CHAPTER THREE:

Evilness grows within the innocent

 

Slifer walked with her head down, and her face was emotionless and perfectly respectful as she stood before The Man. But in her heart she felt nothing toward him. No fear, no apprehension, nothing.

He was simply her tutor. Another lowly person that she was allowed to use.

It had been 5 months since the Mai incident, and it had wrought an unbelievable change in Slifer. Now she could hardly wait to learn, she knew now that the more she knew, the more power she'd have over people. And after her very first taste of power, she was hungry for more. She wanted to overthrow her father, and become Queen.

She no longer wanted to be EP.

The Man paced around her, and lectured her on stupid things. She'd been discovered with a mouse by him just ten minutes ago, and had been shocked to see the thing was still alive, but quivering all over, clearly unable to comprehend what was going on.

And then there was Slifer, smiling mischievously down at it as if to say, 'I have the power over your life' and had taken a long carpet needle and impaled it through the thing's middle. Seto Kaiba had watched in horror, unable to move as it jerked convulsively and squeaked pathetically, struggling with its paws, its nose twitching desperately as it tried to get away from the cruelty that had befallen it.

 

And Seto knew that the torture of animals and insects was the worst and earliest sign of a psychopath. If he worked hard, he could maybe knock it out of her before it grew into the killing of humans instead.

But he was greatly disheartened when he saw that his lecture to the girl was having no effect at all. She didn't even look as if she were listening, staring down at her interlocked fingers. Hardly hearing The Man speak.

"Sly."

She looked up at him, her pale purple eyes glinted with malice, and Seto felt his temper rising. And that was a rare occurrence, since he hardly ever lost his temper, and now he stood wanting to slap that wicked grin off Slifer's face.

"Sir?"

"Tell me the truth ... did you enjoy killing that mouse?"

Her face twisted into a greedy leer, "Yes sir." she said defiantly, not offering any explanation or excuse to her actions. She didn't even blink and The Man found himself getting a little bit uncomfortable, it was like staring down a snake.

He brushed a strand of hair out of his face and tried to think of a way to proceed. His brain felt stretched and overused for ideas. He was no goddamned psychiatrist goddamnit!

Yet, he knew that if he brought it up with the Pharaoh, Marik would just be pleased that his daughter was finally ... how did he put it? ... "getting the brutalness that naturally belongs to a woman."

 

"You may go" he said tiredly, waving her away.

Slifer felt a rising anger at the way he just dismissed her. But she was still powerless against his will until she grew older and became Queen. So she turned on her heel and left.

Seto watched her go. All of a sudden dressed like a real EP should be. A tiara kept her hair in place this time, though it looked strangely out of place because although her hair was forced into a very pretty forced style so that not a strand was loose, Slifer refused to wear the funny dresses she'd been presented with.

So she looked decidedly odd in a tiara, and a pair of brand new denim shorts and a sleeveless blouse. But Marik hoped that she wouldn't end up with her mother's tendency to hate dressing the traditional way and would mature her taste as she got older.

 

As soon as Slifer left the room to go to her own (hers wasn't next to Seto's anymore, but she had suddenly gotten a far grander room, though it wasn't as nice as the Pharaoh's, nor not even as nice as The Man's) when there was a knock from the door from where Slifer used to live.

"Yeah, Mai" Seto sighed, feeling the beginnings of a migraine begin to throb at his temples. He massaged it soothingly for a few seconds before he realised that he was fighting a losing battle.

But his heart lifted inexplicably when Mai Valentine entered the room. Dressed in her usual slightly opaque dress with a purple sash.

She only had two outfits. And she tried to make the other one look more modest than it really was. But it was so revealing that Mai hated it with a passion. Though she had to wear it every second day so the first one could get washed.

She came bouncing in, looking happier than she had in ages, her foot bangles jingling as she pranced around the room.

"Today's the day, isn't it Seto?"

He nodded.

 

"If we save Yami Yugi ... I'll see Yugi Moto again. He may be able to stop this!"

He nodded again, then he said, "Mai, you do realise that if we fail, we'll either be dead, and if we survive, then we'll never be able to return ... because Marik would have us both killed."

Mai reached out and put a hand on Seto's shoulder soothingly, "We'll be fine. And I know you'll miss Mokuba, but he'll be fine. Now let's go"

To Seto's surprise, Mai took his hand and led him through the passageway. Her eyes slitted determinedly, but when they reached the first guard, she faltered a bit and her grip on Seto's hand became exceedingly tight. Especially when they jeered at her just as they always had, commenting about every single body part they could see through her dress.

Her face turned bright red but she carried on walking. Her teeth gritted and her eyes watering from the effort it took not to turn tail and run back to where it was safe.

"Mai? You really want to fight someone like the Pharaoh?"

"Since when have you ever lain down and taken orders from anyone?"

"Why do you have to answer questions with questions?"

"Why do you?"

"Are you insane?!" he snarled.

"Do you think I am?" her lip was beginning to twitch with the effort it took not to smile. And it was working, the question game almost took off how frightening it was to defy the Pharaoh the way they were doing.

"Why would you think that I think you are?"

"Why did you ask me if I was?"

Seto looked stumped for a moment, as the two of them turned left into a dark passageway, then his eyes lit up with triumph as a new question occurred to him, "What are you talking about?"

"What has this got to do with anything?"

"Damn it you're good." he grumbled, scratching the end of his pointed nose thoughtfully, his sapphire eyes burning.

"I've had lots of practise. It was Sly's favourite game at one point."

Seto noticed that Mai's features drooped a bit at this statement, and he felt a wave of pity for her. She'd looked after Slifer since the girl was a baby, and was  almost like her mother now.

And getting whipped by someone who must've been like her own child ... must've been really traumatic.

 

* * *

(Author's note: If you a person of a sensitive nature, I suggest you don't read this bit. I just have this thing for torture scenes. Yes, I am slightly demented, I can't help it >_>. They just fascinate me, though I think if I ever saw one, I'd go bright green)

 

Slifer laughed, a high demonic laugh as she watched the two figures leave. The wind tugging at their hair and blowing it all over the place as they walked nervously away from Marik's palace, glancing around them in case any guards saw them.

"Oh you fools!!" she doubled over and clutched her stomach as more laughter burst from her, her blonde hair swinging in her face as she leant on the bed for support, "You're both going to die! Daddy will never stop hunting you until you're dead!"

She threw her tiara across her new room and mussed up her already messy hair with her left hand, looking far more demonic that even her father looked sometimes.

"Sly, let's talk about this ... please ..."

She stopped laughing and turned her attention to the boy she'd handcuffed to her bed. His arms and legs were spread painfully apart as she'd stretched them in order to secure him well so there was no way he could escape.

Slifer blinked her pale purple eyes, and her thin lips widened into a smile, "Talk?" she repeated softly.

"Please. I've always been nice to you."

Slifer fiddled with her gold statue of the two entwined Gods that Mokuba had given her. Then she sat on the end of the bed and stroked her finger up the boy's calf, "Nice?" her voice was still dangerously soft.

 

He tugged at the handcuffs and wriggled, trying to get away from her finger. He gasped and tears came to his eyes from desperation. He looked around him wildly, his spiky black mane of hair swinging all over the place.

"Shhhh ..." she put a finger to her lips.

"Sly" he pleaded, "You can't do this. You really can't. I've always stuck up for you!"

"Oh Mokuba" she sighed, looking down at him with a look of supreme dignity, "Daddy always said I should forget the past and do whatever I think is right. And I think killing you is just about right for me."

