The sun rose high over the Fayuum, drenching the sand that stretched as far as the eye could see into an even more saturated, blindingly golden hue. Before him the city appeared to rise from the sand; he took a moment to consult his gridded drawing, making a small note in the margins with a pencil.
They were close. They'd probably breach it today.
Then all of his theories might be proven or rendered obsolete. This was the deep breath before the plunge, and he had never handled stress well to begin with. It could make him a rising star in the field of archaeology, or cast out, his funding revoked. So here he stood on the precipice, wishing he had a beer, when the first of the shouts reached his ears. Then the magic words:
"Yugi, I think you should see this."
They were excavating a necropolis; an ongoing project to document and preserve the array of tombs scattered across the landscape. There were dozens, at the very least. But it was how the tombs were connected to the accompanying village that was the real reason why they were there. And with their progress excavating around the large chamber tomb, he hoped that they would soon discover more threads to bind them both together.
Yugi walked into the shadow of the mastaba, its mud-brick top rounded like a loaf of bread. One of the more promising undergraduates waved him over to a niche in the side of the tomb. Rebecca Hawkins was a placement from one of the bigger universities stateside, the world's gift to archaeology if one took her word for it. "Moto," she called, wiping the sweat from her forehead with one sunburn-streaked arm. "There are sculptures in each of these niches. Have you ever seen anything like that before?"
He leant closer to see the figure, a limestone block animal with one paw outstretched as if it was walking out of the false door the niches were modeled after. "I've seen guardian lions before, but this looks almost Oriental," he murmured, not quite sure what to make of it but knowing that a hushed conjecture was better than a loudly shouted one. "Keep working on these and mark down their precise locations on the grid, okay? We might have to move them to protect against damage and theft."
She frowned. "Is it getting worse?" The locals had not taken too kindly to their efforts—both in opening the graves and in diminishing their supply of black-market grave goods—and until recently had kept their protests to weak attempts and the passive resistance. The tomb they had uncovered the week before had been looted almost immediately, and he could feel the unrest whenever they went into town for supplies. He had put in a request for government assistance, but so far no one had responded. It was as if they were completely cut off.
His silence on the matter spoke more than any verbal response. There wasn't much they could do… and giving up was not an option.
He was called away by several more volunteers. The last of the sand, dirt, and dust around the entrance of the mastaba was being cleared away; they could finally go inside to what no living person had seen for millennia.
Yugi motioned for two people to accompany him inside. Rebecca hovered near the entrance, clearly hoping to be a last-minute addition to their party. "Keep working on those statues, Rebecca… I'll expect a full analysis on them later." To cover up her sour mood she fluffed her hair and went off in search of sunscreen.
He turned and ventured further into the inviting darkness of the chamber tomb.
It was cool and a little musty. A shaft of sunlight pierced the room in two from the open archway leading back outside. The first moments of exploration, of discovery, were always the finest. He was continually awed by the lengths that they went to honor or hide away their dead. In some cases it was both.
It didn't take them long to isolate the false doors and find the burial shaft that led further underground. The ceiling sloped so that they had to crouch down and then they were in the chamber itself; the ceiling now patterned with painted stars.
Yugi had his notebook out but couldn't write a single word.
There was no sarcophagus. No body. No burial.
Then just what were they standing inside?
Cautiously they approached the only substantial pieces in the room, a large stone stelae set before a larger piece of carved stone. Even in the dim light of their flashlights they could see the distinctive glint of gold set within the larger stone. Yugi counted six golden pieces. His fingers went out to tentatively touch one—
Everything was different; lighter, brighter. He gazed upwards at the freshly-painted walls and ceiling and in-between the thudding heartbeats he decided that he didn't want that to be the last thing he remembered seeing. So he looked out across the chamber, met his eyes—
Yugi gasped like someone coming up for air, snatching his hand away from the pendant only to return it a moment later, hovering just over its surface.
From beside him: "What the hell?"
Yugi was about to apologize when he realized that they weren't talking about him. He followed their gaze and saw that, resting in the hollow of what he assumed to be the place for another golden item was a simple wristwatch.
A very modern wristwatch. He checked it against his own; it kept perfect time.
