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Today, January 15, 2014, is last full moon of the lunar calendar year. 31st will be the first day of lunar new year. An interesting coincidence, I thought. :) Here’s chapter 10. Two more to go, and then it’s the epilogue.

Beginning of this fanfiction is HERE. You will also find more fic intro notes there.

RE:Play by Shiraume

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

IV. RE:Call

Chapter Ten

“I didn’t think there was any point, but my mother was insistent that I come and pay my respects at the court before I leave. Still, I’m a bit surprised, Lord Yuugi—”

“Just Yuugi. Please.”

“—Yuugi. I haven’t exactly been nice to you. Why are you so concerned with me?” Anenut’s voice was listless but honest. But her eyes, devoid of vitality and energy, were those of a stranger, and Yuugi found he couldn’t hold them for long. Seto had told him about the talk of marriage between Anenut and the courtier Paramesse. But to be suddenly told she was leaving tomorrow to marry him... And Paramesse, who accompanied his prospective bride to the royal court, was so much older than Anenut. (If Yuugi had been in a more cheerful frame of mind, he might have wondered if the shoulder-length white hair he’d glimpsed at from distance was because of dye, a wig, or Paramesse simply having gone gray.)

“I wanted...I would like to have been your friend,” Yuugi said softly. Anzu, always so irrepressible, rarely looked this weary. But on the rare occasions Yuugi caught her exhausted, she’d had the same downturn of the tightly-pressed mouth that said she was hanging on by a thread. But unlike with Anzu, he couldn’t reach out and give Anenut a hug. There was a saying Anzu was fond of, in English, about being a day late and a dollar short. Well, more like years late and a grand short in his case, but he couldn’t bear to let her leave like this. Not after Djehuty, who, despite what he’d said to Yuugi, had left without even a goodbye.

Anenut’s lips curved in a small smile, but it died away quickly. “I’m growing older, and my parents are worried I may never find a husband. It’s a good match, and Lord Paramesse is kind to me.” A bitter laugh escaped her. “Did you know, when I was little, my dream was to be a dancer? My mother was horrified when she found out. Respectable girls don’t dance, and certainly not someone of royal blood,” Anenut quoted sarcastically. “A lot of good it did for me.”

“An...” That, Yuugi remembered belatedly, was how Otogi – Ottah, he corrected himself – called Anenut. She flinched minutely, turning away from him, her eyes hidden behind the fall of her luxurious braids.

“I was engaged to my childhood friend, three years ago. He...broke it off a week before our wedding, did you know that? Mother finally confessed she forced Ottah to cancel our engagement. She always wanted to marry me to someone more influential. She hated being married to my father, who couldn’t offer her status or wealth.” Anenut wrapped her arms around herself, the line of her shoulders disturbingly fragile. “I’d liked him. I think I might have been happy with him. I spent years hating him for deserting me. And it turns out...” Anenut shook her head, let out a shaky sigh. “No use thinking about that, I guess. It’s just—I’m just so tired, Yuugi. I’ve had enough disappointments in my life, and I – I know you mean well. But I really can’t take one more.”

Yuugi sucked in a breath, feeling as if she’d slapped him. Anzu had been one friend who believed in him even when Yuugi himself didn’t. But Anenut wasn’t Anzu, and just like Djehuty, she had her own life to live. No matter how much he cared, he couldn’t decide her life for her. If Anenut accepted her marriage to Paramesse, then there was nothing Yuugi could do except wish her the best. At least with her, he had a chance to do that, unlike with Djehuty.

“I...guess I should wish you the best, then,” Yuugi said slowly. He couldn’t make his tone lighter, more optimistic, not even to make her feel better, but he could offer his honest wishes for her happiness. “I will always pray you will be happy, Anenut. I’m sorry we didn’t have time to get to know each other better.”

The smile that softened Anenut’s face was the first genuine one he’d seen from her, making her look hauntingly familiar. “Thank you, Yuugi.” She let out an embarrassed laugh. “And I’m sorry I made things so difficult for you. I really wasn’t very nice to you.”

“Just be happy,” Yuugi told her, giving into his impulse to give her a warm hug. “Then we’re even.”

