Note: This is probably a totally inappropriate final author's note, but I thought this was hilarious: http(COLON)(SLASH)(SLASH)media(DOT)photobucket(DOT)com/image/yugioh%20card%20slifer/cornholio2007/slifer(DOT)jpg
On the more usual side, I cannot thank you, reader, ENOUGH for sticking with this whole crazy arc! I again sincerely apologize that this story took me over five years to finish, but every few months during those five years, I would get a review or get notification that this story was favorited, and it kept me determined to finish it someday – and "someday" is TODAY! I hope you enjoy the epilogue!
A few hours later, as the sun had just begun to set, painting the dusty sky a brilliantly smeared pink, Yami climbed the tallest remaining pile of rubble and spread out his hands for attention. His friends, allies, and one-time enemies alike fell silent immediately. Although nothing had changed on the outside (except perhaps that Yami looked a little dirtier than usual, and had a bruise on his forehead), his victory over Ra had established Yami firmly as the rightful Pharaoh, and there was something noble about him that radiated off in waves.
"I have sent Obelisk the Tormentor, Slifer the Sky Dragon, and the Winged Dragon of Ra back to the Shadow Realm, imprisoned – all of them – in stone tablets," Yami announced. Ra's former minions shifted uneasily, but Yami continued. "I did not do this to be cruel. I did this because such power was never meant to walk this earth. Gods and mortals, even Duel Monsters, have never existed in the same plane. They are in a different world now, somewhere beyond even the Shadow Realm, and it is their rightful home. They can rule there as they desire." He cleared his throat.
"I know there are still many of you out there who fought against me, and who would still do so today. You have a rightful complaint," he acknowledged, causing many of the Monsters to look at each other in surprise. "You have been oppressed for a long time by humans. As justification, I can only claim our ignorance. We were fooled by the simplicity of cards; we did not realize that you were beings too, just as worthy as humans." Strike Ninja, who had been one of Ra's most ardent supporters, looked appeased.
"You wanted only to live in a world as beautiful as this one," Yami continued, with a sweeping gesture at the pink and red sunset, "and for that, who can fault you? The Shadow Realm has grown dark and cold after centuries of dark magic – began, I am afraid to admit, under my rule, with the twisted creation of the Millennium Items." Bakura, in the crowd, bent his head and silently sent his approval to the Pharaoh for admitting the mistake.
"Ra wanted to take over this earthly realm, and wanted it for Duel Monsters alone. I believed for a long time that he was mistaken, and that humans and Duel Monsters could live in peace together. I still believe that – but I no longer believe that we can coexist in this earthly realm."
Shock swept the crowd.
"Your place is in the Shadow Realm," Yami said gently. "This realm was once a world of technology, of science, and the survivors will want – and deserve – that world, their world, back." The humans who had been in the rebel army and survived the battle nodded. "And what place does Magic have in a world of science? You belong in a world of Magic; you belong in the Shadow Realm."
His audience grew dissatisfied again. Yami let them whisper loudly for a moment, then raised his arms again, commanding their attention.
"Never fear!" he cried. "I understand how the Shadow Realm has grown twisted, and how it is not a suitable home for you – yet. As it is, the Shadow Realm is not worthy. But it can be. It is not beyond the point where it cannot be fixed. And, after all, it is a magical land. We will return the Millennium Items to the Shadow Realm and right the wrongs of so many centuries ago. I will come with you, to rebuild your home. And with a little magic and a little love, we can make the Shadow Realm as beautiful as it once was, as beautiful as the earthly realm, as beautiful as you deserve!"
There was a heartbeat of silence, then cheering, twice as loud as the cheering following Ra's fall, erupted from the crowd. Monsters who had been moral enemies a few hours ago embraced, clapped each other on the back, shouted praises of the Pharaoh, prophesized of the beauty of their new home, the Shadow Realm, no longer a land of shadows, but a land of sunlight and laughter.
Yami clambered down from his makeshift pedestal and walked slowly over to where his friends were gathered, quietest of all the crowd, faces white with shock. His eyes were immediately drawn to Yugi.
"Yami…" Yugi began, but his voice trailed off.
