, loud and lazy, hated Harry's little bouts of solitude and generally let his friend run off and do his own thing for however long Harry felt being on his lonesome – Harry took advantage of the peace to sort through his own thoughts, and puzzle out whatever vexed him at particular times.
With a sigh Harry wrapped his arms around himself, trying to coax some warmth back into his body. Walking down a particularly sorry-looking hallway Harry paused to glance out of a nearby window, wiping off some of the grime on the surface…and frowning when very little happened as a result. There was something coating the windows making looking out difficult – and the problem appeared to be on the outside rather than within. Fiddling with the latch Harry tried to open the window by pushing out, but some resistance (and perhaps a fair share of rust) stuck the movement after a few centimetres.
Harry's frown grew. Just what was going on…? He tried to peer out of the small crack he'd made between window and ledge, but only moving blobs of darkness met his view and – hadn't it still been frosty outside? Where had all the clinging, sparkling white-and-blue ice gone? It was too dark outside for this time of day…
"Harry Potter?" Harry nearly died when a hand laid itself on his shoulder, the boy letting out a very unmanly yelp and spinning around to face his assaulter.
"Ry – Mr. Bakura!" Harry's heart was still pounding wildly, a loud staccato beat against the inside of the teen's ribcage, his back pressed tightly against the wall as if trying to get as far away as possible from a potential attack.
Ryou Bakura tilted his head to one side, gaze sweeping across the boy in front of him thoughtfully. "…My apologies; I appear to have startled you." The lavender jumper he wore emphasised the strange tints in the albino's hair, the shadows that draped themselves about him, slipping under the snowfall fringe, between folds of cloth.
Heat flooded Harry's cheeks, teenage embarrassment at being caught unawares. Had he been his cousin Dudley he would've either been wildly protesting that he'd only been being kind and had known the older male was sneaking up on him and had pretended not to notice, or declaring Ryou Bakura had ninja powers of some sort and therefore couldn't be entirely human. Since Harry was most definitely not his cousin (he was a lot thinner still, for starts), all he did was go red and sputter token social niceties. "Well, yes – you did – but – I mean, I wasn't paying attention so – I really should -"
"It's rather odd being back in the castle after being at the Burrow, isn't it?" The question was cordial, bright almost. "I was just properly getting used to the place and – wham; the holidays were over." Ryou glanced around the corridor they were in with a vague air of curiosity. "This place is new all over again, and so I explore despite the chill. Yourself?"
"Cold and bored." Harry wrapped his arms around himself again, feeling oddly defensive all of a sudden. "I felt antsy just sitting around doing nothing, and others were getting kind of crabby in the common room." A shrug. "I came for a walk."
"Everyone seems to be a little irritable today."
Another shrug. "Maybe it's something in the air."
"Maybe it is." A neutral reply, Ryou's face and tone devoid of inflection or any particular expression. Almost as if the other knew something but – "Perhaps you should return to your common room, Harry, stop yourself catching cold."
"And leave you by yourself to get ill alone…?"
Ryou smiled politely. "I'm rather resistant to illness."
"I really think it would be best for you to go to your common room, where it is warm." Ryou's tone was firm, the suggestion a steely command hidden behind a sugar-coated expression. "Yugi would never forgive me if his student and charge got sick!! You wouldn't want to worry your teacher and mentor, would you Harry?"
"No." Harry just stopped himself from scowling, aware of the vague feeling of manipulation at work. "I wouldn't." But why would Ryou Bakura want him gone so much? "I'll go back to the common room then." He stomped away, expressing his distaste in every childish step, not even bothering with a goodbye.
He headed in the common room's direction until he was out of sight of the older male, and was quite sure he wasn't being followed. Then he changed direction, and headed for the front entrance.
They stared at one another, glared, backs straight, hands fisted, eyes as cold and hard as flint. Yami Yugi, Yami Malik, Darkness.
"Going to fight me properly this time, Pharaoh?" Malik's taunt rang clear and loud. "Or are you just going to do a pretty light show for me again before getting your poor, dear, delicate little head hurt again so you end up little more than a comatose corpse?" The jab had been pre-emptive – by sheer instinct Yami's hand had slid to rest possessively on the Millennium Puzzle around his neck, about to call upon his powers but –
"You say these…tainted Shadows don't like the Items? Fine," Yami carefully lifted the chain about his neck, holding the Millennium Puzzle in his hands, "I shan't use mine. I don't need to, where you're concerned."
Malik seemed amused. "Pride comes before a fall, Pharaoh."
Yami's jaw tightened. "Then you're in for an awfully long trip."
"And how exactly will you call your monsters, now you have no Puzzle around your neck?"
"I have no need to call them." Yami stood proudly, every inch a king. "They're already here."