“Okay.” She sounded like she was trying not to cry, hugging him back. So much regret between them, of what-could-have-been and what-if, but if nothing else, they could at least part as friends. Still caught up in the moment, it took Yuugi a second to realize the jolt he felt was not a figment of his imagination. It wasn’t a physical sensation, either; more like a ghost of tingling along his back, the touch of it so very familiar—

An explosion rocked the entire palace, shaking dust from the old columns and ceilings.

“What was that?” Anenut asked in a frightened, hushed tone.

Magic. Powerful, hostile magic. Yuugi shuddered, realizing where he’d last felt the touch of this particular magic before. Anenut’s arms were warm and tight around him, and for a moment, Yuugi closed his eyes, clinging to her warmth for just one heartbeat longer.

“You need to go home,” Yuugi said, pulling away, nearly reaching for the deck of cards in his belt pouch out of habit. The deck’s magic called to him like a softly beating pulse, and its weight was comforting on his hip. “It’s going to get dangerous. Go home with Paramesse. You said you will be leaving for Djanet tomorrow, right?” Anenut nodded, her eyes wide and alarmed. Even to those without magic, the sudden chill in the air was no less palpable than the evening suddenly darkening to a midnight. “Stay away from the royal city for a while, okay?” Speechless, Anenut just nodded again, but her eyes were now concerned.

“What about you?” she asked, shivering in the cold air radiating from the main hall of the palace. Yuugi smiled at her, trying to sound more confident than he really felt.

“Don’t worry about me. You just be safe, okay?”

“Okay,” Anenut echoed, then flung her arms around him in a fierce, short hug. “Be safe, Yuugi.” With that, Anenut trotted away, toward the courtyard where her husband-to-be waited for her. Left behind, Yuugi tried to calm his breathing, guessing what must be happening in the main hall at that very moment.

They had talked about this. Had feared this. Had tried to figure out a way before it came to this. And it seemed they had run out of time.

Pulling his deck free from its pouch, Yuugi drew comfort and strength from the warmth of his deck, feeling their magic resonate with him deep inside. Without another backward glance, Yuugi ran down the hallway, towards the main hall and the dark, seething magic of Diabound permeating the air.

~*~*~*~


“You put her in the dungeon?”

Seto’s tone wasn’t any harsher than usual, but Shaada seemed taken aback. “For her own safety. The mob would have torn her to pieces.”

After the havoc wreaked by Thief King Bakura last night, it was little surprise the whole city was on the edge. Rumors were spreading faster than the rays of the sun, and Atem had sent out Shaada in the morning to check on the people while he held emergency meeting with the rest of the priests. And during his patrol through the city, Shaada chanced upon a group of townspeople about to lynch an unfortunate foreigner whose only crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and took custody of her. It was pure coincidence that Seto was the first person Shaada ran into on his way back. And Seto would have thought nothing of the incident, except the only person who could have matched Shaada’s description – snow-white hair and sapphire-blue eyes – was the woman who harbored his Blue-Eyes White Dragon in her soul. Seth’s memory of a blue-eyed girl in the hands of ruthless bandits rang in his mind like an odd echo to his own memory of a white-haired woman stepping in front of Priest Seth, with an unmistakable sensation of windswept power and lethal grace piercing through both. Whatever fate held in store for the woman, he couldn’t just leave her in the dungeon with common criminals.

Seto spun on his heel, walking briskly toward the dungeons, ignoring the startled look from Shaada. Now that Bakura and Diabound had appeared, the events would soon spiral to their inevitable conclusion. They had to get out of here now. And when they did, the past would play itself out as it should, but the events to come would no longer be their responsibility. Even if Atem didn’t believe it worth the trouble, he would have to search the Temple of Stone Tablets – Ahkenaden’s sanctuary – for any clues he might find. Whatever it took to return them to the future, where they belonged. And Atem could finally move on to his afterlife.

His hand clenched around the Millennium Rod. Like Yuugi, he too had been lulled into thinking their time was limitless. Getting involved with Atem was a mistake, and he really should have known better than to give into temptation, should never have started something he had no hope of finishing. Seto quickened his pace, swept down to the end of the long corridor, and barked out an order, sending the soldiers scrambling to their feet.

“The woman Priest Shaada brought – where is she?”

“Sir?”

“Priest Shaada put a foreign woman here a little while ago,” he said flatly, and the brave soldier who answered him looked distinctly uneasy. “I want her moved. Lead me to her cell.”

