The sounds he associated with the beloved Nile calmed him down endlessly. He did not know the reason for that particular fact, but he cared not to contemplate it more than necessary. Usually, he had a handful of other, much more important things to think of whenever he fled the Palace to the river's bank – there was no time to seriously consider the reason behind the pacifying effect the Nile had on his hassled mind.
This time was no different.
He had been yearning for the beautiful rhapsody of the bird's chirps and the sweet melody of the Nile's waters on the muddy shore. His troubled thoughts made him crave the gentle ruffling of the tall reeds and sedges as they bent down to playfully brush the Nile's beautiful face, before the wind would pull them back and away from the water, only to have them escape once more and the cycle repeat.
He had waited until Siamun stopped hovering around him with scrolls and official titles and waited until Mahado and Ishizu stopped directing worried looks towards him and waited until he no longer was the cause behind Karim's and Shadi's latest argument, which he had overheard them shouting back and forth in the Palace's gardens.
He had waited till… he was no longer following him with those piercing, alluring blue eyes.
And finally, the sun was setting, literally and metaphorically, and he was free from all of that.
Atemu sat on one of the rocks beside the Nile's waters, his crown, gold armlets and wristbands resting inside his cape, which he had taken off and put beside him on the rock. He had washed his face from multiple layers of cosmetics and was then sitting with his knees drawn up to his chest, his arms hugging them closer to his body. To any onlooker, he was a simple boy sitting by the Nile, deep in thought - but he made sure he was away from the onlookers by sitting in a place surrounded by high, towering papyrus sedges. He did not want to be around anyone at all. Especially one blue-eyed High Priest going by the name Seth.
It was three days after the Beautiful Feast of the Valley. After he and Seth had…
He did not let his mind go there. He forcefully steered his thoughts away from that particular topic. He and Seth hadn't spoken ever since they had both exchanged those little, whispered declarations of love to one another in his private cabin on the ship.
Atemu had woken up sometime in the middle of the night and had been appalled to see Seth lying beside him, naked, just like he had been. Realization had dawned on him and soon he had gotten up from the lavish bed to put on a cloak and kilt, closing both around himself before he fled the cabin to head for Mahado's quarters on the ship. He had stayed there, sitting on the bed and staring off into space until Mahado returned a while before the break of dawn.
He was touched; Mahado had wanted to go kill Seth in his sleep. But, after Atemu stopped him and sat drinking hot milk with millets, many linen covers on him, it made the Pharaoh think of why Mahado had first thought that it must have been Seth who had upset him like that. But soon, that question had been thwarted by many others. What was to happen now? How would he face Seth again? How would he tell him that they could not carry on with what they both felt for one another? How would he break it to him that he would soon leave him behind? How would he ask Seth to hate him, so that when he left, he would be happy and not miserable?
He had not been, and was still not, able to find an answer to any of his questions, and so, to his own endless shame, he had run away from what would put him into direct contact with the frightening answers. Did that make a coward out of him? Out of His Majesty, the Pharaoh of the Two Lands? What was he expected to feel? He really needed someone to answer that particular doubt, because ever since that day when Seth had come searching for him early in the morning on the ship, and ever since he had put on an emotionless mask and told Seth that 'the Pharaoh needed to be left to his thoughts for the time being, High Priest Seth', he had only been feeling utterly wretched.
Since that time, it had only been 'High Priest Seth', and whenever his cousin even hinted that he was about to start discussing anything remotely related to that wonderful, wonderful night, Atemu would turn around and simply walk away.
Atemu sighed and looked up at the darkening sky with a thoughtful look in his crimson eyes; this was terrible. This was entirely his fault! He should never have gotten so weak back in the cabin of the ship. Everything was many times more complicated than what it had been back when he and Seth were simply exchanging longing glances at one another during the times the other Priests and advisors weren't looking.
He wanted to stay where he was and forget about everything surrounding him. It would be such a relief to just never look back at those horrible, unanswerable questions, or care about the too heavy responsibilities he bore on his shoulders everyday. How he prayed for some miracle to happen and that all of this would go away, that when he closed his eyes and opened them again he would be just a normal, carefree person without worries, reservations, uncertainties…
It seemed that the Gods would never allow such a thing, since now, even as he sat there hiding from the world, there were sudden, loud banging and crashing noises coming from the direction of the city, followed by loud screams and yells.
He got up immediately and stared at the direction of the commotion, before his eyes, previously narrowed to try and focus on the reason behind this noise, widened in shock and worry when he saw flames rising from the houses and buildings of Thebes.
In a moment, he had grabbed his things and mounted his horse. After adjusting his cape around his neck once again, putting in place the crown and gold which signified his status to his people, he gave his horse a powerful nudge in the flanks, tugging on the reins to make the beast dash towards the city.
He was panting heavily, tension rising in him at the situation that was becoming clearer with every gallop his horse took. The sound of terrified screams became louder and the houses on fire grew more prominent to his gaze. What was happening? A common fire would never spread that fast, and the people would probably try and put out the fire that was eating up their lives and belongings, not run away with such great terror in their eyes. This was…unnatural.
Yet the moment he entered the city's market street, he understood. And immediately, the frown on his face turned more concerned and worried, apprehensive at what he saw before him.
In the middle of the street, stood one of the hugest and most terrifying soul monsters Atemu had ever seen in his life. It was so huge, he felt tiny in front of it, and it was so hideous. It rose several arms above the tallest of obelisks in Thebes, vaguely similar to a human in terms of its body, with a chest and arms and a head, but so warped it looked more like a demon from the deepest, darkest pits of the underworld, with red eyes, a hideous chin and protruding horns on its forehead. On the other end of the monster's body feet did not form, tailing off into the head of a snake. A mighty, powerful snake, whose fangs were currently bared, preparing to launch itself at a woman who was holding her infant in her arms, her body curled up as much as possible around it, trying to protect it.
Atemu pulled the reins, bringing his horse to an abrupt halt near the horrifying creature, preparing to summon Slifer to protect the woman and her child, when someone else beat him to it, a familiar looking monster attacking the terrible monster with a huge blast of energy.
Atemu gasped, recognizing Duos, Seth's soul monster. He soon saw Seth leading the rest of his High Priests, all on top of their horses, riding from the direction of the Palace.