His enemy scoffed, but sure enough from the gloom a familiar purple-clad figure stepped, a staff of jade green clutched in one hand as he took up a defensive stance before his king.
"Madman," the Dark Magician's eyes were narrowed beneath his hood, expression fierce, "your lunacy ends here."
Malik ignored the monster, looking over the creature to Yami behind it. "…Locked up in darkness for so long…I'd say we're both a little mad – wouldn't you?"
He watched through the clock face, one hand pressed to the pane as the great hands outside swept onwards, unhindered by the Shadows in the courtyard. He watched, blonde fringe falling into his eyes, as the darkness swept aside for him to look into it, into the two spheres where Kaiba and Yugi each fought against their respective foes.
His feet felt as if they were locked into place, his legs as if they were made from stone. The Shadows' trick, to hold one in place while those that one cared for were in peril…
Malik was already weak – the deranged spirit looked like it was only sheer willpower keeping him on his feet, tanned skin covered with painful-looking streaks of red and black – burns. He swayed as he stood, and summoned up creatures best he could without the aid of the Millennium Rod – the watcher had no idea why neither Malik or Yami were using their Items to call up assistance, but at least if neither were using the things their match was relatively fair? And relatively fair was good, as it meant the Dark Magician actually had a chance of getting his attacks in, and Yami was slowly – oh so slowly – whittling his opponent down –
Kaiba side-stepped all attacks sent his way, long limbs as graceful as ever as he avoided the snapping jaws of the Shadow monsters that were after his blood. Though not a single blow touched him the brunette was beginning to look a little worse for wear, not out of breath exactly, but most definitely somewhat queasy, his face taking on a greenish tinge. Something…something was beginning to affect him and Kaiba picked up on the fact himself, expression darkening as he suddenly reached an agreement within himself and his body began to glow white, luminous agonising white –
Malik yelled out in anger when a blast from the Dark Magician struck home, the mad spirit staggering back a few steps just as the Shadows screamed when a bolt of lightning cut through them like a knife. The blast streamed from the jaws of the immense white dragon that had burst from the nothing in Kaiba's shadow, wild rage unleashed. The Shadow monsters that had previously been attacking the she-dragon's master fled, scurried away as the spheres dividing Priest from Pharaoh were brutally ripped apart by light.
Malik found himself facing two masters, two monsters, and a whole hell of a lot of righteous fury. The line of the Unnamed King never had been very good at controlling their temper.
In the jaws of the Blue Eyes White Dragon energy grew, crackled, matching the glow from the staff of the Dark Magician. The light built and built and Malik turned, looking for some way to stop it, somewhere to run, but there was nowhere available, nothing.
When the light was blindingly painful a pale hand laid itself on the shoulder of the one watching in the clock tower, Joey twisting to serious eyes of amber-brown, fluid and shifting. Bakura Ryou. One and both, impossible to distinguish and impossible to deny.
The albino's calm voice. "You don't want to see this."
"I do -"
"You're not ready to see it." Solemn gaze, liquid pools that shone with the light growing outside, the fury of Egypt, and the light within, the thief's own glittering core. "Somewhere in your heart you still want to believe in childhood dreams and naivety, that Mouto Yugi is still that too-bright little boy who befriended you back in high school. You even dream of Kaiba Seto's rare smile, of the years where he's thawed and become what you would call 'human'." The…. Change of Heart raisedtheir hand, touching Joey's cheek lightly, sadly. "If you stand here and watch it will be the death of all your dreams. The old sayings hold true, Joey: ignorance is bliss."
"I can't just -"
"You can and you will." Bakura's voice now, in particular, but the softness in his expression was Ryou's. "If you don't you'll never be able to look your friends in the eye ever again."
"But…" Joey was still protesting, "if I leave…everything will be fine?"
"Everything will be as it should be," Bakura Ryou assured him, which isn't always exactly the same thing. I'm sorry, Joey; I'm so, so sorry.
"Okay then." Joey carefully didn't look back. He allowed Ryou to help him with his luggage, the two young men moving away, away, away, from the painfully bright glass, chasing their long shadows across the floor. Neither of them looked back, not even when the light moved and struck its target, not even when everything whistled and roared as the explosion sent the Shadows sweeping out with the winds across the school.
Neither of them noticed the black-haired teenager walk out of the school's front entrance just in time to be hit by the fallout of the Shadows' escape.
It was amazing how some people clung to life even though by the laws of physics, of nature, they should have long since been annihilated, should have long since been dead. It was amazing how resilient some souls were, how unwilling some people were to face the end, the absence of life. It was amazing, and it was grudgingly admitted Malik was amazing, for after two direct attacks in the Shadow Realm by some of the most powerful creatures that resided there he was still alive, still breathing, even if it was only just.