Mokuba's navy blue eyes widened in fear. The thought of never reaching his 18th birthday still ringing in his ears. And it just wasn't fair! He'd always done everything he could for Slifer and more. Protected and shielded her from her father, sneaked food to her when she wasn't allowed to eat because of some misdemeanour.

"Don't" he cringed as she reached into the waistband of her shorts and withdrew a dagger, with jewels embedded in the hilt. She tested the blade across the ball of her thumb and found it to be satisfyingly sharp.

"Sly -"

"Shut up" she muttered, "Daddy was right. He showed me when I whipped Miss. Valentine. It's all about power, and I cringe to think about how weak at one point. Now you'll see what kind of Queen I shall become. Just like my father - better even."

Mokuba looked about him desperately. His brother was gone, he knew that. Seto had talked about going to do something about the way their lives were going. And it looked like his was going to be unbearable short.

He tugged so hard on the handcuffs that they cut into his wrist and left raw abrasions running across them. He was only seventeen for Christ Sakes! How could he be thwarted by a little girl of six?

Slifer grinned down at him, "Now what should I do to you, Mr. Kaiba? Should I take a long time? Or should I make this quick and leave the long one to the older Mr. Kaiba when he comes back? Choose, you or your brother."

Sweat ran down Mokuba’s forehead as black fear gripped him. He was going to die right here on Slifer's bed. Never again would he see another sunrise, never again would he eat a Twinkie. It all seemed too ludicrous to be true.

"Muh - me" he stammered, wincing as she brought her face close to his.

 

Her eyes twinkled with a strange light, and strange fish seemed to float from behind the irises. They bored down into Mokuba's mind and paralysed him with terror. He pressed himself into her bed, the sweat now gliding down the length of his nose. His face was now as pale as chalk, his hands clenched into fists, making the steel of  the handcuffs cut into him even more.

Slifer licked her lips. She was truly the most evil little six year old Mokuba had ever seen. And Mokuba failed to see how she could turn into such a sweet little thing into a real monster. Unless of course, she'd always had the capability to be wicked.

She crawled onto the bed and seated herself onto Mokuba's stomach, rucking up his shirt till she had a nice soft patch of bare skin to sit on. She smiled and ran her finger down his sweaty nose with relish.

"No one will hear you scream, Moky" she drawled coldly as she got the knife into a comfortable position in her hand. She laughed mischievously, then she mumbled, "And even if they do, no one will care. And daddy would love to know that I killed someone for the first time with no help at all."

"The Pharaoh needs me!" Mokuba cried desperately, his chest heaving with the effort it took to breathe, "He'll be so  pissed at you if you even try to kill me. I help with most of the computer work!"

"Calm yourself, boy" she said lazily, grabbing the front of his shirt under her fingers and slicing through the buttons with her knife. Leaving him bare chested as she moved the flaps of his shirt to the side.

"So, you want me to torture you instead of your brother?"

"Are - are you going to kill him?"

"No, not if you want me to hurt you. But, if you beg me to stop from hereon, I will kill you instantly and make long work of The Man, let me assure you."

 

Mokuba turned his face away from her piercing gaze to look distantly at the far wall, his expression twisted and scared. He was shaking all over and his entire body was so white, you could see most of the vein in his arms.

"Oh don't worry, Moky - at least you'll be dying for a good cause. Daddy'll be pleased that you're teaching me to be like him."

"Sly, you're not like him. You're your own person! Why do this to yourself?"

"You mean: why am I doing this to you?"

 

Tears poured down Mokuba's cheeks as he struggled bitterly against his bonds, "Please, Sly. Don't you remember what I told you on your fifth birthday? You have to remember, Sly."

She froze, and some of the callousness in her eyes seemed to get uncertain.

"Yes" she said, "You said you'd always be there for me."

"How can I be here for you if you're going to murder me? Sly, be reasonable. Please, I'll be there for you forever if you can just get over this killing me thing and let me go."

 "I don't need you anymore" she hissed through her teeth, brushing her Christmas tree hair out of her face and trying to flatten it so it didn't splay out like the sun's rays in a toddler's drawing, "And daddy says that when I no longer need someone, I must dispose of them A.S.A.P"

 

Mokuba shook his head, breathing hard and trying to move. Desperately wishing that he could be anywhere else but here. This would be the place that he was going to die, and Mokuba really wanted to live. Especially if Seto did overthrow the Pharaoh as he wanted to.

"Please Sly" he begged, more frightened tears gliding down his little white face. He was only seventeen, he didn't deserve this. He was supposed to live a happy life with his brother, even while serving a cranky King, "Please, don't do this to me Sly. Don't, don't. I'll do anything. Anything."

"I'm not weak!" Slifer shouted, her purple eyes flashing out how frantic she was, just as bad as he was.

"I'm not saying you're weak, Sly. I'm just saying that you - I love you very much. And if I had to leave this world without you. It would break my heart. You're like a little sister to me."

 

Now Slifer was crying. Her hands shook uncontrollably so that she almost dropped the knife. And her eyes were wide and terrified. But she didn't get off of Mokuba's stomach. But she raised the knife and cut it along her arm until blood welled out. Whimpering in pain so sharp. But she didn't stop pushing the dagger into herself until she had streaks of blood dripping off her wrist. And until she was sure that the cut would leave a permanent scar.

She tore a strip of Mokuba's ruined shirt and wrapped it tightly around her injured and now heavily bleeding arm. Pressing it tightly so that the petrifying blood would stop running out of her.

"There ..." she said shakily, turning dull, hurt eyes to meet his, "I cut myself so I'll always remember you. But I have to kill you Moky, so stop making this difficult. If you say just one more word, I'll kill you quickly and finish off Seto when he comes back. So behave."

 

Mokuba turned his face away so he didn't have to look into that tortured face of a warped little girl who didn't know any better, or didn't even know what she was doing. He tightened his hands into fists, <For you, big brother>

She dried the last of the tears off her face.

And Mokuba tried to make his mind drift. But when she let the blade of the knife run down the length of his belly. He arched his back and cried out as the sharp pain whipped through him like a fiery snake. He had to bite his lip in order to stop himself from screaming out loud,<Big brother ... help me! Please!>

Pulling against the handcuffs so that more blood ran down his wrists, he chewed his mouth to smithereens as Slifer twisted the knife sharply to the side so that she unearthed a flap of skin. Blood was now welling down his chin and lips from the intensity of his agony.

<Oh please please please, Seto. You can't let her do this to me!>

 

The hours passed slowly, as Slifer sat on Mokuba's stomach hurting him in every way imaginable. Her eyes dull and unseeing, as if she were trying to shut out the real horror of what she was doing.

Marik had come in when she was half-way through, and he'd leant against the wall, his blonde hair swinging around his head and in his face. His expression was unfathomable, he folded his arms and became the silent observer of his daughter's next step to her crumbling innocence.

Only one person in the room seemed to have any life in his eyes. And that was Mokuba Kaiba, who writhed and sobbed, fighting against what he knew was inevitable. His cheeks were wet with tears of pain. His face now so pale that it contrasted alarmingly with his hair, his entire body sheathed in sweat.

He couldn't believe that the EP he'd known for a good part of his life was actually sitting serenely on top of him, cutting him up like a scrimshaw with her features blank and expressionless.

He was now choking up blood all over his chin and throat, coughing nearly all the time now and wheezing and gurgling on the stuff, hardly being able to breathe.

And even through the excruciating pain that left his whole body ringing and wiping out nearly all coherent thought, he just had to cling onto the image of his big brother. Remembering running along the beach with him when they were both free, laughing and carefree. His mind dulled and settled single mindedly on that memory.

