Yugi's head hurt.
That was the first thing he noticed as consciousness slowly returned. It felt as if someone was pounding on his skull with a heavy stone. For the life of him, Yugi couldn't think of a reason why it should be hurting so much. Some part of him registered that the pain was a bad thing. That thought led to a weak pulse of panic, enough to try and open his eyes at the very least.
But it was too bright. The light burnt his eyes the second they fluttered open. The darkness on the other hand was cool and soothing. It only made sense to fall back into the black, to where it was comfortable. Why not fall back asleep?
"it's time to wake up, little Thief."
Yugi's eyes flew open as water was dumped over his head. He coughed and spluttered as it streamed off his head, falling into his open mouth. He tried to wipe away the water, but he couldn't move his hands. Yugi frowned as he realized that they had been tied behind his back. He tugged at the rough rope, realizing much to his chagrin that there was absolutely no give. "What?" he cracked, the words barely audible around a tongue that felt as dry as the desert.
Yet his captor hear him well enough. "How nice of you to finally join us." The voice said again, and Yugi frowned when he realized how familiar it sounded. He tried to life his head high enough to see the speaker, as his thoughts where still clouded as if he was watching everything from under water. He was saved the trouble as he was grabbed unceremoniously by the forearms and yanked onto his knees.
"Aeep." Yugi breathed his head was jerked back to face the fat merchant. Yugi groaned as he blinked at the harsh light of the sun. It was obvious that they where no longer in the warehouse. Or even the city for that matter. The hot sand of the desert burnt at his knees, as the heat pounded against the back of his neck. More than a dozen people where crowed around them, forming a rough circle around Yugi. It wasn't difficult to recognize Aeep's goons from the tavern.
Aeep smiled, giving Yugi a view of the gold that glittered among his teeth. "You don't seem very happy to see me, little thief." He said, all oily charm as one of his men rested the point of a dagger between Yugi's shoulder blades. "You left so suddenly before. I just wanted a chance to say goodbye like civilized individuals."
"You attacked me." It wasn't a question. Yugi's head pounded as memories of the warehouse came back in a rush. "Why? I thought we had a deal."
"That we did." Aeep said agreeably. "But I'm not the kind of man to let go of any gold that I don't have to; bad for business."
"So take the gold." Yugi said as he tugged on the ropes. The dagger against his back pricked through his shirt, Yugi glared at the man holding it. 'It's yours. Let me go."
Aeep clicked his tongue, as if speaking to an unruly child. "Unfortunately, we're well past hat stage." He said, shaking his head as he bounced a heavy purse in his hand. Yugi recognized it as the one he had been given only a few hours previous. "No, I'm far more interested in the thief who has the balls to steal from the Pharaoh; in broad daylight no less."
Absently, Aeep tossed the purse to one of his men, before crouching down to Yugi's level. The Greek ran a ham like fist along Yugi's hood, tracing the edge. Yugi flinched back. He didn't understand why Aeep had let him keep the cloak even after he had been captured. But Yugi had a feeling that his luck was about to run out. "The way I see it, you'd have to be pretty stupid to attempt something like that; or desperate."
Aeep's fist tighter not he top of the hood, firmly grasping the material. Yugi said nothing, but Aeep did not seem to mind as he continued. "And you my boy are not an idiot. A little Naive perhaps, but not an idiot. So I found myself wondering what could make a pretty young thing like you so desperate. Then I realized just how obvious the answer was." Aeep pulled, and Yugi could do nothing but galore as his colourful hair and purple eyes where left open for the world to see. "Because who could be more desperate than an Arcanian brat stuck on the wrong side of the border."
"What gave it away?" Yugi said snidely, even as he shied away from the angry stares of Aeep's men. They where too well trained and too well paid to say anything, but Yugi could feel the hostility in their gazes even more keenly than the dagger at his back. Aeep may have been an Greek with few interests in local politics, but his men where Egyptian, and it showed.
Aeep shrugged, completely ignoring his men's response to his little discovery. "Anyone that secretive about their appearance has something to hide. "He said. "Than I caught a glimpse under your hood. That glamour's a neat trick, hides your face better than any I've seen since Arcania fell. But it's a bit obvious when someone's trying to catch your eye.
