Disclaimer: Yugioh is the property of its talented creator, Kazuki Takahashi. This alternate version of the Yugi-verse is a fusion with an original world created by the author. All original settings, characters, etc. remain the property of the author.
Author's Note: I have used ancient Egyptian proper names (for places, people, etc.), including changing some of the characters' names to better fit the time period. I have only used ancient Egyptian terms where the modern translation falls short. Some concepts (such as ma'at and that of the ka) simply do not translate well. Finally, while 'pharaoh' is not an ancient Egyptian title, it is one modern readers are familiar with so I have elected to use it interchangeably with the more proper 'king' when referring to the Lord of the Two Lands.
Special thanks to my "psi-reader" Kitt. For the brainstorming, "drivel" and help with duels, this one's for you.
Chariots of the Gods
A Yu-Gi-Oh! alternate universe fanfic novel
© Copyright 2004-2006
In what should have been the still hours of the morning, the gray pre-dawn sky over the city of Waset was filled with the roar of fantastic creatures, both of metal and Shadow. Thick veils of dust hung like a suffocating pall in the air. More dust was thrown up by the impact of the monstrous combatants each time they crashed into the earth or--all too frequently--into a building. The huge bodies of the creatures pulverized mudbrick and limestone with unthinkable ease. Nothing escaped the destruction; not the palace halfway across the city to the east, nor the sprawling complex that housed the great stone tablets of the Shadow Monsters.
As the grounds of the temple complex shook with the impact of an enormous body plowing into the earth nearby, a tall man dressed in the long, pleated kilt of a Servant of the God raced along the broad avenue of sphinxes leading into the Shrine of Wedju. His clothing was of the finest transparent linen, but it was torn and stained with grime. Sweat left muddy streaks in the thin layer of dust coating his face and shaved scalp, and the kohl outlining his eyes was smeared. He had long since abandoned his formal wig and the dignified gate befitting a nobleman. Bare-headed and panting, he ran as if all the demons of the night were snapping at his heels, his sandals slapping against the paving stones.
Normally, this temple--like all the temples within the Two Lands--would have bustled with life and noise. In addition to the Pure Ones going about the daily business of the temple, there would have been scribes and students in the House of Life attached to the temple, and the myriad craftsman, artisans and others who served the temple each attending to their duties. Now, not even the porter or the soldiers who should have guarded the enormous pylon gates remained. Like the majority of the city's inhabitants, they had fled.
Inside a smaller chapel which branched off from the main shrine, three other priests-- two men and a woman-- awaited him. A fourth man, darker skinned and dressed in a soldier's short kilt, leaned with his spear against the back wall. The four priests exchanged worried glances as something huge screamed overhead, raising gooseflesh on the bodies of all who heard it. Then another quake nearly knocked them all off their feet. The gathered priests clung precariously to their dignity and their Items, and tried without success to ignore the toppling statues and chunks of white plaster that thudded to the floor around them. The soldier was stoic, barely even blinking as a falling piece of the painted ceiling missed his head by inches.
Seti, holder of the Scepter of a Thousand Years and the last of the priests to gather within the shrine, scowled as he dodged an alabaster lamp shaken from its shoulder-high stand. Stone flakes, sharp as blades, sliced across his face and neck, leaving bright streaks of blood in their wake and spattering him with hot oil. He brushed impatiently at a smear on his cheek, then stepped over the shattered remains of the lamp. His hawk's gaze fell on his fellow priests and he allowed himself a derisive snort, as usual finding them wanting. He worked with them because he must, but there was not one of them he could not best, nor one of them he truly trusted with the life and safety of the god-king.
Another tremor shook the temple. Seti stumbled, righting himself instantly, his hand tightening its grip on the golden Scepter. He wiped dust, sweat, and blood from his eyes, opening them to find himself the object of scrutiny. The three other surviving Chosen priests gathered around him, their fear and worry etched clearly on their features as they faced him. One of them, Shada, the priest who bore the Key of a Thousand Years, stepped forward.
"Where is the Divine One?" Shada asked urgently, his Item clutched in a white-knuckled grip. "We saw the attack on the palace. Is he--?"
"His Majesty lives." The flatness of his declaration belied Seti's own immense relief at the truth of his words.
When he had witnessed the final collapse of the palace, its thick, mudbrick walls crushed beneath the massive feet and fists of the invaders' giant metal monsters, he had been certain the King had perished within the rubble. But the great Lord Amun was merciful, in this at least, and the King had emerged from the ruins safe in the arms of his most loyal Shadow Monster. Seti knew that nothing short of the Dark Magician's own destruction would tear him from the Pharaoh's side. When he had still been fully human, Mahaad had wielded the Thousand Year Ring. Now, he had merged a part of his soul with his Shadow creature so that he might continue to serve the king even after his death.
