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Beginning of this fanfiction is actually HERE. You will also find more fic intro notes there. Warning! There is a lot of notes for this part.

RE:Play by Shiraume

[Written: 5/29/2009 - 12/31/2010]

II. RE:Turn
(Third part of RE:Turn.)

~*~*~*~


Ineb Hedj, Lower Egypt

The great pyramids stretched up towards the sky, soaring in the distance, clearly visible over the white walls of Ineb Hedj.

Bakura cursed, wiping his brow. Fifteen years were a long time, and most of the officials and priests who served then had either retired or died. But some of the soldiers lived and remembered, and wine and gold easily loosened their tongue and refreshed their memory. The incident fifteen years ago could have been written off as a punitive measure against a village of grave robbers who made their living looting the royal tombs nearby. There were, however, no official records of any royal sanction against the residents of the Kur-Elna. As far as the official records were concerned, the villagers had, in the span of single week, simply vanished from the face of the earth. And the truth might have been buried forever in the sands of time, had there not been a survivor who witnessed both the massacre and the gruesome ritual performed in the secrecy of a hidden underground chamber. The only other legacy of that night was a secret temple for the deceased, built in the same chamber with a strange centerpiece: a large cylindrical stone with seven grooves of different shapes.

Bakura clenched his hands until he could feel blunt nails dig into the flesh of his palms. It had taken a lot of digging and countless false leads, but he’d learned there was a book of secrets passed down since the antiquities, known only to the kings and their most trusted priests. Actually, virtually every priest and scholar both in Egypt and abroad had heard the rumors of a legendary book of spells, said to contain the power to rule over all the lands. However, the book had been so well guarded that a scarce few could confirm the book even existed, let alone knew its content. Supposedly, when the kingdom’s capital moved, the book had also been moved to the new royal city. If he could just get his hands on this book, he might be able to gain a power to rival even that of the Seven Items. Unless he found a way to challenge the power of the famed Seven Items, his dream of revenge would remain just that: a dream. Still, it was one thing to bribe corrupt officials and priests in the royal city. The secrets of the temple were closely guarded, passed only to the innermost clique even among the priests. After nearly two years of fruitless search within the royal city, Bakura had concluded either the book was destroyed, or at least moved to another location.

Which had led him to the old capital, to the ancient seat of the kingdom. If any place held records that the royal city lacked, it would be Ineb Hedj. If nothing else availed him, he could try the old temples here. The temple complex of Ptah, though somewhat declined of late, like the other temples eclipsed by the rising fame of Amun-Ra, was still substantial, entwined in the heart of the city. Its archives reached far back into the kingdom’s history, dating back over a thousand years. Countless magic spells and books lay lost or forgotten in aged buildings, gathering dust.

Still, all of those would have to wait, Bakura decided, until he got his hands on more cash first. He’d exhausted most of his loot on bribery. He needed to replenish his funds before he could move onto more ambitious projects, like pumping the priests here for information. With those thoughts in mind, he turned his attention to finding the most opulent inn the city had to offer.

Ah, there. A reputable inn with a sprawling garden in its inner courtyard. Sweet fragrance of fruits and flowers perfumed the air. There was even a large artificial pond full of blue lotus and papyrus. Likely the place served rich merchants traveling from the northeast, on their way down to the south. A good start. Careful to avoid the eyes of the servants, he scanned the guests loitering about the garden. As expected, some of them looked quite rich, decked in jewelry from head to toe. Among them, a woman caught his eye with her striking wheat-colored hair. Well, that and her ample...assets. Even without her dress, which was most definitely not Egyptian, one could never have mistaken her for a native; her features were too different, with harsher angles and fairer skin than one usually saw in Egyptian blood. Perhaps someone from the northeast, like the Land of Hatti. The heavy silver bracelets on her arms were of finest quality, set with scarlet carnelians. And the way she held herself, with the poise and confidence that could only have been bred since birth...a noble, Bakura decided with a contemptuous snort. It was uncommon but not unheard of, noblewomen traveling in foreign lands, usually in the company of their husbands, flirting with local youths while their henpecked men toiled away bargaining with merchants and finding priceless treasures to ferry home. And there was the local native, about twenty years of age, with unruly brown hair and brown eyes. The woman had her arm possessively linked to his, throwing her head back and laughing at something he said. He was handsome enough to look at, Bakura supposed, in an ill-groomed sort of way. But his garment was coarse enough to be mistaken for a servant’s, and his graceless gait was a visible contrast to his companion’s effortless glide.

