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Mariku and Ryou

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Okay so I'm a mythology nerd. Greco-Roman is my favorite by far, followed by Norse and Egyptian. ANYWAY. I felt like writing a fanfic of "Hades and Persephone" (my favorite Greek myth) using Yu-Gi-Oh! characters (my favorite anime). Plus I just need a break from Thor and Avengers stuff (even though I kind of have been avoiding it already but whatevs).

So before I actually post anything relevant, I should asplain who is who (hence the title of the chapter). And to kind of tell you why I chose them and give you an idea of the setting of the story. For shits and giggles, I'll put their Roman names too, because the two countries use the same story, just different names. Greeks are just more well-known.

Atem - Zeus/Jupiter
Tea - Hera/Juno
Seto - Poseidon/Neptune
Akefia - Demeter/Ceres (no, he's not a girl)
Ryou - Persephone/Proserpine (he's not a girl either)
Kisara - Amphitrite/Salacia
Malik & Mariku - Hades/Pluto (will be explained in the story)
Joey - Ares/Mars
Mai - Aphrodite/Venus (you should've seen that one coming)
Tristan - Hephaestus/Vulcan (live long and prosper XD)
Serenity - Hestia/Vesta
Duke - Dionysus/Bacchus (do I even need to explain myself? HE HAS A THEME SONG)
Yugi - Hermes/Mercury (aww so cute~)
Ishizu - Athena/Minerva (because she's all smart and stuff)
Mahad - Apollo/...Apollo
Mana - Artemis/Diana
Rishid - Thanatos/Letus (because he's like...Malik's wingman or some shit)

Pairings:
Vanishshipping - Atem X Tea (not to my liking, but it fits with the story)
Mizushipping - Seto X Kisara (Poseidon and his wife Amphitrite. So there you go.)
Polarshipping - Joey X Mai (Yes, Aphrodite was married to Hephaestus and had an affair with Ares, but this pairing is more canon)
Ardentshipping - Tristan X Serenity (This doesn't make as much sense, because Hephaestus is married and Hestia has sworn to be a virgin -hence the Vestal Virgins- but it'll probably just be platonic)
Cheershipping - Duke X Serenity (Duke ships himself with everyone. Even himself.)
Crushshipping - Tristan X Serenity X Duke (I have no excuse nor regrets)
Apprenticeshipping - Mahad X Mana (This will probably be more like a just-friends thing too)
Angstshipping - Malik X Ryou
Deathshipping - Mariku X Ryou
PURPOSESHIPPING - Mariku x Ryou x Malik
Other ships to be added later!

Yes, I made my own ship! And SigmaDelta helped. Best friends 5eva!

Edit: Altershipping - Mariku x Ryou x Malik (ugly creys)

Setting:
There isn't a Titan-Olympian War and baby-eating. I haven't watched the anime in...a long time...but I was reading through the manga volumes about Egypt (I have all of the mangas *sweatdrop*) and saw this kind of flashback thing where it shows an army approaching the palace and when they arrive the only people there are the first users of the Milennium Items (Akhenamkanen, Akhenaden, Siamun, and some other peeps). So I was thinking about something like that, and when the Items are passed down, it's similar to the myth where the 3 brothers are given their weapons and assigned locations to reside over (Zeus on Mount Olympus with the Lightning Bolt, Poseidon on Earth with the Trident, and Hades in the Underworld with the Bident).

Anyway, so Akhenamkanen appoints his son as the new King of "Heaven" or whatevs and gives him the Milennium Puzzle while Seto is given the Milennium Rod and sent to Earth. They then notice that Malik has a split personality that is too dangerous to hold one of the items, so he is banished to the Shadow Realm (Underworld), and to ensure that he does not escape, his "brother" Rishid joins him. Anyway, most of the people I listed are in "Heaven" except Seto, Kisara, Serenity (Hestia), Akefia and Ryou, who are on Earth. Malik/Mariku and Rishid are in the Shadow Realm. Mahaado and Mana are supposed to be Apollo and Artemis, so they're in the sky acting as Big Brother. And Yugi just kinda goes wherever he's told. Duke may wander off too and get lost, it sort of depends on how drunk he is. Serenity lets him stay at her house until he's sober.

So I hope my dumb explanations of everything made sense. And I'm also hoping I'll be able to get something up here soon.

Chapter Text

There wasn’t a single cloud obscuring the clear blue sky. The wind gusts were fairly mild and the heat of the sun’s rays gave off a pleasant warmth. At the top of a hill overlooking a vast meadow of primroses sat a small cottage. There was smoke billowing out of the chimney, and the aroma of many different foods wafted through open windows, giving off a welcoming aura. Along with these smells came a sigh.

Sitting at the dining table was a young boy, cradling his chin in his palm and gazing out the window. Snow-white hair curled over his shoulders and cascaded down his back, and wistful brown eyes shimmered with a silent hope. A clunk of dishes in the kitchen didn’t disturb the young man’s reverie, but the voice that followed did.

“Ryou, quit sighing.”

The boy’s pale cheeks darkened and his body seemed to deflate.

“I’m bored. May I go outside?”

For some time, there was no response. Ryou turned in his chair to look at the other male, hoping it would earn him an answer. The man in the kitchen was several years older and had a larger build. He also had white hair similar to his own, but it was only to his shoulders and very unruly. The man had a scowl on his dark-skinned face, which marred the criss-crossed scar on his right cheek.

“Akefia, please?”

“I don’t know. I feel uncomfortable letting you go alone.”

“Why? The people are kind. They would never do me any harm.” When the older male said nothing, Ryou pursed his lips and tilted his head. “Please?”

“Don’t do The Eyes, Ryou. That doesn’t work on me,” Akefia drawled, rolling his violet ones. Ryou slumped his shoulders and lowered his gaze to the floor. After a moment, Akefia sighed and ran a calloused hand through his hair. “Have you finished your chores?”

“Yes,” Ryou answered, almost inaudibly.

“Don’t wander off too far.” Ryou perked up at this. “And be home before sundown.”

No sooner had he finished speaking, Akefia was being weighed down by an armful of Ryou.

“Thank you, brother! Thank you thank you thank you!”

“Now, remember what I said,” Akefia uttered as he pried the youth’s fingers off his rust-colored robe.

“Yeah yeah, I know!” Ryou called over his shoulder on his way to the door. “And I promise I will be home for supper!”

After the door had been slammed closed, Akefia crossed his arms and shook his head.

“Kids.”

Ryou could hardly contain his excitement. He was so anxious to get to the village that he was almost considering merely rolling down the hill, rather than taking the stone steps. But he liked the wildflowers, and he could never live with himself if he killed them simply because he was a little impatient. So instead, Ryou went down the stairs, holding onto the railing and watching his feet. The stone surfaces were ridged and uneven due to years of use, so it was dangerous to not pay attention to where he was placing his feet.

When Ryou finally reached the bottom, it felt as if a huge burden had been removed from his shoulders. He glanced over his shoulder to look at his house. It seemed so small, all by itself on top of the hill. Ryou shrugged it off and turned his attention back to the village before walking towards it. He knew exactly where he was heading first.

xXxXx

After wandering down several streets, replying to the occasional greeting aimed his way with a smile, Ryou arrived at his destination. It was a simple home, nothing setting it apart from any of the others in the village. Ryou knocked on the door and didn’t have to wait long for a response.

“My home is always open!” A female voice called out from inside.

Ryou entered the house and walked directly to the main sitting room where he found the owner of the house seated on the floor tending to the fireplace. She wore a simple dress and moccasins, just like all the other villagers. But she was different. The flames brightened her long, flowing amber hair, and when she turned to acknowledge her guest, her green eyes lit up.

“Hello, Ryou. It’s been a while.”

“I know. It’s good to see you again, Serenity.”

“Is your brother keeping you under house arrest these days?” Serenity asked, inclining her head as a signal for him to sit beside her.

“I wouldn’t say that. He’s just…being an older brother,” Ryou replied, sitting cross-legged on the rug.

“So how did you manage to convince him to let you leave?”

“Well, I used The Eyes on him. He claims that they don’t work, but I think he’s lying,” he said in a whisper at the end.

“Let’s not complain about such a blessing,” Serenity said with a chuckle.

“I never said I was complaining!”

Ryou’s brow furrowed and he turned to look towards the hallway when he heard a strange sound coming from one of the rooms. It sounded like rumbling or growling. When he returned his attention to his friend, she didn’t seem bothered. It was as if she knew what he was about to ask.

“Serenity, is there somebody else here?”

“Duke.”

“Duke? You mean he had one of his drank-too-much-and-got-lost episodes again?”

“That would be pretty accurate.”

“So how long has he been here?”

“Three days.”

“Either this got way out of hand, or you’re letting him stay way too long.”

“Like I always say, my home is always open,” Serenity replied with a shrug.

“So he’s just being a freeloader,” Ryou deadpanned.

“I do not mind. He is a good friend.” Ryou shook his head.

“I am not a freeloader,” a male voice said from the doorway.

Ryou hadn’t even realized the snoring had stopped. Maybe when the other male had heard his name, that caused him to wake up.

“Hello, Duke. It is good to see you up and about,” Serenity said with a smile.

“If you’ve been here for three days, that just means you are taking advantage of Serenity’s hospitality,” Ryou scolded.

“I am not. Besides, it’s boring upstairs,” Duke said, shrugging one shoulder upwards.

“How can it be ‘boring’ when you are the one who hosts all the parties?”

“Because all the same people keep showing up! I need a break.”

“The god of wine and orgies needs a break. Well that’s a first.”

“That brother of yours needs to watch what he says around you.”

“Boys! Enough!” For several moments the only noise in the room was the crackling of the fire. Serenity then let out a sigh before turning her attention to Ryou. “Would you like something to eat?”

“I would.”

“I know you would, Duke, but I was not asking you.”

“Freeloader,” Ryou muttered under his breath. “Thank you, Serenity, but it would be best that I decline. My brother would be cross with me if I returned home for supper without an appetite.”

“Well, we wouldn’t want to anger him. I know how he gets when he’s having one of his moods.”

“Yes, well…”

“Can I have his lunch then?”

“By all means, Duke,” Ryou said, rolling his eyes.

The other male scoffed before turning on his heel and heading down the hallway towards his room.

“Don’t mind him. It’s just the alcohol,” Serenity explained lightheartedly.

“I’m well aware. I just have fun annoying him. Maybe a little too much fun.”

“Well, at least you’re more merciful than Tristan and my brother. When those three are around each other, it becomes a complete warzone.”

“Is that meant to be taken literally? With regards to the mention of your brother?”

“Perhaps. But it does get pretty ugly.”

“Well, let’s just hope that I am your only visitor while Duke is still residing here. I do not want you to be dragged into any unnecessary violence.”

“Do not worry about me, Ryou. I can take care of myself,” the brunette replied with a grin. “Will you be leaving now?”

“I probably should. Your guest will start to get impatient and may throw a tantrum if you don’t pay attention to him,” Ryou answered with a chuckle.

“Well, I hope to see you again soon. Don’t hesitate to use your secret weapon on your brother,” Serenity said as she hugged the young man.

“Haha! Alright. I’ll remember that,” Ryou replied, returning her embrace.

Serenity walked with her guest to the door to see him off.

“Are you going back home?”

“No, I might walk around the village. I don’t want to leave yet.”

“Alright. Well, enjoy the rest of your afternoon.”

“You as well,” Ryou said before pecking his friend on the cheek. “Goodbye.”

After he was several feet away, Serenity turned and closed the door to her home so she could attend to her other guest.

xXxXx

High above the heavens, a pair of violet orbs had its gaze focused on the pale youth below. A feminine chuckle filled the quiet room, followed by a sigh of amusement.