"Where is he, then?" another, somewhat tremulous voice demanded. It was the voice of Kawab, the priest who held the Thousand Year Scales, and it revealed his fear. The dark eyes peering out from beneath his crooked wig were lined with strain. "Is he coming?"
"He will be here." The unflinching steel in Seti's voice made the other back away and drop his gaze. "Our King will not fail us."
"No, of course not," Shada said firmly. "We all have the utmost faith in Pharaoh--may he be blessed with life, health and strength."
His dark gaze swept the circle of priests. All of them averted their eyes before his piercing stare…all but Seti, who glared defiantly back at him. Shada's gaze softened slightly; Seti might be harsh and abrasive, but no one questioned his loyalty to their sovereign, though he sometimes had strange ways of showing it.
"Of course, we do," responded Asetnofret, the only woman present. Her beautiful face was serene despite the intermittent concussions that continued to shake the temple, her fine garments and wig still perfectly in place. One slender hand caressed the golden Necklace at her throat. "The Divine One will do that which must be done."
At her words, Seti felt his fists clench unbidden. "Are you so ready to condemn him to death?"
Asetnofret seemed taken aback by the harsh accusation in his voice. "It is not I who would condemn him--"
"No, of course not." He grated out the words. "You only encouraged him with your visions!"
"I have only spoken the truth of what the Thousand Year Necklace has shown me." Again, her fingers gently caressed the golden eye at the center of her Item. "Of what must be done…"
"You merely echo the Shadows and all that they have whispered to our King." Seti snorted. "The Thousand Year Items were born of Shadow. Any vision they grant must remain suspect, for that reason, if no other. The Shadows want our King, and, if they have him, they will never let him go, not even unto the Field of Reeds."
He turned away with a sharp gesture of disgust, only to stiffen as he felt Aset's hand on his arm. He glared down at her, but the priestess met his glower unflinchingly.
"Our Pharaoh--may he have life, prosperity and health -- is strong. He has always been strong for us," she said softly. "Now, we must be strong for him. No matter how deeply it wounds us."
"Enough, Aset," Shada said. With a brief bow of her head, she obeyed, gliding back a step to stand beside Kawab, whose knuckles were white on the balance of his Item.
"The King is truly unhurt?" Shada asked, lowering his voice and leaning closer to Seti.
Seti nodded. "Mahaad…is with him."
"Praise be to Lord Amun-Ra." Shada closed his eyes briefly, then sighed and squared his shoulders beneath the fine linen of his robe. Unlike Seti's battle-stained and wrinkled attire, Shada's sheer white robe and calf-length kilt were spotless, their thin pleats neat and crisp. "There is very little time left, if this is to be done."
Not bothering to conceal his anger, Seti said, "We cannot allow His Majesty to go through with this. There must be another way!"
"You know there is not--"
"Then I will offer myself in his place!" Seti rounded on the other priest, startling Shada into falling back a step. "The Two Lands need him, now more than ever. He cannot be allowed to--"
"Only he can do this, Seti." Shada lowered his head, one hand stroking absently across the golden Key suspended on its heavy chain around his neck. "None of us, not even you, can hope to match the power of the Living Horus."
As much as it pained Seti to admit it, he knew the other was right. None of them could manipulate the Shadows with the skill that came so naturally to their King. Not even Seti, the strongest of the Chosen priests, could equal the Pharaoh's power.
He stared unseeingly at the decorated walls of the chapel where brightly painted frescoes depicted the former king, the Osiris Akhenamkhanen, kneeling as he made an offering of ma'at to the Lord Amun-re. In the inner sanctum of the temple, not far from the side chapel where they awaited the King's arrival, rested the great stone tablets which held the Shadow Monsters -- many of which Seti and his fellow priests had drawn from criminals and other, more innocent, hearts.
During the reign of the previous king, the Chosen had used the Monsters to defend the Two Lands against invaders. The Monsters battled even now, but the metal soldiers of the enemy were an overwhelming force. As the war had progressed, Seti found his faith in the strength of the Monsters waning. He had sought greater, more powerful creatures, enlisting Shada's aid to seek out strong kau and doing whatever it took to increase the power of the Shadow Monster that could be drawn from them…even if it meant killing the person within whose heart the makings of the creature nestled. Seti would do whatever it took to protect Kemet… and the Pharaoh who was the land's heart.