“She’s...she was in one of the isolated cells, but Lord Akhenaden took her away, Lord Seth. He had all the prisoners in that block moved about an hour ago.”

Why would Akhenaden move the prisoners? Especially those in the isolation block, which was reserved for condemned criminals of serious charges who required solitary cells. Moreover, the kindly sage Seth remembered disliked even seeing the dungeons, which were often in atrocious conditions. Just as well, Seto decided; he had been meaning to ask Akhenaden about the Millennium Grimoire himself, to see if the old priest would let anything slip when it was Seth asking him.

“Where did he take them?”

“To the underground level, sir.”

Without another word, Seto spun and headed to the lower levels of the dungeon. Being guided by Seth’s memories was like a second nature now, the intricate layout of the palace and the city as vivid as the Kaiba Corp building blueprints. The tingle of something familiar, which he first disregarded as his imagination, became stronger as he neared the lowermost level. Seto frowned, recognizing the draw of magic somewhere close. A vague apprehension seized his mind as he made his way deeper into the bowels of the dungeon, and he found himself hurrying. When he arrived at the lowest level, it was pure instinct, calling out Dios to intercept a gigantic worm from engulping a frail white figure. Painfully familiar blue eyes turned to look at him in mild surprise, and he knew, without a shred of doubt, she had recognized him.

“Lord Akhenaden,” Seto said levelly, fighting to keep his voice calm. “What is the meaning of this?”

The glinting gold of his Millennium Eye held more life than the cold human eye that turned to regard him. “The girl holds a god within her. We need that power, Seth.”

Seto finally noticed the rest of the scene, with prisoners on wooden boards suspended over a slab of stone shaped like an inverted pyramid. The wooden boards and the slab of stone were all that stood between the prisoners and the bottomless abyss underneath. The sharp metal spikes on the stone promised death to whoever fell off the wooden board, but the spiked boards also discouraged the prisoners from any physical contact with each other. With two casualties already impaled on the spikes, the two left standing were locked in a battle using their Ka alone, one in the shape of a gigantic worm, and the other a three-horned demon. Their Ka, stronger than any other Ka Seth remembered extracting from criminals, hovered over the girl like bloodthirsty vultures, waiting for a chance to finish her off.

“Strong desire to live has strengthened their Ka to grow to this level, Seth,” Akhenaden said with a preternatural calm, and for a moment, Seto simply stared at him, uncomprehending. “Engaging in fight to the death made these men’s Ka grow strong enough to kill the other prisoners. If the girl wishes to live, she will show us the god she holds inside her.”

Was this really the same Priest Akhenaden from Seth’s memories? The man who’d been the father Seth never had growing up, on whose benevolent guidance Seth would have staked his life? The cold, emotionless Akhenaden now was more like Dark Priest he’d glimpsed at in the Memory World than the kindly mentor Seth remembered. Not three weeks ago, there had been nothing but kindness and warmth in his gaze when Akhenaden looked at him. All he could see now was ruthless determination and cold detachment. The pang of loss – not his, but oh, so close – made him swallow convulsively.

Strong Ka required a strong heart, but the art of summoning and controlling one’s Ka was something that had to be taught and practiced diligently from young age. Strength of will was crucial to call and sustain one’s Ka, but it typically took years to master the necessary skills. The girl was untrained, and if all these prisoners had to rely on was the desire to live, she would never be able to summon hers. When the Monsters charged at her, each vying to deliver the killing blow, all she did was to close her eyes in passive acceptance.

“She doesn’t have any desire to fight.” Calm, Seto told himself, holding the smooth, reasonable façade like a shield. “There are other means we can use.”

The fat one next to Akhenaden, whom Seth’s memories identified as the dungeon master Geberk, cackled. “But none so quick or effective, Lord Seth. Even the most cowardly criminal will fight to survive. The girl, too, I wager.”

Kisara merely watched them, her eyes straying from Akhenaden, the dungeon master, and settling on Seto. The prisoners behind her were becoming restless, too lost in their bloodlust to tolerate Seto’s interruption for long. Kisara’s pale hair seemed to glow in the gloom of the dungeon, reminding him the lustrous scales of the Blue-Eyes. Seto’s lips tightened.

