Disclaimer: do not own anything…do not sue, if you do, I'll sic my demon of a sister on you. I assure you that you'd not like it…her…it. Whatever!
Warning: shounen ai, possible yaoi.
Warning: some details from the original series have been edited by me to better accommodate the storyline so don't be too surprised when you see some unknown things showing up.
This fic was born from…a lot of frustration both at the ending of the anime/manga and at the many loose ends that were never answered at the end.
Prologue: Three steps forward, one step back
'Half a soul is a soul still, albeit a lacking one.'
"Hear, spirit of the shadow, demon of the dark…" the pharaoh glared angrily forward, whipping his hands out in a wild arc.
"Thee who have trespassed on my kingdom shall be bound, by the power of my name, pharaoh Atem. For my will is as strong, and my kingdom as great…"
"I…" He said again with a flash of determination in his eyes. But it was only for a second, and the next it was gone, replaced by confusion and a hint of annoyance. "…can't do this!"
"I don't get it!"
He glared in exasperation at the fake demon in front of him as if blaming it for his problem before turning to the other man standing in a corner of the stage.
"I…professor Mutou…I just can't understand it! How can an 18 year old kid just go sacrifice his life and put his soul into damnation for eternity…and feel right about it?"
The actor jumped off the stage, swiped the script paper off the surface of a chair then proceeded to sat on it as the other person approached him.
"Well…that's something every one has been wondering about since the day we discovered his tomb, pharaoh Atem that is. But I'm sure you did a good job looking like him up there, Sa-ad."
The actor, Sa-ad Amre Diar, looked from the script then at him and then back at script again.
"It's illogical…dumb even!"
He said with a frown that looked quite out of place on his mature face. It was because of that certain manly and mature charm that Sa-ad was chosen for his lead role in the coming big-budget historical film about an Egyptian pharaoh. The film was based on the newly discovered and greatly controversial pharaoh, Atem, one of the youngest pharaohs in Egypt history.
It was only a film others might say, but it meant the world to Sa-ad. It was, after all, his heritage.
Sadly, he was no script writer, and the plot was not up to him to decide. Consequently, Sa-ad found himself saddled with a character that he couldn't understand, a character whose psychology and historical role had been in debates for quite a while now.
A pharaoh that did not have even a body to embalm into was either a much loved pharaoh, or a damned pharaoh, a cursed pharaoh.
And this person, he looked back the other way, Mutou Yugi, the discoverer of the once Lost Pharaoh, was going to help him get in touch with his role.
"He's eighteen." Sa-ad began with a click of tongue as if evaluating this fact.
"…been king since 10. He's good looking, smart, loves his people, also very good at this whole hocus pocus thingy, never been defeated in anything…" He flicked his one free finger at the script to emphasize.
"…and then when the only guy that can defeat him came around, the villain, he just went and sacrificed his life to seal that evil, damning his soul to eternity in the process."
"He's a fucking Mary Sue…Gary Stu, what ever!" Sa-ad concluded hotly.
Yugi chuckled at his antique, but Sa-ad ignored him.
"This thing is more like the product of some deranged fan girl on hit than a professional script." He said, frowning.
"But it is true. They said it is based on historical facts, what ever it is that you have found."
"Yes, it is." Yugi agreed, smiling all the while. He could tell that the actor was very tempted to argue that reality wasn't like that even if he had to deny the proof that Yugi and his crew had dug up in Egypt. If it weren't for Yugi, he might have done just that.
"Professor, you're not helping."
"Hmmm… Tell me. Tell me, what sort of a person would do that? I can't imagine a kid… probably a spoilt kid. I know them. I've read them, oh huge-ass power Pharaoh and all that since I was a wee toddler. If they are anything, they are nothing like Hollywood painted them out to be. Most of them are tyrants, lord of million slaves, gold and all that shit. The biggest project of their lives is their huge-ass grave stones which everyone nowadays adores for some reason I don't know. It's only some fucking greedy dude's tombstone for Ra's sake. If they are somewhat good, they win a few wars and such, or maybe survive a 7 year long famine …like that superstitious dude in the bible…."
Yugi was laughing out right at this point, but his laughter soon ceased as the aggravated actor's voice tuned down a notch and his face suddenly turned into perplex thoughtfulness.
"…but this. This is…" He paused, as if in a lost for words. " Professor, I've tried every logical way I can follow to figure out this guy's psyche, trying to build up the sort of personality that would actually do something this stupid…been going on with this for months now…but I can't…"
"…and shooting is in a week." He added. "I can't even get in touch with my character and shooting is the next week. I can't feel his personality. I don't …know him!"
Sa-ad eyed Yugi with something akin to desperation in his eyes, a silent call for help, but the actor wouldn't say it. Sometimes, Yugi thought looking fondly back at the actor's emerald irises, he was way too proud for his own good. But on the other hand, he was very passionate about his work to a degree that was almost scary if Yugi himself weren't like that as well. It was a quality that the archeologist appreciated.
Yugi knew the actor didn't need to push so far as the film was focused more on the historical events than the real-life Pharaoh. But true to his nature, Sa-ad never did anything in half, and he most certainly did not act half-hearted either. He took on his characters, no matter who, or on some occasions, what they were as if they were a part of him. It was this quality that had earned him an Oscar at only 23 years old, an age that most people would associate with newbie in the land of art.
They had known each other for some time now, when Yugi had first started to visit the stage site of the film to help out. It was not a long time, but neither was it short.
Originally, Yugi was asked to help with the production of the film since anything concerning the once Lost Pharaoh was his expertise, and he was quite enthusiastic to help seeing as he was going to stay in Egypt for some time. He had deliberately gone out of his way to avoid most of the cast crew as long as his service wasn't required, feeling discomforted and out of place with the glamorous group.
It was funny that someone up there had seen it fit to make them bumped into each other, the lead role and the hired help, accidentally of course.
It was a site that Yugi thought no actor would wonder to, his favorite digging holes, dirt, heat, sun and all that being the bane to most of them. Apparently he had thought wrong as a very pissed-off Sa-ad wondered right into him.