He glared venomously and hissed at Seth the moment he came close, "How many times must I tell you not to place your soul monsters right in the face of danger like that Seth! By the Gods, next time you disobey me regarding this I will lock you in the Palace's dungeons! Do I make myself clear?"
Seth's eyes, so blue and so cold without emotion in them, sent shivers throughout his body as his cousin inclined his head in apology and said with a smooth, controlled voice, "As His Majesty wishes. My apologies for my disobedience."
Atemu bit his lip at the hurt he felt traveling through him at the cold treatment, but he had no one to blame but himself. That prevented him from responding to the evil laugh that came from an area behind the huge monster, which had received Duos' attack and yet had not fallen. Atemu felt himself shuddering at the evilness of that laugh, but he frowned and watched as the person laughing emerged from behind the monster.
Said person was a tall young man, with the well-known tan of the Egyptians but with unusual, exotic tresses of disheveled white hair. He had sinister eyes, whose color Atemu could not be sure of; was it grey? Was it lilac? He could not make out. But he knew that they, together with the scary scar that ran down the length of the young man's right cheek and the nasty smile adorning his wickedly handsome face, made the entire area surrounding them darken not only with the horror of the monster, but with the evilness he emitted.
"Who are you?" Atemu demanded, narrowing his eyes further.
The young man chuckled again, and muttered in a low, mocking, disrespectful voice, "Hello, little Pharaoh…I am so glad we could meet; a commoner like myself cannot possibly dream of meeting royalty as…great as the son of the murderer Akunamukanon. My name is Bakura, and I am here to take all of your Millennium Items so I can avenge what the heartless monster, Akunamukanon did."
Atemu frowned and narrowed his eyes while Seth hissed, "How dare you say such terrible things about the great Pha-"
The young man interrupted him with an even eviler chuckle and he said, "The great Pharaoh Akunamukanon was a cold-blooded murderer who did not hesitate to kill an entire village to satisfy his dreams of glory."
All of them, save Akunadin whose eyes widened in slight shock and recognition, stared at the young man for a while, then Atemu frowned and narrowed his eyes once more, urging his horse to trot forwards so that he in front of the other priests. "I will not accept your horrible and untrue accusations at the late Pharaoh Akunamukanon. We will use the Millennium Items to defeat you, Bakura."
"I will take those glittering, beautiful things from all of you and there will be nothing you can do about it, Pharaoh!"
"Your soul is too black for you to wield any of the Items…" Atemu countered.
Bakura started laughing again and Atemu's frown grew more vexed, before the young man told him in amusement, "What hypocrisy. You speak of banishing darkness using the Items, yet the very same Items were forged with the blackness of Akunamukanon's soul."
"What are you talking about?" Atemu asked in confusion.
Bakura smirked and snapped, "Why did Akunamukanon order the death of ninety-nine of the inhabitants of the village of Kul Elna? Is it not good enough of a proof that he is nothing but a terrible murderer?"
Atemu was struck speechless. What was this person speaking of? Why was he saying such terrible things about his deceased father? He pursed his lips angrily and pulled the reins of his horse, hissing, "Shame on you. How dare you utter such dreadful lies about a man as great as my father? My father valued every living soul dwelling in his lands. To say otherwise is ultimate treason!"
Bakura's evil smirk widened. "Such a wonderful display of loyalty…I would hate it if Akunamukanon couldn't witness his son's devotion." Before Atemu could ask him what he meant, he whistled loudly and the sound of a galloping horse was heard. "Say hello to Pharaoh Akunamukanon."
Atemu's eyes widened as he recognized what the horse, which was galloping quickly towards them, was dragging behind it. From behind him, Siamun, who had accompanied the other priests, gasped in horror, "The Pharaoh's sarcophagus!"
The horse stopped at a short distance from them and Bakura casually flung a knife at the rope holding the sarcophagus to the horse, grinning and remarking, "Here, you murderer; your son is still defending you!"
Anger made Atemu's eyes darken terribly and he angrily cried, "Bakura, how dare you do such a thing? How dare you trespass on a ground as sacred as the tomb of a great Pharaoh?" He slid off his horse so he could kneel down beside the sarcophagus, just as Siamun did the same.
"I dare do it and will keep doing it to everyone who preceded this murderer until you hand over the Items. Or perhaps if I get bored, I will kill all of you and take the Items by force."
Siamun touched the sarcophagus with a wrinkled hand and wailed, "I am sorry you had to see this, your Majesty. This terrible beast has said nothing but lies and false accusations to dishonor your virtuous line."
Atemu stared up at him and said, "I am well aware of that…" And he rose up to his feet so he could glare intensely at Bakura and he resumed, "And that is why this blasphemous fool will be brought down justly. And it is the Gods themselves who will show him how terrible his crime is."
Bakura frowned and angrily snapped, "Stop stalling Pharaoh and give me the Items before I kill all of you."
Atemu's eyes narrowed and he walked forward, closer to Bakura raised his arm to his chest and started his Diadiankh and said, "Justice is the name of the Gods…" and before he ended his statement, the ground was shaking fiercely, making the horses neigh in terror and shift restlessly, and made the priests and Bakura stare around them in apprehension, just as Atemu called with a loud, baritone cry, "In the name of every Pharaoh to rule the lands of Egypt, come forth, Obelisk the Tormentor!"
With an angry, ruthless rumble that made the ground shake even more, Obelisk appeared. It was immense, standing behind Atemu to glare as heatedly as the Pharaoh was at Bakura and his monster. The citizens of Thebes who were watching from afar, after safely taking refuge behind buildings, averted their eyes, because they could not tolerate the horror they felt at seeing the angry God standing behind their Pharaoh, at the boy who seemed to be just as livid as the God.
"Justice is with the Gods, Bakura." Atemu repeated in a low voice, glaring at the young man before him.
However, Bakura stood challengingly in front of it and pointed forward and commanded his hideous monster, "Attack, Diabound!"
Atemu's eyes darkened with anger and he ordered Obelisk to counter the attack. The two mighty powers met and clashed with a loud pandemonium, light turning the night sky as bright as that of the day.
The two monsters fell back, both undefeated. Seth was staring wide eyed, since he never expected anything to withstand the wrath of Obelisk. What kind of power was that thief's monster using?
Meanwhile, Atemu felt as though his mind was on fire, pain tearing through his entire body as he doubled over. In front of him Bakura was straightening up, wiping away the blood that was seeping from the corner of his lip.
