If you haven't read my profile, the reason for the late update is that I now lack a laptop. I used to sit in front of my tv and write chapters as I played the game, but that became impossible when my laptop died. Seeing as how it'll be maybe three years before I can afford a new one, I decided to write them out by hand and then type them up on my mom's. desktop later. All in one night. My hand aches like the devil now. Enjoy.

Hour IX: The Piercing of the Soul

Bakura didn't jump out of bed and rush to the phone this time. Instead he sat in bed and listened to it ring. After nine tolls, he finally dragged himself to his feet and stumbled into the living room. There he stood, staring at the phone through three more rings, before he finally answered it just to shut it up. "Hello?"

No screaming this time, but static was thick on the line. He held the receiver to his ear for a minute longer, hoping that someone was on the other end, but all he heard through the static was a low, indistinguishable mutter. With a sigh, he set the receiver down.

The phone immediately rang again. Bakura jumped out of his skin and snatched the receiver from its cradle. "What?" he snapped.

"Bakura-kun?" It was Yugi, his voice confused even through the smattering of static that stayed on the line.

Bakura took a deep breath and ran a shaking hand through his hair. It came away sticky with sweat. "Yugi. I'm sorry. I'm just…"

"On edge," the other boy finished for him. If he noticed that Bakura had rudely left the honorific off his name, he didn't mention it. "I know. I'm sorry if I startled you. How bad are the dreams now?"

"They're…" The little resentful voice that had popped up yesterday suddenly blossomed into a white ball of anger that settled in his chest. "They're none of your business."

"Bakura-kun? Are you feeling okay?"

Bakura closed his eyes and dropped into the nearest chair. What am I doing? What am I saying? "I'm not well," he told Yugi. "I'm sorry, Yugi-kun. Everything must be getting to me. I feel…not right."

"All the more reason to figure out how to stop this," Yugi said. "Did you get any more clues from the dreams?"

So Bakura told him about all that had happened the previous night.

"The carpenter's were all sacrificed," Yugi said. "No wonder they ran from you so much. They were all killed to seal the priestess."

"A seal that I broke, not that it did much good," Bakura said.

"So maybe you can get to her now. The priestess, I mean. Maybe we should go to the library and—"

"No!" The flash of irritation was too sharp to ignore. "No more research. I'm past that. Whatever happens now, I deal with it alone."

"Bakura-kun, you can't handle this alone. I can come over around noon—"

"I do not need your help, Pharaoh!"

The silence that followed ran in his ears. Only a woman's voice broke it, cutting through the static. "Let me out! Let me out! Let me out!"

"The pharaoh's gone, Bakura-kun," Yugi said, almost too soft to hear. He seemed not to hear the screaming woman. He only sounded hurt.

Bakura closed his eyes against the pain in his friend's voice. Oh, how could I? Why did I say that to him? Six months later, Yugi still avoided the subject of Atem. The loss was still too fresh, too raw.

"Let me out. Let me out! Please, let me out!"

He couldn't think. His emotions were whirling in a confused jumble, and the crying woman's voice stretched his nerves taut. "I-I'm sorry," he said, and he slammed the phone down.

This time, it stayed silent.

He called in sick to work, and it didn't really feel like a lie. He kept thinking back to his conversation with Yugi as the day wore on, and each time he did his confusion grew until his stomach roiled with nausea.

Why did he feel so angry at Yugi? The other boy had done nothing but help him.

He hurt me worse than he can ever comprehend.

Which was such a ridiculous thought. Yugi was his closest friend.

He's my greatest enemy.

He had been Zorc's greatest enemy. For that matter, it wasn't even Yugi, but the pharaoh who had stood strongest against Zorc for millennia. Zorc was no longer in him, and Yugi and the pharaoh were not the same person.

Pharaoh's reincarnation. Pharaoh's vessel. Pharaoh's lighter half. All my enemy.

For the life of him, he couldn't think of a reason why he felt that way.

Bakura was so wrapped up in his inner turmoil that he forgot about the dreams until he fell asleep, long past midnight.



The sound of hammer striking stake.

A pig-tailed shrine maiden, crouching in a corner.

An altar lit with candles, round mirror standing in the middle.

