CHAPTER 13

"Everyone remain calm," Kaiba said, raising his voice to be heard clearly. To his technicians he said, "What EXACTLY are you playing at!"

"I'm, I'm sorry sir," stammered one of the men. "I don't understand--we're showing full power, but it's like the electricity isn't getting through. Nothing's WORKING--"

"Call it applied entropy, if you will," a voice out of the darkness. "Murphy's Law-- I believe they call it that, don't they? 'Anything that can happen, will happen'?"

"Who are you!" Kaiba turned in the darkness, snarling. "What's the meaning of this!"

"The 'meaning', Seto Kaiba, is that your technology works here and now only as I wish it to." One single strand of lights came up, illuminating Diaz, perched on a rock. "And right now I don't want it to."

"You lousy--" Tristan started to get up, the operative word being 'started'. In the second he moved, the cables running to the KaibaCorp computers simply unplugged themselves and lashed back, winding around his wrists, coiling simultaneously around the arms of his chair and dragging him back down into it. "HEY!"

Yami whirled on Diaz, one finger jabbing out. "Stop this," he ordered. "NOW."

"I'm sorry, your Highness," Diaz said, "but this entire exercise was designed with one point in mind, and it isn't debating with you. If you wish your friends to remain safe, I suggest you let me talk to the little Prince. There are a great many large power cables in this room. A pity if they were to break-- you know how power lines thrash about, someone could get electrocuted very easily. And I suggest that anyone with certain..items... refrain from using them. The first hint of a Shadowling appearing and there will be... repercussions."

"You wouldn't."

Diaz narrowed his eyes. "Do you want to put that to the test with THEIR lives?"

For a moment Yami hesitated. Then he lowered his head. 'Yugi--'

It's okay. Yugi took control of the body and stepped forward just a bit, so Diaz could see him clearly. "Okay, so, I'm here. What do you want?"

"Only to talk, little Prince. To tell you a few things, as a friend."

"FRIEND? HA!" Joey took a step forward himself, then froze as a cable parted at his feet and rose up, swaying to and fro like a cobra, tiny arcs of electricity snapping to and fro over the exposed wire. "You're nothing but a no good sunnuva-!"

"I'd expect you to say that. It's true, my actions haven't been that well considered in the past. But I think you'll understand much better once I tell the other side of the story." Diaz leaned his head back, gazing at the rock ceiling. "Let me see, where does it begin.. perhaps 5000 years ago? No... farther back than that.

"In the beginning there was Ialu, brother of Menes, who was the first Pharoah of Egypt. Menes founded his kingdom in the north, the portion called Lower Egypt, while his younger brother Ialu traveled south, into the great wastes, drawn by a holy vision. A vision of a kingdom between two mountains, fed by hidden springs from beneath the barren sands.

"Ialu was the first Pharoah of Ra-Atonakhen, the City of Shining Light, and the ancestor of the young Pharoah Atem--ah, you start, young Prince? You've heard the name, perhaps? Yes, Atem. A gifted child. A magical child. In him the mystic heritage of his forefathers ran strongest of all. You see, it was Ialu who first forged the kinship between the beings of the Shadow Realm and the races of men. And Atem was to be crowning glory of that line.

"Except for a troubling little prophecy." Diaz smiled thinly. "On the day of Atem's birth all the auguries were excellent. All the priests agreed his reign would be long. But there was one voice raised to give warning. Would you like to hear that warning? I know it well.