"This tomb was sealed." Yugi didn't know his voice could sound so angry. "So what is this doing in here? Can anyone explain this?" Was this some kind of joke? A sealed tomb with no bodies but a leather-banded gold-rimmed watch—
He turned, unable to look at the rough stone and smooth gold any longer. "I'm going back up. Put the watch in its own box, and map out this room. I want photographs as well." As he walked back towards the burial shaft he found himself glancing back over one shoulder, not at the gold but at the stelae, and at the two distinctive figures carved onto it.
He pulled at one of the spikes of his hair, wondering.
Stepping outside was like being soaked in sunlight, and as Yugi walked over to the main tent his mind whirled from the implications. Did he doubt the members of his own team, or turn to the locals as the suspects? Or would it be worse if word of this spread and got out beyond the containment of their camp?
With the loud whir of the fans he barely noticed the sound of the car approaching, its wide treads specially made to excel in the sand. The vehicle slowed to a stop close to the tent beside several other parked vans and its lone occupant got out, easing first one boot-encased foot onto the ground, then another. The newcomer gently pulled aside one canvas panel of the tent, causing a beam of sunlight to smack squarely in Yugi's face.
"You must be Professor Yugi Moto," the stranger said pleasantly, as if totally unaffected by the arid heat despite his long, white-blond hair. "I was told that you would be immediately recognizable."
Yugi held out his hand, the only real thing he could think of doing in response to the ironed button-down wearing, prep-school British accented newcomer. It became apparent, however, that this was probably something of a bad idea—his palms were sweaty from the heat and his own anxiety, and his nails were framed in dust and dirt. "Call me Yugi," he replied weakly.
After a moment the man swiftly pulled an identification card from his pocket, showing it to Yugi. "My name is Ryou—I am an attaché with the Egyptian government, with experience in dealing with cultural antiquities. I've been sent to assist you in whatever way you require. Sorry it took so long for your request to be processed—you know how it is."
Yugi could already think of a few things that could benefit from Ryou's assistance that had nothing to do with the dig, but he pushed that to the back of his mind. "A Brit, working for the Egyptians—are you an expatriate or something?"
Ryou took the card back with a tight-lipped smile. "And you are a Japanese working in Egypt. Let's not bother with such trivialities—tell me about the situation here."
Yugi decided to brief him on the past week's events inside the large tent—he would keep Ryou's arrival his secret for just a little bit longer.
Mana pouted, placing both hands on her hips. "You don't think I can do it?"
The young Prince of Egypt laughed, eyeing the small brick elevated on a column-shaped pedestal. "The last time you tried to vanish one, you sent it careening across the garden instead!" He failed to add that without Mahad's intervention it would have struck one of the scribes. He watched as Mana scrunched up her features in concentration, preparing to cast her spell.
Atem blinked and the brick was gone.
"Yes!" she cheered, readying for another try. "Now to vanish the whole pedestal!"
"I don't really think that's a good—"
The spell went wide, arcing around the limestone and diving straight for the small turret set into the garden's enclosure wall. At first it was oddly comical to see the bricks disappear, leaving a jagged mouth in the wall, until Atem got a good look at the person who was left exposed in the middle of the turret's winding staircase—clothing in tatters, dirt-streaked hair, obviously not from the palace—neck looped with jewels and carrying an unwieldy gold-painted amphora. He bolted, but not before Atem could tell exactly what his intentions were.
"Thief!" He hissed, instinct taking over as he raced over to stop him. Mana had shouted for him to stop; the thatch-roof of the turret was falling in around him, and several of the strands had danced around his feet until he had gotten far enough down the stone steps for it to matter anymore. His first instinct was on catching the thief—he had seen several of the items tucked underneath his arms. Who would dare steal the amphora that was awarded to city at a recent athletic competition? He had also taken several diadems and strung them about his neck, as opposed to their proper place around his head. Just what kind of fool was he chasing?
He rounded the last of the stairs and the thief lunged at him from an alcove, sensing his opportunity. They rolled twice on the hard-packed earth floor, Atem eventually overpowering him—even he could see that the boy was malnourished, not strong enough to put up much of a fight. He looked into the boy's eyes and saw not only a deep hatred but also a wild sort of desperation. It frightened him more than he wanted to admit.
