The Stolen Heart
Disclaimer: Anime-2000 doesn't own Yu-Gi-Oh! She only owns the characters in here that you've never ever seen in the series (both manga and anime.)
I really have no idea what Atemu's horse is called.
So ANYWAY at long last: the conclusion to The Stolen Heart. Changed rating to a 'T.' I wasn't expecting it to be this long, but lo and behold! It's the longest freakin' chapter I've ever written. I've tried to edit out some parts, but I just couldn't… Thirty-two pages. Dang. If you're going to read this, I hope you have plenty of time on your hands.
The throne room was in chaos. Priests paced back and forth. The holder of the Millennium Ring was particularly anxious. Every once in a while, a priest would ask about the situation, but none received any more confirmation than a simple nod or shake of the head. Seto was waving his Millennium Rod about in the air, demanding the presence of a certain priestess and claiming that the conference could not begin without her.
"Everyone, please remain calm—"
"My pharaoh, is this what I hear is true?"
"Where the hell is Isis? We can't start the meeting without her!"
Pharaoh Atemu, who had capitulated to the tension in the room, fell back into his throne and shook his head dully at the ineptitude of this assembly. He wondered if the migraine that was beginning to worsen had something to do with his best friend being spirited away like a piece of gold by a thief, or whether it was the causality effect of shaking his head back and forth. He squeezed his eyes shut. It must have been both.
"Simon," sighed the pharaoh weakly, "have you located the priestess, Isis?"
The old advisor apologized and told him, "I'm afraid not, my king. Is her presence really necessary?"
Laughing softly, Atemu pressed his hands against his face. "No, no, Seto is just trying to stall the meeting because he doesn't have a clue what to do, so he knows he's no help. He barely even knows what's going on. Only Mahaado knows the full story, but he hasn't spoken a word since the event… Osiris curse it all." He peered through his fingers and then closed those crimson eyes of his again. "Let's begin."
At the command, the room fell silent. Finally, Priest Shada turned to Mahaado, who glanced at him and then returned to his pacing. Shaking his head, the holder of the Ankh said, "If you have compunctions over this whole ordeal, you shouldn't, Mahaado. This isn't your fault."
"Spare me your condolences," Mahaado replied, finally stopping and facing him directly. "I know it is. If I hadn't just stood there, I could have stopped him! But I was too preoccupied with trying to persuade Mana to stay and trying to get her to understand that Bakura was a no-good tomb raider…" He paused and looked to Priest Karim. "But I suppose I don't have as much experience judging a person as you do. She was completely entranced with the thief. If I had defeated him, Mana would never forgive me."
"It's quite presumptuous of you think say that you would have defeated Bakura just like that, don't you think, Mahaado?" Seto said wryly. Mahaado's eyes narrowed, but other than that he did not show any more resentment for the comment.
Karim shrugged slightly. The Millennium Scales jingled softly in his hand. "I haven't had a chance to properly judge Bakura… But we all know that there is a heavy darkness within that man."
Mahaado frowned, remembering the many conversations he had with his apprentice, about the darkness that could grow within a person's soul and influence their actions. "Agreed. But what action should we take now, my Pharaoh?"
Atemu blinked as all the priests' attention turned to him. He redirected his gaze to his Puzzle. "Well, Mana did say that she was leaving for a good cause. She claimed that Bakura was taking her away from Egypt, and the tombs of the previous kings of Egypt would be safe from that bandit."
"This is what we were talking about?" Seto burst out suddenly. He snorted, and shook his head. "In that case, I fail to see what the big deal is. If she left of her own free will with that crypt-robbing cretin for the well being of Egypt, then that is her choice. End of argument."
The old priest with the Millennium Eye, Akunadin, gave the younger man an aggravated look. "Seto, that was callous and uncalled for." Shrugging, the holder of the Millennium Rod closed his eyes in an unspoken apology.
But the others knew that there was a certain truth in his words. One that both Atemu and Mahaado refused to say aloud.
"Perhaps you're right…" Seto said, making sure to stress the 'perhaps.' The haughty brunette folded his arms across his chest and tapped his Item lightly against his shoulder. A silent 'Or maybe I'm right,' lingered in the air. Everyone seemed to hear it, all the same.
"Mana is young," Shada said slowly. "She might not completely understand what she has gotten herself into…"
Seto countered harshly, "Then that's her own fault! She's always like this! That girl doesn't think before she acts! It's time she learns the consequences of her actions—it's time she grows up." His eyes darted towards Mahaado with an icy and sharp glare. "Again, wouldn't you agree, Priest Mahaado?"
Nodding pensively, Karim interjected, albeit witheringly, "And you are the at pinnacle of maturity, yourself, Seto." The cold look was directed to the holder of the Scales now. "But all I'm saying is that it's unnecessary to keep reminding Mahaado of…" Karim glanced at Mahaado for a moment. The priest was busy conversing with the pharaoh. Karim deemed it safe to continue, "…his… mistake."
Simon watched the four priests carefully. A heated altercation seemed liable to erupt at any moment. He did not hear the words exchanged between the holders of the Millennium Ring and Puzzle.
"I'm sorry, Mahaado," whispered Atemu, leaning forward from his throne to the priest. "As much as I would love to have a search party sent out to look for her, I know I can't. Mana agreed—willingly—to take Bakura away from our land, to protect us… The welfare of Egypt rests on my shoulder. I can't forsake the entire country and the previous kings for one friendship. If I were anyone else, I would. I swear to you…" Atemu's crimson eyes held a slightly Mana-like mischief in them. "I would."
Mahaado stared into them coolly. "Are you certain, my pharaoh?"
The young ruler smirked. "We've wasted a lot of time as it is, haven't we, Mahaado?" He winked and said, "Papyrus is in the stables."
Smiling briefly, Mahaado cleared his throat and backed away. He said loudly, "So what is your final conclusion, Great Pharaoh?"
The throne room surrendered to silence once more, and the King of Egypt said, "Mana is your student and your responsibility, Priest Mahaado." A broad grin appeared on his countenance. "I leave her situation in your hands. I trust you will act wisely."
Bowing, Mahaado said, "As you wish, my lord." And he left the room.
Papyrus snorted and nudged Mahaado's arm softly. Mana always loved this horse. It was one of Atemu's favorites, too, despite having injured himself once by a clandestine ride. His father was royally unhappy and had forbidden Atemu to ride it.
Yet, now, Atemu boasted that it was the fastest horse in Egypt.
"Priest Mahaado. Are you leaving?" The priest in question glanced over his shoulder and then back at the lovely steed once he recognized the priestess. "I was looking for you."
"Isis, your absence created quite a commotion in our second conference tonight," he told her quietly.
