Trained to fight for the higher cause from the time he was small innocent looking Yugi Mutou was given the opportunity of a lifetime: Freedom for him and his only friend in exchange for the life of one last monarch of a rival dimension. But once his cover is blown, he learns that things are not as they seem, and that perhaps his dimension's ruler is not the benevolent benefactor that he appears to be. And what's worse is he seems to be falling for the one person whose life he's supposed to end. Demons vs angels? Hell (or heaven) is waiting.
~ o ~ O ~ o ~
The bells pealed, low and ominous, from somewhere inside the highest towers of the castle, shaking everything around him, inside of him. He was running again. What was with this? Why must he always be running from trouble, it always found him in the end – or had it been with him from the very beginning? He couldn't recall. His grandfather had warned him many years ago that if he didn't toe the straight and narrow that his life would end in this way. There was another sinister tolling of the bells, and it shook him to the core, forcing his heart out into his throat. He had failed, even with the two weeks that he'd had to scout the place out. What would become of him now?
Fearing more the bloodthirsty creatures behind him than the unknown waiting for him outside the window before him Yugi unfurled a set of brilliant white wings in the dusky shadows of the narrowing corridor. There was barely enough room for him to unfold them fully, but he would have to make do with what he had, there was no more time for thought. He should have left when his cover was blown. It was a mistake to try to see this job through without the protection his camouflage afforded him.
A flash of pure black light, glinting against the darkness, appeared to his right and Yugi attempted to dodge left, belatedly realizing that the one he had been ordered to kill was, in fact, still mobile; and worse yet, had found a shortcut that he had not expected. All his efforts had been for naught. What would happen to Ryou now?
The pair tumbled to the ground, white and black colliding amidst a kaleidoscope of other colors as each fought for dominance over the other. Feathers ruffled, and a sharp lance of pain in Yugi's shoulder tore through the haze of panic. His heart sank as he began to fully appreciate that not only he had not won the race, but neither would he win this fight. He cried out as sharp nails dug into his pale skin. A hand clutched at his tricolor hair, wrenching his head back painfully to make way for another choked cry, and Yugi bit his tongue so as not to let it loose. He struggled against his attacker and the two of them rolled once more, right into the rough stone of the castle wall.
A sharp crack echoed through the corridors, but Yugi was too far gone to know what it meant as he slipped into the welcoming darkness, shutting his eyes to his failures.
"Who dares attack me in my own dwelling?" A loud roar shook the walls of the palace, but the one it was directed at never answered. A rough hand, black blood running in rivulets down the slender fingers, pushed at the pale-skinned captive, rolling him until his face was visible in the sliver of moonlight. "Answer me miscreant! Who dares?"
A scuffling of feet sounded behind the man lying tangled with his foe on the floor and he turned with a wary eye to watch as his appointed guardians landed behind him in a flurry of furled wings. He sniffed disdainfully, knowing that, had he not been able to involve himself in the chase, his attempted assassin would have made a clean break. Feet shuffled in the stillness and the victor silently berated himself for the lapse in judgment that allowed this to occur.
He knew better than to allow his best men a night off for the festival of the lights that came once a year along with the annual flooding, when the lava from their largest volcano merged with the cool waters of their main river to create a mist that shined with the colors of the rainbow upon the dawning light of their first sunstar. But he had thought to give his men a treat for doing their jobs so well during the chaotic celebrations and ceremonies that came before this spectacular display.
He had always done so in the past, and had never been troubled during his time of fasting and rest before the final prayers. That's what he got for thinking.
"Your Highness! We did not mean for this to happen. Please be merciful." One of the men cried out under his self-directed glare, bowing low before him in fear once the commotion had died down.
He arched a brow at their behavior, momentarily forgetting the creature in his arms.
They all knew what the penalty was for failing their king. There was nothing he could do for them now. The traditions of his ancestors dictated that those derelict in their duties were to be tortured to death. If he did not carry out their punishment his advisors would, and he would look the weaker for allowing them to escape it. As they kneeled before him in their silent remorse he glanced through their ranks, relieved that none of his regular guardians were among them. This wasn't totally their fault. Someone had let this creature in. But it was out of his hands now.