"Hail to thee and farewell, O Beloved of Ra, Atem, who carries the colors of morning, noon and night, Keeper of men and more than men. Above all mortals' lot is thy destiny and thy sorrow. A mighty power shall rest in thy hands, but a great price shall be requited of thee. We shall not see thee before the Throne of Life, King and son of Kings, no more shall we see thee whole, with the sun on thy brow. Osirus has set thee free from his dominion, but forbidden thee to walk the Road of Souls. Anubis turns his head from thee and judges thee not. We shall not make for thee a resting-house; we shall not call out thy name to the Gatekeepers of the Houses of the Dead, saying, 'Hail to thee, Watchers of the Gates; let him pass within'. The people of thy Kingdom shall scatter to the four winds, and thy name shall be stricken from the stones; long shall be the wandering of thy twinned souls. Thou art beyond death and rebirth; always together, forever apart." Diaz spread his hands. "And what was the old Pharoah, Atem's father, to do in the face of such disaster? Why, cast the troublemaker out into the desert to die of thirst and starvation." He leaned forward. "Except I'm afraid the oracle didn't quite fulfil HIS destiny. He didn't die. He was found by a group of people who welcomed him, nursed him back to health, helped him understand what was truly happening."

"This is nonsense," Kaiba said. "More mystic mumbo-jumbo."

"How strange, Seto Kaiba, to hear YOU say that." Diaz favored him with a thin smile before his gaze returned to Yugi's. "The Chaos Mages were the ones who rescued the prophet. They told him of their OWN auguries, which stated that the time had come for the world to be brought under a single rule, and that rule should be Atem's. HIS was the power; HIS was the right, as God-King over both Light and Shadow. So they approached the old Pharoah, Pharoah Akunumkanon, and told him of his son's destiny. DEMANDED that the boy assume his rightful place--under their careful tutelage and supervision, of course. In fact, it would be best for all if the infant were to be given to them, to be raised in the expectation of his grand destiny.

"Did Akunumkanon listen? No. He cast the mages out, and set his soldiers to harry them out of the lands of Egypt, as heretics and traitors. They in turn raised their forces-- both mystical and mundane-- to march on the city.

"Akunumkanon, in his fear, listened to evil advice. His advisor, Akunadin, who wanted his OWN son to rule, told Akunumkanon of a ritual to create seven mystical items of supreme power. With these items, Atem's future would be secure, for the mages would never dare to attack him and his advisors so long as they wielded these icons. Akunumkanon agreed... and Akunadin set about crafting the Millenium Items."

A soft exclamation from Bakura, in the heartbeat before his expression shifted to one of barely repressed murderous fury.

"Blood rituals, young Prince. The slaughter of an entire village, to fuel the mystic energies that made those items; blood, bodies and souls were poured into them. Of COURSE Akunumkanon was horrified when he learned, but the damage was already done, wasn't it? In trying to defy destiny, he was responsible for the murder of hundreds. Kuru Aruma... the City of Thieves... all its inhabitants slaughtered in a single night."

Yugi shook his head, eyes wide, hands clamped over his mouth in shock. God, o God, I didn't know... that's why the Thief hated the Pharoah so much...

"Akunumkanon had his advisor struck down, but as I said, too late. He himself, Akunumkanon, took ill not long after that-- some said it was a judgement from the gods, others said it was a broken heart, for he loved Akunadin.. they WERE after all brothers. And so he perished, leaving the throne unclaimed.

"Now in the land besides Atem, who was a baby then, there was but one other of royal blood who could've taken the throne. Akunadin's son, and Atem's cousin... Set'oh."

Kaiba made a choked noise at this. His temples were beginning to pound with a terrible sick pain that almost made him nauseous.

"But Set'oh," Diaz continued blithely, "would NOT take the throne. It is said in the moment that he first laid eyes on his infant cousin, his heart belonged once and for all to Atem. He became Atem's friend, playmate, protector, and ultimately his High Priest, wielder of one of those seven Millenium Items-- for of course no one but Akunadin and Akunumkanon knew their TRUE origin." He chuckled. "Oh and perhaps some thief, some ragged survivor of Kuru Aruma, who fancied himself a 'King of Thieves', and wanted revenge on the young Pharoah for the deaths of all he loved.

"Shall I go on?"

"Finish your story," Ba-Khu'ra said between clenched teeth. "So that WE may be finished with YOU."

"As you desire. Where was I? Ah. For some little while, peace in the kingdom." Diaz waved a hand. "The boy-king grew, and his High Priest saw to it he was trained in the ways of the Shadow Realm. Set'oh spared no effort in that-- he was the Pharoah's constant challanger, pushing his beloved cousin as hard as he could, till no one in the kingdom, not even Set'oh himself, could best Atem.