By silent agreement it was accepted between Kaiba and Yami that the latter would be the one to speak to the injured spirit. It was more process of elimination than anything else; Kaiba simply refused to go near Malik, and so Yami was left the job. Slivers of aquamarine guardedly watched the pharaoh from a distance though, millennia-old protectiveness unable to easily die.
Yami approached his fallen foe quietly, studying Malik's battered and bloody body when he arrived with something akin to pity shining faintly in his softened eyes. "You…are still so very much a child, aren't you? You have existed scarce thirteen years, and not reached adulthood within yourself." The Millennium Puzzle gleamed around the man's neck – it was home once more.
"Age…is nothing where power is concerned." The crazed other half of Marik's voice was raspy – and yet so quiet; it was hardly there at all.
"And yet it is your power that seems to curse you." Yami's tone was still gentle. "You have not the reason to wield it wisely, nor the graciousness I would hope in a future ally." Gracefully, unstoppably, Yami bent down to slide the Millennium Rod from Malik's grasp, the younger spirit hissing, truing to snatch it back, but to no avail. "You can't be trusted with power yet."
"You called me mad before," Malik's words were spitting, derogatory, "but of the two of us you seem the most deluded, pharaoh, to think one day I would ever side with you. I'd rather die than be forced to listen to your self-righteous words. Kill me! Kill me, or I swear to all the gods above I'll come back and kill you."
"I don't kill children."
"Then what are you going to do? Play one of your games and drive me to insanity?" Malik's laughter was a shriek, a painful-sounding caw that span crazily around in delirious madness. "I'm already there!"
It was definitely pity in Yami's expression. "I'm going to leave you here, and hope you grow wiser with age."
"What-?" Sudden horror in lavender eyes desiring death. Death, not hated mercy-! "No!"
"Yes." Judgement passed, the god's voice announcing fate. Pharaoh, thy will be done.
Malik screamed his protests as the other turned and walked away, cursed, vowed revenge, but Yami kept resolutely walking, not looking back. Reaching Kaiba both of them left and Malik was left alone, bleeding, in the darkness, wishing the other had just killed him. Cursing Yami, cursing Kaiba, vowing as soon as he could –
But, ah, that would be such a long, long time away. Wounds healed slowly amongst the Shadows, and the deranged Malik was left, unable to move, with nothing but his bitterness and his thoughts.
Yami sincerely doubted nearly tripping over your own student was something that would not go down well with the British Board of Education, be the Board magical or not. Yami also doubted that the student being unconscious to start with would be something he as a teacher would be lauded for, and so it was with some panic he tried getting through to the comatose teenager before him that lay sprawled out on the steps of the front entrance to Hogwarts.
Kaiba watched from the side, expression twisted in a frown. He still looked a little green around the gills from before, but was still thinking straight. "Shall I go fetch the school nurse?"
"Don't," Yami shook his head, "if the boy's out like a light because of some effect from our stint in the Shadows then…Madame Pomfrey will do more harm than good for him."
"Very well, then -"
Yami wasn't listening, talking to his student. "Mr. Potter? Mr. Potter, can you hear me?"
Harry remained unconscious, white and pale, one hand still pressed tightly to his forehead.
"Harry!" Yami shook the boy, but there was still no response. Placing his hand over Harry's heart Yami felt the reassuring beat there – well, at least he's not dead… "Harry! Harry? Harry, speak to me!"
Still no response. Carefully, Yami pulled his student's hand away from his forehead, trying to feel the temperature of the teenager's brow, but the action only revealed the vivid red of Harry's scar, the scarlet lightning-bolt that was practically pulsing with -
Despite himself, Yami was drawn to the shape, almost wonderingly tracing a tanned finger down the lightning-shaped mark, feeling magic crackle at his touch. The pharaoh had heard some of the rumours about Harry's history, and they were all linked to his scar, to this strange mark that seared the tip of Yami's finger, and when he placed his open palm across it –
"Ow!" Yami leapt back from the teenager, cradling his hand.
(Yami…?) Though having been deliberately locked away most of the day by his other half – and not at all pleased about that, thank you very much – Yugi was just as concerned as ever as he appeared, translucent, beside his darker half, Yami's jolt of surprise echoing all the way down through their joined spirit to the corridor between their souls. Curious, Yugi watched as Kaiba darted in and snatched Yami's coddled hand, the CEO ignoring the other's insistence he was 'fine' and examining the raised, white skin on the teacher's palm.
The raised, white skin that was a perfect mimicry of the matching scar on Harry Potter's forehead.
Blue eyes narrowed in exasperation, in warning. "Mouto…" Kaiba very obviously dearly wanted to know what in the name of God was going on. Yami wished very dearly he had some explanation he could give him.
Harry groaned suddenly, stirring, and the time for explanations flew quite merrily out of the window. "Harry," Yami smiled, ignoring the pain in his hand, relieved his student appeared to be alright.
