The scene shifted like billowing smoke, then unfurled to reveal the memory.
Yami felt the burden of the proud and bitter crown perched loftily atop his head, heavy, and sliding down over one eye. His cheeks flamed as he raised trembling fingers to set it back in its proper position, as he squirmed uncomfortably in the too large throne. He fought the urge to fidget, to the point of planting both hands firmly under his bottom to prevent them from drumming against the filigreed arm rest of the throne. He straightened his back, and jutted his chin out, hoping to imitate the instinctive regalness his father embodied. He flinched when he heard the laughter of his father, and cast worried eyes upward to him. His father made no attempt to hide his merry chuckle, before clapping a reassuring hand over the young prince's shoulder, with a loving, indulgent smile.
Yami's father rose to his towering height, beaming down at his son, before waving grandly to the gathering of his advisors who were now bowing to their king.
Yami had sat through the droning meetings patiently, answered their questions politely, held his silence masterfully, but made it clear to all-especially his father, that he was bored. His father had fought the urge to yawn during one of the more long-winded speeches, but thankfully, his advisors brought mundane issues that were easily resolved. "My friends." The king entoned with a smile. "Be well, and be at peace. We will resume these talks at a later hour." With that, the King dismissed the meeting, and gestured to Yami, who eagerly clamoured to his feet. It had been his first time to watch his father perform his duties as king, and he was quite relieved to be free of the white-clad men blathering about matters he did not understand.
The king smiled tolerantly at his small son, his rich baritone voice gentle as he queried his son. "What did you think, Yami?" Yami raised his head with a petualant scowl.
"It was boring, Father." His voice cracked slightly, and he flushed, embarrassed. The king ruffled his bright hair fondly. Yami had begun the confusing journey from boy to man, and while he was still slight, and short, thought the king ruefully, Yami showed a wisdom and compassion that was beyond his tender years. The Pharoah gently removed the burdensome crown from Yami's head. Yami scowled again, opening his mouth to demand it back. It made him feel regal, and powerful. His father frowned slightly, with a shake of his head. "No, my son. One day, you will understand what a burden power can be. This gold crown can be a shackle, Yami"
Yami's eyebrows quirked in confusion, as he watched his father carefully set the crown away, before gathering Yami into his lap.
"Father?" The king patiently cradled his son, waiting. "I don't understand. If you are the king, doesn't that mean that you do whatever you wish? Don't all the people have to obey you? How is that a burden"
Yami found himself being shifted forward to the king's knees, and his father's earnest hand cupping his chin upward. Yami peered into his father's dark eyes, demanding an answer. " Yami." The seriousness and the sadness of his father's voice alarmed Yami as he felt gentle hands on his shoulders. "A true king does not do whatever he wants, Yami. He does what is best for his people, and sometimes, that involves great sacrifice. When you are king, Yami, remember to rule with mercy"
The king set his young son down, and rose. "Now, let us go find something to amuse you. I imagine you are hungry as well?" Yami gave his father a radiant grin, and fairly skipped away, the promise of fun and food dancing in his bright eyes.
The Puzzle watched Yami's face lose its clenched look of pain, and a soft smile light his lips at the memory. As the peace settled over his now unmarred features, the sleeping Pharoah looked remarkably young.
The Puzzle glinted, considering Yami, before casting a sickly light over the sleeping form. Yami's body jerked in alarm, and his face contorted, as he forced his eyes open, and propped himself up on his elbows. Momentary fear and confusion gave way to resigned indifference as he eyed the Puzzle coldly.
"What do you want now? And why did you disturb me?"
The Puzzle flickered, pondering, but did not answer.
Yami grunted in annoyance, as he yawned. "If you have no answer, kindly leave me be." The fatigue had indeed doubled, and his head throbbed with the gritty irritation of insomnia, but he dared not allow himself to be lulled into slumber. He drew his knees to his chin, and locked his arms over himself. It was indeed going to be a long night.
My apologies, my king, for disturbing the pleasant memories of your father. You should thank me for granting you some respite from your otherwise rather monotonous existance.
Yami's only response to that was a dismissing, and very unregal snort. "The idea of me being grateful to you is ludacrious."