They had hit off wonderfully, in the sense that they fought…with proper fists and feet and even hair yanking (Sa-ad had thought that Yugi's hair was fake), which till these days still managed to shock Yugi. In hindsight, he couldn't see the reason why they had fought since Yugi didn't do anything to provoke the actor. But then again, experience had taught him that an irate Sa-ad was a very…explosive Sa-ad, and Yugi's personality wasn't exactly his cup of tea at that time either.
They had wound up as friends sometime later, when Yugi had gotten to know the foul-mouth actor better, albeit involuntarily. He had come to like the other even, and had sought out the actor on many occasions, sometimes just for his company in this lonely land of Egypt, sometimes to help him with his role.
Sa-ad was, in way of saying, a man in love with his own country. Not the image of what Egypt was to tourists and Hollywood, the gold, the glamour, the sultry harem, but rather the spirit of the country, the sand, the heat, the temperamental desert. The actor was as bound to the vicious land as the ancient Egyptians were to the Nile, the river that brought to them both the life of harvest and the deadly alligators.
"Hmm…" Yugi weaved his fingers together and put his chin on them as his thoughts gathered in his head. His audience was waiting patiently for him.
"I suppose that's how it would appear to you if you look at it that way, a king dying to protect his people" He said.
"But you're looking at the sacrifice as an act of kindness, a selfless one."
"What else could it be? He gave his life"
"True. But there are suicidal kids everyday in the world." Yugi said matter-of-factly.
The actor frowned at this but said nothing.
"You're limiting him. You're taking him like he's some sort of selfless hero, and then try to build a backing machination that would allow such an image, his psyche as you've said. Which is where your problem stemmed from because you can not figure what sort of a person would willingly give their life for complete strangers …and make it believable"
His audience nodded in agreement.
"Let's think back on this matter. What if the sacrifice wasn't a real sacrifice? Maybe it was something else, a suicidal act, maybe even an accepted duty. Human sacrifice isn't exactly a strange thing in Ancient Egypt."
'…or maybe a calculated move of a strategist' He added in his head, but didn't share his thought.
"And the pharaoh…when you think about his action, using himself to stop his enemy, even when the price is his own life, it might seem like a selfless act, but on a deeper level, it shows the pharaoh's distrust."
"…distrust?" Sa-ad echoed his line, a hint of confusion on his face.
"He was a powerful pharaoh, he had an army, priests, millions of slaves, and a whole country at his disposal, not to mention the allied countries he could have called for help. But what did he do? There was no mentioning of him summoning any help. He used himself as the weapon against an enemy he deemed powerful."
"Why is this?" Yugi looked meaningfully at the actor.
"Because he never trusted the others to do it. He didn't think that they were strong enough to defeat his enemy. He only trusted in himself …and he did"
Sa-ad blinked at realization came to him. He was quite for a few minutes as he mulled over this new found insight and Yugi let him.
"Someone who do this…a suspicious bastard…or maybe a very lonely soul."
"Maybe…" Yugi voiced his agreement. "It's not really strange when you think about it at his position. He was pharaoh since he was very young. He had no friends, only rivals, enemies, and temporary allies. Anything he did he had to consider carefully if he wanted to keep his throne…and his life and trust was not easy. There was no mentioning of any prominent figures in his life, no mother, sisters or brothers, no lovers either. He had a whole harem …but no favorite."
"All his life, the only thing he knew and trusted probably was he himself."
"True! Then there was his father."
"Pharaoh Akunumkanon, who also died sacrificing his life, although there was no documenting as to why he did it. There was mentioning that he was a good pharaoh though."
"So he even had an idol. Does this family have hereditary mental instability?" Sa-ad groaned out, but it was a half-hearted groan, and his eyes were already turning into an intense deep green as his mind explored the imaginary Atem in his head. Yugi had seen him in this state once before, and it fascinated him. In a way, Sa-ad reminded him of his other self, deeply enthralled in a hard duel.
"He must have…it must have been tough for him, keeping his throne and triumphing over his enemies. In a way, it's something he's proud of but also his undoing, his inability to be defeated. Letting other people help him would have been a defeat in a sort of twisted way. It was both his strength and weakness. The last act of his life…was to protect this belief, that's he's the undefeated king, even if he had to pay with his own life."
"Professor…if I didn't know better I'd have thought that you know him personally or something…" The actor was eying him weirdly. "…on second thought, you probably do…you did dig him up after all…That's twisted. That's obsessed professor. Are you obsessed with this dude?"
Yugi gave a barking laugh at this, but it was one without mirth.
"Yeah…I guess I am"
It was not a long discussion after that they had, but it had cleared off the obstacles. Yugi knew he didn't need to push further. They continued on for talking for sometimes after that with Sa-ad continually dishing details that he somehow thought up, eagerly awaiting Yugi's reaction towards each one. There were things that Yugi knew was nothing like the pharaoh he knew, but he did not object. This Atem was a different one, after all. This pharaoh belonged to the screen, to the mind of an actor.
When they finished, it was way past noon and the approaching dusk was shining in through the large overhead windows. Lunch time had sneaked past both of their notice. Yugi would have to leave soon for the museum he was working and living in.
As they stood and dusted of imaginary dirt from their clothes, Sa-ad gave him a Kit-kat bar. For energy, he said, seeing that the actor might barge into Yugi's abode later.
"What, no flowers?" The archeologist smiled impishly at his partner.
The actor was still for a while with an unreadable look on his face. And just as Yugi had started to think that he wasn't going to get a reply out of that, he spoke.
"How about a kiss in stead?"
Before Yugi had time to even register the question, Sa-ad had already lunged forward and gave him a wet and sound kiss on the cheek.
The petit archeologist squeaked.
He was about to retaliate, but the actor was already half out of the door. He called after him in dazed disgust.
"Where ya going?"
"Where else? Chess…bastard musta been some sort of strategist."
The latter half of his reply was muffled and seemed to echo far-off. Yugi groaned as he wiped the wetness on his cheek off with a tissue from his pocket.
Crazy actors and their crazy antics.
Then he too headed for the door.