With an amused snort, he dismissed the unlikely couple from his mind, and returned his attention to the rooms he’d been scouting as he passed. Despite what people thought, in a busy inn like this, it was far easier to steal during the broad daylight, when people left the rooms to tend to their business. He licked his lips, watching intently as a maid packed fine linen with expert hands, then laid out boxes made of precious white cedar, richly decorated with carvings. The maid carefully tucked them into the packed linen, except for the biggest box, which Bakura guessed must contain her mistress’s favorite jewels, and would be needed shortly. A voice called from outside the room, and the maid was on her feet, hurrying outside the door. Too easy, thought Bakura as he snuck into the room the maid had just vacated, and soundlessly crossed the room to open the cedar box.

Bakura whistled quietly. He’d struck gold quite literally. Every one of the jewels inside was fit for a queen, with gold, silver, and precious stones filling the box to the brim. Quietly, he closed the box and tucked it under his robe, slithered out to the garden, and made his way to the front gate with a relaxed ease of someone who belonged there. As he passed the front gate, a shriek alerted him someone had noticed the missing jewelry box. There was a spatter of feet running across the hallway, which he ignored, walking into the busy street to be absorbed in the throng that milled about. There was an annoyed shout behind him, and he turned briefly to catch glimpse of a tangled heap with a familiar mop of unruly brown hair. The man was cursing loudly at the youth who’d just collided into him in his haste, and Bakura had to stifle a laugh. Of all the... It seemed he had unwittingly relieved the Hatti woman earlier of her favored possessions, prompting her brave young suitor to dash out in search of her lost jewels. Now that the ‘search party’ had taken care of itself, it was time to make his exit and examine his spoils.

Three streets over, he ducked into an alley, careful to avoid watching eyes, and opened the box again. Inside, he found a priceless necklace of lapis lazuli set in silver, magnificent carnelian rings, a pair of turquoise earrings, and thick strands of amethyst beads. More gold rings, bracelets, and pendants. One, a golden signet ring, caught his eye, and he held it out, examining the markings on its surface. The engraved symbols were peculiar, and definitely not Egyptian in origin. Perhaps Nesili, the language of Hatti. A woman’s head wearing a headdress, with a volute above...

“I’d like you to return those,” said a cool voice, and Bakura nearly jumped out of his skin. A young man with peculiar hairstyle, with his bang sticking out in the front, stood not five feet from him, one hand lightly resting on the hilt of a sword strapped to his side. Tracking him across several blocks and managing to sneak up on him was quite impressive, but Bakura had no desire to relinquish his claim on his new acquisition just yet.

“Oh? What makes you think they don’t belong to me?” he asked mockingly, mentally checking off escape routes. He didn’t particularly feel like leaving bodies behind, not when he’d just gotten here. His mission required stealth, and arousing suspicion of the authorities would hardly help.

“I noticed you lurking around the inn before,” the youth continued casually, fingers caressing the sword hilt like a lover. “I’d have left you alone, but you took something that belongs to my employer. I’m afraid I will have to insist you return them.”

“Your employer?” A mercenary for hire, then. And by the way he held himself, an experienced one. It was irritating to think he was not only seen and noticed, but so easily tracked. The young mercenary’s words, however, drew his attention. This man had no personal stake in retrieving the jewels. Besides, he obviously hadn’t cared a thief was lurking at the inn, and would have been willing to let him go had Bakura not robbed his own employer. “I think more pleasant agreement could be reached, don’t you think? It isn’t as if your lady would miss these.”