"Get out of here," he commanded, getting up and turning his back so that he couldn't see the artifacts, his own possessions as it were, to be taken from him. "Take my advice and don't try that again." He couldn't see the confusion, or the shred of gratitude that lurked deep within him. He heard footsteps and soon he was surrounded by palace guards led by Shimon.
"The thief got away," Atem heard himself saying. In the days to come, he would often look over his shoulder or around corners and imagine that he saw the young thief—it was an image he couldn't erase from his mind. Until, of course, the day came that they met again.
They had bagged and tagged everything and it all lay on the table before them. Several other smaller items had been stolen; color snapshots stood proxy for the real thing. A large map of the site with each location was off to one side. And the watch—the most puzzling of them all—had the seat of honor in the center.
"I just don't understand how anyone could have gotten in… the mastaba was completely sealed," Yugi said, pacing around the table. The watch tormented him. Even then it was still ticking.
"You've checked every crevice, every false door…" Ryou had clasped his hands behind his back and was surveying the items on the table with a detached sort of interest.
"We've gone around the entire thing at least a dozen times!" Yugi shouted, exasperated. This was going nowhere.
"You've gone around… have you checked the roof?"
For a moment the room was completely still. Yugi tried to laugh because he wasn't sure what else to do. "But that's crazy. Who would dig into a tomb through the roof?"
"Perhaps someone who knows it well?"
He had left once Yugi had checked and confirmed his theory, now even more certain than ever that it was someone in their midst who was responsible for the treachery. It had to be—the watch placed long ago would have stopped ticking when it was unearthed. He had to remind himself that time often did not work that way. True time was in moments, in the instances that divided action from inaction. It was the moment when cases such as these were solved.
Ryou drove his government-leased car into town, intent on meeting some of the locals and hearing their take on the situation. He was sure people knew more than they were letting on, and from the whispers he had already heard, the whole site was 'cursed.'
He just wanted to know what all the excitement was about.
Rebecca approached Yugi the following afternoon, an air of hesitation around her that suggested that she thought he wouldn't like what she had to say. "I finished excavating around the lions like you asked, and I discovered something kind of peculiar," she said, frenetically tapping her pencil against her field journal. "While most of the lions were facing outwards, I uncovered a few that were facing inwards, towards the mastaba."
It was one of the oddest things he'd ever heard. Then again, it ranked right up there with watches inside sealed tombs and tombs without a single interment. "What do you make of it?" Yugi asked, not for the first time unsure of what he wanted to hear.
"Well, you know that the guardian lions are meant to ward off evil, to keep outsiders from getting in," she began, taking her time with the words. "I think that these, for whatever reason, are meant to keep something from getting out."
After she left he noticed that she had deliberately used the word something; not someone.
A caravan had arrived, bearing with it much exotic items, luxuries, and attention. Atem figured it was the perfect time to put his plans into motion.
He had found a coarse woven cloak of un-dyed linen that would let him blend into the crowd. And there was a crowd—a river of people that flowed through the main court and out onto the streets. It seemed that all of Egypt had arrived for this occasion.
As he cast his face down, the hood of the cloak further shadowing his face, he couldn't help but feel dismayed at the extent his people would go to spend the money they spent their entire lives earning—most of it at the expense of others. He knew that parts of the city were poor, prone to outbreaks of illness, and unsafe. Yet just as inevitably as the sun rises or the Nile floods its banks, each of his tutors had dismissed the idea of the poor as something just as inescapable—something that had always been and always would be.
As he had grown, he wasn't so sure. The best rulers knew their people. And even though he was destined to rule, he would rule fairly and well.
Atem had only gotten several streets away from the action when he felt the telltale brush against his side—someone was trying to rob him! Calming his instinct, he grasped the hand reaching for the sash he had bundled his money in and whirled to face the pickpocket.
The familiarity of the situation was unsettling to say the least—a thicket of white-blond hair, dark toned skin and implacable expression. He had seen this man before.
The thief seemed to come to a similar conclusion. "I know you…" he muttered; voice low so as to not attract unwanted attention. "Why is that?"
Atem looked at him and saw a young boy he had once let escape. The scrawny limbs had become lean muscle, the hollows of his cheeks defined enough to evoke an exotic heritage. "Because I once saved your life."
He knew that he was recognized by the way the thief's arm clenched around his hand—he had forgotten that he had yet to let go of it. "You live at the palace, among those murderers and thieves."