The museum of Khanadu where Yugi stayed and worked for whenever he wasn't on an expedition was a place of mourning. The place was built by dead men some hundred years ago, and it now housed its dead man relics. People came here, worked and died, hundreds of generations and none of them different. In a vague thought, Yugi wondered if he would someday add on to that pile of dead souls wondering Egypt.
Archeology, after all, wasn't a work in the park. It wasn't just a passing interest either. You got in. You stayed, and never came out.
Some would say that that was a rather depressing way to describe his own profession, but Yugi like it anyway. It was reminder of the weight of decision. Three years ago, Yugi had come to choose between the world of duelist, of magic and monster on plastic cards, and the world of old tales dug up from sand and durst.
He had chosen the latter, much to the surprise and protest of his friends. Of course he didn't completely abandon the game of duel either. He still participated in tournaments once in a while, most of it hosted and prodded by Kaiba corp. and a certain tyrant of a businessman who just wouldn't settle to let his sworn rival slip away.
He still won, of course, still the King of Game. But the game was no longer his whole life, no longer the sun of his own universe.
Now he had a different one, a burning need to find something, like a hollow hole in his chest. He didn't even know what it was, only knew that it was here, somewhere in Egypt.
In hindsight, he was still somewhat surprised at the strength of his momentum at the time. Burning need didn't just cover it. It was a crushing force that pushed and pulled Yugi through his last year in high school within 3 months, earning him a week in hospital for prolonged exhaustion and a scholarship to university in Melbourne. It drove him still through college, haunting him day and night.
At 20 year old, Yugi was the youngest archeologist to make a breakthrough discovery.
The press had made a big deal out of what he had achieved. It was near earth splitting to them. They had made a whole saga out of it. A world of old startled and awed by a young one. They had let him graduated his college 2 years early because of that, deeming him already weaned to face the rest, which was true in a way.
He was so enthralled with the land of desert that people said he was in love, or should have been born an Egyptian.
His friends were worried by the changes. Even Yugi himself was, but gradually he settled with this newly found aspect of him and so did his life.
Nowadays Yugi mostly worked for the museum, researching the ancient artifacts, and translating relic parts in exchange for an abode and a monthly salary. Once or twice a year he'd go onto a duel competition, only to win and leave rather quickly and quietly lest his fans found out where he lived. He did go on expeditions once in a while but those were costly and he could only afford them if he had enough saving (mostly the winnings from the duels) or a wealthy and willing patron.
His friends kept contact with him through the internet but not as often as he'd have like, partly because technology was still a hard and expensive thing in Egypt, partly because they all led separate lives now. Other than that the now archeologist led a semi recluse life, only sporadically interrupted by one eccentric actor with a pot mouth.
It was for these reasons that Yugi was rather surprised when a parcel arrived at the museum with his name on it.
He took the parcel from the hands of the deliverer who didn't even bother with asking if he was the right person. He was tempted to call and ask him but didn't as the man was already turning around a street corner and promptly disappeared from view.
'What's up with that?' Yugi thought in his head as he walked back into his office, looking down at the unremarkable bundle in his arm. It was not large but rather heavy and seemed to have been hastily wrapped with thin rope and brown paper. His name and address were written on one side. There was no return address however.
"Strange." He murmured as his hands untied the rope and pulled off the wrapping paper. The parcel gave off a clacking sound. It was a plain-looking square wooden box with a slide-off lid up on top.
Yugi slid off the lid and looked at the content inside.
The golden parts of the Millennium Puzzle stared back at him.
The returning Millennium Puzzle was a literal bomb to Yugi's life. It had crushed off the semi truce he had had with himself for years now, and bombarded his mind with countless questions, all without an answer. His work was almost abandoned and most of his projects were pushed aside as much as possible to provide free time for the puzzle.
The first thing he did was reassembling the thing into its original shape, the up-side-down pyramid, and tried it on.
If he had any hope that something would happen, he was disappointed.
There was nothing. No shadow, no twinkling feel of magic, no soul in his heart. The only thing the pyramid did was hanging limply from his neck, dead and heavy, just like Yugi's hope.
'Had it lost its power?' Yugi thought one night as he lied on his bed, his fingers tracing the familiar curve of Horus's eye deeply arched into the gold.
It was a possibility, but then why was it sent to him? And why now, 3 years after it had all ended.
Coincidence? No. He no longer believed in coincidence, not for a very long time. Hadn't his life been enough a proof for that? Nothing was coincidence.
And who sent it?
Yugi thought of the man who delivered the puzzle to him, but quickly pushed that aside. If he were the sender, he doubted he would want to reveal himself so soon and for something so trivial.
The last time he had seen the Millennium items were years ago and it was of them falling down an endless abyss.
'They had finished their duty." Isis had declared. But what duty? Was the question that had haunted Yugi since then. What could possibly be the duty of items made from the blood, pain and hatred of dead souls? What could they do when in order to use them, the person must harbor darkness in his heart?
The Millennium Items were power given form. And true to their origin, they were invitation into darkness, into the realm of shadow itself. While it might have been useful for ruling and defending a country, its side effect was obvious and would be quite severe on those with a weak heart. The dark soul of Marik had proved to be an impressive testament.
Yugi didn't get any sleep that night or the night next to that. Questions swarmed his head, and he found himself frustrated at the lack of answer.
It was at the end of that week that Yugi decided to try and put an end to it. It was a relic of the lost pharaoh, then the servants of the pharaoh would know what to do with it. He was going to pay a visit to the Ishtars.
"Whoever invented the phrase 'easier said than done' should be clubbed, skinned, deep fried, then fed to my monster Kuribo. Wait…scratch that! Kuribo is too easy on him…make that…Summoned Skull, yeah Summoned Skull, show the bastard what fear is" Grumbled a very irate Yugi as his numbing hands and face protested and pleaded for a rest for what seemed like the umpteenth time in the hour.
The Ishstar family had moved…and they had done that for 2 weeks now.
Yugi had paid for this piece of information with 3 hours of blind searching the nearby town of Kassan after entering and leaving a very much empty and abandoned tomb that was once the ancestor home of the Ishtars.