Bakura was standing when he came to his senses, just inside the doors that he had finally unsealed last night. The air pressed on him in a thick miasma, drowning all colors into stark white and deep black, with barely any shades of gray. The weight of it settled on his chest until he could hardly breathe, and the feel of it prickled the back of his neck and raised goosebumps on his arms and legs. The Camera Obscura hummed along with the menace in the air, and Bakura shuddered.

This power…this is what the priestess really is. This is why they sealed her away, and I broke that seal. What have I done?

But he couldn't go back and reseal it. His only choice was to go forward and find the last secrets of the mansion. Maybe he could find some way to put the priestess to rest. Maybe I can find Amane. My Amane.

So he started forward, footsteps dragging through the soupy air as he crossed the courtyard to the temple. He kept his eyes wide open, but if any ghosts were present, he couldn't see them through the miasma. He wasn't sure that he would be able to sense them, either.

Three steps led up to the wooden double doors, which turned out to be locked. Bakura frowned at the distinct sense of déjà vu, and then he remembered how the dream had ended the previous night. Turning, he strained his eyes toward the tall building to his left.

Someone might have stood in front of it, but with the lack of color it was hard to tell. Bakura jumped down the temple steps anyway, one hand on the camera as he walked to the other building.

He hesitated when the figure shifted, but then he saw the black lines of pig-tailed braids against a white shirt. Amane. He tried to call to her, but the miasma choked off his words. It was all he could do to breathe. The effort it took to walk made him light-headed and dizzy.

The shrine maiden stepped through the doors as he approached. Bakura heaved himself up the six steps and pushed against the latch, stumbling into the room beyond.

He had expected a reprieve from the miasma, but it was just as thick within the room as outside. The bright white beam of his flashlight revealed stone walls and a dirt floor, with nothing in the room except a rickety wooden staircase in the center. Bakura moved over to peer up at the next landing, and he nearly jumped back when he saw Amane staring back down at him. She vanished as he gathered his wits, but the sound of sobbing reached his ears from above.

Bakura clung to the rail as he ascended. He had to stop halfway up to catch his breath, and again when he got to the second floor. He looked around as he struggled for air; the staircase continued up to a third level, and bookshelves lined the walls of the narrow room. The crying still came from farther up.

Unwilling to try the stairs again for a few minutes, Bakura circled the room and inspected the books. Most were too old and damaged to read, but a few had help up well enough that he dared to open them and pick out a few passages.

…The door to the other shore must be opened with the mirror which can reflect the priestess' pain. The Mirror of Loss which reflects this pain shall be placed in the Shrine of Loss. She must break it with her own hands and cast her love away…

Use the purifying light to light the darkness. The blue flame glimmers faintly in the darkness, and purifies the miasma…

Those who would offer their pain to the priestess must allow the red and indigo ink of living and dead blood to mix together to become the ink of the soul, which is then used to tattoo their pain into the priestess…

The tattooed priestess who cannot enter the sleep of no regrets must be stripped of her tattoos and sent to the other shore…

…The tattooed priestess who will not sleep, who cannot endure the pain, will be enshrouded in misery and cast into the Rift—

Bakura slammed the book shut and dropped it. His heartbeat had returned to something resembling normal, though his lungs still ached for air. He decided to risk killing himself going up the stairs rather than stay here with these horrid books. He could hardly ignore the crying for much longer, either.

The third floor looked to be a storeroom. Shelves holding an assortment of objects lined one wall, while in front of him were a dresser and a screen. The sobbing sounds came from behind the screen.

Bakura moved around it to find Amane the shrine maiden, curled up in the corner and rocking back and forth, her face in her hands. He crouched beside her and held out a hand, but stopped just short of touching her. "What's wrong?" he asked.

The girl hiccupped and looked around at him, her face shining with tears. "Save the two," she begged, and then she disappeared.

Bakura fell back as something clattered to the floor where she had sat. Nothing else happened, so he reached out and took the objects. The first was a book—a diary, it seemed. The second was a pale candle with a design on the side that he couldn't make out. He had no matches, but the candle sprang to life at his touch, glowing with a soft blue flame. Its light drove back the monochrome colors and heavy air of the miasma, and Bakura nearly doubled over with relief as the pressure vanished from his chest. He took a moment just to enjoy breathing, and then he sat back and opened the diary.

My mother told me that I have an older brother. His name is Kaname, and he lives in a house on the outside. In the Kuze house, they throw away boys, so he was sent outside. She told me many times that this was a secret.