"Your Highness, please have mercy!" A few of the others picked up the chant.
He opened his mouth to give them their final orders as another voice was heard from further down the corridor. This one far more welcome than the groveling of the ones who understood their fate. His chosen advisors were beginning to arrive. There was no more time to contemplate what was already considered a done deal. As sorry as he felt for this group he could grant them no quarter. Masking his feelings behind a fierce glare he made to untangle himself from his enemy.
"Stuff it Valon, this should not have made it past the charms and protections cast over this dimension, let alone get through the palace gates!" He snarled at the guard closest to him, shaking his unconscious victim roughly. "I have nothing to say about the fact that it was in my private quarters."
"Dear gods! Are you alright?" His closest advisor, Seto, dropped gracefully to the floor, leaning over to inspect his ruler's would-be assassin with astonished blue eyes. "This oversight shall be corrected immediately, Your Highness." And then a long-suffering sigh was heard as the man studied the limp form in a detached manner. "Did you need to kill it? It could have provided some useful information, Atemu."
At his cousin's chastising manner the young king glanced up, his ruby eyes glowing eerily in the darkness as he gave another shake to the limp form still tangled up with his. "I have done no such thing, for your information. It still breathes, and our answers are still within our reach. Only someone from within these walls could have given this thing the information needed to breach our barriers. Now, would someone help me get this off?"
Shaken at the insinuations, the blue-eyed priest gave his ruler the once over, noticing at once the large gash in his upper arm. It figured that something like this would happen in his absence. He had only gone as far as the front gates, despite his lover's pleas to join the crowds by the river.
Pulling himself out of his shock the priest tugged at the limp body that was still tangled with his cousin's injured form, holding a hand out to help the other to his feet. "Come; let us get you cleaned up so that Isis can heal your wounds."
His offer of aid was waved irritably away as the king of Adarra raised himself by his own strength, stretching out to the max of his petite height and flaring his wings in a show of dominance; lest the group gathered think he had lost any power with his wounds. If word got out about his injuries there would be challenges issued left and right, not that he would back down, but with this intriguing little puzzle that had landed in his lap he was loath to devote his time to the defense of his title.
His display chastened those around him, as they bowed low to the floor, their noses touching the harsh stones. The entire contingent of guards knew that they would be punished right along with the one that they had unwittingly allowed to make an attempt on their sovereign's life. And they were not disappointed when their king's strong voice echoed through the halls, alerting the rest of those who had running come to the sounds of the emergency bells that he was in fine health despite the attempt on his life.
"Jou, take this group to the dungeons." Atemu thrust the limp body at a light-skinned blonde as he skidded to a stop next to Seto, eyes wide with apprehension. "Give this a room of its own...one with a view. I should like it to be the last sight it sees before I take care of it myself."
"I'll take care of it, your Highness. You can count on me – unlike these guys." Jou saluted, slanting a glare at those who had been on duty before scampering down the hall and out of sight, dragging the unconscious being in his wake.
Atemu watched until they were gone, and turned to follow his Seto down the adjacent hallway, leaving his other two advisors, along with his regular guardians, to deal with the doomed regiment. The walk to Isis's chambers was a taxing one, as the blood continued to flow, thick and sticky, down his arm. Damn that hurt. Had not the mysterious being's aim been so off, he would have joined his father in the afterlife without ever being aware of why that was so. But thanks to that little error of judgment he was able to take down his assassin before it could escape.
Atemu's eyes widened as he realized the true reason that his ancestors had made the optical illusion in the corridors of the private royal wing of the palace. For the longest time he had thought it only decorative. That and that alone had kept his would-be killer from opening his wings fully for flight for fear of hitting the walls which gave off an impression of limited space, leaving him vulnerable to Atemu's knowledge of the castle's secret passageways. Even the guards seemed to have a hard time with it, their response slower than usual, not that he gave those present tonight much credit intellectually after their lapse in judgment.
It was ingenious really, that simple little detail that his long dead ancestor thought up when building this castle high into the mountains. The threat of assassination within the palace only came from other species of demons – the latest two by those who called themselves angels, such as this one. Any true challenge for his throne from inside the kingdom came to him through the gates below, for no one in this realm would follow a cowardly traitor to the crown.