“Poor little Ryou. So naïve. So lonely,” the woman mused, twirling a thin finger through her long blonde hair. “Well, it looks like I’ll just have to change that,” she said, shifting her eyes slightly to the right where the scenery was much darker, and the outline of a person could barely be made out.

The figure sat hunched over on a golden throne, wearing a hooded cloak of dark violet. Slowly, the person straightened their posture, revealing dark skin, hints of blond hair, and blank lavender eyes that were filled with sadness, loneliness, and most of all, betrayal.

Chapter Text

Ryou continued through the town, declining the villagers' offers of food from their stands, even if they weren’t expecting him to pay for it. While he appreciated the sentiment, he thought it was unfair. These people needed the money, and they shouldn’t just be giving away the fruits of their labor. Or maybe they are all just scared of his brother, which is why they try to treat him with more favors.

After making it to the edge of town, Ryou immediately headed to the beach. He knew he didn’t have much time left before he had to return home, and he really was pushing the limit on how far he was permitted to go, but he was an adult and could take care of himself. He didn’t need Akefia treating him like a co-dependent child all the time.

But he knew Akefia was only doing it to protect him. They only had each other, and Ryou knew Akefia would break if anything happened to him. There was a minimal amount of people that his brother trusted, “tolerated” as he preferred to word it, so he would inevitably shoulder all of his grief alone.

When Ryou arrived at the beach, he considered going to visit Kisara, but her husband made him nervous. Ryou knew Seto wasn’t really a mean person, but he always gave the impression that he just didn’t like people. Ryou often wondered why Seto and his brother never got along, since they were so much alike, but the barrier of stubbornness was probably too thick for either of them to penetrate to even form any sort of positive relationship.

Ryou decided that he would save visiting Kisara for another day. Maybe when he had a bit more courage and skip to his step. Instead, he figured he’d wait until the sun began to set before he would make his way back up to his house. Ryou flopped down in the sand and made himself comfortable, picking up the occasional seashell or what he thought was a seashell but was only a rock.

All in all, it was a good afternoon. Even though he didn’t really do very much, Ryou still enjoyed himself and the time that he was able to get away from the house. As the sky began to darken, Ryou’s brown eyes flickered up to the sky where he was able to see the moon beginning to appear.

“Hello, Mana. I’m sorry that I can’t stay long enough to see him off, but if you could give my regards to Mahad, I would appreciate it.” A short moment later, a bright star twinkled into existence next to the moon. “Thank you.”

A cool, salty breeze caused some of the teen’s hair to stick to his face and he sputtered when a few strands ended up in his mouth. But at least it was only hair and not sand. Ryou gathered his hair into one hand and pulled it back behind his head in a ponytail-like fashion to prevent that from happening again.

By now, the moon was fully awake and the sun had begun its descent over the horizon. Ryou continued to watch the waves gradually inch closer to his feet and listened to the gulls calling to each other. When he looked up again at the sky, he observed that it was similar in color to that of the robe that his brother always wore. Ryou released a sigh.

“I guess it’s time to go back.”

Ryou stood up and brushed the sand off his clothing, looking out at the sea one last time before turning towards the village. He had only taken a couple steps when he spotted a figure hiding in the trees. He couldn’t make out very much, but there was something about one of their features that was awfully familiar. There was only one person he knew with golden hair like that.

“Mai?”

His suspicions were proven correct when a woman with long, thick blonde hair wearing a violet gown took a single step away from the tree. She had a thin smirk on her face, and she didn’t return his greeting. Instead, she pointed up at the sky with one thin finger.

Ryou furrowed his brow before looking up to where she was pointing. At first he couldn’t see anything except the sky. Then a dark spot appeared, which grew into a purplish-black fog that seemed to form a wide dome shape.

“Mai, what’s going on?! What is this?!” Again she didn’t answer him. “Mai!”

Ryou’s expression turned horror-struck when the woman turned away and began to leave. Just as he was about to call to her again, the black fog curved inward and around him. As he was lifted off the ground, Ryou tried to claw his way through the thick tendrils towards the light that was slowly beginning to lessen, only to have the cloud reform itself at his fingertips. He knew calling for Mai to help him would be useless, because she seemed to be unconcerned about what was happening to him, and there appeared to be nobody else around.

As the darkness consumed him, rather than fearing for his life or wondering where he was being taken to, all Ryou could think about was his brother, who was at home waiting for him to return for supper. Ryou had never broken a promise to Akefia before, and now he was about to against his will. What would his brother think? Would he be angry with him? Or would he be worried that something had happened? Ryou didn’t even want to picture the expression on the man’s face if he were to search for him, only to come up with nothing.

Ryou hated himself for all of this. He really was just a child, and Akefia had every right to worry over him. Tears fell freely from his brown eyes and he dug his nails into his palms. The teen wasn’t sure if he was on Earth anymore or whether he had been transported somewhere else, but the fog had completely closed and all he could see around him was black, as if he had his eyes closed. All around him it was eerily silent, except for his choked sobs, and the air slowly began to grow colder and colder.

“Brother, forgive me. I should have listened to you.”

xXxXx

In the lonely house on top of the hill, the shattering of glass filled the dining room as the sole occupant knocked over the table and all of the dishes upon it. The man fell to his knees and tangled his fingers in his silver hair and a noise similar to a whine passed his lips.

“RYOOOUUUU!!!!!!”

xXxXx

In Heaven, all of the gods had been assembled at the order of their King when the Goddess of Wisdom came to him with an urgent matter.

“Now that we are all here, I have just been informed that there is disturbance on Earth,” the tri-color haired male stated. “Ishizu, tell me, is it Seto?”

“No, My King. It is Akefia,” the priestess answered gravely, narrowing her azure eyes just the slightest.

“Akefia? What has afflicted him to make him behave in such a way?” Atem asked, sitting straighter on his throne.

“Ryou has disappeared. I have tried to locate him, but I could not find him. Something is shielding the boy from me, as if he is being concealed beneath a veil of darkness that my powers cannot penetrate,” Ishizu replied as she brought her fingers up to the golden item around her neck.

“Mmm. Well, whatever this veil is, we must find a way around it before Akefia causes any harm. I will make sure to have Seto keep an eye on him, just to be safe.”

“What was the kid doing wandering off by himself anyway?” A blond male asked.

“He was visiting your sister, Joseph,” Ishizu answered. “Duke was there, as well.”

“Nyeh, Duke needs to quit showing up drunk at Serenity’s house all the time,” the God of War sneered.

“Ishizu, do you think Serenity or Duke may know what happened to Ryou?” The woman sitting at Atem’s side asked.

“Ryou’s disappearance occurred after he left Serenity’s home, so I would not believe so, My Queen.”

“Hmm…but I know someone who might,” Atem muttered. “Yugi.”

“Yes, My King?” A smaller version of Atem replied.

“Now that Day has ended on Earth, Mana is illuminating the sky with her light. Go to Mahad and bring him here. Surely he saw what happened.”

“You are very wise, My King! I shall return soon with Mahad!” The young god exclaimed, earning a nod from his lookalike.

xXxXx

As promised, Yugi came back to Heaven with the Sun God. As his winged-sandaled feet touched the ground, he wiped the sweat from his forehead and he breathed a sigh.

“You summoned me, My King?” The god said, bringing his bronze hand to his chest as a gesture of respect. Around it hung a necklace that was a flat triangle inside a circle with five pins hanging loosely.

“Yes. Earlier today, Akefia’s brother Ryou disappeared. Ishizu has been unable to locate him, but we were wondering if you perhaps know anything,” Atem answered.

“He was taken by the Shadow Realm.”

Gasps filled the room and Atem shifted on his throne.

“What do you mean?! I did not permit this! I demand to know who opened the Shadow Realm!”

“That would be the person who just slipped out of the room a moment ago,” Mahad said.

“Who… where is Mai?” Atem asked after looking around.

“Trying to avoid any potential punishment that you may have planned for her should she be caught,” the Sun God answered, shaking his head, the flaps on his hat swishing.

“Joseph, bring Mai here now!”

“Nyeh, y-yes, My King…” The blond mumbled before exiting the room to search for the goddess. “Damn it, Mai. Please don’t let it be true.”

Chapter Text

Inside the Shadow Realm, strange fluctuations from the barrier between the dark void and the Outside alerted the two sole occupants. The elder went to investigate what could have caused such a disturbance when he came upon something he never thought he would see again in his life: a human being.

As the man’s green eyes gazed down at the prone form, he began to wonder if the boy was even human, but in fact one of the gods. The tattoo on the left side of his face became marred as he furrowed his brow in contemplation. If this boy was indeed a god, which one was he?

He would have time to think about it later. Right now, he needed to move the boy before the banished souls of the Shadow Realm got their hands on him. Besides, his master would be interested to learn about his finding.

Since it was only he and his master living there, unless you counted Him as well, there was only living space for two people in their tiny “home.” He decided to place the boy in his room for the time being, before heading to where his master was.

“Well, Rishid? What poor soul has His Majesty dropped on our heads this time?” The other male drawled from his golden throne, his chin cradled in his palm.

“It is not a soul, Master Malik. It is a god.”

“What?! He sent a god here?!” The blond nearly flew out of his chair, but he was gripping the armrests tightly, preventing him from doing so.

“I do not believe the Pharaoh is involved in this.”

Of course he is. The Pharaoh is the only one with the power to open and close the Shadow Realm,” the younger man scoffed.

“I still do not think he would send this person here.”

“Where are they?”

“I put him in my room. He was unconscious when I found him lying near the border.”

“I wish to see him,” Malik stated, rising from his throne.

“Very well,” Rishid said with a nod.

xXxXx

Rishid brought Malik to his room as he was asked, and when they approached the bedside, he could see the younger male stiffen next to him.

“I know who this is.”

“Who, Master?”

“Akefia’s younger brother.”

“I was not aware he had a younger brother.”

“From what I know about Akefia, he always kept him on a tight leash, even before the massacre. I, too, am starting to believe that the Pharaoh isn’t involved and someone else is behind this.”

“But who could have sent this boy here?”

“I do not know.”

Malik hesitantly reached a bronze hand out and stroked his fingertips over the boy’s pale cheek. The skin felt exceedingly warm to him for a short moment before gradually becoming cooler. Malik withdrew quickly, staring down at his hand. Had he absorbed the boy’s warmth into his own body? Or was it something else?

After being exiled in the Shadow Realm, he was given the task of overseeing the souls that were banished there with him. It was more like the job was forced upon him; nobody would want this by choice. Whether or not it was known to those on the Outside, Malik grew stronger from every soul that was sent to his domain. Now that there was another living being among them, did that mean Malik was feeding off of his life as well?

A low, throaty chuckle echoed in his mind and Malik shook his head, trying to ignore it. Without acknowledging Rishid’s knowing look, he turned towards the door, but didn’t leave the room before glancing over his shoulder.

“I leave him in your care. When he awakens, tend to any needs he requires.”

“Yes, Master Malik.”

Without saying another word, the blond fled from the room. Rishid continued to watch the doorway for a few more seconds before he lowered his head forlornly. He pulled the desk chair over to the bedside and sat down, but left a couple feet of distance.

It was all that spirit’s fault. The one that lived in his master’s head. It had been there since he had been a child, growing stronger as Malik’s curiosity of the world grew. It fed him lies, deceived him, made him fear things that should not be feared and hate the people that he should love. Eventually, the spirit became powerful enough to take over Malik’s body, and that was what led to him being banished to this hellish place.

The spirit went on a killing spree, anxious to stretch its legs and have just a bit of fun. When Rishid found him, he was able to somehow trap him inside Malik’s mind again with the tattoo on his face. Malik didn’t remember anything that happened between the moment his body was taken over and when he regained control. But that wasn’t enough.