Mokuba Kaiba didn't want to die. He did not want to surrender himself to a black, graveyard-cold death. He meant to fight, he wanted to fight. Hadn't that been the reason why he hadn't given up all hope, because somehow all along he'd been convinced that he'd save himself?

The painful, frigid death that awaited him was more than he could bear. As Slifer finally dragged the dagger across his throat and he felt himself sinking down down down, he sent a silent goodbye to Seto. Wondering briefly whether Seto would know that he was dying.

Whatever the case, Mokuba wished that Seto could know that his last thought was for his big brother.

 

* * *

 

  "Seto?"

He looked up and saw Mai looking straight at him, a wince clouding her features. Her hands were shaking badly, so clenched them into fists and kept them at her sides, which merely caused her whole body to tremble.

"What?"

"I - I'm scared" she admitted, her face turning a light shade of pink. Obviously the humiliation of saying this was too much for her and she had to break eye contact and look over at the huge white moon over to her left, so that its light illuminated her face and made her look even more haunted and melancholy than before.

Also, her thin clothing was doing nothing to protect her from the desert chill. He saw goosebumps all the way up her arms, and even though she had them folded she was still shivering uncontrollably.

"I know ..." he said heavily, sighing and looking out at the black sky with two sad sapphire eyes, "I hate leaving my brother behind. Maybe we should have taken him with us ..."

"He's only seventeen. And besides, Slifer needs him. She needs someone there who understands her. And Mokuba is the only one left."

Seto found himself doing an extraordinary thing, he found himself placing an arm about Mai's shoulders and pulling her to him, so that she could rest her forehead against his side.

"Do you want my trench-coat? You look cold."

Mai shook her head, "No, that's alright. I just want to save the old Pharaoh and his daughter and get rid of Marik. I don't think I could stand ... being like this ... the - the rest of my l-life."

 

Seto Kaiba wasn't used to emotional moments. And his only hope was that she didn't start to cry. He never knew what to do when someone started to blubber. He could handle the over-sensitive men just by telling them to get a grip on themselves, but he couldn't say this to women, because they got very touchy when they didn't have waves of sympathy washed over their heads (yes, I know. Sexist but true. Being a girl myself, I never understood why most and I said most not all, females are a bunch of airheads, bimbos, 'misunderstood', butch or just downright irritating. Which leaves us with 10% of females who actually are none of the above and actually are interesting to talk to.)

But Mai was stronger than she seemed, because when he looked at her next, her eyes were dry. Lonely and haunted, yes, but dry all the same.

 

But before Seto could say anything, a figure had stepped out in front of them. Blocking their path almost completely, they couldn't see his face, but they could see that he was not a guard, because guards were huge, and this guy was normally sized.

The wind swayed his hair and the moon reflected on his face just long enough to display two cunning brown eyes, a pointed nose and chin and spiky hair that looked as if it must be a very light colour. His face was ever so slightly lowered to the ground, indicating that he must be looking up at them through his eyebrows.

Mai stiffened against side and drew her dagger out of the purple sash at her side, throwing herself away from Seto and looking ready to kill.

Seto rested his fingers against the 50. colt at his side, ready to draw it at the first sign of violence from this stranger.

 

But the stranger just stood there, his hair swaying in the wind. His face full of shadows so it was almost impossible to tell what expression he had on his face. The moon was behind him, so that allowed him to see them clearly, but not the other way around. It was extremely disconcerting.

Seto heard Mai next to him, breathing heavily, with her dagger still aggressively raised to attack.

 

"Calm yourselves" came the stranger's voice. It was a deep raspy voice, and strangely familiar. He didn't move in any way, but Seto was still apprehensive, he didn't remove his hand from his gun. And for a few seconds, no one did anything. The persistent breeze just ruffled their hair and made Seto's trench-coat fly about his ankles.

He looked over at Mai. She was looking confused and wary, but she didn't lower her dagger. And Seto found himself strangely proud of her. Almost they way he felt most of the time about Mokuba, like Mai was a sister and was finally standing up for herself. Showing the first signs of a fighter.

He gazed fondly over at her, before he realised what he was doing and turned his face sharply back to the stranger, who still hadn't moved.

The stranger smiled just then, Seto could tell he was because he saw the flash of sharp teeth. He didn't like this person. He was too mysterious and just plain weird to be trusted. Why wasn't he introducing himself or making any effort to persuade Mai to lower her knife? It was almost as if he knew that the two humans couldn't touch him.

 

"Who are you?" Mai asked, frowning and still ever suspicious and defensive.

"I?" the stranger's voice floated along in a soft misty whisper. He laughed softly and looked up at Mai, little hairlettes swaying in his sly brown eyes. He grinned more widely and Seto saw that his teeth were even more sharp than he'd thought at first. The canines almost drooping onto his lower lip as he grinned, "Who I am is not important. But who you are may be more so ... if you wish to defy the Pharaoh, as you are so doing at this point."

Mai blinked, "What are you talking about?"

"It's a human weakness, to pin a name on everything they see. They must wish to claim everything, I think."

The stranger lifted his black cloak up over his shoulders and took a few steps toward Mai. Ignoring it when she automatically stiffened, he swung it around her and fastened it at her throat. His expression blank as if he were doing nothing out of the ordinary.

"We don't want to name you" Seto said, getting impatient, "We just want to know your name"

 

The stranger stopped and looked over at Seto calmly, his eyes glinting as if behind them, his brain was planning something mischievous and naughty. He rubbed the end of his   pointed nose thoughtfully, "I have been called Bakura for quite awhile now. It is as good a name as any. You may call me that."

Mai gasped in recognition, suddenly realising, now that the stranger had his cloak off, that the Millennium Ring rested on his chest. Rays of moonlight reflecting off its surface.

"Bakura ... you fought against Yugi when Kaiba and Joey held their own tournament as a honeymoon!"

Seto's eyes misted when he thought about Joey. He was never going to see that man again, he knew. And he was alright with it. Joey Wheeler may have been exciting and a good husband, but Seto had soon tired of him and was almost relieved when he disappeared out of his life forever.

 

The stranger inclined his head, "And you fought against Marik Ishtar ... and lost ..." he paused slyly, then added, "My dear"

She flinched, and dropped the knife to the ground. She didn't bother to pick it up because her mind was suddenly blank and redirecting toward that awful memory of when Marik Ishtar had duelled her in the Shadow Realm.

Seto watched her bemusedly as she stood there with her mouth hanging open in a gormless expression. Her hands clenched into fists. He too remembered the time when Marik had fought her in his tournament. He had called her 'my dear' rather often, if Seto recalled correctly.

But all that nonsense about The Shadow Realm was simply ridiculous. Obviously, the stress Mai endured at having lost had made her pass out. And that Yugi freak just covered up for her by making more fairy tales about The Shadow Realm and evil spirits.

 

"Bakura. What are you doing here?"

The stranger smiled blandly and put his hands on Mai's shoulders, his eyes now seemed to swim like strange fish were floating behind the irises, "I am here to help you overthrow The Pharaoh, of course. Since I am slightly more prepared than you or your young lady friend here. A knife and a gun? Against Gurus? Use your common sense, children - please"

"You don't seem anymore prepared than we are" Mai whispered hoarsely, her violet-blue eyes still frightened.

"I am more than either of you two. And you must understand that this mission could take years to complete."

"Why?"