The King had spent his every waking moment fighting the invaders: constructing strategies to enable his badly out-armed and out-armored soldiers to battle the invaders' forces, reciting prayers and spells of protection, even leading his army into battle (the latter over Seti's strong objections). His efforts had borne fruit--despite the overwhelming odds against them, the armies of Kemet had not yet fallen entirely to the opposing forces--but it had all taken its toll on the young King. New lines of strain and exhaustion were etched between his brows and around his mouth, and he rarely slept. Seti wondered how much of this plan was the result of true vision…and how much was simple desperation.
Like the King, Seti had prayed for deliverance from the evil that sought to destroy them and gain the awesome power of the Shadows. But he was beginning to wonder if the King had lost the favor of his divine Father. All the supplication and offerings made in this and every other temple throughout the Two Lands had done nothing to rid them of the invaders, and so the destruction continued apace. If something were not done soon, there would nothing left of their beloved land--or the world beyond its borders. Even so, he could not condone what Pharaoh had planned. The Two Lands must be saved, yes. But not at the cost of their young sovereign's life -- and, even worse, his hope for the afterlife.
His hand clenched around his Scepter. The Pharaoh's plan was audacious, desperate…and possibly the only chance they had of defeating the invaders. Unfortunately, it was also fatal. If the King completed the ritual, he would not survive. Even worse, to seal the King's contract with the Shadows, a part of his very soul would be sealed within the Thousand Year Pendant. His soul incomplete, the King would be denied a joyous afterlife in the Field of Reeds.
"I cannot let him do this," Seti murmured, his own desperation evident in the tightness of his jaw, the rigidity of his posture, and the clenching of his fist around the Scepter. Bad enough to let the King die when Seti, like all the Item priests, was sworn to protect him. But to condemn the King after death, as well, to consign him to oblivion-- Seti's heart constricted, the thought alone more than he could bear. "I cannot--"
"You have no choice."
The new voice was deep, commanding…and extremely weary. Turning, Seti saw that the Pharaoh had joined them at last. The King's slender form was streaked from head to toe with dirt and dust, his once-fine linen clothing torn and smeared with blood and grime. And yet, he still looked every inch a king, his posture regal and unbowed, his dark gaze clear and determined. Along with the other priests, Seti sank to his knees in reverence.
"Rise. There is much to do and little time to do it." The King strode into the chamber, his faithful Shadow Monster floating solemnly at his side. His gaze fell on Shada. "You have made the necessary preparations?"
"Yes, Your Majesty." Shada briefly lowered his head, again. Then he gestured toward the center of the enormous room, where a stone slab had been carefully positioned. It was clear from the fresh chisel marks that the stone had been recently quarried and was not a usual fixture of the temple. The sacred words carved into its dull, sandy surface were roughly finished and free of paint, unlike the skillful depictions adorning the walls and ceiling of the room. "The workmen completed their tasks but an hour ago."
"Let us hope they did them well."
"Yes, we wouldn't want anything to go wrong with your suicide," Seti muttered dourly, following the King's lead as he strode over to examine the carved stone.
"Indeed," Pharaoh said dryly, slanting a measuring glance at his priest before bending to peer closely at the dense lines of inscription on the stone. The hieroglyphs covered almost every visible inch of the pale-colored rock. In the flickering light of the remaining lamps, Pharaoh's deep-brown eyes glinted with strange, red highlights. "This will be our only chance. We must not fail."
"Your Majesty--" Seti began, only to be stopped by the King's upraised hand. Lamplight glinted off the golden rings on his fingers.
"No. This is the only way." He straightened and turned to his priests. When he spoke, he addressed them all, but his gaze was fixed upon Seti. "I have to do this. My kingdom must not perish."
"Your kingdom needs you, Majesty," Seti argued, his blue eyes fierce. The King was the soul of Kemet. Without him, the land would falter, even perish… Seti shuddered. "You are Kemet."
"Yes." The King nodded solemnly. "As you will be, when I am gone."
Seti's eyes widened. "I--"
"I have no sons," Pharaoh reminded him, his deep voice filled with regret. "It falls to you, Cousin, to take up the double crown." A faint, somewhat sardonic smile touched one corner of his mouth. "You may find it a heavy weight upon your brow."
Seti bowed his head. He knew the King was right, but… They had always been rivals, even as children, and Seti had long maintained that he was the superior warrior, duelist, scribe, the best at whatever challenge the two of them tackled together. He knew he could be king. Still…He had never wanted anything like this to happen. His voice was an angry growl. "I would give my life for you--"
"I know." Pharaoh laid a slender hand on Seti's arm--a mark of high honor. Few were granted the privilege of the divine king's touch. "But now I ask you to live for me, instead. You will do this and you will be a mighty king. The Two Lands will prosper, all shall sing praises to your name." A hint of mischief momentarily lightened the grim determination in the King's eyes. "As if your sense of your own greatness was in need of further inflation."
