A/N: Season 9 3/4 Round 4 nameless pairing – Mahaad x Malik (I assumed Ishtar, though it wasn't specified, so I played around a bit there). The song "Suburbia" by I Heart Sharks inspired much of this, along with Metallica's "Enter Sandman" and Fall Out Boy's "My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light Em Up)". Had to turn this into an offshoot because I was hard-pressed for time and couldn't finish the entire ending sequence of this story on time for the contest, orz.

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: violence, generally mature themes.


Interlude

Malik didn't know what had made him do it. He reckoned something must have possessed him at the time. Or perhaps it had been the last bit of sanity clinging to him that had pushed his hand in an attempt to break free from his own Darkness. Perhaps it had been a well-concocted streak of madness, produced by the sweltering hatred that was boiling over at the back of his mind. He had attempted to force the full ownership of the Ring to pass into his hands. First, he'd tried purging the remainder of the spiritual residue from its inhabitant, but unsuccessfully. The spirit seemed to be ingrained in the very structure of the ancient artifact and could not be expelled. Then he'd tried summoning it back into the body of one of his mind slaves, hoping to gain control over the item that way – not that he needed another asset when he had the Rod and the Necklace, and the completely defunct Puzzle, but he felt… uneasy somehow for as long as the trace between the ancient soul and the solid gold piece existed.

That's when he tried resurrection. That worked, to a degree. Tracking down the original body of the one calling himself Bakura was impossible. Thieves and vagabonds weren't given proper burial rites and any corpse that could have been left behind was either swallowed by the desert sands and mixed together with the bones of other unfortunate souls who'd met their end in the sea of sands, or scattered around and worn away by wild animals and time until nothing but dust remained. Malik was forced to use someone else's mummy and he wrongfully assumed that the spirit would take over the body the same way it had taken the living human boy's, but he was greatly disappointed that it wasn't the case. He did get another restless soul, though; one that had sworn to serve and protect its king even beyond eternity. Choosing the mummy of Mahaad, the royal magician and the owner of the Ring before mock-Bakura proved to be a grave mistake. The Rod did take care of that little problem, and his army of Rare Hunters gained a new and dangerous addition.

Sometimes he would partially relinquish the hold on Mahaad – enough to permit him to speak on his own and scream in pain, but not enough to allow his body any movement from the neck down - to torture him for information on the other Items, their keepers, and Bakura, most of all. He didn't learn much in the process, though. Nothing he could use to track down any of the things he was still missing.

On day two of Mahaad's return, the Ring vanished without a trace. Six men that had been posted on the watch had died that day and Mahaad had met the next dawn while lying in a shallow puddle of his own blood, every fibre of his resurrected body seeming to be on fire, just barely breathing and too weak to even attempt keeping his sanity intact against the waves of pain that kept crashing over him. Trying to work out a way to break free from Malik's hold was the furthest thing on his mind that morning. Instead, somewhere in the last moments between agonising pain and the welcoming unconsciousness, he cursed the Ring and its existence.

Weeks passed by with Mahaad trapped in his own mind and he was never sure how much time he'd spent subdued and doing Malik's bidding. His subconscious mind was well aware that his spellwork – which hadn't fully recuperated yet, or was perhaps too outdated for the current world and therefore not working the way it would have back in his own day – was being used. Even if he couldn't quite recall the kinds of spells he'd cast and couldn't grasp the exact scale of their prowess, he was still aware of it being activated. He could feel the aftertaste of magic even if days passed before his mind was allowed to surface again. Those days were steadily growing rarer and rarer though, as the Darkness wielding the Rod learned that his mind was truly devoid of that deeper insight he sought after.

By the time the unquestionable superiority of Malik and his forces began to shift away from him, Mahaad had lost all hope of breaking free. Even if he had been the king's head magician back in the day, without the Ring he was powerless against the Rod and Malik's skill in twisting minds. The twisted Egyptian boy had gotten so familiar with the Item that it acted as an extension of his own hand. Mahaad couldn't recall Set ever using it with such deathly perfection, even though he'd been the master of it for a long, long time, full of tremor and wrath.

Mahaad was so worn down that, upon being awakened again to be used as Malik's torture toy at the disappointment of Ishizu slipping right through his fingers, he couldn't feel the most recent shift in power. Of course, had he still had the Ring on him, he would have been able to detect the power splitting away from the centre of energy exuding from the Puzzle, however weak it was. He only saw the glint off the golden blade being unsheathed right in front of his eyes and he only felt the pain of it breaking skin. He only saw the red blood trickle over the spider web of scar lines on his body left by the morbid dance the knife was reliving all over again. The question "why?" remained frozen at the back of his tongue, only screams of pain rising up to pass his lips.