Bakura sighed and buried his hands into his pockets, "For one, just getting Atem and his daughter out of the place they're trapped in isn't enough. They'll be very weak, and almost powerless. We have to help them regain their strength, and besides, even with the old Pharaoh back, Pharaoh Marik is a whole ton stronger. He has the power of the Pharaoh! All three God Cards and The Millennium Puzzle! Use your common sense you two."

Now, one thing that Seto didn't like was someone telling him to use his common sense, since he prided himself on having plenty of that. But since this guy seemed to know what he was talking about, Seto decided that it wasn't a good idea to smack him with the blunt side of his fist.

 

"And you're wounded ..." the stranger said softly, taking hold of Mai's hand and holding it, examining the bandaged fingers, "I suppose that this is the work of the Pharaoh too, mmmm?"

Mai tried to speak, but she couldn't manage much in the way of talking so she closed her mouth again and nodded mutely.

"Ahhh ..." the stranger sighed, "Both of you have suffered over these years, I can tell. I myself have saved myself from being a servant simply because of what I am ... and now ... I don't only want to save you two, I want revenge."

"Revenge? You want to destroy Pharaoh Marik"

"Indeed"

 

Seto watched as the stranger (who really wasn't a stranger anymore but Seto couldn't help but refer to him as this) placed his arm around Mai and beckoned to Seto to follow him as he led her to the left, toward a direction that she knew to be the Forbidden Forest. If any one of them were caught in there, then there would be no questions asked. But all three of them would be terminated on the spot.

"We can't go in there" she said in a quavery voice.

"Because it's not allowed, I know. But I can take care of any mortals that cross our path, I assure you."

She nodded, but reluctantly, then ducked under the stranger's arm and retrieved her knife from the ground. Placing it in her sash once more. Then she followed the silent stranger who called himself Bakura. His white and dark blue striped t-shirt swirling in the breeze worse than Seto's own trench-coat (I was this close to calling it a night-gown >_>) And Seto Kaiba looked wistfully back to the palace in the far distance, already missing his brother and wondering if the boy was doing okay without him.

<It's okay, Mokuba. I'll be back for you as soon as I can, I promise>

Then he turned and followed the two departing figures of Mai and the stranger. He turned his face to look at the ground, watching his feet as they walked, his brown fringe swaying slightly in the breeze, flapping in his eyes.

 

Mai looked back once or twice at Seto, but it was kind of difficult because Bakura's arm was always in her face when she turned her head. So she just stopped looking after the first few minutes, pretty sure that Seto wouldn't go running off without her and leave her with this brown-eyed, silver-white-haired, black cloak wearing, sharp toothed guy.

"So, Mai Valentine. I've heard of you before the Pharaoh came into power. But since then, no one has been famous except the EP and Pharaoh Marik. And you know, this mission isn't going to be easy. In fact, it will most probably fail, unless we can get the help of the EP herself, and that isn't entirely likely. It's something she'll have to do for herself."

"But -"

"I know you've known the girl, Slifer, for years Mai. But do not fool yourself. That girl was born to be evil, and she will have to be extremely domineering and strong willed to be able to defeat her naturally evil nature. For I knew Marik before he surrendered to his wicked side, and he was a weak boy and wasn't very good at resisting this natural personality that all Yami Spirits are born with ... and once Marik was awakened to the awesome power one feels when they have control over someone, it changed him for life. Now, the same - I assume - has happened to the EP. But what I want to know from you is, has the girl got what it takes to defeat this nature. Has she got a strong personality?"

Mai paused, wrapping the black cloak more tightly around herself, then she looked directly into Bakura's intense brown eyes and shook her head sadly, unable to actually say anything as a lump had come into her throat.

 

Bakura sighed and shook out his silver-white hair thoughtfully, "I am also a Yami, you know Mai. I am Yami Yugi's - or Pharaoh Atem, as he used to be called - little brother. And I've resisted my evil side on and off for 5000 years. Sometimes I've failed and given in to it, and at other times I defeat it. And while I am defying it now, I feel it best to try and save my niece and my brother. And if at all possible, I'm going to try and save my nephew and his daughter from themselves."

"How many Yami's are there?" she asked incredulously, blinking.

"Not many. There is Te'a, myself, Pharaoh Atem, Marik, our little sister -though she married Yami Yugi and is now as dead as a Yami can be - and of course, Slifer is now a Yami too. Though she hasn't reached her full potential."

"Can you make humans into Yamis?" Seto suddenly asked.

 

Bakura stiffened and stopped, looking back on Seto Kaiba. His expression was unfathomable. "We can" he conceded, "Our little sister, Sharai. She was a Yami for a long time before she married Yami Yugi and she was human before I made her one of us. But it is not a life which any of you would want."

"Why not?" Seto frowned, his sapphire eyes reflecting the stars from the almost pitch black sky.

"Because" Bakura sighed again, "You can never die. You can never age. You will live forever and there's nothing you can do about it, not when you've had enough and just want to die. You just have to keep on living into eternity."

"And all of you have an evil spirit nature that is difficult to resist." Mai added.

Bakura looked sideways at her without a comment, but he gave a curt nod, and Seto was sure that just for a second there were a sparkle of tears in the stranger's eyes. But maybe he was mistaken, for the next time he looked, the stranger's eyes were as dry as they ever were.

 

"So where to now?" Mai asked softly, looking over at Seto when he sighed heavily. He was going to be away from Mokuba for years, how could he stand that? He'd go mad wondering how his little brother was doing without him.

"My place." Bakura said softly, "For not only am I a Yami, little ones, but I also happen to be another dark creature. And that means that I can enter the Forbidden Forest, and none of Marik's Gurus can come anywhere near me. The only things that can live in that place are creatures of the night. Animals of various descriptions, and the people that the creatures of the night allow in ..."

 

"You're a Vampyre?" Mai ventured. And when he nodded, she thought it explained perfectly why he had such sharp fangs, then she asked, "Is there anyone else like you?"

He nodded again, then he turned to stare Mai in the eyes, "There's the Vampyre who made me. But I don't see much of him. He's too busy wandering off on his own. He doesn't take much interest in someone as young as I. He’s lived for millions of years, right through when the Pharaoh existed too. And his name changes frequently. But now he calls himself, Duke Devlin."

The name meant nothing to Mai. She'd never heard of any Duke Devlin in her life. And she took about as little interest in the Vampyre as the Vampyre probably took in Mai.

Mai moved toward the forest with more confidence now. Now that Bakura had confided in her that the only reason it was forbidden was because no one could get in. So Pharaoh Marik could never catch her.

"So that's why you were never made a servant, because this was your haven for six years."

 

He nodded, and turned to face Mai solemnly, "But Mai, promise me that if you do happen to meet my master, you'll be polite to him. You have to respect him, because he has no patience with someone so much younger than he."

She frowned, looking really obstinate, "As you say. But he'd better respect me too. I'm not about to go on bended knee to a Marik-identical. Especially if he's big headed about how freaking old he is!"

Yami Bakura's eyes widened, and he gave her a sharp look, looking at Mai with something almost like fear, "Mai, you mustn't, you don't know what you're getting yourself into."

"I'll do my best" she said stiffly, "But I've had enough of being treated like a slave! YOU DON'T KNOW HOW IT FEELS BAKURA! Look what I have to wear! Look what I have to cope with to serve Marik! Do you have any idea what it's like to constantly have to obey, obey, o-freaking-bey?! You don't!" then she was shouting, "I'VE HAD TO FUCK HIM! I'VE HAD TO DO EVERYTHING HE ASKED AND IF I DON'T I KNOW I'LL BE PUNISHED! WELL, NOW I'M FREE FROM THAT AND I DON'T WANT TO END UP WITH SOMEONE JUST LIKE HIM! AND -"

Bakura placed a finger on her lips and shushed her, "I have to fight to get into the forest so please, you can vent your anger just now. But now I have to concentrate."