Green eyes opened, a little bleary, another soft groan escaping the teenager's lips. Shadows still ran rampant in his blood from the fallout before, unfocused jade fixing on ruby only to slip away and meet amethyst. Crimson and lavender. Two sets of eyes? Two faces, almost identical – could be twins except for the eyes… "Professor…?" He was looking at Yugi. Yugi, who should be invisible to all but an Item Bearer.
/Aibou, he can see you! / Purple eyes widened and Yugi disappeared quickly, his soulroom door slamming shut. Yami withdrew, and green eyes finally focused.
"How are you?" The professor forced a smile. "You gave me quite a shock there."
"I saw…" Harry rubbed his eyes. "I saw…"
"What? What did you see?"
"I don't know…" Harry blinked. What was wrong with him? Everything looked different…
Kaiba interrupted. "Mouto, you should escort Mr. Potter back to his common room, now that you've ascertained he's alright."
"And you?" Yami carefully helped his still somewhat-bewildered student back up onto his feet. He still had no idea what had happened to Harry… "What will you do?"
"I need to send off some emails, and then I'll meet you outside the Great Hall." The brunette's tone brooked no argument.
"Oh?" A raised eyebrow.
"Just be there."
"Very well." Yami cautiously escorted his student away, mindful of the other's wooziness.
He stumbled his ways through the days after his waking, cosseted by everyone and all. At no time could the Crown Prince find total peace, chased after to have his bandages changed, his wound checked, his clothes changed into something lighter so he could breathe. Everyone checked he ate enough, drank enough, sat under the shade but still got enough sunshine. Everyone checked he got enough sleep but didn't sleep too much; everyone checked he got enough exercise but didn't exhaust himself.
Atemu hated it. A little mothering was wonderful but the people were treating him like he was a fragile piece of pottery, wrapping him up in so many layers for protection he was slowly being smothered to death by sheer boredom alone. He couldn't do anything without someone protesting it wasn't good for his health, and though his wound still pained him it didn't mean he couldn't do anything. Complaining to Seth – who was just as bad with all the coddling as everyone else, but at least he had the grace to try and be a little more discreet about it -, Atemu asked why the people were making such an extraordinary amount of fuss.
His cousin only smiled, tucking a put-out golden bang behind the smaller boy's ear. "It's because you're precious," the priest said by way of explanation, "and they love you."
"Sometimes people just don't need a why," Seth felt small fingers twine with his own, "they just do. Now come – it's time to change your bandages."
If Kaiba thought about it later, he would've remembered going to his room, he would've remembered opening his laptop, and he would've remembered sending off the emails as he'd told Yami he'd do. He would've not, however, remembered returning back down the way he'd came, parting the Shadows with an ease foreign to his modern mindset, and stalking over to the injured Yami Malik still lying there in the darkness.
The last thing Kaiba Seto would ever remember about Yami Malik was Yami leaving him in the Shadows, still very much alive.
It wasn't quite Kaiba Seto who glared down then at the mad spirit at his feet.
"Back for more, priest?" Lavender eyes cracked open, Malik's bitterness glittering there alongside his lunacy. "Or are you here just to taunt?"
'Seto' didn't answer the question, his lip curling at the one beneath him in every way. "…He looks upon you and sees a child." It was not specified who 'he' was, but they both already knew anyway.
"And you, priest?" Malik's voice was liquid, full of the gurgling blood in his throat. "When you look upon me, what do you see?"
"I?" Slow, sure steps, the billowing of blue and white robes – the trench coat millennia away now, in terms of vision - as the taller figure knelt at the other's side, scarlet seeping across the 'floor' to touch the pristine cleanliness of cloth and skin. Blue eyes were smoky, shadowed by thick locks that artfully fell over them. "I see an enemy powerful enough to be an actual threat, physically strong enough to act out any whim, and more than mentally capable of holding a heated debate…" A dry, faintly derisive smile touched the brunette's lips. "In nought but age are you a child -"
"-And so you will not treat me as one." Malik said, laughing wetly.
"And so I will not treat you as one." His companion repeated. "Atemu…is a strange one. He knows as well as I that as soon as you are free of this place you will seek your revenge on him – you are a creature born of madness and hate, I have been informed." Seth glanced about him. "There is nothing here that could possibly change either attribute, and yet Atemu still insists you be spared due to your youth. You, who are formed from rage against him, will always hate him…and still he shows you mercy, and lets such a hazard as you continue on." Blue eyes seemed to soften and harden at the same time, so Malik found himself staring into deep pools rimmed with ice. "My cousin is a much more caring soul than I. He lets you live knowing that when you return he will surely die…" A quiet pause. "I can't let that happen."
"What a caring soul you are!" Malik laughed, mocking the other. "What a caring killer. Two birds you'd slay with your one stone, priest, you know that? The blood of two souls staining your pretty hands, and murder doesn't wash off so quick."