My brother has the same earring as my mother. They're beautiful earrings that she got from Father. Mother gave it to him so that no matter where he is, he can hear her voice. I wonder if he can hear my voice too. I want to see him.

Reika was made into a priestess. I help take care of the priestess. She tells me about the outside. She says when she talks the pain isn't as bad. I'm glad that I can be of some help.

The priestess has an earring just like Mother's. She says it was a present from a good friend, so that she can hear his voice no matter where she is. I think that friend is Kaname. The priestesss talks about him a lot.

Kaname snuck in with the people who came to ease their pains. He said he wants to see the priestess, just once. It is against the code, but as she is going to perform the Rite of Commandment soon, she won't be able to leave again. I want to help them meet, just once.

Kaname went into the shrine. To the priestess' place. Men cannot go into the shrine. I'm sure the mistress will be upset.

My brother hasn't come back. I'm almost out of purification candles.

He hasn't come back. I'm sure the head of the family is angry that a man entered the shrine. I know he won't be forgiven.

He hasn't come back. He hasn't come back. I wanted to talk with him more. I wanted to stay with him forever. With Kaname and with Reika. Everybody together.

Bakura put down the diary and squeezed his eyes shut. Everybody together. I want to talk to my sister, to my mother. Just once. It was small wonder that Amane was helping him. She knew his pain. Perhaps she even mistook him for her older brother. It was certainly strange coincidence that she shared his sister's name.

Reika—the tattooed priestess. Kaname, who went into a forbidden place to see her and never came back. Something horrible happened to them. Something that put the tattoos in the priestess' eyes. Something that he now had to figure out. Bakura stood, blinking away his tears and picking up the candle. On the far end of the room was a half-open door, and he went to it. Just outside was a wooden platform in the roof, slick with crusted snow. Five feet from the edge was a level section of tiles in the temple's roof.

Bakura's mouth went dry. The doors to the temple are locked, and I have to get in somehow. I can't stop here. The gap is not that wide; I'm sure I can make it.

The mental reassurance did nothing to slow his thundering heart. With a gulp, Bakura took a few measured strides to the edge of the roof and looked down. The ground was much farther away than he had thought, and he backed away quickly, closing his eyes against a wave of vertigo.

You idiot. You can't do this with your eyes closed. And you've jumped much greater gaps over much higher falls.

The voice came from the same place that his inexplicable anger at Yugi did. Bakura didn't bother to question it this time. He simply took that annoyance and the confidence that came with it and ran.

He leaped the gap with such ease that he almost collided with the upward slant of the roof on the other side. The tiles here were coated with more ice than the wood, and he went to one knee as his foot slipped out from under him. A spike of fear shot through his chest as he slid back toward the roof's edge, but his foot found purchase after just a couple of inches. He climbed shakily to his feet and started the walk around the temple's roof, praying that no ghosts would attack him.

None did. He made it to the far side of the temple with nothing more than a few scrapes from slipping on the tiles. There he found another wooden platform and a door, and he gratefully slipped inside.

The top room of the temple was bare except for a few empty boxes and a stair leading into the rafters below. Bakura looked at the thick beams with a shudder, remembering his last expedition onto rafters, but the ladder to the first floor was on the other side of the room. He had no choice but to cross them. He tried not to look down, but he caught glimpses of the room anyway as he inched his way along the beams. It was large, taking up the entire structure of the temple. In the middle of the floor was an altar, and behind it was an area partitioned off with netting. The partition surrounded a stone slab, dark with stains. Two more stone slabs sat on either side of the room, each one bearing body-shaped bundles stabbed through with thick needles. Bakura was busy trying to look at the beam in front of him instead of those bundles when a voice below him made him freeze.

"Prepare the priestess for the Rite of Commandment. She must be impaled soon."

Slowly, he sank to his knees and put the candle down so he could grip the beam. It continued to burn, keeping the miasma at bay as he shined his flashlight into the partitioned area below him.

A pale woman clothed in white and blue lay on the slab, unmoving. Two other women hovered over her, their needle-pierced hands outstretched. Bakura jerked back and nearly lost his balance. Splinters dug into his palm, and the camera swung away from his neck, hitting the purifying candle. He nearly fell again as he caught it before it rolled over the edge. He knelt on the beam for several seconds to allow his heart and breathing to slow, and then he risked a peek at the floor below.