He was answered with a light laugh, "Yes, I heard from Seto. But I hope you all will forgive me; I was coming when a vision about tonight suddenly came to me. Several, actually…"
Mahaado pulled gently on the reins and led the horse past the holder of the Millennium Tauk. He smiled briefly at her. "You need not present your explanations to me. I'm in a hurry at the moment, and I'm sure the pharaoh—or Priest Seto—would much rather hear about it…"
She shook her head. "Oh no, Mahaado, I believe this concerns you more than it does him. Well, at least Mana and Bakura." She walked away. "But I do understand that you don't have much time on your hands."
"And what would this be?" Mahaado asked as he climbed onto the horse's back. She had intrigued him now.
Just as the mare took the first step of many more to come that night, Isis looked back and said, "There's nothing to be worried about. It's best if I kept these auguries to myself. Only… trust your judgment. Do what you believe is right." She smiled her cryptic smile again. "History will not change."
"You get airsick… Never would've expected that."
"I'm sorry, but Diabound is still invisible to me! Your ka flies so quickly, and I can actually see the ground whizzing beneath us…"
"Oh shut up."
Once their feet had met the soft, sandy desert surface, Mana brightened.
She laughed, kicking up white sand as she twirled around in the moonlight. "Yay!"
The thief watched her in amazement. How does one change so drastically in such a short amount of time? Then, he gazed down at himself. How had he changed so quickly? In a couple of weeks, he had turned from ruthless criminal—who wanted nothing more than to kill the pharaoh and claim the Items that his family was sacrificed for—to a… still a ruthless criminal (nobody had better doubt that), but the heavy anger in his chest had lifted.
Something was wrong with him. He knew that. Mana plopped down in the sand and fell on her back. Bakura smirked and took a seat next to her, looking up at the constellations. So something was wrong with him. He did not care. Not at all.
"Tell me, what will we do after we leave Egypt?" Mana asked, sitting up. She shook the sand from her hair.
Bakura looked at her thoughtfully. "Nubia…" he murmured softly, "I haven't thought much farther than that. What other countries are nearby?" Mana shrugged. "Didn't that priest teach you anything?" Mana blushed. Bakura corrected himself, "Or you just didn't learn anything."
"I just didn't pay attention to the boring things," she replied huffily. Then, switching the subject back to travel, Mana said, "So how far are we going? How far is Nubia?"
Smirking, Bakura looked up at the stars. "A country away, across the world… I don't care. But I will return to Egypt one day to finish what they've started."
Mana frowned as she straightened. "Don't say that! Forget the Millennium Items!" she said, grabbing onto his sleeve. He scowled back at her. "Please, Bakura, I know you'll never forgive what happened to Kuru Eruna, but just leave it in the past. Let it go, and you don't have to suffer anymore!"
"Grief and pain that have followed me and stayed with me for fifteen years do not leave just because I decide to 'let them go,'" Bakura told her angrily. His voice was bitter as he shrugged her off. "But you don't have to worry about that just now. I'll wait a few years before I come back, all right?" he said, nudging her gently with his elbow.
"And you won't reconsider?" asked Mana, still sadly. She sat back on her heels. Bakura shook his head, his decision final. He was not going to relate to her what he and Heka had argued about. She might get ideas. "Well, I can try, right?" He stared, questioningly. Mana rose to her knees and looked at him with exuberant determination. "Even if it takes years, I'll do all I can to drive out that hatred from your heart!"
Bakura blinked and snorted, "Good luck. Though by then, I'll have probably killed the pharaoh and all his priests!" He laughed, and Mana could only sigh and think, We've got a long way to go…
The laughter ceased. After a short abeyance, the thief's amused voice said softly, "Speak of the devil…" The brunette looked up, in the direction the white-haired man was facing. A white mare charged towards them at full speed. Her azure eyes widened as Bakura chuckled darkly. "That guy just doesn't give up."
Papyrus… She recognized that horse. Had the king sent someone to find her? "Maybe… we should leave now," Mana said urgently, tugging at his coat. Bakura only shook his head, his grin growing more and more malicious. The horse drew closer.
Pharaoh Atemu's prized steed came to a stop before them, and the man leapt off. "Well, well," Bakura whispered with a sneer, "what a surprise. How you managed to find and catch up to us, that is. Won't you enlighten Mana and me?"
Mahaado's brows slanted towards each other. "Bakura," he acknowledged in return. He had rehearsed this moment in head heads dozens of times, but when the moment came… This was more difficult. The man he was facing was dangerous, unpredictable. "I am not here to fight you," he said carefully, "but I will if forced to."
Scowling, Mahaado did not look away as he continued, "All I want is my student. I won't hinder your escape, report you, or anything of the sort." It did not help that Bakura's expression remained the same: calculating, patronizing. "The others will not know about this meeting, and you are free to go until you commit your next crime in Egypt. Just… release Mana." Bakura raised an eyebrow. With more effort than he let on, Mahaado added, "…Please."
"Since you asked nicely…" Bakura laughed lightly and folded his arms. "Maybe." The priest glared at him, and Bakura smiled. "So, what about your Ring?"
"My Ring…?" Mahaado placed a hand on his chest, feeling the cold metallic surface of the Millennium Ring. He held it up and gave it a hard look. "Hmm. Very well." Without another moment of hesitation, he jerked it from his neck. The Millennium Item landed at the tomb raider's feet with a quiet "chk" from the dangling golden diamonds.
Mana and Bakura stared at the Item in stunned silence. Bakura's hand had a firm grip on her arm as he pulled her behind him. He looked up. "What trickery is this?" he spat, giving the priest an irate glower.
"Exactly what it looks like," Mahaado replied calmly, not taking his eyes off the thief. "The Millennium Ring in exchange for Mana. You've always coveted it, have you not? It is quite an essential instrument for avenging Kuru Eruna. Which is more important to you. Power or her?"
Bakura's face darkened. Even Mana, as she looked up, could not tell what he was thinking from the grimace on his face.
"True…" he finally spoke. "I would kill for it..."
Sands whipped up as Bakura's colossal white ka burgeoned out from within him. Diabound's huge wings stretched to their full extent, its white knuckles cracking as it flexed it fingers. The snakehead hissed spitefully at the priest.
Looking up, Bakura grinned insanely. "…but I would rather kill you for it!"
"Bakura!" Mana yelled at him, but Mahaado had seen enough to know that this time, they would have to fight. From the looks on the two men's faces, she finally did, too. "Darnit!" With a grunt of frustration, Mana bent down, scooped the Millennium Ring up from the sand, and hurled it to Mahaado. "Master—catch!" Bakura looked down at her. "It's only fair!" she told him. "Now you each have something the other wants!"
The Illusionist Mage leapt out deftly and stood between its priest and Bakura. It had grown from a child into a lean, lithe figure of a man. A new power radiated from it as it pointed its magician's staff at the Thief King and his ka. Mahaado was fighting with all his magic now. "I suppose some things can't be avoided," said Mahaado, tying the Ring's leather cord around his neck. "All or nothing?"
"Heheh, for once, I agree." Bakura's eyes flashed as he ordered, "Diabound! Attack with Spiral Wave!"