Seti's blue eyes narrowed at the insult. Then he realized what was happening and scowled. "Stop trying to sidetrack me. It won't work."
"Are you sure about that?" Smirking, the Pharaoh looked down at the golden Pendant, an inverted pyramid hanging from the chain around his neck, and absently stroked his palm over the raised udjat on the Pendant's face. "We have been through this argument before, Seti. There is no other way. I must do this."
"Then don't fail," Seti grated harshly. His voice was hoarse with strain; it dropped to a whisper when he continued, "And… I will not fail you."
"You have always served me well." The Pharaoh's dark gaze swept the circle of priests. "As have you all. I ask this final thing of you, now. Serve me--and the Two Lands--one last time."
Again, the priests knelt, silently demonstrating their loyalty and reverence for their ruler.
Pharaoh nodded, satisfied. "Shada, are all the Items gathered here?"
"All but one, Divine One," Shada said, lowering his eyes. "The traitor priest, may the Devourer take him, has disappeared. We have recovered the Ring," he indicated a small bundle lying on the altar stone, "--and the evil one who stole it, but we believe the invaders now possess the sacred Eye."
Like the tomb robber, the traitor had forfeited his good name when he committed his evil deeds. Not one of those assembled would speak it. It would be stricken from official records and monuments, even from the walls of the traitor priest's tomb. His ka would find no resting place, no offerings to sustain it. When he went West, he would join the unjustified dead who haunted the desert wastes. Fitting punishment for one who had betrayed the divine King.
"There is nothing to be done about that now," Pharaoh said. "I would not leave even a single Item in our enemies' hands, but we cannot afford to delay any longer."
"Will the ritual work with only six of the sacred Items?" Seti demanded, his fierce gaze locked on the unfortunate Shada once more. "If the Divine One," Seti shot a less-than-reverent glare at the King, pointedly omitting the customary wish for the King's long life and continued health, "is determined to forge ahead with this folly, I'll not have him throwing his life away for nothing."
"My visions have shown me that it will work," Asetnofret reminded them, stepping forward. She bowed deeply to the King. "Your Majesty."
"Lady Aset." He offered her a small, reserved smile. "Has the Necklace of a Thousand Years granted you a new vision of the future?"
"Yes, Majesty." Her return smile was enigmatic. "I have foreseen your ultimate destiny."
He raised one elegant eyebrow. "And will you not tell me what you have seen?"
She bowed her head. "I may not, Your Majesty. But I can tell you this: what you do now will save the Two Lands from certain destruction."
"My majesty thanks you…for your words and for your service."
There were tears in her eyes as she bowed a final time. "Your Majesty's courage will live forever."
Seti could feel his own eyes burning. Resolutely, he blinked the moisture away and growled, "If we are going through with this foolishness, let us get it over with."
A familiar smirk tugged at the corners of Pharaoh's mouth as he met Seti's accusing gaze with a knowing one. "Patience was never your virtue."
"Self-preservation was never yours," Seti shot back, his voice roughened by the unshed tears he refused to acknowledge.
"So you have always told me," Pharaoh said. His gaze swept over the assembled priests and, with a graceful gesture, he added, "Very well. Let us not keep Priest Seti waiting any longer."
Before Seti could respond to the jibe, Shada interrupted, turning to speak to the soldier, one of the temple guards, still lurking in the background. "Bring the accursed thief. We will need him for the ritual."
The guard gave a curt nod, spun on his heel and hurried from the room. He returned shortly, shoving a prisoner before him. The white-haired thief's arms were bound at a painful-looking angle behind his back. He cursed loudly as he was forced to his knees before the King.
"Silence, dung-eater!" Seti barely restrained himself from striking the defiant thief. "Show the proper respect for your betters."
The thief spat at him.
Seti glared at the gob of spittle on his sandal, at the thief, then at Shada. "Do we really need this filthy piece of refuse?"
"Somehow, the evil one has bonded with the Ring," Shada said lowly. His usually impassive features were twisted in disgust as he gazed at the kneeling prisoner. To the guard, he said, "Bind his tongue so his blasphemy may not offend the ears of the Divine One."
The sound of soft laughter surprised them all. It was choked and faintly bitter, but it was laughter…and it was coming from the King. As they watched, the guard tied a strip of cloth torn from the evil-doer's own filthy kilt tightly over the thief's mouth. Turning his back on the now-muffled thief, Pharaoh said quietly, "Fortunately, my majesty has far too much on my mind to be overly offended by the depraved utterings of a tomb robber, Shada."