“Enough,” he gritted out, striding over the wooden plank to the girl’s side. Kisara did not resist when he took her by the arm, her depthless eyes fearless and serene. Startled by the strength of her gaze, Seto nearly missed it when one of the prisoners moved.

“Seth!” came the urgent call from Akhenaden. But already the two powerful beasts were attacking in tandem, so eager to tear them apart.

“Dios!” Seto called without hesitation, feeling his own Ka spring to action, slicing away the thick ropes and metal chains like gossamer, sending both the prisoners and their Ka tumbling to the depths. He checked his own grip on the chain, Kisara’s slender body a sudden dead weight in his other arm. “Woman, wake up!”

Something slithered in the corner of his vision, and Seto belatedly realized he’d underestimated his opponents. The worm had all but shrouded Dios with its sticky white threads, and its master, hanging on the threads, was laughing. The warm’s razor-toothed mouth was open, gaping like a tunnel above them, and with his own Ka caught, there was nothing he could do to defend them. The worm roared, raring to charge, and—

A burst of white light encased him, forming the shape of a coiling, scaled body and powerful wings.

“Blue-Eyes,” Seto whispered. The dragon coiled around him, protective and comforting and so very real. The sapphire-blue eyes were trained on the worm, watchful, and Seto couldn’t pay attention to Geberk’s babbling to save his life. He’d called this Monster out countless times, had dedicated more time and attention to creating its holographic image than any other card in existence. But the sheer magnitude of power radiating from the majestic white dragon could never be replicated, not even with all the cutting-edge virtual technology of Kaiba Corp at his disposal. And the Blue-Eyes was so close to him, he could almost feel the shimmering scales against his skin.

Seto didn’t even turn to look at the cowering worm, watching only the white dragon as the crackling lightning of Burst Stream gathered in its mouth, so bright that his eyes hurt. The release of the dragon’s attack obliterated the worm, bursting upward through ceiling, piercing the heaven in a bright shaft of light. As the light faded away, the dragon disappeared, leaving Seto alone with an unconscious Kisara. The soldiers helped them up, but were reluctant to touch Kisara. So Seto stood, easily taking her in his arms.

“If the girl isn’t aware of the white dragon inside her, she won’t be able call it out, but...” The dungeon master’s gleaming eyes on her made Seto bristle, but Geberk wasn’t done. “The dragon appears when she is unconscious. That is to say, when her Ka and Ba become one. The white dragon must be the girl’s soul itself.”

“So the girl is merely a vessel for the white dragon.” Akhenaden this time, the visible eye so cold that Seto couldn’t help a shiver. “Then, if we wish to make Seth the new vessel for the dragon...?”

“All we have to do is severe her soul from her body. That way—”

“That would kill her.” Seto turned away, carrying Kisara away from them. “The pharaoh already holds the power of the Three Gods, Lord Akhenaden. Supporting the pharaoh and protecting the kingdom is our duty. This girl’s power is unnecessary.”

He stepped away, walking up to the ground level without another backward glance. Once he reached the ground level, he handed her over to the guard from before. “Take this girl to a separate room to rest. Make sure she has food and water when she wakes. But do not tell anyone where she is. No one is to see her except me. Is that clear?”

The guard stared at him wide-eyed, but wisely did not question him. “Yes, sir.”

It was only when he was outside and alone that he leaned on a wall, feeling dizzy. From the very first time he saw the legendary dragon card, he’d been drawn to it like a moth to the flame. Even when nothing else made sense in his life, Blue-Eyes had felt right. It was the first sense of connection he’d felt since his parents died, and it had become an obsession by the time he met Yuugi. Nothing mattered except possessing it, and as long as he could hold all of them in his hand, he didn’t care how he obtained them. Even now, the magic of the white dragon called to him like a physical ache. And the Blue-Eyes was so very real here...

He had to get out of here. Being in the past was getting to him, making him question himself. Nothing should matter except going back to the future, to Mokuba’s side.

“Lord Seth!”

Seto straightened, the movement a spinal reflex for both him and Seth. “What is it?”

“The pharaoh urgently summons you,” the guard panted, looking as if he’d sprinted all the way. “The pharaoh bids me to tell you that Priest Mahaad hasn’t returned from the royal tombs. And there are reports of trouble there. The pharaoh plans to head there right now.”

