A/N: For Tier 3 of Season 8.5 of the YGO fic contest here on ff-net. The pairing this time was Casteshipping – Thief King Bakura and Atem. I was drawing a blank for the Atem part while Bakura's actions were clear from the start. So what do I do when I don't feel a character? Set the fic in his perspective, of course! -fails- Thus, this fic is rather… tame.
The timeframe for this was supposed to be late 18th dynasty – early 19th dynasty (16th-13th centuries BCE – manga-verse's 3000 years ago), but my research brought up a lot of inconsistencies with the terminology I initially used. Thus, I left out the minutiae details and invoked artistic license.
Disclaimer: Kazuki Takahashi and all associated companies are the rightful owners of the Yuugiou! franchise and I claim no association with any of them. No copyright infringement intended with this and no money is being made from this. Please support the creator by purchasing the official releases.
Warnings: mostly worksafe; contains some slightly violent imagery, but nothing very explicit.
A Vertigo of Samsara
Somehow, Atem already knows what's coming. Even before he hears the band of attackers emerge from their hideout, he knows that they are lying in wait. He knows that his guards are going to die moments before it happens. When his palanquin suddenly tilts and topples at an odd angle, he already knows that the fall is going to hurt. When the curtain flings open and his cushions spill out, he sees that two carriers in the front lie on the ground. One has an arrow sticking through his neck, the other – in his chest. Atem manages to spot the horde of ragtag attackers – but it is a brief flash – and in the next moment there is pain. Pain from colliding with the ground, pain from the palanquin falling on top of him, and pain from knowing that this is the end. His men are dying. Atem would like to shut out the noise of battle, would like to silence the sound of death, but he is trapped beneath the weight of wood and fabric, and of foreboding.
Atem's carriers are panicking. Not because their king is being crushed by the palanquin, but because their own lives are in danger. They can see the king's guards – the Medjay – falling, they hear the clamor of the battle, and they scatter – to their death. The Medjay close in around the fallen carriage – not because they have to protect the ruler, but because it is the only solid backing they have right now. The band of thieves close in around them – all with weathered faces and bloodthirst in their eyes. The king which the Medjay are supposed to protect might already be dead. Right now it's the question of their own lives. If they don't fight, they will surely die, for these attackers aren't merciful.
Atem tries to crawl out from under the carriage because even if currently it is safer to remain there, it is damaging to his pride as the ruler of the land. This is when he discovers that the pain he feels is not just from the fall. There is an arrow embedded deep in his chest. He coughs weakly and tastes blood, but there is nobody near him to catch the sound. Nobody but the dead.
Even more riders come galloping down the road, and the ground trembles under the hooves of their horses. The fight continues.
Atem doesn't know how long it takes for the battle to end. He doesn't need to look to know that all of his men lie dead. Eventually, strong hands lift the carriage off him, and he slips out of its confines. The sharp and sudden movement jostles his leg, and he can't help the groan of pain from sounding out loud. His leg is broken, but his mind doesn't fully register it. Currently, he is more concerned with the shadow looming over him. Who is it – a friend or foe? The sun is in his eyes and he can only make out a silhouette. It is oddly familiar, but he can't quite place how or why. He can only discern loud voices without understanding the words, and then there is the feeling of being carried before darkness swallows him.
. . .
It's violent and messy, and a group of elite Medjay guards usher Atem away from the throne room where Sety wreaks chaos with his personal army and their Ka monsters. Two pillars collapse, blocking their path and locking them in, and the Blue Eyes White dragon rises above them. Its roar seems to rock the very foundations of the room. The guards hastily gather around their ruler to create a living shield. There is a brief moment when through the gaps between their bodies Atem sees Mahaad collapsing. A huge chunk is missing from his side – bitten out by a towering many-eyed monster. Atem doesn't know whose it is; who could have carried such a hideous thing inside. He sees Isyt falling not two steps away, and her cry of pain tears at his heart.
Somebody screams at the far end of the room, and a low hollow rumble comes from overhead. Atem looks up just in time to see darkness rushing at him.
. . .
It is not a good day to be outside of the palace – so the seers have ruled; but at the same time, they have seen no imminent danger. Isyt is of the same opinion, though more tentative. Her tauk has been showing only mist for the past few weeks, and even gazing into the holy fire has yielded nothing to clear the visions.
Atem's sculptors have finally finished adorning the walls of his tomb, and he is eager to see how well they have recreated his ideas in stone. The day for his visit to evaluate their work has been set weeks prior. Only the best in his kingdom have been employed, and Atem himself made the selections after seeing examples of their work. Their skill is unquestionably the best. It would be an insult to their art to not acknowledge it.
