The Open Door
Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! I had the idea for a while, inspired by a conversation, but the prompt Door at Yugioh Contest pushed me to actually get it written. It takes place immediately post-series. It is intended to be a lead-in to The Pendulum Swings, but it can definitely be read on its own. Information on the Egyptian view of the afterlife is taken from a National Geographic special that Crystal Rose told about. Thanks to her and Kaze for plot help!
When a great Pharaoh passed through the door to the afterlife, his journey was not yet complete. Before achieving his rest with the family and friends from his mortal existence, he first traveled through the ten gates of the Netherworld, one for each of the hours that encompassed the night. Along the way he encountered lost and struggling souls, and due to his power as a Pharaoh of Egypt, he was able to select which souls were deserving of help and salvation.
The honored and long-nameless Pharaoh Atem was no exception; he did not wish to be. Despite having saved the world a second time from the horror of Zorc Necrophades, he did not feel that he should receive any special treatment. He would make his journey through the Netherworld gates just as all the others before him.
For the most part, his final trek was unsurprising, after all that he had experienced and witnessed on Earth. During his mortal life, he had tried to be the best person and Pharaoh that he could. And with the compassion he had learned from Yugi in recent years, he had strived to choose the souls most in need of help and most worthy of being allowed out of the Netherworld. They were strangers to him, yet he listened to their stories and treated them with respect.
It was when he approached the final gate, however, that something stunned him.
At first he barely recognized the tattered spirit kneeling somewhere to the side of the gate. The tormented man was writhing in anguish, gripping at the misty ground with torn and shaking fingers. His head was down, his eyes not visible through what was left of his wild whitish-lavender hair. His red robe was spread around him, hanging to the rocky surface and hiding what remained of his legs.
Atem stopped and stared. What could have damaged someone's spirit so horrifically? And the hair and the robe . . . they looked so familiar. His eyes widened. Could it be . . . ?
He took several steps closer. "Bakura?" he called, not really expecting an answer.
The head shot up, the eyes as wild as the hair and filled with a myriad of emotions. Pain . . . sorrow . . . anger . . . hatred. . . .
Pharaoh. . . . The son of the man who was Pharaoh when my village was massacred.
My eternal enemy.
Atem gazed at the wretched thief, his own emotions crashing through his heart. It was him. . . . He had wondered what had become of the other. He and Yugi had both wondered if Bakura had been destroyed with Zorc or if his spirit had still been locked in the Millennium Ring and would be sealed away for all eternity. The more Atem thought about it, the more he realized he had fully believed one of those possibilities would be the truth. He had never imagined that he would meet Bakura here, at the gate to eternal rest.
They were so different . . . and yet so alike. If their positions had been reversed, he could have so easily been just like Bakura. If his village had been destroyed . . . if he had witnessed his family and friends being sacrificed alive to make the Millennium Items . . . he could never forgive. He might have become even more vicious than Bakura.
But Bakura had caused so much heartache and suffering to him and his friends, not just now, but in ancient Egypt. The mad tomb-robber had nearly eradicated the world. Was he . . . how could he . . . be deserving of being rescued from the Netherworld, allowed to travel into the afterlife just like people who never would have dreamed of doing what he had done?
Had he ever really known the consequences of his actions? Had he cared? Had he even been in control of himself? Or had Zorc manipulated him even then, leaving him captive and unfree to make his own decisions?
Would they ever know?
Did it matter?
Atem did not know how long he stood there, the debate raging in his heart. But at last he came back to himself, staring again at the pitiful soul in front of him. Bakura's spirit was being torn apart. Was this . . . was it because Zorc had attached himself so deeply to the other's soul that his destruction was destroying the man he had leeched off of for millennia?
"Bakura . . ." he spoke again. "What happened to you?"
The lips curled in a nasty sneer. "You should know, shouldn't you, Pharaoh?" the other said. "You're responsible for what's happening to me right now." But the eyes flickered. Even in the dim, ominous glow of the Netherworld, the conflicted feelings were visible. He had been thinking many things over since Zorc's destruction. He had been questioning his course of action, both in the modern world and in the past. He wondered how great a hold Zorc had had over him. He did not even know any more who he really was.
And in spite of Atem's own feelings of anger, he was moved with compassion.
He would tell Bakura to go on through the gate into the afterlife. He would be present as the tomb-robber's soul was judged. And maybe, from what he saw in those tortured eyes, Bakura would not be condemned to fire and brimstone. Maybe he would be allowed to be at rest.
But something stayed Atem's tongue as he was about to speak. He frowned, pausing. What was it? What was this feeling that, for Bakura's own good as well as the world's future, he must choose differently?
Why did he feel like Bakura must go back?
Go back? To the world of the living? How could he possibly send someone to the mortal plane who had caused so much destruction? How could he trust that it would not happen again?
And . . . how could Bakura possibly be sent anywhere in his condition?
. . . This was the Pharaoh's true and final test.
"Bakura." Atem looked the man in the eyes. "You don't belong here."
Another sneer. "I belong in Hell. Is that it, Pharaoh?"
Atem sighed. "I don't know," he said. "It's not my place to judge your soul's final fate. But . . . there's something you still have to do before that time comes."
"Do?" The thief gave him an incredulous look. "Zorc's destruction ripped me to pieces. Even now, I'm fading to the darkness. I won't exist anywhere anymore, Pharaoh. There's nothing for me to do except resist to the end."
A trace of a melancholy smile passed over Atem's features. Of course, Bakura would never give up. It would be completely against his nature to give in, no matter what the odds.
"I don't understand it myself," Atem said. "I just know . . . there's somewhere else you need to be."
Bakura stared at him. "Somewhere . . . else?" he repeated. He was bewildered.
Bakura fell back, his eyes searching, trying to understand. But even as his confusion lingered, determination came into his visage as well. And as the two exchanged that one last look, the shadows swirled around what was left of his spirit. In the next moment he had vanished.
Atem straightened up, gazing at the spot where the tortured soul had been kneeling. Without even consciously knowing where he was going, Bakura had left to find that somewhere else. But his spirit was so badly damaged. Could he even be healed?
Why would Atem have the feeling to send him away if that would not be the case? He was right---it would not be possible for him to do anything the way he was right now.
But . . . the world's future. . . . Why would sending Bakura back to the mortal plane help the world? It was troubling Atem deeply. It seemed so preposterous.
Yet he could not deny what he had felt. Even now, in spite of his turmoil, he could feel it. He would have to keep the faith that he had done the right thing and all would be well.
Bakura . . . go in peace. And wherever you end up, I pray that you'll be able to lay your hatred to rest and move on.
The Pharaoh turned from that spot, passing through the last gate.