The Pharaoh banished Malik to the Shadow Realm, knowing he would never be able to harm another human being, since only he could open and close the barrier. And it was decided that Rishid would join him if an episode like before happened again. Also, while this was a cruel punishment, the Pharaoh was a merciful man, as well as a father, and he didn’t want this adolescent to be alone.

Rishid often wondered how their sister was doing, serving the new Pharaoh in Heaven. The images of her weeping while they took Malik away have plagued him for many years. He looked down at the sleeping teen and wondered what his brother was feeling at this moment. Rishid didn’t know very much about either of the siblings, but he had heard rumors when he still lived Outside that, even as a child, Akefia was a person with a fiery temper and was very quick to anger. Did he already know about his brother’s disappearance? Would he cause harm to innocent people like the spirit did all those years ago?

A quiet groan pulled Rishid from his musings and he turned his attention to the bed where the younger male was curling inwards and gripping the covers. He slowly opened his brown eyes and blinked a few times before noticing he wasn’t alone.

“Where… where am I?” The teen asked, pulling the blanket a little closer to his body.

“You are in the Shadow Realm.”

“W-why? Have I done something wrong?”

“We do not know the reason why you have been sent here. I am sorry.”

“Are… are you M-Malik?”

“No. I am Rishid, Malik’s servant.”

“Oh.”

For a while, the room was silent and neither occupant said anything. Ryou gripped the sheets again and his face contorted in discomfort.

“Is something the matter?”

“I’m cold.”

“Wait here. I shall return shortly with warmer clothing,” Rishid replied as he rose from the chair.

“Um, sir?”

“Rishid is fine.”

“Okay. Rishid, is it alright if I have something to eat?”

For a moment a look of hesitation spread across the man’s face. The first problem was that he wasn’t sure if they even had any food. After living in the Shadow Realm for so long, Malik and Rishid had grown accustomed to gaining sustenance from the banished souls. Physical food from the Outside was no longer a necessity for them. Secondly, if they did have food, would it even be safe for consumption? A person from the Outside to eat the food of the dark realm may not fair well.

“I will see what I can find,” Rishid replied, nodding once.

“Thank you,” Ryou said with a smile.

xXxXx

After finding something for Ryou to wear, which was just one of Malik’s cloaks, Rishid went to inquire about any food they may or may not have. When he entered the room, the blond looked at the fabric in his hands questioningly.

“He said he was cold.”

“Mmm. Anything else?”

“He is hungry.”

Malik released a sigh and slumped lower on his throne, pinching the bridge of his nose.

“This could pose a bit of a problem…”

“Do we have any food that he may be able to eat? Or is it all gone since it’s no longer a necessity to us?”

Malik brought a finger to his lips and stared at the ground in contemplation. After a short while, he lowered his hand to the armrest and looked back at the other man.

“I might know where I can find some. You just handle the matter of keeping him warm. I shall deal with this on my own.”

“Yes, Master.”

With a small bow, Rishid left the room to attend to their guest. Even though he was sure the thought had already crossed the older man’s mind, Malik did not want him to see the expression of worry on his face. If there really is food in this place, it’s not meant to be consumed by someone like Ryou. All Malik could really do at this moment was hope that he was wrong.

Chapter Text

The Palace guards shouldered their way through the massive golden doors to the throne room. There were two on either side of the goddess, who had a constant smirk carved into her features. The god of war walked behind them, his eyes flickering between his King and his lover. When the guards stopped at the foot of the dais, they released the goddess, who looked at her arms for bruises. She then turned her gaze upwards to meet the glare directed back at her. She rolled her shoulders and brought a hand up to stifle a yawn.

“My King, may I inquire as to the reason for the interruption of my nap?”

“Enough with the dramatics, Mai. I have no time for it, and neither does Ryou.”

“Ryou? Has something happened to the poor dear?”

“Don’t try to lie your way out of this one. Mahad saw you open the Shadow Realm and send Ryou to the dark world.”

“Me?” Mai scoffed. “But my King, you are the only one with the power to open the Shadow Realm.”

“I believed that to be true, until you proved otherwise.” Atem turned his gaze to the captain of his guards. “Until Mai confesses her wrongdoings and atones for them, she is to be kept under house arrest. She must be guarded at all times.”

“Yes, my King,” the guard said with a bow.

“Take her away,” he ordered with a wave of his hand. “Do not worry, Mai. You will have plenty of time for naps.”

Mai’s smirk morphed into a sneer. She turned her nose up and kept her head high until she reached her bed chamber. Just as Joseph was about to follow them, Atem stopped him.

“Joseph, I have a task for you.”

“Yes, my King?”

“I will be sending Yugi to the Shadow Realm to ask that Ryou be returned to his brother. I want you to accompany and protect him from the souls that reside there, as well as Ryou when his freedom is assured.”

“Yes, my King,” Joseph said glumly. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to help Yugi rescue Ryou, he wanted to talk to Mai. Atem knew it, too.

“Yugi, Joseph, rest well tonight. You will need all of your strength and courage for the journey tomorrow. The souls condemned to the Shadow Realm are there for a reason. Be vigilant, should they confront you.”

“Yes, my King,” Yugi and Joseph replied together.

As the gods filed out of the throne room, Atem watched them go, wondering if another would betray them as Mai had. He saw a lone figure remaining. Her gaze was lowered and she had her fingertips at the necklace around her throat.

“Do not worry, Ishizu. We will get Ryou back, hopefully in time,” he trailed off. She knew what he meant. Before Malik or the evil spirit inside his mind could hurt Ryou.

“Forgive me, my King, but it is not my brother that concerns me. I fear we will be too late.”

“What is your meaning?” Atem asked with a raised voice.

“I have a bad feeling… that Ryou will not be able to remain with his brother.“

xXxXx

As soon as he finished his conversation with Rishid, Malik left the throne room and made his way to the entrance of the compound.

The abandoned citadel once imprisoned the most feared being of all time, Zorc Necrophades. Knowing the stone walls would not hold him for long, Pharaoh Akhenamkanen and the other guardians of the Millennium Items combined their powers to separate Zorc’s soul from his body. Zorc’s physical body was divided into seven pieces and sealed inside the stone altar where the Millennium Items were forged, which was then buried far beneath the fortress in the Shadow Realm. The same happened to his soul, each portion taken by one of the seven guardians to a secret location.

There had been a lot of speculation as to whether or not the spirit in Malik’s mind was in fact Zorc. Both Malik and Rishid knew what Zorc sounded like, had heard his voice on several occasions. These were two separate entities.

Malik took in his surroundings, searching for a familiar landmark. It had been so long since he left the citadel, and he didn’t remember the orchard being this far away. He wasn’t even sure what direction he was heading.

In the Shadow Realm, there was no sunlight, or any kind of weather for that matter. With no sky or any natural light source, the passage of time was impossible to measure. All he had to guide him was the torch he held in front of him.

He was also beginning to wonder if this would be a waste of time. Surely the Pharaoh knew what happened to Ryou and would send someone to rescue him. They could be there now, for all he knew. But there had been no fluctuations from the barrier opening.

At long last, the orchard finally came into view. You might be wondering how there can be any kind of plant life without sunlight. Even after all the years he had been here, Malik was still unable to figure it out.

When he reached the first tree in the orchard, he grabbed a single fruit from a low-hanging branch. It looked like a regular pomegranate on the outside, the same if you were to cut it open. But Malik knew better. While he was aware of the fruit’s unique qualities, he wasn’t sure how it would affect Ryou.

Unless the Pharaoh made a move, Malik was out of options.

xXxXx

After Malik returned to the compound, he immediately went to Rishid’s bedroom. Without knocking, he opened the door, only to find the room empty. His eyes widened slightly, wondering what could have happened to Ryou and his brother. He abruptly turned around and entered the corridor.

“Rishid! Rishid, where are you?” After receiving no response, Malik took off down the hallway.

He checked his bedroom and found nothing, as well as a series of rooms which Malik still didn’t quite know what their purpose was. With no sign of them, he went to the only place he still hadn’t checked: the throne room.

“Rishid!” He yelled as soon as he entered the room. What he saw inside made him question his sanity.

Ryou, wearing one of his old robes with the hood down, was sitting on the golden throne. Rishid was at his side, and Ryou was looking up at him in awe.

“Master Malik, welcome back.”

“Oh!” Ryou exclaimed. “Hello!”

“Why are you sitting on my throne?” Malik asked, trying not to sound too angry.

“Well, you see, Master Malik, the thing is…” Rishid stammered, who was normally very good at getting his point across. Well, on the rare occasions that he actually said anything.

“It is all my fault,” Ryou interrupted. Malik turned his gaze from his brother to their temporary guest.

“Explain yourself,” Malik snapped. Ryou visibly wilted, and Malik immediately regretted speaking so harshly.

“Well, you see, sir—”

“Just ‘Malik’ will suffice.”

“Right. Sorry.” He cleared his throat awkwardly. “As I was saying, um… I was hungry, and Rishid told me that you had gone out to find something that would be safe for me to eat.

“But while we were waiting for you to come back, I got bored. So I asked if Rishid would show me around. Then we came in here, and he began telling me a story. I was feeling tired again, and this was the only place to sit down.

“I wasn’t planning on staying here for very long. Just until we went somewhere else or you returned. Sorry for sitting in your chair.”

Ryou got up and dusted the seat off before moving towards Rishid. He was fiddling with his hands and kept his head down.

“Ryou,” Malik spoke after a long silence. “It is alright. I’m not angry with you. This is all just so new to me. You are the first… visitor… we have had since we were banished here.”

“No one is allowed to come and see you? Not even your sister? I have only met her once, but I am sure she misses you.”

Malik clenched his left hand into a fist and slowly released a breath.

“Especially, my sister is not allowed. Besides, no one would ever come here by choice.” He then held out his right hand and opened it. In his palm was a single pomegranate seed. Ryou looked at it quizzically.

“What is it?”

“A pomegranate seed. However, it possesses unique qualities.”

“Like what?”

“See for yourself.” Ryou still wasn’t convinced, and Malik had to force himself not to roll his eyes. “This is not a trick. I promise.”

Ryou had this bad habit of shaking when he was nervous. Especially his hands. Malik’s bad habit was that he was very impatient.

"Shove your seed down his throat," a voice cackled inside his head.

Malik pushed that thought to the back of his mind and took a couple steps forward. He grabbed Ryou’s wrist and dropped the seed into his hand, then immediately backed away. He was relieved when he didn’t absorb Ryou’s body heat into his own. Perhaps he had just imagined it the first time.

Ryou looked at the object in his palm and sniffed it, then parted his lips and popped it in his mouth. He sucked on it for a few seconds, then swallowed it down. A moment later, his eyes widened.

“How peculiar! I feel full, just from that seed!”

“I told you it was unique,” Malik replied, a hint of a smile creeping onto his face. Ryou didn’t notice it, but Rishid did.

Chapter Text

Ryou let out a yawn, then brought a hand up to his mouth sheepishly.

“Pardon me. I did not realize how tired I was.”

“There is no need to apologize,” Malik replied.

“I wonder what time it is. It must be the middle of the night.”

“I could not tell you. I lost track of the days a long time ago.” Ryou looked at him sadly and Malik averted his gaze. “Rishid, would you mind showing Ryou the way back?”

“Yes, Master Malik.”

Rishid put a hand on Ryou’s back and gestured towards the doorway. Ryou stood in place for a few more seconds, but the light pressure on his back told him to move.

“Good night, Malik.” The other male tried to keep his features the same, until Ryou was out of sight and earshot.

“Good night… Ryou.”