"Just as well he did, for the Chaos Mages were not to be outdone. They sent yet another delegation, this time to the young Pharoah himself, hoping HE would see reason. Instead, he refused them. He would not raise his hand to take control of the world and guide it; he would be content with his own kingdom, and if the rest of the world wished to join them, then they would join of their own will, in their own time. Foolishness! As if they would ever willingly submit themselves to the rule of one monarch, and a boy at that!

"If he would not respond to words of peace, then perhaps words of war would reach him. So the Mages made war upon Ra-Atonahken with their own magics and their own Shadowlings. Atem responded by weaving a magic requiring each Shadowling to have a physical focus in THIS world through which they might enter it, instead of coming and going as they chose, and the Shadowed Ones agreed. Bound to their images carven in stone, they were far less ready to hand.

"In time the Chaos Mages found a way around this, by preparing images cast in lighter substances-- etched metal plates, magically illuminated parchments--" Diaz cast a glance at Pegasus. "You see it's not SUCH a new idea after all, Pegasus. But it is a VERY old craft, and one it is difficult to find the proper artist for." He stood up, moving around the floor, gesturing. "And they laid siege once more to the city, having found and released the three greatest of the Shadowlings-- the God-Shadows, the creatures YOU call the Egyptian God Cards-- upon the face of Egypt. When the land was ravaged, and the people deepest in despair, they would strike a truce with the Pharoah, compel him to accept the dominion of all things."

"But he didn't," Yugi said in a thin, trembling voice, his hand so tight on the chain of the Puzzle his fingers were white. "He didn't."

"No, young Prince. Instead, he chose to enact one last ritual. Can you guess? Do you remember? No, how could you? YOU, little Prince, did not then exist. Not as you are now. You were one with the King, and that one was Atem. HE chose to sacrifice himself in a ritual that would seal the Shadow Realm away forever, beyond the power of anyone to reach. The Chaos Mages learned of the ritual, and tried to stop it. Alas, they failed. The Realm was closed--but not quite. Instead of the Millenium Items being lost in the Shadows forever, as Atem intended, they were instead enpowered with the ability to UNLOCK the Realm, to draw a portion of our world into it, or to summon its inhabitants here.

"But in one thing Atem did succeed; he died. And you, little Prince, you and the King, were born in that instant. You are the product of Atem's folly, the price HE never had to pay; you are the one who must carry the item he wished destroyed, an item wrought of pain and sorrow. All that you have lived through and suffered for has been on his account. Five thousand years your splintered soul has wandered, lifetime to lifetime, till now. Now your TRUE suffering begins.

"Tell me, little Prince. How old are you?"

"What..?" Yugi shook his head, dazed. "I don't.. why.. I'm, I'm nineteen. Almost twenty."

"Almost twenty," Diaz mused, then turned to the others. "Almost twenty, he says, your friend Yugi. Does he LOOK almost twenty? Does he look, in fact, nineteen? Eighteen? Younger? Has he ALWAYS looked younger? Have you never remarked on that?"

"So what?" Mai tossed her hair, trying to sound like her usual cocky, flippant self. "So Yugi's going to be a walking advertisement for clean living for a few more years. Exactly where are you going with this?"

"I've already told you. The prophecy. Remember its words. 'Osirus has set thee free from his dominion, but forbidden thee to walk the Road of Souls... long shall be the wandering of thy twinned souls. Thou art beyond death and rebirth'. Osirus is the God of the Underworld, the god of the dead. To be set free of his rule is to never pass into the realm of death." Diaz pointed at Yugi. "From the moment you welcomed the King into your body, into your heart, into your soul, you welcomed one final misery, one final curse, from which you can never be free without my help.

"Yugi Motoh-- you are immortal. You will never die. But all that you know and love WILL fade and perish and leave you behind. For all eternity."