“She misses them now.” And just like that, the sword emerged from the sheath, soundless and sleek. The blade had a pale silver-colored edge, and Bakura stared. This was a foreign sword , an iron sword rarely seen in Egypt. His dagger was ready in his hand, drawn by spinal reflex; iron swords were often brittle, and wouldn’t stand long against his prized bronze dagger. “I’d ask you to not waste my time, but I doubt you’d listen.” Then his figure blurred, and Bakura found himself dodging a sword aimed at his neck with a hairbreadth to spare. Holding the jewelry box meant having only one arm free, and Bakura growled in frustration, ducking under yet another deadly thrust, rolling with the force to evade the next attack. One slash flowed into the next seamlessly, and Bakura barely had the time to breathe between landing on his feet and blocking the next thrust –

“I don’t care to kill unless I must,” the mercenary said with the same calm, pinning Bakura in place with the sharp blade nearly touching his throat. Bakura looked at his hand in utter shock; his favorite dagger had been knocked out of his hand with such force that it was embedded several inches deep in the wall a few feet from of him. There wasn’t a single scratch on the mercenary’s sword -- clearly not made of ordinary iron. It was the first time in a long time that someone had bested him in armed combat, and the surprise kept Bakura silent a moment longer before his brain kicked into an overdrive.

“Isn’t it simpler to kill me?” he asked carelessly, holding out the box away from his body, making no move to reach for the second dagger concealed inside his belt. The mercenary behind him gave one-shouldered shrug, then snatched the box out of his hand so quickly, Bakura had no time to register the sword at his throat had also disappeared.

Then the young mercenary was several feet away, out of his immediate reach. “You’re one of the best I’ve fought,” he said simply in the way of explanation. The sword was sheathed with the same grace with which it was drawn, and the mercenary gave a quick nod, and prepared to leave.

“Wait.” It might be useful to have an armed guard for hire, especially one with this level of skill. “What if I told you I’d like to hire you?”

The mercenary didn’t quite frown at him. “My contract with my current employer doesn’t end until tomorrow. I can’t oblige you at this time.”

“But you’ll be free for hiring after tomorrow?”

There was a briefest pause before the mercenary answered. “If the pay is good.”

“Anything you ask, as long as I get what I came here for,” Bakura promised. Having someone like this to guard his back would be quite handy while he looked around in the temples. Plus, mercenaries were well-traveled and often held wealth of information from various regions.

The mercenary studied him for a moment. “As long as you don’t try to pay me with my current employer’s money. I assume you’ll be able to find me tomorrow.”

“Oh, I’ll find you.”

“Very well, then.”

And he was gone. Left behind in the alley, Bakura dusted himself off, mildly annoyed. No matter. There were plenty of other fish in the city with less dangerous watchdogs guarding their treasures. Besides, a warrior of this mercenary’s caliber was rare. It was almost worth his first failure in many years as a thief.

Without another look behind him, Bakura headed back to the busy streets.

~*~*~*~


“How’d you get them back? I was sure they were gone for good.”

“Thieves bold enough to steal in daylight don’t run from the scene of crime,” he said simply, taking no interest in the way the Hatti woman passionately examined the contents of the box. She held up the signet ring -- the same one that had fascinated the thief long enough to be caught off guard -- with obvious relief, holding it close. He’d recognized the design, but had figured it wasn’t his business.

A shame for the Egyptian youth, though, who obviously had no clue. He was reasonably sure the boy was falling in love, with no idea he never had a chance with the beautiful foreigner.

“Djehuty, you shouldn’t have run after the thief like that,” she admonished the Egyptian, like an older sister to a brother, voice laced with equal parts affection and disapproval. “You could have gotten hurt.”

Djehuty scratched his head in embarrassment. “It’s not like I even caught a glimpse of the thief, let alone fight him. Good thing Hondo’s so good at what he does, eh?”

The Hatti woman made a dismissive noise. “He’d better be, with the money I’ve been paying him. I was beginning to wonder if it was necessary.”