Malik sat down on his throne and rubbed at his temples. His headache was getting worse, so painful it was making his vision swim. Malik knew what it meant: He was trying to get out, and He would use any method necessary, including splitting Malik’s skull in half.

xXxXx

A few hours later, Malik couldn’t take it any longer. He went to his room and tried to fall asleep, but the pain was too severe. He had his head gripped in his hands, and he was screaming into the pillow. Rishid had come in at one point to see if he was alright, but Malik told him not to leave Ryou’s side. Almost as soon as he said that, the fluctuations started.

The Pharaoh was opening the barrier between the Shadow Realm and the Outside, and it was causing tremors in the earth. A crack formed in the ceiling of the citadel, and it was growing every second.

Ryou awoke when dust landed on his face. He sat up abruptly when a huge quake shook the entire fortress. Rishid was standing in the doorway, torn between checking on his master and following his order to protect Ryou.

“Rishid, what is happening?!”

“The Pharaoh has opened the border, to rescue you. But what he doesn’t realize is that it causes earthquakes here.” At Ryou’s look of confusion, he added, “This structure used to be solid, almost new. The fluctuations caused it to crumble and decay.”

“And no one has told the Pharaoh about this?”

“That would be impossible. The only reason the Pharaoh opens the Shadow Realm is to banish an evil soul. Master Malik and I are the only ones here who are alive, but we can never leave.”

“Then I will tell him,” Ryou said with determination. All Rishid could do was nod once. The next thing they knew, the ceiling caved in.

Ryou rolled over the side of the bed and crawled underneath. All he could do was hope that the bed didn’t collapse on top of him.

After the dust cleared, Ryou inched out from his hiding place. Thankfully, the bed was strong enough to stay up. But he knew Rishid hadn’t been so lucky. He’d had no way to protect himself from the falling rubble.

“Rishid? Rishid, are you alright?” He started coughing when dust filled his lungs. “Rishid, can you hear me?”

All of a sudden, he heard a blood curdling scream. Unless the souls of the Shadow Realm had voices, there was only one other person it could have been. Ryou tried to get up, but he found that a large piece of the ceiling had landed on the robe Rishid had given him. He managed to pull the garment out from under the rock and free himself, but part of the robe was torn and still trapped beneath the piece of rubble. During that period of time, Malik’s screaming had not stopped. Not even to breathe.

Ryou crawled over to the pile of rubble in the doorway. He saw no sign of Rishid, but he knew this was where he had been standing before the ceiling collapsed.

“Rishid, can you hear me?” He tried to move some of the stone, but he was too weak. “Oh no…”

Ryou looked up when he noticed how quiet it was. Malik had stopped screaming. Maybe he could help Ryou move the rubble off of Rishid. If only he could remember where the throne room was.

Knowing he could do nothing for Rishid on his own, Ryou climbed over the pile of stones to see if he could find Malik. He tried to retrace his steps, the same path that Rishid had taken, but it was for naught. He did manage to find the throne room, but Malik was not there. The only other place he could be was in his bedroom, but Rishid never showed him Malik’s room on the tour. It wasn’t a very big place, so it couldn’t be too hard to find. He checked every room he came across, and it didn’t take very long to find the room he was looking for.

“Malik, I need your help! It’s Rishid, he is hurt!” There was no response from the other male. He was on all fours staring down at the floor. There was something different about his appearance. His hair had changed. Ryou slowly approached him, unsure whether he had been heard. “Malik, are you alright?”

Ryou hesitantly reached towards his left shoulder, but before he could make contact, Malik grabbed him with his right hand. Ryou was yanked to the ground, and when he saw the eyes staring back at him, he knew this was not Malik.

“Well, aren’t you a pretty thing,” the man said with a gravelly voice. “Malik was selfish to keep you all to himself.”

“Please, I don’t know who you are, but I need your help. Rishid is—”

“Dead.”

“Dead?” Ryou gasped. “But he can’t be.”

“The only way I can take control is if Rishid is dead.”

“You… you’re the one who killed all those people.”

“Guilty as charged.” He didn’t sound apologetic about it in the slightest.

“But Rishid stopped you the last time. So maybe he is still alive.”

“Stop talking about him. It bores me. I have something more fun in mind.”

“Please don’t hurt me.”

“I’m not going to hurt you. I’m going to have some fun, and then I’m going to strangle the life out of you,” he said with a fake sweetness.

Ryou pushed against the man’s chest and tried to get him off, but he was not strong enough. His wrists were held together in one hand and pinned above his head. As the other man bent lower, Ryou turned his head to the side. Ryou grimaced and let out a whimper when a long, hot tongue licked the exposed skin of his neck.

“On second thought, perhaps I will rip your throat out with my teeth.”

“No! No, please! Please don’t! Malik, snap out of it!” Ryou yelled, squirming all the while.

“It’s no use. In the Shadow Realm, no one can hear you scream.”

“Malik! Rishid! Brother, help me! Someone, please!” Tears were already flowing freely, and Ryou let out a sob when sharp teeth sank into his neck. “Brother, I’m sorry.”

“…ou? Ryou?”

‘What? That voice sounds so familiar.’

“Hey, Ryou! Answer us! Where are ya?!”

‘Is someone else here? Did they come to save me?’

“Ryou!”

“Hey! Get off of him, you creep!” The sound of steel rang in the air as a sword was drawn. “Get back!”

Ryou’s vision became blurry, but he could faintly make out red, black, and gold spikes. Did the Pharaoh come to save him?

“It’s alright, Ryou. We’ve come to take you home,” a boyish voice said to him. “My King, we found him! Send us back!”

‘No. Of course the Pharaoh would never come himself. This must be Yugi.’

Ryou was barely conscious, but he noticed it had become a lot easier to breathe. That was because Malik, or whoever he was, had gotten off of him. He was currently cowering in a corner, trying not to get stabbed by Joseph.

The ground began to shake again, and Ryou allowed his eyes to slide shut. He couldn’t keep them open any longer.

Joseph picked Ryou up and carried him over one shoulder. With his sword still pointed at the evil spirit, he and Yugi ran towards the doorway they had come through before. Once they safely made it through to the Outside, the barrier closed and the fluctuations ceased. All became still.

Chapter Text

When Ryou opened his eyes, he was in a strange room. He knew he was not in the Shadow Realm anymore, because there were windows with sunlight shining through. It wasn’t his and Akefia’s home, because none of the familiar smells were present. There was a large hand grasping one of his own, and Ryou knew those callouses anywhere.

Ryou sat up slowly, and his hand slipped free from his brother’s grip. He saw that Akefia was asleep, and he was patting around the bed, wondering where Ryou’s hand had gone. When he came up with nothing, Akefia blinked open his eyes. He sat up quickly and blinked groggily. As soon as his vision cleared, he lunged forward and wrapped his arms around Ryou’s shoulders. Ryou couldn’t hold back his tears any longer, and he wept into the crook of his brother’s neck.

“I’m sorry, Brother. I am so, so sorry.”

Akefia let out a chuckle, trying to remain stoic.

“What are you apologizing for? None of this was your fault.“

“I know,” Ryou sniffed. “But if I hadn’t left our home, none of this would have happened.”

“Oh come on, Ryou. Don’t try to take all the credit. All of this is Mai’s fault, and she is being punished for it.” He waited for a moment, then Ryou finally nodded. “How are you feeling? No one has told me anything. Yugi and Joseph have been with the Pharaoh ever since they returned with you.” Akefia finally pulled away from his brother and watched him as he wiped at his eyes.

“I feel fine, for the most part. Just my neck,” Ryou replied and brought a hand up to his throat. A soft cloth bandage was wrapped around his neck, snug enough to stay in place, but not tight enough to choke him.

“What happened?”

“Oh, Malik bit my neck.”

“He did what?!

“No! Not Malik! Sorry, it was the evil spirit.”

“You saw it?!” Ryou shifted uncomfortably when he referred to the spirit as a thing. But maybe he was right.

“Yes, I saw him. And I need to tell this to the Pharaoh, as well. Whenever the Shadow Realm is opened, it causes earthquakes. The fortress where Malik and Rishid live is falling apart. A part of the ceiling caved in and landed on Rishid. That was when the spirit took over.”

Akefia ran a hand through his hair.

“I’m sorry, Ryou. But I don’t think the Pharaoh will want to have an audience with you. He is very… particular about who he talks to. Even I haven't seen him in... well, years.”

“Then someone he trusts will have to do. Where is Ishizu?”

Akefia turned his head towards the door, wondering if the guard was still posted outside. Just as he stood up, there was a knock. The brothers looked at each other, then there was another knock.

“Come in?” Ryou said uncertainly.

The door opened, and Ishizu entered the room. Akefia’s eyes nearly bulged out of his skull.

“My Millennium Necklace showed me visions of this conversation. Given what you have been through, I felt it best that I come to you,” the priestess spoke softly. “May I sit down?“

Ryou gestured towards the chair his brother had occupied, and Akefia found a spot against the wall. As the priestess sat down, he crossed his arms and watched her suspiciously. Ryou scooted over and patted the space on the bed. Akefia obediently went over and sat next to his brother. The image of the two siblings made Ishizu’s heart ache, but she had learned how to hide her pain well.

“What news do you have of my brothers?” Ishizu asked.

“Well, they seemed…” Ryou trailed off. Even though she was anxious to hear about Malik and Rishid, she waited for Ryou’s answer. “They seemed used to their situation. As if they are just living the same day over and over again. Which they may well be.”

“Yes. It has been a long time since the massacre,” Ishizu said thoughtfully. “What else can you tell me? My Necklace could sense your strong desire to speak to me.”

“Because I know the Pharaoh will listen to you. You see, whenever the Pharaoh banishes souls to the Shadow Realm, it causes earthquakes. The structure where your brothers are living is falling apart, and there is not much of it left standing.

“The ceiling caved in when he sent Joseph and Yugi to rescue me, and it landed on Rishid. I don’t know if he is alright or not, because I was found before he woke up.”

“I will tell the Pharaoh what you have learned. I hope, for my brothers’ sakes, that he can and will find another way. Thank you, Ryou.” Ishizu was about to get up, but seeing the bandage wrapped around Ryou’s neck stopped her. “The Spirit did that to you,” she said almost apologetically.

Ryou nodded. Akefia scowled, and he looked as if he wanted to rip open the Shadow Realm himself and beat the Spirit to a pulp. Ryou wanted to ask Ishizu where the Spirit had come from, but he knew it would most likely bring back painful memories. Ishizu knew she should tell them about the vision she had seen; the one where Ryou was back in the Shadow Realm, looking very sickly. However, she didn’t want to ruin the two brothers’ reunion. She could put it off for a little while.

“Well, I will give the two of you some privacy. As soon as the Pharaoh is finished speaking with Joseph and Yugi, I will inform him of what you told me,” Ishizu said as she rose from the chair.

“Thank you, Ishizu.”

The priestess gave him a thin smile, but Ryou could tell even that was forced. She wanted to see her brothers again, and she was no closer to that wish than she had been when Ryou was rescued. After Ishizu left the room and closed the door behind her, a heavy silence fell upon the siblings. Akefia was watching Ryou, and he could tell that something was troubling him.

“What’s wrong, Ryou?”

“I wonder if Rishid is awake yet. And…”

“And?”

“Oh, I was worried about Malik. I wonder if he feels any pain when the Spirit takes over his body.”

“I couldn’t tell you, Ryou. I don’t know very much about it. Only what the previous Pharaoh wanted us to know.” Ryou thought that maybe the previous Pharaoh wasn’t trying to keep secrets. Maybe the circumstances were so terrible that he didn’t want to burden anybody else with that knowledge. “You should get some more rest.”

“But I’m not tired.”