None of the ghosts had moved. They seemed oblivious to all the noise he had made. Bakura breathed a sigh of relief and stood to continue the journey.

He made it to a platform that lined on one wall, and there he found another purifying candle lying in a corner. That brought another wave of relief, for his first had burned to barely more than a nub. He pocketed the new candle and walked over to the ladder at the far end of the platform, hugging the wall all the while. Halfway down, the voice spoke again.

"Let the priestess never awaken from her dreams for all eternity."

It sounded like the same woman who had accused Amane of breaking a commandment and later attacked him with a multitude of arms. The mistress? The head of the family? Bakura swept the room with his flashlight beam but saw no ghosts. Even those within the partition had disappeared. With nothing else to do, he jumped down the last few feet to the ground and walked over to the altar. A small wooden shrine stood in the middle, surrounded by the bowls and candles of various Buddhist rituals. In front of the shrine stood a round pedestal, and in front of the altar itself was a book resting on a pillow. Bakura picked it up and sneezed at the dust that flew as he opened it.

The Piercing of the Soul

If the feelings of loss for those who crossed to the other side begin to spill into dreams, they shall bring great trouble into this world. Those feelings of loss must be etched into the priestess as tattoos in the Piercing of the Soul.

The tattooed priestess who had been engraved with the pain shall then bear that pain into her sleep and calm the troubles of this world.

Bakura closed the book. "It's like the legends that Yugi found," he said, ignoring the part of him that snapped that the pharaoh couldn't possibly help you. The pharaoh can't do anything right. "She took everyone's pain and carved them on herself, but now she's turning it all back on us." He looked at the altar again, and then frowned and stepped closer when he noticed writing on the round pedestal.

Offer up the mirror with the holly of the priestess.

"Mirror?" Bakura straightened, remembering a passage from one of the books in the storeroom. The mirror that she engraves with her own pain and then breaks. Does it mean that? But how can I offer it if its broken? How do I even find it? He turned away, and two needle-pierced women descended on him.

He didn't even have time to scream. Bakura just dropped his flashlight and brought his camera up, pressing the shutter before he even bothered to aim and somehow catching them both in the blast. They fell back with identical shrieks and vanished.

They weren't defeated, however; Bakura could still feel the prickle on his neck, and the camera vibrated in his grip. The purifying candle chose that moment to burn out, and he fumbled to get the next one out of his pocket before the miasma closed in.

Its blue flame sprang to life just as he heard a growl, and he spun to snap a photo of one of the women just as she charged at him, and she fell back with a moan. As he lowered the camera, however, two thorny hands wrapped around his head from behind and tore into his face.

Bakura twisted away with a scream, clutching his eyes. They didn't seem to be bleeding, but when he opened them, the room was in darkness. A growl from the side alerted him, and he swung the camera wildly in that direction, pressing the shutter throughout the arc. He heard something squeal, but something else hit him full force, sending a wave of numbing cold through his body.

I can't fight like this.

Oh, yes I can. I've faced worse.

The part of his consciousness that had tormented him all day now seemed like a lifeline, and he latched onto it and all the anger and recklessness that came with it. A pitiful moan sounded behind him, and he ducked and whirled, pointing the camera up at his attacker. His vision was returning, and he was able to see the needle woman standing there, arms held out in a prickly embrace that he had barely managed to avoid. He blew her away with two well-timed snaps of the camera.

One down.

The second woman rushed at him with a snarl, and he twisted but didn't quite make it out of her way. Her arm grazed his side, and he managed to snap a picture of her back. He also managed to keep his balance through the ensuing wave of dizziness. He turned slowly, scanning the room as it came back into focus until he spotted the ghost. She stood in a corner, head cocked as though she were listening for something. Bakura took a step forward and raised the camera, but she vanished.

He took two more steps forward and whirled as she reappeared, once again trying to blind him from behind. One good shot sent her wailing to the floor, where she slumped forward and dissipated.

Bakura walked over to his flashlight and picked it up. A moment's exploration revealed nothing more of interest in the temple. The door into the partitioned area wouldn't budge, so he gave up and went to the temple doors, unlocking them and stepping outside.

He had barely made his way down the steps when the dream ended and he woke up to the pain of spreading tattoos and the ceaseless drum of rain.