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Coming Home Part One

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Egypt: December 23, 1992

Ishizu Ishtar was not a traitor. She had a sworn duty to her clan, to the gods themselves, and she’d done the only thing she could in order to uphold that duty.

“Prayers of forgiveness tonight?” Shadi asked.

She ignored the robed man and simply moved to the next candle in line. She cupped her hand around the top, bringing the white candle she held close enough to light its sister. Methodically, she lit the next candle in line, the next, and the next. Shadi said nothing until she completed the row. The friendly firelight cast a warm glow over the cold yellow stone, easing something in her spirit.

“Prayers are often ineffective if unaccompanied by action.”

A drop of wax touched her finger, burning the skin. She returned the candle she held to its rightful place at the head of the line, but she couldn’t take her eyes from the spot of red it had left on her knuckle.

“I suppose I could speak forever. You’ll never hear.”

She’d done the only thing she could.

There was no need to explain herself to anyone, least of all her visitor.

Ishizu knelt at the room’s altar, smoothing her white dress and tucking it beneath her knees. She took a deep breath and slowly raised her arms, but before she could speak, Shadi moved in front of her, standing directly in the altar like a nettlesome tree sprouting through the stone.

“At the least, tell me how your actions will affect the girl.”

“Your precious girl,” Ishizu muttered. She touched her throat where the Millennium Necklace weighed against her collarbone. “My sacred vision is not for frivolous uses. You may have thrown away your duty for such, but I will not.”

His blue eyes were cold. “So saving your brother would have been frivolous. Well. Happy birthday to him.”

“Don’t—!” She stopped herself short, lowered her hand, smoothed her dress once more.

She was not a traitor. The gods knew that. Her father knew that.

Someday, Marik would understand.

She raised her arms, closing her eyes. “Horus,” she whispered reverently, “Great Falcon of the Sky and Lord of Healing, I ask protection for my brother.”

Shadi snorted, cutting her short. Her fingers curled in; she lowered her fists and looked at him through narrowed eyes.

“Get out.”

“You haven’t looked.” He shook his head, stepped out of the altar. “I should have known; you have misused your gift from the start.”

“It is not a gift,” Ishizu said. “It is my sacred duty. I am above self, above passions, above the entrapments of humanity. My service is to the nameless pharaoh at the will of the gods.”

“Above the entrapments of humanity . . .” Shadi stared around at the curved line of candles, at the altar. “Sure you are, child.”

“I am not a child. I am—”

“You’ve walked this earth for seventeen years.” His eyes returned to hers. “I have lived your years a hundred times over and more.”

Ishizu pushed herself to her feet, almost losing her balance as her dress tangled beneath her. Hot color stained her face and neck. “I know your age. I know all that has happened in the world, all that will happen.”

His eyes crinkled, and his mouth curved; he seemed almost ready to laugh at her, to mock her. “You could if you looked, but fear has clouded your vision.”

“You know nothing of—”

From beneath his robe, he produced an artifact, a short trunk of gold with arms to either side that each dangled a small platform. The same Eye of Horus that decorated her necklace looked back at her from The Millennium Scales. Ishizu’s breath caught; she’d known Shadi possessed the scales, of course, but she’d never seen them in person.

He extended the scales, held the artifact just in front of her heart.

Ishizu froze in place. For a moment, the scales only quivered. Then a shimmering white feather appeared in one basket. The empty basket sank below it.

“Your heart is heavy with fear,” Shadi said. “Or would you care to contradict my knowledge again? Were I to invoke the shadows in your next trial, the price for imbalance would be no casual embarrassment.”

She backed away, and he tucked the scales out of sight once more. The shadows in the room seemed larger, closer.

“I have seen,” she admitted, “darkness in the pharaoh.”

Shadi’s gaze softened. He reached out to touch the last candle in line, but his ethereal fingers passed directly through the wax while the candle burned on, unaffected.

“There is darkness in all of us,” he said.

“Not like this.” She licked her lips. Though her father was miles away with Marik, she expected him to leap from the shadows at any moment, to beat her for such insolence. “He strikes at everything. He punishes.”

“How far have you cast your gaze?”

“Far enough.”

Ishizu had been raised with prophecies in place of bedtime stories, had been told over and again how the nameless pharaoh had once halted a darkness that would have swallowed the world, how his spirit would return to complete the victory, and how the tombkeepers were privileged to guard the Valley of the Kings, the seven sacred artifacts, and the prophecies themselves until that day arrived. On her own twelfth birthday, when she had tied the Millennium Necklace to her throat, when her father had said, “Look, and behold,” she had seen the future completion of the Millennium Puzzle by a small Japanese boy her brother’s age. She had seen the return of the pharaoh’s spirit to the world, and her heart had nearly broken with joy.

Until she’d seen what came next. Then she’d averted her eyes.

Now, she averted her eyes from Shadi in the same way.

“After the pharaoh’s rise,” she said, “the bearers of the sacred artifacts shall seek him. Seven items will be joined in the child’s hand, and by the gate of the gods, the Millennium Darkness will at last and ever be sealed.”

“That is a prophecy,” Shadi said, “not a vision. Unless you have seen the seven items come together.”

She said nothing.

He said, “I thought not.”

After the pharaoh’s awakening, she had seen the way he darted from the shadows to do battle, the games he played with souls on the line. She heard the awful whispers of darkness in his wake, saw the bloodlust that edged his eyes.

It was the Millennium Eye which sought him first. The holder threatened the pharaoh’s vessel, trapped the soul of someone vulnerable to make him dance. Had it been possible, the pharaoh would have lashed out immediately, but the eye took refuge on an island, sat behind carefully constructed walls that could only be breached by following his rules. So it was that Ishizu saw a dock, a cruise liner, heard the sound of the ocean and the chatter of tournament players ready for competition. The pharaoh stood at the railing with the others, looked out over the waves to an island overgrown with trees and crowned by a castle. She saw within the castle to where the Millennium Eye glinted from its empty socket. The man bearing it smiled and raised a glass of red wine in a toast as if he could see her.

The Millennium Ring snuck aboard the boat, cornered the pharaoh in the first night of the island tournament with none of the subtlety that marked the eye. Though the pharaoh escaped on a temporary victory, the pointed daggers of the ring strained against their container, waiting for another chance to be set free. Two items, both hostile, neither claimed with the pharaoh’s victories.

And Ishizu couldn’t understand why she wasn’t there—why she hadn’t seen herself approach the pharaoh, surrender her necklace, offer her aid.

Shadi was there. Within the castle, he approached the pharaoh’s vessel, cast his judgments, offered his counsel. But he did not surrender his item. Nothing transpired as it was meant to, and three items remained a mystery. One of those was Ishizu’s. One was Marik’s.

So Ishizu stopped looking. Since the tombkeepers should have been first to fulfill prophecy, clearly the problem was within her own walls; she recognized it in her rebellious brother. Marik needed only to accept his fate as a tombkeeper. Then the future would right itself.

“All will happen as it must,” Ishizu said. She knelt at the altar again, extended her hands, and felt the candlelight warm her skin. “I have done my duty.”

“I never doubted that.” Shadi’s gaze moved to the ceiling. “But I continue to hope for the day when duty bows to conscience, not the other way around.”

“You speak blasphemy—”

But he was gone.

Ishizu swallowed in the silence. Then she closed her eyes, returning with confidence to her prayers.