“Take a nap, Ryou.” Ryou knew that whenever his brother used that tone, there was no point in arguing with him. The younger male pouted, but he lied down anyway. “I won’t leave your side.”

Ryou held a hand out and smiled when he felt his brother’s fingers wrap around his own. As he drifted off to sleep, he hoped that any dreams he had were happy ones.

xXxXx

When Malik regained control of his body, he felt more ill than the previous times. His headache wasn’t as painful, but it was still enough to keep him hunched over. He held onto the wall as he moved about the citadel and tried to find Rishid. It didn’t take very long for Malik to find the pile of rubble, which appeared to be moving.

As Malik began moving some of the stone out of the way, he was overcome with guilt. The only reason why Rishid was hurt was because of the order Malik gave him to stay with Ryou. A few more pieces were removed and he could see part of Rishid’s face. There was a cut on his forehead that was still bleeding. The two men remained silent until Rishid was completely free.

“Are you alright, Master Malik?” Rishid asked, somewhat out of breath. He wiped at the blood running down his forehead with the back of his hand.

“Yes. My head hurts and I feel a bit nauseous, but I am otherwise uninjured.” Malik had to force himself not to laugh. Even though Rishid was the one who got hurt, he would always be more worried about the well being of others. “And you?”

“I am fine, Master Malik.” Malik then let out a sigh. “Master, are you unwell?” The younger male shook his head.

“You got hurt because of my order. If you hadn’t been with Ryou, the ceiling would not have caved in on you. And He would not have taken control.”

“You couldn’t have known what would happen. Besides, He probably would have found a way out if He wanted it that badly.”

“He hurt Ryou,” Malik said after a while. Rishid’s eyes widened.

“Are you certain?” Malik nodded silently. “I always thought you never remembered what happened when He took over.”

“I never have before. For some reason He wanted me to see it this time.”

“Is Ryou still here? Or…”

“He’s gone,” Malik interjected, and a look of sadness flashed across his face. “It’s just us again.”

Rishid knew that Malik didn’t really want Ryou to be trapped in the Shadow Realm with them, but he had to admit that there was a void now that he was gone. Even though he had only been there for a short amount of time, Ryou had somehow made this dark place seem a little bit brighter.

xXxXx

Ryou was awakened to eat supper, and another meal was brought for Akefia. Ryou chuckled under his breath when his brother complained about the food. Akefia believed he was the best cook in the universe, and nobody else’s cooking could compete.

Once the dishes were cleared away by servants, Ryou lied down again and fell asleep. He didn’t wake until the middle of the night. Akefia became concerned when he saw that Ryou seemed to be shivering. He lightly shook the boy, and he blinked his eyes up at him. Ryou shifted and made room for the older male, and Akefia climbed in next to him. Ryou immediately burrowed inside Akefia’s robe, and Akefia rubbed his back to try and warm him.

After a while, Ryou’s tremors lessened in number and intensity. Akefia wondered silently to himself if this was some kind of side effect of being in the Shadow Realm. He also wondered if there would be others later on.

Chapter Text

The next morning after breakfast, Ryou was told that he could return home. Other than Ishizu, nobody had asked him what happened while he was in the Shadow Realm. In addition, no one asked if he had eaten anything of the dark realm. Ryou wanted to look for Ishizu in order to find out whether or not she had spoken with the Pharaoh. But he decided against it when he saw how jittery his brother was. There was a reason why Akefia lived on Earth: he hated the politics of Heaven.

This had been Ryou’s first visit to Heaven, and he was unconscious when Joseph and Yugi brought him. Needless to say, Ryou felt a little woozy when he was safely on Earth again. He held onto his brother’s arm as they made their way up the long staircase towards their house. Ryou breathed in deeply and closed his eyes as the many different aromas filled his nostrils. The sun came out from behind a cloud, and Ryou turned his head up and smiled as the golden rays warmed him.

Almost as soon as the smile was there, it vanished. Behind his closed eyelids, all Ryou could see was Malik’s lonely eyes. How long had it been since he last felt the sun or smelled flowers? Malik was just a child when he was banished, and Ryou was too young to remember when that happened. Ryou didn’t realize he was slowing down until he came to a stop. Akefia felt a light tug on his arm when Ryou stopped walking. He turned to look at his brother and saw a sad expression on his face.

“Are you alright, Ryou?” The younger blushed slightly and nodded.

“Yes. I was just thinking about some things.” He leaned his head on his brother’s shoulder and they climbed the remaining stairs.

They entered the house silently, and Ryou smiled at the loud creak the door made as it closed. Akefia usually grumbled about the noise, but Ryou thought it gave their little home some personality. When he walked into the kitchen, he let out a gasp at the state of it.

“Did someone break in?” Ryou asked as he stared at the broken glass and table that was flipped on its side. Akefia came from behind him and set the table upright.

“No, it was me,” Akefia said as he grabbed a broom. Ryou found an old sheet to collect the broken glass and waited for his brother to continue. “I did it when I couldn’t feel you anymore.” Any other person would have missed it, but Ryou knew Akefia well enough to notice the slight tremor in his voice.

Ryou let go of the sheet and wrapped his arms around his brother’s waist. Akefia sucked in a breath of air and pressed his lips to Ryou’s hair. Ryou sighed contentedly.

“I’m sorry I was late for supper.” Akefia chuckled and sniffed once.

“Just promise me you won’t do it again.”

“I promise.”

While Akefia was disposing of the broken glass and putting the broom away, Ryou sat at the table and gazed out the window. He had only been in the Shadow Realm for a little less than a day, but it had felt much longer. As he watched the flowers bend in the breeze, Ryou’s thoughts returned to Malik and Rishid.

He didn’t know how they had managed to live in that horrible place for so long without going insane. Ryou knew he would never survive not knowing what time of day it was. And he definitely couldn’t live in a place that didn’t have sunlight or rain or flowers. Or his brother.

“Poor Ishizu,” he muttered. A moment later, Akefia returned and sat across from him. Ryou smiled at him, but it quickly vanished when he saw the serious look on the other man’s face. “What’s the matter?”

“I overheard some guards talking, when I stepped out of the room this morning. They said Mai is still not talking. The priests have tried to interrogate her, but she will only give her confession to the Pharaoh.” The older man clenched his hands into fists and Ryou heard the knuckles pop. “Why would she do that to you?”

“I’m sure she had a reason,” Ryou said uncertainly.

“You have never been in the same room together. What reason could she possibly have to do something like that to anyone?” Ryou merely shrugged and Akefia heaved a sigh.

“Well, the Pharaoh needs to quit being so paranoid and talk with her or nothing will get done.”

“Why is the Pharaoh so mistrusting?”

“Because the previous Pharaoh, Akhenamkanen, was betrayed by someone close to him. Atem is worried the same thing will happen to him, so he only allows a small group of people to get close to him.” That was the first time Ryou had ever heard the Pharaoh’s real name.

“I hope he will listen to Ishizu and will try and find a way to help Malik and Rishid. The structure of the place where they live really is in bad shape. The ceiling caved in on Rishid when I was there. It’s only a matter of time before the entire thing collapses on top of them.” Ryou shuddered when he remembered Malik’s screaming.

“So, Ryou…” Akefia began, somewhat hesitantly, “what happened exactly?” He wasn’t sure if Ryou would be comfortable with talking about his experience.

“From the beginning?” Akefia nodded. “After I left Serenity’s house, I went to the beach to watch the sun start to set. I was only there for a few minutes, because I knew you would have supper ready. As soon as I turned to leave, I saw Mai watching me.”

“How did she open the Shadow Realm? Could you tell?” Ryou shook his head.

“She pointed at something in the sky, and then this black spot appeared. It got bigger and surrounded me. I tried calling for help, but Mai just walked away.” Ryou watched his brother and he could see the anger building up inside him. “The next thing I knew, I woke up in a bed and there was a man sitting next to me. I thought it was Malik, but he introduced himself as Malik’s servant, Rishid.” Akefia waited for Ryou to continue, but he seemed to be deep in thought. “Have you ever met Malik or Rishid?”

“No. Not in person. The only one from their family I have met is Ishizu, but only two or three times. I don’t typically associate with anyone who lives up there.” Ryou thought to himself that he would need to ask his brother someday why he hated Heaven so much.

“After I woke up, I told Rishid I was cold and hungry, so he went to find some more clothes. He said something about seeing what he could find for me to eat. He came back a few minutes later and gave me a robe to put on. He said Malik had gone to find food, but nothing about how long it would take.

“I could tell Rishid wasn’t much of a talker, and it got a little awkward just sitting in the quiet room. So I asked him if he would show me around, and he agreed. There wasn’t much to show, it turned out, and it was so dark. Even the torches that lined the walls didn’t help. We passed a couple of locked doors, and neither had a key to unlock them. Rishid said he and Malik were content with not knowing what was in those rooms, and since it was just the two of them, they really had no reason to open them.

“He showed me a room which was mostly empty except for a golden throne, and I asked him if we could rest because I was feeling tired—”

“Wait a second. You were tired after only a few minutes?” Ryou looked like he had to think about it for a moment.

“Well, you’ve seen how tired I get when I haven’t eaten.”

“I thought you just used that as an excuse to get out of doing chores.” Ryou’s eyes widened slightly, and then a blush crept onto his face. “I knew it.”

“But I really was tired!” Ryou protested. “I could feel the place draining the energy out of me.”

“Okay, Ryou. I believe you. Tell me what happened next.”

“Well, I sat down on the throne, and I asked Rishid how long he had known Malik. He said Malik’s entire life. He told me he was adopted by the family before Ishizu was born, and he was raised as their older brother. I wanted to ask why he called himself Malik’s servant if they were brothers, but I figured it was none of my business.”

“That hasn’t stopped you from being nosy before.” Akefia smirked at Ryou’s pout.

“Do you want to hear this story or are you going to keep interrupting me?” Ryou asked with his arms crossed over his chest. Akefia said nothing and gestured for him to continue. “As I was saying, I asked Rishid what Malik was like as a child, hoping I could find a clue as to what made him kill all those people. He said their mother died in childbirth when Malik was born, so Ishizu ended up taking on her role a lot. Their father was abusive and would take his anger out on Rishid and Ishizu. There was one time he was really bad to Ishizu, and Malik made her a crown of flowers, hoping it would take the pain away. I thought that was sweet.”

“What else did he say?”

“Nothing, because Malik came back. He was watching us for a moment, and then he asked me why I was sitting on his throne. I apologized, but really, where else was I supposed to sit?”

“What was he like?”

“Well, I could tell he wasn’t used to interacting with people. And he definitely looked sad and lonely. I understand why, but I just wish there was some way to help them.” A second later there was a loud banging on the door. Akefia glared at the door as if it insulted him and Ryou gripped the edge of the table. His heart was pounding, and for a moment he thought he was going to be arrested.

“RYOUUUUUUUUUU~!!!!” A girl’s voice sang from outside. Akefia groaned. There was only one person who annoyed him more than Duke. When Ryou had gotten his breathing under control, he rose from the table and walked to the door. As soon as he opened the door, something flew at him. “RYOU! I’M SO HAPPY TO SEE YOU!”

“I’m happy to see you, too, Mana.” The Moon goddess had her legs wrapped around his waist. “Did you come by yourself?”

“I did, but I’m actually here on a secret mission to kidnap you,” Mana said as she loosened her grip and placed both feet on the ground.

“I’ve already been kidnapped once this week.”

“Don’t worry, Ryou. Serenity sent me.” Ryou noticed Mana’s eyes move to something over his shoulder, so he assumed Akefia had come to investigate.

“Is Duke still passed out drunk?” Ryou asked.

“Drunk, yes. Passed out, I’m not sure.”