He spat it out in a vulgar, disrespectful manner. "I better take my leave now, little Pharaoh. However, this is not over." With grace he jumped on top of his horse and galloped past Atemu's kneeling form, where Seth had rushed forward to the king's side, and then stopped in front of Mahado and told him with a smirk, "You should not grow too fond of your Ring, Priest. It is mine."
Mahado glared up at him with narrowed brown eyes and said, "The Millennium Ring was created for me, Tomb Robber! Do not even hope to put your hands on it or any of the other Items."
"The Ring is mine. It is destined to fall into my hands…so are all the other Items." Bakura told him, then pulled the reins and made the horse start galloping away.
"STOP!" Atemu shouted, as he rose up from his kneeling position, but Bakura just laughed.
Akunadin turned to the palace guards who had accompanied them and unnecessarily ordered them to follow Bakura, who they were dashing after.
Seth worriedly looked at Atemu, whose face was paler than ever, as he watched the bandit flee and escape before their eyes. He did not have a good feeling about this at all.
The week to follow was the most horrible one Seth ever experienced in his life. He knew it was the most horrible for everyone living in the Palace. Mahado decided he would go hunting Bakura by himself and lost the Shadow Game. Several confrontations with the troublesome Tomb Robber took place and one of them almost cost Atemu's life, the Pharaoh falling into the Nile and being lost to them for almost an entire day. On top of the hysteric worry Seth was experiencing, his father, the wise High Priest Akunadin, decided to lose his sanity and order him to kill a defenseless girl, which later on died anyway and passed on her powerful Shadow Monster to him. And to make the whole week even worse, he had done the unthinkable, which was stand against Atemu in a Shadow Game. Even though he had not been aware of what he had been doing, due to some horrible spell that made him a puppet his father used freely, he did not think he could ever forgive himself.
By the end of the week he had lost his father, after he declared the man was no longer related to him due to how disgraceful his father's descent into darkness and betrayal was. They had lost Mahado; the people were terrified; the darkness was spreading its dreadful wings all over them and Atemu already reached the end of his endurance, Seth could make out.
Bakura was still causing trouble.
The latest escapade Bakura caused had been when he had revived the Dark Lord, Zork - the being responsible for the formation of the Shadow Realm. The horrible creature was roaming around the Egyptian lands, terrorizing the people and swiftly approaching Thebes.
It was a horrible time; everyone was apprehensive. Seth's heart was sinking as time passed. Atemu had announced that afternoon that he had found a way to stop Zork and that he would tell them by sunset after he sorted his thoughts. Seth knew that whatever Atemu was planning could not be good.
As he stood pacing the place in front of the throne room, trying to calm himself down and think optimistically and tell himself that nothing bad was about to happen, he heard the sound of light, nimble footsteps which he knew too well, looking up to watch as Atemu walked closer to the throne room, a troubled expression in his beautiful crimson eyes.
Seth stepped out from behind one of the high pillars and stood within Atemu's range of vision, waiting until his cousin noticed his presence and slowed down, red eyes rising to stare into his own with a fearful, anxious expression.
Seth stood staring at him for a while, and then asked, "Are you alright?"
Atemu blinked and nodded slowly, "Yes, I am fine."
"You're lying to me."
Atemu averted his eyes away and looked down at his feet.
"Don't avoid me, Atemu, you've been doing that for so long now - I cannot even recall the last time you spoke to me properly." Seth shook his head with a pained expression in his blue eyes. Atemu did not answer and kept his eyes fixed on his sandals. Seth raised his hand to Atemu's cheek and tilted his head up, but Atemu closed his eyes to avoid looking at him.
Seth stared at him helplessly. "Please Atemu…don't…"
"No Seth…" Atemu interrupted him. Seth blinked, while Atemu opened his eyes and looked at him with watery, glittering crimson orbs. "You…don't do this. Don't…"
"What are you…"
"Don't…It was a mistake…I should never have…" Atemu gasped out, his eyes clenched shut tightly, an extremely anguished look on his face.
Seth frowned in confusion. "What…What are you saying? What was a mistake? You…I… I love you!"
"I should have never allowed you to…" Atemu whispered and, Seth did not know if it was consciously or unconsciously, he raised his hand up and he held onto Seth's wrist.
Seth kept staring at him in confusion, unable to understand what was happening, why Atemu was saying such horrible things to him, and why he denied his feelings. Atemu told him…he told him he loved him back on the ship. He told him he never wanted to be with anyone else and told him that he was everything he ever wanted and everything he would ever want. He told him he was the most precious thing to him in life…
Atemu finally opened his eyes again and looked up at him and whispered, pleaded, "Seth…you cannot love me anymore…"
"This is something you cannot command others to do, your Majesty!" Seth spat angrily. "You cannot stop someone from wanting to breathe; you cannot stop the Egyptians' want for the Nile to keep flowing and you most definitely cannot stop someone from loving someone else." Atemu hung his head down in defeat and raised his hand to his forehead in tiredness, while Seth resumed, his frown deepening, "You cannot stop me from loving you…and you cannot stop yourself from loving me, Atemu…"
"This will bring you more pain than you deserve, Seth…please…" Atemu whispered, trying to retreat away from Seth, but his cousin grabbed him by the upper arm and kept him in place, so he sighed and said, "Please Seth…don't make this more difficult than it has to be."
"You're anything but a coward, Atemu…do not try and run away from this by saying that it is for my own good." Seth hissed at him angrily.
"You don't understand, Seth…" Atemu snapped angrily at him. Seth frowned so he resumed, "Tomorrow…I… at dawn, I will…" and he trailed off, after his voice broke over the words.
Seth stared at him blankly, waiting for him to resume, but Atemu was silent and was not looking at him. Seth could not stand it; the tension building inside him made him suffocate and inevitably, he became angry and he grabbed Atemu by the upper arms and shook him slightly and hissed, "You'll what?"
"I am going to seal myself inside my Puzzle tomorrow at dawn."
Seth stared at him with a blank expression; what?
Atemu kept staring at him in the eyes and carried on with a calm, steady voice, "It's the only way. I knew it long back, that day on the ship, I knew it. Ishizu predicted it." Seth kept staring at him, unable to understand what his cousin was telling him. His hold went slack on Atemu, and he stepped back a small bit, still staring in confusion at his cousin who carried on with that inanimate voice, "I will seal myself in the Puzzle in exchange for Zork to be defeated. It is the only way…"
"No…" Seth whispered, shaking his head. "No. That's…you're…YOU'RE LYING!"