“Maai...” Djehuty eyed her with something bordering on exasperation, and Hondo didn’t bother with even a shrug, showing himself out with only a short nod to both of them. Djehuty was a nice kid, but a bit clueless for all the hardship he’d endured. From what he’d heard, Djehuty had been on his own since he was twelve with a younger sister to care for. What had happened to the said sister, that he should spend the last six years wandering abroad, Djehuty never mentioned. He and Maai had met up with Djehuty on the way from Hatti to Egypt, and while they had instantly taken to each other, none of them had really spoken about themselves, preferring to keep their secrets. Maai was returning to Hatti tomorrow, with a large caravan traveling all the way through Hattusa and further east. He didn’t know how much Djehuty guessed about Maai, but didn’t think Djehuty would be willing to travel back to Hatti with her. Whatever painful past had driven him out of his homeland, Djehuty was nevertheless pining for his native country. Their arrival at Ineb Hedj seemed to breathe a new life in him.

No matter. Neither Djehuty’s nor Maai’s fate was his concern starting tomorrow. Hondo returned to his favorite spot in the garden, hidden under the shade of a palm tree. Next to the palms, a pomegranate tree and an apricot tree stood, delicious fruits ripening in the sun. Lying back with his head pillowed on his crossed arms, Hondo let himself drift, letting the call of the insects lull him to a light doze.

Hondo did not know how much time had passed when he was awoken by raised voices nearby. The familiarity of the voices kept him in a light sleep a bit longer before the volume rose too high to ignore. Hondo groaned under his breath, recognizing Djehuty and Maai’s voices. Those two had argued at least once a day since meeting each other. Why should their last day together be any different?

“—And he didn’t mean any harm! You’re overreacting. Why are you so sensitive about this?” Maai demanded, voice rising from sweet to shrill at the last, making Hondo wince. He supposed he should move and give the couple their privacy while they argued, but he was feeling pleasantly lazy and didn’t want to move. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t heard them fighting before, anyway.

“Dismissing me for your servant while he flirts with you is no big deal? I guess it’s hard for a spoiled rich girl to understand, isn’t it?” Djehuty demanded hotly, and Hondo sighed. Everything about Djehuty, from his name to his knowledge of both hieroglyphs and hieratic, hinted at a not so humble origin. And the boy didn’t usually care what anybody thought of him. Yet, Djehuty was strangely sensitive about other people constantly mistaking him for Maai’s servant, taking offense at every insinuation that Maai was above him, out of his reach. That he wasn’t good enough for her.

It probably didn’t help, Hondo mused with a snort, that Maai was an incurable flirt as well.

“Don’t give me that! And I corrected him!”

“You call that correcting him? Why didn’t you just invite him along for your trip back home? I’m sure he’d have been happy! Why can’t you act responsibly for once?!”

“Don’t you tell me what to do, Djehuty!”

Ah, there it was. Hondo sighed again, more loudly this time. Maai had the attitude of a woman whose whims had been constantly catered to, yet she was quite prickly about anyone taking a superior position around her. Under the haughtiness and temper, however, she had struck him as a woman who understood being spoiled and being respected were two different things, and was smart enough to know when she was being patronized. Now Djehuty, he either respected you, or didn’t respect you and told you so. Loudly. That had been why Maai was so drawn to him in the first place. With Djehuty, she never had a reason to doubt his sincerity.

A quick glance confirmed Djehuty and Maai glaring at each other, the hurt only thinly veiled by the show of anger. Maai was too proud to ask him to go with her, and Djehuty was too stubborn to ask her to stay. After a moment of silence, Djehuty turned brusquely, facing away from her.

“Well, you won’t have to put up with me anymore soon enough. That should make you happy.” Djehuty’s voice wasn’t bitter, simply weary, and Maai’s eyes wavered, looking, for the first time Hondo had known her, like a young girl.

“Yes, ecstatic,” she said, voice hollow. Djehuty flinched, but didn’t turn around. Maai’s eyes slid from Djehuty’s back to the ground, reddened but still dry.

“I hope you’ll be happy.” There was a thread of truthfulness in the neutral voice, and Maai’s eyes rose again to the back of Djehuty’s head.