The man who told Yugi this also let him knew that they had moved somewhere south, going much deeper into the dessert, in one of the valleys nestled within a maze of canyon that can only be found on this side of the Sahara. They were on some sort of pilgrimage, and would move continuously, which also meant that the more Yugi postponed going after them, the less of a chance he had of being able to grab them.
Which was the reason why he was badly in need of a long overhaul now after 5 hours straight riding on his V-Strom 650 through the dirt plains of the Sahara, chasing after a family of bad-timed recluses. The archeologist now turned temporary head-hunter was torn between feeling lucky or unlucky. On one hand, it was quite convenient for him to be the owner of a hybrid dirt bike renown for being able to endure even the worst type of terrain, an unexpected prize from one of the past tournaments. On the other hand, Yugi was now braving the scratching sand and harsh wind of the dessert, had been for hours now, and probably would be for several more.
Yugi kept pushing onward despite the protest his body was giving him. He was tired, yes, but his mind was more than fed-up with all the mind-loop, the constant question and stirring regret.
The engine of his machinery beast roared viciously as the whole bike bounced off a particularly sandy slope, its wheels clinging to the supposedly slippery surface like glue and shrieking with the grating noise of grounded sand.
The bike slid to a stop at a turning corner of the canyon, its headlight cutting a path through the shadow of the dessert, shining brightly off the stone surface of something that could have been a stellar gate had it not been in the middle of a dessert.
Yugi smiled triumphantly. It was his destination.
In front of the stone gate stood two figures, one was male, the other female.
Yugi was about to smile at the Ishtar siblings but stopped when his eyes caught sight of familiar objects on them. Malik was holding a golden rod in his hand and a golden tauk glittered on Ishizu's forhead.
In unison they spoke, and a sudden dread rose up from the pit of Yugi's stomach.
"We've been expecting you."
"So…are you going to tell me what's been going on?" Yugi put the chocolate mug, now empty of its content on the table, his eyes almost pasted on the glittering items in front of him, all seven of them. The warm liquid chocolate inside his belly had warmed him considerably and unintentionally gave him the strength needed.
Across the table, looking at him were Ishizu Ishtar and her brother. A third figure lingered in the unlit shadow of the room, but his turban and robe were already enough to identify the man, or rather… ghost.
Yugi traced his finger lazily on the handle of the mug, patiently waiting for the forth coming answer, feeling way too weary and too warm in his seat to press on.
"The one who bears the pharaoh's heart."
Yugi looked up at this, a hint of perplex on his face.
"What are you talking about? He's no longer with me."
"Just because you do not see him doesn't mean you do not bear him. You do, as a matter of fact. Half of it…but not quite"
"I thought you were dead. You know, when he went to the underworld, released from duties…"
"My duty here is not yet finished…." Shadi prodded at the Millenium Items with one of his fingers.
" …and neither are they."
"They don't work any more."
"Doesn't matter. They are keys still, and their power doesn't just stop at shadow magic"
"What's going on?"
There was no forth coming answer this time, but Shadi was eying him with strange glint in his eyes, as if he was waiting for something.
"All right…" Yugi said slowly, feeling the ache settled into his muscle.
"Are you going to say something? You obviously want something but if you're not saying, I can't give."
"Mutou Yugi, you've changed."
Yugi gave a dry laugh at this. Too many people, too many accusing fingers….too much…
"It is true then. I've never really believed it but…for one can not truly live without the other, and one can not truly die without the other either."
"Wha…?" The archeologist blinked at this. He couldn't have been implying what Yugi was thinking…could he?
"Mutou Yugi, you want the truth?" The question was curt and sounded like lightning to Yugi. He nodded affirmative.
"Then…" Shadi lowered his upper body and he was staring straight into Yugi's eyes. The brown and dilated irises glaring straight into his purple ones.
"Mutou Yugi. You bear half of the pharaoh's soul. You are half of his soul."
Yugi was still and silent. In the poorly lit room, he could have been mistaken for a statue, a very life-like statue, but one nonetheless.
"In all of the 7 Millenium Items, only one has one bearer that can truly activate its power and gain access to the soul inside, the Millennium Puzzle. The other 6 items have always been inherited and used by many people as long as they have the ability to as you have seen with the Millennium Rod. Have you ever asked yourself of this, Mutou Yugi?"
Yes. Yes, he had. Many times actually. But the petite archeologist didn't move, nor did he speak.
"In fact, the Millennium Puzzle wasn't even called a puzzle before the pharaoh…"
There was no question as to who 'the pharaoh' was.
"…it was simply called the Millennium Pyramid on its point of creation. However, under the order of the pharaoh, it was broken apart and made into the puzzle that would bear the pharaoh's soul…or rather, half of his soul. This was to ensure that no matter what happens, only one person can truly call upon the full power of the puzzle, the other half of his soul…You"
The…king with a maze for a heart, whose heart was lost even to himself. Didn't Yugi know? He'd always suspected but never dared to come to a conclusion. Everything was just so perfectly aligned, like a puzzle. The one who discovered the puzzle was his grandfather whose resemblance was strikingly similar to the pharaoh's vizier Shimon, not to mention their both possessing the Exodia set, Shimon's own ka, and the one who solved the puzzle, him, also bore a resemblance to the soul inside. Was that why Yugi had always felt so right with him, so protected,…so…whole?
But that made no sense what so ever.
"That's madness." Yugi said, reflecting his thoughts inside.
"Why would he do that?"
Shadi was silent, and so were the Ishtars.
"Say…if…IF …I believed you…which I don't…not yet…"
"…Then tell me…for someone who paid with his own soul to imprison evil, who knowingly did so, would do something so stupid? Half a soul sealed, and the other half free…would ensure that someday the puzzle will be solved, freeing up his soul in the process, and thus…thus… releasing the seal of Zorc…at the very least partly."
Yami Bakura was awoken from his prison, the Millennium Ring, approximately the same time as the pharaoh.
"Surely he must know that by doing that, he opened up a chance for Zorc to be set free." Atem was a strategist. He wasn't someone that would make such a move without properly thinking them through. It would have been so much simpler if one of the Millennium Items was destroyed, thus sealing Zorc forever.