So he had known all along. Yugi' couldn't believe how stupid he had been. Mai was going to kill him. But Yugi realized with a sinking hear that she'd have to wait until the afterlife. Because he didn't say anyway to get out of this."
"So now what?" Yugi asked.
"That's an interesting question." Aeep said as he got to his feet. "On one side, it'd be good to have a kid like you on the payroll. It takes guts to try what you did, and a fair amount of skills to actually pull it off. But…" Aeep looked pointedly to his men, "I don't think the boys would like that very much. Even if I agreed to save you now, I doubt you'd live to see the end of the week."
Yugi didn't doubt it.
"No." Aeep continued, as if they where just talking about the weather, and not Yugi's execution. "I think my only real option is to kill you here. Maybe I'll send your corpse to the Pharaoh. I have a feeling your pretty little head might be worth it's weight in gold."
This time Yugi really began to struggle. "You don't have to do this!" he pleaded, trying to get to his feet. He cried out as the goon behind him shoved Yugi back down to the ground.
"No, I really think do." Aeep said, and he nodded to the man still holding the dagger at Yugi's back. Yugi paled as the man grabbed a handful of Yugi's hair, tilting his head back at a ruthless angle to reveal his pale neck.
"You have the diamond, and the gold! I won't fight you for it." Yugi said, fighting until he felt the kiss of metal against the sensitive skin of his neck. He froze then, drawing ragged breath against the unmovable blade. Something warm trickled down to his collarbone as the razor sharp blade nicked the skin.
"I think you're having problems seeing the big picture, little thief." Aeep mused. "If I kill you, I keep the diamond, the gold and whatever reward I get for sending the Pharaoh your head in a box. Somehow I doubt you're in a position to make me a better deal. Abasi, please continue."
Yugi closed his eyes, prepared for the worse. At least it will be quick. He thought as a desperate calm washed over him. That was far better than anything he would have gotten from the palace guard. Just one tilt of the wrist and it would be over.
But nothing happened. Yugi's eyes opened in time to see his executioner fall face first into the sand, an arrow protruding from the back of his skull. In the distance, Yugi heard the thunder of a horse at full gallop. A large brown horse was racing towards them with no signs of slowing, her rider urging her forward, a bow clutched tightly in his fist.
Yugi scrambled over to Abasi, fumbling for the knife that the man had dropped when he fell. The sharp knife made quick work of the rope that bound his wrists. He leapt to his feet even as Aeep shouted as his men, who scrambled for there swords. But the rider continued to shoot, knocking the man down faster than the could draw there weapons.
Surprise made them sloppy, and there was no time to stop Yugi as sprinted towards the galloping horse. Aeep cried out in alarm as Yugi grabbed onto the Rider's outstretched arm. His men scrambled towards them, but they where to slow as Yugi swung his leg up on to the saddle. "Don't let them get away." Aeep screamed, and those few men still standing started to race after them. But without horses of their own, the men quickly fell behind, until they where nothing more than dark specs.
Yugi laughed, the sound somewhere between triumphant and hysterics as he grabbed onto he back of the rider's belt. "Bakura, I have no idea where you came from, but you are a god send." He said breathlessly.
Bakura turned in the saddle, a wolfish grin on his features as his eyes lit up with a manic light. "Glad someone appreciates my efforts." He said, near shouting over the whistling wind and the crash of metal hitting metal. "Your lucky I was in the area kid."
They had left Aeep and his men well in dust. Yugi couldn't even see them anymore. Yet Bakura was not slowing down. Instead he pushed the horse faster, ramming his heels into the beast's flank. "Why were you here?" Yugi asked suspiciously as he stared at the bulging canvas sack that was haphazardly tied to the horses rump."What are you running from?"
"Long story!" Bakura shouted as he urged the horse faster.
Yugi whipped around as the shrill blast of a war horn blared over a sand dune to his left. Squinting he could see riders along the top, dust clouds spinning beneath there hoofs as they traveled towards him. Yugi paled as he realized that Bakura might not have actually saved him after all. "Than shorten it!" he shouted as the riders raced down the dune towards them. "Is that the palace guard?!"