"Dodge and counter with Magic Blast!" Mahaado commanded instantly.
Mahaado's ka zigzagged out Diabound's attack and headed straight for it and its master. "Follow it!" roared Bakura as the mage neared them. Without deviation, Bakura's god dove towards the Illusionist Mage. It dodged the Magic Blast as easily as its nemesis had avoided its own attack and lunged at the magician. But Mahaado and the Illusionist Mage were one step ahead.
"Quickly! Attack again!" Mahaado shouted, sending his ka magic to fuel the second attack.
"'Again?'" Bakura cried in disbelief as Diabound was sent hurtling back from the second magical blast. His ka smashed into the ground beside him. Sand flew everywhere. "Diabound!" Mana held on to him tightly as he leapt out of the way of his own ka's flailing tail. "Fight back!" he yelled as he landed.
Mana gasped as its green staff cut between Bakura and herself. It caught her in the middle and swung back, sending her flying through the air. She panicked. One second she was ascending toward the sky; the next second, she fell like a rock. "Ungh!" She fell into strong arms. The girl pushed back her headpiece and looked up. Her mentor looked down at her. "Master Mahaado!"
"Bad move!" snarled Bakura as they looked back to the Duel. Diabound had arisen and was already attacking. "Destroy his ka!" Bakura bellowed just as the alabaster beast unleashed a powerful Spiral Wave. The mage flew upwards, but the attack knocked him out of the air. Had it been a few seconds later, it would have been completely engulfed and obliterated by the Spiral Wave.
For Mana and Mahaado, unfortunately, the Spiral Wave was headed right towards them. Bakura yelled at Diabound to stop the attack, but it was already too late.
Undaunted, the priest called to his ka, "Illusionist Mage—Thousand Magic Blasts!" The magician flew back towards Mana and Mahaado, raised its staff, and pointed it towards the Spiral Wave. Magic explosions erupted against Diabound's assault.
Both attacks were negated. A dust flurry veiled the battlefield. Both contenders took that to their advantage.
"Illusionist Mage, attack!"
"Swat that insect outta the air, Diabound!"
The cloud of sand was ripped asunder by a fierce wind as Diabound swung its arm at Mahaado's ka. The punch connected, and the Illusionist Mage plummeted out of the air. Mahaado cringed. Mana, too, felt a sharp sensation in her heart. Her feet met the ground as the priest dropped her. "Oh! Master—"
Mahaado just shook his head. "Fine—I'm fine." He looked up as the Illusionist Mage leapt up into the air, ready to fight again. "All right, attack with Magic Blast!"
Bakura scowled. He recovered too quickly! He had not seen this coming.
Just as Diabound managed to jerk out of the magical attack's way, Mahaado commanded, "Again!"
"Damn!" Bakura had been forced back several feet, but Diabound—who had taken the full blow—was thrown back with that powerful blast and smashed into the sand dune behind him.
"Attack Bakura!" Mahaado yelled, jabbing a finger at the weakened tomb robber. "Magic Blas—!"
Mana's hands clasped around his hand as she shrieked "Stop! Don't kill him!"
"Tch! There's no choice!" he snapped at her, lowering his arm.
Shaking her head so wildly that he was almost certain her neck would break, Mana said, "No, no! There is a choice!" She stopped, and her dark blue eyes met directly with his. "Let us leave!" she said firmly. A ferocious intensity filled her voice. "I'm begging you! If you let us leave, Egypt will be safe. Master Mahaado, isn't this what you want?" She held his hand tightly with her own shaking two. "Yes…?"
With a pained expression on his face, Mahaado stared back at her. "No," he closed his eyes and whispered so softly that Mana had to lean closer to hear him.
Because I refuse to allow that criminal to take what he wants without appropriate thought of the consequences. Because I will never let him steal you away from me forever. Because I love you. There were many replies that Mahaado could have said that would have sounded intelligent or at least convincing. Replies that would have been typical Mahaado responses. Replies that had been amassed deep within him for years.
But those did not seem like justifiable answers. They seemed… "Because…" Mahaado sighed in defeat and bowed his head. "…Because I am selfish."
Mana's eyes softened. "Master…"
Bakura glared at the two. They had years behind them, whereas he only knew her for a few weeks. There was a deeper connection between the mentor and student. He loathed that bond. "Diabound," he hissed, "Separate them." His ka sprang into action. Bakura was more than willing to give the black rage that was building up in his heart to Diabound. Concentrating the raw energy of hatred into an attack. "Spiral Wave!"
Mahaado could call upon his Illusionist Mage to block the attack, relocate Mana to safety, or do nothing and let both him and his apprentice become obliterated by the attack. There was a better chance of one of the first two happening; Bakura was pleased to see that he chose them.
Mahaado gripped Mana's shoulders tightly. "Mana, leave!" he shouted as he flung her away from him. The Illusionist Mage bolted down towards Mahaado to protect him. Bakura sneered at the priest and his ka. This time, Diabound's attack was stronger than ever. They would feel the full fury of the Spiral Wave.
She tumbled head-over-heels until she managed to come to a halt. When Mana looked up, Bakura had made his move. "Master!" Mana screamed as Mahaado and the Illusionist Mage were swallowed up in the overwhelming flash of energy.
A gust of wind slammed into her, knocking her linen visor from her hair and whisking several meters away. Bakura, you didn't… you didn't… she thought furiously, closing her eyes against the hard grains of sand pelting her face.
The sand settled. "What?" Mana opened her eyes abruptly at the sound of Bakura's bewildered voice. "…the hell…?"
Mahaado staggered a couple of steps back before falling down on one knee. He took a deep breath to steady himself and looked up at his opponent. "Sorry, Thief." True, he was thoroughly weakened and must have been in extreme pain, but there was still something about the fact that he survived with a smirk on his face… Something that made it seem as if he were the real victor of that round. "It appears that I'm still alive."
"Huh," Bakura snorted. He grinned, but his fists were shaking. "Not for long. Not for long… Diabound!" he called out, and the huge being beat its mighty wings and lifted itself into the air. "Finish it!"
"Bakura!" Mana called out. "Bakura—DON'T!"
"MANA!" Both Mahaado's and Bakura's eyes widened.
The girl leapt to her feet and ran to teacher. She positioned herself directly in front of him with her arms held out at her sides. "Stop your attack!"
Bakura stared in stunned revelation at what was happening. The Illusionist Mage's shimmering ghostly form hovered, immobile in the air. Mahaado was weakened and helpless, but Mana had chosen to take his side and stay with him. Diabound flew towards both of them. This Duel was in his favor now.
He would win. But it was a sour victory.
Mana betrayed him. Mana had betrayed him! Bakura ran that thought over and over in his head, but until now, his mind would not accept it. Mana had betrayed him. She had deliberately run into danger to shield that priest. She would have done the same for him… Right? Bakura glowered at them; fury, humiliation, and jealousy boiling down into hate, magnificent hate. Before he could control himself, a sentence formed in his mind:
Kill them all!