"Yes. I believe he did know the…possible…consequence of his action."
Only silence met his question. Yugi looked imploringly at the Egyptian ghost, who was wearing an almost defeated look on his face. If Yugi didn't know better he would have said that he had struck some sore sport there, did he now? Strangely enough, even the elder Ishtar was sporting a similar look.
"Yugi-kun…" It was Ishizu that spoke out, a hint of sadness and surprisingly desperation on her face. She had switch from Arabian to Japanese as if to calm Yugi.
"I…we…" She stumbled with indecision, throwing a glance at Shadi before continuing on. " That is the question whose answer we also want to know."
"That is…no body ever know what is it that the pharaoh was aiming for."
"My …my ancestor, Isis…no. Before Zorc, before everything had started, the pharaoh was…restless. He was always…so aggravated …somehow…months, years before anything happened. It seemed like he was waiting for something…constantly seeking… looking…for something. He was holding ceremonies, rituals, sacrifices even…without the priest's assistance…and…there was a rumor…a rumor that he had wanted to commission the Millennium Pyramid into the puzzle it is today even before Zorc."
She stopped to consider for a moment.
"We, the priests, we were …confused, worried. The pharaoh's rule was…tentative at that point in time. He was still very young. The country was under threat from its neighbors, Hittite and Mitanni. The nobles and court officials were distrustful. He could have been dethroned any time…if he weren't such a good king, such a ruthless king. The six priests, the six Millennium bearers, were under oath to protect him and his throne when we took our Items. But even us at that time didn't completely trust his ability as a king. He was young…so young…and, it all seemed a game to him at times, not real people but pieces on a board"
The last part of the sentence was a mere murmur as if Ishizu was not talking to Yugi but herself. The petite archeologist heard it anyway in the small room.
"We tried to console him…to ask him what he was trying to do…to trust us…."
And she turned silent all of a sudden, as if afraid…or ashamed.
"He…It was his heart's desire, he said. The only thing he ever wanted in his life. We couldn't do anything but wait and hope. But even now…even now…"
'So that was it?' Yugi thought in his head. 'Shame. It must be such a strike for the king's most trusted to not know what it was that their king wanted, till this time 3000 years after. No wonder it was Ishizu explaining and not Shadi. The old ghost wouldn't be able to bear it.'
"So…" said Yugi, feeling generous enough to lift the task of furthering their 5000 year old shame from the ghost and Ishizu. "…should I take it that I am, somehow, related to his, as you put it, heart's desire."
Shadi nodded in confirmation.
"How, exactly? He's a dead soul. He's already passed to the underworld."
"There is no such thing as underworld. Your mere presence and the other priest' incarnations are enough proof to this."
"Isn't that a heresy coming from you, Shadi? Egyptian priest and all."
"I am no a longer a priest, not for 3000 years now. I would be a fool to keep believing in gods that abide to human's summoning."
"I believe that the pharaoh had calculated this possibility. The Millennium Items, even though they no longer possess power of their own, they are still keys…"
"To what door?" asked Yugi.
"To chances, Yugi, a chance …to right all the wrongs, to rewrite everything."
The afore-mentioned archeologist was still for a full minute, his brain still unable to process what was being told to him. Was the old ghost telling him what he was thinking? Did he really or were that just Yugi and his overactive imagination?
"Yugi, we're not really sure what it's going to do but we know that whatever it is, it's going to undo everything, everything from the day that Zorc happened, every pain we've ever …."
She didn't get a chance to finish whatever it was that she wanted to say as Yugi already cut in, growing out from under his teeth.
"Are you fucking kidding me?"
Ishizu was stunned, probably at the idea of polite and gentle little Yugi cursing like that. Tough luck, lady. Yugi thought. That was history, and I'm not that.
"No, Yugi, we're not, as you put it, fucking kidding you." It was Shadi that answered him in his usual deadpanning face.
The archeologist would have laughed if he were in a different situation, but it was not, so he settled for silence, lowering his head down and shaking it slowly.
"What is it that you're afraid of Yugi?"
"You're telling me to forsake everything I own, my life, my friends, family, possibly destroying this entire world…to right your wrongs, something that you didn't even know was going to work or not. Tell me, why shouldn't I be afraid? It's my life."
The old ghost laughed mockingly.
"Life? What life Yugi? Is it the one that you threw away when you abandoned your friends, your grandfather for this land? When was the last time your friends contacted you, a month, two? Or maybe more…"
"I didn't… how did you…?" But he was too shocked to say anything else.
"…or is it the life that you didn't want when you went onto those suicide trips of yours? Venturing into the desert without even a water bottle, for days, nights. Did your grandfather know? Or did you hide it from him like you did to the rest of the world? Specialty digging trip you say? With your hands?"
"…and where were you…where were you…" Shadi paused for a single second, as if he was taking pity on Yugi before uttering his cruel words.
"…where were you when the last of your family left you? Hiding maybe? Was it a sunny day…or maybe a rainy day? I can't really remember. A lot of people died in 3000 years. No one is spared nor will they ever be… are they?"
And he stopped, letting the injury sink in. The archeologist was looking down at his clenched fists and in the dim light, he looked like a broken doll, pretty…but broken.
"What are you looking for Yugi? What are you seeking?"
The insatiable thirst, the longing, the crave, the pull, the yearning constantly gnawing at him…for something he had no idea of. Yugi was chasing after a shadow and on his long run, he forgot that he was only human after all.
"Shut the fuck up! You don't know anything…" It was a weak retaliation. It was no retaliation. It was defeat.
"That's sad for a life Yugi. That's pathetic." The ghost looked anything but sad.
"You need him just as much as he needs you. This you can not deny."
The archeologist was silent again but they all knew there would be no more protest. Shadi had won.
"…I need sometime…to think…"
"…you have all the time you need, Yugi, all the time in the world." Said Shadi, pulling the Millenium Puzzle up from the table. "When you're ready, just call for me."
Shadi was now lowering himself down again and looking at him straight in the eye.