""More than likely." Bakura said, and he yanked on the horses reigns, turning them away from the dune, further into the desert. "I had something I needed to pick up in the city. It's not my fault the Pharaoh took offence.
"Took offence?" Yugi chocked as he risked a glance over his shoulder. It looked as if the Pharaoh had summoned every guard he had. "Bakura what on earth did you take."
"Doesn't matter" Bakura said. "The only important thing is the Pharaoh is going to miss it desperately. Besides your not one to lecture on stealing from the Pharaoh. I heard about your little escapade. At least I can can keep control of a situation."
"Why am I having problems believing you." Yugi said as the horn blasted once more behind them, far closer this time.
"I know what I'm doing." Bakura sneered as he pulled on the reigns. The horse jumped over a growth of thorny desert plants. Yugi yelped the motion, wrapping his arms against the other man's waist to avoid falling off the back. "It's no fun if the Pharaoh doesn't have a chance to catch up."
"You sound like you want to get caught!"
But the Thief king just grinned maniacally, letting out a sharp bark of laugher. "The chances of that twerp actually catching me are less than zero." He sneered. "I just wish he'd actually make it a challenge for once."
Something whistled above Yugi's right shoulder. It scored a glancing blow across the stop of his shoulder. Bakura, despite his gloating was not so lucky. He grunted as the arrow lodged itself deep into his upper back.
"Bakura!" Yugi screamed as the man swayed, before slumping boneless onto the neck of their horse. Startled from the sudden shift in weight, and already panicked from the chase, their horse let out a high pitched scream. It reared, pawing desperately at the air as Yugi scrambled for the reigns that Bakura had dropped. It took everything he had to keep the both of them seated as the horse panicked. The heavy sack that Bakura had stolen however, came free from it's bindings and fell to the ground with an ear splitting bang.
Yugi paid it no mind however as the horse crashed back to the ground with enough force to rattle his teeth. He fought to control the animal, reaching awkwardly around Bakura's unconscious form. Something wet and warm dripped continuously down the side of Yugi's leg. Bakura was loosing blood at an alarming rate.
"Oh don't you dare!" Yugi cried as he looped his hand through the man's belt. Bakura was heavy, it was almost impossible to keep his dead weight not he back of the horse. "Wake up! Come on Bakura, you got us into this mess, you had better get us out!"
Bakura just groaned. His eyes cracked open at the sound of Yugi's voice. But it was only a sliver, and the slid shut not even a moment later. Yugi was on his own, a fact that he was painfully aware of as the Pharoah's men approached in a dark wave. He froze at the sound of a hundred bows being drawn in unison, knowing that every arrow was pointed directly at them.
What have you gotten me into Bakura? Yugi thought to himself as he carefully turned the horse around. Even though it had been over thirteen years, Yugi winced as he saw the familiar features of the Pharaoh of had never expected to see Atem again. And no matter how close they had been as child, somehow he doubted that this reunion was going to be one to celebrate.
Atem would be lying if he denied getting any satisfaction when he arrow struck Bakura. He urged his horse faster as the thief's stolen mount reared. Bakura was clearly badly injured, as the man behind him was forced to try and gather the reigns. The bag of gold lay scattered among the sand from where it had fallen during the panic.
Atem raised his hand, signing the archers to draw there weapons. The Young man, whose face was completely shrouded by a long hooded robe not dissimilar to Bakura's own, whirled the horse around to face the guard. The animal danced restlessly on the hot sand, ears flicking nervously.
Yet despite the hopeless situation the man made no movement to attack or escape. He didn't even try to reclaim the fallen gold. Instead his attention seem focused almost entirely on aura. Atem had expected him to drop the thief king and escape with the gold. It was difficult to image Bakura eliciting this much loyalty out of anyone.
"In the name of the Pharaoh, I order you to stop." Seth shouted from Atem's right. "Make any sudden movements and you will be shot."
The rider pulled on his stolen mounts reigns, moving it back away from the treasure. Atem's guards all stiffened, but the man made no other movements. "You have the gold" the rider said after a long pause. "If you let us pass, I won't fight you for it." The voice sounded far younger than Atem had expected and incredibly familiar. But he couldn't think of a reason why. Crimson eyes narrowed as he tried to peer under the hood, to get a glimpse at the face beneath, but it was impossible.