“Djehuty, I—”

“I’m home, here. You’re not.” Djehuty sighed, but still didn’t turn around to look at her face. Maybe, Hondo thought with sympathy, he was afraid Maai’s expression might crumble his own mask of stoicism. Maai’s lovely eyes held an expression of distress Hondo would never have believed her capable of feeling. “We’ve both always known, Maai.”

“Yes.” Maai had never looked more beautiful than now, with anguish making her features sharper, yet her expression softer, fuller still. Her shoulders trembled, briefly, as if she longed to reach out and touch Djehuty. Djehuty’s hands were clenched tightly at his sides.

“I hope you’ll find whatever you’re looking for.”

Hondo was almost as surprised as Maai. He hadn’t thought Djehuty was perceptive enough to figure that out. A deep-seated restlessness had driven Maai from the comforts of her home, to search for something far away from the land of her ancestors. Djehuty, too, was seeking something, answering a call back to his homeland which held memories that chased him away in the first place. Their paths had crossed, but would not merge, because both of them were still looking for something. And even the brief haven of warmth and laughter Djehuty and Maai had created together wasn’t quite enough to keep them from their separate quests.

“You, too.” There was resignation in Maai’s voice now, mirroring Djehuty’s. “Where will you go?”

“South,” Djehuty answered. “Up the Nile, as far as I can go. You?”

“North,” Maai replied, with a short, humorless laugh. “Back to the snowy mountains and windy vales, as far as I can go.”

There were no more words exchanged, and the two of them walked together as if their argument had never been. In the evening light, the shadows of the couple cast over the water were both beautiful and heartbreaking. Hondo turned away, making his way back to the rooms, feeling even more like an intruder than he had when he was listening in on their argument earlier.

It was a good thing, Hondo thought, that his contract with Maai was ending tomorrow. Any longer, and he might end up becoming attached to the other two. He’d learned his lesson about the dangers of attachment years ago, and had no desire to repeat it.

The next day, the three parted as if the idea to do otherwise had never once crossed their minds.

~*~*~*~


“So, do you know what you’re looking for?”

“No,” Bakura snapped irritably. “But I’ll know when I see it.” He hoped. He’d known the ancient temple complex of Ptah held a sizable collection of papyri , but this... The entire room was overflowing with piles upon piles of scrolls. The priest who let them in after a surreptitious press of gold pieces in his hand had assured them this was the largest and oldest archive containing the temple’s texts on magic, but could not venture a guess how many there were, let alone what was in them.

And this wasn’t the only archive in the temple.

The late afternoon sun cast only dim light through the small windows high up on the walls. Hondo adjusted his grip on the newly lit torch. Even if the bribed priest seemed unconcerned about letting outsiders into the temple archives, he doubted the priest’s colleagues would appreciate them setting the whole collection on fire. Egypt’s naturally dry climate kept the ancient scrolls in good condition, but they were old, brittle, and would burn up like dry kindling in a heartbeat. He wouldn’t even have brought the torch in here if he could help it, but sunset was rapidly approaching and it didn’t look like they’d find whatever they were looking for that quickly.

“It can’t be here.”

Hondo, rather accustomed to Bakura talking to himself, didn’t bother to respond.

“This book’s supposed to be a big secret. It can’t be kept in plain sight like this.”

“Would anyone actually care to dig through all these?” Hondo asked with a careless jerk of his head in the direction of the scrolls. Bakura’s narrow-eyed glare didn’t faze him, but he didn’t particularly care to stand here all night relighting the torch while Bakura dug through the veritable mountain of papyri. “Well, in most of the places I’ve traveled to, temples and palaces tend to have secret rooms, but with the doors hidden in plain sight.” Bakura looked like he was about to retort back something unpleasant, so Hondo continued quickly. “Like there.” Hondo pointed to a spot in center of the room covered with a straw mat, which was miraculously free of the scrolls. “Why would anyone put a new straw mat in a room no one ever comes into?”

Bakura froze.