Yugi shivered, eyes wide. "No, that.. It can't be.. wait.. Wait! You have to be lying to me. I've almost been killed before. There was a duel-- more than ONE duel--"

"In the Shadow Realm. Your spirit, I believe it was, that collapsed. For which we must commend your 'friend' Pegasus there. He was the first to exploit that weakness." Diaz bowed at Pegasus, who sat down abruptly, looking sick. "Your soul was almost lost to the Shadows forever. Your SOUL is quite vulnerable in the Shadow Realm, little Prince, as is the soul of ANYONE who enters, save the King. HE cannot take hurt from the Shadows. But here, in the world of Men and Light? You do not age. You will not wither. If you are hurt, you will feel the pain, and must heal from it. If you are sick, you must recover from that as well. But death will never enfold you. Age is powerless to touch you. But I see that you doubt me, and quite reasonably. It's only my word, after all, I could be lying. So I must present you proof of the matter."

Gradually, all this time as he spoke, Diaz had wended his way just a step or two ever closer to Yugi, and now, while everyone was still reeling, he leapt at Yugi like a great cat, grabbing a fistful of hair and yanking Yugi's head back till the younger man was forced to bend backwards. Diaz's other hand was already reaching into his coat front, drawing out a wicked looking dagger whose blade was triple edged, almost a triangle shape--

And driving it home in Yugi's heart.

Even as the dagger went home--

even as voices all round him cried out--

Seto Kaiba sank to his knees, eyes locked on the scene in front of him, shuddering, then grabbing the sides of his head as he curled into a ball. Something was moving and tearing loose inside him, like an avalanche, not to be denied. He screamed, or thought he did--

and the ghosts of his past swallowed him alive.


Above them the stones are silent.

This is not as it should be; even here there should be the echo of the city above, faint as a sleeping cat's purr. But the movement of life through the streets had ended.

Now only the soldiers, and those few who choose to remain despite their Pharoah's orders, and the Shadowed Ones; these are all that fill the streets, and there are few, far too few perhaps. But none will leave him, not till the end has arrived and passed, whatever it brings.

The Pharoah has sent them away, his friends, his master of arms, even the little temple girl he loves; little priestess in training, she was his childhood darling and playmates became friends, became lovers. Their future, the city's future, seemed so bright.

Now it is all ashes.

--Why will you not let me do this!

--Set'oh.. I'm Pharoah. It's part of my duty as the chosen of the gods. To live for my people, and, if necessary, to die for them. I have no right to put this on anyone's shoulders but my own. I love you very much, but I will not tell you, 'go and die for me, cousin, because I'm afraid and I want to live'.

--ATEM..!

--Hush, now. These are old words and an old argument, and there's no more time for either. ...Are you crying? Please don't cry...

--Why not! My heart is breaking. Atem, don't you know what this means? If you go through with this, you will forever be denied the afterlife. Your soul will become the Guardian of the Thirteenth House, to stand between the kingdoms of men and shadows for all eternity. We will... I will.. never see you again. Not in this world or in any other.

--I know, Set'oh, I know. But there's nothing else to do. I thought when I linked the Shadowed Ones to the magical stone carvings we cretaed, so that one must have such a carving to summon them, it would slow the Chaos Magi down. Instead, they've found some way around it. Obelisk, Slifer-Osiris and Ra are loose upon the lands, and the dark Chaos armies follow hard on the heels of the storm. How long before the God-Monsters leave Egypt and sweep across the rest of the world? Who will protect them, those people in other lands? The Shadow Realm is the Ka of our world, Set'oh, YOU taught me that; its dark mirror, without which we are all incomplete. But for their sake and ours I have to do this. I can't let them be enslaved as our destroyers. I can't let us be destroyed by them. If that means an eternity, then an eternity it will be. And you...

--And me?

--You will be the next Pharoah.

--NO! Atem, I don't, I can't, I don't want that!

--You're the only one I trust, Set'oh. You're of royal blood, same as me. YOU might've been Pharoah if my mother hadn't borne me so late in life. Please, please forgive me, but there isn't anyone else I can turn to. I will close the door, and magic will dwindle as the Shadows are sealed away. In that hour, you'll lead our forces into the field. I pray to almighty Ra you'll have victory, and peace.

