Pharaoh Atem sat gazing at the two unusual delegates that stood before his throne. Had he not been well-versed in magic, he might have been shocked by their small size and pointy ears, their narrow faces and strange complexions. Their clothing was strange as well in some way he could not define. Yes, had he not been well-versed in magic, he might have been surprised by their appearance.
And, that is, had he not been expecting them.
“My name is Parethmus,” the lead fairy said, bowing low. “This is my companion, Naeglith.” The other delegate mimicked his bow. Both glanced warily at Seth, standing quietly at his Pharaoh’s side. Atem understood that look.
“Seth has my complete confidence. You may speak before him freely. Should something happen to me, he speaks with my voice.”
Parethmus seemed reassured, but Naeglith still stared at Seth with mistrust. Cool blue eyes met his. For a long moment, they stared at each other, then Naeglith swallowed and looked away. A tiny smile quirked the corners of Seth’s mouth.
Parethmus refused to be distracted by the power struggle; he kept his eyes fixed on the king. The young king fascinated him. Barely more than an infant by fairy standards, he had already been ruling for four years, and in those four years had brought peace and prosperity to Egypt. He had given the People a home aboveground. If not for that, they would not have come.
“There is little time, so I will not waste it with pleasantries,” Parethmus said. “We have come to discuss a matter of great importance.”
Pharaoh nodded. “The Thief King.”
Parethmus winced. “Yes, the Thief King. We have felt the magic that he is calling, Pharaoh. Should he succeed in his abomination, it will mean the end of our world.”
Pharaoh did not look surprised by this statement, only unbearably sad. “I had thought as much.”
“You do not seem alarmed,” Naeglith said angrily. “Don’t you understand the significance of what Bakura attempts to do?”
For the first time, the pharaoh showed a hint of anger. “He attempts to summon The Demon back into our world. He attempts to seize control of the Shadow Realm and thus draw upon almost unlimited power. He attempts to dominate Egypt and force my people into slavery. As for my priests and myself, we shall suffer in unbearable agony for the remainder of our lives, and when we die, our souls will writhe in torment until the end of time.” His eyes flashed. “So yes, I understand the significance of what the Thief King attempts to do.”
Seth spoke for the first time. “If he gains the power he seeks, the People will not stay hidden for long.”
“We must aid each other,” the pharaoh said firmly, looking from one delegate to another. “Or watch our worlds fall.”
Parethmus squared his shoulders. “Tell us what you need us to do.”
For an embarrassingly long moment, they all stood frozen in horror. Kaiba tried to struggle to the pharaoh’s side, but his brush with magic had left him shaken and dizzy, and he could not crawl more than a few inches towards the other boy before his weary arms gave way and he sprawled clumsily to the ground. He lifted his head, and Artemis read the desperation in his eyes.
Butler was the first to unfreeze. He linked his massive hands and began to administer CPR. Twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty. He tilted the boy’s head back and blew air into his lungs. He listened, his fingers feeling expertly for a pulse.
Twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty.
Twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty. Breathe.
“C’mon,” Holly muttered as she watched Butler work. “C’mon, Pharaoh. Breathe.”
Parethmus stared at him with wide eyes. “That is insanity!”
The pharaoh fixed him with a cold violet stare. “There is no other way.”
Naeglith shook his head violently from side to side. “The cure is worse than the disease!”
“Worse than to see an entire people enslaved and another destroyed?” Pharaoh asked sardonically. “Worse than a demon returned to earth, and a murderer in possession of unlimited magical power?” He snorted. “I think not. I am, after all, just one man.”
“If we teach you this ritual, you will die!” Parethmus protested. “You will suffer a fate worse than death.”
“Yes, and my people and yours will be safe,” the pharaoh said. “It seems a fair price.”
They stared at him with new respect. “You are a very unusual human, Pharaoh,” Parethmus said at last.
