A hand fell on each shoulder of the two and even the gods blinked at the sudden appearance of the newcomer.
"As much as I am enjoying this," said the man in the feathered top hat and coattails, "I am afraid I must borrow our two boys. Their assistance is required in a matter of great importance."
Shadows swirled around the three and before Yugi or Atemu had a chance to do more than turn to look at the god behind them, they were pulled into the bone chilling cold of between.
Between was dark and cold and Yugi began to panic when he couldn't feel Atemu's hand where it had rested in his just a moment before. Come to think of it, he couldn't even feel his own hand and that only made things worse. Then it was gone. He had awareness of his body again and Atemu's hand was in his. Yugi was still shivering from the cold that had sank into his bones and just beginning to contemplate the strange god standing behind him when Thoth leaned forward (and down since he was quite a bit taller than them both) to speak. "I believe your friends could use a bit of help."
Atemu's hand squeezed his aibou's to make sure it was there. To be separated in a place like this was the last thing they would want. He pulled Yugi close as if their shared body heat would make the chill go away and looked up at Thoth sharply, about to ask where in Ra's name they had been taken to when he heard the god speak. His head snapped up to see Ryou and Akeifa scrambling out of a window and running for their lives. A warm light was surrounding them and aimed back at the window where shapes and figures were lurking.
"Shit." He swore under his breath and grabbed Yugi's hand to run and meet them. How they were going to help, he didn't know, he just knew that the two needed help and he was going to give it one way or another.
The god's hand on Atemu's shoulder still held him in place. "Not that way," he said but offered no further help.
Yugi looked up at Thoth in confusion and received only a small smile and a wink. Brow furrowed in worry, he looked back toward Ryou and Akeifa hurrying toward them. He then looked over to Atemu, felt the hand on his shoulder and an idea formed. With it, the furrows smoothed away and were replaced by a brilliant smile. He gave his dark's hand a squeeze to catch his eye.
"Ready . . . Atemu?" He used his dark's full name and captured the power it produced, feeling it, feeding it and letting it hang in the air. It grew and expand in a great sheild of light that made the heavy, dark atmosphere of the wasteland fall away.
Damn the god for being so cryptic but thankfully Yugi could read minds. Creating a shield of light from the power of his own name was genius and Atemu couldn't help but feel proud of his little one. He reached out to touch it and sent it speeding toward Ryou and Akeifa. Concentrating a little more power into it, the light brightened and settled between the two escapees and their pursuers.
The shadowy nightmares screamed and drew back, unwilling to touch the light but a second sound of rage split the dark wastelands. The unearthly howl of the angry god shook the ground with its fury. Akeifa looked back briefly to see Set himself leap out the window in full jackal form and give chase. The creature crossed the distance they had already covered with frightening speed until it slammed against the protective barrier. Rebuffed, Set clawed and bit at the shield, using all his will and power to break it and get at his prey. Akeifa's arm tightened around Ryou, taking as much of his weight as possible and trying to get as much speed out of the boy and his own tired body as he could.
Atemu put more focus into the shield, protecting the thief and Ryou from being completely shredded by the enraged jackal, body and soul. A little more energy and power was what he needed. Sexual energy would be ideal but the timing and location were just plain off. He'd have to settle for the old fashioned way: drawing his own power from within and sending it out.
Yugi strained to hold the shield in place and stretched out a hand toward his friend and the thief. "Hurry!"
Clinging tighter to the body he hung off of, Ryou tried to give himself a little more push. He glanced back to see the jackal and nearly pissed his pants in fright. Fear induced spurts of adrenaline really came in handy and gave him the push he needed to lace and crush their fingers and run so fast and so hard that he was sure his feet were bleeding.
Ryou grit his teeth to keep from sobbing but a tear or two gathered and leaked out. Set was so mad and he was going to punish Akeifa just like he had killed that other man who betrayed him and it was all his fault and he didn't want Akeifa to get hurt! He just wanted Akeifa to be safe and for Yugi and Atemu to be safe and if he hadn't found that opening for Akeifa to find the box . . . but then something bad would have gotten him anyway had he unlocked the other glittering box. There was no way around it; they were in so much trouble.
Push, crack! The shield was bending and breaking and it was a miracle they had kept the god out for this long. Yugi stretched just a bit further, as much as he could without breaking contact with his dark or the hand on his shoulder, and Akeifa reached out from the opposite direction. Their hands clasped firmly just as the barrier crumbled and the pain of having magic forcibly shattered lanced through Yugi and Atemu. Thoth's hands tightened on their shoulders and the cold, nothing of between surrounded and claimed them all.
It chilled bones, stole breath and left as quickly as it had come, dumping them unceremoniously back in the palace of Osiris. Akeifa fell to his knees in exhaustion, breathing hard and Yugi nearly joined him, shattered magic still dancing like pins and needles under his skin.