Diabound's two clawed hands clapped together and pulled apart, creating a powerful charge between them.
Mahaado looked to the Illusionist Mage, but it was hopeless. "Mana, this is not your battle. Leave." Mana, however, glared right past Diabound and directly at Bakura.
The charge in Diabound's hands had formed into an immense ball of energy that was more than capable of wiping all three of them out. All three who opposed him. But Mana could not see it. All she could feel was the tense electricity crackling quietly. She was terrified, but she would not budge.
This was it.
What am I thinking? Bakura screamed mentally at himself. This is Mana. "D—Diabound…" murmured Bakura, shaking his head. He could not go through with this. Reasoning was so hard. But he wanted to kill them! He wanted to see Priest Mahaado perish along with his ka. The golden Millennium Ring winking at him in the desert moonlight. His. His recovered family. His purpose of existence. He wanted to see these royals suffer. Just as his village did. Just as he did. They should all die.
Diabound yanked its hands above its head and then thrust them forward, the Spiral Wave erupting from its palms.
Destroy the pharaoh and his dynasty. Have true justice. And all he had to do was kill the priest in his way. And kill her.
It should have been simple…
The Spiral Wave faltered. Diabound lowered its hands instantly, canceling the rest of the attack. The Spiral Wave faltered, weakened, shrunk, but it did not cease.
Mana gave a muffled shriek as the attack hit her dead on. Her head snapped back, and her body was sent hurtling backwards forcefully. "Mana!" cried Mahaado as she crashed into him. He caught the brunette and gazed down at her. "Mana! Mana, Mana! Wake up."
She stirred weakly. "Ow." Mahaado sighed in relief. Mana was alive.
"Heh. Don't worry. The Spiral Wave wasn't at full power." Mahaado looked up to see Bakura walking towards them. Diabound was nowhere to be seen. The tomb robber's head was tilted down. "Funny, eh? I steal, Priest. I steal, hurt, and kill." A low chuckle interrupted his words. "I've killed so many people that I don't even hesitate anymore when a life is in danger." He came to a halt before Mahaado and his unconscious student. "It's funny, isn't it? And a few minutes ago, she would have run away with me. Heh heh."
Mahaado stared up at him with calm, albeit angry, eyes. "Yes, thank Ra you managed to talk her out of it." There was no clemency in Mahaado's voice as he asked the white-haired man, "Why would you attack her? Tch." The blue-eyed magician paused to keep himself in control and not allow anger to consume him. He did not want to be like Bakura. They were in no way alike. He frowned, continuing harshly, "She cared for you, and apparently that empathy was wasted on a petty rogue like you."
"I must have no heart."
"That is irrelevant, Bakura."
Mana moved groggily, her eyes opening. Both men turned to her.
The bandit smiled. "It must be." Bakura sighed and looked down at her with a blank gaze. "So, Mana," he said softly. "This is your choice, then." The girl opened her mouth to protest, but she realized it was more of a commandment than a question. Bakura smirked, spun on a foot, and turned his back to them. He gave her a nonchalant wave. "I've made my decision, too."
"Bak…Bakura…" Mana sat up. "No, please—listen!" She arose to her feet. The heel of Bakura's hand promptly met her shoulder, and he shoved her back down into Mahaado. "Whoa—hey!"
The King of Thieves snorted. "I'm not listening."
Kuru Eruna. It was all for Kuru Eruna. But he almost forgot about his goal. It was a slight detour from his plans, and it almost jeopardized more than a decade of preparation. For a moment, he actually thought he would let all the hostility in his heart atrophy.
Bakura smashed his fist against the rock. He grinned darkly at the pain bursting in his knuckles. What a fool he was.
How could he have allowed himself to become distracted from what was truly important? Steal the Millennium Items. Avenge Kuru Eruna. Show those nobles what true justice was. Take control over this dynasty. And after all the hassle and emotions, he was still back where he started. It was a fitting punishment. Perhaps Fate saying, "All right, you've had your fun. Back to business."
His thoughts, as usual, were wandering back to Mana. She was miles upon miles away, but he could still feel those azure eyes of her boring holes into his soul. How was it possible for her to do that? The last look on her face was a picture of betrayal. He still wanted her with him. No matter how hard he tried to convince himself that he was better off without her, he still wanted her.
She had turned on him first. Whether it was purely out of instinct or whatever, he would never know. But it did not matter. She still used herself as a shield against him to protect the Holder of the Millennium Ring. Bakura glared at the black surface of the rock. He lost both the Ring and Mana. Groaning, he punched against the flat stone wall again. He truly was back where he started.
"Dammit," said Bakura. "Dammit." He pounded against the rock mercilessly with his fists. He had suffered for nothing! Just like back then, when he had tortured himself mentally for not rescuing his family. It was his own stupid, stubborn, hopeless fault. Bakura continued his abuse until he had exhausted himself. The rock still stood rigid in the sand. It would stay there, oblivious to time, to the living and dead. Blissfully ignorant. He glared at it. "Damn you," he told its reddened surface before he whirled around and rested his back on it.
He sank down to the cool sand and looked at his raw, bloody knuckles. He needed to work on his next plan. What would he do now? Bakura still wanted those Items. He pondered this as he held his hand to his mouth. The metallic taste of blood was reassuring. Physical wounds were predictable, unlike wounds to the heart.
Bakura's eyes narrowed at the thought. The heart beating within his chest ached, but it was a familiar feeling. When he was younger, he felt it before. He knew the pain of losing something dearly. It always came back to haunt him. It made him angrier, gnawing at his common sense like a starving jackal. He hated it. He hated everything that brought this anger to him.
The white-haired man frowned at the thought. Hold on a moment…
"Diabound." The word left his lips in a whisper. His ka appeared before him. Diabound stared at its master with imperceptible sympathy. Its snake head slithered towards Bakura, rising from the ground when it was directly in front of him. Bakura held a bloodied, quivering hand to it. His fingers brushed against the scales, leaving a red trail on the white snakeskin.
Instantly, he could feel Diabound growing, strengthening. Right at his fingertips. He smirked. So this whole escapade had not been for nothing. It was just what he needed.
And to think Heka had him doubting himself. This was the final blow that he needed increase his antipathy, his power. Again, he had lost everything. But again, he would rise from the blackened ashes like a mythical phoenix. He would grow stronger every time he was defeated. For every battle he lost, he won a consolation prize: hatred for fuel and a death promise to his enemies.
So what if he ended up losing this Duel? He still had Diabound, his power, and his own life.
The sky was brightening. Ra appeared from behind the horizon, his golden rays flooding the golden desert sands. Stars from Nut's dress surrendered themselves to Ra's brilliance. Rocks cast their long black shadows away from the Sun God. Bakura still sat in the darkness. He laughed softly at the irony.