Bitter, bitter, how heavy the priest's heart; he accepts the poisoned words, though-- they feel poisoned, anyway, like acid melting into him. He almost wishes they were. Death would be a blessing, rather than endure this thought one moment longer, that his Pharoah will shortly be gone forever.

How he hates Dia-sekhem.

If the mad prophet were here now Set'oh would take the Millenium Rod and transfigure it into a spear, drive it through Dia-sekhem's black heart and let him dangle from it till he bled out. And all the while he, Set'oh, would be praying to the Guardians of the Twelve Houses, cursing the Chaos-lover, condeming his spirit to remain forever in his rotting corpse. And he himself would mummify Dia-sekhem and bury him so deep no one would ever find him and put an end to the man's suffering.

The god he was named in honor of, Great Set, would understand.

Instead he follows Atem into the ritual chamber and takes his place, thinking back even as long years of practice carry him by rote through the words. He remembers the first touch of a tiny baby's hand, the first look from eyes the color of the dawn's edge, and he wants to lie down like a jackal and howl. This is the one person in the whole world that means everything to him, the one with whom he is always patient, the cousin who is more like a brother or a son to him, and this is goodbye forever.

But he is the High Priest Set'oh, and he will not dishonor his Pharoah by refusing this one last order.

But there is something wrong, something out of place, he can feel the magics buck under his hands like a wild horse, and while he concentrates on that he doesn't notice till too late the assistant who is unbarring the doors.

The Chaos Magi are here. Not above, leading their armies; HERE, and they have come armed and armored, and the slaughter begins.

Out of the corner of one eye Set'oh sees the form he THOUGHT was Counselor Zarakem draw a curved knife and wade in beside him, slashing at the Magi; he will thank the white-haired stranger later, if he doesn't kill him first (and where is Zarakem? And why is the stranger carrying the Millenium Ring?) Though he may not have to worry about either. They're being overwhelmed, there's no time to call for help, he drops his foe with a strike of the Rod and turns to see--

(no)

he sees Dia-sekhem holding Atem, bending him back

(NO)

and there is something bright and gleaming gold and red

(NO!)

and it is a blade, a blade buried in Atem's heart.

The last syllables of the incantation break and die away on Atem's lips. For a moment the silence hangs, then it tears apart as the spell misfires, the energies they have raised so carefully like a river gone mad. For a moment Set'oh sees clearly. Some life must yet remain in the pitiful figure on the ground, because it's reaching out a hand, one small hand, towards something that stirs in the darkness.

A taller form, confused, frightened, yearning, the dawning of a terrible understanding in his violet eyes as he reaches down towards the child that might be his twin on the ground, the bleeding dying Pharoah, except it's not--

And the world ends for Set'oh, as he cradles the lifeless body to him, as tears stream down his face.

He knows.

He knows what his vision meant.

He truly will never see Atem again, in this life or any other.

Ahtemahu, the Gentle Protection of Heaven, no longer exists.


"They will leave you," Diaz whispered into Yugi's face as he held him. "One way or another. You will be alone, with only the King for cold comfort. And what has HE ever done for you? Has he any life, any reality at all but what YOU give him? None. You are his only hold in this reality. Without you, he has nothing, IS nothing. Set him aside, little Prince. Cast him out of your soul, and you will have all that you desire: children, a wife, a home, a quiet existence. I will show you the way. I will show you the power you hold in the secret corridors of your soul--" he broke off as Joey screamed like a banshee and rushed him. With an impatient growl of "Foolish boy," he let Yugi fall and stood, gesturing. A cable snapped out and cracked across Joey's chest like a bull whip, hurling him to one side. Still more wires and cables were pulling themselves up simultaneously, headed for the others like great black snakes.