The Puzzle quivered, as if offended, and drew upwards with a startling feroucity. Yami shifted, worriedly. He shivered when he felt the golden rancor from the Puzzle radiating in a dizzying shower on the floor before it flittered menacingly to his forehead. Yami exhaled sharply, but did not flinch. He watched impassively, but the Puzzle saw his eyes following him everywhere with an intensity borne from long years of uncertainty.
Perhaps, my king...the words were mocking, and laced with bitterness in soft, cold cadence.
But if it is memories that you so long for, then memories you shall have!
Yami gritted his teeth, fighting down the tremor and the bile that rose to his throat, as he saw the glittering promise of more misery in the Puzzle's sudden flare up.
It was his only warning. Yami had the horrible sensation of slipping like water through the cracked shards of reality, and slowly trickling into helpless oblivion.
Paralysis. Darkness. Endless falling, groping hands blindly snatching at anything that would lend creedence to his existance. Somewhere in the churning oblivion, he felt the Puzzle's eager observation of his reaction to this new prison. The world shifted, brightened, lurched beneith him, and he felt himself fall into his own flesh with the grace of a leaf lazily waltzing over water. Or was he here at all?
He flung open his eyes, and abruptly slammed them shut. "Not this! Please, not this!" His tortured whisper was heaved out in a desperate prayer as vicious awareness clawed away the dream.
He heard the Puzzle's indulgent chuckle, and felt the smug victory radiating from the gold, as he drew a balled up fist to his mouth to choke down the gut-wrenching sob.
The Puzzle graciously illumiated the nightmare with heart-breaking clarity. Yami turned his face away, shut his eyes, attempted to grasp at any distraction or grace that would shield him from this.
Yami felt himself being viciously flung back into reality, or its imitation. Clad in his royal blue and white, the crown comfortable and fitting properly, the familiar flesh and breath and body, he found himself standing properly erect, his face cast in stone, his regal bearing and seemingly cold indifference shielding the thundering terror that heaved in his chest, or the grief that clouded his unteared eyes. The sheen of his bronze skin, the violet eyes...
The young pharoah stood unwavering on the balcony, silently viewing the ruins of his city. The land was scarred by the muck of charred remains, the smouldering rock and bricks laying in chaotic piles, and raw gashes from the battle lay as open wounds. The red sky above, the empty arch of moonlight was a dismal silver. It was as if the sky itself were bleeding in grief. In all the frail years of his young existance, Yami could never imagine the might of Egypt falling into shadow.
"No," he mused, darkly. "Egypt didn't fall into shadow. She was dragged, unyielding, into the terror and the pain by creature, and whip and knife. By blood, by battle"
His voice rose in quivering disbelief, his eyes falling upon the large, gleaming carcass that lay in loud white against the deepening darkness. Priest Seth had called forth the mighty Blue-Eyes White Dragon to the defense of the palace during the last onslaught. The noble dragon rose high from the depths, the color of starlight and pearl, wings arched for battle, the glowing fire casting hope and light to the broken below. She swirled on the rising wind, clawing for altitude, her gaping maul radiating saphire lightening as she readied her attack. Seth had stood on the precipice far below, his body cast in the eerie blue fire, sweat and strain making him glow as well. His staff was raised high, chanting encouragement to the Dragon, and curses to her attacker. The arch of saphire light wracked the sky with a crackle, the blinding white flash illuminating the gruesome damage, before all faded to black. Yami heard her shrill cry of pain and saw the brutal retaliation. The dragon darted away from the returning blast, but she was not quick enough. The horrible wave hit her broadside, and Yami saw her wings arch, then droop as she fell helplessly to the darkness below. Hot gore fell from the sky in a silent, sizzling rain. The dragon spiraled downward, and the ground tremored in protest as her wounded corpse landed. The dragon splayed her wings, like a dying butterfly, with a wailing cry, as her tail recoiled. She shuddered, and was still. Yami bowed his head in grief and respect.
Later that night, a grief-ridden Seth and an exhausted Pharoah conferred with his remaining advisors in his chambers. Weariness and defeat were clearly taking their toll.
Their heads were bowed, mouths drawn in effort. Seth was oddly quiet, only grunting in reply to queries and grimacing at the bandage that now swathed his left wrist.