"I know you do not like what you are hearing, High Priest Seth, but do not disregard who you are speaking to!" Atemu sternly, coldly and unemotionally snapped with a horrific scowl on his godlike features.
Seth stared at him, unable to understand, accept what Atemu was telling him. "Why…Why are you like this! Why are you doing this, Atemu? Why are you saying such terrible things?"
Atemu tiredly raised his hands to his forehead and said, "I am not lying…"
Seth's mind was reeling. This…this was not real. This was one of Atemu's terrible jokes that lacked hilarity in the cruelest of ways. He stared down at his feet…then around him and fixed his eyes for a while on the hieroglyphs inscribed on the high pillar they were standing beside, before his muddled, confused mind forced him to look elsewhere to try and find a distraction from this terribleness that was bound to be a nightmare, a lie, which he would escape very soon.
He started and his restless eyes settled on Atemu's sad face, when his cousin's hand rose up to the side of his face. "Seth…please…don't make this so hard…"
At that, Seth could not control himself.
With lightning speed, he grabbed Atemu by the upper arms again and pushed him forcefully against the nearest marble pillar. He gave no heed to the gasp of pain that left those supple lips he had enjoyed kissing days ago after craving them for so long, narrowing his eyes and hissing, "Hard? How precisely am I making it hard, your highness? The way I am responding to the news you just broke to me?" Atemu bit his lower lip and stared up at him with large, scared crimson eyes, which were just so beautiful, he could not help but get angrier at what Atemu just said…at the possibility of never again looking into those two gems. "Forgive me, my Pharaoh, I do not know what the most appropriate way to react to being told that the most precious side of my entire life is going to die is…"
Atemu closed his eyes and started, "Seth…"
But Seth did not let him continue and shook him in anger and hissed, "I never thought you would so selfish, Atemu…you truly are the most inconsiderate person ever, aren't you? You don't want me to make things harder…you don't want to make things difficult for yourself… but…" he paused and his frown intensified at how he felt his eyes burning with suppressed tears and he then resumed in a lower voice, "What about me…?"
Atemu opened his now watery eyes and desperately pleaded, "Seth…I am sorry…this is what fate has in store for me. The one who can control the Gods…is the one to be sealed ins…"
"NO!" Seth cried out, and successfully managed to make him fall quiet again. "No! You are lying to me now, Atemu. And if this is a lie, I assure you that I am very, very angry with you right now."
Atemu pleadingly stared at him and said, "Seth…this is not a lie. I would never lie about such a thing. Egypt will fall into darkness and I have the choice to stop that from happening."
"You chose this without thinking of me…"
"Don't say that!" Atemu hissed back at him, suddenly looking angry.
"Yes! I will say it and I will keep repeating it. You are…what will I do…?" Atemu did not answer him. He just closed his eyes once more and let his head hang down in defeat and silence. Seth angrily waited for him to speak, but he did not, so snapped, "Answer me, Atemu! What am I supposed to do after you are gone?"
"I am sorry, Seth…I do not know what to tell you. But I cannot let thousands of people die and suffer while I watch on, because we want to stay with one another." Atemu answered in a low voice.
Seth just stared at him, feeling a deep sense of oppression, agony and distress wash over him, unable to control the single tear that escaped his eye and slid down his face. This was just a nightmare, wasn't it? He was about to wake up and everything would be fine once more. Just when he thought the week could not possibly be any worse…
"There is another way." He declared.
Atemu stared up at him hopefully, "Do you know one?"
Seth blinked, "No…" a crestfallen expression surfaced once more on Atemu's features, so he rushed out, "There must be another way…"
Atemu sighed and looked up at him with tired crimson eyes and said calmly, "No, Seth…there isn't."
Seth got angry again and shook him for the third time, making the other cringe. "DON'T SAY THAT!"
Atemu was going to say something else, before Siamun's shocked voice came from somewhere to their side, "High Priest Seth, what are you doing?"
Seth stared at Atemu for a while longer, ignoring the remainder of the High Priests and the advisor, who had all gathered around him holding Atemu against the pillar in that manner, before narrowing his eyes and letting go of his cousin, the Pharaoh staring down at the ground in silence after he was released.
Seth turned around and ignored the reprimanding looks he was receiving from everyone, trying to filter out the voices of the members of the party which just appeared, as to whether Atemu was alright or not. He walked over to the marble pillar on the side facing the garden and stared off at the setting sun, resting against the pillar.
Everything was starting to lose its meaning. He felt so lost…confused and horrified. As though he was just told his world was coming to an end. But that was not so very wrong, was it? Who was he without Atemu? Who was he without his own living God? Without his own Horus? His sun, his moon, his air, his water… he could not even begin believing what Atemu just told him. He was still convinced he was going to wake up soon and he would soon be heading for the throne room to be the first one after Atemu to be present for the several matters which concerned the normal happenings in the country.
He was aware that Atemu was breaking the news to the others right where they stood, because he, Seth, would not obey and go into the throne room like he was asked. He was aware of the shocked silence, aware of the tears Isis was shedding and the repressed tears in the others' eyes. He was aware of Atemu's irritatingly strong, contained voice. He was aware that once again, Atemu was chosen as the martyr who would have to sacrifice in order to save others. He was aware that after Atemu died…the country would be without a ruler…
He was painfully aware that the answer to Siamun's question as to who would take up the throne of Egypt after Atemu's departure, would be…
"I have decided to appoint Seth as the next person to take the throne…"
He closed his eyes and his head fell slightly to the side, resting against the pillar. There was complete silence behind him and he could feel everyone's eyes on him. Gods…this was not happening. This was not happening.
He heard the sound of the familiar footsteps again…slow, careful, sorrowful. Atemu stood beside him and Seth knew, even with his eyes shut, that his cousin was looking at him in worry, sorrow and distress. He did not move, though. He refused to acknowledge that any of what was going on around him was real.