An evil smirk crossed his face as he thought of his small captive. He had gotten a glimpse of pale skin and cupids-bow lips in the waning moonlight. It was enough to intrigue him, to capture his attention. And as he followed his trusted priest through the halls he made plans to seek this creature out before the first sunstar rose in the morning, to see if the rest of it was just as interesting as the glimpse he had gotten tonight.
Seto stopped in front of him, raising a hand to knock at the ornamental double doors that led to the healing ward. Immediately after his knock they were thrown open by a young woman who glanced between the two of them as though suspicious of a prank. The advisor headed off her questions before she was able to get started, giving only the barest of details, much to Atemu's consternation as she raised her troubled blue eyes to his.
"It has come to pass? So soon?" She questioned mysteriously, her eyes riveted to the wound on Atemu's arm. At the sight of the blood her dark brown wings ruffled and she ushered them inside, barring the doors behind them.
Atemu set a gentle hand on her shoulder to assure her as she turned to face them. "Relax Isis, I am, as of yet, still among those living in this realm. It's merely scratch."
But she shook his hand off, rushing around the room to gather the ingredients she needed in order to heal his wounds. "It's not that that worries me, Sire. I warned you that someone was taking out those in command in the realms around us. Whoever is behind these attempts, they are gaining in power and daring. Their successes far outweigh their failures at this moment, and I fear for our future. I have prayed, and I have begged, but I have been unable to divine their identity. I fear my powers are useless to you."
"Worry not, Isis, for the assassin still lives." Atemu informed his long-time friend. "It shall impart the information we are seeking, or I shall bind it to me, and take pleasure in destroying it slowly."
And that is what I fear most. Isis gave her king a pained look, but spoke nothing of her thoughts. They were still in the gray area, where one path would lead to certain destruction, or to peace and harmony. She could not afford to make a mistake until she knew which way the path would lead.
~ o ~ O ~ o ~
Yugi came to groggily, blinking back the haze over his vision only to find himself face to face with what was left of a grungy, moldy demon skeleton. "Gah!" he flailed, scooting back from the thing as a monstrous cockroach crawled out of its empty eye socket.
A sharp pain pierced his consciousness at the movement, making him hiss as he brought his hand up to assess the damage to his wing, the pounding in his head alerting him to the sticky wound above his eye. Screams of torment sounded from the chambers beyond and he shivered, a heavy weight on both of his wrists confirming the fact that he was, indeed, chained to the wall, albeit with a chain long enough to allow him some movement.
"Awww, what'sa matta?" A teasing voice sneered. "Ya don't like yer accommodations?" The man behind the bars chuckled to himself. "But our lord just wanted to give you the finest chambers in the dungeons. Only the best will do for the likes of you."
The best? Yugi glanced dubiously around the tiny, mold encrusted cell, taking in the cobwebs and the piles of decaying skeletal remains in the corner, even as he blocked out the tortured screams of those unfortunate souls beyond his cell. If this was the best he'd hate to see what passed as their worst. Something scuttled across the mildewed floor and he scampered to his feet with a cringe of distaste, hissing at the pain the movements caused. Amethyst eyes widened as he took in the bothersome fact that he was entirely nude, his last form of defense taken from him during the time he was unconscious.
"Awww, poor baby not liking the new wardrobe either?" The watcher beyond the door questioned with a vicious laugh. "Well, tough! Maybe you shoulda thoughta that before ya tried to murder our king!"
Yugi drew himself to full height at the threat behind the words, glaring silently at the unseen voice behind the door. His head was killing him, aches and pains all over his body reminding him of one of his grandfather's more unusual sayings. Something about being hit by a Mack truck – whatever that was. Refusing to let the voice intimidate him any further the small angel went back to studying his surroundings. There wasn't a window to be had in this dismal little cell. Not even the slightest bit of light showing through the cracks in the walls.