Pharaoh smiled, a warm smile that temporarily wiped the cares from his young face. “I will take that as a compliment.”
A tiny fluttering sensation against Butler’s fingers. A pulse? He renewed his efforts. Mokuba lifted his tear-stained eyes from Holly’s uniform, a look of tentative hope flitting across his face. Kaiba watched anxiously. Even Artemis felt his heart flutter.
Together, they all joined in the silent chant.
‘C’mon Pharaoh. Breathe!’
“He will come soon.”
The pharaoh nodded. “Thanks to you, he will find us ready.”
There was nothing left to discus – Naeglith had already returned home – yet still Parethmus hesitated. “The People will fight for you,” he said. “You don’t need to…”
“This way, only one need suffer for Bakura’s outrages.”
I hope you’re right, Parethmus thought heavily. But he could not bear to lay another burden on Pharaoh’s shoulders.
The pharaoh seemed to guess his thoughts. “Either way, this is goodbye.”
Parethmus swallowed a lump in his throat. “Yes, Pharaoh, this is goodbye.”
Though Pharaoh smiled, his eyes were sad. “Goodbye then, Parethmus. I shall miss you.”
“No,” Parethmus said, turning and walking from the hall. “you won’t.”
When the pharaoh’s heart restarted, Bakura’s nearly stopped. For a moment, he couldn’t move, frozen. Then, frantically, he started reaching for the magic once again. He had to make a portal, cross the ocean, and kill Pharaoh before he could recover.
He had to, or all was lost.
Pharaoh stood among the ruins of his palace. He was covered with blood, though not all of it his, his tricolored hair now varying shades of maroon and matted to his cheeks. When he brushed it impatiently away, it left streaks of red across his face. Seth leaned against a broken pillar nearby, each breath coming in a rasping wheeze. His hand was clasped to his side, trying to stem the flow of blood.
It didn’t matter now anyway; running would only delay the inevitable.
Sparing only one more glance for his wounded friend, Pharaoh began to speak, carefully weaving the spells that would summon the Shadows. This ritual dated back to the darkest of times, a time that the People no longer cared to remember. The People prided themselves on moving beyond this primal, savage magic. It was in the past, they said, a thing that only humans would care to learn.
And now it was the only thing that would save them.
Oh, the irony.
He took the Millennium Rod, trying to ignore the pleading look in Seth’s eyes, even as he relinquished his Item to the king. He unsheathed it and stood there transfixed. He knew what he had to do, but he could not make his muscles move. Seth did not make it harder by speaking. All the words had been said already. He simply waited for his Pharaoh to act.
In the distance, but growing closer, Zorc was laughing.
It was that laughter that gave him the courage to bring down the blade.
His last memories were of pain and the shadows shrieking, then finally darkness and blessed oblivion.
Foaly was sitting alone in the Operations Booth when his magic sensors suddenly spiked. Actually, ‘spiked’ was an inadequate term. They skyrocketed. One minute, there were only minute traces, and then the next…KAPOW! Alarm bells went off crazily. Foaly yelped and ended up on the floor as he attempted to lean forward to check the sensors, jump up to alert Julius – temporarily forgetting that the Commander had left over an hour ago – and turn off the alarms, more or less simultaneously.
Fortunately, the door to the Operations Booth was still closed, so none of the LEP operatives noticed the disturbance. Foaly switched off the audible alarms and watched breathlessly as the magic levels continued to rise. He whistled and looked up towards the ceiling.
Just what in Haven’s name is going on up there?
The portal came.
Breathing hurt. His legs and arms would not respond to his commands, and his heart felt strangely heavy, like it was trying to beat through mud.
But there was nothing but wonder in Pharaoh’s violet eyes as he finally opened them and stared up at the figures crowded around him.
In that moment, two things happened.
A portal tore itself open not ten feet away, and above the shrieking of the Shadow Realm, Holly, Butler, and Artemis heard the distinctive whine of the bio-bomb.