“I’m sorry, Mana. I don’t know if I can—”

“It’s alright, Ryou. Go ahead,” Akefia interrupted. “I’m sure you won’t let anything happen to him.” Now he was speaking to Mana.

“Of course not! He will be safe with me!”

“Just don’t be late for supper this time.”

“COME ON RYOU WE NEED TO HURRY!” Mana yelled in a rush as she yanked Ryou out the door.

xXxXx

When they reached Serenity’s house, Ryou thought for certain that the bottoms of his shoes had been worn away. Mana and Ryou walked hand in hand to where the hearth was. To Ryou’s surprise, Serenity was nowhere to be found. He shivered and sat down in front of the fire. Ever since he had been rescued from the Shadow Realm, he had felt colder than usual. A door closed somewhere in the house, and a moment later Serenity appeared with a pile of blankets in her arms. When she saw her company, she looked almost as if she hadn’t been expecting them.

“Hello, Ryou, Mana. This is a surprise!”

Ryou turned and gave Mana a suspicious look. Mana tried to avoid his gaze as much as possible.

“You told me you were at my house because Serenity sent you to kidnap me.”

“I’m sorry, Ryou. I had to make something up because I knew your brother would say no if you were just hanging out with me.” Ryou nodded. This was true. “Besides, can you imagine Serenity kidnapping anybody?” The amber-haired woman just smiled.

“You must not know Serenity as well as I do.” Ryou barely dodged a playful smack from the girl in question. “Is Duke still here?”

“Actually, you just missed him. Tristan and my brother came and took him home. I was just cleaning up the room he was sleeping in.”

“Can we help you?” Serenity hesitated. “Come on, Mana. Let’s help.”

The room wasn’t as messy as Ryou had originally thought it would be. There was one visit a few months ago that resulted in a fight between Tristan and Duke with Joseph trying to break them up. That didn’t work as planned, and the whole house looked like a tornado had gone through every room. Ryou didn’t think he would’ve had the energy to clean up another mess like that, especially after his short visit to the Shadow Realm. He had never felt this tired or cold before.

Between the three of them, it only took about ten minutes to clean the room and put new blankets and linens in their proper places. After Serenity closed the door, they went back into the den. Ryou found his spot near the hearth, and Serenity added a piece of wood to the fire.

“So, Ryou, how are you feeling?” Serenity asked as she wiped her hands on her dress.

“Well, I’m not at my best. I haven’t told Akefia, or anyone this. I feel cold and tired all the time.”

“Why did you not tell the Healers? They could have done something to fix that,” Mana said.

“I thought it would go away. And perhaps it will. I have only been home for two days. I also didn’t want my brother to worry.”

“What was it like? The Shadow Realm?” Serenity asked.

“Dark. Cold. There was always this feeling I was being watched. Maybe I was by the souls that were banished there. And it was… unchanging. There was no way of knowing what day or time of day it was.” Serenity almost looked apologetic that she had asked.

“What was Malik like? Is he a hideous creature?” Mana, not so much.

“No, he looks like a normal person. I think he is a few years older than me.”

“Is he handsome?” Mana asked, wriggling her eyebrows.

“Um…” Ryou instantly thought about the moment Malik grabbed his hand when he gave him the pomegranate seed. He remembered those lavender eyes, and the way Malik would watch him intently while he was speaking.

“Oh my! Ryou has a crush!”

“No!” Ryou’s face was bright red.

“Don’t worry, Ryou, I won’t tell your brother.”

“I’ll probably never see him again,” Ryou muttered and stared at his lap.

“Do you want to see him again?” Serenity asked.

“I do. But I want him and Rishid to be free. I know Ishizu wants that, too.” A thought then occurred to him. Since he was talking to the Moon goddess and the sister of the god of war, maybe they would know more about what happened all those years ago. “What do you two know about the massacre or Malik’s banishment?”

“All I know about it is what Mahad told me. Malik was, I think, ten years old when he was banished.”

“Then Rishid must have been a teenager,” Ryou commented. Both of them were so young.

“I overheard my brother and Tristan talking about it once. Afterward, my brother told me not to repeat anything I heard to anyone.”

“Now I’m really curious. What did they say?”

“The family lived in a small village, far away from here. I guess Pharaoh Akhenamkanen had chosen Ishizu and Malik to become priests in the palace, but their father wouldn’t allow them to go to Heaven for training. He hurt Rishid really badly, and he struck Malik, which he had never done before.

“Then Malik just snapped. He became a different person, and he murdered their father. Malik had somehow created another personality that was a manifestation of the fear and anger that developed after hearing and watching his father abuse his siblings for so many years. Ishizu had been taking care of Rishid when Malik ran away. She had no idea he killed more people until the palace guards came to their home and took them to see the Pharaoh.”

“I also heard that Malik was only able to regain control of his body when Rishid woke up,” Mana chimed in.

“The same thing happened when I was there,” Ryou said. “When the Pharaoh opened the Shadow Realm for Yugi and Joseph, part of the ceiling collapsed on top of Rishid. When he lost consciousness, the spirit took over.”

“Did you see it?” Mana asked. Again, Ryou felt uncomfortable when the spirit was referred to as a thing.

“Yes. He…” When Ryou remembered Mana’s earlier reaction to whether he thought Malik was handsome, he decided it would be best to not tell her the spirit bit his neck.

“He…?”

“Well, he threatened to kill me.” Which was true. “But luckily for me, your brother and Yugi came just in time.” That brought a smile to Serenity’s face. “I hope Rishid is alright.”

“Did the spirit hurt you, Ryou?” Mana asked.

“Nothing too serious. He grabbed me and threw me to the ground. But like I said, it wasn’t long before I was rescued.” Ryou adjusted his shirt and pulled it higher on his neck just in case there was a mark left behind.

“That’s a relief.” Mana happened to glance out the window and she let out a shriek. “It’s that late already?! I have to go change places with Mahad soon!”

“I should be going, too. I wouldn’t want to be late for supper again. Akefia might actually kill me.” As he was hugging Serenity goodbye, he looked over at Mana. “Go ahead, Mana. I will walk home.”

“Are you sure?” Ryou nodded. “Okay! Bye, Ryou! Bye, Serenity!”

“Before I go, I wanted to ask you a couple more questions.”

“I will answer them if I can.”

“Ishizu came to visit me when I was in the Healing Rooms, and I told her that every time the Pharaoh opens the Shadow Realm it causes earthquakes and the place where Malik and Rishid have been living has been falling apart over the years. She was going to tell the Pharaoh about this, and hopefully he would be able to find a different way that wouldn’t cause harm to them. Since your brother is so close to the Pharaoh, I was wondering if you would tell me anything you just happen to overhear?”

“Even though I’m really not supposed to repeat anything I hear my brother say, I suppose I can make an exception for you.”

“Thank you, Serenity.”

“Of course. Did you have another question?”

“Oh, yes! Did you happen to hear Joseph say what the name of the village was where Malik and his family lived?” She thought about it for a moment. “It’s alright if you don’t remember. I was just curious.”

“I think it had two names. It might have been Kul Elna? I could be wrong, but this conversation happened a few years ago.”

“That’s okay, Serenity. Thank you,” Ryou said as he made his way to the door.

“Will you be alright by yourself?” Ryou nodded.

“I’m going straight home from here. Goodnight.” He kissed her cheek then closed the door behind him.

xXxXx

True to his word, Ryou took no detours. When he reached the staircase at the bottom of the hill, he looked up and smiled at the moon.

“Thank you for spending the day with me, Mana. I had fun.” A second later, a star appeared next to the moon.

As he climbed the stairs, he shivered when a breeze came from the direction of the ocean. He took the rest of the steps two at a time and breathed a sigh of relief when the warmth of his home enveloped him. He saw Akefia adding some finishing touches to supper, so Ryou set the table, without being asked. Ryou’s mouth started watering as soon as his brother set their supper on the table. Akefia watched with slight amusement as Ryou filled his plate with the steaming foods.

“I hope the fact that you are friends with the god of war’s sister hasn’t made your appetite become similar to his.” Ryou just rolled his eyes at him.

“I thought you would be appreciative of my love for your cooking, since I’m the only person who eats it besides you.”

“I’ve just never seen you eat that much before.”

Ryou didn’t want to tell him that he was filling his belly with hot foods because he was cold. They ate for a few more minutes in silence, cleared the table, and Akefia washed the dishes with water he had collected from the river. While Ryou was drying, a thought popped into his head.

“Have you heard of a village called Kul Elna?” The scrubbing next to him ceased and Akefia froze. With wide, haunted eyes, he slowly turned to Ryou.

“Where did you hear that name?”

Chapter Text

Ryou felt as if he couldn’t breathe. He had never seen his brother look at him, or anybody, in the way he was looking at him now. Akefia dropped the dish he had been cleaning in the large tub, and the soapy water prevented it from shattering. Ryou began to feel afraid when Akefia approached him and gripped his arms. His brother had never harmed him before.

“Where did you hear that name?!” The older man snarled furiously.

“Brother, I’m sorry! Please, you’re frightening me!” Ryou sobbed. Akefia suddenly loosened his grip, and Ryou rubbed at his arms to ease the pain. “Serenity told me Kul Elna was the village where the Evil Spirit killed those people,” Ryou said after a minute. He was looking everywhere except at his brother.

“I’m sorry, Ryou. I tried to protect you from that information. But I failed.”

“Protect me from what? The massacre?” Akefia shook his head.

“Kul Elna was where we grew up.”

“What are you talking about? We have always lived here. Right?”

“You were only a baby when I found this place. You would have been too young to remember Kul Elna.” Ryou had a feeling he already knew the answer, but he might as well ask.

“What happened to our parents?” Akefia clenched his hands into fists, and Ryou could hear the knuckles crack.

“They were murdered by that monster,” Akefia growled.

Ryou felt a shiver creep up his spine. The Spirit likely would have killed him, too, if Joseph and Yugi hadn’t shown up when they did. Ryou silently watched his brother. He was gripping one of the chairs and his knuckles were almost white. He slowly approached the other man and laid a hand on top of his own. Akefia’s grip relaxed for a split second, but he quickly turned his gaze towards Ryou.

“Ryou, your hands are so cold.” He held Ryou’s hands between his own and rubbed to try and warm them.

“I have been cold ever since I was taken by the Shadow Realm.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I thought it would go away. And I didn’t want to worry you.”

“Ryou, I don’t have anyone else to worry about.” Ryou nodded.

“You’re right. I’m sorry. I won’t keep things from you anymore.”

“I’m sorry, too,” Akefia said after a minute, “for hurting you and for not telling you about our parents. I just didn’t want to upset you. I hate seeing you get all mopey.”

“I don’t get mopey!” Akefia gave a sarcastic grunt and separated himself from Ryou before returning to the tub of dishes. “I don’t!” Ryou shouted petulantly.

Ryou pouted and joined his brother so he could dry the remaining dishes. He waited for Akefia to ask how Serenity knew about Kul Elna, but he never said anything. He assumed his brother reasoned that she had heard about it from her own brother. Akefia put the dishes away, because he apparently had a system and Ryou never put them in the right place. Ryou walked outside and sat down on the front step. He wrapped his arms around himself as a cool breeze blew against him. A moment later, a blanket was draped across his shoulders.

Akefia sat down next to him, and Ryou leaned his head against his broad shoulder. They didn’t speak to each other and instead found comfort in listening to the leaves rustling in the wind and the few bird calls before sunset. As Ryou’s eyelids began to slide closed, he could faintly see the ocean. Although it wasn’t visible, the part of the beach that lay directly below his house was the place where he had been standing when the Shadow Realm took him away.

