NOTE: Events and color schemes for our two magicians are based on manga continuity, not anime, because the Memory Arc was much, much better in the manga and purple is so not Mahaado's color. Also, Sennen is used instead of Millennium because it sounds cooler and is way easier to type. :p


Echoes

I've read this scroll so many times, the words are blurring together into new sentences altogether. All of them say, 'You're never going to get this, Mana' and several insulting variations thereof. Reading it aloud, I can't help but notice the movements of my mouth when forming each syllable. How my lips purse on some sounds, how my tongue taps against my teeth on others – odd things I was never aware of before but can't stop thinking about now.

I know it's only a distraction against my failure. If I closed my eyes, I could still see the scroll in perfect detail. If pressed, I could recite the stupid thing backwards. I've traced every last line of its markings, with the absurd and futile hope to absorb the power of the words they spell through some sort of osmosis.

But I can't make the transition from simply speaking words to casting magic. I can't make the connection to the inner spirit this spell was designed to draw out.

I fell asleep looking at this thing last night and I can feel the same weariness ready to overtake me again. Giving in, I rest my head on the table, burying the scroll in my mess of blond hair. I don't want to look at it anymore. It won't serve any purpose. It's not the scroll's fault I can't summon my ka, it's my own. I know exactly what I'm doing wrong. I can set my mind to the task at hand, but my heart keeps pulling me elsewhere. Uncentered like this, I could talk myself hoarse and never summon a thing.

Meditation was one of the first lessons you gave me when you took me as your apprentice. I was incredulous. I thought magic should be exciting, dangerous even, and there you were telling me how to sit still and control my breathing.

You mean I just sit here?

Yes, you said.

For how long?

Until your mind is clear of all unnecessary thoughts, you said.

How will I know if my mind is clear if I'm not thinking?

Consider that awareness a necessary thought, you said with an exasperated sigh that I would hear many more times during the rest of my training.

I was a brat back then, wasn't I? I thought myself cute and clever, finding excuses to end our sessions early or skip them entirely. I came to think of it as our routine. I would make up some explanation as to why studying was the absolute last thing I should be doing at that particular moment. You would counter with a lecture on my potential and the sacrifices I needed to make in order to reach it. I would nod and half-listen while inwardly planning what else we could do once you were finished.

I can't remember ever losing one of those exchanges. You sometimes raised your voice, but not in any real anger. Annoyance, maybe…well, definitely…but you could never sustain it. I once thought all my promises to do the work later were what assuaged you, but you weren't stupid. You were well aware of what those promises were worth. So what was it then that made you relent so quickly?

You barely even started on that morning. You caught me, completely. I was hiding like some silly child in a great big pot and ditching the lesson you made me swear I would master by the time you got back. And all I got out of it was one 'what about your studies?' and a lame warning about wandering around alone. If anything, you seemed embarrassed that you yelled at me as much as you did.

You were glad to see me, weren't you? You were glad I cared enough to see you off. None of your fellow priests bothered to turn out. Oh, Shimon was there to patronize you with his clueless advice and call you weak. It was so nice of him to show up just to say he didn't believe in you.

I know you kept telling me I need to be more mindful of those of high status, but I was so angry with him. I might have yelled at him. A lot. Very loudly. I also might have let it slip that you had to seal your magic after you accepted the Ring.

I know, I know. That's the sort of thing that happens when you lose control. No one's supposed to know about that because if they did, they would want to know why you had to seal your magic and then the truth about the Sennen Items might come out. I think that's becoming an increasingly moot point. Shimon was very curious and the dumb student act will only put him off for so long. Then there's that damned thief.

Bakura…

You were only doing your duty, protecting the Pharaoh, avenging the desecration of his father's tomb. Ra should have blessed you. You should have come back victorious. You should have come back to honor and praise for your faithful service.

You should have come back to me.

How could Bakura have… I don't care what happened to his village. That's not an excuse. There's no justification…

I shouldn't do this. Getting all emotional is just going to take me further from my goal. That's another basic lesson. There's power in our emotions, but if we don't channel it right, we're wasting it.

You only went over the positive emotions though. You were saving the rougher stuff for later when I was more prepared. Calm, happiness, wonder – I could fire up some nice spells with those. Nice, useless spells. This grief, this anger and frustration, I don't know what to do with it.

I don't know how you handled everything that was thrown at you.

I don't know how you put up with Shimon lecturing you like you were a child.

He means well, Mana. It's his duty to advise.

The Pharaoh, not you, I argued.

But I serve the Pharaoh. Shimon's guidance is not limited to direct counsel, but also in ensuring the capabilities of those closest to the Pharaoh.

And how is giving you little lessons on stuff you already know is supposed to make you a better priest?

Never assume that you have nothing left to learn, Mana. That would only prove that you are ignorant.

So how ignorant is it to tell someone something they already know?