Shit. Mahaad had been commanded to relocate King Akhnamkanen’s remains to a secret crypt until a new tomb could be prepared to replace the one Bakura defiled. Such a simple task couldn’t possibly have taken Mahaad all day. And Thief King Bakura was at large with Diabound at hand, waiting like a vulture to seize any Millennium Item he could get his hands on. Seto swore under his breath, striding toward the stable.

“Tell the pharaoh I’m heading to the Great Field directly,” he ordered the guard. “I will meet him there. Go!”

The guard didn’t dare to protest and took off. Cursing Mahaad and wayward priests in general, Seto made his way to the stable.

You’d better be all right, fool of a mage, Seto thought fiercely, pushing away Seth’s warm memories of their shared youth, choosing anger over worry with an ease borne of practice.

With a swift kick to his horse’s flank, he took off toward the river, and the Valley of the Kings beyond.

~*~*~*~


It was hours after sundown that the three of them finally made it back to Atem’s chambers. More than ever, Atem was grateful for Seto’s presence. Even as everyone else stood in shock and dismay upon finding the Black Magician’s – Mahaad’s – stone tablet, Seto had been quick to act, ordering the soldiers to take it back to the Temple of Stone Tablets, reassigning patrol around royal tombs, and strengthening the guards around the city and the palace. Now that he knew what signs to watch for, however, the strain that tightened the corners of Seto’s eyes was obvious. Atem wondered, not for the first time, how much of Seth was affecting Seto. Seto could feign unfeeling calm all he wanted, but Mahaad had been one of the few friends Seth trusted with his life. And from the beginning, it had been obvious that more than just Seth’s memories affected Seto. Yuugi, for his part, looked quite dejected, and Atem reached for his hand, the affectionate gesture as natural as breathing now.

“What now?” Yuugi asked quietly, breaking the long silence.

“We find a way out,” Seto answered immediately. “And get out of here.”

“We can’t just leave them like this. Past or not, this is their life!” Yuugi’s protest was heartfelt; facing the same loss twice (thrice?) didn’t make it any easier this time around, and the pain of losing Mahaad was just as sharp as the first time Atem felt it. He didn’t want to leave them – his friends and family – to face this by themselves, but strictly speaking, this was – even to him – the past. He wasn’t sure if they could change it even if they wanted to, or if they should even try. After all, his half-hearted attempt to keep Mahaad away from the Thief King hadn’t been remotely successful.

“It’s not our life to live.” Seto’s words didn’t pull any punches, but Atem knew Yuugi heard the unspoken meaning behind his words. It’s not our place to change their lives.

To be fair the events of the past hardly seemed to need their participation to move forward. So far, foreknowledge had made no appreciable difference here. “According to the guards, Mahaad was ambushed,” Atem said quietly, almost to himself.

Seto shot him a sharp glare. “He had orders not to engage. It was still his choice to stand and fight when he should have gotten out of there.”

Three weeks ago, Seto’s comment would have made him angry and defensive on Mahaad’s behalf. Now, he could almost appreciate the sentiment behind Seto’s harsh words, especially when he could see that what lay underneath wasn’t anger. Atem met his gaze with a short nod, and would have missed the slight lessening of tension if he hadn’t been looking. As much as they would each grieve for Mahaad in the privacy of their hearts, they could not control the choices others made for themselves. Perhaps, Atem acknowledged to himself soberly, he had been arrogant to think his choices were the only ones that could affect the past – and the eventual future. Yuugi’s hand lay limp in his own, and Atem tightened his grip. “We have to go back to the Temple of the Underworld.”

“Bakura has the Ring,” Seto reminded him. “And Diabound is more powerful than ever.”

“And we can hardly let the rest of the Millennium Items near the Stone of King’s Memories,” Yuugi added, finally squeezing Atem’s hand back, then letting go.

“If we wait for Bakura to visit the palace a second time, Akhenaden will awaken as the Dark High Priest, and Zorc will be released shortly after.” Atem’s words were met with a brief silence. “If nothing else, we need to retrieve the Ring, to buy us time. While the Ring is in Bakura’s possession it shields him, and Isis’s Tauk cannot find him.”

Yuugi gave him a wry look. “I don’t know if he knew, but that’s awfully convenient for him.” At Seto’s glance, he clarified, “The Millennium Ring can also track down other Items. Bakura-kun did that when we were lost during the Duelist Kingdom.”