Upon descending into the burial chamber of the royal tomb, a magnificent sight greets Atem and his small entourage. Many oil lamps have been brought in and they illuminate the path brightly. The passage leading into the main chamber is lined with rows upon rows of stone tablets of Ka monsters for Atem to summon if the need ever arose in the world beyond. On the once-bare walls of the chamber now are blooming gardens, full of birds and animals, ponds and flowers, and a thicket of papyrus lightly swaying in the wind. Majestic statues of gods stand vigil and passages of the Book of the Dead span large sections of another wall. The texts are outlined by scenes of lamenting women and rows of other nations bowing before the king of Egypt, recognising his greatness and honouring him in death. The place for his sarcophagus has already been set and adorned, and only his coffin is still missing from the room – it is still too early to even think of one. Instead, there sit large wooden trays, ushabti figurines stacked upon them; all ready to answer and work in Atem's stead. He notices that not two of them have identical features, and he can only marvel at the skill of his sculptors. He quietly notes to his treasurer that an extra reward is in order.
"Isn't this fitting?" a mocking voice queries from the shadows, right behind the circle of light cast by the oil lamps. "That a final resting place is this."
While Atem and his convoy look for the source of the voice, there comes a lot of noise from the entrance into the tomb. The clamour of a sudden battle breaking out and the echoing shouts from the Medjay cause immediate disarray. The royals look around in confusion, seeking a place to withdraw and hide, while others try to spot the person who spoke out of place. The sound of breaking stone overwhelms all other noise for a moment. The tablets of Ka monsters shatter one by one (and several simultaneously), the creatures within them breaking free and wreaking havoc. Within moments, the beautiful carvings and paintings on the walls are stained red. The statues of gods topple over, breaking apart and crushing people. The trays with ushabti are knocked over and careless feet trample the clay figurines. Most of the lamps go out and the tomb sinks in twilight. Above it all, somebody is laughing.
The Ka monsters rise around Atem, but none of his guards are near. The narrow chamber is only big enough to allow in the king's closest royals, the priests, and some of the king's entourage. Everybody else had to remain outside. Atem doesn't remember being knocked down; he doesn't remember the fall. He only knows that he is suddenly on the ground, fighting for breath while something strangles him. In the dim light he can only make out a clear outline of a golden ring – a familiar golden item which usually hangs around Mahaad's neck.
"The gods have spoken!" the bearer of the ring proclaims loudly. "Gods have deemed you unworthy. A god's hand struck you down!"
The voice isn't Mahaad's. The eyes burning down at Atem are not his, either. (And how could they be, when Mahaad stayed back at the temple.)
Atem struggles for air. He gropes around the floor for anything to use as a weapon and cuts his hand on a fallen sword. The sudden pain jostles his senses. He clutches the blade and fumbles around with it until he knows for certain which way is the hilt and which – the pointed edge. A mistake can cost his life right now. He thrusts the sword upwards at his attacker and feels the resistance when metal meets flesh and bone. His attacker jerks back in pain; Atem hears a low hiss pass his lips before the hold around his neck loosens, and then he can finally breathe again. Choking on the rush of air, Atem pushes forth, forcing the other to back away until a streak of light hits his face.
White hair, a jagged scar under his right eye, and hatred, hatred, hatred.
"No!" the white-haired man growls. "No. Not again."
Again, Atem wonders dazedly, what is he…
The ring – Mahaad's ring, indeed – around this stranger's neck glows and glows, the light blinding and hot. In a flash, the world colours white.
. . .
On one side, sand stretches as far as the eye can see, and on the other stand the various housings of people in high positions in the king's court. A simple but well-kept road separates the two. The sun beats down on a ceremony slowly moving along that road, heading from the main palace to the summer residence of the kings. Atem is supposed to wed in one month, and his bride has already arrived from a land far in the east. He sits in his palanquin with the curtains drawn and wonders what his future wife looks like, while his carriers bring him to her. It is unheard of for the ruler to do such a thing, to leave the palace and go to his bride instead of having her brought before him, but it is Atem's insistence. He wants to make her feel at home in his land, even though it is a political marriage.
The attack takes Atem's convoy by surprise. Burly men emerge from the gateway of a house that belongs to one of the priests. The initial blow takes many lives, and Atem can't help but feel that all of this has happened before. Arrows come singing through the air, and several impacts later, the carriage falls down. Its carriers are dead or dying. An arrow scores Atem's forehead before the riders accompanying him move in to shield him. Blood flowing into his eyes, he remains crouched down the way his guards advise him to. It is undignified and disgraceful for somebody who is the son of gods themselves, but it is the only thing he can do. He can only wait for the outcome of the battle.