The disgust on the other's face grew. "You who hate mercy…plead for mercy now? Hypocrite."
"I want no mercy from you. I want you to realise what you've done when you've done it, and I want you to feel it dirtying your soul forever after." A crooked smile. "You may be a little mixed-up in your head right now, priest, but sooner or later both set of eyes in that skull of yours are going to flicker open and see each other properly for the first time and my! What a discussion I'm sure you'll have! You and yourself have so much in common."
"And now you'd command me? I take no orders from you!!"
"No, you don't." Seth was still kneeling at the other's side, ignoring the blood staining his robes, ignoring the burned smell that hung around the charred Malik. He ignored everything, even the other's struggles when he cupped a hand and covered the spirit's nose and mouth, steady as the other struggled, fought, but was just too weak to stop the other. Though people may long for death it is a very brave person that can stare directly into death's maw without fighting, and Malik, deluded, insane, ill-fated Yami Malik, was no different.
Seth didn't remove his hand until a good few minutes after the other had stopped moving. Eventually he got to his feet, wiping his palm on his robes to remove the cloying blood still attached to it, not looking back as he left the Shadows. Kaiba would remember none of what had happened. Ever.
There was silence in that part Shadow Realm for a good while. There was silence, and then from the darkness stepped a familiar figure, the trinket around his throat gleaming brightly as he stepped lightly and crouched down at the corpse's side. "Poor fool…" Pale hands brushed aside charred golden hair, fingers combing through the spikes and returning them to the waterfall fringe. "We need to get you to bed, hm?"
The Shadows moved in, curled around the two, and took them from sight. And then that part of the Shadow Realm was not only silent, but empty too.
"I hate you."
"I know you do."
"I can't believe you dragged me to the infirmary. How old do you think I am, to need escorting to see the nurse?"
Kaiba's lips quirked, his smile lazy as he looked down the furious glare Yami was shooting his way from his perch on one of the infirmary's beds that Madame Pomfrey had dumped him on before bustling off to do some…matronly thing. "Do you want the mental age, the spiritual age, the physical age, or the age you're acting right about now?"
"Sod off, Kaiba."
"You've been in Britain too long, Mouto; you're picking up the slang."
Yami scowled at him. "Why did you drag me here? I feel fine."
"Glittery magical sparkles are all well and good as a temporary relief, Mouto, but they wear off eventually." ('Glittery magical sparkles'? Dian Keto would be insulted.) "And judging by the state you were in after my dragon hit you, the healing should be wearing off pretty shortly."
"…You remember that?" The query was gentle, vaguely hopeful. If Kaiba remembered the healing then –
"Remember what? I recall my Blue Eyes and that…card thing and then you were attached to me like a limpet for a good while but – why?" Blue eyes narrowed in sudden suspicion. "Is there a reason I shouldn't remember that?"
Yami sighed, shaking his head. So…Kaiba remembered some of it, but the truth was blurred. "It doesn't matter – ah!" It felt like his throat was on fire. Yami began coughing; leaning heavily on his knees as he suddenly ached everywhere. His neck, his poor, poor neck –
"I told you you needed to see the matron," Kaiba remarked off-hand. In-between agonising coughing, Yami glowered at the smug bastard, wishing him nought but ill, but the effect was rather lost as his eyes had gone all squinty and were leaking moisture around the edges, wreaking his kohl.
To this Madame Pomfrey returned, offering Yami a glass of water, and she waited patiently by until the glass was drained and the teacher was sitting quietly. Then, she set about examining Yami's neck.
Kaiba bit his lip as Madame Pomfrey pulled down the collar of Yami's shirt. Thick, angry finger-marks were obvious on the soft tan of the professor's throat, the edges of which that were already beginning to purple.
Madame Pomfrey tutted. "Something or someone certainly had a good attempt at strangling you." She eyed Yami critically. "I'd like to know what, please."
"It -" Yami's voice was hoarse, bruised from the attempted strangling, "it was a cursed artefact – a chest. I was going to use it in class, but I must have opened it wrong, or something. These…hands leapt out and tried to kill me. Kaiba-kun was passing by and saw my problem…and che, my throat hurts."
"It would do." The matron bustled away, returning with a vial filled with blue liquid and a small tub of what had to be ointment. "You're a very lucky man, professor Mouto." She poured out the liquid in the vial into the glass that had previously held water, handing it to Yami. "Drink this, and apply the ointment on your neck twice a day." She brandished the tub before depositing it on the seat beside her patient. "It'll help with the bruising and relieve some pain. Oh – leave off wearing your collars and chokers for a few days too – alright?"
"Thank you Madame." Yami took both the glass and tub.