No more ignorant then telling someone something they're not willing to listen to, you muttered under your breath.

I heard that, I said, and you just called yourself ignorant, not me.

Then you smiled. I already know that, Mana.

At least Shimon meant well. He thought he was being helpful. And it's not as if anyone ever died from hearing condescending advice. Other priests couldn't claim such clean hands. I don't know how you stood Priest Akunadin when you knew exactly what he had done.

Noble goals sometimes take us on dark paths, Mana. And once on a path, turning back can be more dangerous than going forward.

Did you offer that justification because you believed it, or because you had no choice but to accept it? I heard guilt in your voice when you told me about Pharaoh Akunamukanon's death guilt that should have been all his, not yours. He didn't create the Items, but he should have known. There must be a balance. You told me that over and over. You cannot create power out of nothing. Something must be offered. A source must be tapped. Objects as steeped in magic as the Sennen Items aren't found lying around the desert. They don't pop up out of nowhere announcing 'We can give you all these wonderful magical abilities and there isn't any price for it at all!'.

Yet he just took it for granted. They all did, except you. They were given gifts; you got the burden. You never complained – your loyalty ran too deep for that – but it must have hurt to lock away the art you had dedicated so many years to studying. Worse yet, you had to endure criticism for not being strong enough for it by the ones that benefited the most from your sacrifice.

I really, really don't know how you put up with Priest Set.

Aren't you ever tempted to let loose on him? You know, maybe during a practice duel, just kick him and his ka clear out of the palace?

You didn't answer me right away. I thought you hadn't heard me or that you weren't going to dignify the question with a response. But after a long, thoughtful pause, you concluded, That would be considered wrong, Mana.

I, personally, would have considered it fair and just and more than a little bit funny. I know, you shouldn't take joy in other people's misfortunes and it's not as if Priest Set knew the truth about the Sennen Items and what you had done. Pharaoh Akunamukanon made you vow to keep that secret to yourself.

That was another unfair burden placed upon you. Did he really expect you to live the rest of your life in silence, stuck alone with that horrific knowledge? But you tried. You might have even succeeded if I hadn't been so relentless in prying it out of you.

I can be quite tenacious when I want to be, you said that yourself. But you wanted me to apply that tenacity to my own studies, not to trying to figure out why I had a teacher who was clearly well versed in magic and was chosen for a very high station based on the strength of his magic, yet never really practiced much of the stuff when it came down to it. You had me fooled for a while when I was studying minor spells. You demonstrated those with an ease that captivated me. You were more an artisan than a teacher, showing me that magic could be elegant, that words could be transformed into acts of grace. So when I advanced in my studies, how could I not notice that those demonstrations stopped?

You had your excuses and that's when I started proffering mine. The brat in me thought if you weren't going to put in the effort to teach, why should I put in the effort to learn. At least that's what I told myself then. But you know that wasn't the real reason. It hurt. I thought you had lost interest in teaching, in me. I thought I had done something wrong. I wasn't learning fast enough. I was missing some technique. My magic was weak. I wasn't who you wanted me to be.

Sort of ironic that it took me wallowing in secret insecurities to drag the truth out of you. It didn't take you long to pick up on my mood. You took an even shorter time to assure me that I hadn't done anything wrong, that you were proud to have me as a student and enough additional compliments that I almost forgot why I was upset in the first place.

I always did admire your cleverness, though that time I didn't fall for it.

But if it's nothing I did, then why did you stop giving me demonstrations?

What? you said, pretending not to understand.

You demonstrated the easy stuff, but as soon as I got to the harder stuff that actually needed more explanation, you stopped doing it. You either stop short of doing the whole spell or don't recite any of it at all.

I've been busy, Mana, you tried to cover. Thieves and bandits will not rest simply because I have a lesson to teach.

They weren't resting before and you had the time. How much longer would it take anyway?

Mana.

You only said my name and yet I was supposed to accept that that was the end of the discussion. That's when I knew you were hiding something. Normally, you encouraged my curiosity. You wanted me to think logically, to examine everything. You said I was supposed to be attuned to my environment and the people in it. Once I achieved that, I would be able to perceive what others overlooked.

So that's exactly what I did.

Now that I think about it, you don't perform any higher magics –

I would not dismiss the summoning of one's ka as a lower magic.

Higher magics other than ka summoning, I amended. But I've seen the scrolls you have. I know what some of them can do. I know what you could do. If you wanted to, you could take on a whole village of thieves and have time left over for my lessons.

'Village of thieves'. I don't know why I used that expression. I certainly didn't expect to have the effect on you that it did – a flicker of shocked recognition followed by an utter dismissal of me and my concerns.

Enough, Mana. There are things you are not yet ready to know. Do not ask me again.

I had been your apprentice for how long and you thought that would stop me? Technically though, I didn't ask you any more questions.