He declined to tell them how he was injured, only waved away their concern with a haunty but polite evasion. Normally, it would have made Yami smile, but now.
duty called, with all its unmerciful burdens. Yami clutched his aching brow between trembling hands, and flinched when his fingers brushed the chill of his gold crown.
He cleared his throat for their attention, and stood, bracing himself by the elbows on the wooden table. When they started to rise for the customary bow, Yami shook his head, sadly. "I appreciate the acknowledgement of my royal dignity, but there is precious little need for formality now. I beg of you, please, remain seated"
He noted with concern Seth's wince. The priest was obviously injured but pride kept him upright and restrained.
All eyes were upon the young ruler, and he inwardly cringed under the weight of their curious stares, eyes full of question, each face representing a loved one slain from the war. He trembled, bowed his head, prayed for strength to force out the next words.
With a deep, sad sigh, he spoke, softly. " You have all fought nobly for the protection of the people, and the glory of Egypt. I have never been more humbled, nor more proud to find such loyalty and sacrifice among you. You honor me, my friends." He bowed to them in tribute, his gratitude shining in his eyes, as the tears came unbidden.
"Forgive me." He choked out, as he regained control, though his knees nearly gave way when he continued. " There might yet be hope for us...and ..a way to save Egypt"
Dawning astonishment and wild hope broke forth like a shaft of sunlight, yet he felt ice trickle down his spine, as he shuddered. Seth's head jerked up, his eyes wary and narrowed, as he studied the young king. Such an astonishing gift certainly did not fit the Pharoah's clearly troubled demeanor, or why he looked so small and lost.
Yami waved down the questions, the praise, and felt guilt under the burden of their faith in him. Drawing strength from a deep breath and a pause, Yami straightened, his royal dignity slipping into place like a mask, and his voice taking on the deep authority of a King. "Since the start of these cursed Shadow Games, and the fall of Egypt into darkness, I know that we have all been looking for a way to end this. I have found the way to end this, ..."his voice trailed off uncertainly as he groped for the right words.
"But I cannot do this alone. There are among you here, who will disagree with my plan, or even attempt to stop me." Here, his eyes rose and settled on Seth, as the Priest returned his gaze with mounting anguish, and understanding. "But as Pharoah and protector of Egypt, I ask you as friends to abide in my judgement, or leave me in peace if you cannot. Any opposition will be severely punished." Eyes went wide with shock, and Yami grimaced. He was never known for his cruelty, or for using his authority to threaten anyone. He ran his fingers through his hair, then stared at them, with eyes full of suplication. "I ask you to please help me"
He cringed at the broken tone and the fear in his voice. Perhaps it evoked sympathy, though, for he was greeted with a wide chorus of vows of support and more declarations of their faith in him. Yami closed his eyes, took a breath, and then blurted out his plan in one chaotic spew..
"I will sacrifice myself to seal away the Shadow Games."
The moment after the words were flung from his mouth, both the horrible meaning and what it would cost Yami broke forth. It hit as a tidal wave. He watched as his advisors stared in stunned silence before several lunged to their feet, and imediately began their tirade, viciously attacking him, berating him. The young king felt, rather than heard, the rising malestrom, and he felt as if he were drowning in a sea of chaotic screaming, demanding noise, and horrific needs he could not fulfill. He slank back, discretely into his throne, looking stunned, and completely spent. Had Yami been more alert, he would have noticed that two of his loyal ones still remained seated. Priest Seth looked as he had been stabbed, but not yet fallen. The combination of the pain from his wounds, and the stunning announcement had left him paralyzed. Priestess Isis was equally stricken, though her calm demeanor, and uncommon grace betrayed none of the storms that raged across her heart. Her eyes fell upon the young king. Yami had his head bowed, as if readying himself early for the executioner's ax. Awkwardly, she rose, to lay an anchoring hand across his arm. Yami startled at the contact, and met her eyes with a silent plea. Isis lightly squeezed his arm in understanding, offered him a sad smile in return, then turned towards the warring mass before her.
"I ask for your silence." The voice of Isis was said to be graced by the goddess she was named for. Yami was awed to hear her words, so softly voiced, carry like a wave of thunder over the shouting, and watched in amazement as the advisors stilled to look at her with riveted attention.