"Don't you 'thank you Madame' me!" Pomfrey put her hand on her hips. "You just see you stay out of my infirmary for the rest of the year and I'll be satisfied. No more injuries!"
Yami laughed, and then winced, rubbing his neck. "I'll do my best, Madame."
"And you." The matron turned to Kaiba. "See you look after this young man, here. Wherever he goes, trouble seems to follow – you see you keep him out of it!"
The corners of Kaiba's lips twitched upwards in the beginnings of what could've been a smile. "I'll do my best as well, Madame."
"I need to go write out a letter to Professor Sprout about gathering some herbs from the greenhouses," the woman nodded her head to both young men, "see he," a nod in particular to Yami, "has his medicine administered, alright?"
"Yes Madame." Both duelists chorused the reply, both feeling suddenly ten years younger than they actually were in the face of the matronly scolding. The moment Madame Pomfrey was out of sight they both breathed a sigh of relief.
Kaiba set about unscrewing the tub of ointment. Yami frowned at him. "What are you doing?"
"What I was told, for a change." The brunette sniffed the balm a little doubtfully, before smirking. "Mouto, I hope you realise you're going to go around smelling of strawberries when you've got this on?"
Yami snatched it from his grasp. "Oh, shut up."
Kaiba snatched it back, still smirking. "No." He made a little twirling motion with his free hand. "Now turn around so I can put this on you."
"What/ No!" Colour flared in the pharaoh's cheeks. "I can do it myself!"
"Now you're just being stubborn." Kaiba moved to the other side of the bed, grabbing the other's collar when Yami made as if to wriggle around and out of the way.
Yami of course choked, and winced when the cloth dug into his neck. "Bastard, let go!"
"You're not my mother, Kaiba!"
"Ah, just drink your medicine and hold still." Long fingers descended on the nape of Yami's neck again, spreading the cool ointment in slow, gentle circles. Rather sulkily Yami held still. Kaiba had been right – the balm really did smell of strawberries, drat it. "I don't want you complaining of a sore throat during our duel."
"The next round of the tournament is next month, Mouto." Yami could feel Kaiba smirking. "Did you forget about it? I hope not – I plan on seeing you there."
"That's assuming we both get through the series of riddles in time." Yami sipped some of his medicine, delicious coolness sliding down his throat. "I might not make it to round two."
"That would be rather a blow for the King of Games." Kaiba slid his hands around to the side of Yami's throat, carefully applying more balm. "You'd drop in the ranks by at least sixteen places."
The other grimaced. "You know, you're annoying even when you're trying to be helpful."
Another smirk from his rival. "It's part of my charm."
Elsewhere, more healing was going on, the usual gentle Ryou scowling rather formidably as he tended to the unconscious man on the bed before him, various Shadow creature's summoned from the healer's deck doing their best to keep out of the albino's way and yet still do their jobs. Outwardly, Ryou was silent as he worked. Inwardly, he was sending streams of angry, hurt curses along to the other soul that resides within the Millennium Ring.
Bakura was actually quite glad the curses weren't aimed at him specifically.
# I still don't see why they had to - #
\ What else could they have done, yadounishi? You saw how Malik was; he had to be disposed of once and for all. Mercy doesn't work on madmen. \
# But…but Yugi! I could never see Yugi - #
\ Could you see Yami? \
# …Yugi wouldn't have let him. #
\ No? Not even when you saw those marks on Yami's throat? Yugi is as fiercely possessive of his other half as Yami is Yugi – or did you forget that, omote mine? \
# …I… #
\ Set your heart at rest, anyway. Yami and Yugi were the ones who would've let him lie. \
#Then who-? #
\ You don't need to know. \
Pensively, Ryou bit his lip, sitting back on his heels as he regarded the injured one before him. Marik's breathing was still rather shallow, his skin still a deep red even after all the magical healing cards Ryou had called upon for aid. Most of the burns had gone, however, the skin healed over. It was lucky Malik had chosen to confront Yami in the Shadow Realm – had it been in the everyday world, when Malik's soul had died Marik's would've undoubtedly gone with it. As it was it had been Malik's soul that had perished and the body he'd shared with his lighter side that had taken such a grievous battering. Marik, locked away within the damaged shell, was alright. He'd be in pain for quite a few days, but…he was alive.