Ryou wondered if Mai had confessed yet. Just like his brother, he couldn’t think of any reason why she would do something like that to him. They barely knew each other. Ryou couldn’t think of any other time he had been in her presence. He wanted to believe that she did what she did for a reason. He just couldn’t come up with what that reason was.

When the sun was below the horizon, Akefia lifted his sleeping brother into his arms and carried him inside. After tucking him into bed, Akefia went to grab a couple more blankets. He thought about not getting them, because ever since he was a child, Ryou almost always kicked his blankets off during the night. But if Ryou really was as cold as he said he was, he probably would keep them on.

There was a large woven basket in the den where the extra blankets were stored. It was made by their grandmother and was a wedding gift for their parents. Akefia used to hide and crawl around in it when he was a child, and his mother always told him to be gentle because Grandmother had worked very hard on it. He never knew what it was supposed to be used for, but he figured that as long as it was being used for something, Grandmother would be fine with it. He picked up two blankets from the top and figured Ryou could use what he wanted.

As he was about to place the lid on the basket, he saw an item that was foreign to him. He set the blankets down and unfolded it. He saw that it was the dark violet robe Ryou had been wearing when he was rescued. Akefia angrily bunched up the garment and walked towards the hearth. Just as he was about to throw it into the fire, he froze. It was as if a voice in his head was telling him he needed to keep it. As if in a trance, he folded the robe and placed it back in the basket. He then went into Ryou’s room and laid the blankets on top of him. Ryou squirmed but did not awaken. Akefia sat in his chair in the corner and watched his brother sleep. He always had a hard time staying asleep because his dreams were usually about his parents dying or Ryou dying. So, whenever he found himself wide awake, he would sit in Ryou’s room and think until he exhausted himself.

He was trying to figure out what that strange feeling was earlier. Someone, or something, told him not to burn the robe because he would need to use it again later. The only explanation he could think of was that Ryou would have to go back to that awful place someday. Akefia desperately hoped he was wrong.

xXxXx

The Pharaoh watched impassively as the prisoner was brought before him. She kept her gaze lowered so she wouldn’t have to see the judging eyes of the spectators. Or it was because she no longer had the strength to hold her head up. The once proud goddess had been turned into an empty shell. Even the god of war couldn’t look upon her. When they reached the bottom step of the dais, the guards pushed her down into a kneeling position on the cold floor. She still didn’t look up.

“Are you ready to confess?” She remained silent, and she grimaced when one of the guards gripped her hair and yanked her head back. The Pharaoh lifted a hand and the guard released his grip. Mai’s head fell forward and she stared hazily at the floor. “What is your decision?” She did not answer, and a single pair of footsteps echoed in the quiet throne room.

“My King, we are wasting valuable time with this stalling. If you would allow me to use my Millennium Eye to read her mind—”

“You wouldn’t have the stamina, old man,” Mai hissed.

“How dare you?!”

“That is enough, Akhenaden.” The old priest bowed to the Pharaoh stiffly but kept his one-eyed glare pinned on Mai. “What is your decision, Mai?”

As he watched the woman before him, Atem couldn’t figure out why she was so weak. She had only been under house arrest for a few days, and he’d made certain that meals were brought to her. She was not tortured or severely interrogated. Was her spirit broken, or was something else causing this? Finally, she lifted her head and met his gaze.

“I will not be made into a spectacle. You’ll want to hear what I have to say, but I will only share it with you. No guards, no priests, no audience.”

“I would not be in a room alone with you even if you were trustworthy,” the Pharaoh replied coolly. She seemed to think about it for a moment.

“One other witness. That is my final offer.”

“I will accept your offer, and I will even allow you to choose your witness.”

“Ishizu,” Mai replied with no hesitation. Because her back was to him, Mai was unable to see the mixed look of shock and hurt on Joseph’s face. The Pharaoh turned towards the priestess.

“Ishizu, will you be a witness of Mai’s confession?”

“I will, my King,” Ishizu said with a bow.

“Very well. The confession shall take place in one month’s time, on the solstice,” Atem declared to everyone gathered in the room. He then turned his gaze back to Mai. “For the time being, I will lift your house arrest. However, you will have an armed escort with you wherever you go. Do you have any objections?”

“No, my King. None,” Mai replied with a steely glare to match his own.

Mai wanted to fire back a sarcastic remark, but she knew the Pharaoh was being incredibly generous. She nodded once and bowed her head slightly. The Pharaoh made a gesture and one of the guards approached Mai. He wrapped a thick hand around her slender arm and pulled her up from the floor. As Mai was led out of the throne room, she kept her head down in order to avoid everyone’s eyes, especially Joseph’s. Although she appeared serious, even angry, on the outside, she was euphoric on the inside.

‘At last, my patience has paid off. And my loyalty has paid off,’ Mai purred mentally. ‘He was right. Placing my trust in Him has finally led to the Pharaoh’s willingness to listen to me. If I play my cards right, everything will go back to the way it was.’

xXxXx

More than a week had passed since Ryou left and Malik was about ready to bash his head against the wall. Almost every day, He had been trying to coerce Malik into letting Him take control. Rishid could only watch as his master slowly lost his sanity.

“STOP IT!” Malik shouted as he gripped his head and paced around the throne room. “Please, just stop talking!”

“Oh, come now. You really shouldn’t be so selfish, keeping that pretty little thing all to yourself,” the Evil Spirit cooed.

“I already told you, he’s gone.” Malik stood hunched over his throne and gripped the arm rests tightly. “Besides, even if he was here, I would never let you anywhere near him.”

“Impossible, considering I’m in your head.”

“Then…” Malik’s breaths came out shallowly. “Then I won’t go near him either. I won’t let you hurt him again.”

“I just want another taste.” Malik snarled and stared at his reflection in the golden throne. Only it wasn’t his face he saw.

“You’ll never touch him. I’ll make sure of it.” He hung his head sadly. “He’s never coming back, anyway.” The Spirit chuckled.

“He can’t stay away forever. And when he does come back, there will be nothing you can do to stop me from getting what I want.”

“What do you mean ‘he can’t stay away?’”

“Oh, now you want to listen to my advice?” Malik remained silent and waited for the Spirit’s answer. The Spirit’s reflection closed its eyes, as if reliving a memory. “When I held him down, I could smell the pomegranate you gave him.”

Malik’s eyes widened in horror, and the Evil Spirit cackled. The laughter grew louder and more unhinged. Malik closed his eyes and turned towards the door, as if trying, unsuccessfully, to block out the noise.

“What have I done to Ryou? I’ve taken him away from his brother. His home. How could I have been so foolish?”

“I don’t know what you’re so upset about. You want him to come back,” the Spirit said nonchalantly.

“What I want does not matter.” The Spirit chuckled.

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

Malik whipped around and glared at the Spirit’s smirking face in the reflection. He approached the throne and met the other man’s gaze.

“You harm him in any way and I end it.” For the first time since He was created, the Spirit looked nervous. It was only for a moment, but Malik saw a flash of fear in His eyes.

“You would never follow through with it. You’ve threatened to commit suicide before.”

“The stakes were not as high before. I would kill myself, and you, if it meant that Ryou was safe.” The Spirit watched him intently, as if trying to figure out the meaning of his words. “You could never understand what it’s like to love someone more than yourself.” The Spirit spat.

“And when did you become such an expert on…that?” The sarcasm was dripping from His voice.

Malik remembered when he touched Ryou’s cheek and felt the warmth enter his body. He thought of the way his heart beat a little bit faster when Ryou entered the room, and the way he wanted to smile every time Ryou spoke. In such a cold and dark place, the smallest amount of light and warmth made a huge difference. Malik looked up at the Spirit, and he nearly did a double-take at what he saw. Sadness? Regret? It was such a foreign emotion for the Spirit that Malik really couldn’t put a name to it. As quickly as it appeared, the Evil Spirit seemed to fade away into the recesses of Malik’s mind, and it was now his own reflection that he saw. Then, all of a sudden, the last words he said came back to him.

“He doesn’t understand what it means, how it feels, to love someone, because He was created by my anger and fear. Those are the only emotions He knows.”

Malik sat down on his throne and stared at the floor. He was so deep in thought that he didn’t even notice the footsteps coming down the corridor. Rishid entered the room and stopped a few feet away from the throne.

“Are you alright, Master Malik?” Malik nodded but didn’t say anything. “Is He gone?”

“He is for the moment.” Malik got up and began to walk out of the room. “I am tired.”

“Do you feel He may try to take over again?”

“He won’t do anything else tonight. Good night, Rishid.”

“Good night, Master Malik.”

Chapter Text

For the following month, Ryou and Akefia attempted to create some sort of routine. At the beginning, Ryou would often visit Serenity, and Mana would frequently come along, too. He would do chores around the house and have meals with his brother. In the evenings, they went on short walks along the beach, or, if the weather was bad, they would read together in front of the hearth.

It seemed, however, that Ryou’s health worsened every day, and it became harder and harder to keep him warm. The longer nights and approach of winter did nothing to help the situation. The time Ryou spent with his friends grew shorter, and the walks on the beach had to happen earlier in the day because Ryou would either be too cold or too weak. Akefia still had no idea what was wrong with him, and Ryou never gave any hints as to what the cause of his condition might be. He had tried to delude himself for as long as he could, but seeing Ryou like this, he knew it was only a matter of time before his brother could no longer fight it.

The day had finally arrived for Mai to give her testimony to the Pharaoh. Ishizu was the only witness who was allowed in the room, but if it had been a public confession, Akefia would have willingly made the trip to Heaven just to hear what she had to say. He just hoped that, once it was all over, her words would not be kept a secret. He and Ryou deserved an explanation for her actions, but the Pharaoh was so paranoid, he wouldn’t even be surprised if no one was told.

Akefia looked up and glanced at the position of the sun. He estimated it to be around three in the afternoon, the warmest time of the day. He figured he should try and wake Ryou up from his nap so they could go on their walk before it was too cold. Ryou was sleeping more and more, and Akefia was trying every way he could think of to keep him active. It was also time for Mai’s testimony to begin.

xXxXx

When Mai was brought to the throne room by an armed escort, she was stopped near the bottom of the dais. Ishizu was already there, standing a few feet away. The Pharaoh watched impassively as most of her bonds were removed. Ishizu felt that the manacles were unnecessary, but the Pharaoh demanded that they remain. All she could do was pray that her King could learn to trust again. The guards bowed and left the room, and the grand doors echoed as they slammed shut. For the next minute, there was complete silence, and no one seemed willing to be the first to speak. The Pharaoh shifted on his throne and heaved a sigh.

“Alright, Mai. Tell us everything. Why did you abduct Ryou, and how did you open the Shadow Realm?” The expression on Mai’s face made her look almost as if she was in pain.

“What I did, although it was selfish of me, I feel I was doing the right thing. When your father banished Malik and Rishid to the Shadow Realm, he also thought he was doing the right thing.”

“You would dare blame my father for this?!”

“Not completely, but this all started with him. Even though he sent Malik away to prevent the Evil Spirit from harming anyone else, he also sent away all that was left of Ishizu’s family.” The Pharaoh looked over at the priestess, who was at a loss for words. “Before the massacre, Ishizu and I spent a lot of time together. But after Malik and Rishid were banished, she stopped speaking to anyone. She would not accept help from anyone, even from me.

“As we grew older, and more duties were placed upon us, we grew further and further apart. It was as if our past friendship had been a dream.” Tears began to spill from the goddess’ violet eyes. “Yes, what I did was selfish, and it was unfair to Ryou, but I did it for you, Ishizu! I just wanted my best friend back!”