More riders thunder down the road, and soon the only audible thing is the clang of sword against sword. Howls of pain fill the air, and the ground reverberates with the thuds of bodies hitting it and the hooves of horses stomping madly. Somebody is laughing maniacally over it all, and that sound is the most horrifying thing the king of Egypt has ever heard.
By the time everything ends and silence reigns, the curtain of Atem's palanquin is tattered and blood-splattered. Somebody's sword cuts it away, and Atem looks up. The stranger looks right back, eerie violet eyes sharp and piercing. He is not afraid to stare down the ruler of Egypt. He knows who is on the ground before him and he doesn't turn his eyes down and away, as is the rule for all commoners when in front of their king. Instead, Atem feels that he might have to turn his eyes away instead.
Atem doesn't recognise this man; white-haired and wild, and with the strangest eyes he's ever seen. The man grins down at him and raises his sword to cut the king down. (Atem has no weapons, he cannot counter.) But the man doesn't notice what Atem does: one of his Medjay struggles up on his knees and thrusts his spear forward. It pierces the assassin's side and sticks out of his stomach. A myriad of emotions passes over the white-haired man's face before a howl of outrage tears through the air. Atem's guard holds onto the spear for dear life.
Run, his eyes say, but no sound comes from his mouth; only blood – thick and red, and it bubbles around his lips with the air puffing out from his punctured lungs.
Atem runs. The moment his attacker turns to cut the Medjay down, he runs. He doesn't get very far before the world skews and twists away.
. . .
Sand shifts over Bakura's fingers, chased by the wind. Diabound writhes above him, its body dissipating and scattering. A storm is coming and these are the first signs. One of the ruler's magicians stands before him. It takes all the distance of one step, one swing with his staff, and Bakura feels himself changing. With a furious roar he lunges forward, but his legs fall apart, grains of sand scattering. His fingertips brush against the golden Ring resting against the chest of his opponent, and they crumble apart and sift down the other's front like sand. The Ring is a warm gold against fine linen robes.
Bakura curses. He curses himself, the magician, the Ring, the world. The Ring glows and the world resets one more time.
. . .
Bakura is furious. No matter how many times he has tried, no matter how close he has gotten to killing Atem, somebody always gets in his way. Somebody always rises to oppose him; somebody is always there to shield the king of the land from the fatal blow. How many times has Sety gotten in his way; how many times that accursed High Priest has made the first move instead, stealing Bakura's chance. How many times he has stolen his rightful kill! How many times the ruler himself has managed to stand up and counter his attacks!
At first, Bakura went for the same scenarios time and time again. He would replay each scene to perfection until all blind spots, all stray chances were eliminated. Success should have been guaranteed. But it wasn't. Always, at the last minute, somebody broke through and interfered. Nothing changed even after he tried different approaches, took different chances, and changed the settings.
One more time, he thinks furiously, the Ring thrumming lightly in his hands. One more time.
The world resets. This is page one. At the very top, Bakura draws the first black line to spell out insanity.
Bakura demonstrated the Ring's ability to reverse time. I took it one step further.
Samsara – the cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth in many Indian religions.
vertigo – a form of dizziness.
adorning the tombs – It was custom that the tombs were built and adorned while the Pharaoh was still alive because, as Elisabeth Hering so nicely put in her book, 'dead Pharaohs are poor payers'. (Yes, I am shamelessly plugging this book left and right because it is an amazing read.)
'king' and 'ruler' instead of 'Pharaoh' – initially, the word 'pharaoh' referred to king's palace and it wasn't until the mid-18th dynasty (approx. 15th century BCE) that it became a title for the king, hence why my preference for the previous two.
Isyt – Isis; used to differentiate her from the modern-day Isis Ishtar – since 'Isis' is the English rendition of the Greek rendition of her name, and a recent study suggests that her name in Ancient Egyptian might have been Usat. The Egyptologists also tend to pronounce her name as "ee-set"; which is why I chose a middle ground.
Sety – Seth/Set/Seto; used to differentiate him from the modern-day Seto Kaiba. This rendition of his name was shamelessly stolen from Sety Merenptah – which is the birth name ofMenmaatre Seti I, a 19th dynasty Pharaoh. I presume that this would have been his birth name, and only upon ascending the throne after Atem he would take on a new name as per the custom – Seti or Set.
ushabti – servant figurines who would act as the deceased person's substitutes if he had to do manual work in the afterlife.
Medjay – during the 18th century, they were an elite police force, usually guarding the palace, tombs, and other structures of high importance. I took the liberty of assuming that they would also accompany the Pharaoh when the travelled, though he most likely would have his own personal guard instead.
Sources cited/referenced: "Der Bildhauer des Pharao" by Elisabeth Hering and Wikipedia (don't mock).