"But now…now…my king"
Gently, he hung the cord of the puzzle around Yugi's neck and in a swift move brought his face to millimeters away from Yugi, staring straight at him in the eyes. For a single second, the archeologist thought he could have felt ticking warmth from the ghost. Then…
And Yugi did, gasping and hyperventilating. It was his room, dark and smelling strongly of his own cold sweat.
"Waa…was that a dream?" He hoped but doubted it.
Yugi fumbled for the light switch he knew was on the right side of his bed-side counter.
The light went up and once again Yugi found himself staring at the Millenium Item…only this time, there were seven of them, all gleaming mockingly at him.
Cairo night was cold and beautiful, in a way that he knew it could kill him anytime if he was careless. Yugi wondered the street aimlessly as he let his thoughts off on its own. He had been for 3 nights now since the day he woke up and found himself an armful too much duty.
Millions of thoughts ran in his head and after the fourth time he made a mistake when translating the newly delivered lore of Akukt he knew he had to stop lest he destroyed all the antiques that were sent to him.
Was it really so difficult now to make a choice?
He remembered there was a time when he would jump to save strangers at even the expense of his life. That was little Yugi, naïve, innocent, yet brave…stupidly so.
When had he become 'him'?
When was it? And why was it?
Was it the disillusion he found? Was it the hollowness that was left behind? Or was it a mix of everything?
Nothing lasted forever. Not even friendship. People liked to say forever because they hoped that if they said it enough, it would become true.
It took courage to hope again, and trust again once you'd been hurt too many times. Wounds healed and left behind were scars. It was only learned instinct to recoil from the pain of choosing once he was at a crossroad again.
Shadi must have known that it was futile to send an aimless savior to his mission when he somehow put Yugi back to his flat with whatever magic he commanded. He probably did the right thing too, for Yugi was not yet ready to make a jump…yet again.
And so, night after night, Yugi wondered the streets of Cairo, his head torn asunder and his heart lost. He saw many things on his walk, mundane things. There were times when he felt worn with nostalgia. These streets he had walked once, sometime ago, but not alone. De' javu reminded him of different images of the same street corner, the same bazaar market, yet all so different.
Shadi had said he had all the time he wanted yet Yugi knew he would have to come to a decision soon enough.
On one hand was a friend or maybe not so friend after all as Yugi only knew Yami, his mou hitori no boku, not Atem the pharaoh, and uncertainty as he didn't even know what he was supposed to do or if he even were the one wanted.
On the other hand was his life here, and a whole unsuspecting world. In retrospect, if he weren't the one forced to make a choice he would have laughed at the whole slapstick event.
It might seem like an easy choice to some but it certainly wasn't.
There was a lot left unsaid in his conversation with Shadi for the archeologist to mull over. But there was always a lot left unsaid about anything concerning shadow magic for that matter, it being magic and such always veiled behind mystery.
Yugi resolved to make up his mind but it all seemed futile, that was, until the seventh day. It was one particularly pot-mouth actor that found him in the cellar room of the museum on the afternoon.
"Ellooo!" Sa-ad yelled cheerfully as he catapulted from behind the door into the room, shocking Yugi in the process.
"Waa…how the hell did you get in here?" said a surprised Yugi, sitting cross-legged under a wooden table. The archeologist was leaning his back on a miniature mountain of books and old scrolls, a pen stuck over one of his ears and a notebook opened in his lap.
This part of the museum was not open to public view and more often than not, when a visitor ventured too far down, he'd have been politely ushered out by the guards. This section was allowed only to specialty staff, which till this day only consisted of Yugi and no one else.
"I bribed someone. He was convinced after a while." The actor crooned nonchalantly as if he was talking about the weather before he spun his eyes around the room.
"Woaaa…did somebody rob a bank? What's with all this gold?" He gestured wildly at the Millennium Items at various places in the room.
"Don't touch…they are dangerous"
"And what are you doing down there? Hiding from someone?" The actor squatted down on all four and poked at him with a finger. Yugi thought he would have used a stick if he had found one, if only to better irritate him.
"Did Khakunu let you off early again? Or did you get into a fight?" Said Khakunu was the director of the film Sa-ad was starring in and apparently in charge of keeping the actor in line as well which as it were wasn't so good so he let Sa-ad off once in while just to blow steam off.
"Oh, come now. I'm not that bad."
Yugi gave him a 'are you serious?" look.
"Can I just say that I missed you and came to see you….princess mine!"
A book flew sharply at his head. Luckily for the actor, he ducked in time, laughing mockingly at Yugi.
"Hey, it's true. You look nothing like an archeologist. People could have mistaken you for some punk rock band member…that is if you didn't look so runty. What sort of a man that is…" Sa-ad made a gesture as if he was holding a pea in his 2 fingers, his eyes squinting as if to take a better look at it.
"…5 feet 1', 5 feet 2'?…man if I didn't know better I'd have thought that all Asians are pipsqueak like you"
It was as the actor said, not necessarily the 'pipsqueak' part, but definitely the small and geeky archeologist part. Mutou Yugi, at 20 and a renowned archeologist, looked nothing like his age and status. In fact, he looked more like a 17 year old highschooler with a very outrageous hairdo and a rebellious attitude. His clothing mainly consisted of low-waist baggy cream jeans, long-sleeve or half-sleeve black shirt, or even a tight crop top once in a while, only served to cement this image. These topping with the leather buckled collar, now made slightly lighter and more comfortable to endure long digging trip, more than often put a masochist image in people's head, or at the very least 'kinky'. Yugi still wore leather sometime as one most likely would not like to be in leather all day long in the heat and sand of Egypt.
His eyes with their rare color, a deep and clear amethyst, and their shape, expressively large with a hint of an upward slant in the corner were the icing on the cake. Sa-ad couldn't under stand for his life how the archeologist was still able to stay single and blissfully oblivious when women were falling left and right for his elfish and other-worldly charm…not that he was ever going to enlighten Yugi on this fact.
"Sa-ad Amre Diar…" The archeologist intoned in a formal voice, then…"Fuck off!"
The actor merely laughed at this.
"Why now….someone is not happy today."