"Of course, Divine One." Shada bowed slightly. At the King's nod, he directed the guard to take the struggling prisoner to one end of the rectangle of sandstone that now dominated the room. Without another word, Asetnofret and Kawab joined them, taking up their own places on each side of the stone. Shada reached for the cloth-wrapped bundle at the foot of the stone, took the Thousand Year Ring from its wrappings, and set it carefully around the subdued thief's neck.
When the King started toward the opposite end of the stone, Mahaad lunged to stop him, placing himself before the King and extending his staff to bar the way. Mahaad's rigid posture and set, almost angry expression revealed his determination not to be moved. The King closed his eyes briefly, then looked up to meet his guardian's solemn gaze.
Seti could not even begin to sort out the wealth of emotions carried in that single word, the name of the magician's human self, his human soul. But whatever Mahaad--or what remained of him--read in it, it was enough.
Slowly, Mahaad lowered his staff. The angry scowl slipped from his features, an expression of utter sorrow taking its place. He knelt before the King in full obeisance, kissing the earth at the Pharaoh's feet.
"My soul will serve you forever." Mahaad's voice was scarcely a whisper, but all within the chamber heard it clearly…as they heard Mahaad's surprised intake of breath when the King bent and raised him gently to his feet.
"Forgive me," Pharaoh said softly, then banished Mahaad back to his stone tablet. It was the power of the summoner that supported the Shadow creatures in this world. Because Mahaad had fused his life-force with the spirit-creature to form the Dark Magician, it was different than most Monsters and took less of its summoner's strength to maintain. But the King would need all of his considerable magical energies for the ordeal to come.
His expression stoic, Pharaoh rested his hands on the rough surface at the head of the stone, gazing down at it for a long moment before climbing onto it and arranging himself at its center. He drew a deep breath, then another…Briefly, he met Seti's gaze. He began to speak, softly at first, then with ever-increasing strength. At his first word, the Thousand Year Items began to glow. Soon, they were emitting a blinding, golden light. Raising his powerful voice to the heavens, the Pharaoh continued the spell that would destroy the invading armies, seal away the Shadows…and take his own life.
The ritual itself passed in something of a blur, but Seti knew in his bones that he would never purge its terrible culmination from his memory. The scene had seared itself into the very fabric of his being, burning the image of the Pharaoh's last, tortured moments on earth into his mind's eye where he was sure it would haunt his dreams until his own death claimed him.
Blood… There was so much blood… The stone beneath the King's body had been painted red with it. It saturated the porous rock, filling the carvings and running in scarlet rivulets to stain the faience tiles of the temple floor. Frozen by the terrible sight before him, Seti could only watch in horror as the Pharaoh's blood poured down the stone and across the floor to where he knelt, soaking Seti's kilt and turning the pleated linen red as if branding him for his crimes. He knew in his heart that he would bear that mark for the rest of his days; he would never feel clean again.
The Scepter rang loudly against the tiles as it fell from his suddenly nerveless fingers. He was only distantly aware of the faint echoes as the other Items joined it. Seti pitched forward, barely catching himself on his hands as he toppled over, his face inches from the bloodstained floor. When he gasped for breath, his mouth and nose filled with the copper stench of death and he gagged helplessly, body and mind trying desperately to reject the stark reality before him.
I won't forget you, Majesty, he thought fiercely, even as he felt the magic take hold of him again. Your name shall not be forgotten, your ba shall not be homeless, your ka shall not perish--
A silent explosion, brighter than the noonday sun, lit up the chamber. Blind and trembling, Seti lost his precarious balance. He struck his head hard against the bloody side of the altar stone and all was darkness.
When he awoke, he remembered everything that had happened. Everything…
The Pharaoh's deep voice, always so forceful, growing weaker with each word of the spell he uttered. His breathing, shallow and labored as the blood began to flow. The smell of the Pharaoh's blood, metallic and bitter, in Seti's nostrils and on his tongue. Blackness at the corners of his vision, the flickering of Shadows as the power fought its sealing, fought the Pharaoh, their struggle literally tearing him apart...To the very end, the Pharaoh gave no voice to his pain, though the words of the spell seemed to come harder, his lips trembling as he struggled to shape them. In the end, even he succumbed to the searing agony, as a part of his very soul was ripped from him and imprisoned within the Pendant, which shattered. His final breath carried with it a tortured scream.
In the silence that lay over the darkened temple, Seti could still hear the Pharaoh's scream echoing in his ears. He suspected it would haunt him for the rest of his days, waking or dreaming--that scream…and the copper stench of blood.
Oh, yes. He remembered everything, all too clearly.
Everything…except the dead King's name.