His defeats and victories seemed to occur so naturally. With one loss came another gain. Yes, they were as natural as the rising and setting of the sun. Whenever the sun rose, darkness had lost and hid in the shadows. When night fell upon the world, the dark would arise once more.
Wins and losses. Natural as the coming and going of the days. And right now, light had won.
Bakura's quiet chuckle escalated into a maniacal laughter. It was so clear now. Why had he not realized this sooner? He stared up fondly at his great white ka. "When night falls again, Diabound," he told it through his cackle, "that is when the Darkness will strike."
"And then, he actually left…?" Shada could scarcely believe it when Mahaado nodded his head, affirming his statement. The two walked side by side down the large hallway. "He made no attempt to take your Ring. Bakura actually pushed her down and left." Mahaado sighed and nodded again. Shada shook his head slightly and looked down at his own Item. "No matter now many times you tell me that story, I still find it difficult to believe…"
"But it happened. And if it hadn't been for Mana, I would have perished."
Shada frowned. "You speak of it so calmly."
Mahaado's mind was obviously deep in its own thoughts as he waved away Shada's comment absentmindedly. "Don't I always?"
"Ack! He's catching up!" The two priests directed their attention towards the childish shriek. A small boy raced down the hall towards them. Mahaado did not move as the child came to a screeching halt and clung on to his arm.
Looking down at the disheveled boy with vague bemusement, Mahaado asked, "Hello, do I know you?"
The child looked up at him with eyes glittering with a familiar impishness. "You're base!" Both men raised their brows at the declaration.
Before they could make a response, Mana attached herself to Mahaado's other arm. "We're safe! The next base will be the front gate, as soon as Anhotep catches up," she exclaimed, grinning at the boy. Then, glancing up at Mahaado, she greeted him, "Good afternoon, Master! I see you've met Menkh!"
"Mana…" Mahaado shook the two off and stared at his student directly in the eye. "What have I told you?"
"Theeee… palace isn't my playground?" she ventured, shrinking slightly under his stern gaze. Mahaado gave her a curt nod and asked her how many times he had told her that. Mana grinned cheerily at him and answered, "Umm… Three times!"
Sighing, Mahaado bowed his head and then looked back up at her, correcting her, "Five times." He rolled his eyes and said, "I cannot stress the importance of maturity even more than I already have, Apprentice! You really must act more you age. How can you expect to become a full-fledged magician if you have a mindset of a child?"
"Oh, of course, Master. I'm just…" Mana blinked. "Where are you going?"
"Our presence is mandatory in the throne room," Mahaado told her and gave her headpiece a light flick so that it fell over her eyes. It was a rather annoying habit, but for some reason, Mana found it endearing. Mahaado was so austere; it was one of those little signs that told her he was still human. When she had pushed it back to its rightful position, Mahaado and Shada were already walking away. "You may spend the next two hours doing whatever you please, but keep out of trouble."
Mana saluted him with a cheery smile. "You know I do!"
Shada looked at Mahaado and said quietly, "She seems… unperturbed by the whole… incident."
Mahaado kept his own opinions to himself and quickened his pace.
"Aahh, my lord… Please, all… w-we want to do is find my… my brother!" Menkh stammered helplessly under the frigid gaze of the high priest. He looked around nervously. Where had Lady Mana run off to? She had told him that she would help search for Anhotep (seeing how he tagged her when he was It), but right now, Menkh needed her more than Anhotep did!
The holder of the Millennium Rod did not budge. "So there are more of your little rascals running around in the palace?" His eyes narrowed. Menkh felt as big as a scarab. A scarab that would be crushed under the heel of a being more powerful and intelligent than he was. "How did you get in? The palace is forbidden to all commoners, except by invitation—"
"Lord Seto!" Menkh felt faint when he heard Mana's voice. The girl ran towards the two and came to a halt at the child's left. Anhotep stopped at his right. "These children are with me! They mean no harm, and we were just about to leave anyway."
Seto frowned and walked past them with a scornful "hmph." "I had been wondering how a little brat could get past the guards. We've increased the defense of the palace as well as the tombs. Let's see your tomb robber try to get past this time."
"Priest Seto, they meant no harm," Mana repeated, an angry scowl tainting the exuberance on her face. "They just wanted to see me."
"Lady Mana, thanks for playing with us!" Anhotep bowed slightly. Mana giggled uneasily, feeling awkward at the title he had bestowed upon her. But it was certainly a wonderful feeling, being looked up to. She could not wait to be a priestess. Anxious, what had she been thinking? The younger boy looked up. "Will we see you tomorrow?"
Nodding, she replied, "If I'm not busy. Master Mahaado has been very strict with my lessons lately." She patted Menkh on the head and smiled when he blushed and mumbled incoherently. "But if I don't see you, here's my apology," she told him with a wink as she held out a few coins to him. The boy looked at her questioningly for a few moments and then hesitantly took them.
Shyly, he asked, "Do… you want us to give someone a message?"
Mana looked at him with a perplexed smile. "What?"
Anhotep shook his head and took Menkh's arm.
With a somewhat desolate sigh, the brunette watched the two brothers run off into the crowd. The marketplace was routinely crowded beyond belief during the afternoon. Today was no exception. With her hands clasped loosely behind her back, she twirled around gracefully and began her walk back to the palace. The marketplace just did not seem to be the same anymore. Mana looked down at her feet as she walked, feeling bored and restless. She wondered how Bakura was faring. It had been a week, and she had not seen him since.
Hands clapped around her head, fingers covering her eyes. "Remember us?" asked a very familiar female voice.
Mana pulled the small hands down from her face and looked back, her kohl-rimmed eyes widening. "H-Heka!" she gasped just as the woman hugged her in a tight embrace. "And… Rasha and Hakim!" she managed to choke out when she saw the men.
"By Ra, Heka, I'd hate to see what you'd do to Bakura when you see him!" Rasha commented jokingly as the black-haired woman released Mana.
Heka, on the other hand, was far from jovial. "I'd strap him to my roof and leave him tied up there to desiccate for a week!" she snapped.
"He'd get out within a day," Hakim pointed out bluntly while Rasha, quite obviously, was trying to figure out what 'desiccate' meant. The big man smiled and shrugged when Heka's eyes shot him a dirty look.
"True…" she admitted and clenched her fists together in front of her. "The ungrateful bastard."
Rasha and Hakim traded glances at her reasoning but decided it would be safer to hold the their tongues. Mana's curiosity, however, got the best of her. "Heka… you haven't heard from Bakura either?"
Her anger evaporating instantly, like a drop of water spilled onto the ground; the short woman sighed and said, "Not a word. We've had fights before, but he'd always come back in about three days." She gave the men at her side a quick glance and added, "He's got better stamina than these two, I can tell ya that!" They chuckled. "But I'm scared that he'll blow off steam by raiding crypts." Her lovely face darkened as her painted lips twisted into an unbecoming frown. "He goes nuts! He doesn't even take the loot—he just leaves and heads for another grave!"