Gasping for air that refused to stay in his lungs, Ryou's legs gave out, the sudden stop in their frantic running causing his limbs to realize how truly tired they were. He still clung to his thief, not recognizing his surroundings or anything else other than the fact that they were somewhere safe. He could see the others in the corner of his eye, Atemu close by Yugi, checking him over, making sure he was alright while Thoth simply stood to the side, looking at something he couldn't see.
Yugi gave Atemu's hand a squeeze and let go. He straightened and rubbed at his arms, trying to rid himself of the excess magic quicker.
The sounds and less-than-graceful entrance of the party grabbed the attention of the other two gods in the throne room. Bast looked up from hanging her head in worry and Ra whipped around in their direction.
"They're back! Oh, thank goodness!" The cat goddess ran in their direction to hug and pat and see for certain that all body parts were accounted for. Ra, too, made his was over but hung back to watch in amusement the scolding that Bast was giving Thoth.
"How could you take them like that? Has Set gotten ahold of Zork's presence? Did he find it? They could have been killed! You can't just do whatever you want, anytime you want! Why don't you ever include us on your little plans?"
Thoth merely looked down at Bast with his ever calm expression and never lost his gentle smile. "I'm afraid it was all necessary, my Lady Bast."
From the floor, Akeifa relished the feel of everything. Ryou's warm weight in his arms, the tiles hard and cold against his knees, the feel of his own body, battered and winded as it was. It all spoke of life and triumph. He looked over briefly to make sure Ryou was alright. His lucky, lucky mouse was breathing heavily and nearly sprawled on the floor, leaning most of his weight against him, but very much alive.
They had escaped. They had stolen from a god, from Set himself, and lived.
Alive alive alive alive alive.
The thief threw his head back and roared with laughter.
People were shouting and being loud and Akeifa was laughing, though Ryou failed to see what was so funny. Maybe he was just overly excited that he had pulled off the greatest theft of all time. Either way the boy refused to let go of him. He just oozed on down to lay half on, half off of his thief's legs and allow his exhausted body a chance to rest.
"Necessary? How was putting not only them, but everyone else in world-changing danger necessary?" Akeifa's laughter interrupted her thoughts and she glanced over with a wry expression. "And It looks like you've either driven one of them insane or just boosted his ego. Neither of which are necessary."
Ra laid a hand on her shoulder in a effort to calm her down. "Let it go. You're fighting a losing battle." He gestured to the others behind him. "We have more pressing matters to attend to, anyway."
Atemu nodded in their direction as he couldn't help but listen in and slipped an arm around his little one's shoulders. "If you have a place nearby for us to sit and rest, we can tell you what happened."
"Of course," Osiris said from behind them, stepping back into the room, still arm and arm with Isis. "We just wandered through one of your favorite gardens, Atemu, and the lighting on the pond is quite pretty right now." He smiled at his favorite Pharaoh. "I'm glad to see you returned unhurt. All of you, even the ones I have yet to formally meet."
"Osiris! Isis!" Atemu wasn't sure if the god was angry at him for his defiance earlier but the fact that he was being addressed in a kind way wasn't a bad sign.
Isis stepped forward to extend a hand and offer Ryou help in standing up. "Though we certainly know of you all. Still, to be polite, it is very nice to meet you Ryou." She turned her head in Akeifa's direction and graced him with her gentle smile. "And you, Akeifa. It's a pleasure to finally meet you both."
Ryou looked up at her uncertainly, wanting nothing more than to lay where he was forever (so comfortable), but her hand was waiting and she had introduced herself. The polite thing would be to respond and allow her to help him up. Which he did.
"It's very nice to meet you, too, madam," he muttered as he struggled to his feet.
Akeifa glared up at the goddess suspiciously from where he sat and got to his feet as well, a supporting arm finding its way around Ryou's waist and tugging him lightly away from the woman.
"Shall we then?" Thoth said as soon as they were all up and mobile, making a shooing motion and urging gods and humans alike toward the palace's outer area.
"Do you have some other place to be, Thoth? I must say, I'm surprised you've stuck around this long," Osiris teased him, voice dancing with humor.
Thoth coughed. "Ah, I'm afraid I'm just aware of how very . . . interesting the conversation is about to get. The sooner it is begun, the sooner it can end."
Yugi's gaze shifted back and forth between the two gods as they spoke and something clicked in his mind. He snapped and pointed at the god still wearing the old fashioned coat and top hat. "Thoth, god of wisdom and knowledge!" He then realized how silly that sounded and snatched his hand back, blushing brightly. "Um, I mean, ah, pleased to meet you."
