Pain, flaring like a lance through the chest. The gold that rested around Ryou's neck seemed as though it had increased in weight, pulling against his muscles and pressing itself tight over his heart.
Blood pounded through his skull, his eyes hazy with red, his ears finding nothing but the eternal drumming of his heart. It rose in tempo, become louder and louder, until it drowned out even his own frantic cries. Fingers struck out to take purchase on anything they could, to steady his weakening frame. They dug into the sheets of his bed, tangling themselves – Slipping fast as the boy collapsed to his knees, lurching to his side and letting out one final gasp. His eyes burned, and he tried his hardest to close them, to shut them tight and give them some sort of rest. His body refused, keeping the boy staring through a film of crimson as his room darkened.
O- M-r-e-, I -d
The ground beneath Ryou's body was loose, dry, rough, hot. His fingers tried to tighten around the sheets he had pulled down with him, instead closing around sand that flowed from his grasp. His vision cleared itself moment by moment, and he let out a stale breath, kicking up a cloud of dust. The sun stamped itself across his back, and from his position laying on the ground, the boy could see that he was in the midst of a desert – an ocean of sand spreading out ahead of him. From the reddening sky, he saw that it was sunset, the last burning rays of dusk forcing themselves over the dunes before the freezing night took over.
He lifted his aching body from the ground, turning his head and wincing as the bones cracked and popped violently. The weight was gone from his chest, and on checking he realised that the pendant his father had given him was no longer hanging from his neck. He panicked, turning around to check if it had fallen somewhere, stopping when he realised that he wasn't alone out here in the desert.
The figure that sat behind him had their bare back turned to Ryou. It was broad and sculpted, the back of someone who had seen toil in their lifetime, despite the unblemished skin pointing to the figure being young. Perhaps no older than Ryou himself, with a mane of prematurely grey hair.
The words hadn't been spoken by the figure Ryou had been watching. They seemed to have drifted over the dunes with the breeze, punctuated by the faintest whipping of the sands. The figure's shoulders began to rise and fall deeply, heavy breathing. The sobbing that came was unmistakeably his own. Low, tortured, hopeless noises.
Keep quiet! They'll hear us…
A different voice this time, but it too snapped over the sand with no visible speaker. Ryou turned every way to try and spot who was out there. It was only him and the weeping stranger. A sudden crashing, the sound of wood splintering beneath a mighty impact. The figure's body lurched, his head turning upwards. His low crying turning to screams of desperation as every muscle in his body tensed.
Ryou pushed his hands to his ears in an attempt to block out the noises. The sounds of metal striking metal, heavy hoof-beats, crumbling stone, children screaming. All of them blended with one another, adding to a cauldron of adult men and women shrieking in pain, sickening wet snapping noises, the low, ominous crackle of spreading fires as the sun pushed itself below the horizon.
There's another one!
This ghostly voice boomed out over the dunes, rising over the cacophony that flowed into Ryou's ears. The stranger sat bolt upright, raising his arms to shield his face. His scream reached Ryou's mind, even though the boy had clamped his hands over his ears. The horrific cry rippled through his body, rattling his teeth and slicking his eyes with tears. The stranger was shouting in protest, pleading to be let go.
The noise of metal piercing soft flesh.
Soundlessly, the stranger pitched backwards. Ryou watched in horror as the face came into view, one eye pushed closed, covered in thick crimson blood that rushed down his features – the other staring wildly, deranged and confused. The rush of familiarity passed through Ryou, the sensation of two bound minds meeting. In the stranger's wounded face, the boy saw himself as though through an ancient mirror. A precursor.
The stranger's head struck the sand, splitting open into a cascade of reds and purples. Blood and thick strands of grey pulp spilled to the ground.
The world plunged into blackness, saving Ryou from the sight.
O- Me-r-es, I -e-d
Ryou recognised the voice, but he wasn't sure where from. The words seemed broken, obscured by an aural fog out here in the black.
"Who's out there?" He called out.
"Is anyone out there?" It certainly wasn't the response he had expected. The voice sounded as though it belonged to the stranger from before. It was hoarse and strangled, as though every fibre of the boy's body was starved of moisture.
The darkness began to lift, revealing a new landscape. It was still at the centre of rising dunes of sand, but now Ryou was amidst the husks of buildings. Blackened timbers stood, looking frail as they thrust into the noon sky. It looked as though at any moment a breeze would reduce them all to ashes and scatter them over the land. Other former homes lay scorched and twisted, splayed out like morbid art.
Despite himself, Ryou reached out and touched the closest shaft of wood, recoiling as memories of the stables it had once been split his mind apart.
Horses screaming as they pulled in vain at their bonds, even as the building turned to an inferno around them.
He lurched backwards, holding his head and letting out a cry. The pain subsided and he was left gasping for air.
What had made him guess that this pile of ashes and charcoal had once been a stable? He corrected himself. It hadn't been a guess. He specifically remembered what it had been. What it had looked like, what it had smelled like. He remembered placing his hand against the side of one horse, weak from hunger and wheezing its final breaths.
A sudden movement dragged him from the strange recollections. Off to one side, a shape passed through an arch of splintered wood, dragging something behind it.
"Hey, wait!" Ryou gave chase, ducking under the arch and out into the centre of the village.