“Convenient,” Seto agreed, the irony lending a drawl to his word. The next moment, his expression darkened, and Seto looked away for the briefest second. “Akhenaden may already be affected. He’s been conducting death matches among the criminals to collect powerful Ka.”

“Death matches?”

Atem lightly touched Yuugi’s wrist to forestall further comments. “Isn’t judging criminals part of his regular duties? Minus the death match part.”

“If Seth’s memory is to be trusted, he’s changed.”

Atem raised an eyebrow at the reply. “And you? What do you think?”

Seto’s glare gained a hint of a scowl, but he answered easily enough. “He’s changed.”

“I’ll suspend the trials. Anything else?”

There was a flicker of hesitation in Seto’s eyes, but it passed before Atem could be sure he’d really seen it. “Keeping him away from Kur-Elna should go without saying. And a sweep in the Temple of Stone Tablets, just in case.”

“Tomorrow, then.” Atem looked to Yuugi, who was looking less dejected and more determined by the second. “It will be dangerous,” he warned, though he knew it would not deter his partner in the slightest. As he expected, Yuugi simply looked at him and did not even bother with a reply.

“He’s less likely to convince Akhenaden than I am,” Seto added with a small quirk of his brow. “Unless you think you can handle Bakura alone.”

Yuugi’s hopeful look was enough for Seto to drop whatever else he might have said. “Or we could... We could wait until you’re done, and go together? What if we find something tomorrow?”

Atem said nothing, trying to stay as inconspicuous as possible while Seto and Yuugi regarded each other, the former considering, the latter with a look far more eloquent than any plea. Seto finally shook his head, but did not turn from Yuugi’s honest gaze. “No reason to supply Bakura with an extra Item. If you do find something useful, I trust you two can remember it all the way back to the palace.”

And that was finally enough to make Yuugi smile, brighter than the sun. “You bet.”

Atem hid a smile. It was more trust than he had ever seen Kaiba Seto give anyone, perhaps except Mokuba; Seto would trust them both to handle things on their own with Bakura, and to come back for him. Watching them, it was obvious that Yuugi was special to Seto, no matter what either of them thought. Special in what way, however, he did not know. Atem rather suspected Seto himself didn’t, either. Too bad he wouldn’t be around when they found out.

Violet eyes slid down to his clenched hands, and Atem consciously relaxed them to a loose curl. He wasn’t his old self from 3,000 years ago, who had been too wrapped up in his duties and too defined by his role to truly reach out to anyone. The old Atem had never known the kind of trust, friendship and rivalry shared between equals, like he did with Jounouchi, or even Seto. The old Atem had known his priests would lay down their lives for him, but would never have relied on them the way he now did with his friends, because the old Atem would have thought protecting the kingdom was ultimately his burden. His old self would not have dreamed of sharing it with Yuugi. Or Seto.

It just didn’t feel...fair, that he would learn all he did, only to lose them anyway. A trickle of fear chilled the base of his skull; perhaps that tiny sliver of hesitation had been present when he and Yuugi had their battle ceremony. With his pride and honor as a duelist on the line, he had given his best to defeat Yuugi, and he knew Yuugi had done the same. But maybe...just maybe, he hadn’t really wanted to move on. Suppose that had been the reason they were in this mess to begin with? Had the gods sensed his heart hadn’t been fully committed to the decision to pass over, and so denied him the afterlife?

No. Whatever doubts lingering in his heart, there was no reason Yuugi or Seto should still be caught up in all this. They were going to find a way out, and even if Bakura was waiting for them at the hidden temple, he still had the Millennium Pendant and the Three Illusionary Gods at his side. Under his name, he could unite the Three Gods to invoke Horakhty, the Creator of Light, to finish Zorc Necrophades and Bakura together. Even if the fight changed the past irrevocably, he should at least have enough power to send back Yuugi and Seto safely.

His decision made, he gave a firm nod. “Then tomorrow, we make for Kur-Elna while you keep Akhenaden occupied here.”

