Yugi shivered despite the residual warmth in the air. It was getting dark out now, and the darker it got the colder it would become. This he knew from traveling around with his parents when he was young. He wasn't stupid; he knew enough by what he had seen in the room he had woke up in, and by the landscape that was visible through the bars of his prison now what kind of weather to expect. And now he knew what to expect of the people in this country.
Why couldn't he have stayed with the lady who had helped him when he woke up? She had seemed willing enough to answer his questions, not that he could have put them into words so soon. But it was not to be, for not long after he had found he was able to stand an old man had walked in, took one look at him and whisked him out of the room before he even had a chance to thank the lady for looking after him.
The old man had dragged him through the decorated corridors by his hair, muttering under his breath every so often, and shooting him nasty glares down the length of his nose. Yugi retained enough of what he overheard to be frightened by what was said and the tone it was said in. Pr-aA. Pharaoh. A term that hadn't been used in millennia. Where was he?
They hadn't paused on their trek through the structure until they reached the third level, where the old man opened a random door, dragged him inside and threw him in what appeared to be a large wooden cage, the tops of the bars held together with some sort of sturdy leather banding. And here was where he had sat since that time. No one had so much as glanced into the room to see if he was okay, but maybe no one realized that he was stuck in here at all.
Yugi tested one of the wooden bars on his prison again. Where was he? A glance around the large room which held his small cage told him that the dwelling's construction was comprised of a polished sandstone. He had stayed in houses of this type of construction while he was on digs with his parents before – albeit not nearly as ornamental. A pressure built up in his chest as he studied the confined space again, searching for a weakness. Where was he? Where was he? Where on earth was he?
Through the small window in the door beyond he could see that a lit torch provided the only light by which he could see, leaving most of the room to be devoured slowly by shadows of the coming night. An animal-headed statue stood guard at the door, giving him the shivers as it followed him with its gemstone eyes. He glared back at it. God, that thing gave him the creeps.
And again the question passed across his mind. Where was he? Or maybe, more to the point – when was he? Was that what he was thinking? His eyes widened. There was an eerie similarity between the things he had seen since he woke up, and the very artifacts that his parents had studied when he was younger. But that didn't make any sense. Did it? The culture they had studied had disintegrated thousands of years ago.
Yugi circled around his small prison again; testing bars, checking for an inconsistency in their placing that would allow him to sneak through. When he was finished – the results not to his liking – he put a hand to his chin, and studied the straw mat and the buckets off in the corner of the cage. He knew that one contained clear, sweet water, but the other one he didn't want to know what it was for.
There were primitive civilizations in all the remote corners of the world without modern conveniences, and he knew that. But knowing this still didn't stop him from wondering how he had been able to identify some of the hieroglyphs that were carved into the pillars in the room where he had woken up this morning. Knowing about primitive civilizations didn't keep him from recognizing the statue with the head of a cat and the body of a woman that stood in the far corner of that room, or the jackal-headed one that stared at him now.
And knowing didn't stop the image of the man with the crown (and the skirt) from flitting across his mind each time he decided to leave off with his questions. He could remember darting across the parking lot at his college, but that was where his memory ended, until he woke up in that room – with that guy hovering over him. Or maybe that was a dream.
Yugi shook his head. It had to have been a dream. It had to – he didn't understand a word that the guy, or the lady – he now recalled another figure in his dream, but was it the same woman who had tried to help him earlier? – said. But when he woke up for real he understood their words. What was going on?
Another mystery for him to puzzle over. Yugi sighed, flopping down on the rough straw. He didn't even have a blanket to cover himself. He glared at the room in general. Peachy. At the rate the warmth was being sucked out of the room tonight he'd be lucky to get any sleep – the questions circling his head notwithstanding. Resigning himself to a night of discomfort Yugi leaned back against the wall and contemplated his fate.
That day, the day that held his last memories of his world, he had been ready to die. To join Ryou in the afterlife, to give up. But now that he was here, and it truly looked like his wish would be granted as soon as his captors found what they needed to make it happen, he no longer wanted to leave this life. For the first time in a long time he wanted to live.
Closing his eyes, he gave his friend a silent apology. He didn't want to die yet, he had been mistaken in thinking that he did. But would he be given a choice? It was clear that he wasn't going to be treated like a guest in this strange land – more like a criminal on death row. But what was his crime? He hadn't truly taken in too much of what had been muttered by the guy who had dragged him out of the room other than the word pr-aA. That was where his thought process had broken up.
"But what do I do now?" He questioned aloud, tears starting to form at the edges of his vision.