"You don't BEGIN to know what you're dealing with," Diaz snarled at them. "I was THERE, don't you understand? I paid the price of Atem's folly too! My soul was ripped from me and torn apart when the magic ran wild, but a mockery of life and thought were left in my body. 5000 years I've existed like this, little more than an animated corpse, feeding on the energy of others to stave off my dissolution-- do you know what hell I've been through? Do you know the things I've been forced to endure!"

"DAMN YOU!" Ba-Khu'ra was on his feet. "How much YOU'VE endured? What about US? Do you imagine pain is your province alone! Fool! Idiot! All you've suffered, you well deserve! If not for you and your mage friends, none of this would be!" His hand flashed to his Deck, but before he could draw a card a cable wrapped around him and yanked him into the air, beginning to constrict. Tristan tried to grab hold of the cable, but it bucked him off, sending him tumbling through the chairs and off one end of the podium onto the cavern floor.

Yugi barely noticed any of this; he was struggling to breathe, every heartbeat a new jolt of pain as the knife shifted inside him. Dimly he heard Joey's yelp as the electric cable hit him, felt someone slip their arms around him and cradle him (Tèa?). Somewhere else Yami was trying to get between him and the agony, with little success, since he was trying to fight his way through both Yugi's pain and the echo he was feeling himself. "Puh-please," he gasped, "please.. help.. pull it out.. hurts--"

Tèa hastily swiped at her eyes and tried to think. Should I-- God, I can't remember my first aid courses but I don't think I--what difference does it make, he's DYING, oh Yugi-- Steeling herself, she wrapped a shaking hand around the knife's hilt and yanked, slinging it aside as it came free. Yugi cried out, then went limp. She curled around him, crying harder. He can't be-- Yugi, please, you can't be--

Yugi didn't answer. He couldn't. Tèa's face, her voice, her arms around him-- they all seemed to be receeding down a tunnel, dwindling, disappearing. Or maybe he was the one falling into the black. There were hands on his wrists, trying to hold him, but he could feel their grip slipping.

(Oh this)

'NO, you can't leave me-!'

(this has already happened)

"Give him to me." Diaz held out a hand in Tèa's direction. "GIVE HIM TO ME! He was always meant to be in my keeping. I will teach him how to rule this world and the next!"

"NO." That from the podium, and a shaking figure followed it; Seto Kaiba. He glared at Diaz with absolute, icy hatred, then turned, blue eyes on Mokuba's face, softening. "Mokie," he said, voice breaking. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I wanted everything to be perfect for you-- I never wanted you to go without anything... I forgot.. it takes more than things to make a family."

"Seto--" Mokuba shook his head.. "You, you haven't called me 'Mokie' since we were, we were kids..I don't.. you don't HAVE to explain, I KNOW you love me-!"

"Everyone," Kaiba went on, as if he hadn't heard, "forgive me. If I'd listened to Ishizu to begin with, this would never have come this far. It's my fault. Please-- look after Mokuba for me." He straightened. "Diaz, it stops NOW!"

Diaz laughed. "Ah, Seto Kaiba. What are you going to do? Your precious technology's useless against me right now."

"Maybe. But I know something that isn't." Kaiba straightened, lifting one hand into the air as if taking hold of something.

And something was there, in his hand. A gleaming rod of gold with a winged orb on one end, the Millenium symbol alight with a cold fire to match its master's rage.

With an inarticulate cry Kaiba grabbed the Rod in both hands and smashed it down into the heart of his computer system. Arcs of electricity erupted all around him.

"SETOOOOO!" Mokuba screamed, darting forward, only to be driven back by an arc of energy.

"Don't, Mokuba!" Kaiba ordered. "Stay back! GET DIAZ!" The Rod spun in Kaiba's hand like a baton and leveled at Diaz, the Eye symbol still alit. "BE STILL," he snapped. Diaz froze in place, a grimace of effort on his features as he tried to shake off Kaiba's command and failed.

Joey rolled to his feet. Ignoring the pain from his chest, he looked around for a weapon, any weapon. His eyes lit on the dagger Diaz had used to--

To stab--

"TRIS," he said, pointing at the blade.