You must have very strong magic to have been selected as an Item holder yet you don't display any of that strength, even in service to the Pharaoh. You do summon your ka, but if you didn't do at least that, you'd likely lose your title as priest in favor of someone who's not so reluctant to show his strength. So, I would guess that you're deliberately not using magic unless you have to use magic in order to avoid anyone being suspicious of you not using magic. Or something like that.

Would that were this persistent with your studies, you said. You didn't tell me I was wrong though. You didn't tell me to stop.

So you're not using magic, but you don't want anyone to suspect that you're not using magic. That means that the reason why you don't use magic is a secret. And since you're keeping it not just from me, but your fellow priests and the pharaoh, it must be a nasty secret.

I remember how excited I was to make my triumphant semi-conclusion. Then I looked at you. Eyes downcast, shoulders slumped, your hand absently twisting the strap that held the Sennen Ring around your neck – I had never seen you look so tired, so unsure. It frightened me. It scared me to think there was a secret out there so dark and perverse that it could make you vulnerable. It scared me more to think you were dealing with it alone.

I asked myself how long you had been keeping this secret, how much it had hurt you and if I was only person who come this close to knowing it. I thought the other priests must have noticed when you stopped using your magic. How could they not? Unless, you stopped before they knew you, which didn't make much sense as you had been chosen to wield a Sennen Item on the basis that your magic was strong.

That last thought left me with only one conclusion. The Ring, I whispered. It has something to do with the Ring.

You gave me a small, weary smile. I should feel blessed that I have such a clever student. But there are times, Mana, when knowledge is a burden.

I told you that I didn't care. I told you that I needed to know. I told you burdens are eased when they are shared. I was ready to tell you every reason in the world for you to confide in me and argue against every reason not to.

But then you told me everything.

You stumbled through the story, your normal eloquence driven away by the horror of the events you described. More than once, you said you shouldn't be telling me these things. But I couldn't let you stop. You needed to let this out. The only other living person who knew the truth about the Items was Akunadin and he was hardly a sympathetic ear. You needed for there to be someone who understood, who cared. And as you spoke, the realization that I was that person surged through me, settling into a giddy warmth in my chest.

Even though you spared me the ghastlier details, the idea that an entire village had been brutally sacrificed in the Pharaoh's name, that their remains had been blended with gold and dark magic to craft the Sennen Items, sickened me. But as disgusted as I was, I knew I could, in time, put aside the knowledge, let it fade into an unpleasant memory rarely recalled. You, though… Everything you did was touched by the Ring. You would always have its weight against your chest. You would always feel the pendants sway and clatter whenever a threat approached and you would always know the dark forces that made them move.

I don't know how you ever did anything at all.

But that's what made you, you. Responsibility after responsibility piled on top of you and you would never even consider dropping any of them. Taking on an apprentice certainly didn't lighten the load. If I had been in your position, the last thing I would have wanted to do after spending all day chasing thieves or following royal orders was to spend even more time teaching somebody spells I could no longer cast.

Yet, no matter how difficult I made it, you enjoyed teaching me. I know there was more to that enjoyment than some vicarious thrill at having someone to practice magic through. Regardless of how well I actually did, you believed in me. Every new spell mastered was a great accomplishment. The not so mastered spells were simply the mistakes we all must make in order to learn.

Going by that, I should be absolutely brilliant by now.

But I feel so stupid.

Priestess Isis was right, what you wanted most for me was to keep studying and become strong. Potential wasn't just a concept you used to motivate me, it was what you truly saw within me, more than I ever saw myself. And I came so close to wasting it. Every lesson I blew off, every feeble excuse I gave – they were insults to the dedication you had to me.

No more. I will take all the lessons you gave me and I will go through every last scroll in your collection and I will learn them all. I will be worthy of the faith you had in me. And I will start with this ka spell.

Because Priestess Isis was right about one other thing, too. Until I can summon my own ka, I won't be able to see anyone else's. I won't be able to see you.

I remember making you describe your ka – your real ka too, not the parody it was reduced to after you sealed your magic. I wanted to know something about you that no one else did and you let me. I devoured every word, forming the picture in my mind and forcing you to clarify if I wasn't sure I had it right. Though I have never seen it, I know it. I know the flow of the dark blue robes. I know the curves of the armor, detailed in the red lines that run along the edges and wrap around the legs and arms. I know how the armor builds up from the shoulders, extending over them protectively and then upwards to match the shape of the hat. I know the two glowing eyes that look out from the darkness contained within it.

I always thought your priest robes were too formal, that your headdress made you look older, more portentous than you were. I understood the practicality of it. A priest needs to command respect, convey authority. Not that a teacher shouldn't do the same but the things that made me respect you weren't as tangible as fine linen robes and gold jewelry: your intelligence and wisdom, your strength, your devotion and your ability to convey it all with a quiet humility that made you gave you that much more nobility.

