“He is dead then.”
Seth nodded. The new Pharaoh sat his throne regally, Parethmus thought, the way that befit a king. But there was something in his eyes...there was something wretched in that gaze, beneath the power and determination, the look of a man who has watched a loved one die.
“You are hurt.”
The pharaoh’s hand went to his side. “It is nothing. The healers have seen to it already.”
“I had not expected you to take the throne so soon.”
“We have a great deal to rebuild.”
Hesitation. Neither one really had that much to say. Parethmus didn’t even know what had drawn him here, except…perhaps he had wanted to hear the news with his own ears.
Seth’s eyes met his and a look passed between them. He understood.
When the phone rang, Marik nearly jumped out of his skin. For a long moment, nobody moved.
The phone rang again, loud and strident. This time, Ishizu went to answer it.
‘Speakerphone!’ Marik mouthed at his sister. ‘Put him on speakerphone! Either she didn’t understand, or she liked to torment him, because she just turned away.
“It’s gone?” Ishizu sounded shocked. “The Ring’s spirit is gone? Are you sure?”
The spirit? The Thief King’s spirit? But what…how?
Ishizu listened for a couple of minutes; evidently he – presumably Ryou – was explaining at length. As she listened, her face grew paler and she swayed.
“Thank you,” she whispered into the phone, and hung up.
Marik bounded to his feet, practically dancing in impatience. “Well?”
“That was Ryou,” Ishizu said faintly. “He says the Pharaoh has regained his memories and the Thief King has been defeated.”
Marik’s head spun. The Pharaoh had his memories back? The thought of freedom made his legs tremble. Freedom…for the first time in his life. “Wait a minute!” he yelped. “When did this happen? Why the hell did he take so long to…”
“What about the Council?” Trouble Kelp interrupted.
“Ryou says the danger is over,” Ishizu said. Legs trembling, she sank into a chair.
Trouble relaxed. “Well then, I guess my job’s over too. I have to get back to work.”
Even now, Ishizu did not forget her manners. “My brother and I thank you for all your help,” she said sincerely. “We will not forget.”
Trouble actually blushed. “It was nothing,” he mumbled.
“Thanks anyway,” Marik said. Free! Free! Free! Freely free FREE!
The fairy gave him an ironic salute as he headed out the door. “Try and stay out of trouble, kid.”
Ishizu smiled. “When has he ever?”
“He’s still sleeping?”
The Pharaoh nodded. Yugi had slept the entire flight home (in a KaibaCorp jet this time), waking only briefly for their encounter with the Council, and then falling asleep again. Now he lay on his bed, the covers pulled up to his chin, dead to the world. The Pharaoh sat beside him. His spirit form seemed more…solid to Holly now, his edges more distinct.
“I should not have required so much magic from him in so short a time.”
“He’ll be alright,” Holly said.
“I almost lost him,” the Pharaoh said. He reached out and tenderly smoothed a strand of hair back from Yugi’s face. It was not quite a touch, but Yugi’s hair ruffled as from a slight breeze. “I was rash, and foolish, to think regaining my memories would have no cost.” His violet eyes were far away.
“Always, others must pay for my mistakes.” Then he shook himself and glanced at her. “I must say I’m surprised you’re still here.”
Holly shrugged. “Wanted to make sure you got back safely. You’ve grown on me.”
“Like a fungus?”
Holly burst out laughing, and the Pharaoh looked away. “It’s something Joey says sometimes,” he mumbled.
Somehow that struck Holly as even funnier. The Pharaoh looked up at her with a wounded expression. “Not like a fungus,” Holly managed. “Maybe like Snortpox on a troll.”
The Pharaoh looked at her strangely, then decided that in the end, he didn’t really want to know. “Has the Council decided what to do with Vox?”
“Not yet,” Holly said, sobering. “I’m guessing a couple of centuries in Howler’s Peak. Some of the fairies are already lobbying for Commander Root to take the empty seat on the Council.”
“May the gods bless him on whatever path he takes,” the Pharaoh said gravely. “And you as well.”
Holly’s throat felt suspiciously tight. “I should go.” She powered up her wings.
He rose to his feet. “Will you stay a little longer? I know Yugi would like to say goodbye.”
“Can’t,” Holly said. “Root wants me back at work.” She looked down at the sleeping human and felt a twinge of regret. “You’ll tell him…”
There was an awkward moment of silence, then Holly stuck out her hand. “Well, Pharaoh, I guess this is goodbye.”
He smiled his radiant smile. “Atem.”
She began to vibrate, preparing to shield. “Goodbye, Atem.”
Her smile was the last thing to fade.
“Is she gone?” Yugi struggled into a sitting position, rubbing his eyes sleepily.
“Yes, Aibou. She’s gone.”
Yugi looked disappointed. “She didn’t wait to say goodbye?”
Atem turned to stare out the window in the direction Holly had gone. “Don’t worry, Yugi. I doubt this is the last we’ve seen of Captain Holly Short.”
The Millennium Puzzle was a labyrinth of stairs and doors, a maze that not even the Pharaoh with his newfound memories had explored in its entirety. It was cold and dark, filled with traps and snares for the unwary. Many had tried to unravel its mysteries, and many had died trying.
In the depths of the maze, beneath a stairwell that led to nowhere, a darkness stirred.
It had no form, this darkness, no body to contain it. But it remembered…yes, it remembered. It remembered sunlight on pale skin, breeze ruffling silver hair, lashes closing on chocolate eyes. The feeling of helplessness. The feeling of pain.
Yes, the darkness remembered. And it hated.
But for now, it lurked in the silence of the Millennium Puzzle, biding its time, nursing its hatred, growing stronger.
Yes, the darkness remembered. And it would not be contained forever.