In fact, the only light by which he was able to see was a small torch in the high corner of the room. It was too high for him to reach without using his wings, and the space was too confined for him to unfurl them from where they lay limply against his back. No help there. Cautiously, so as not to step on any of the remains scattered about the room, Yugi felt his way around the cell, hoping for a weapon of sorts. He highly doubted that he could use any of these bones for that purpose, they looked as though they would disappear into dust the moment he touched them.
But touch them he did, and it was exactly as he thought. Disappointed, he rubbed the fine, wet white-ish powder into his fingertips after his experiment with what he thought to be a thigh bone failed. The disembodied voice laughed at his attempts from beyond the cell, and he was tempted to tell the person to can it. Instead he remained silent.
The less he spoke, the better off his kind would be. Of course the demons would know which realm he came from. The evidence was attached to his shoulder blades. There were no creatures other than themselves who sported such brilliant white wings. Too bad his camouflage had washed away earlier in the week. He could have used that to his advantage, if not last night, then now.
But these demons had no idea why he had come to assassinate their king. So the less he talked the better. He could not afford to let them know that Pegasus had found out about their aborted attempts to take over their dimension. Let them think he was a rogue angel, an anomaly. Let them kill him without ever knowing what he knew. He had already resigned himself to a painful death when a call down to the voice beyond his prison let him know that they were coming for him. His chin lifted a notch further into the air, mask of indifference firmly in place even as his wings flared out against the coming threat.
Atemu descended the stairs to the dungeons regally, a contingent of soldiers and advisors at his heels, and on his nerves. It was bad enough that Seto had increased his guard by triple the needed amount, but to have them crowd him all the way down the stairwell was another issue altogether. He stepped into the hall, sniffing the air with a grimace of distaste. It always stank down here in the bowels of the palace. The stench of old blood, feces, and other malodorous substances filled the air. A vicious smirk formed over his handsome features as he wondered how his little captive had fared in this horrific atmosphere.
"Your Highness." Jou sank to the floor in an extravagant bow, ever mindful of his king's quicksilver temper.
Atemu eyed his retainer wearily, shoving an errant lock of blonde hair out of his eyes. "You have no need to grovel, Jou. The mistake made was not of your doing."
Jou blinked, uncertain. "Yes, but I all but dragged Seto out –"
"– do you wish to spend your remaining time with those who have fallen out of favor?" Atemu snapped back at him.
The blonde shook his head, a shudder passing through his low hanging wings and deep into his body at the thought. He could still hear the agonizing screams of the guards who had failed in their duties of the night before. He had no wish to join them in their torment. Who knew how long Atemu would have them tortured before he put a merciful end to their existence.
Turning his back on his friend's defeated form Atemu studied the figure locked behind the barred door through the tiny window. In the light of the torch he could tell that the being was petite and slender, that it was definitely male, and that it was arrogant enough to believe that it had no need to cover itself from his gaze. Not that he would have let it cover itself from his view, for it was quite the impressive specimen, long firm legs, tiny waist, muscles hidden beneath skin so pale it was almost translucent.
For moments the king studied his would-be murderer, making his way up the being's body until he reached its face. And that was where all thought process came to a halt. Large eyes the color of liquid amethysts stared defiantly back at him from a face that was nothing short of exquisite. A flush stole over the creature's cheeks at his examination, but the defiance remained, arms folding casually over its chest as it sought to make itself intimidating with a rustle of its snowy wings.
So, this creature wanted to play, did it? Atemu's eyes narrowed, a smirk stealing across his lips at the challenge. The ones who thought of themselves as angels always provided for good entertainment – until they were broken, that is.
"Open the door, Jou." Atemu commanded.
"My liege, I do not think this a –" One of the men spoke up, his deep brown eyes narrowed on the creature confined in the small cell.
"Did I ask your opinion, Bakura?" Atemu countered, glaring at his royal advisor.
The other huffed out a breath. "Fine then, but we come with you. I don't trust this thing."
Atemu shrugged. The more, the merrier, right? The door was opened before him, and he, along with those he trusted filed into the tiny cell, causing the creature to step back in order to avoid touching them. It seemed to give in to panic momentarily when it found itself backed up nearly to the wall, but then the mask stole back over its features before Atemu was able to discern much more than that momentary fear.