"That's… bad?" Mana asked, her brows rising. "That's bad that he doesn't take the treasure?"
"Of course it is!" Rasha exclaimed heatedly, jumping forward. "When this guy gets really mad, he takes it out on all the traps and completely disables all of them! Then he leaves to destroy the defenses of another grave, and then another! He can go through at least five before dawn." When he noticed that Mana's confusion had still not cleared, he sighed, "And then some lesser thieves go in the tombs he's disabled and steals all of the gold without any effort at all! Gold that belongs to US!"
Heka slapped his arm. Mana winced. It sounded painful.
"…Gold that belongs to him," Rasha corrected himself sheepishly.
Hakim was keen on reminding them, "Well, that's only one of the incredibly stupid things he does. But luckily, he's only done that twice."
Wagging a finger at both of her two companions, Heka said, "But he was only seventeen then! The boy's grown, and he's thought up stupider things to do!"
Mana frowned. "…Stupid, huh?" She was answered with a huffy nod from Heka. "What… What do you think he'll do…?"
"Well, an argument like the one we had wasn't really a big deal. We have them often. We're both pretty hot-headed when determining who's right and who's wrong," the black-haired lady said thoughtfully. "But we did hit a pretty sore topic, so that may be it…"
Cringing at Heka's explanation, Mana said softly, "Actually—actually, I doubt that's the reason you haven't seen him…"
All three of the thieves looked at her incredulously. "Mana?" Hakim asked, becoming concerned by the paleness of the girl's face. "What…d'you mean by that…?" His voice was calm, fatherly. It was comforting to say, at the least. Mana took a deep breath and gave them her account of the story. Their expressions were priceless.
After Mana had finished, Heka sighed dreamily, "My, how romantic."
"'Romantic?'" squeaked Mana, bringing her shoulders up to her ears. She held back her retort for a few moments as she looked down at their feet, abashed. Then, she let them drop back down as she said, "They wanted to kill each other! Master and Bakura are both very strong, and so are their kas! A fight between those two could have ended with both of them losing their lives!"
"Ah—oh!" Heka flushed a dark red. "I'm so sorry—I wasn't thinking when I said that!" she giggled embarrassedly. "But the fact is that they were both willing to fight for you." She leaned closer and whispered so quietly that the men could not hear her speaking, "Which do you think wanted you more?" Mana squeaked again, and Heka laughed, "I'm kidding! I'm kidding!"
That joke was met with a ruffled look. "Geez…" The brunette girl made a face. "But the fact is we still don't know where Bakura went!"
Heka smiled despondently. "He's going to pull some horrific stunt and get hurt; I know he will." She stared at Mana straight in the eye, and with a dead serious voice, she told her, "But chances are, he'll come to see you first. He still cares for you."
"I'm… I'm sorry."
"Don't be ridiculous. But I have an idea. Take Bastet, my ka, home with you. Don't worry about other people being able to see it. It's almost exactly like a normal cat," Heka said, holding her hands out in front of her. Mana gaped blankly at them. Amused, Heka said, "You can't see it?"
Shaking her head sheepishly, the young magician-in-training said, "No, I can't even summon my own ka yet."
"That's fine. Bastet can just follow you around until Bakura shows up."
"I can see through my ka's eyes. Feel experiences through its senses. I'm sure we'll see Bakura sooner or later."
Heka's words stayed with Mana as she hurried back to the palace. The afternoon had slipped away much quicker than she had thought. It was already sunset.
Feel through its senses, Mana thought to herself, I wonder if that's what it'll be like to have a ka. Or is it just her ka's special ability? Both Bakura and Master have those.
She was running as fast as she could—she had definitely missed that two-hour time limit Mahaado had set for her. Now, she would have to endure another one of his long, tedious lectures.
Mana slowed down at the palace entrance and gawked at the commotion. There was yelling. Distressed cries. Guards were everywhere, rushing by her, past her. Had something happened while she was away?
"Hello? Excuse me! Wait, could I—Hey!" Mana tried in vain to find someone to relay to her what had just happened. Just when she found someone to talk to, it seemed that they would suddenly remember their task or realize that they had to go quickly. All the same, no one told her what was going on.
This game went on for several minutes. Mana was beginning to wonder whether the gods wanted her to know what havoc had been created in the royal house.
Finally, she recognized one of Atemu's priests and dashed towards him. "Lord Karim!" she yelled, grabbing a hold of his arm.
"Mana, I apologize, but I'm very busy at the moment—"
"Please tell me! What happened here!"
The holder of the Millennium Scale looked at her intently, as if an internal struggle had suddenly aroused within his mind. "It…" Mana stared. With difficulty, he finished, "…was… Bakura."
"Baku… Bakura?" Mana asked, her hand falling away from his. The expression on her face was pure devastation. Karim frowned, sorry to have been the one to tell her.
His eyes flicked upwards, past her. "Mana?"
"Y-yes, Lord Karim?"
"You cat ran away."
He burst into the throne room, adorned in stolen gold, dragging the mummified body of the Pharaoh Akhenamkhanen by a rope. He who was so impudent as to challenge the pharaoh and his six priests right then and there for the seven Millennium Items. His ka was so powerful that it overwhelmed the six priests. In the end, the Great Pharaoh had defeated him with the holy force of the god, Obelisk, and had driven him out of the palace.
This was how they had told it to her.
Mana sighed into her pillow. She felt like crying. Heka was right. Bakura did do something stupid. Did he not realize the sacred power Atemu had at his disposal?
Prince is young, but there's no doubt about it: he's special. Mana sniffed and sat up, hugging her pillow close to her chest. But I guess Bakura was serious about the whole Millennium Item deal after all. Oh, gods…
Everything was happening at such a swift pace. She felt as if she had fallen behind since that night, seven days ago. Nothing was in her control anymore, and try as she might, she could not keep up with everyone else. Why had she not been there when Bakura struck? Then again, what could she have done anyway?
He was probably mad at her.
After all, she was the reason he did not win that battle with Mahaado. Mana glowered at her linen sheets. However, she did not want him to win. Well, she did, but she did not want Mahaado to get hurt, either… Things started to get complicated from there. The brunette fell back with the cushion still clutched tightly to her heart. But right now, it was all she could do to keep from bursting into tears.
Damn it, Bakura, she thought angrily, and rolled over on her stomach. She pushed herself up and hopped off of her bed, her pillow falling to the ground with a 'pouf.' How could you be so thoughtless?
She squatted down and picked up the pillow. It was unusually quiet in her room. Mana looked around. She felt lonely and helpless. Mahaado had not spoken to her all evening. Even a lecture from him would have been welcomed.
Words passed from guard to guard spoke of how Lord Mahaado was leaving for the Valley of the Kings again tomorrow. She did not like the sound of that. But there was nothing she could do to stop or protect him.
Maybe she would go see him off.