He was more alone – if that was possible – than he had ever been before. Not only that but everyone who looked at him, did so with either pity or contempt. That much he caught as he was paraded through the halls. Well, everyone other than the lady who treated him when he woke up in that room. But she had done nothing to prevent the angry looking man from dragging him out of her sight.
"You do as the rest of us do – try to find a way to survive." A deep voice spoke to him from beyond the shadows of his prison.
Yugi gasped, flinching further against the wall behind him. "Who's there?" He called out when silence fell over the room again.
A soft sigh came from somewhere over near the balcony that he had noticed earlier while the sun was high. "Relax, I am not here to harm you."
A robed, hooded figure strode into the room, hidden completely except for the bare toes peeking out of the bottom of the cloth. For some reason his presence did nothing to inspire Yugi's confidence and he slowly slid himself up the wall, wanting to disappear into it.
"Truly, little one, I am not here to harm you." The figure repeated with a chuckle. "I merely wish to offer you some sustenance. Isis tells me you have not eaten much since you awoke."
His hand, which had disappeared into the confines of his robe, reappeared with a large, juice-stained handkerchief. He held it out for Yugi's perusal. As he did so Yugi inched off the wall, stepping closer to examine the gift. Whatever was inside smelled wonderful. After a few moments' debate Yugi stepped up close enough, reaching a hand through the bar to take hold of it, still wary of a trick.
The man deposited the heavy handkerchief in his hands, watching as he flopped to the floor to unwrap it. Yugi's mouth was watering by the time he pulled the knot out of the handkerchief to see the feast laid out before him. A few choice cuts of meat – bird most likely – some dates and small bits of fruit, a handful of nuts, three large chunks of bread, and a hunk of cheese were revealed when he lifted the corners away.
He lifted his head to say thank you to the stranger, only to see the shadows staring back at him. All at once he felt ashamed of himself. Since when had he become so ill-mannered?
"Wait!" He called out to the darkness. "Don't go…please."
After a few moments silence he heard. "You wish to speak with me?" from the corner of the room.
His face heated up with the realization that the stranger had retired to the shadows to watch him, but he searched the darkness anyway for the man's form. "Yeah…I…if you…could you answer some questions for me…please."
A quiet sigh, and then the whisper of fabric was heard. "If such is what you desire then I shall do my best to answer your questions."
For some reason the husky quality of the stranger's voice, along with the words he spoke sent a shiver up Yugi's spine. His eyes widened, what was that? But then the sensation was gone, and he shook his head to clear it. This person may be his only ally in this strange land. He just hoped he wouldn't alienate him.
The robed figure sat down on the other side of the bars cross-legged, pulling his cloak around him as Yugi got a glimpse of golden-colored bands on his ankles. Yugi gawked for a moment, and then shook his head. He did not see that…what were they? But his attention was redirected when the stranger spoke again.
"What is it you wish to know?"
"Oh, uh…thank you." He stumbled over his words. "I appreciate this. Uh…would you like some?" He held out a chunk of bread.
The stranger seemed to consider his offer for a moment, and then plucked the bread out of his hand hesitantly. "You do not have to. I brought this for you."
Yugi blinked at him. "Oh, no, no, this is more than I can eat; I can share."
After a few minutes of tense silence Yugi got up the nerve to ask. "Uh…If you don't mind…where am I? Where are we?"
He almost wished he could see the face hidden in the shadows, for there was a wealth of meaning behind the man's silence, but finally he spoke. "We are in Khemet. You are…unfamiliar with our country?"
Khemet. Khemet. Where in the world had he heard that term before? Yugi wracked his brain for the answer, and then swallowed thickly when the answer came to him. Uh-oh…that was not good.
"Okay…uh…I guess I asked for that…" He mumbled, still trying to make sense of the answer given as he nibbled at the cheese. "Then…uh…what year is this?"
The robed stranger seemed amused by his questions, but why it seemed that way he couldn't quite put his finger on. But he answered anyway. "We are in the fifth dry season of the rule of Pr-aA Atemu, son of Ahknumkhanen."
Yugi's eyes widened. Oh god! But wait…that would mean…he swallowed the hunk of cheese that had become lead in his throat. No one counted years like that. Not since…reality slammed into him, and he began to hyperventilate. This was all wrong, all of it. A hand touched his and he jumped to see that he had leaned into the bars for support and he was only inches from the other's hidden features.
Finally he gathered his nerves to ask one more question. "Where are…we now…what part…uh…what is this place?"
The hand that had covered his reached up to feel his forehead and he had to hold himself still to keep from cringing away. Only after the stranger was satisfied did he answer, "We are in the royal palace. Private chambers above pr-aA's suit, near the priests' wing."
Yugi didn't know if the man thought he had revealed too much or if he was on a time limit, for he stood up suddenly and backed away into the shadows. "I must go. I shall return upon Re's next waning."