"Yugi, do you remember what you told me long ago, as I was leaving the underground tombs on my way to Akuma for the first time?" Yami questioned. He gave a half-smile. "Back when we still thought Marik and Bakura were the bad guys?" ("Hey," Marik said indignantly.)
'We'll need you, in the end. What do you think will happen after Marik and Bakura are defeated?'
"I was talking about rebuilding the world," Yugi sniffled.
"Yes," Yami nodded. "But it wasn't like we thought it would be, Yugi. It turns out that I have another world to rebuild… and to rebuild this one falls to you and yours." When Yugi looked unconvinced, he continued: "I've never belonged here, really; in this time, I'm just a reincarnation. I am from an age of Magic, and it turns out I am being called to a land of Magic, to help out a group that needs a leader." Yami smiled wryly. "Talented though the Monsters may be, they do lack the human capability for strategy, and that's why they'll need me. And others, should they choose to come," he added, lifting his eyes to the group at large. "I need bearers to bring the Millennium Items to the Shadow Realm. Their magical influence must be removed from this world, so that technology can reign supreme once more." (Seto barely restrained a satisfied smirk. At last.) "And, of course, I need the Millennium Items in the Shadow Realm so that I can finally undo the corrupted influence of the dark method behind their creation."
Mai and Joey exchanged nervous looks. "Does this mean we have to go to the Shadow Realm with you?" Joey finally asked.
"The Key and Necklace must come," Yami replied, "but it is up to you whether you will stay or go."
"I'll go wherever Joey goes," Serenity announced suddenly, coming up behind her brother and grabbing his hand. Joey squeezed it tenderly.
"Where are you going?" Mai asked him, her large violet eyes anxious.
He looked at her and smiled shyly, and her heart fluttered, and it was like their first kiss all over again. "Wherever you are," he said seriously. "And where will you be, Mai Valentine?"
"Wherever you are," she managed to whisper.
Joey grinned crookedly, his own heart thumping faster. "I guess this means none of us are going anywhere for a while," he said, grabbing Mai's hand with his free one and pulling her and his sister closer.
Shadi and Ishizu drifted over. "If that is your choice, I believe I will reclaim my Necklace," Ishizu said softly, giving Mai a smile.
"And I, the Key," Shadi added. "We will go into the new world and assist the Pharaoh."
With a quirked eyebrow, Seto removed the Rod from his belt loop, where it had done nothing but get in the way the entire battle long, and handed it to Malik. Marik made a quick grab for it, but Malik held it away and hid behind Ishizu. "I'll come with you, sister," he mumbled into the back of her robes. "And so will Marik."
"Big brother," Mokuba said from his place between Ezra and Seto. "We're staying, right? To help hook all the computers back up? You see," he added, "I met a boy named Noah. He's our brother – he's Gozaburo's son. He's trapped in a virtual reality. I made a promise to him that, when the world was back to normal, we would set him free. So we have to stay to save Noah."
Seto followed very little of that, but he was carried away by the general mood of the day. "Of course we'll stay," he promised, ruffling Mokuba's hair, mentally thinking that if Yami wanted him in the Shadow Realm, he would have to tie him up and drag him there. "And we'll save this Noah, whoever he is, and wherever he is."
"We'll go," Ryou announced unexpectedly. All heads turned to look at him, and he flushed. "Bakura and I," he clarified. "We'll come with you, Yami." Bakura met Yami's eyes; the Pharaoh knew of his personal motivation for ensuring that the Millennium Items came to a proper resting place. They nodded.
"And I'll come," Geoff said quietly. "My family… well, there's nothing left for me here. But I have training as a magician; I can put my magic to good use in the Shadow Realm. I mean, in the new world."
"I'm staying," Ezra said, even more quietly. She exchanged slight smiles with Seto, and put her hand on Anuba's head. The jackal, scarred from the battle but strong and healthy as ever, rubbed her head against Ezra's leg affectionately. "I'm staying too," Tristan declared.
"I'm going," Pegasus said, in an unexpectedly joyful voice. When his friends turned to look at him, they saw Cecelia floating before him. Their hands were outstretched and clasping desperately; Cecelia looked more solid than ever. "I can be real again in the Shadow Realm," she said, half-laughing, half-crying, "if you bring the Millennium Items there."