 

Bakura heard something, and suddenly he let go of Mai, pushed her away from him and drew a lethal looking gun out of his shirt. Before either Seto or Mai could blink, Bakura fired the pistols repeatedly.

Mai shrieked as a few of the bullets passed inches from her head. She crumpled to the ground, wincing with her hands over her blonde head, hearing Seto also draw his 50. colt.

"Don't waste your bullets" Bakura muttered, "I've done this a thousand times before, I don't need help"

Mai looked up with her violet-blue eyes wide and half-scared, she looked up o see a twisted, rotted corpse lying on the ground, minus its head and shoulders.

"What the -" Mai looked over at Seto, who looked just as confused as she did. He put his own gun back in his jacket and stood protectively next to Mai, watching as Bakura growled and walked over to the body, kneeling over it.

Running toward him, rather bravely - Seto thought. She stood behind Bakura with her smooth brow creased in confusion as the Vampyre frowned, his teeth bared in anger.

"Who ...?" she whispered, feeling her throat go completely dry.

"Reanimated corpse. I wish they'd stop sending Zombies after me. As if I haven't defeated them a million times over."

The three of them heard groans and growls. Seto started and spun around to see a whole ton of rotted bodies slumping their way over to the two boys and the woman with the angled hair. Both the humans looked slightly pale and clammy from fear. But not the Vampyre Bakura, he looked up, smiling, "Ahhhhh ... fun time"

 

He ploughed into the crowd of Zombies, dismembering the first few with his lunge. He span and danced around, taking opponents left and right, an evil smile splitting his face.

But Mai didn't seem concerned about the Zombies. She had an icy cold feeling down the length of her spine that she was being watched. She looked around her and saw no one. But still the feeling prevailed and she didn't like it at all. Someone besides Seto was watching her, she was sure of it. And she didn't appreciate it. Not one freaking bit.

"I feel as though I'm being watched ..." she said tentatively to Bakura, in case this was any cause for alarm.

 

But Yami Bakura, he didn't even look back at her. He pulled out his pistol again and fired out at the crowd of Zombies. Bodies drop all around him and he laughs, enjoying himself immensely. Not even noticing Mai, who was having a small panic attack behind him because she was now positive that someone was watching her.

Seething bitterly, Mai said nothing more. She turned her back on both Seto Kaiba and Bakura and walked in the direction of a tree she'd dubbed as a soldier tree. Meaning, basically that it was dead. But still proud and stiff like a soldier who'd taken too much but refused to give in was. She grabbed the first branch and swung herself up onto it.

And this was when Bakura fired one last shot and looked around, "Much too slow ... ghouls are fine, but I've fought true armies of the Undead"

Mai heard him but was still strangely frightened at whatever was watching her. And Mai could always tell when someone was watching her. She usually felt the hair rise up on her neck, and sweat dribbles gliding down her brow and along the length of her nose. She grabbed onto the next branch and swung herself up onto that one too. Trying to get as high up as she possibly could.

 

Bakura looked up into the tree, "They're dead ..." he said with a raised eyebrow, then his smile grew wide as he continued to watch her tremble, "Again" he laughed.

Mai looked back at him, "So? It feels like I'm being watched so I feel safer up here"

"Hmph" Bakura muttered. He slammed a new magazine into his pistol, cocked it and slid it into his holster.

"You've killed them all?" she asked, still feeling apprehensive. The 'somebody's watching me' feeling still hadn't gone away.

"Hmmmm ..."

Bakura pulled out his knife and sent it flying through the air into the head of the lone "survivor", then he looked back at her slyly, "Yes"

 

But the feeling still hadn't gone away with Mai, so she just shivered  and climbed higher.

Sighing, Bakura levitated himself up into the tree till he was level with her, but she refused to look him in the eye.

"What's your problem?"

"I'M BEING WATCHED! GODDAMNIT!"

"Then wait for the watcher to make a move, and counter" he said calmly, ignoring Seto who was now sitting on a rock and going through his pockets serenely. Evidently, he didn't have any such qualms about being watched. But he said nothing to make Mai feel like a poopyhead so that made her feel slightly more prideful.

"I don't like it" she said tersely. And Bakura saw that her face was chalk white and she was quivering all over. Sometimes humans could be perceptive, h supposed. Maybe he should just check to make sure there was no one after all.

That's when he felt a familiarity in the air, and he smiled. A secretive kind of smile. He lowered himself to the ground, bowing on one knee, "Master ... welcome ..."

Mai nearly fainted as a long dark laugh filled the air, and she looked quite shocked to see Yami Bakura ever bowing down to anyone, so she just hung in the soldier tree, her mouth hanging open.

 

A voice rang out, but neither Mai or Seto saw anyone. Not that Seto was particularly bothered by the experience of meeting Bakura's master. If Bakura wasn't worried, then why should he be?

"So ... this is the female mortal you said you'd bring to me ... no more than a child ..." the voice laughed again at this.

Mai was not pleased, she roared at the hidden person, "I'm fucking 24 years old!"

"And I'm over four million ... you're a child compared to me."

 

Mai drew herself up and tried to look dignified, nearly fell out of the tree and had to cling on with her left hand. She was on the edge of falling when she felt a hand grab her wrist, holding her in midair and lowering her to the ground slowly.

 

As soon as Mai's feet hit solid earth, she wheeled around to see who had helped her down. But she saw no one. She took a step backward and trod on Seto's foot. Seto himself looked supremely unconcerned. He looked back at Yami Bakura, who was still on bended knee, his face staring down at the ground, his expression soft and gentle, yet extremely haunted and saddened. He looked as if he bore the world's troubles on his shoulders. His expression was the look of someone who'd endured so much that he was now blank, totally dead inside. All cold and unfeeling. The kind of look that seemed to come from a deeply hurt and tortured soul.

"This is my master" he whispered, seemingly to the humans, but he kept his gaze fixed on the ground, "Duke Devlin"

 

The air shimmered, and in front of Mai stood a tall looking man. The most vibrant part of him was his eyes, they were bright green. Impossibly bright. Like nothing Mai's ever seen before. A moss green, only matt, the colour was one colour and didn't differ in shades at all. His eye shape was like a diamond, sharp and wickedly pointed in the corners. His nose was straight and narrow, and slightly uptilted at the end. He had a wide mouth, but his lips were thin. So when he spoke it actually looked quite enchanting.

His hair was black, and came down in angles just as Mai's did, in long spiky strings that hung in his face. It looked as he'd attempted to tame the back of it by tying it up, and a red and black head band surrounded his forehead. Giving him a slightly exotic look.

He wore an open white shirt that showed off his chest. And he had on thick knee-high boots, covering his grey jeans right up to his lower thigh. His chin was as pointy as most of the people that Mai knew. And his fangs drooped onto his bottom lip just as it did with Bakura.

 

Mai folded her arms stubbornly, opened her mouth to say something, then closed it again when she thought better of it. Maybe it would be better not to pick a fight with this guy just yet. His green eyes seemed to stare straight into his eyes, almost as if he were reading her mind and scrutinising every thought.

"Tell me, Bakura, why do you bring her here? And the boy too?"

"They need to be kept safe for now, Master Devlin" Bakura looked up at him for a split second, his intense brown eyes almost seemed vacant, as if Marik had used the Millennium Rod against him. But before Mai could do anything or say anything to him, Bakura lowered his face once again to the floor. And this time she was sure she saw the shimmer of tears.

