[insert disclaimer here: The only thing I own is a collection of Yugioh: Millennium World manga. And I wrote this story after reading an interesting line on page 8 of Volume 6. Canon will never be the same...]
Priest Mahaado was gone, but he would never know rest. He was neither dead, nor alive. He simply was.
His physical body was laid to rest where it had fallen. In accordance with his last order, the former pharaoh's tomb would remain forever sealed. His flesh and bones would be left there to rot, a frightful deterrent for thieves, like Bakura, who dare to trespass on holy ground. His soul, however, was sealed in a stone tablet. What was left of his spirit was cursed to forever roam the darkness as a shadow beast. He had attained immortality, but become an eternal prisoner.
And yet, he was content.
No sorcerer had ever accomplished even a fraction of what Mahaado had done. He was blessed, if not cursed, with an incredible gift – heka that could manipulate the soul in ways other sorcerers could hardly fathom. He held power over shadow creatures. He held power over his own ka. To some extent, he even held power over life and death.
Over the years, he taught many students, but he only took one apprentice. And now, it would be up to Mana to carry on in his stead.
Fortunately for Mana, there was much about her master's legacy she would never have to bear. His greatest secrets, his most powerful spells, the most painful truths, went with him to his grave.
To be called to serve as a high priest in the pharaoh's sacred court was a great honor. The responsibilities are many, and the cost of failure is high. The cost of success was even higher.
With the millennium ring came great tests and even greater battles. The darkness that dwelled within the ring was so thick, so overwhelming. His days were spent in magical trances, fighting tirelessly against a force that threatened to suffocate him. His nights were spent immersed in the anguished cries of all the souls who had fought the same battle and lost. The never-ending war was a tremendous drain on his heka, but he endured. By the time a seal had been successfully forged, years had passed, and Mahaado had uncovered the darkest secrets of the millennium items.
The next decision was not an easy one to make, but he knew there was no other choice. To hide the truth would be to risk the safety of the kingdom, and the world.
So Mahaado sought audience with the great pharaoh and told him all that he knew – how the royal army, led by high priest Akhenaden, had slaughtered a thousand villagers as sacrifices, how his predecessors created the seven millennium items through shadow alchemy, the details of the contract they forged with the dark God, and the terrible prophecy that would one day come to pass. The shock, the despair in the pharaoh's eyes was palpable. The darkness of the millennium ring paled in comparison to it.
The pharaoh's heart grew heavy, and with it, his body grew sick. Many healers visited him, but nothing changed. Eventually, he summoned Mahaado back to his quarters.
"You wished to see me, my lord?" Mahaado bowed, and the pharaoh dismissed his guards. He motioned his priest to come closer.
"Mahaado, when I took the throne, I swore to always protect my people. How blind I was, that the greatest threat was under our noses the entire time. The very force that protects our kingdom from danger is the very force that will one day tear it apart…"
"Great pharaoh, it is not your fault. You did not know."
"I should have known." He replied softly. "The ritual carried out by my brother was done on my command. The lives of thousands were ended on my command. Their blood will forever be a stain on my hands, as well as the hands of my son. In my ignorance, I have placed his life in grave danger."
The pharaoh closed his eyes. A tear rolled down his cheek.
"I must protect him from what I have unknowingly unleashed. And that is why I have summoned for you. Even though you rarely tap into your true abilities, Mahaado, I know you are still a spirit sorcerer of the highest caliber." He added. "You have served me faithfully since you joined my court. You have become a trusted confidant and a dear friend. I need to know that, no matter what the order, you will carry out your duty without question and without hesitation. Can I trust you to do that?"
"Of course, my king."
The pharaoh sat up slowly.
"Good." He sighed. "Because you are the only one in the kingdom capable of doing what must be done. You told me of a stone in the village of Kul Elna, the birthplace of the millennium items. According to prophecy, when the items are returned to that stone, the contract with the evil God will be complete. Do you know of anything that can stop that dark rebirth?"
"No, my king. The prophecies were quite clear." Mahaado replied softly. "I am afraid there is nothing that can stop it."
"Then it is necessary to combat the dark one in a different way." The pharaoh began. "Mahaado, I wish to seal a spirit into that stone. It must revive only when the dark one revives, and its task will be to protect the reigning pharaoh. My son, his son, his son's son… none of them must suffer for what I have done."
Mahaado bowed his head in thought. The answer to the pharaoh's wish was not an easy one. The millennium items possessed powers that could seal souls within stone. But they were crude, and the process itself was flawed. The captured spirits existed for the sole purpose of lending their strength to the strongest wizard, the mightiest warrior. And in the future, there would be no guarantee that such a role would fall upon the pharaoh.
"To use the millennium items for that purpose would be a grave mistake, my lord." Mahaado eventually replied.