I wonder if the regalia of your ka conveys those qualities better. At the very least, it's undeniable proof of your loyalty. No one can deny your gifts with magic either. I doubt any but the strongest magicians even knew it was possible for a person to merge with his ka, let alone know the spell needed to do it.

And I wonder too, what you look like now. Is it as if you've only changed clothing or have there been more changes – in your ka and in you? You've been to the land of the dead; are the stories true about the color of your skin changing? Does the hat let your hair flow freely or is it all covered like when you wore your headdress? How well does the blue color match your eyes? How do the robes fit? Are they somewhat loose like your priest robes or do they fit close to your body?

I need to stop speculating. It delays when I'll be able to see for myself. I need to get serious and cast this spell. I need to focus.

You've mastered the basic techniques, Mana. Now let's put them into practice.

You mean I actually get to do something for a change?

I could let you cast magic unprepared, Mana, but that might be that last you would ever do.

And I know you prefer me to die a slow death of boredom instead.

I would prefer if you would take this seriously. Are you ready to start?

It's easy to start. Close your eyes, take deep, even breaths, ignore everything.

Good, Mana. I need to talk you through the spell so this time I want you to focus on me and my voice.

I usually do, anyway.

Am I supposed to believe that you actually listen to me?

I'm not joking. You told me that when I meditate, I should think about something that puts me at ease.

And…you think about me…?

I'm thinking about you, and that lesson, now. It wasn't all that long ago, despite how far away it feels. I had nagged you pretty much from the day you took me in to let me try a real spell and then when you finally deemed me ready, I was all nerves and awkwardness.

Um…yes…because you're my teacher…and you know all about this stuff…so…if anything went wrong…I know that you wouldn't let anything happen to me…and that…that is what puts me at ease.

Except that wasn't the real reason. You were kind enough to spare me from having to tell you what it actually was. You probably saw how flush my face was and took pity on me.

That's good, Mana. I want you to trust me. I'm glad that you know I won't let anything happen to you.

But you never said a word about anything happening to you. Ironic, how that's proven to be so much worse.

Come on, now's not the time for that. I need to focus, focus, focus.

Anyway… back to the lesson, Mana. Listen to me closely. When I speak, I want you to consider each word. What do they literally mean? What do they mean to you?

They meant that you cared enough about me to take up the fight it was to get me to sit down, shut up and learn. They meant that you didn't just believe, but knew, I was stronger, better than any doubts I could ever have.

They meant everything.

With that understanding, I want you to think the words to yourself.

The incantation for the ka summons repeats in my mind, first in your voice and then mine blends into yours, becoming louder and more certain with each word.

Now, in your heart, feel what the words are creating.

I think of the tablet to which you are now bound and the caricature of your ka upon it. But beyond the stone, I see you. Even further on, I can see myself.

Speak the spell aloud. Let your thoughts and feelings take shape.

I can't be speaking above a whisper, but the sound of it fills my soul. The words pour out so easily, one flowing naturally after the other until the spell is complete.

And when I open my eyes, I am looking back at myself.

My ka hovers in front of me, my twin in all but the paleness of its skin and the rosy highlights on its cheeks. More startling than the resemblance to me though, is the resemblance to your ka. The tight, skirted tunic it wears is of a lighter blue than the clothing of your ka, the color of the dawn sky in contrast to the night. The jagged lines that run along the boots and the hat are similarly lighter – pink to your red – but that they are there at all surprises me…delights me. The hat alone causes tears and a giddy laugh to catch in my throat.

You told me it was unusual for two unrelated people to have similar kas, but you also told me that a person's ka reflects his or her true spirit. So really, how could my ka be anything but a compliment to yours? It comes from my heart, and you hold such a large place there.

You'll be happy to see it – I know it, as happy as I am. Your remiss student has finally proven that you were right about her all along and what an amazing teacher you were. Maybe I should summon it for Shimon, just to shut him up.

Not counting the spiteful origin, that's actually probably a good idea. Shimon's heading up the search for the Pharaoh and if the Pharaoh is in danger, that's where you will be, isn't it? Doing your duty, as always.

I could do mine too. I know I've only just summoned it for the first time and I don't have the time to learn how to do much beyond getting it to move around, but I know I can help. You've already taught me how to lend my heka to others so at the least, I could support you. Plus, once I find you, you can give me more guidance so I can be of even greater help.

My ka smiles. A reflection of me, it's picking up on my lightening mood. I need to work with it for a little bit and then I'll go find Shimon. Together, we'll find the Pharaoh and I know we'll find you too.

And I can't wait to see you again.


This one's for my kitty, Morpheus, who wasn't so much a pet cat as a small, furry child who followed me around constantly, afraid I might leave him behind. After several weeks of illness, he left me behind. I miss you, Morph.