Tristan blinked; looked down and to the side. A grim coldness entered his eyes. "Okay," he whispered, "okay, Diaz. All right. If you're nothing but a dead man walking... THEN LIE DOWN AND PLAY DEAD!" he yelled, scooping up the blade and flinging it to Joey like a football. Miraculously Joey snagged it without slicing a finger off; wrapped a fist around it; charged Diaz again.

Diaz saw Joey coming and tried to back away. Operative word being 'tried'. His legs refused to obey him. "No-- NO!" He looked to the side. "Junon, Amos--!" He broke off, then shouted. "WHAT ARE YOU FOOLS DOING? HELP ME!"

"Sorry, Cap'n-- oof settle DOWN you little worm or I'll cut you up an' use you for stink bait! --but enough's enough. Cain't let you go on like this," panted Amos, trying to restrain Serra's madly kicking feet. "War's a mighty horrid thing, but this tops it a mite."

"No more," grunted Junon in agreement. "No MORE!"

"Have you gone mad, the both of you! I hold your lives in my hands!" Diaz momentarily forgot about the furious Joey advancing on him.

"Well, now, there's livin' and there's livin'," Amos said, finally getting Serra's feet under one arm. "Reckon Junon an' me, we don't want to live your way any more. So Cap'n, sir, consider this desertion."

"Then if you wish to be traitors," Diaz said, lifting a hand with great effort, "you'll meet-- a traitor's death--!"

"OH no ya don't." Joey grabbed the front of Diaz's shirt with his free hand, holding him still. With all the strength he could muster, he slammed his fist down right over Diaz's heart, driving the knife almost all the way through the other man. "Do me a favor, bud. Tell ya buddies in Hell I said 'yo, whassup'," he snarled, and let Diaz fall. "Yuge--how's Yugi--" he stumbled over, falling on his knees beside Tèa.

"I-- Joey, I think he's--"

'Don't leave me alone!'

(I remember this, I've been here before)

The rasp of stone, like a door swinging open, the door of a tomb, or a prison.

Or a Puzzle.

(That's how, this is where it all began, begins, will begin, time isn't a line, it's all happening now)

'Please...'

(Wait for me, I swear, I'll find you, I will find you, but if I'm going to find you in the darkness, then I have to be--)

Light.

Tèa gasped, staring down at Yugi. Across the entire room everything stopped as a soft glow filled the chamber. On Yugi's brow, the symbol of the Millenium Eye appeared, traced in moonlight silver. The wound in his chest knit itself together, closing as she watched, only a scar now. Then Yugi's eyes opened, a little unfocussed, sleepy, serene, as if he'd just awakened from a nap. Their gaze wandered from her face to Joey's; then Yugi smiled. "Tèa... Joey..."

"Yugi-!"

A hissing sound drew their attention off Yugi for a moment. Diaz was lying on the floor, shuddering. Something was pouring out of the knife wound in his chest, but it wasn't blood.

It was sand.

"This.. is not... the end," he rasped, holding up a hand that started to crumble as they watched, falling into more sand. "The Age.. of Chaos... will... not be deniii--"

A moan cut off whatever else he had to say. Junon had fallen to the floor, dropping Serra, who hit and cracked, falling into pieces, like a huge ceramic figurine. Now the giant was clutching his leg, gasping with pain. Amos, meanwhile, had collapsed back against one wall, his hair beginning to rapidly lose its color, turning grey, then white, as his age caught up with him.

They're dying... Yami, I'm sorry. I need your strength. Unseen by the others, one of Yugi's hands closed on thin air, holding the hand only he could see. Yami gasped, feeling Yugi's grip burn like fire, a wave of weakness passing over him. Light, he thought, the Prince of Light, of course, light burns the darkness away--

Light is nothing without the darkness to shape it. Shadows don't exist without light. Yugi's other hand extended shakily in Junon's and Amos's direction. "Now, time, relentless tyrant, turn back on your course; awaken, memories of the past, and be restored, o flesh and bone, which still remembers and yearns to be as it once was..."