"But is such a task within your own power? The abilities of the millennium ring aside," the pharaoh repeated. "Can you perform such a spell?"
This answer was even more difficult, for far more devastating reasons. A few minutes of uneasy silence passed before Mahaado could summon his own words.
"Yes, my king. I can. But the casting cost of such a spell is too high."
"And what is that casting cost?" the pharaoh asked.
Mahaado looked up, meeting the pharaoh eye to eye. For a moment, they were both lost in each other's desperation. Eventually, the uneasy silence was broken.
"Your soul." He whispered. "The cost of such a ritual spell would be your life."
"Then my priest, my friend, I regret that I must ask you to do something very difficult indeed." The pharaoh put a hand on Mahaado's shoulder. "You must do whatever is necessary to save the future from certain destruction, even at the expense of my life."
Mahaado felt his knees buckle as he sunk onto the floor. He had taken an oath to serve and protect the pharaoh. Now, he was being asked to commit the ultimate act of treason, to kill the very god incarnate whom he swore to protect with his life. He took a deep breath, and tried to compose himself as best he could.
"I… I understand, my king." His voice trembled. "I gave you my word… I will carry out my duty without question and without hesitation. And when the task has been completed, in accordance with the laws of the gods themselves, I will faithfully carry out my own execution."
"No…" the pharaoh interrupted sternly. "These are dark times. My son will no doubt need you in his sacred court. This order must be carried out in secrecy. No one must ever learn of the truth."
"Mahaado, I have turned away the best healers in the kingdom. Even my most trusted vizier fears that my death will soon come. They will not be suspicious. Prepare yourself and your spells, and return to me in three moons' time. I will request that you, and you alone, keep vigil."
The pharaoh lay down once more, his strength starting to wane.
"So let it be spoken, my priest, so let it be done."
"… As you command." Mahaado bowed, and took his leave.
On the third night, just as he had promised, he returned to carry out the unthinkable. Deep within the funerary scrolls, he had hidden a scroll of his own making. Within his waist pouch, he had hidden a powerful poison, also of his own design.
His heart ached, but he thought only of his duty. His demeanor was cold, his mind firm and unwavering. And for his magic to succeed, that was as it had to be. Were his concentration to break, were his resolve to falter for even a moment, his spell would fail. The pharaoh's death would be in vain. The future would cease to exist.
There was no turning back.
He poured the powder into the pharaoh's cup, mixing it with date wine to lessen the bitter taste. Clenching his fist over a ritual blade, he slit his palm, letting several drops of his own blood fall into the toxic potion.
"Be mindful of your intent, great pharaoh. From this moment on, let it never leave your mind."
The pharaoh nodded, and took the cup. He swallowed the poison in a single gulp, and then lay back on his bed. Mahaado began his spells.
The seal was completed a matter of hours. The pharaoh was dead.
Mahaado remained true to his word. He never spoke of his crime, not to the young prince, not to the other priests, not even to his own apprentice. No one would ever know the truth.
But silence could not erase the sin from his soul, or ease the heaviness in his heart. The guilt he felt, the burden he was forced to carry, was immeasurable. And when the pharaoh's tomb was breached, his resting place disturbed, Mahaado found he could bear it no longer. The pharaoh's death was already on his hands. Now, a second death was on his hands as well. As captain of the royal tomb guard, he took full responsibility for the crime, sparing all of the soldiers under his command, and he pleaded with the prince to make his punishment swift. The law in this matter was clear, but the young prince showed mercy. To Mahaado's surprise, he swallowed the insult that was done to his father, and spared his life.
"Don't be blinded by your guilt." The prince had told him. "Think only of fulfilling your duty."
And fulfill it he did, just as he did before.
The man that robbed the pharaoh's tomb was a powerful threat. In battle, Bakura had stood against the combined efforts of the priests and the pharaoh, and still escaped with his life. Anyone foolish enough to encounter him alone would be writing his own death sentence.
But Mahaado engaged him in combat anyway, luring him into the former pharaoh's tomb and laying in wait. His demeanor was once again cold, his mind firm and unwavering. And that was as it had to be. Whether he lived or died was irrelevant. He was confident that, through his magic, he could turn the tide of battle. It may not be now. It may not be tomorrow. It may not be for three thousand years, but it would happen. The spirit he sealed for the pharaoh would eventually be released. They would fight, side by side. Together, they would help defeat the dark one.
And Mana... She would grieve, but eventually go on without him. She would become a powerful sorceress in her own right, and would take his place as a high priestess in the pharaoh's sacred court. She would teach many students and one day take an apprentice. Her legacy would not be his, but her own, and it would be written in light.
Mahaado, however, would remain in darkness.
On the verge of defeat, he gave his life, just as the great pharaoh had given his.
He swore upon his dying breath to protect and serve the royal family, and he would do just that. For the rest of eternity, he would serve his penance, in the shadows and alone.