And he settled down into a cross-legged sitting position in front of the archeologist, smiling soothingly.
"So, what's been happening?"
"…nothing much, just a little extra reading…"
The actor raised an eye brow as he gestured to the room swarmed with so many books it was hard to see the wall.
"Little?" Then he picked up a nearby book and read its title 'First Aid 101: when you don't have even a ban-aid'. A handsome leather-bound next to it read 'From myth to reality: the new kingdom of ancient Egypt.'
"And straying as well I see." The actor put the book down to its brothers and sisters before zeroing his eyes on the archeologist. The look in them meant 'no escape'.
They used to have meetings every one or two days and the actor often crashed at Yugi's place. The last week wasn't the usual as Yugi was too lost in his world. He did not leave even a message. It was strange for such a thoughtful person.
"So…you planning to go somewhere?"
Instead of answering, the archeologist was staring at a pattern on the wall, mute. He kept doing that for 5 minutes and the actor's patience was running thin.
"Look! If you don't want to talk then say so. I'll just go. No big deal"
It was then that Yugi looked down at his tightly clenched fists, his nails leaving marks in the soft flesh.
They were close for such fast friends, but not that closed. But then again, what had Yugi to lose? Slowly, with a shuddering breath out, the archeologist spoke.
"Say that you screwed up your life a lot, and a lot of people had to pay for it. Say if you were given a chance to do everything again, no, to right all that wrong, would you take it?"
"What the heck?"
"Please!" The word was soft in tone but firm in message.
A visibly perplexed actor leaned back on his hands, his brows furrowed as he thought.
"That sounded like one of those cheesy lines from my sister's trash novel but to humor you." The actor paused and clicked at his tongue. "I would never even consider it. That's something that only happens in fairy tales. I mean, yeah, I did shit loads of wrong stuff but what the heck. If you don't fall and don't take the pain then when are you going to grow? I mean yeah, I'm shitty and all but the choices I made make me into the person I am today…even if they were wrong choices. I wouldn't trade anything for who I am, professor…Yugi."
That sounded like Sa-ad. Thought Yugi.
"…but what if the chance was not given but forced on you?"
"Then jus take it." He waved at Yugi's raised eye brow.
"Ey, I'm no hypocrite. Do I look like one of those ching-a-ling one hit wonder hotshot shitty rapper wannabe to you? I'll tell you something. I don't look like it now, but I wasn't raised in best neighborhood out there, professor. It's all bling bling for them, but with my neighbors, it's bling bang." He made a shooting gun gesture at his own head to emphasize.
"It wasn't all or nothing, get rich or die trying either. That's shitty B-rated Hollywood film material. In my neighborhood, when I'm given shit then I make the best out of them. There's no use for complaining, that doesn't solve the problem, does it? In the end of the day, no body is going to care enough to help you out if you keep on the whining brat attitude."
Yugi was silent for a while.
"…that was most unexpected."
"Eh, tell me something I don't know." Sa-ad laughed then looked down at his hands for a moment then back at Yugi.
"I like you… Don't let yourself get hut, whatever it is."
For the shy Sa-ad that literally meant 'I care a lot about you. I hope that helped and whatever happens just call me.'
Before Yugi could properly answer the actor was already standing and looking at his wrist.
"Woaa, look at the time. I better get back before that ass of a director blew my head off. See ya!"
And he was out of the door faster than Yugi could blink. Left facing with an empty room, the archeologist could do nothing but laugh out loud.
As his laughter ceased, the gold of the Millennium Items caught his eyes again. 'It's back to you and me now' It seemed to say. But Yugi was no longer daunted. The archeologist sat alone in the room, kept company only with his books for another hour, thinking wandering thoughts.
When the clock struck five, he stood up, dusted off the dust on his pants and spoke to the air.
"No more running grandpa. No more running."
Writing a resignation letter was easy even if he had never done one before. However, packing was the obstacle. Yugi was truly perplexed at how to prepare for a life in ancient Egypt. After some self debate and agonizing decisions, he opted to pack mostly as he did for his expeditions. A medium half-man size blue backpack was called to arm along with some of his clothing, two of his usual sets of low waist slacks, belt and shirts, his leather set and a fur-trimmed hood jacket for the cold night.
He figured his clothing weren't going to last but if he was going then at the very least he was going to enjoy it.
After that were medical supplies and his multi-tool and navigational kit. Luckily, he was well stocked from his last trip to visit an African tribe deep in the desert and his kit consisted of the most advanced, downsized and light-weighted tools Kaiba corp. could offer, given that its owner was an obsessive freak who wouldn't let his sworn rival got hurt by someone else other than him due to inadequate equipments. In retrospect, maybe Kaiba was just too shy to tell Yugi he considered him a friend and wanted to help out.
Yugi decided to take a long a few pocket size books, mainly on first-aid and herbal medicine.
By the time he finished it was already half past seven and the street lights outside were up. His stomach grumbled in irritation. 'Cooking or eat out' Debated Yugi in his head.
'Eat out' He decided after a minute, feeling like pampering himself for one last time.
The walk from his place to his favorite restaurant wasn't a particularly long one. The restaurant was the only place within 50 mile that served Japanese food. It wasn't very good and a lot of the dishes didn't really taste like his homeland food but he found his nostalgia soothed by its oriental atmosphere. A mixed taste of teriyaki, udon and several other dishes stayed on his tongue as he paid for his extravagant meal.
'Money! How am I going to get myself ancient Egyptian money?' Wondered Yugi as he looked at his own wallet. The archeologist had no idea what the future situation would be and from his experience after many expeditions he'd prefer to be as prepared as he could. The museum was out of the question as he'd have to pilfer from one of the exhibits. The money wouldn't be much where he was going but it would be a big blow on the museum now. It was too much trouble to be worth it.
Yugi walked the streets of a nearby noisy night bazaar, absentmindedly looking at the wares displayed as he thought of a solution. Several came to his mind: incense, essential oil, or spice. In the new kingdom of Egypt, the time of Atem's reign, these were among the luxury goods imported from foreign country and used only by the nobles and elites of their society. If he could bring some of that, it would be more than enough to ensure him a smooth beginning. Carefully, Yugi considered each option.