“Kaiba-kun?” Yuugi called, and it was only then that Atem noticed Seto’s distraction. The moment passed before he could say anything, however, and Seto returned the nod, curt but emphatic. Atem did not press. Perhaps Seto had something else he wished to take care of besides Akhenaden. Meeting Yuugi’s concerned gaze briefly, he gave a slight shake of his head. Seto trusted them at last – and the best thing to do now was to return the trust.

“Keeping Akhenaden occupied will be less troublesome than keeping Lord Siamun distracted,” Kaiba remarked with a tiny smirk , and Atem glared at him for the reminder. Still, Seto had a point. After their last visit to Kur-Elna, Siamun had been particularly jumpy about Atem going anywhere outside the palace. “And they’ll never let you go if they know you’re going after Bakura.”

Atem gave a small shrug. “What they don’t know, they can’t veto.”

“You can’t just sneak out of the palace, you know.” Yuugi’s eyes were dancing with amusement. “Remember how much trouble it caused when you did that last time? In the RPG world?”

“I won’t let Bakura get the drop on me,” Atem replied to humor Yuugi. “Besides, you’ll have my back. Even Karim commented we’re been joined at the hips lately.”

A flush infused color on Yuugi’s cheeks, and it took Atem a moment – and a glance at Seto’s smirk – to figure out why. Right. Yuugi was a healthy teenage male with an overactive imagination and a full dose of hormones.

“Not sideways either, the way I hear it,” Seto said with deliberate blandness, and Yuugi turned away, his face as red as a tomato. Atem would have given Seto a dirty look for that, but it was – just a little – disconcerting to see the two of them being...well, flirtatious. Sarcastic Seto might be, but teasing? And without malice, to boot. So Atem kept silent, watching the two of them.

“We were researching together,” Yuugi muttered, not quite meeting Seto’s eyes.

“Is that what you call it these days?” Seto’s faint smirk was directed only at Yuugi, who reddened even more, if that was at all possible. Watching Seto’s expression soften another fraction in response, Atem decided against speaking up, letting the small moment hang between them like a jewel.

“Anyway,” Yuugi managed a moment later. “Do you want to go over more notes tonight?”

“We might as well,” Atem replied, amused to be the peacekeeper for once. “There is something I found in my great-grandfather’s records that might be worth looking into. It seems King Kamose’s priests had also attempted to decipher the text of Millennium Grimoire.”

Seto shrugged. “I borrowed some old notes of Akhenaden’s as well.”

Without permission, Atem guessed. That probably went without saying. Yuugi looked up at Seto with a smile.

“Great. Another night of research, then. Oh, and Kaiba-kun?”

“What?”

“You’re right. That is what we call it these days,” said Yuugi sweetly.

~*~*~*~


The next morning, as luck would have it, Siamun was called away just before Atem announced he would join Shaada for a short round in the city. And not quite so conveniently for Seto, Akhenaden had locked himself in the Temple of Stone Tablets since last night. It did give Seto a chance to take care of his other business, one that he hadn’t mentioned to Atem or Yuugi: Kisara.

It wasn’t that he wanted to keep it a secret from them, exactly, but Kisara evoked in him too many memories. A young Kisara locked in a cage with ruthless bandits leering at her, Seth’s small but peaceful hometown, Seth’s mother and her beautiful yet sad smile, the blaze of destruction that took everything from Seth, and the half-remembered glimpse of a majestic white dragon. Seth’s memories, Seto thought vehemently, Not mine. To Seth, who didn’t even know his father’s face, his mother had meant the world to him, enough to keep him from leaving the confines of his small village even as he chafed under its monotony. His father had given his life to protect the kingdom, his mother had told him, so that they could live in peace. And maybe Seth could have done as his father wished, until the night he unwittingly traded his mother’s life for a blue-eyed girl’s freedom.

...Seto had forgotten about his own mother around the same time he forgot to feel for Mokuba. Even after the Other Yuugi shattered his heart, forcing him to piece back his own soul, hatred for Gozaburo had left no room in his mind to wonder, even for a little while, how much pain and disappointment he would have caused his mother had she been alive. He’d been so confident he could move on from the past, yet...