No 'High Priest Seth' now, he thought bitterly. He opened his eyes, but kept them fixed on one of the statues of Horus in the garden and whispered, "No…" Atemu was silent beside him, so he explained, "I will not become the Pharaoh after you." Again, Atemu was completely silent, so Seth added in a whisper so that no one else would hear him, "So that if you die tomorrow, I will kill myself and follow you…"
"No! No, Seth…you cannot do that." Atemu finally spoke. He raised his hand and placed it on Seth's arm, but then stared in shock and horror as Seth stepped back, away from him and his touch and gave him an anguished, condemning look. His hand fell back beside him and he said, "Someone has to do it…I am sorry, but I cannot trust anyone to do it except you, Seth…"
Seth closed his eyes briefly then raised his eyes to the heavens, not finding anywhere else to put them, and in some sort of a silent, desperate prayer to the Gods above, hoped frantically for this to just be a figment of his imagination.
Atemu approached him hesitantly and tentatively raised his hand so he could place it on Seth's arm. "I do not have any other choice, Seth…I have to do this. Please do not refuse just because of your consternation at my decision. Forgive me Seth, but I need to be sure that someone like you will make sure that peace spreads in Egypt…" Seth turned away from him, but Atemu held onto his arm tightly and pleaded, "Seth! Please don't do this!"
Seth raised his hand to his forehead. So now not only was he expected to stand watching as Atemu died to save all of them, but he was also expected to carry on living an entire lifetime on his own, to carry out the duties and obligations and bear the responsibilities of the ruler of a great kingdom like Egypt, expected to sire an heir with some woman he did not love…
The thought was too much for him to take.
He stared down at Atemu who was holding onto him with so much desperation and, without regard for the others who were with them; he dropped the façade he usually put up in front of them. He had to tear his eyes away from Atemu and stepped back a bit, unable to cope with how tremendously traumatized his cousin looked. Seth had to start preparing himself for Atemu's departure. And because, as he recalled all the things he would have to do if he took the throne, he realized that that was what was awaiting Atemu… why hadn't he realized this sooner? Was it because he was not the one who had to go through that? He just had to turn away…
At Seth's avoidance Atemu bowed his head down in defeat and, without regarding those who were with them at all, he sank down to his knees in front of Seth and sobbed out, "Please Seth…"
"Your Majesty," Siamun, obviously mortified, exclaimed and rushed forward, dropping to his knees beside his Pharaoh, while staring up at Seth with a heated glare. "Seth, you fool! How dare you?"
Seth turned around and took a few steps away, far off enough to not be able to hear the heart-shattering sound of Atemu's soft crying. To try and ignore how very vulnerable his cousin looked right then, and to try and stop the gnawing, unbearable ache that was burning up his insides and demanding that he fled the entire place right then and there.
But no. He couldn't do that; run away. What was he? A coward? Atemu had chosen him…as inhumane, inconsiderate and torturous as that was…it was a duty handed over to him. What sort of cowering beast would he be if he ran away from what he had been entrusted to do?
And so, he turned around to stare at Atemu's kneeling form. He could feel Ishizu, Karim and Shadi all staring in silent sadness at them, could see Siamun's angry glare and he could very clearly see the little, wet patches right beneath Atemu's bowed head that signified the tears his cousin was shedding.
He ignored everyone around them and he took a few steps forward, kneeling down in front of Atemu on one knee, one hand sliding under fallen locks of golden hair so he could lift up Atemu's head up, looking at his King's watery eyes and tear-streaked, kohl-stained face. He kept staring at Atemu silently, until his cousin whispered to him, "Seth…I…I am sorry…but I really…"
"Atemu." Seth interrupted him, his voice smooth, unemotional and unwavering. His cousin stared at him with sad, crimson eyes, so he shook his head and declared, "Atemu…I will never, ever…forgive you for this…"
He could see the horror and devastation on Atemu's features, pulse quickening beneath his hand as the Pharaoh tensed. Seth smiled reassuringly and leaned closer, placing a gentle kiss on Atemu's cheek, following it by a small kiss on the lips, not caring to hide the nature of their feelings for one another.
Then, Seth drew back and stood up. He took a few steps back and kept staring into Atemu's eyes which were now fixed at him, wide with shock, hurt, confusion and despair at what he had just heard Seth telling him. Seth pursed his lips, blinked once, and his smile disappeared, replaced by an emotionless, cruel mask of indifference. "Your Majesty…choosing me as the next Pharaoh of Egypt honors me beyond reason. I hope to be worthy of the trust you place in me…"
He bowed respectfully before rising once more and turning around to leave with long, confident strides, slamming the doors shut the moment he reached his chambers. He went to his dresser, taking off the headdress he wore and placed it on the marble slab…and then anger, frustration and sadness washed over him in heavy waves and he found his arm swinging and brushing everything on the dresser off onto the floor with a loud crash.
This truly was the most terrible week in his entire life.
Time went by so slowly, yet all too quickly at the same time. Seth could see the stars getting brighter with every passing moment, could feel the shudders running throughout his body at the horrible darkness surrounding everything. He hated how anxiety, discomfort and disbelief hung around the entire Palace, how everything was so silent. He couldn't even hear the birds and animals of the night animals making any sound – it was as though every soul inhabiting the land was holding its breath in horror at what was to happen to Atemu…
Seth could not force himself to leave his chambers, the room littered with shards of glass and broken furniture, flooded with the spilt oils, perfumes and cosmetics he'd flung around in his temper. He felt that he could not face the world. He could not find the strength within him to actually see anyone…because that would be declaring that everything was fine, that he had come to terms with what was to happen at the break of dawn. It was as though, if he spoke to anyone, it would be affirming that it was alright to carry on with basic actions of life, such as speaking to someone else.
He felt like weeping. But he did not. His eyes were dry, unemotional, as he stared down at the gardens, lifting his eyes with fervent prayers to the heavens at other times. Weeping would be the final stage after which there was no coming back. If he wept, it would mean that what was happening was true, and he refused to admit it was true. He did not want to cut things so cleanly with such an action. Crying came at the end, after all hope died. Shedding tears would mean that he had given up. Weeping meant that he would be mourning Atemu before Atemu even died…
And so, he forced himself to stay composed, staring down at the garden's spring, and the lotus flowers in it.
And then, he saw him…again.
Atemu was running in the garden…he had taken off his heavy jewelry and cosmetics, clad in nothing but a simple, linen kilt, a belt holding it in place. The only gold he wore was his crown, his hair scattered messily around it, the warm summer wind ruffling the strands as he ran.