She scowled, but bit her tongue and bit off any sharp reply.

 

"Stand before me, Bakura, I've told you not to bow" Devlin said, as if reading Mai's mind. And when Bakura rose, he looked over at her. He could see she was struggling with herself not to say anything very rude. And when he caught her eye, his own screamed 'watch yourself'

Mai turned her eyes to him and tried something she'd read about Vampyres, she heard that eye contact allowed you to speak with them in your mind, and she thought it was worth a try, still looking deeply into Bakura's eyes, she thought <I don't like him, he's scary>

Devlin caught the stray thought and laughed with amusement, "I scare you?"

Bakura's eyes flashed on her.

"No" she said stubbornly, folding her arms across her chest, she looked back at Bakura sourly, <You never told me he could read minds! Damn you!>

"Of course I can read minds" Devlin said, as if she'd directed the thought toward him. His unnaturally bright green eyes twinkled with bemusement, "... as I know you fear for the child, Slifer ... if I caught the name correctly."

"Yes, her name is Slifer" Mai growled low in her throat, "How do I know I can trust you?"

 

Devlin smiled, showing off his very prominent canines, "Don't worry, little one ... you can trust Bakura ... and you can trust me. Slifer will be safe ... as will be your unborn ... you shall come to no harm"

 

Mai Valentine blanched so badly she nearly fell over. Her violet-blue eyes caught Devlin's green ones, searching for the truth. It could possibly be true! No way could she have ... it just wasn't possible!

"What do you mean, 'my unborn'?"

Duke Devlin's smooth forehead wrinkled with concern, and he turned his eyes to Seto Kaiba, then to Bakura, then back to Mai again. They seemed to hold real pity for her, he scratched the end of his uptilted nose thoughtfully, "You didn't know you're pregnant." he checked, his eyes slightly disbelieving, "But didn't you wonder why you could sense a new spirit within you?"

 

Yami Bakura coughed, "Master, humans can't sense spirits."

Devlin paused for a second, then he nodded, "Well, little one, do you want your son? Or not?"

She backed away slightly, still haven't had grasped the situation with her mind entirely. If she was pregnant, as Devlin said. Then it could be no one's baby but Marik's. And the thought of his offspring growing in her disgusted her beyond belief.

"No, I don't want it" her lips curled into a snarl as she looked down at herself with disdain. No ways, she'd never carry Marik's baby.

 

Devlin stepped forward, placing his gloved hand lightly on her stomach, "That can be ... taken care of ..." he smiled evilly.

"Wait" Seto put his hand on Mai's shoulder, "Mai, think about it. If you bear Marik's son ... then we'll have a half Yami on our side, and that can only be good. Just think about it. If we get rid of him ... or her, then we'll be getting rid of a perfect opportunity to have someone who's actually powerful on our side."

Devlin looked at Seto with something very much like respect. Then he turned back to Mai, "Well, the decision was never anybody's but yours, Miss Valentine."

She hesitated, looking from Seto to Bakura - whose face remained professionally unfathomable.

"W-well ... uhhh ... what do you guys think?" she asked uncertainly.

 

Bakura looked over at the moon, so its rays reflected off of his face, then up at Devlin. His brown eyes seemed to sink deeper into his face with stress. And as the silence stretched out, he said, "I do think it'd be a good idea if we had a half Yami on our side."

"And you?" Mai turned to look straight at Devlin, for his opinion mattered the most to her. And if he thought she should rid herself of Marik's offspring. Then she would do so.

Duke Devlin fiddled with one of his earrings, and shook his head, "Little one, it's not my world. It matters not to I whether Pharaoh Marik or Pharaoh Atem rules the world. For I live here in this Forbidden Forest where no one can penetrate. And only leave when I need to feed ... so it all depends on whether you think it'd be a good idea to keep the child."

"If that's how you feel, then why are you helping us at all?" Seto asked, frowning.

"Because it concerns my sire. He has a certain feeling for your welfare, and wishes for me to help in every way I can. I happen to be bored, so I consented."

 

"Your what?"

"I'm his sire" Bakura said sharply, swinging his head around, which made his white hair flow like water through the soft breeze. He looked back at Mai, "Do you want to keep the child?"

She glanced at Seto for a split second, then she brushed her fingers nervously through her hair, "It's all ... a little overwhelming ... Marik's kid ... can't I have some time to think about it? Please?"

"Mai" Bakura placed his hands on her cloaked shoulders, "All you have to do is bear him. We won't leave you to bring him up all on your own ...", he stared down into her clouded, confused eyes until they turned slightly inward and cold.   Silver flashing through the violet. She nodded.

"I - I'll keep it ... him ... her ..."

"He's a male." Devlin said. And no one argued, after all, he was the one who should know. He could do the spirit sensing thing after all.

 

* * *

 

Marik stood in front of the window, staring out at the distant mountains with his cold purple eyes not really seeing them. It was a hot day, a little too hot for him to wear his dark royal coloured cloak, but he wore it just the same.

Next to him stood his near seven year old daughter, and he rested his hand on her shoulder as he gazed at the window. The sun making his hair look far more violent than it usually did, for it brought out small streaks of auburn that was usually not very noticeable.

"You did well." he told her softly.

"I know"

 

Marik looked over at the little girl who was of his own flesh and blood. That indeed, looked so much like him that it would be impossible to deny that she was his. She stood there, her innocence totally crushed. Her eyes were as slitted and mean as his own, she stood there like a warrior woman in a little girl's body. She stood with the pride and confidence of a true EP. Being his own small Earth Princess. She now had her own new present from him: a jewelled dagger kept at her side at all times.

Her hair was still wild and unmanageable, but she'd learnt to like it just as he had. And now it spilt over her shoulders in its spiky, wavy glory. The tiara had but been discarded at the bottom of her cupboard.

No bandanna, nothing. She accepted it as it was. After all, no one could tease her. Else she'd kill them on the spot.

 

"See, I've been trying to teach you to be ruthless all your life, child. And now you know how to do the most basic destructive thing to a person. By murdering them. Now, all that is left is to teach you what your dear mother was so good at. Being cunning. Hopefully it would be easier for you. Since women seem to be born sly."

She turned her eyes up to him. And they were so brutally cruel that if it had been anyone else standing next to her, they'd have run screaming. It didn't even seem possible that such a small child could have the look of someone thousands of years old.

 

"I know" she said again, her face contorted into a horrible expression of superiority and hatred, his purple eyes clashed with her own. They stared each other down until, surprisingly, it was Marik who looked away first, back out the window.

"So, you saw Mai and Little Kaiba leave did you? And you didn't try and stop them ..."

"Yes."

'Why?"

 

She smirked, still looking at him even though he wasn't looking at her, "Because all they'll bring on themselves is suffering, father."

"You like people to suffer, do you?"

"You'll get them back, and The Man will discover that his brother is dead. It'll be fun to see him crumble."

"He loved his brother."

"Yes."

"But you do realise, my dear, that they'll be out there only to overthrow me and save your mother and grandpa? You do realise that Mai will not stop at her mission until she is stone cold dead."

Slifer took out her dagger and ran her finger lightly across the blade thoughtfully, then she looked up at her dad thoughtfully and said, "Yes, so we can go and fetch them can't we? Being Pharaoh must get tiresome, so we go after them and leave someone else it charge in the meantime. And whoever that is must know that if he doesn't do the job the way you like it ..." she drew her finger across her throat.

 

Pharaoh Marik considered this for a few seconds, then he nodded, "Yesss ... it would be fun to play a game of cat and mouse with them. Especially as nothing can beat my power ... they'll be powerless against me ..."