Thoth grinned at him, one that Yugi couldn't help but return, even if he was still slightly red faced. "Pleased to meet you as well, Pharaoh's Light. Feeling better? It's never a nice thing to have a spell backlash on you." He extended a hand and Yugi shook it.
"Yes, thank you."
As everyone settled around the garden taking seats on pillows and comfortable benches, Ryou reached into his pocket and pulled out the piece of linen with the curl of Osiris' ear wrapped tightly within. "I believe this is yours," he said and handed it to the god.
"Ah, thank you. Yes." Osiris took the small package and unwrapped it. His left ear had a plainly visible notch missing and he lifted the piece of flesh to fit it into place then turned to his wife. "Isis, my dear..."
"Of course." Isis put her hand over his ear and the flesh mended as she recalled the ancient spell she'd developed with Thoth to put her husband back together in the first place.
Akeifa cursed inwardly at the loss of the ear. Obviously no one had taught his little mouse how to negotiate. He squared his shoulders, crossed his arms and challenged Osiris directly. "Your carelessness with your parts nearly got us killed. I demand additional payment."
Taken aback that his thief would be so rude to a god, let alone the ones who had complete control over what happened to them right now, Ryou elbowed him in the side. "Be nice!" he hissed at Akeifa, but then turned to ask a question of his own. "Did you know you had a piece still missing?"
Akeifa railed against the idea of being nice to anyone but since it was his mouse who had asked . . . well, he wouldn't make any promises.
Osiris watched the exchange with a carefully neutral expression before answering Ryou directly. "With all the battles I've been in, young one, and all the scars I've accumulated over the years, we never could be sure whether the piece had been lost before or after the . . . incident with Set." He looked distinctly uncomfortable with the topic and changed it quickly. "Though it would have been nice if someone had bothered to mention its location in the thousands of years between then and two days ago. Perhaps we could have retrieved it before things got out of hand."
Thoth appeared to not see the glare sent his way.
Isis placed a hand on her husband's arm to calm him. "You know Thoth never tells us anything until 'the time is right'."
Bast snorted and looked none too pleased herself. She also sent Thoth a glare he didn't see.
"What is your new price, King of Thieves?" Ra directed the conversation back to its main point.
"I rather like the time and the place where you mistakenly dropped me." He emphasized the 'mistake' part. Surely they hadn't planned for him to be brought forward in time to Ryou's living room and he hoped that the insinuation that even the gods were fallible would help his case. "I wish to go back there, rather than to my own time."
"We will not set you loose on the modern world so you can steal and cause destruction." Ra sat up in anger, finding the demand and insinuation of their mistake offensive.
"I don't think it's destruction he wants." Bast's eyes twinkled knowingly. "I believe it has something to do with Ryou over there."
Akeifa didn't respond to Bast, neither confirming nor denying her insinuation. His reasons and motivations were no one's concern but his own.
Osiris, however, did speak up. "I am afraid that whatever the reason, just as we cannot allow someone who is dead to remain in a place that is not his own," he looked pointedly at Atemu, "we cannot allow you to remain in a time that is not your own. You both have somewhere that you belong and that somewhere is NOT Japan."
"Those who are dead must remain dead," Atemu muttered. He knew it would come to this. Osiris himself couldn't return to the living after his death. It didn't change the fact that he had hoped there was a way and now he could feel that hope dissolving. He tightened his hold on his lover.
What worried him most was Yugi. They already knew how deeply their souls were connected and would always find a way to be together. If he were to remain in the afterlife, Yugi's soul would no doubt follow him and Yugi would die. There had to be another way.
Ryou also felt pained by Osiris' words. There was no way he would let them be seperated but how could one go against the gods? He turned his face up to Akeifa's looking for some sort of assurance that this would not happen. He had promised they would never be apart, after all.
Yugi squeezed his dark's hand reassuringly, his faith that things would work out resting in a very strange place this time. He knew the thief wasn't going to give up that easily and it meant hope that he and Atemu would be able to stay together as well.
"Allowed to or not, that is the price." Akeifa straightened his back and lifted his chin definitely though he uncrossed his arms and while one fell to rest in his lap, the other found its way around Ryou.
"You ask the impossible! Allowing you to return would disrupt the balance!" Ra's voice rang out and he slammed a fist down in his annoyance.
"Arguing like this will get us nowhere!" It was the only time since their arrival that Isis' voice had ever been sharp and she threw the god a pointed look. Sighing, she turned back to Akeifa asking even when she knew the answer. "Are you sure there is nothing else? No other price?"
"No, no other price," the thief answered and Osiris looked sharply at his wife.
"Isis! You can't possibly be considering . . ."
Jovial laughter erupted from behind them all, interrupted him. A large, boisterous god entered the garden and his great presence drew the ear and the eye like a magnet. He applauded loudly as if for a scene well played.