He pensively skipped through the garden, stopping at a strawberry bush so he would pick from it and eat his fill, before carrying on to a nearby fountain, so he could stare down at the lotus flowers floating idly in it. His hand dipped into the water, taking some out in his cupped palm and flicking it up into the air. He closed his eyes, pretending that it was rain, repeating the action over and over again, wanting to feel anything and everything before his hour of doom the next day.
From one plant to the other, from one statue to the next, from one feeling to the one after it…he ran through the gardens of the Palace. He was living for the final time and he did not know if he was ever going to feel what he was feeling at the moment ever again, so he made sure to savor every feeling, every whiff of air which ruffled his hair, every smell, every touch to his skin and every memory he had of this sanctuary, this home he had known ever since he had been born.
And then…he stopped in front of the two statues right in the middle of the garden.
Apprehensively, with tranquil steps, he walked closer to the statues of the two Gods placed in front of one another. He smiled sadly at one, sinking down to his knees on the ground in the area right in-between the two Gods, bowing his head respectfully. His pose was pleading, beseeching, as he placed his hand together, starting to whisper under his breath to one of the statues, almost as if he was whispering the words into the ear of a dear friend.
"Horus…dear God, King and Brother… spread your wings over the lands of Egypt…do not abandon the people of this very Egypt in their time of need. Protect them with your mighty powers. Keep every man, woman, child and elder within your sight and may you extend your protection and strength to every good citizen walking the lands of Egypt…"
He paused, closing his eyes and biting his lip so hard he could feel the blood on his tongue from where the delicate skin broke. He added in a more determined, somewhat louder voice, as he tried to gain strength from the extra volume, "Mighty Horus…may you lend High Priest Seth sufficient strength to carry the burden of ruling this very Egypt, and may you grant him your blessed, divine approval to become a fair, kind ruler to his people…"
Atemu opened his eyes and looked up, feeling the chilling coolness of the tears that slid down his cheeks as the wind started to quickly dry them. He stared up pleadingly at the falcon-headed God. "Give him strength to go on…"
Then, he turned his attention to the God on his other side and he blinked, letting his tears fall from his eyes again. Once more, he bowed his head down, putting his hands together as he closed his eyes and started speaking:
"Almighty Seth…may you lend the Egyptians your blessings at tomorrow's first light. May you defeat our enemies, sending your chaos to cripple the darkness and banish it from the beloved lands of Egypt. Without your guidance, this final battle will never be won. May you keep Egypt's foul enemies defeated and thwarted, and may you keep the Egyptians safe and keep our lands void of any vile enemies."
Again, he forced himself not to fall apart, resuming his prayers with a lower voice, "Grant High Priest Seth the strength and valor to carry out his duty as Egypt's next king and lend him the strength to be the fair and kind ruler to his people."
He stayed on his knees for a while longer, and then rose up to his feet. He stared up at both the statues with a serene pair of crimson eyes, before turning around and walking to stand in front of a balcony in the second level of the Palace, knowing very well who it belonged to. Just like he had done whilst praying to the Gods, he sank down to his knees, putting his hands together and smiling tranquilly, his eyes closed as he started speaking:
"Seth… I am aware that my decision has hurt you. and I am aware that I will never be forgiven for it. I have come to terms with the reality that I do not deserve your forgiveness at all…I have been selfish and I did not consider your feelings…"
He paused and breathed evenly through his nose, feeling his throat getting blocked, his voice dying before his words left his mouth. When he was sure his voice would come out evenly again, he resumed, "I have prayed…every single night after Ishizu told me what was to happen…I prayed for both the person I loved the most and I prayed for the people who have put their faith in me. I have prayed for the honor which I would surely lose if I had chosen you over my people…"
Atemu paused again and stared up at the balcony, a longing expression appearing in his crimson eyes as he saw that there were no lights coming from Seth's chambers. He closed his eyes again and put them down to the ground. "I prayed to have you as well as do a good job protecting my people, Seth…I prayed for both, but the Gods denied my pleas… it was a lot to ask."
His throat closed up too quickly this time for him to try and prevent the sob that escaped his lips. One of his hands went to his mouth, to try and kill anymore sounds before they escaped, but it was too much and soon, both his hands were on the ground instead, supporting his body up as he cried and sniffled so very pathetically on his knees, in front of the balcony of the most important person in his life, who was now beyond his reach.
From between his sobs, though, he was praying…praying to the person he truly lived for, who now refused to forgive him for the choice which he had made without understanding why he had to make it or why it had to be that way.
"Seth…I do not deserve it…but I hope you find it in you some day…after I am gone…to forgive me. Please forgive me for the distress, for leaving you alone with so much fear and responsibilities to deal with on your own. Please forgive that I will not be here to witness you become a Pharaoh greater than me and greater than…than what I will ever expect you to…" Atemu choked on the words and as another sob cruelly silenced his words, like a whip lashing out at a helpless being.
He felt himself getting weak with melancholy. His arms gave way and he leaned down further, his head on his hands. He continued, since he felt that it what he was doing was the only way to try and explain himself. To try and repent for the choice he had made, for how really cursed he was, for how he had selfishly dragged the person dearest to his heart into such a horrible web of sadness.
"Forgive me, Seth…for all our dreams, which we had to silence…and kill so horribly. I have always loved you beyond reason, even as we…as we stood against one another in this place five years back…please forgive me; our dreams will have to stay confined to only that term…they will always remain dreams…" he forced himself to rise into a seated position on his knees and he whimpered out, "I do not know, Seth…if this will be worth leaving you behind like this. I do not know if your suffering will be rewarded and I do not know if our love will ever get to bloom…"
His hands rose up to his face and, with as much grace as possible, he wiped away his tears and carried on, not knowing if what he was saying was doing any good, or if the only benefit to come out of this conversation with Seth, who was not around to hear him or be ashamed of how much he was sniveling so spinelessly, was the sadness he was causing himself.
"I promise you Seth… that if we ever get the chance to meet ever again…I will never put anything before you ever again… this is an oath I am taking upon myself and let the Gods be witnesses to it…"
He pulled himself up to his feet and concluded his words, "Our souls have been tortured for so long, Seth…by love and by pain. Our dreams were broken and we sacrificed so much… I truly pray that our sorrow will be worth what will be awaiting us at the end…" He cast one final look at the balcony and then looked down at the ground and walked away.