A village? Was that what this pile of debris had once been?
The stables, here. Only a few paces from the back entrance to the food market. The well wouldn't be far, perhaps buried under the-
Ryou shook his head violently. He could not remember these things. They had never happened to him and he had no reason to recall any of this information.
The stranger from before was here. He seemed smaller somehow, hunched over, dragging himself along. It wasn't just himself he was dragging either. One hand was clasped around the ankle of a female corpse, open wounds-
-Open wounds on her stomach and chest from where he had torn the arrows from Amane's body.
Ryou clutched his head again.
No. Not Amane. She had never been attacked with an arrow, Ryou was sure of it. Who was this girl? Why did she remind him of his own-
- His own sister, torn from him by the Pharaoh's soldiers. The arrows that had pierced her body extinguishing the last of his family. The soldiers had come to take her corpse, to use it for whatever disgusting aim they had. He had struck out, killed the two soldiers, grabbed his sister and run into the desert. He kept her safe, waiting to bring her back, to look for survivors.
Ryou rushed to stand in front of the stranger, trying to ignore the disquieting feeling of kinship as he looked into that one, glaring eye. Though it was caked with dried, blackened blood, the closed eye was unharmed. The deep groove in his cheek and brow spoke of a terrible future scar though.
The stranger didn't take notice of him.
"Hey, stop." Ryou spread his arms as he blocked the way ahead. The stranger ignored him, continuing his slow journey onwards. Ryou stepped out of the way, following and calling, occasionally pushing his hand in front of the stranger. Either he was being ignored, or the other young man truly could not see or hear him.
He followed the wounded stranger, trying desperately not to look at the grim cargo he dragged in his shadow. They reached a clearing at the centre of the village, an area ringed with blackened destruction. The stranger sank to his knees. Ryou looked to the centre of the clearing and remembered.
They were all dragged here. The young and the old, the sick and the wounded, the dead and those who had simply laid down arms. All of them herded to this place, pressed together like cattle in a pen. He had seen them all, surrounded by the purple and red lights of the infernal. Every last one of them – melting away. Dissolving. Screaming. Running together into a torrent of flesh and bones and blood. Their souls torn out, forged into hellish trinkets for the damned Pharaoh. He had looked back, weeping, tightening his grip around his dead sister and fled into the desert, unable to save his people.
Ryou and the stranger let out the same scream of pain and rage. It was laden with grief and hatred, spilling their spirits onto the sands as they fell forwards, hands gripping dust and ashes, holding it in their clenched fists.
The first of the noises made Ryou gag. It was moist, high, a snap of skin and muscle. They both turned to the body, and to the wake of vultures that huddled over it.
"No…" The stranger whispered, his voice still sounding dry as the sand beneath him. He was weak, he was passionless. He had spilled his entire soul into that one outraged scream. He crawled to the scavengers, waving one arm feebly at them, trying desperately to get them to disperse.
The wake was hungry; it would not be driven away by one man turned delirious with grief and dehydration. A few of the huge birds left the group, advancing on the stranger with spread wings, screeching at him. Their beaks slashed out, puncturing the flesh of his arms and shoulders and he lurched backwards, landing heavily. He watched as they returned to the feast, their heads bobbing, coming back black and red, strands of meat glistening before they were swallowed.
A strangled collection of noises erupted from his throat. At first a cry of frail defiance, a bellow of rage. It warped into a hollow howl of despair, watching helplessly as his sister was devoured before his eyes. He sank forward to his hands and knees, his shoulders once again rising and falling frantically.
Ryou took a step forward, trying to block out the vile noises erupting from the grisly feast in front of them. He reached out to touch the stranger, to console him.
As the light bled out, Bakura of Kul Elna watched the last shred of his former life being torn asunder by scavengers. He held himself on his hands and knees, spittle and bile coating his lips and spilling to the ground as his chest erupted into a laugh. The longest, the loudest cackle that he would ever make.
Darkness came, and with it, a blessed silence.
On Me-or-es, I -eed
The obscured words echoed through Ryou's mind as he came to, sprawled on the floor of his bedroom.
For the longest time, he lay there, not wanting to move himself. To just let everything he had witnessed bleed out through his ears and eyes. The room began to brighten, and he realised the sun was rising, spilling gold through the shutters and onto his collapsed body.
"Why?" He asked, his voice faltering even over that one syllable.
"Do not question your memories…" That malevolent voice rose from the golden ring resting between his chest and the floor.
"They aren't my memories," Ryou pleaded, feeling his eyes ache and moisten.
Please! Don't hurt me!
"They are his," the voice corrected him. "Sealed inside the Millennium Ring. Entombed with me for thousands of years."
"They aren't my memories!" Ryou was insistent, angry almost.
"Now you bear them." The Ring whispered, the voice fading. "One day, just like your precursor, you will be gone. You will be nothing more than the sum of your memories."
You can't have her!
"And those memories will belong to me." The voice of the Ring was finally subsumed by a collection of screams and shouts. A score of voices all pleading and crying out, echoing through the dunes of Ryou's mind.
Why are you doing this!
Stop! Please, I'm innocent!
She was just a child!
You'll pay for this!
Not like this, please not like this!
They aren't my memories!
On memories, I feed…