Hondo waited patiently, though the slow smile that spread on Bakura’s scarred face would have sent any sane man running. Then, the thief all but pounced on the mat, snatching it away and sending it hurling to the piles of scrolls nearby. Underneath, there was nothing but a bare patch of floor, and for a moment Hondo wondered if Bakura was going to chew him out for that brilliant suggestion. The thief, however, was examining the floor with a passionate intensity.

“You’re right,” Bakura said at last. Before Hondo could questions his sanity (again), Bakura carefully swept away the dirt and sand covering the floor until grains of wooden panel appeared. “A hidden door,” Bakura breathed, tracing the four sides of a trapdoor, and a metal handle. With a creek, the door lifted from the floor to reveal a dark gaping hole. “Give the torch here.”

Intrigued despite himself, Hondo drew closer and lowered the torch until it threw a dim light in the dark interior. “A staircase,” Hondo observed, peering. “I don’t suppose you’d consider coming back tomorrow when it’s lighter out?”

Bakura snorted and took the torch from him. “You can stand guard here for all I care. I’m going in.”

Hondo held out a hand. “Just asking. Lead on, boss.”

With another snort and a derogatory remark under his breath, Bakura descended the steps, holding out the torch to light their way. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, Hondo realized he could make out the vague shape of a small room, with a stone pedestal near the far wall. A jar stood next to it with half a dozen scrolls sticking out of its mouth.

“More scrolls,” Hondo remarked with resignation. Bakura, however, did not make a sound.

“The same as the Seven Items,” Bakura finally murmured. “Ammit’s jaws. This is it.”

Hondo, who finally noticed what was on the pedestal, blinked in surprise. A casket with a seriously creepy design of an eye? That was what Bakura had been looking for?

“Who’s there?” demanded a sharp voice. Hondo swore softly. This voice didn’t belong to the priest they’d bribed. “Show yourself!”

“An excellent suggestion,” Bakura drawled, bringing the torch closer to him with a flourish. The movement not so incidentally illuminated Bakura holding the strange casket he’d taken off the pedestal. There was a sharp intake of breath up on the staircase, and another torch entered their view, held by an aged priest. The deeply lined face had paled to an alarming shade as soon as he saw what Bakura was holding. “Wisely followed, too. Now that you’re here, you can help me. Why don’t you start by telling me what this,” Bakura emphasized his point by lifting up the object cradled in his arm, “is?”

“The Millennium Grimoire.” That odd-looking thing was a book? Hondo frowned at the priest’s voice, which was too calm, too collected. People generally did not get over their shock that fast unless they had something up their sleeve. “You won’t understand anything even if you read it.”

Bakura’s smile was all teeth. “Oh, I’ll take my chances. Ever been to Kur-Elna?” His question was deceptively casual. Watching the remaining color drain away from the priest’s face in an instant, Bakura bared his teeth again, this time in a snarl. “Some fifteen years ago, maybe?”

The priest’s face was a deathly pale mask. Hearing muttered words echo faintly in the dark chamber, Hondo tensed. Often, the priests were trained in the magic passed down to each temple—

The ground under their feet split open with a thunderous crack, and the entire world seemed to shake, forcing both of them to the ground. Then, the priest called out, clearly audible even through the noise: “I summon Bazoo, the Soul-Eater!”

Hondo took in a sharp breath. Not ten feet from them, there was suddenly a creature he’d only seen once, brought by merchants from further southwest, beyond the deserts. Except the mandrills he’d seen weren’t quite so large, nor had violet fur with golden tufts and horns framing the face. The red eyes glowed eerily, the large teeth bared in a frightening grin.

“Bazoo, attack!”

The mandrill roared, leaping and bearing down on them. The shaking of the ground had lessened, but was still keeping them crouched in a defensive position, unable to attack. Hondo didn’t waste his breath cursing, only half-listening to Bakura let out a creative expletive, and brought his sword up just in time to deflect a savage swipe in the thief’s direction. The mandrill’s howl of rage and pain made Hondo wince, but the ground under them had finally settled. Bakura’s sharp bronze dagger was out as well, glinting with the light from the torch in his other hand. The mandrill attacked again, heedless of the fire that an ordinary animal would have avoided, and Bakura let out a surprised grunt, falling under the heavy body, the torch knocked out of his hand. Hondo did not pause, slashing at the ape’s back with just enough force to distract it; he didn’t want to risk a thrust while Bakura was still under it. The pained whimper turned into a roar of agony, and Hondo scrambled out of the way as Bakura rolled them over, the bronze dagger deep in the mandrill’s gut, slicing upward.