"Speak for yourself," Atem said, stepping away and crossing his arms.
"I only take to restore the balance from what has been taken from me," the thief sneered. "Something I doubt you would understand."
"Then show me—say what you want, prove what you will," Atem challenged. Suddenly the dusty roadway seemed much more like a path, with two distinct directions—forwards and back. Back, towards the palace and safety. Forward, towards the unknown. Towards him. Atem leaned forwards. "Don't make accusations you can't support. Show me the city—your city, the way you see it. I want to know what it's like."
"Who do you think you are?" The thief shook his head, laughing slightly. This man must be insane—no one else would dare speak to him like that, let alone ask for a guided tour. He must either be the most foolish man in the city, or the bravest. He took a moment to look him over—his companion was confident in both speech and posture. Strange, but he was definitely no fool. Perhaps there was more to this palace-dweller than he first thought.
Yugi sat in a rusty, threadbare swivel chair, absently going over his papers about their site. Not about the case—he couldn't stand to think about it for very long these days—but about the reason he had devoted so much time to uncovering this site.
He had a map of a village laid out on white paper, creases from where it had been folded and smoothed out multiple times intersecting topographic and scale lines. The black rectangles were the houses, each one clustered in a group, tightly packed together against the desert surrounding them. Written in a slanting script in the map's key were the words 'Kul Elna.'
He liked to say in his undergraduate lectures that archaeologists loved chaos. Loved scenes of disaster or catastrophe —large-scale change. That sort of stuff stuck throughout time.
While the accepted theory was that Kul Elna had gradually become abandoned over time, he just knew it wasn't the case. Everything ended all at once—it was as if each person had simply set down their possessions and left without a trace, taking nothing with them.
There had to be a reason. So here he was, exploring not only the town but its adjoining cemetery, ready to look in the earth to find the missing pieces of this vexing puzzle.
With each passing day the dig was getting worse, itself deteriorating into the dust that whipped its way around their site. Several more items had turned up missing—even the twenty-four hour watch he put on their storage tent hadn't deterred whoever had been running off with these grave goods. Just that day, one of the students had been climbing down into a pit to document an excavated house when the ladder he had been standing on had broken—snapped in two like a twig—and he had fallen several feet into the pit. Word was spreading of each mishap, and according to Ryou the town wasn't taking kindly to it either.
Ryou had been a blessing from the start, always providing helpful insight in that cheery accent of his. While the deductions sounded crazy, they had proved startlingly insightful. Yet they still hadn't found any of the stolen goods.
He could feel the tension building up, almost like a ticking time bomb. He wondered how long this one's fuse would run before it burnt itself out.
In his dream Ryou picked his way across the ruins, wondering for a brief second where everyone else was. He looked up into the sky to gauge the time, using his arm to shield his eyes from the sun. He drew his hand back, staring at the anomaly affixed to his wrist.
A leather-bound watch was strapped loosely to his wrist. Funny how he hadn't even noticed it, or heard the ticking until then.
He continued onwards, noting how, in this dreamscape, none of the buildings looked old or weathered. He paused before the large chamber tomb that had been causing all of their problems. It looked brand new.
He passed beneath its arched doorway, noting the conspicuous emptiness of the space. Even now it was bereft of the typical accoutrements the Egyptians included to send their dead off in style. He held onto none of those delusions.
He continued on down the burial shaft, ducking his head as the ceiling sloped downwards and widened into the cavernous chamber itself. There he met with the most curious sight—another man crouched next to a small hole in the ground. He was placing various objects—grave goods, Ryou surmised—into the pit, in effect burying them. The man looked up as Ryou walked over.
"You know, I had expected to see someone else when I woke up, but you'll do." He resumed burying the objects, this one a small golden charm.
Ryou knew one of the best interrogation tactics was to actually say as little as possible, to let the other do all the talking. He clasped his hands behind his back, directing his full attention to the man before him. "What do you mean?"
"Take a flower, for instance. A flower has no knowledge of its own beauty, yet it is what you call beautiful. There is so much that you don't know."
"Then tell me! Don't make accusations you can't support." Ryou slowly crept closer and closer to the man. There was something about him that he couldn't quite put his finger on.
He laughed, a low dry chuckle. "He said that."