Incense was imported from some city in Greece in that time, so was essential oils, excluding aloe and a few rare local floras. He couldn't remember the exact date but knew that conflicts between Egypt and Greece had happened from time to time and wouldn't want to paint himself as the enemy to his future neighbors. That left spice. As far as he knew, Indian and Egypt never had much contact other than some sporadic trading that only happened between the richest of the rich in both country as they were too far apart, separated by several other warring countries and the Pacific ocean. Spice was at the time even as precious as gold, more even in some particular countries. It was added bonus that they were pretty compact, light-weighted and easily preserved. Some particular spices might even serve as secondary medicine if the situation warranted it.
His decision made for him, Yugi turned the corner and stopped at the resident spice bazaar. The shop was a pretty little thing, full to the brim with a thousand goods. Its mistress was an Indian lady named Tilo whom Yugi had known and befriended sometime before as both of them were stranded foreigners on this land of heat and sand. She was an immigrant from her homeland, a loner and a follower of a cult that was more than proficient in the use of spices but also prohibited her from ever wandering too far from her own shop. The spice mistress she was called by her many customers.
Tilo greeted him from behind a shelf full of basket of dried chilly. She was reorganizing her ware. The shop closed at 9 and it was 15 minutes till then. She spoke English with an accent and good grammar.
"How can I be of help today, Yugi?" Carrying a bottle of grounded brown powder, she walked back to her counter. Her lips were stretched into a smile and the look she gave him was a knowing look.
"Not for cooking. For a trip, in't it?"
At times like this, Yugi often wondered if there was magic other than shadow magic.
"Yep. A very long trip. I might need to use it for all sorts of things"
"Oh dear, it sounds like you'll need a whole pack, don't you?" Yugi only laughed and watched as Tilo bustled around the shop, picking up pieces and bottles. Silently he thought about who had tough the spice mistress her English. It was incredibly grandmother-like sometime. Must be an old lady.
Tilo put a square box onto the desk surface. It looked old and somewhat ornate and when she opened it, Yugi could see many small compartments inside.
"For travel" She explained "It kept out the moist, is not heavy and good for preserving spices." Then she began putting the spices into the compartment, allspice, oregano and garlic, thyme and tarragon, capsicum and pepper, and many more types that Yugi could not name, one type for each compartment.
'Waa…this is going to leave a dent on my wallet' thought Yugi as he considered the quickly filling box. '…not that I'll have any use for it after this. I guess I'll count this as future investment then.'
It took Tilo nearly 30 minutes to collect and organize all the spices in small amount into the box. She totaled up the cost to a more than decent size number. As Yugi had predicted, he had nearly emptied his wallet for the all the spices and the box itself.
As he was about to leave, Tilo put a small book in his hands. It was brown and covered with what looked like goat skin and obviously well-cared for. The book did not have a title.
"It's a farewell gift" said the spice mistress. "It's a guide on how to care for spices. All that spices you bought. I think you're going to need it." Then she smiled "Good luck, wherever it is you're going"
Yugi left after he gave her a heart-warming thank you. He kept on wandering the streets in a slow pace, feeling that haste was unneeded.
The night of Cairo was beautiful. Now that he knew that it was the last time he was ever going to able to see it, it had become breathtaking. This city that had both taken from him and given him so much.
When Yugi finally got back at his place, it was well past eleven. The archeologist didn't waste time as stuff the box into his backpack and sped to the bathroom.
He took a long warm bath, taking his leisure time and only stepping out of the room when he was squeaky clean and smelling sharply of sandalwood. He dried his hair with a towel and began to dress, slowly and almost dreamily. He put on his boxer and jeans, then fastened a belt on. A comfy loose black shirt was slipped on over his head. Walking boots were chosen as they were more durable against the harsh condition of the desert. A jacket for the cold nights and hood against sunstroke.
Yugi walked out of his bedroom and slung on the backpack he had prepared, pausing for a moment before swiping his customized duty belt from his work table. It had been a gift from his grandfather when he first began his career as a 'professional tomb digger', the term coined by the old man himself. Yugi couldn't bear to leave it behind. It was only going to help him anyway.
The cellar room, despite its name, was well lit and smelling lightly of floor cleanser, the type that was often found in a hospital. It was deadly quiet, and with its new residents, the seven gold ancient items, almost spooky.
Every step Yugi took as he walked to the center of the room felt like it was complimented with a beat of his heart.
'I'm really doing this' It felt unreal to the petite archeologist.
Then he was standing at the center. The eyes on the Millennium Items were staring at him. With a breath, he drew out.
Almost immediately, the room was succumbed into semi darkness.
"Yes, my king." The ghost was standing right in front of him, a bit too close for the archeologist's liking but Yugi stayed silent.
"I see you've prepared yourself. May I then?" In sync with his question, all of the Millennium Items glowed in the dark.
'Doesn't work my ass! Shouldn't have been fooled by their appearance but oh hell, I've come to this already.'
Without warning, everything suddenly faded, Shadi faded, and the Millennium Items faded, and even their eyes faded and the room was no more. Yugi was left alone with darkness but it was not uncomfortable. It felt more like a lulling comfort, like a very big and soft pillow. A thought floated into his mind.
'At least this feels good.'
He did not know how long he stayed in that darkness until a voice pierced it.
"What the fuck? What's going on here? YUGI!!"
The voice screamed but Yugi was too far gone to notice as a burning pain suddenly stabbed into him. It felt like hot coal was rubbed into his inside. God, he was being torn into two. It was unbearable.
"YUGI!!" The voice kept calling and Yugi screamed in return, choking on his own blood.
'Stop! Stop!' He wanted to say but the sound that came out of his mouth were terrified shrieks.
The shadow exploded and the pain stopped, just as sudden as they came. He felt light pushing through his eye lids and his exhausted body crashing down and a different voice.
"It is you!"
Then he was lost to the world and lost to the pair of red ruby eyes watching him in awe and amazement.
Critics are welcomed. Flames are…well…flamed.