From behind one of the immense marble pillars beside one of the fountains, Seth let his body slide down, his back to the cold stone. His hands rose up, his fingers buried in his hair as he bit his lips really hard - but no matter how much willpower and determination he used to try and prevent it, he could not help the silent sob of distress that escaped him, the sound joining the tears that had been sliding down his face.
Seth was the first person Atemu saw the moment he walked out of his chambers before the rising of the sun. The Pharaoh had bathed and changed into elaborate clothing after he had come back from his final stroll in the garden, staying in his room for a while to pray some more to the other Gods and to gather his thoughts, before grabbing his Millennium Puzzle and walking out through the doors…
Only to find Seth standing with his arms crossed in front of his chest, his back leaning against the wall. Atemu stopped, suddenly feeling so much more nervous. He stood silently in front of his cousin, Seth pushing off from the wall, the High Priest opening his eyes and staring down at Atemu with an unreadable, incomprehensible expression in his beautiful blue orbs.
Atemu swallowed; unsure of what to do…he was feeling guilty and terrible. He stared down at his feet, unable to meet the intense gaze with his own. He had no choice however, because Seth stepped forward to stand right in front of him, hooking his index finger beneath Atemu's chin and tilting the other's head up.
Atemu's hand rose up and he tentatively touched Seth's arm. "I am sorry, Seth…if there was another way…I wish there was, but there isn't…"
It was Seth's turn to stare down at his feet. He looked so lost suddenly, and Atemu shuddered and had to suppress anymore tears from escaping his eyes. His hand rose up to Seth's cheek and he cupped it gently and made him look up.
"I cannot…do this…" Seth told him, his voice resentful, uneven.
Atemu bit his lip hard for a moment, then told him, "I am very sorry…" he knew it wouldn't make things better, but he needed to keep apologizing. This was entirely his fault…if he hadn't given in to his weaknesses that night. If he hadn't let his emotions blind his judgment. If he had had a better control over himself…
"No…" Seth said in a low voice, shaking his head. Atemu looked at him questioningly, so he explained, while letting his hand rise up to Atemu's hair, his fingers running slowly, lovingly through it, "This is not…your blunder, Atemu…"
Atemu's eyes filled with tears, but he furiously willed them away as Seth kept running his fingers through his hair, the priest's other hand rising up to touch his face. He closed his eyes and savored his beloved cousin's touches, knowing that these were their final moments together…like this.
Seth stopped moving his hands, letting them slide down to rest on either side of Atemu's face as he leaned down a little and placed his forehead on Atemu's. "I love you, my Pharaoh…"
Atemu blinked and, with that, lost control over the tears that had been accumulating inside his eyes. He did not care about that, he too raising both hands and wrapping them around the other's neck, pulled Seth closer and he placing his lips on his cousin's.
They stood in the hall right in front of the Pharaoh's chambers, kissing and relearning one another's taste. Atemu's eyes slid shut and he let himself drown in the moment, rediscovering how truly perfect his and Seth's lips felt against one another; how snugly they fit into one another, and how easily their tongues met and danced together. Knowing exactly how and when to retreat or thrust forward…it was a perfect dance that was unlike any other.
Atemu tore his lips away and held onto Seth's neck. He wanted to tell Seth he loved him too. He wanted to give Seth the same treatment he received, but… his throat closed up and prevented any sound, except a choked sob, escaping.
Seth's fingers were on his cheeks, wiping away the wetness on them tenderly. "Shh…"
He opened his eyes, looking up at Seth and telling him with a breaking voice, "Seth…I'm…I'm scared…"
Scared was a horrible underestimation; he was terrified. He was a few moments away from dying… he was beyond scared.
Seth's face had an expression of uncertainty, as though he did not know what to do. Atemu couldn't blame him. What could he do? He could do nothing but stand back and watch. And Atemu couldn't do anything but walk bravely to his death and accept what he had to sacrifice.
But he was just so scared…he did not want to die. He did not want to leave. It suddenly dawned on him. He was reeling. He did not want to die yet. He had not gotten to show Seth how much he actually loved him. He had not gotten to beat Seth in a swordfight. He had not yet broken it properly to Karim and Shadi and Siamun that he was in love with his dear cousin. He had not been able to honor Mahado's death like it should have been honored. He had not gotten to see Mana on her wedding day…
He was getting colder and colder with every passing moment. He felt faint and sick. He couldn't breathe.
But then the freezing coolness disappeared suddenly when Seth wrapped his arms around him and pulled him close to his chest. Atemu, seeking refuge from the horror he was feeling, burrowed closer into Seth's hold and let himself cry.
He was feeling a lot more at peace when he drew back after a while. He took a deep breath, stared up at Seth and muttered, "I need you to do one more thing for me, Seth…" Seth blinked in askance, so he resumed, "When…When it is all over I need you to… make sure that my tomb and everything else that should have my name on it…my name should be erased."
Seth gave him a blank look, full of disbelief, confusion, denial. "What!"
"Everywhere…wherever my name is written, Seth…it has to be erased." He repeated.
"No! No, we will build you a great, great Tomb, have your name on every corner of it, and with all of your contri…"
"No, Seth!" Atemu intercepted. Seth fell silent at the harsh tone, so he toned down his voice and explained, "Like that, you will be destroying everything we are having to sacrifice… I am sealing myself in the Puzzle along with Zork, and will use my name as a passkey so that the darkness will remain sealed inside the Puzzle, unless someone puts it together again. This is the way to do it. If someone reads my name, everything that is being done today will be wasted."
Seth closed his eyes briefly, and Atemu read the pain on his features, before he opened them again and nodded. Atemu smiled up sadly at him, raised his hand to Seth's face to touch it very briefly, before turning around to start walking away.
Pharaoh Atemu stood bravely before the immense form of Zork, enduring the monster's terrible appearance and refusing to back down from the confrontation, even when his great Shadow Magic failed to defeat the being of darkness. The Pharaoh's powers were an equal match for Zork's - neither of them could win.
Atemu tried…he tried so hard to end the battle without having to carry out his plan in the process, but his power was waning. He could not keep the fight up any longer. If he did not act quickly, he would lose the battle, and all the Egyptians who were watching him now with such hopeful looks in their large, scared eyes would die because of his failure…
Seth could see the fearful expressions on his cousin's face growing, before determination outweighed the fear - and he then knew that Atemu was about to do 'it'. He closed his eyes in pain as Atemu's strong, baritone voice started chanting the spell which would seal him inside the Puzzle.