Ryou crouched down. He couldn't see the beginning of the pit dug into the ground, it was so full of treasures. He reached into it and plucked out a large golden-hued vase with athletic imagery stenciled onto its surface. "Why are you taking these things?"
"I take nothing that wasn't already taken from me." The man took the amphora back into his own hands with surprising firmness, returning it to its original place on top of the pile of grave goods.
It was then that Ryou realized just how close they actually were. They looked startlingly alike—not in terms of how each looked physically; he couldn't see how anyone could get them confused. It was more in the aura, the way he looked that Ryou thought quite mirrored his own. Ryou lifted a hand to his own cheek, imaging that underneath his fingertips the skin would be pitted and tough. "How did you get that scar?"
Atem was sure that this would have to be the last time. It had gone on long enough; he had used every opportunity he had and several he hadn't to sneak away. It had started with a desire to better understand his city, but it had quickly become only about desire. It had been almost instinctual. Yet it had to end that night.
He ducked beneath the makeshift door made by draping fabric over the loose wooden slats of the ceiling. The thief was lounging in the sill of one of the westward facing windows, one leg drawn up against his chest. "You're late," he drawled.
"I came to say goodbye." Atem figured the best way was the quickest way—just say what he came here for and leave, return back to the palace and his old life. If he was going to be a strong pharaoh, he had to sever those ties.
"You…you what?" His back had gone rigid, his face illuminated by the setting sun. "You don't think you can just leave, can you? You can never go back. Back to laws and rules? You're siding with those treacherous priests and the murderous pharaoh?"
"What do you know about the pharaoh?" Atem had had enough. This man was wrong—everything was all wrong.
"I know enough!" He quickly rose to his feet, advancing towards the center of the room.
"Did you know he had a son?"
In that moment, in the thief's eyes, Atem could tell that he knew. In his eyes was a storm of all the rage and hatred that he always knew was there, with the newest addition of him, Atem, the horus-upon-earth, the betrayer. And he felt like he belonged there.
"I wanted to take back what had been taken from me," he said carefully, as if measuring every word. "A thousand souls, a thousand lives, a thousand lifetimes of treasure and wealth. But I'll settle for just one."
He lunged, dagger arcing through the air.
Atem had prepared for such a reaction; he drew his own dagger just in time. They crossed blades several times, the thief jabbing at every turn, intent on making his mark. And with each thrust Atem leapt backwards, intent on getting away with his life. Another stab, another dodge.
His next thrust pierced Atem's cloak, ripping the fabric and jerking it downwards. As Atem fell, his feet no longer beneath him, his hand arced up, the dagger unintentionally raking the thief's face from cheekbone to eyebrow. Atem let go, the dagger flying to a corner of the room, just as the thief began to scream.
"I'll kill you!" The right side of his face was obscured by blood yet he continued to blindly stab, Atem rushing to his feet to escape the blows. "Whatever it takes, I'll take everything from you!" he swore, wiping the rivulets of red from his vision.
Atem couldn't find the words to apologize. He couldn't say a thing.
"Ryou! Wake up!"
Opening his eyes to find Yugi shaking him awake might have been pleasant under any other circumstances. It was the urgency in his eyes that caught his attention, however, and seconds later he was awake, rubbing at his eyes, wondering how he had fallen asleep in the smaller of the two storage tents.
"We need to get somewhere safe," Yugi said, glancing over one shoulder to confirm that they were alone. "There's been a riot."
Ryou was instantly awake, reaching for his phone. "Then the police will come and cordon everything off. My agency can shut this down." After a minute he was ready to go. A quick peek around the flaps of the tent showed that it was after nightfall, dark yet the pinpricks of light on the horizon showed that their kind neighbors weren't far away. "Let's go."
They crept from tent to tent, picking up Rebecca and a few other students along the way. It terrified Yugi—despite all else, this dig, and these people, were his responsibility. He wouldn't bear to see anything happen to either of them.
"They're coming up from the North side of the camp," Yugi murmured as they crouched behind several large storage bins. "They'll smoke us out, going from one tent to another. We either have to make a stand or make for the hills."
"We run for it, they'll know exactly where we are," Ryou pointed out. "There's no cover. If we can hide out until help gets here then we might stand a chance."