# The injuries were excessive. # Ryou was still unappeased. # There was no need for injury to be given out to this degree. #
\ Yadounishi, did you completely miss the fact Malik was out there to kill everyone? \ Bakura frowned, voice a little harsher than before. \ I'd say a bit of grievous bodily harm is quite good going, considering the stakes. \
# This is our friend you're talking about! \
\ And he's still alive, so what are you complaining about?! \
# How could Yugi and Yami hurt him so much?! How could they?! Aren't the Marik's friends too?! They – they - #
\ They've done it before. \
# Exactly!! Have they no sense of – of right, of friendship of – of - # Ryou knelt properly on the floor, and put his head in his hands. Simply: # I trusted them. #
\ It's their job. \
# Bullshit it is. #
Bakura's words were sombre, reciting testaments from long past. The law, the way the world used to and had to be. Fate, steady, unavoidable and unrelenting as the death knell. \ Pharaoh's job is to deal Justice, yadounishi, to put what Should Be where it should be, and to put what Shouldn't firmly out of the picture. The dead he puts to rest; the wandering he leads home… Pharaoh connects the Heavens and the Earth, and brings Order to the world. Thus is the duty of a god. \
# I thought you hated him? #
\ Shut up hikari; I'm being serious. \
# For a change. #
\ Ryou! \
# Alright, alright…I'm listening. # Deep breaths, Ryou schooling his face into a perfect blank as he dismissed the cards who'd fulfilled their duty. He checked Marik's injuries again, pleased to note a minute, but still quite significant – improvement.
\ Pharaoh brings Order, laying the dead to rest. We, on the other hand…look at our deck, yadounishi. \
# We bring the dead to life? #
\ ...Something like that, anyway. Most of our magic is based in Chaos rather than Order – but actual necromancy's a bitch, hikari, remember that. Reanimated corpses aren't all they're cracked up to be in the movies. \
Despite himself, the faintest thread of a wry smile touched Ryou's expression. # I don't want to know, do I? #
\ No. \
# Good…carry on? #
\ ...Pharaoh deals with Order; we do Chaos. Pharaoh rights the wrongs; we do clean-up duty. Or…we make the wrongs ourselves – that's always amusing - \ Bakura shot his other a knavish grin.
# Bakura! # Ryou scolded, but his smile was truer now, more honest.
\ Life is not life without Chaos, yadounishi mine. Chaos is what makes us bloom and grow, flourish and die. Order just gets all the publicity because its initiates have the annoying tendency to save the world a whole heck of a lot more. \
"…I don't believe you sometimes." Ryou spoke aloud to the room, shaking his head ruefully. Bakura had taken his temper and utterly diffused it, turning it into a vaguely amused exasperation. It…was useless yelling at the world for being the way it was, and it was useless yelling at Yami and Yugi for doing the best they could in a bad situation. At last Marik was still alive; he had to be thankful for what was left that was good.
\Well, you should, \ Bakura never had been one for letting someone else have the parting word. \ You've known me long enough. \
Ryou snorted, and set about making sure his injured friend was made comfortable.
Yugi glanced up when the door to his soulroom creaked open, a familiar head peering around the edge. "May I come in?"
Yugi nodded, but his brow creased slightly in the beginnings of a frown. Yami usually just knocked and walked straight in; if he actually stopped and asked for permission first it meant he had something serious to talk about, and it was something serious relating to Yugi. If it were a Yami issue they would've went to Yami's soulroom; if it were a general issue it would've been conducted in either soulroom, but without the queer formality –
"Is something wrong, Yami?" Yugi asked the question from under his lashes, deciding to try and assert control over the situation before Yami inevitably tried to wheedle whatever he wanted out of Yugi. Yugi had a vague idea what the other wanted, he could see it in the troubled concern in the other's eyes, the vague steel that was keeping the pharaoh put. This was a serious serious discussion. "Aside from your throat, I mean?" He rose from where he'd been sitting on the room's bed, walking over to his other to gently touch the skin at the other's neck, his tone full of concern. "You should let me take care of some of the pain."
"No, it's alright." Yami shot a tired smile at his other half. "I've the ointment from Madame Pomfrey – it really does help."
"It makes you smell nice too." Yugi's grin was cheeky, delighting in the indignant expression that flashed across Yami's face. He affected an upper-class tone: "Strawberries, darling, it's what all the young ladies are wearing -" The purple-eyed man eeped when Yami dived for him, dodging out of the way, laughing. "Come, mon hitorou no boku, don't sulk so. You'll have all the young men after you -" Another eep, Yugi attempting to dodge again but getting caught, losing his balance, and both Puzzle Bearers tumbling to the floor, tussling there and attempting to tickle one another until they both rolled over onto their backs, panting, exhausted from their play.
Yami rolled back over onto his side once his breath had returned, face fond as he looked at his other, ruffling hair so similar to his own. "Mon baka no ore, don't you know our reputations are intertwined? If I'm strawberry-boy, so are you."
"Yeah," another grin from Yugi, "but at least I don't have to face Bakura with a straight face smelling of summer fruit."
"Gah," Yami buried his face in the carpet.
Yugi continued cheerily in the same sort of vein, thinking his darker half sufficiently distracted. "And I'm sure if you can still bicker with Kaiba-kun things can't be all that bad, can they?"