Mana wished Bastet had stayed with her. She felt immense sympathy for Heka, Hakim, and Rasha. She blinked. Maybe Heka was still right here. "Hello? Anybody there? Here kitty, kitty, kitty," she whispered, trying to focus on the flow of magic in the room. Where was it coming from? Well, there was a tremendous amount of ba at the window.
"Do I look like a blasted cat to you?" Mana inhaled sharply and jumped up, pushing her pillow against her mouth to keep the gasp muffled. The room was dark. A square of moonlight brightened a patch of floor at her feet. A dark shadow covered it. Mana looked up to the window to see a blackened silhouette hunched over the frame. "Long time no see, huh?"
Her mouth moved soundlessly as Bakura climbed into the room.
The pillow smacked into his face with another 'pouf.'
Bakura caught it as it fell from his head. "What, run out of vases?" he asked her wryly. He tossed the pillow aside.
"What are you doing here?" she hissed at him, taking a step forward. She did not dare take another. Bakura changed. Again. He was more foreboding than ever. The dark aura around him had grown once more. Mana felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up.
"The King of Thieves can go wherever he wishes," he told her, the corners of his mouth twitching up in a smirk. Biting her lower lip, Mana could only shake her head as she stared at him in disbelief. Bakura raised his eyebrows and chuckled sinisterly at her. "Didn't you miss me?"
"I… I…" Mana stuttered, feeling tongue-tied about her own feelings. They were so hard to sort out, but it was easier to talk about someone else. "Heka was right! You did do something stupid!" she cried, stamping a foot on the ground. She blushed at her immature mannerism, but it was too late to undo her actions now.
A strange grin appeared on Bakura's face, half hidden by the darkness of the room. "I was going to do attack them eventually anyway."
Clucking exasperatedly at his answer, Mana shot back, "How could you do this to yourself?" She swung a hand at him, but he caught it before it could connect with his face. The girl did not waver. "You could have been normal! You could have just left Egypt and run off to Nubia or wherever you had planned to go! You wouldn't have been hurt. By the king—by Obelisk!" She glared at him, distress increasing as she spoke. "Why?"
"Because I want to," Bakura told her with a smirk. "I've wanted to kill all of them since I was a child. I've wanted to murder those monsters who massacred my village. I wanted to see them suffer." His fingers tightened around her wrist, making her cringe. His smile grew. "I want those Millennium Items, Mana. I want their lives."
"But—but half of them don't even know what had happened to Kuru Eruna until a few weeks ago!" Mana whispered angrily, her other hand lashing out at him. He grabbed this one, too. "And I'm sure they'd be sorry—"
"They must have forgotten because they didn't believe me when I announced it to them this afternoon," he interrupted her. "Or they just felt it was necessary to deny the dark past behind the Millennium Items. Both decisions are punishable in my book."
"Well, you were on bad terms with them!" Mana retorted and yanked back, but to no avail. "And what did you expect them to do when you burst into the palace, dragging King Akhenamkhanen behind you like some rejected camel? Hear you out calmly and then invite you to the pharaoh's next birthday party as an apology?"
Bakura ignored Mana's struggles as he replied hotly, "It doesn't matter what they think of me because I don't care. You know why? Because all I want are those Items. Oh look, we're back where we started. How pointless was that?"
"Do you… know what—what's… what's pointless?" Mana asked, trying to free her hands. "Everything! We go… through all this, and—and—geez!" Mana pulled, but Bakura was not letting go.
The thief laughed. "My thoughts exactly."
Mana sighed, aggravated, and gave up her ineffectual efforts to break away. "So that's what this whole thing was," she said quietly and looked up at him; she could not help but feel hurt. Try as she might, it was impossible to hide her broken feelings, but she refused to look away from him. She scowled. "It was all for nothing. We truly might as well have never met."
Bakura leaned forward and kissed her. At first, alarm drenched Mana like a jump into the Nile. Her heart was beating furiously; fear and surprise nearly deluged her.
But then she kissed him back. She could was suddenly conscious of him. His hand cradling her cheek. His mouth against hers. His kiss was rough—Mana did not expect any less from the most notorious brigand in Egypt—but it was not painful. It was warm with a hint of melancholy to it.
His lips moved away from hers, brushing against cheek, finally stopping at her ear. "Too bad we already have." He breathed softly as Mana's eyes widened at his words: "But that doesn't change my goal. To get those Items, I will kill the pharaoh and his priests. And if you get in my way…" His hand slid from her face down her neck and grasped her shoulder, his nails digging into her skin. "I'll kill you, too." He let go.
The pale-haired bandit straightened back up. "So you're right. Because when we meet again, we will be enemies." He smiled balefully at the look on the girl's face. "As a thief, I really don't own a lot," he said wistfully, although a little scathingly to Mana. Bakura turned around and headed back to the window he entered from. "So it was nice to have you… while it lasted." He looked back over his shoulder and held a fist up to his profile.
The poor apprentice was suffering from aphasia again. She just blinked, her mouth moving without a sound exiting.
"I think I'll take this," Bakura said, unclenching his fist so that something small and white fell from his hand. It dangled by a string held by his thumb and index finger.
The thread shook gently at the weight of the little alabaster heart.
Mana looked down immediately, and sure enough, the bargain-price necklace she had bought at the bazaar was gone. All that rested on her collarbone was the golden necklace she always wore. Her hand slid from its cold metallic surface to the small, shallow marks on her shoulder. She looked up.
Bakura had already left.
The afternoon was sunny; one came to expect that when living in Egypt. But something about this day was tense and anxious. The air was dry, the uneasiness could crush a person, but everyone kept their discomfort to themselves. Today was a dreadful day, despite Ra's jolly sunshine.
As Mahaado walked towards the palace exit with a group of guards, he could not help but notice one of the many pots lining the walkway. He motioned for the soldiers to keep going, but he himself changed direction and headed for the clay pot. True, it was no different from all the others. It was the exact same size. It was the exact same color. It was exactly identical to the ones at its sides and so forth.
But there was a reason he stopped at this one.
"Mana," he said, folding his arms across his chest. "I know you're in there."
The pot giggled softly in reply.
"You can't hide from me."
At last, the blue-eyed girl poked her head out of the pot. "You're right…" she said sheepishly and smiled.
Mahaado placed his hands on the rim of the pot. Mana laughed nervously and sank back down. "Listen—"
"Oh, I know what you're going to say," she exclaimed, leaping up and snatching the headdress off her teacher's head. She replaced her own head ornament with his as she spoke so very sternly, "'Mana, what about your lessons?'" Then, she switched them again, turning back to her lively self in the process, and she continued, "And then I'll say, 'I can worry about that later, Master!'" She switched once more, the serious look on her face reappearing. "'Mana, how can you ever expect to be a magician with that approach to learning?'"
"…Really now," Mahaado glanced around, and then returned his attention to her. "That was…an amusing, yet accurate, reenactment of many of our conversations."
The student blushed. "Too much, huh?"