"Okay, let's put it to a vote," Yugi said. "Raise your hands if you—"
"This is no time for a democracy!" Rebecca hissed. "They're already surrounding us! What do we do now?"
"The tomb," Yugi said. The silence that stretched for the next seconds seemed to become hours. "I know it sounds crazy, but they're looking in the tents. It's as good a place as any."
"That's so morbid." Rebecca straightened the straps of her backpack; she had managed to pack away all of their field journals at the first sign of the rioters' torches. The other faces of the group nodded, some in agreement, some less in favor of the idea.
"Let's go," Ryou said, and led the pack to the mouth of the tomb.
It looked different this time. Perhaps it was the adrenaline, or even the sheer panic, but Yugi's mind warped the scene into something just a little bit different. As they entered the subterranean chamber tomb, the space lit only by a single flashlight, Yugi thought that the figures on the carved stone stelae looked remarkably like himself and—
Yugi ran his fingers along the sides of the stone; he could see that it was set at a slightly oblique angle. He shifted it a fraction more, noticing that something was underneath it. He lifted the stelae to reveal a pit dug into the floor of the tomb, stocked with various items—even in the dim light Yugi could recognize several of the missing artifacts.
"With all the lights off you can see the gold the way it was meant to be seen," Ryou said, yet his voice was different, deeper somehow. "Watch how it shines."
"Ryou, what's going on?" Yugi asked, slowly leaning backwards. All of his senses were screaming at him to move. He placed his hands on the larger stone tablet to push himself back up, the tablet on which rested several more items of sculpted gold-none of them had been taken from the room. His hands ghosted over the wedjat eye of one pendant and—
It's strange how the last pieces of a puzzle almost always make the biggest impact.
For Yugi, it came rushing back all at once.
There was a pharaoh and a thief. A pharaoh who wanted justice and a thief who wanted revenge. In one instant, it had become both.
So he sealed his soul away inside the puzzle, not knowing that the thief would follow him throughout time to enact his revenge. For time didn't always work that way, in the narrow, forwards, singular pattern. Sometimes time was made up of moments. The split seconds between inaction and action.
"It was you all along… why?"
The face that stared back at him was not Ryou's, could never be Ryou's. "I'll take everything from you," he snarled, and in that second Yugi saw the pendant hanging from his neck that most definitely hadn't been there before. "Your career, your life's work, your reputation, even your heart. Oh yes, everything about you is mine. Even this host? I saw the bond that had formed between you. Now he's mine, too. I'm actually quite taken with that arrangement."
The wedjat eye gleamed in the darkness.
"I only take to restore the balance from what has been taken from me."
One thousand lives.
"Kul Elna," he gasped, falling to his knees.
"Exactly," the not-Ryou growled, a look of triumph on his face. "Now you really are left with nothing."
Yugi clung to the golden pyramid as if it were his lifeline, the shock of it all thundering in his eardrums. The people of Kul Elna hadn't left in a single night—their lives had all been taken. It was a genocide, now he knew, and that knowledge tormented him. He had always wondered why there were no burials, yet… if they all had died, then who had been left to bury the dead?
He thought of Rebecca and her guardian lions. The empty tomb that they stood in that very moment. And at the cluster of gold between them. It was all too much; he couldn't take it any longer. The entirety of it was senseless; a thousand lives flickering out like the flames of a candle. And his was now joined with them in this cycle.
A pharaoh and a thief. Yugi and Ryou.
He can no longer even call his life his own—they are tied together now in an inextricable way, linked across time until just the right time. The right moment.
There was an archaeologist and an agent. Yugi; desperate to prove his theories once and for all, to know the truth even if it would destroy him. And Ryou, who was caught between them all, and could save them all if he even knew where to begin.
It was the Thief; Atem. Ryou; Yugi.
He advanced upon Yugi, intent to finish his work, to complete that cycle. "And now for the grand finale—"
"Freeze!" The shout pierced through the room just as searchlights flooded the chamber in light. Yugi blinked back tears at the brightness, bringing his arms up to shield his face. Yugi could see the blue-jacketed police force streaming through into the tomb. They clustered around Ryou and himself. He caught the words "wanted for questioning" before Ryou was pulled away from the room, the pendant tossed to the ground at Yugi's feet. He wanted to shout out something, anything to prove Ryou's innocence because it wasn't him—but it was unexplainable. The alternative could ruin him. But he was already ruined.