"Oh come now, none of that." Atemu gave a brilliant smile, showing off fierce canines, as his attempt to reach out and bring the being to him only resulted in its backing further away. "That is no way to treat me after I have been nothing but accommodating towards you."
With a quick motion of his wrist the ruler of Adarra snatched the being up by its arm and reeled it in, relishing in the struggles the other put up against him, his grin widening. "Why, I even left myself wide open for your attack. What more would you have me do to attain a measure of your trust?"
Yugi swallowed thickly, unable to break the spell those ruby eyes held over him. But he held his tongue, cringing as the other's hand brushed over his wings, seemingly stunned by their softness. He was unable to quell the shudder that ran through his frame as the hand that had so gently stroked his sensitive feathers began to twist the fragile bones in its grip. A shriek of agony left his lips the moment the bones gave way, crippling his left wing, and he fought back with all of his strength, nearly dislodging his captor's grip.
"You only hurt yourself when you defy me." Atemu growled, subduing the struggling creature, forcing it to its knees, a hand buried painfully in the hair that was so like his own. It was a pity he could not enslave it and force his will upon it. Or could he? The last one to infiltrate his realm had made a nice, tame pet for his advisor. Perhaps this one would as well.
The creature opened its mouth, showing off an impressive set of canines of its own as it hissed at him, and Atemu shook it, snarling. "Why have you come here? Who sent you?"
Yugi, however, remained tight-lipped despite the stinging grip on his hair, waves of intense pain radiating from his crippled wing. His body trembled with a fear he had never known, but he would not cave to this monster's demands. He was in the right. This demon filth was going to infiltrate his homeland and take it for whatever maniacal plans were hatching in his head. He couldn't give in; his race depended on him to succeed where others had failed. Without thought he reached out and raked a hand down his captor's face, drawing blood.
With another snarl Atemu threw his enemy to the floor, motioning to the guards stationed around the tiny, skeleton infested cell, his hands coming to his face to assess the small amount of damage. "Why do we not allow our guest to sample some of our hospitality? It has been so long since we have seen one of its kind in our realm. I should hate to think that our kindness has been forgotten."
"I am not an it!" Incensed beyond belief by the slur on his gender, on his species in general, Yugi hissed, gathering his shaky limbs beneath him so that he could meet with the demon king on his level, perhaps to inflict some more damage. But his intentions were not realized as the guards grabbed him by his elbows and dragged him out of the cell to the wall opposite.
Despite his struggles his hands were manacled above his head, his wings stretched towards the ceiling with even more chains, and he was left dangling helplessly with his nose to the rough stone wall, barely able to touch his feet to the ground, his nudity only adding to his humiliation. His heart pounded relentlessly against his ribcage. What sort of torture did these demons have planned for him? He murmured a prayer that his heart give out long before his courage, his eyes slipping shut, falling into the only place that was safe for him. Falling into himself.
"Begin." Atemu nodded casually towards the guard who held the whip at ready. He would break this creature, just as he had the first one. And then he turned to his advisor Marik. "Retrieve your slave for me."
Marik bowed before him, hurrying out of the dungeons and up the steps just as the guard drew the whip back, giving one last glance at his sovereign before letting it fly towards the creature chained to the wall. The being bowed with the snap of the leather, but not a sound was heard other than a sharp intake of breath.
"Again!" Atemu commanded through gritted teeth. "Harder this time. Do not let it retreat into itself."
The command was obeyed, but only a quiet hiss of breath was heard. Atemu egged the guard on until a cry was jolted from between the creature's clenched teeth. And then he stepped back, allowing the guard to do his job, wanting to know how far he could push this being before it broke. He was impressed so far, this being would have done well in his army with what he had heard during the early hour.
Apparently, when one of the palace servants hadn't come to work for the third day this week his superior had gone looking for him, only to find that the boy he had hired did not exist, bringing this matter to the attention of Bakura the moment he set foot in the palace. As far as his estimation went this creature had been well hidden within his realm for nearly two weeks.
Another lash; another cringe, this time accompanied by a low sob.