"Well, about that actually -" Yami twisted again, his crimson eyes suddenly alert, focused, the laughter that had been in them previously almost completely vanished. "Yugi, have you noticed you spend a lot more time in here than you used to?"
That was the issue Yami wanted to talk about.
Yugi clambered slowly to his feet, returning to his seat on the bed with a careless shrug and plucking up a Kuriboh doll that lived there, toying with it idly. "I like it here; it's quiet." I don't have to face my friends in here, was the unspoken whisper. I don't have to face what we did to Marik and Malik and -
Yami watched him silently for a few moments and then rose to his knees speaking, gentle. "Aibou, I cannot live your life for you."
Obstinately, his hikari repeated his earlier statement. "I like it here."
"So do I." Yami's voice was still soft. "You have a very peaceful, beautiful soulroom; I'd be loathe to leave mine too were it like this." He went over to his other, sitting beside Yugi on the bed. Carefully, he took the doll from his light, replacing it instead with a real Kuriboh he summoned.
Yugi petted the monster absentmindedly, running slim fingers through silky fur. "Then why should I leave mine? Yami, you gave up your own life to save the world – you deserve a life of your own now. Use mine as you want. I don't mind; it's not as if I'm completely cut off from the world in here."
"Oh, Yugi." Yami sighed, stretching out to catch his hikari's wrist mid-stroke. "When will you understand? I already have a life. I have friends; I have family, and I have you, Yugi. To love unconditionally as the other half of my soul…" a quiet smile. "When you are safe, aibou, when you are happy and content, when you live your life to the full…then I can be at peace. I need no more."
Yugi frowned. "I cannot be your life, Yami." Kuriboh let out a squeaky kuree as the smaller duelist gently set it on the ground. "I'm not worthy enough to be the sole reason for anyone's existence."
"But you are, Yugi." The Kuriboh was dismissed with a wave of Yami's hand. "You are a special person, and you always fail to see it. Why can you always see the good in others, but never in yourself? You hide your light away from the world, and it's such a terrible loss. The Puzzle sees you more than I as its native soul now, so long have you spent in it as of late."
"That's not such a bad thing -"
"Yes," Yami cupped the other's face suddenly, holding the other's cheeks so that amethyst eyes were forced to meet his own, "yes it is. What if the Puzzle breaks? Which of us gets locked away? Which of us goes mad again?"
Still, Yugi tried to slide away. "Yami, you're over-exaggerating. Why would the Puzzle break? Why? You know how resilient it is. And anyway, even if it were to break, the other of us would always be there, ready to fix it."
"Don't worry yourself over nothing, Yami." Yugi took the hands still holding his face, moving them apart so he could lean forward and hug his other. "Because really, there's nothing for you to worry about. I promise."
Yami sighed, but accepted the hug, wrapping his arms about his soulmate. "If you say so, aibou, I'll believe you." Even if he didn't quite. Even if both his heart and mind were still nagging him that something was still very, very wrong.
"He doesn't like me, does he?"
"No sweetheart, he doesn't like you."
"That's not very nice of him." A pout. "Can't you go beat him up for me?"
"No sweetheart, I can't."
"Why not? You're strong enough; you could easily beat him."
"Then why don't you? You promised that you'd look after me."
"That's just not the way things are done, my little fledgling."
A sigh. "The way things are done sucks."
Shadow: And yet again Shadow veers off her plot guidelines because apparently even she can overestimate how much is physically possible to stick in one chapter before an authoress wants to shoot herself. (sweatdrops)
Ack, I may just start up a thing on my LJ for WAWOTW rambles like this – dunno if they'd be interesting to anyone, but they'd help me get my head sorted out a bit. That's if I ever remembered to do things like this regularly in-between all the other weird oneshot-style things up that seem to sprout out of my head and take up residence there…
Hm, particular shout-outs to 'Kari, Compy, Isis and Kelpy for this chapter. 'Nee-chan for beta-ing (as ever), and yelling and…er…well, kicking me up the ass when I left you with a cliffhanger about the middle of this chapter for a few months. Ass-kicking was significantly helpful. X3 Compy – for being a distraction, and giving me a great contest in which to take part during the interim between the last chapter and this. Isis – for scolding me for getting too distracted, and making me settle back down to work again to end your impatience. Kelpy – (laughs) for being Kelpy, and dangling the promise of Bakura x Tonks ficcage tauntingly over my head. And prodding me for an update. Constantly. For everything. If you had your way I'd never move three inches away from a computer for the rest of my life.
Next chapter: er…currently title-less, involving a lot of riddles, mermen, balls, and family..? Up…as soon as I feasibly can, giving some time for my other stories too.
1) Based on the quote from John Milton's Paradise Lost:
'Horror and doubt distract his troubled thoughts and from the bottom stir the Hell within him, for within him Hell he brings, and round about him, nor from Hell one step more than from himself can fly by change of place.'