She turned to Yami, as he nodded. "I ask for your forgiveness for the cruelty in my words. Know that I speak the truth, as the Pharoah has asked me. There is no other way to end this. And the Pharoah is the only one who has the power to enact the seal. I am so sorry. There is no other way"
Her words were quietly delivered, the finale of many clasterdine meetings with the Pharoah, of many whispered secrets etched in her tears and long nights studying the ancient texts for deliverance. For any deliverance. When she had first found the spell, she fought the temptation to have the scroll burned and the ashes flung to the wind.
But, she would be disobeying a direct order from her king, and costing countless innocents their lives. Isis had nearly wept when she presented the scroll with shaking hands and visable misery to the Pharoah. Yami had studied it, stricken, but rose, with tragic resolve. He solemnly thanked her for delivering Egypt, and then, cupped her cheek in comfort and asked her to weep in joy, knowing that Egypt would be spared.
And now, before her, was the first step to Egypt's salvation, willingly borne by a young king who looked too stricken to even stand at the moment. Isis bit her lip, then turned to view Seth. Seth was trembling, and pale, a thin sheen of sweat glistening on his brow. The wounded priest clearly needed rest. "Perhaps, my Pharoah, it would be best to end this counsil for now. If you are firm in your plans, there is little left to debate." Yami, preoccupied with his own dark thoughts and hurt by the sudden oposition paid her no heed until she clasped his arm, and shook him. "My Pharoah." Her words were harsh, but whispered. "End this." Yami drew two breaths, lost his open brokeness, stood up to the full height he had been blessed with, and then clapped his hands loudly. "My decision stands, my friends. So have I said it, so shall it be"
Yami's face had the contenance of stone, and his thoughts were unreadable behind the stoic royal mask he had donned again. With that, he turned on his heel, and with a swirl of his cloak and a glint of gold and white, he strode out of the room.
Yami fairly marched down the royal hallway, his sandles making a stacatto rythym on the stone, his face stoic and forbidding interuption or questions. He had given harsh orders to his attendents to leave him in peace, and that done, wearily sank into the soft comfort of his private chamber. His vision blurred, his head throbbed, and he was so tired and so afraid. The tormenting questions flitted viciously through his mind. Was he being foolish in offering himself as a sacrifice? Was he strong enough to be that willing? What if it wasn't enough? What if he died in vain, and Egypt was hacked into pieces, either by a dragon's flame, or the blade of an enemy? Was this the answer?
Here, away from the expectations, and the prying eyes, and the demands, he stripped himself of the golden ordiments, the guantlets, the many earings and last of all, cloak, and crown. This being done, he allowed himself an undignified slump of sheer exhaustion, and reclined into the sweetly familiar softness of his bed, pulling the silk over his head, and curling into fetal position, and waited for the sleep to overtake him.
Outside his door, two guards, thickly muscled, armed, and quite bored, lounged, and chatted quietly, while giving occasional glances at the sleeping king. His Royal Majesty's snoring resembled a noise somewhere between an irritated camel, and the hitching whine of a whipped mule, and he was sprawled inelegantly on his belly. Their conversation was interupted by the silken footsteps of Isis, as she glided over the stones. Upon seeing her, both guards smartly snapped to attention, hastily bowing, and stammering apologies. Isis offered a kind smile, and charmingly asked to speak to Yami. The guards exchanged troubled glances, remembering the strict orders of letting the king sleep. Isis dipped her head, in contemplation, then slowly raised her eyes to view them through glossy tresses the shade of obsidian. The bewitching effect was enough to not only have the guards bow and stammer, but personally escort to the bedside of the sleeping King. Isis permitted herself the indulgance of a naughty smile. To see the ruler of Egypt splayed out, and lounging was quite a departure from the majestic carniture she was presented with. It was endearing to see him looking so at peace, and she was loathed to interupt it.
"My Pharoah." Yami twitched, but did not wake. Isis attempted to rouse the king with a more forceful approach, by laying a hesitant hand on his shoulder.
It had the desired effect. The Pharoah stiffened, before exploding upright, disoriented panic and hazy sleep leaving him panting and very angry. His head whipped around frantically, calming only after he noticed Isis, who had one hand clapped over her mouth and a suspect twinkle in her eye of barely concealed mirth. Indeed, Isis was having difficulty restraining the howling laughter. Yami's confusion merged with a deep scowl, as he hastily adorned his crown and bare arms with their respective jewelry, before crossing them over his chest.