Seth couldn't look, but at the same time, he could not do anything but open his eyes to watch as Atemu stood with his Puzzle raised in front of him, light shining from all around him as he ended the spell, the entire area glowing with a bright, blinding light.
Everyone watched in awe, Zork growling in fury and directing a hot ball of fire at Atemu. Seth gasped and was going to rush forward to Atemu, who had fallen to one knee, but Shadi held him back and shook his head.
Seth bit his lip hard and watched as Atemu fell to his knees, blood starting to seep from out the corner of the Pharaoh's mouth and nose. The determined expression in the Pharaoh's fiery crimson eyes, however, never wavered, the light that surrounded the boy increasing in intensity, to the point where they all had to close their eyes against it or risk being blinded.
When they opened their eyes again there was a deathly silence that hovered horribly above the entire area. Seth gasped, sliding quickly off his horse and running over to where the battle had taken place…to where Atemu was lying facedown on the ground with the Puzzle shattered in dozens of pieces around him.
Seth sank down on his knees beside Atemu and gently, carefully, turned the Pharaoh around, pulling the boy closer to his chest. He felt hot, scalding tears sliding down his cheeks, Atemu's beautiful, godly face smeared with blood, still-open crimson eyes hazy as a small smile rested on the boy's lips.
Seth swallowed back against the lodge in his throat as Atemu whispered weakly to him, "I love you, Seth…"
"Atemu…don't…please don't die…" he whispered, his hand frantically jumping to the Millennium Rod hanging in its holder on his hip. He would heal Atemu. He would save him - he had to!
But then Atemu shook his head and whispered, "No, Seth… the Puzzle will now take my soul in its pieces, Seth…my body will die anyway…"
Seth closed his eyes and leaned his head down so he could place it on Atemu's shoulder, whimpering out, with tears wetting his face, "No…no…I don't want you to die…"
He felt Atemu's small hand on his head and heard him whisper, "Seth…please look at me…I want the last thing I see…to be your eyes…please…"
Horrified at having to see the last flicker of life leaving the beloved crimson eyes, Seth forced himself to stare up at the crimson eyes in question. He could at least grant his cousin this last request before his death. He saw Atemu smiling peacefully and heard him whisper his last words…
The Pharaoh was wept throughout all of the Egyptian lands. People flooded into Thebes from all over the kingdom to attend the seventy-day long ritual of the burial. After it was concluded with Seth took the throne, starting to follow Atemu's footsteps regarding every single issue that concerned the matters of the country - he could not find anyone better to follow in their way of leading Egypt.
The years passed, and Seth managed to rein in his uncontrollable grief at Atemu's absence. His life sank into a terrible monotony - full of pain, longing, loneliness and worry about the safety of the country, about the trust Atemu had placed in him. Nothing meant happiness anymore; he could not truly enjoy doing any activity with anyone at all, and soon, he began to give up on trying to enjoy anything.
He took a wife. As much as it pained him, as much as he hated doing it, he had to take that step. He chose one of the daughters of a simple, not too famous, Theban family. Taking a wife was horrific enough for him, but to have to endure the arrogance of a bratty aristocratic girl…that was what he could not do. She was beautiful and represented an Egyptian woman in every aspect and Seth found he could stand the idea of staring at her. Siamun had objected, of course, but Seth did not allow him to comment on the topic any more than necessary.
Seth had not liked her at all at first. She was nothing compared to Atemu, and she somehow knew, she felt, that those were his feelings. She surprised him, however, with her intelligence, sitting at his feet one night and asking him, with a low voice, if he had loved the Pharaoh Atemu, the one who had come before…
Seth had answered her question with the truth…and told her what the true nature of his and Atemu's relationship had been. He had started to accept life with her after that. He did not feel guilty about taking her to bed, because he knew that this was simply to produce heirs, to continue the line. It was nothing compared to that precious night on the ship, the happenings of which that were permanently inscribed on the most vivid of Seth's memories.
Many years after the day he had held Atemu in his arms and looked into red eyes as all life left them, he himself was lying on his deathbed, his chestnut brown hair then a dark silver color, his face wrinkled with age. His wife was by his side, trying to soothe his final moments and make them as comfortable as possible.
His three sons and beautiful daughter stood by his side. He stared at each one of them in turn, giving them some final words of advice, asking them to take care of one another and to not leave one another's side no matter what should happen.
He was feeling weaker with every passing moment; he knew the time had come. But, before he closed his eyes to try and speed up the inevitable, he took his wife's hand and kissed it gently, grateful for the love which he had never returned.
Behind his closed lids he let his mind wander away, remembering all the good times he had spent with Atemu. He remembered their first quarrel, their swordfight, the taunts they had exchanged the following day as they had both been made to stay back in the Palace in one another's company. He recalled the challenges, the trust that had started blooming, the support they had given one another…and he then started recalling the first time he had started thinking of Atemu as more than just a good friend. The day when they had been out hunting and Atemu had used up all of his arrows, asking for some more so he could continue hunting but being denied any by Seth and the others, Atemu stomping down from his chariot and sitting cross-legged in front of the hunting party, declaring that unless his demands for some spare arrows were met, he would not move a finger from where he was sitting.
Every time earlier than then, whenever Seth had tried to recall Atemu's face, each one of his memories had been tainted by the final memory Seth had of Atemu's face, blood-stained and tear-streaked as anguish marred its beautiful features. Every time he had tried to recall the spark and liveliness of the stunning crimson eyes he had only recalled the brightness fading away from them, replaced by a lifeless gaze. It was as though, after he had seen Atemu dying, the memory of the death overrode all other memories he had of his cousin. Every time he had recalled something funny Atemu had done, or had done to him by Seth, Atemu's lively face – that he should have remembered – had gotten replaced by his dying one.
But then…what a relief. Seth could recall everything just the way it had happened.
Seth smiled one final time, his eyes closed, and the last thing he thought of before his death was Atemu's promise. Atemu's oath to make him his priority the next time they met…
A/N: I'll be putting up the more cheerful prideshipping sequel up next week ^_^ I am sorry for killing them XD (no I am not)