"Yes, you almost had me believing there was absolutely nothing wrong with you… until now," Mahaado told her evenly, combing a hand through his own light brown hair. "You're quite the actress."
With relief, Mana allowed her face to take on a poignant expression. She said, "Okay well, you can't tell me there's nothing wrong with you, either, Master!" She stared down at her hands, her fingers toying with the shell that held the gold structure of her visor together. "I mean, you've been avoiding me for a while…" When she got no answer from her mentor, she looked back up. "Master? Oh, you want this back, right?" she asked, pulling Mahaado's headpiece off.
He blinked and patted his hand on her head. "I've always wanted to see you in a priest's headdress." He kneeled down beside the pot and rested an arm on the rounded edge. "I would have also liked to see you with a Millennium Item, too, but that time has not come yet."
"Master…" Mana said irately, like a child who was asking a favor for the umpteenth time. She knelt down, too, her face half concealed behind the pot as her fingers clamped over the rim tightly. Her eyes peered at him questioningly. "What are you talking about? You're just going to inspect the tombs again, today, aren't you?"
Mahaado smiled calmly and let his forehead fall against hers. "Of course. That is my duty."
Mana pushed back, saying firmly, "You're planning something." Their brown bangs mingled as the tips of their noses touched. Their blue eyes locked. "You're not going to get hurt, are you? Tell me—"
"Priest Mahaado, there you are." The holder of the Ring abruptly stood up, jerking the headdress off Mana's head.
"As I was saying, Mana, that was immature of you—don't take property of others without their permission," he said rather hastily as he put it back on.
"I'm sorry, Master, I got carried away!" Mana said a little too enthusiastically as she acted out her part quickly, like the good little actress she was.
Simon smiled behind the beige cloth he wore on his face. "I'm amazed that you're able to keep up with her energy, Mahaado."
"Well, my lord, he is a lot young—" The priest covered a hand over Mana's mouth before she could finish.
"Thank you, sir," Mahaado said modestly with a small nod. "Is there something you wished to discuss with me before I left?"
The pharaoh's advisor was quiet. Then, he said carefully, "What you're thinking of doing is dangerous and unnecessary." Mahaado frowned a little at his reprimanding. "To defeat Bakura, we need all of the priests and the pharaoh. You cannot defeat him on your own. His power is too great."
"Bakura's power is great," Mahaado said differentially, "because he has a great amount of hatred in his heart. But it's true that any emotion, when reaching that intensity, can be powerful, is that right?"
Simon and Mana both nodded.
With determination set on his cool features, Mahaado went on, "Perfect. Lately, I've failed the pharaoh far too often. But now, I will not allow more insult to be done against him. With love—devotion—loyalty… Those positive emotions can combat Bakura's dark power any day. I will gladly wager my own life with those odds."
"Master…" Mana stared at him despondently. Oh gods, no. He can't be thinking about…
"If that is what you desire to do, Mahaado, I cannot stop you," Simon said solemnly.
Mahaado gave the old man a slight bow and turned away. "I'll be leaving now," he said, hurrying back to his soldiers.
When he had left, Mana leapt out from the pot. "Lord Simon, don't doubt him!" Simon backed away as she advanced on him. Her composure had left her. She seemed like a little girl, vulnerable and afraid. "Master Mahaado's magic is a lot more powerful than he lets on. He uses it to seal the dark power from the Ring, so what you see now is only a fraction of his true power!" Simon noticed a hint of desperation in her shaking voice. "The only reason Bakura had the upper hand during their Duel was because I didn't want him to… to…" Mana stopped there and stared at him, hard. Then, she broke eye contact. "Forgive me, I've been disrespectful…"
How could she say it? Her feelings were too complicated and too mixed up to say aloud. She was too indecisive. It was because she could not leave Egypt that Bakura had stayed. It was because she could not choose between Bakura and Mahaado that they had to fight. Or was it because she did choose? It had not mattered anyway. Bakura had said so himself that his sole purpose was to get those Millennium Items.
Then why had he come back to see her?
And what of Mahaado?
This one, Mana could answer easily by herself: he was going to end the battle he and Bakura started.
"Mana, I can see that this entire incident has been a nightmare for you," Simon said, placing a hand on her shoulder. "But don't despair. Years from now, you may be able to look back on it and smile. You've had quite an adventure."
Bobbing her head up and down slowly in a forced nod, Mana stared at his hand and sighed. Although Simon did not completely understand what she was going through, it was true. In a mere three weeks, she had fallen in love with Egypt's greatest criminal. And love was a fickle thing. But no matter what decision she could have made before this moment—before this entire tribulation, actually… She realized it would not have mattered.
Bakura would still end up where he started no matter how much time passed; he would seek vengeance for his slaughtered village. And Mahaado would do his best to keep Bakura from succeeding. If a scribe recorded this down into history, she doubted all the emotions she went through would be written down and preserved for centuries—millennia.
Fate could be cruel or kind, depending on the perspective. Fate could smile down upon you and shower you with good fortune and happiness. Fate could cleave the pounding heart from your breast and walk away as you bled and cried.
There was no point in crying. Mana could weep all she wanted to now, but she knew the tears would return again the next day, no matter what the outcome of the Duel between the priest and thief was. She would lose someone she loved, but she felt like she had lost him already. Neither of the two men would return to her the way he had left her.
The apprentice of Priest Mahaado looked up with a resolute expression on her face. "Yes, you're right, Lord Simon."
Nothing was in her control anymore. It never was. Whatever choice she could have made meant nothing to Fate. Fate would move forward never slowing or speeding, as the gods willed it to. The Duel between Mahaado and Bakura was inevitable, as will the day that Bakura and Atemu will eventually fight.
"What happens now will be sewn into the fabric of time forever. Years later, I will look back to this moment." Mana looked around at the palace until her eyes fell on the gate entrance. "Memories change. History does not."
Anime writing a depressing ending to a fanfic? That's a first…
I received plenty of reviews asking me to keep the Bakura x Mana pairing (though I am just a little suspicious that some were by the same person ;P). But unfortunately, I already had the ending down… And even in my summary, I said that it would be Mana x Mahaado by the end of the fic. Well, to make a compromise, I had Bakura kiss Mana. There we go. …And now I don't know which pairing this fic ended with. Philtershipping or Apprenticeshipping. (I luff Mahaado and the M x M pairing anyway. But… after finishing The Stolen Heart, I've come to really like Philtershipping. Agh, bad Anime-2000. XD I know…)
I do not plan on making a sequel because 1) I'm too brain-dead to think of one, and 2) the story continues into Takahashi's original plot. You want more Philtershipping fanfics, you can write them! Just please e-mail me or something if you do decide to post it!
On a random note, during the Duel, I felt as if I were writing a Pokemon battle. Diabound—Spiral Wave! Illusionist Mage—dodge and counter! Pikachu—Thunderbolt!
Readers, thank you so much for taking some of your time to read this fanfic! Leave a review, please. Anime loves you all! Seeya 'round!