"That isn't a demand you're in a position to make." Atem said as his hand shifted to the hilt of his sword. "The only place the Thief King is going is to the executioner's block."
"I can't let you do that."
"You don't have a choice." Atem pointed out, waving his free hand to the soldiers behind him. "The moment I give the order, you'll have more holes than a fishing net. But give me the thief now and it'll be remembered during your trial."
The rider chuckled, but the sound was hollow and cynical. "Somehow I doubt that."
"Why are you helping him?" Atem couldn't help but ask. "What's in it for you."
There was a pause as a small hand shifted along Bakura's belt, struggling to find a better grip. The Theif King was not a small man. He had to be heavy, especially for someone of such a short stature. "Nothing." The rider said finally. "He's my friend."
"The Theif King doesn't have friends." Seth sneered. "Just people he hasn't double crossed yet. He's not worth sticking your neck out for."
"You'll have to excusing me for not trusting an Egyptian when he speaks of betraying friends." The rider said sharply, before turning back to the Atem. "Let us pass."
"Not happening." Atem replied, and his archers took aim. "How do you intend to enforce your demands, without so much as a dagger to defend yourself with."
Yugi watched with sad eyes as the anger hardened Atem's features. It was difficult to reconcile this man with the mischievous boy he had grown up with. "I don't need a dagger." Yugi said mounfully, as he reached into into his robe, grabbing his keystone. He paused then, knowing that what he was about to do was tantamount to suicide. But he also knew that he had to finish this. He pulled down his hood.
"Let me pass."
Atem's men cried out in shock and alarm, some even breaking rank to take a nervous step backwards To the Pharaoh's right, Seth drew his sword, his face like venom. But it was Atem's reaction that Yugi was looking for. The Pharaoh's eyes widened, as the colour left his features. Yugi knew instinctively that it wasn't just from the sight of an Arcanian like the others, but in recognition. "Yugi?" he said so softly that Yugi barely head it as surprise and anger warred across the young kings features.
Yugi said nothing as he met Atem's gaze head on. For a moment, Surprise seemed to soften Atem's features, and Yugi thought they might be okay. Atem's horse took a step forward, even as Bakura began to slip from the precarious hold that Yugi had on him. Yugi was forced to look away, in order to shift his hold on Bakura's waist.
That was all it took. Surprise gave way to anger as Atem's expression was quickly schooled into an expressionless mask, his eyes as hard as the rubies they where named for. Somewhere along the way, Yugi had forgotten just how Arcanian Atem's colouring was.
No that wasn't right. Atem didn't look like an Arcadian. He looked like his mother, like the beloved Queen who had been assassinated in cold blood. And that was all that mattered to the Egyptians, not a shared history of peace or friendship.
Atem drew his sword.
Over a hundred arrows where knocked into the air, falling towards Yugi like a deadly rain. Yugi stood his ground as the black cloud raced towards him. He clutched the keystone for dear life, opening his mind to the energy stored within it. "Incidenalus!" he cried, panic controlling the words that flowed from his tongue like quicksilver.
The air crackled with power as a wall of fire traced a wide circle around the Pharaoh's men. Shouts of alarm could barely be heard over crackling inferior as it grew. The arrows were burn into nothing as soon as they came into contact, ash falling to the ground to mingle with the sand. Through the gaps in the dancing flames, Yugi could barely see Atem's livid face.
The spell had barely had enough time to form completely before Yugi's connection with he keystone was violently cut. He gasped, and swayed violently in the saddle as a wave of exhaustion hit him so completely that it threatened to overwhelm everything. The stone in his hand was losing it's otherworldly white glow, and now was faded back into the dull speckled grey of an ordinary river rock.
Yugi would not be able to hold the spell on his own for long. Not when he already felt as if he was going to collapse. He needed to leave now.
"Sorry, Atem." Yugi whispered as he kicked his heels into the stolen horse's flank, steering it back towards the desert. The horse quickly picked its pace back up into a gallop, clearly happy to get away from he flames. "But you would never understand."