"So we're doing it"

"Yes"

 

So it was the next day that father and daughter left the Pharaoh's palace. Dressed in Guru's cloaks with the sign of the Sacred Egyptian eye on the hood of it. You could see Slifer's eyes sticking out if you happened to peer into the contents of her hood, but the rest of her face was so shadowed that it looked like there was nothing else underneath there but eyes, the rest in blackness.

They rode apon an almost white horse, Slifer gripping around Marik's waist as they raced through the desert. She had to use one hand to make sure her face was constantly covered. For neither she nor Marik wanted to be recognised by any of the townsfolk, they would be interrupted, and Marik didn't feel like tiring himself by using his power.

 

By nightfall, the two of them dismounted and sat down in the sand of the desert outside Marik's Kingdom. Slifer bundled her hair into an untidy ponytail as her father loaded off firewood and plonked it on the ground. He had an evil frown on his face when he threw it on the floor, because he as of yet, had not seen a single trace of either escaped servant. And usually his powers allowed him to see what most people couldn't, which would make his servants very easy to find. But ever since he left he couldn't feel anything that told him where they were. And that only happened when the person he was looking for was dead. And he knew that they weren't dead. He could feel their Ka, radiating from their skins. But he just couldn't tell from which direction the Ka came from.

"Daddy" Slifer looked him sternly in the eye with a nasty glare, "I know where they are ... if you would just listen to me ..."

"Nonsense" Marik interjected, flashing a warning glance her way that silenced her immediately, "There's no way they could be in The Forbidden Forrest. No mortal could get in there. Not even I - and I am not a mortal, I'm a Yami. Yet the forest won't even let me in."

"Daddy, just will you listen -"

"Shut up Slifer! Goddamnit!"

 

Slifer knew better than to disobey a direct order from the Pharaoh. So she fell silent and watched as her dad pointed his Millennium Rod at the fire and started it. The flames sent eerie flickery shadows across both of their faces, highlighting the tears on Slifer's cheeks, and making the pale purple eyes that belonged to both of them, seem to glow with an inner fire of its own.

They both stared broodingly into it, Slifer had taken out her dagger again and was fiddling with it absently, her face thoughtful and concentrating on whatever thoughts she was mulling over.

After awhile, Marik, who'd decided that he really had nothing to lose after all, said, "Well, why do you think they're in the forest?"

She didn't answer for a few seconds, she wrapped her arms around her knees, still staring into the bright orange flames beneath her, her eyes seemed older even than Marik's, by far wiser and more cunning and brutal, and also allot more haunted.

"Daddy, you always taught me that there were three kinds of people who could get into the Forbidden Forest. The animals, the immortals ... and the invited ..."

His expression contorted, "No way" he breathed, his face going pale, "No way, that isn't possible, that just isn't possible."

"Why not?"

"No Vampyre would let those two fools in there. They don't concern themselves with the outside world. Not at all."

 

Slifer got to her feet, the wind tugging at her hair and her cloak. She looked to her left, the fire flickering odd patterns across her face, "We have no choice, daddy, we have to finish off my mother and my grandpa. There’s no other choice. You can't keep them alive any longer."

"But ... Te'a's my sister! I can't just kill her like that! I've known her and my father for thousands of years!"

She turned, "Fine then, daddy. I'll kill them if you're too weak to do it! And I'll suffer before I finish them off! Just like I did to Mokuba!"

Marik fell silent, but his face was very pale. <She's my little sister! Mom was different! I hated her! But not Te'a!>

"We can kill my dad ... but not my sister." Marik decided, "She's too weak to do much of anything anyway ... she can kept alive."

"You sure you're not just getting soft, daddy?"

 

He slapped Slifer right across the mouth and sent her reeling into the sand, “I’m not soft you little slut!” he cursed, sending a boot into her side so that she scooted across the sand, he looked so foreboding and terrifying, Slifer’s eyes widened and she curled her six year old body into a ball.

“You little slut.” He repeated, grabbing her arm and hauling her to her feet, shaking her roughly, “You sit there with that whore-sly expression on your face, as if you’ve been alive for millions of years and can tell me just what to do! Well, let me tell you something you cunting wretch! You know nothing about what you are yet! Nothing!

“S-sorry daddy”

Stop cowering you filthy twat!” he raged, squeezing the back of her neck so hard her eyes watered, “Listen to me! You think you’re so powerful now that you’ve killed some worthless little boy, but you’re still a fucking low Yami, you’ve hardly even had a taste of what it’s like to be me, so don’t you sit there and act like you know better because you fucking don’t!

 

“Nice way to talk to a child” came a smooth voice from behind them, a female voice that sent shivers down both their spines. And they both turned to see a woman in her late twenties standing serenely there in her white Egyptian garments, her face hardly tanned at all despite the hot Egyptian day it had been, her eyes were crystal blue and seemed to twinkle from within with sparkly dots. She had thin black eyebrows, and her hair was mostly covered by a white cloth. The pieces that stuck out were black, but mostly covered by gold hair ornaments.

“I am Ishizu” the woman said softly, sitting down calmly and looking Marik in the face with serious eyes, her slanted nose was pretty but really it was quite big for her small face. She stared at the silent Marik now, “And you are the world’s new Pharaoh …”

She said that last bit a little sadly, but bowed her head respectfully, “Asalama Akee, neb-ih” she said.

“Peace be with you too” he returned gruffly, still feeling his temper rise at his daughter, who was quivering slightly beside him, looking up at the new woman with her slitted eyes full of tears, “But Ishizu” he said reproachfully, “You mustn’t call me neb-ih … that means ‘My Lord’ and I insist that everyone call me Per-aah-of or in English, Pharaoh.”

“I know what they mean” she said softly, “I am as fluent in Egyptian as you are, Per-aah-of”

“Tayu hemt” he said

 

Her head snapped up to look him crossly in the face, “I am not a female servant to you, Per-aah-of! So if you call me hemt again, I will wring your neck till it looks like rubber”

Quick as lightning, Marik pulled out a dagger and put it at her throat, pulling her close to his side, “Let’s see if you’re as good at your Swedish as you are at your Egyptian, shall we?”

“Tayu (yes) Per-aah-of … as you wish” Ishizu said, her crystal eyes dulling to something completely unfathomable..

Jag respecterar dig” he said into her ear, “I really do. But no one speaks to me like that.”

“I’m thrilled that you respect me” she said dryly, “But you drive  me mad, and if you really want that in Swedish then: Du driver mig till vansinne. And if you want that in other languages I’ll be happy to oblige”

 

“You made your point, my dear” he said, letting go of her and allowing the knife only to brush against her throat softly, not cutting at all, before he placed it back in his sheath.

“Good thing you didn’t kill me, Per-aah-of” she whispered, “Because I can help you into that forest along with those two people you’re looking for. Then you don’t have to kill Miss Te’a Ishtar and her father … unless you really want to of course …”

“Oh shut up, yah himar” he said grouchily, not really taking in her words in at first. And that’s when he regretted calling her a donkey. Because her help was sorely needed, he couldn’t deny that at all.

"Himar? That's not a lovely thing to say to a woman you desperately need to get into the forest .... now is it?"

"How in hell can you get into the forest?!"

 

Ishizu smiled, and as she did so, fangs drooped down onto her lower lip, "I wonder how that might be, Per-aah-of" she murmured, "I am a friend of a master Vampyre in the Forbidden Forrest ... once I may have called him father, but now I know better, my Pharaoh. He made me what I am, just before your reign of power. Now he says that because he made me I am his daughter .... his flesh and blood. And I want nothing more than to destroy him ... and you could be of use to me, you and your daughter both."