Seto stopped in front of the cell. Inside, Kisara was still asleep. The thick bronze grille that made up part of the wall didn’t grant much privacy. And Kisara, exhaustion plainly written on the dark circles under her eyes, was sleeping soundly. This was the girl who held all the powers of the Blue-Eyes White Dragon, a power to rival even that of the Gods. All of that power, and no will to use it. He remembered the serene detachment on Kisara’s face as she stood passively in the face of certain death. Kisara would not fight even to save herself, and perhaps for her such power was nothing but an unwanted burden. What was Kisara to him, anyway? A foreign girl who would not fight her fate, who might even willingly give up her life if Seth but asked. Just one life, for his Blue-Eyes. Even if the memory of those unwavering blue eyes made his heart clench, why should he fight Akhenaden for her life when the girl herself chose to give up? Chose to...

His chaotic thoughts came to a sudden stop. Everything came down to a choice, didn’t it? He could choose to free Kisara and give up on the Blue-Eyes, or choose to let Akhenaden kill her and obtain the Blue-Eyes. Neither choice was particularly appealing, but given how good Seto – and Seth – was at making really bad choices, could his choice make anything worse? Seth had chosen to leave his mother that night and lost her forever, had chosen to never act on his oh-so-tender feelings toward Atem, yet judging from history, had chosen to let Atem shoulder the burden of sealing Zorc Necrophades all by himself. And Seto had chosen Gozaburo, despite his gut instinct screaming that Gozaburo was dangerous, that the man was capable of breaking parts of him that would never quite heal, chosen to forget his parents, and chosen to abandon his heart piece by piece until he forgot the very person for whom he had chosen that path. What was one more bad choice now?

“I have a feeling,” he said to unconscious Kisara, wry smile curving his lips, “that I will regret this.”

The cell door swung open with a creak, but Kisara did not stir. Quietly, Seto made his way to the small cot. He needed to wake her and get her out before Akhenaden learned her location. He just needed until Kisara was outside the royal city, then he could deal with Akhenaden himself. Seto reached out to shake her awake, brushing aside the regret of having to disturb her peaceful slumber. That was the last conscious thought in his mind before a sharp pain at the base of his skull made him see white, then nothing.

A hand reached for the Rod, which still lay in Seto’s hand, easily shaking off the slackened grip. A moment later, a shadowed figure stepped out of the cell and closed the door, leaving the unconscious pair securely locked inside.

The guards posted outside the building entrance, all of whom were unconscious, never noticed the dark figure purposefully stride out, the gleaming Rod firmly clutched in one hand.




Notes: Historical notes are back! :D

I’ve mentioned before that I’m roughly basing Atem’s timeline on Tutankhamun’s reign. There were several reasons for that. One was that Takahashi very specifically names the canon dynasty as the 18th – which is admittedly one of the most dynamic. Hatshepsut, Thutmose III, Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and the likes? Even Tutankhamun? Yep, all from the 18th dynasty. And there are some canon elements that might have been inspired by the historical persons and events around that time. Such Akhenaden’s name, which bears resemblance to the historical Akhenaten (Tutankhamun’s father), whose images and name were struck from record after his unpopular attempt to change Egypt’s religion (and move the capital city). A boy pharaoh, a king whose name was erased – all this just made Tutankhamun the perfect historical parallel for the story.

The historical Paramesse, later known as Ramesses I, was a noble from the Nile delta region. Djanet (called Tanis in Greek) was his hometown. After Tutankhamun died without a male heir, his advisor Ay took over for a few years before the power passed to Horemheb, the chief military commander. Horemheb chose as his successor Paramesse, perhaps because by that time Paramesse already had a son and a grandson, assuring a smooth royal succession. The son and grandson in question? Seti I and Ramesses II – more popularly known as Ramesses the Great. So Paramesse became the first king of the 19th dynasty.

Yes, I’ve made Anzu an Egyptian queen, a la historical Sitre, because in my headcanon Paramesse’s children by his first wife don’t survive, so Seti is in fact Anenut’s son. Moving right along.

If you guessed Paramesse’s present day incarnation, what with the dead first wife and white hair, and were absolutely horrified...that part is entirely thanks to Scribbler’s A New York Love Story. I shall say no more. ;)

Credit for Kaiba’s thoughts on Gozaburo goes to Vathara and the wonderful Yugioh/X-men crossover fanfiction, Foreign Xchange! The hips-joined-but-not-sideways joke was exactly what I’d been looking for when I was writing that scene, and I found it in Experimental’s beautiful Yami no Matsuei fanfiction, seventeen.
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