"Isis." His words betrayed no emotion, but the anger was there. "My Pharoah." Isis swept her flowing white into a deep curtsy. Yami gave a grunt of annoyance.
"My lady, you are in my royal bed chambers, and I am currently in my sleeping garb. Bowing makes this situation even more awkward. Why are you here?"
Isis turned her face away, and Yami saw her hands flutter up to cover her eyes, as she stiffened, as if in effort to steel herself for the burden she was forced to give him.
"Isis?" Yami's question was uncertain, and kind. "What is it?"
She turned to him, her azure eyes misted over, and the sadness shimmering in their depths. Yami bowed his head, to spare her more embarassment at her tears.
"Perhaps this will become easier if I am permitted a moment to dress properly, and you have a moment to collect your thoughts." Isis nodded her assent, and swept out of the room.
With a groan, Yami lurched to his feet, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, and hastily tossing on his blue cloak over his ruffled tunic.
Yami found Isis in the balcony, her azure eyes gazing up at the heavens, the gown she wore making her look as if she were cast in cloud and moonlight.
"You wished to speak to me, Isis?" She stiffened, gave him a startled glance, lips parted to answer.
"Yes, my Pharoah. I am sorry to disturb your sleep, but this matter could not wait." Yami raised an eyebrow, and gestured for her to sit.
"Well, then? What is it?" It was more of a growl than a question, and Isis visibly blanched.
Yami fought the rude urge to yawn, but feeling both the gnawing urge to sleep, and the mounting frustration of her evasive lack of an answer was irritating him mightily.
"My Pharoah, I came to speak to you about your plan to seal away the Shadow Powers."
Yami arched one eyebrow high, considering her. Her only answer was silence, as he heaved a sigh and prompted her to continue with a curt question.
"Yes? I informed the counsel of my decision, and thought that I made it explicitly clear that I would not tolerate any opposition. What exactly is there left to discuss?"
Isis regarded him coolly, with narrowed eyes. "My Pharoah, please do not misunderstand my concern. I will not stand in your way if that is your chosen path.
But, I beseech you to hear me out before you continue. I must know...do you fully understand the sacrifice you will make?"
Yami's warring emotions twisted his features, furrowed his brow, and pulled his lips into an uncertain line. Her simple question had effectively destroyed the fortress he had built of noble sacrifice, and lofty illusions of his blood being enough to spare his country and his people.
Isis glided forward, lay a steadying hand on his shoulder, her eyes full of compassion. "You truly have not, have you, my Pharoah?"
Yami bowed his head, miserably, before shaking his head. "I am assuming it involves my blood, and most likely my death, both of which I am willing to give, but"
His voice trailed off into anguished contemplation, before he whispered, "but I do not know if I have the strength to do that, and I don't know if it will be enough"
He suddenly rose, and strode to the balcony, as he swept an arm outward, engulfing the abyss of darkness, pocked by torch lights and threads of road.
"As Pharoah, I know that my duty is to protect my people, and keep them from harm. To provide mercy and ensure justice." He gave a shaking sigh, before turning to Isis.
"I know this, Isis. And I believe it. I have tried to rule as my father did. But, I don't know if I can do this. I don't know if it will work, and I find myself disgusted with my cowardness in hesitating so much." It was painful for her to see him so tormented, but it touched her that he would confide such vulnerability. She instinctively took one of his hands in hers, and clasped it in reassurance. "My Pharoah, do not doubt your nobility, and do not consider yourself a coward. Only the truly brave admit their fear, but continue, despite of it." Yami gave her a half smile, bittersweet and mocking. "
"I feel neither noble, nor brave, Isis, but I thank you for your kind words. Now," he continued gravely. "I know that you are not here just to express your disapproval of my decision. What is it?"
"Sealing off the Shadow Powers does not involve your death , my Pharoah." Isis's face was deceptively serene, but the shade of alabaster.
Yami's eyebrows climbed high and his mouth fell open. "What do you mean?" He shivered when he felt the ominous ice slither in his stomache as a warning.
With infinite sadness, and compassion, Isis kneeled to look him in the eyes, and he was paralysed by their brewing storms of anguish.
"To seal off the Shadow powers will cost your soul."