With another cry, the mandrill suddenly seemed to dissolve into shimmering light, then disappeared. Hondo and Bakura stared at the empty space that was occupied by the monster only moments ago, too stunned to pick themselves up from the ground. Bakura met his eyes, grim expression now replacing the shock.

“Where’s that priest?”

“I think he’s more of a mage than a priest,” Hondo replied, helping Bakura to his feet. Bakura replaced the dagger in his belt, and picked up the Millennium Grimoire. “Should we take the scrolls?”

Bakura was about to reply when the room suddenly became a lot brighter.

“Shit!” Hondo dove to one side to avoid a ball of fire flying in his direction, seeing Bakura do the same. Rolling to his feet smoothly with the momentum, he looked up to see the trapdoor slam shut. “He’s going to try and block the door!”

Bakura dodged the last ball of fire, cursing as the flame caught on his sleeve hissed and went out after singing the cloth. “The scrolls—”

Hondo would have rolled his eyes if he could; Bakura already had his hands full carrying both the Millennium Grimoire and the torch. “Go up and stop him before our exit’s blocked. I’ll get them.” The dying flames on the floor provided enough light for him to gather up the scrolls and bundle them together with a strip of cloth, and Hondo hurried up the staircase after Bakura, who kicked the door open and rushed out.

Just as he reached the trapdoor, tendrils of fire shot through the entire archive room, and the split second of delay was what saved Hondo from the same fate as Bakura, who was engulfed in the flame, staggered, and fell to his knees. The flame disappeared only seconds after Bakura was down, but the torch he’d dropped was rolling away, still lit. Honda did curse aloud this time; the mage stood at the doorway, looking at them with something akin to regret. There was no anger on his face, only an earnest, deadly intent. Whatever this Millennium Grimoire was, this man was willing to kill them both to keep it out of their hands. Was planning to do exactly that.

The mage’s mouth opened, but no sound escaped him. Soundlessly, he crumpled to the floor, Bakura’s dagger buried hilt-deep in his heart. Hondo breathed a sigh of relief, dropping his outstretched hand to his side. He did not spare the dead mage single glance, turning his attention back to Bakura, who was still on his knees, head bowed and shaking.

“You alive there, Bakura?” he asked softly, reaching out to pull him to his feet. Bakura swayed on his feet, but regained his balance, face ashen and pinched. There was no burn on his skin, although he was looking rather shaken. “Hurt anywhere?”

“Drained,” Bakura croaked, then cleared his throat. “That fire wasn’t normal.”

Hondo held back his reflexive response, eyes arrested by another problem quickly growing behind them. “...No, but that one is.”

“Fuck,” Bakura said, finally noticing the torch he’d dropped had rolled into the nearest pile of papyrus, which was now fueling a quickly spreading fire.

“Come on.” Bakura didn’t have to be told twice, pausing only to pluck his dagger from the mage’s dead body. He flicked the blood off the blade with a sharp shake, wiped it, then replaced it to his belt.

“Thanks,” Bakura said grudgingly without looking back at him, and Hondo couldn’t help a grin.

“You’re the boss,” Hondo said, adjusting his grip on the bundle of scrolls rescued from the underground chamber. Just as they were entering the hallway, a deep rumble stopped him dead on his track, and Hondo closed his eyes for a brief second. “Not again.”

The quake underground earlier had weakened the floor, causing it to collapse. Hondo pushed Bakura hard enough to make him stumble, out of the way of a crumbling column. The falling column knocked out several of its neighbors, and the ceiling above, deprived of its support, crashed.

Right on top of them.

The exit was only a few feet away, but large slabs of cracked limestone ceiling blocks were plummeting downward. “Bakura!” Hondo’s weight sent them both to the ground rolling, and Hondo closed his eyes, hoping to hell they were in the clear.