And before Yugi could blink the man disappeared, but before he did that he shed his cloak in the darkness and threw it at the cage within Yugi's reach. Yugi stared at the place where he had last seen the kind stranger until he was shivering with cold. Only then did he remember the cloak and he pulled it into his cage, using it as a blanket. As he did so he wondered at the exotic cologne the man wore, that had embedded itself into the cloak. It smelled so good, of desert spices and incense.
And after a while, exhausted and sore Yugi drifted off to sleep to the fragrant smell of the gift he had been given.
~ o ~ O ~ o ~
Some hours after the moon had completed half of its cycle Atemu flipped, silently and gracefully over the side of a balcony, rappelling down the side of the building; hand over hand, until he reached the massive balcony that marked his private chambers. Once his feet were safely on the floor he tied off the end of the rope and maneuvered a tall potted plant over to cover the evidence of his nocturnal wanderings.
It would do no good for someone to discover that he had been out roaming the palace alone. Not so much that he feared a kidnapping attempt were the wrong people to come across that information, so much as he feared that once again he would be found lacking for this inability to stay put and allow them to cage him up in this fancy prison. He stared at the ornate golden bands that covered his arms nearly to his elbows with a wry smirk – shackles attested to his servitude.
Truly his life was not much different than the boy he had brought back to the palace. Not much different at all. What matter was all the gold and power if his ideas were never heard? If he was not allowed to make choices of his own? Not that he'd had too much time to dwell on the ideas that he had. Between all the demands of the court, his advisors, the priests and priestesses he was kept pretty busy overseeing everyone else's problems.
And now he had the boy's fate to worry over too.
"I had sworn you were not out here when I checked earlier." The voice startled Atemu and he whipped around to confront Mahaad with a wary look.
"You must not have searched hard enough," he responded evenly. "I have been occupying the same corner for nearly an hour."
Atemu nearly fidgeted when his priest glanced around to where the plant stood, focusing intently on what it might have been hiding. But after a moment Mahaad gave a noncommittal sound, and turned back to him again holding out a small object.
"Not that you needed it but we have confirmation that it was, in fact, Bakura who destroyed your father's tomb. He left his mark buried in the rubble at the entrance."
Atemu nodded without even a glance. "We already knew that he would be the only person stupid enough…or perhaps crazy is a better word, to enter that tomb with all of its protections and wards. We needed no proof other than it had been done."
"True," Mahaad murmured.
"This is the reason you have come to disrupt my peace?' Atemu questioned after the silence settled about them.
Mahaad seemed to shift on his feet, his features contemplative, and Atemu almost thought he was going to ignore the question. But he held his tongue from expressing his impatience and was rewarded when the priest turned to study him intently.
"I sense unrest, your Highness. It is in the air, all around. Please, do not take this warning lightly."
"Can you –" Atemu was instantly on alert.
"No, I cannot ascertain from where it comes." Mahaad replied before he had a chance to voice his question. "I just know it is there."
This time it was Atemu who shifted uncomfortably. He stared out over the expansive view of his Khemet. Peaceful, quiet. The stars holding steady to their positions in the sky. His eyes narrowed. Yes, he could feel it too, just beneath the tranquility, hiding under the picturesque setting that had become his home, his responsibility. Whatever it was, it was waiting, watching.
Atemu shook his head. "Have you spoken with Isis?"
"Yes, your majesty, I have already conferred with both Isis and Shadi. They too feel the unrest but are unable to sense from where it comes."
I wish I knew more, Atemu thought with a sigh. Was this feeling of impending doom coming from someone's evil intentions? Or from a power which they did not understand, and therefore had no way of fighting. Was it Bakura? His uncle perhaps? Or had they angered one of the gods in err? He would check with Shadi tomorrow to make certain that all of the offerings had been accepted, perhaps make extra offerings.
"Very well, make Honda aware of the need to fill in our ranks. Work them overtime to counteract their months of inactivity. We shall strengthen our borders, and send a legion of spies out to infiltrate the villages at the edges of our borders and other regimes for news of uprisings or an intent to invade."
Mahaad bowed low. "And I shall be certain to speak with Otogi of the state of our weaponry while I visit the barracks tomorrow."
"Very well, you may go." Atemu made a dismissing motion, turning back to the nighttime scene laid out before him as Mahaad made his way out of the room.
Had he erred in bringing the boy home with him? Had he brought this on? With a sigh Atemu turned his back on the darkness, and slipped into his chambers to ready for bed. He highly doubted he would get much sleep with the questions that continued to plague him, but it was worth a try. If the next day continued along the same vein that his life had so far he would need it.
o ~ O ~ o