He glanced at the tablet, with time-faded markings also portraying the unexplainable. Was it destiny that he was caught up in all this? It was fated for him, or this mysterious pharaoh, to be locked in battle with a thief forever?
What struck him the most was Ryou's expression right before he was taken away. He had looked right at Yugi and had nodded once, his face completely calm, almost serene. At first Yugi didn't understand. He looked happy to be taken away? It didn't make sense.
Yet in another way it did. Ryou knew that Yugi knew, and that there would be no saving him. He was in too far deep—playing the double-edged sword of the investigator and the perpetrator. On the surface, he had no idea that the thief persona had lurked within him, waiting for that opportune moment. Yet on a deeper level he had known all along, he just couldn't act on it. He couldn't do anything—trapped, just like they all were in this never-ending cycle. Yet this time, he could.
The thief had continued to take to restore balance, but it was Yugi allowed himself to faintly believe that on that same deeper level, he stole because he wanted to be caught. And he was caught-by the pharaoh, by Ryou, by him. Ryou was giving him what he wanted-Ryou was choosing him. Yet, in his own way, he supposed that Ryou had chosen them all.
It was only himself that in the end he couldn't save.
Yugi reached out towards the ring-shaped pendant, now lying innocently upon the floor but then stopped and thought better of it. It was then that he noticed the watch, somehow placed within reach of the ring, and with each tick Yugi imagined a heart beating, stronger and stronger.
1. I have been wanting to write this story for years now, and it is inspired by a single paragraph from Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child's novel Dance of Death:
"The target subject may manifest symptoms of a rare form of multiple personality disorder, a variant of Munchausen syndrome by proxy, in which the subject acts out two separate, diametrically opposite roles: that of killer and of investigator. In this unusual condition, the killer may also be a law enforcement officer assigned to the case or an investigator connected to the case...the killer personality leaves minute clues for the investigator personality to discover, such discoveries often made apparently through extraordinary powers of observation and/or deduction. The killer personality and investigator personality are not aware of each other's existence on a conscious level, although much cooperation is noted on the subconscious, pathological level." (pg 346-347).
Ryou himself I modeled after the protagonist of these novels, the eccentric, brilliant, and (in my mind) insane FBI Agent Aloysius X. L. Pendergast. Do read Preston and Child's novels if this sort of thing intrigues you.
2. There are a lot of literary and archaeological references smattered throughout; one big one was the Near East influence of the burial sites. The Near East is known for their rather violent imagery and art-depicting scenes of warfare, people fighting lions, all that good stuff. So when trade routes sprung up and people in Egypt got these pieces, they were exposed to these Near Eastern tolerances to violence. It's just a nice echo of the village of thieves-Kul Elna-and the Thiek King's own sinister objectives. The watch being inside the sealed tomb is a reference to Steve Berry's novel The Emperor's Tomb, also another wonderful book.
3. I haven't dug in Egypt (God bless them, they have to truck in their own water) but much of the digging is accurate to my knowledge and experience and to the degree that fiction will allow. I was told a fantastic story in my prehistory class about a riot in a Peruvian dig, where the locals didn't like the idea of someone shipping off their grave goods to museums or whatnot and so they stormed the fences and were going to destroy everything. At the last minute, the director of the dig shocked them into silence by getting in their faces and going something like "Okay, its yours! Take it-these are your own ancestors' items." Then he started to tell them about their own ancestors and how they were all connected, and the locals calmed down and actually started to help! A museum was built at the site whose proceeds go to help that area of the country.
4. Why didn't Atem show up? Maybe he did-didn't Yugi do some pretty intense puzzle solving by the end of the story?
5. The stelae was my own adaption of the 'giant rock' in the YGO series, except depicting Kaiba and Yugi locked in an epic duel for eternity, it was Yugi and Ryou swept into the Thief King's vow to enact revenge in the name of Kul Elna. When Atem sealed away his spirit and his memories, TKB himself went with him by way of the Ring-he had to keep his sworn promise to destroy him.
6. This was written for Round Nine of Ryou VeRua's YGO Fanfiction Contest, challenge pairing Gemshipping: RyouxTKB. It was just the excuse I needed to actually get this thing out of my head and onto paper. Reviews are very much loved. Thank you for reading!