 

 

* * *

 

Mai huddled in the corner of the room, her arms wrapped around her stomach and her mind buzzing with thoughts. She looked pitiful really, or so Duke thought as he stood on the ceiling staring down at her. The human wasn't aware of his presence, and he did so love surveying humans and their behaviour when they didn't know he was there.

This girl, this Mai Valentine. Her eyes were dead. All the life seemed to have faded from the blue-violet irises. She just stared hollowly at the opposite wall, tears falling silently down her cheeks, partially hidden by her curtain of hair that had had swung down to cover most of her face.

"My son ..." she whispered, looking down at her belly with such despairing eyes, "My son, I'm scared. What do I do?"

 

Duke Devlin blinked, his feet still stuck firmly to the ceiling. This female was fascinating really, especially since it'd been ages since he'd seen how humans behaved. Since he rarely allowed one into his forest and his dwelling. But these two humans, the male and the female, they had something that most didn't. They had an inner strength that even they didn't know existed. And Duke wanted to help them in their small insignificant little lives ... and maybe they could be his sires. For he sensed the same  Ka in them that he'd sensed in Yami Bakura when he'd found the guy wandering the desert, all hope lost and just about ready to give himself up to Marik and his Gurus.

Duke had taken him in and taught him how to take care of  himself, until Yami Bakura was worthy of the title ‘Vampyre’, he’d done much over the years, and Devlin was desperately proud of him. Almost like Bakura was his son.

 

He looked down at Mai again, and she just sat there, silent, for a few seconds. Then she turned her haunted face up to look out the window and at the stars, the sparkly dots reflecting in her eyes, then she began to talk in a soft breathy voice, as if there was someone in the room with her. Like an imaginary friend or something. Duke didn’t recognise the name.

“Maxi, baby …” she sighed, hugging her knees even tighter to her chest, “Why did you have to leave  me? Why did you have to die?” she said all this without any tears in her eyes , just that sad, grieving and mournful look, “Now I’m … I’m pregnant … with … with … his child. And I don’t know what to do with myself. I want freedom, but really, what is the point of freedom without you?”

“You can learn to love again, little one” Devlin said, landing smartly on one knee in front of her.

 

“Yaaahhhh!” she shrieked, stumbling back from him as if he were a poisonous snake about to spring, “What’re you doing here?!”

“Observing”

“Well, don’t observe me!”

“Why not, little  one? You’re very interesting to observe.” Duke tilted his head to the side enquiringly, as if she’d told him to do a confusing thing, “Here” he added, reaching his hand out for hers, “Let’s help you up … I need to talk to you.”

“A-about what?”

“The baby inside you, Mai.”

She hugged her arms around her stomach, but didn’t take his proffered hand, her face the picture of someone who’d been shamed to the deepest core of her being. She held her fist by her mouth and sobbed into it, turning her head away from Duke, her eyes turned to ice.

“What about my … my son?” she mumbled, her fist now practically stuffed inside her mouth now to stifle the sound of her heartbroken sobbing that seemed to make her ashamed of herself. Her cheeks were flushed pink as if she were embarrassed.

“Being a mother is a difficult task, especially to this Yami baby. I’ve helped bring up Yamis before … they’re difficult little buggers, I tell you”

Mai looked up sharply to see the uptilt of his mouth, he was clearly amused by her whole little episode. And this made her feel - if possible - even worse than she’d felt before. Was it funny to him, that she was pregnant with the new Pharaoh's child? She hated Marik.

 

"Are you scared, Mai" Duke asked softly, his boots treading lightly on the floor as he walked up to her, then sank down on his haunches and stared her right into the eyes, "Are you scared of something more than having this child?"

She turned her face stubbornly away from his enquiring eyes, her expression grew closed and firm, "No, nothing. I’m just ..."

"You're missing the Pharaoh's child ... that Slifer girl."

She bit her lip, "Maybe, maybe ... I really wanted to help her  ... but how am I going to help her when I'm not with her?!"

"Slifer will have her own share of struggles" Duke said softly, taking Mai's shaking hand in his own and looking into her eyes, "And you're not her mother. You can't find yourself responsible for her. Your responsibility lies within your son and nothing more, my child."

"But I've known Sly since she was just a baby! I can't bear to leave her with that monster! I just can't bear it!" Mai yanked her hand free and buried her face into her arms, sobbing so bad it even moved Devlin. Here was a woman who'd endured so much, so much that it felt to her as if she couldn't carry on anymore. Couldn't get away from her turmoil of thoughts. She was trapped inside herself and she was hating it.

 

'Mai, I want to help you. And so does Bakura ... and I have one way to help you get away from your thoughts. Meditation ..."

"But ... I don't know how!"

Duke considered this for a few seconds, then he said, "Do you know what meditation is little one?"

"Yes, it's when you make your mind go blank and you have no thoughts ..."

"No." he said sternly, "That's not it at all. If you wanted your mind to go blank, all you'd have to do is knock yourself out cold."

Mai stifled a small sound, somewhere between a giggle and a sob.

"I'm serious" Duke said complacently, examining his fingernails, "The object of meditation is definitely not to make your mind go blank."

"Then ... what?"

"Now, I want to relax ... but so much that you might fall asleep. Because then this exercise will be pointless ..." he helped Mai to sit in an upright position, then he placed her hand on her knees, "Just sit so you'll be comfortable, my child. Just don't lie down. You can only do that when you're advanced at meditation."

She nodded.

"Now, for your first lesson. I just want you to think whatever you're thinking, don't try to block any thoughts because that just makes them come back full force. What you have to do when you don't want to think is think. The difference is that you must not become involved in your thoughts. Just let them drift in your mind, as if you're watching a movie ... but don't sit there and worry and get involved in them. And eventually they'll slide away from you."

 

Mai's brow creased, then began to smooth out again. At first it was difficult not to get involved, but after about five minutes she found she could let the images in her brain have their say while she calmly watched them. Then they went away.

 

After about ten minutes she opened her eyes and threw herself into Duke's arms. His eyes widened in surprised. No mortal had ever before dared to hug him. And at first he didn't know how to react, his brain was a loss. Then he remembered seeing other people hug and he brought his arms and wrapped them around her back.

"Thank you, Devlin-sama"

He stroked her blonde hair back from her tired face and took her from under her chin, lifting her face up until her eyes met his, "Don't thank me just yet, little one. I might yet cause your demise if I make one little slip up ... so just don't thank me yet."

"I trust you, you'll do fine, Devlin-sama"

"You don't have to call me that, Mai. I'm not any higher than you yourself are. Your soul is just as eternal as mine ... except you have been through many lives ... and I'm in this one ... forever."

Mai settled back onto her back, and stared at the ceiling so that his hand slid away from her chin.  She rested the palm of her hand against her stomach, "I don't want to disappoint anyone, Devlin-sama. Especially not Seto ... I mean ... he's only in this to save Mokuba-kun"

"I know"

Mai didn't feel that this was a comforting statement. And found she didn't have anything else to say to this stupid Duke Devlin anymore. He had absolute no idea what she was going through! She was scared half out of her mind, both of Marik and the life that grew inside her. And of failing Seto. She wanted to help him help his brother, she wanted all the pain and suffering to just end.

And if she strove to end them ... and failed ... she wouldn't be able to carry on anymore. It would send her to her knees in emotional pain, and finally onto her face, where she'd lie and never get back up, just waiting to die.

And that thought scared her even more.