Junon caught his breath, shivering, watching wide-eyed as his right leg shifted and melted and became as normal as his left. Amos, on his other side, looked down at his hands in disbelief as the wrinkles reversed themselves, skin smoothing out to youth again.

With a little nod Yugi let go of Yami. A sigh of contentment; another look at his friends; and he let himself slip into a different darkness, one of exhausted sleep.

"What da..." Joey gaped. "HOW da..."

"You know, Wheeler, sometimes I believe your luck is inversely proportional to your intelligence." Kaiba rested his hands on the console, using it to hold himself up without APPEARING to need a prop. "Considering you're one of the luckiest people I've ever met, the next statement is obvious."

"Huh? I don' get it."

"My point exactly." Turning, Kaiba held out a hand. "Mokuba..."

"Right here, big brother." Mokuba ran in, hugged Kaiba, then stiffened and backed up. "Uh, sorry..."

"Don't bother." Kaiba swept his brother close again.

"Are.. uh... are you feeling okay, Seto?"

A faint smile crossed Kaiba's features. "More than okay, but we've got a lot to talk about, Mokie."

Mokuba smiled up at him in response, blinking back tears.

"All right, stop standing around." This directed at the KaibaCorp technicians. "Get the medical crews in here, get everyone transported out to the infirmary. The day's event is postponed. The official story is a partial collapse farther back in the mineshafts that released a pocket of gas. Some of the Duelists were overcome, but no one was seriously injured."

"Too much to hope for that you'll cancel the whole thing, huh?" Tristan asked.

"Use your brain, Taylor. If I cancel the entire tournament, it'll draw too much attention. Seto Kaiba NEVER just 'cancels' a tournament."

"Oh." Tristan blinked. "Yeah. I didn't think of it that way." He scowled up at Kaiba. "I'm with Mokuba on this one. ARE you all right? And how the heck did you get THAT thing--" he pointed at the Millenium Rod, still clasped in Kaiba's off-hand.

"Why shouldn't I have it? It's mine, after all."

A choked noise made the others look in Bakura's direction. He was pointing at Kaiba, eyes wide, the other hand over his mouth. "Oh my G-God," he stuttered. "You... you actually... accept that..." he stopped, as if hearing something, then sat down abruptly. "Oh yes, of course, that makes perfect sense," he said faintly to no one in particular-- no one visible, that is.

"WHAT makes sense!" Tristan yelled.

"EY! Tris, hold it down, ok? We got sick people here!" Joey stood, Yugi cradled in his arms. "Well... sleepin' people anyways... We'll sort dis out later, okay? Let's just get da hell outta here."


"Mmm..."

"Hey! Hey, sleepyhead."

Yugi blinked, rubbed his eyes. "Tèa. Hi." He looked around, confused. "Where are we?"

"Kirwin Infirmary. You've been out for about half a day." Tèa took his hand in hers. "How are you feeling?"

"My chest's a little sore..." Yugi rubbed it. "Hey, what's this? Why am I wearing a bandage?"

It was Tèa's turn to blink. "Yugi... don't you remember what happened in the mine?"

"Uh... no... did.. something happen in the mine?"

"Did something happen in the mine." Tèa started laughing; it was either that or cry. "Oh YUGI--" she swept him into her arms, holding him for a long, long moment. "Yeah. A lot of something happened. We'll tell you all about it. But let me get the others first, okay? We've all been waiting for you to wake up."

As she went out, she passed the unseen watcher, who looked thoughtfully across at his younger self. He remembers nothing, mused Yami. Almost as it was in the days when he and I first joined. I wonder... what is it that's awakening in Yugi's soul? Will he be able to control its power... or will the power control him... control US?

THE END (but only for now...)

NEXT TIME ON YUGIOH: THE COLLEGE YEARS - Diaz has fallen, but his mysterious comrades still remain.

What is their secret project? How will it affect Yugi and his friends? And what lies ahead, in Egypt? Don't

miss out on "Arc Two - Farewell to the Crown", coming soon to a database near you! (As soon as I write it, that is!)