“Mai…”

“And after all these years, Malik’s banishment never once crossed your mind. You never even considered the possibility of his freedom, or even his well-being.” The Pharaoh said nothing, because he knew she was speaking the truth. As long as the evil entity inside him was unable to hurt anyone, nothing else mattered. “I searched and searched for a way to try and save Malik, or to at least bring this to your attention. But you are so stubborn, I knew you would not listen to me. And then someone finally did listen.

“He told me that if I opened the Shadow Realm and trapped a living person inside, you might take action. He promised me that if I did as he said, I would get what I wanted. All he wanted was to be free, as well.”

“Who was it, Mai? Tell me!” The Pharaoh’s voice echoed in the otherwise silent throne room, and he gripped that arm rests tightly.

“Zorc Necrophades.”

xXxXx

After Ryou woke up from his nap, he put on the robe Rishid had given him, as well as a warm cloak his grandmother made. Even though he felt miserable and his condition worsened every day, his brother always tried to get him outside for a little while. All Ryou wanted to do was sleep, because it took his mind off of how cold he felt, at least temporarily.

When Ryou went outside, he already saw Akefia waiting for him by the top of the steps. The sun felt warm on his skin, and there were no clouds or wind to make the temperature drop. It was just like the day he was taken away by the Shadow Realm. Ryou suddenly had a bad feeling. He ran over to his brother and hugged him around the waist. Akefia froze and was unsure how to react. He placed a hand on top of Ryou’s head.

“What’s this about, all of a sudden?”

“I love you.” It wasn’t what he said but how he said it. Almost like a goodbye.

“Ryou, what’s wrong? Why are you saying this?” He held Ryou against him, and he felt so small.

“I just wanted you to know. Let’s go for a walk.”

Ryou held onto Akefia’s arm while they went down the steps. There was a little bit of a breeze now, and the lull of the tide was almost hypnotic. When they made it down to the beach, they saw that someone was already there. The figure was hunched over, as if she was looking for something. Her long white hair was tied in an intricate braid, and a crown of seashells adorned the top of her head.

“Hello, Kisara.” The Queen of Oceans turned towards the voice, and she smiled when her eyes met Ryou’s.

“It is wonderful to see you, Ryou. How are you feeling?”

“Well, I have felt better. What are you doing?” Ryou changed the subject because he didn’t want Kisara to know how miserable he was.

“I was collecting the seashells which were washed ashore by last night’s high tide.” She showed him several handfuls of shells she had gathered in the front of her dress.

“That looks like it is getting heavy. Would you like some help?”

“I would love the help.” Her blue eyes shifted towards Akefia, who had on his trademark scowl, before returning to Ryou. “If it is not too much trouble.”

“Of course not. My brother has plenty of room for collecting shells in his robe. Don’t you?” Akefia grumbled something under his breath, but he agreed because he knew it would make Ryou happy. “Are you looking for any specific shapes?”

“No, just any that are still whole.”

“Do you know what you want to do with these shells?”

“I want to make something, but I have not yet decided on what. I couldn’t just let them all go to waste.” Ryou nodded. “You, of course, are welcome to take as many with you as you would like.”

“Alright. Come on, Brother, let’s go this way.” Akefia groaned again. “Oh, come on. Don’t be so grumpy. It will be fun.”

The two brothers walked arm in arm towards the northern side of the beach. The waves were much louder here because of the numerous large rocks and cliffs. There were seagulls flying back and forth between the sea and their nests, searching for food. They stopped walking and Ryou began picking up shells out of the sand. He held them out to Akefia, who gave an exasperated sigh and allowed the shells to be placed in his robe. There was a rather strong gust of wind, and Ryou wrapped his arms around himself as tremors shook his body.

“Ryou, if it is too cold, we should go back.”

“Just for a little while longer.”

“Alright.”

They continued to search for seashells, and the wind gusts continued to grow stronger. Soon, a system of storm clouds inched its way towards the sun. Akefia didn’t notice the change until it was too late. First, it started with Ryou coming to a sudden stop and tightening his grip on the sleeve of his robe. He was staring inland at a grouping of trees.

“This is the spot where I saw Mai. Before…”

Next, it grew darker as the sun was obscured by the gray clouds. The wind changed direction, and then Akefia felt a tug on his robe. He was barely able to catch Ryou before his body hit the ground. The seashells scattered in every direction.

“Ryou! Open your eyes!” When Kisara heard the man’s cries, she dropped her own shells and ran towards them. Akefia laid a hand on Ryou’s forehead, which felt like ice, and then he removed his robe and wrapped it around him. He held his brother against him to shield him from the wind, and he rubbed his back to try and create some warmth. “Please, no…”

Kisara turned and ran towards the sea. She stopped just as the incoming tide washed over her feet.

“Seto! Seto, help us!”

A moment later, it almost looked as if the sea water was boiling. There was a violent rumble before a fierce white dragon emerged from the depths. The beast roared so loud that the Earth itself trembled. Standing on the dragon’s back, the God of the Sea surveyed the area with his cold blue eyes. When they fell on Kisara, seeing that there was no danger to her life, they softened a fraction. He raised the Millennium Rod over his head, and the dragon descended. Just as the beast landed on the beach, Seto jumped down and ran over to Kisara.

“Are you alright, my Queen?” Seto asked, placing a hand on Kisara’s cheek.

“I am alright. But you must help Ryou.”

He turned his gaze towards the two brothers. Ryou was so still, he almost looked like a corpse. Seto could sense that the boy was still alive, but he wouldn’t be for much longer.

“Akefia, bring your brother. We must take him to the healers,” he snapped.

The two men hated each other, and Seto thought the other god’s temper tantrums were a nuisance. But he couldn’t help but sympathize with him at this very moment. Seto knew that if anything were to ever happen to Kisara, he would probably break. Instead of firing back a sarcastic remark, as he usually would, Akefia lifted his brother into his arms and climbed onto the dragon’s back without a word. Kisara waved goodbye as the dragon rose into the clouds, and she silently prayed that Ryou could be saved.

xXxXx

The blood seemed to drain from the Pharaoh’s face.

“That is not possible,” he stammered. “His body was destroyed and his soul separated into—”

“Seven pieces,” Mai interrupted. “Well, I found one of them. He told me there is another one inside the Shadow Realm, as well.”

“But that is where his body was imprisoned. Why would one of the priests place a piece of Zorc’s soul there?” Ishizu wondered aloud. “Unless…”

There was a loud commotion in the corridor, just before one of the doors was pushed open. Seto walked briskly down the aisle, followed by a nervous guard.

“Priest Seto, you cannot come in here. The Pharaoh asked not to be disturbed.

Atem raised an arm, and the guard shut his mouth. He bowed and quickly returned to his post outside. Seto stopped, just in front of where Mai was standing, and got down on one knee.

“Forgive me, My King, for the interruption. But this urgent matter could not wait.”

“You may stand, Seto. Now, what is this urgent matter?”

“Ryou suddenly collapsed. He is with the healers now, but no one has been able to revive him.”

“So, it has begun,” Ishizu murmured. “My Millennium Necklace showed me a vision of Ryou, once again inside the Shadow Realm.”

“Where is his brother?” Atem asked.

“He is in the healing rooms,” Seto answered.

“I must go at once. That is all for today.”

“But—” Mai interjected.

“You said what you needed to say. Your punishment will be decided later, but this is more important. Guards! Escort Mai back to her chambers. Keep her there until I have decided what to do with her.”

As soon as the Pharaoh entered the room Ryou had been taken to, the healers stopped their work, stepped away from the bed, and bowed to him. Akefia stayed where he was, against the opposite wall. He was angry because the healers told him to move out of the way. He was also wearing his robe again, because apparently his bare chest was distracting.

“Has there been any change?” Atem asked as he looked down at the boy.

“No, My Pharaoh. We have been unable to figure out what is causing his ailment.”

“Ishizu, what exactly did you see in your vision?” At this, Akefia perked up.

“You knew this would happen and you didn’t say anything?!” Before he could reach her, Seto blocked his path.

“I have been more than lenient with you, because your brother is so ill. Do not make me regret my decision,” Seto said coolly. Akefia spat.

“I don’t give a damn about your regrets.”

“Enough! Both of you!” Ishizu and Seto turned in the Pharaoh’s direction and bowed respectfully. Akefia stubbornly stood his ground. “Did Ryou tell you what happened while he was in the Shadow Realm?”

“He did.”

“And there was no indication of what could have caused his condition?”

“I just assumed it was a side-effect of being in the Shadow Realm.”

“Are you certain that Ryou told you everything that happened?” Seto asked. Akefia narrowed his eyes at the priest.

“Are you suggesting that my brother is keeping secrets from me?” Seto merely smirked.

“That depends. Does he have any reason to keep secrets?”

“If you’ve got something to say, priest, then spit it out.”

“Perhaps I can be of assistance.” Everyone turned towards the doorway, where Priest Akhenaden lingered. While Seto and Ishizu greeted him with respect, Akefia glared at him suspiciously. The old man made his skin crawl. Atem was also skeptical of the old priest. Although he had served under his father, there was just something about him that Atem didn’t like. “My Pharaoh, allow me to use the power of my Millennium Eye to see into the boy’s mind. If he withheld any information, whether intentionally or unintentionally, I will find it in his memories.”

“Very well,” Atem agreed. For the moment, this was the best option they had. “You may proceed.”

As Akhenaden entered the room and approached the bed, Akefia watched him like a hawk. He moved so that he was standing directly across from the priest.

“If you touch a single hair on Ryou’s head, I will rip your arms from your body,” Akefia said with a sneer. “But I suppose that wouldn’t make any difference, since the only useful part of your body is your magic eye.”

The murderous glare on Akhenaden’s face almost made Akefia flinch. Not quite, but almost.

“Do I need to have you forcibly removed?” Atem asked through clenched teeth.

“As much as I know you would enjoy that, Pharaoh, I’m afraid I will have to disappoint you once again.”

“Begin, Akhenaden!” Whenever Akefia was involved, it was difficult for Atem to retain his civility.

Akhenaden closed his other eye and lowered his head slightly so his gaze aligned with Ryou’s. The golden artifact in his eye socket flashed for a second, and for the next few minutes, there was complete silence. The priest opened his eye when he had seen all he needed to see. Akefia looked like he wanted to punch him. He didn’t like the idea of the old man probing around in his little brother’s mind.

“What did you see, Priest Akhenaden?” Atem asked. “Was there anything that could have caused Ryou’s ailment?”

“Yes, My Pharaoh. He has consumed food of the dark realm.”

“What does that mean?” Akefia demanded. “Why is my brother so ill?”

“Food in the Shadow Realm is not meant to be consumed by living beings,” Ishizu explained.

“Is there a way to heal him?”

“This kind of situation has never occurred before. Although live people have been sent to the Shadow Realm…” Her face saddened as she thought of Malik and Rishid. “We have never had a person go there then return to our world. We will have to do some research on this matter.”

“We have to do something! In all that time you’re reading old books, my brother could die!”

“He will not,” Ishizu said firmly. “In my vision, Ryou was once again inside the Shadow Realm, looking very similar to the way he does now.” The blood drained from Akefia’s face.

“No. You can’t make him go back to that horrible place.”

“Unfortunately, this may be the only way to help him.”

“He will only be there for a short time,” Atem interjected, hoping to avoid another temper tantrum. “We will have him return on the first day of spring.”

“Spring?! But that’s three months away! You can’t make him go through that!”

“Enough!” The Pharaoh roared. “It would be better for him to return to our world when the weather is warmer. He will be sent there with plenty of food and clothing. Every seven days, I will send Yugi and Joseph to the border in order to see how he is doing and to ask whether or not he needs any supplies. In the meantime, we will be searching for a way to cure him. Preparations will begin immediately, and he will go to the Shadow Realm tonight.”