Few minutes later, as the dust settled, Hondo cautiously opened his eyes, slowly uncurling from the ground. A quick look around told him they’d avoided the massive weight of a fallen architrave by scarce two feet. Several great columns lay in scattered, cylindrical blocks around them. The remnants of the columns had saved them from a worse fate by keeping the ceiling blocks off them. A short distance from him, Bakura lay unmoving.

With a silent groan, Hondo crawled over to Bakura to check him. By the even breathing, he could tell Bakura was merely unconscious, not dead, but a still-bleeding wound on his head told Hondo what knocked him out in the first place. Great, then the thief was well and truly out, possibly for the next few hours. Still clutched tightly in his arm was the Millennium Grimoire.

Sighing, Hondo gathered their hard-won prizes, both the scrolls and the book, and hoisted Bakura across his shoulder. He could hear shouts in the distance already, and if it hadn’t been dark outside, they’d have been spotted by now. His muscles protested under the solid weight of Bakura, made even more unwieldy with the book and scrolls he was holding in addition, but they had to make their exit now. Slowly but steadily, Hondo moved away from the wreckage, towards the courtyard outside and the sturdy wall separating the temple from a less busy section of the streets.

“You are so going to owe me a bonus pay after this,” he told the unconscious Bakura as he labored both of them up the wall. Then soundlessly, they dropped to the quiet street below, and were absorbed by the night.

END OF PART II


Notes: I know there’s a lot this time. Feel free to skip.

Ineb Hedj -- “white walls” -- is the Egyptian name for Memphis. Memphis is a Greek name, and a confusion from Men-Nefer, the Egyptian name for the pyramid of 6th dynasty king Pepi I, called Menfe in Coptic. Although in Atem’s time Waset (Thebes) was the capital, Memphis nevertheless remained an important administrative center of the empire throughout the history of Egypt.

In the manga canon Akunadin originally names the Millennium Items “Seven Hidden Treasure,” which I’ve simplified to Seven Items for clarity’s sake. Canon explains the name “Millennium Items” reflects Akunamkanon’s hope for peace, but likely it is also allusion to the original title of the book, “Sennen Majutsusho” (Millennium Book of Magic).

Egypt didn’t jump into Iron Age unlike Anatolia and other places in Africa. Iron swords, in their earliest incarnation, would have broken against fine bronze ones. Still, quench-hardened carbon steel (dark with silvery edges) had its first tries as early as 1400 BC, so I decided to give Hondo, who is probably the best traveled out of the lot, one of these new carbon steel blades. Bakura’s dagger is fine bronze (and since this was late Bronze Age, I surmised its metallurgy was probably at its finest) but shorter blades would have been harder to break, hence the outcome in the story.

Egyptians did not use bound books. The most complete example of the Book of the Dead, the Papyrus of Ani, is actually a really, really long scroll (and it doesn’t even date back to the 18th dynasty!). Nonetheless, the canon portrays the Millennium Grimoire as a bound volume, hence my take on it.

Stone of choice in Middle Kingdom to early 18th dynasty was limestone, although it was replaced by the more flood-resistant sandstone by the time of Thutmose III. I assumed the temple of Ptah in this story would have been built earlier and used limestone like the pyramids, hence the whole place crumbling so quickly.

Ammit or Ammut, also known as Devourer, as a demon and a personification of justice, ate the condemned forever. Her name literally means Bone Eater.

The progression of magic used for the final scene are: Earthquake, Spell Card, “Change all face-up monsters to Defense Position.” Bazoo the Soul Eater, Lv4, Earth, ATK 1600, DEF 900, Beast/Effect, increases ATK 300 per every card removed from Graveyard, with a maximum of three. Hinotama, Spell Card, “Inflicts 500 points of Direct Damage to your opponent’s Life Points.” Ookazi, Spell Card, “Inflict 800 points of Direct Damage to your opponent's Life Points.”

...What? It’s Yugioh. Card games have to feature somewhere. ;)
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