"We'll come with you, Master Pegasus," Kimo said, clapping the man's right shoulder; Croquet clasped Pegasus's left shoulder and nodded affirmatively.
"I expect you're going with your family," Téa said, turning to Odion, inexplicable tears welling up in her eyes. He'd been her best friend for the last year. "I'll miss you."
"Téa," Odion said softly, "Come."
She looked up at him, startled. He smiled down at her and held out his hand. "Téa, you've always talked about fixing the injustices of the world. You spoke compassionately of the Duel Monsters. Now's your chance to live up to everything you believe in."
She was shocked, and her heart thumped erratically, but Odion was right. She could do some good in the Shadow Realm. Although it would mean putting a whole life behind her, she accepted the truth of his words, and slowly took his hand.
"I'm staying," Yugi choked out through his tears. "I guess you always knew I was staying. It'll be hard living away from you, Yami, and I'll never forget you. But you're right. This is my world, and I'm going to help rebuild it."
Yami placed a hand on Yugi's shoulder. "Good-bye, friend," he said quietly. "I'll never forget you either." He started to pull away, then turned back. "When you meet your grandfather again, give him my best."
When Yugi turned around, Téa, Joey, and Tristan were standing there. Téa's eyes were red. "Hold out your hands," she quoted, putting hers out; the rest of them also stretched out their hands to form a circle. "Remember our special sign?"
"We'll never forget," Yugi promised.
"We'll miss you, Téa," Joey murmured.
"I'll miss you all too," she sobbed, throwing herself into their arms. "Make… make this world a better place, okay?"
"We'll try every day," Tristan promised.
Yami opened the connection between this world and the Shadow Realm for the last time. People who had been banished there by Ra streamed out and Duel Monsters streamed in. Duke stumbled out of the brightly-lit passage, rubbing his eyes repeatedly. Tristan gave a cry of delight and caught him by the elbow, steering him over to the rest of the group. They waved good-bye as Shadi, Ishizu, Malik, Marik, Ryou, Bakura, Odion, Pegasus, Kimo, Croquet, and Téa passed slowly over the threshold into the bright light. "They – they're leaving?" Duke asked, and his voice cracked. He joined in with the others in calling "Good-bye! Good-bye!"
Seto peered in through the passageway. A roar echoed from far-away, and he saw the Blue-Eyes White Dragons, all of them, swooping around, welcoming the new visitors. Dark Magician Girl playfully rode on one of them, while Dark Magician stood at the end of the passage, ready to greet the Pharaoh.
Weevil Underwood and Rex Raptor were one of the last humans pushing their way out. Rex caught sight of Espa Roba, grinning and waving in the crowd. He started to wave back. "Look, Weevil, it's Espa! …Weevil? Weevil!"
Weevil had stopped in his tracks, his eyes following the progression of Mystical Elf as she smilingly entered the Shadow Realm.
"I'm going back," he said suddenly, and whirled around and started retracing his steps.
"What?!" Rex exclaimed. "Are you crazy? You're not doing this just to impress Mystical Elf, are you?"
"It's not for the girl, stupid," Weevil called over his shoulder as he disappeared into the light. "We were heroes with the Duel Monsters! We fought with them, we made a stand, and we were finally heroes, Rex!"
"Suit yourself, bug-brain," Rex grumbled as he stomped away determinedly. "I'm going back to my nice, normal, safe life… who needs you anyway, with your stupid glasses and your dopey haircut…" his footsteps slowed, then stopped. He and Weevil had a ridiculous idea of friendship, but they were still best friends, and that was the most important thing either of them had got. "Okay, fine, you insect! Just wait up!" He turned around and hurried back.
Yami was the last one through the portal. He turned around and gave his friends a long, lingering look, then lifted his gaze to watch the last of the sun sink below the horizon, leaving the sky a rich purple. Then, with a smile that spoke of promises, but with finality, he bowed his head and the portal closed. The group was left standing in the deepening darkness. They stood that way until the sky was a uniform, deep blue.
"Alright, Kaiba," Joey finally said, breaking the silence. "Let's get those computers back online. I've got a whole year's worth of video games to catch up on!"