Two weeks, right under his nose. Atemu was only slightly mollified, as he watched the guard work the creature over, that the being had never made it to his personal floor of the palace before the attempt. Had it been able to do that it would have known in advance of the illusions embedded in the corridors, and it would have flown to freedom. A smirk crossed his face. Apparently it was not to be, for the being was here, now, and he was going to make sure that it didn't leave his realm breathing. Beautiful or not, this creature was a menace.
The lash came down again, this time the creature eliciting a shriek of agony. Atemu shook his head, his eyes never straying from the marks across the being's back. How many lashes was this? Twenty? He let the guard go on a couple more lashes before calling a halt to the proceedings. It was not in his best interests to kill it quite yet.
After staying the guard's hand from another lash Atemu examined his prize. Blood oozed from the many raised welts on its back, quiet sobs wracked its body, but he had to give it credit. It did not beg. It said not a word, merely hissing at him as he stepped into its personal space. So very beautiful. A worthy prize indeed.
Atemu raised an eyebrow, hardly intimidated. "Would you care to go another round?"
At his words the creature seemed to cave in on itself, its head bowed against the wall, tears streaming from its unique eyes. Having made his point Atemu stepped back. "Leave it." He commanded when the guards stepped up to unchain it. "Let us see if it has enough manners to admit its wrongdoings after it has had some time to think upon them."
"Your Highness." Marik called Atemu's attention to the fact that he had returned. "I have brought what you requested."
Atemu looked over at the smaller duplicate of his half-sane friend. The smaller being had the same corn-silk colored hair, perhaps not as wild as Marik's, and the same devious glint to his lilac eyes. Only one major difference stood out glaringly against all their similarities, and that was the being's light colored wings. Nearly the same color as his hair, as opposed to Marik's deep brown wings. And seeing those wings brought Atemu back around to why he had called the being down to the dungeons in the first place.
"Is it one of yours?" He questioned, his tone imperial as he dared the other to lie to his face.
Only at his query did the being look up, and then his eyes were riveted to the mangled figure hanging from the wall. The smaller blonde's eyes widened to twice their normal size as he studied the figure. He gave a choked cry, dropping to his knees, hands out to catch him before he hit the floor, wings drooping right along with him.
"Is it one of yours?" Atemu repeated with a growl.
"Please don't do this to me; please...I'll do anything. Just don't do it again." The trembling blonde kneeled before him, kissing the toe of his boots.
Atemu's astonished gaze met Marik's widened one over the shivering body between them.
"My apologies, your Highness, he has not acted this way since before you gave him to me." Marik bowed low, bringing Malik up with him as he stood. The smaller of the two fidgeted where he stood but made no other motions.
"Do not concern yourself over it; perhaps it is only the atmosphere in the dungeons that brings this on." Atemu only waved them away absentmindedly, never noticing that his newest captive had sagged against the wall in relief.
He didn't know whether to be relieved or not, as he watched the taller blonde cuff the other upside the head while directing their steps away from the scene in the dungeons. When they had gone he turned his attention to the figure strung up against the wall with a disconcerted frown. He had thought the two to be of the same species of ice demon. Perhaps he was wrong, but he knew that the creature before him was no angel. At least he thought it wasn't. It did give off a strange aura though. Something he had never come across before.
"What are you?" He questioned to the room in general, knowing that the being could no longer hear his words.
Finally, after an intense study of the being's unconscious form Atemu waved to one of the milling guards. "Take it down and put it back in the cell."
"What of the guards?" Bakura queried as two of his men unchained the figure. "They are nearly comatose from their punishment."
"Kill them. I want to see their wings when you are finished, before they are mounted on the pillars." Atemu muttered as he took a step towards the exit. "Let them be a lesson to the others."
Bakura smirked evilly. "With pleasure, Your Highness."
Knowing that his advisor would make certain that his orders were followed Atemu departed the dungeons. He still had the final prayers for the annual flooding to prepare for, as well as the daily trials of those who had done wrong, and planning meetings for this next year's budget. And he had yet to see Isis for the scratches on his face. With a sigh he pushed through a hidden doorway on the landing and made his way towards the healing ward. Twice in two days, what was his old friend going to think of him now?
~ o ~ O ~ o ~