A Time for Us
What is a youth? Impetuous fire.
What is a maid? Ice and desire.
The world wags on,
A rose will bloom...
It then will fade:
So does a youth,
So does the fairest maid...
The pharaoh had mentioned this before, but he hadn't expected the day would arrive so soon. Beyond the great waves of desert sand, situated far off in the mountains was a sacred cave purged by centuries of age old sorcery. This place, heavily protected by footfalls and harsh terrain, was shrouded in a delicate, almost undetectable aura created by the build-up of residual sage-magic. Faint as it may have been, even the most powerful desert winds could not penetrate this nearly impermeable force. Behind the barrier, a deathly silence, one certain to drive any mortal insane, constantly lingered in the air, further warding off unwanted guests. Those who have heard of this place, Ashtoreth, kept far away for fear of being cursed by its 'evil' magic. None dared to venture into such a dubious area, except, of course, those who knew its secrets.
"This is a rare and very privileged opportunity."
"Yes, My Pharaoh... I know."
The pharaoh gazed at the figure knelt before him and heaved a sigh, rising from his throne. The flickering torch lights cast a long shadow of him as he descended the platform down to the prostrated priest. Gently, as if he was made of fine china, the pharaoh took the man by his arms and lifted him to his feet, allowing their eyes to meet. The priest turned away shamefully, his mauve eyes struggling to mask an untold sorrow.
He had never been afraid to stand in the presence of his sovereign, or look him directly in the eyes. The two shared an unheard of understanding, idolized by other palace members with high social statuses. Mahaado had always prided himself in being the trustworthy, obedient servant, who was accountable to the pharaoh at all times. But now, in the midst of a life-changing decision, he was not longer confident on whether or not he could trust his king. Another factor was somehow interfering with their bond; he just wasn't sure what it was.
"Than why are you afraid?"
"I-I don't know, My Pharaoh, please forgive me."
The moon shone through the large window, further illuminating the dimly-lit room. For privacy purposes, Pharaoh Atemu had arranged this meeting to be late in the night after all the hubbub and clamour of palace business had died down. He was in no mood to deal with accusing eyes nor did he want Mahaado's decision to be influenced by people who, in his opinion, would only desire the offer for themselves.
Mahaado gripped the Millennium Ring resting against his chest and stared down at the pharaoh's puzzle. The responsibility of wielding the ring had been one of the most essential tasks in all of Egypt, yet he had accepted the duty without question or hesitation. Although it changed the way he lived and carried himself, there had been nothing in which he could not adjust to. The pharaoh offered him the ring because he knew best. Atemu always knew best.
"Tell me, is something troubling you?" There was no reason why he couldn't trust the pharaoh. Atemu showed genuine sincerity and concern for the man who was more or less his close friend. He had never seen so much indifference, so much uncertainty in Mahaado's expression. This was something that bothered him considering he was positive this was a journey the priest would've readily embarked upon.
"How long will it take?" The question seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. Strangely enough, this hadn't been something Mahaado thought deeply into. Having brought it up suddenly sparked his curiosity.
The pharaoh's expression softened. He'd almost forgotten about that. Perhaps one day they'd meet again but he doubted it. "One thousand years."
Mahaado nodded slowly. Somehow that didn't strike him as being out of the ordinary. He'd had too long an experience in sorcery to think that. He knew what Atemu was thinking.
A cold wind blew through the window, snuffing out all but two of the torches hung on either side of the room. Almost immediately the area was plunged into a state of semidarkness, nevertheless, neither paid much attention to it. Mahaado seriously pondered the thought of the drastic changes a millennium would bring.
"His Highness has always made wise choices," He murmured solemnly, bowing his head.
Somewhere in the darkness, a sense of loss flashed in Atemu's eyes, but only for a brief moment. He placed a hand lightly on the priest's shoulder.
"You will not regret this."
Mana pulled her knees up to her chin and sat back, allowing the breeze, warm as it was, to filter through her hair. She'd woken up at sunrise to indulge in the rare delight of a cool, peaceful morning. Mana sighed, her studies would begin soon and her master expected nothing short of perfect attendance. Only recently had she taken a liking to rising with the sun and spending those first few minutes collecting her thoughts. She yawned as she thought back to how insanely early her master used to make her show up for training and how he'd always smacked her hand with his staff every time she nodded off.
She was only a child back then, carefree and innocent to the ways of the world. She viewed her studies as nothing but a burden and secretly resented her master for having treated her so strictly. Now, as a young lady, she understood the value of knowledge and the importance of maintaining her studies diligently. Maturity and poise replaced her childish antics and feelings all too well known by young women added a little spice to her, otherwise dull, life.
Mana smiled and too a deep breath of fresh air. She picked up a stray flower and absentmindedly began to twirl it between her fingers playfully, picking off the petals one by one. She tossed the stem aside and rocked back and forth, humming to herself as she watched three little children come out from their homes and began chasing each other by the bank of the Nile.
She was in a blissfully dazed state as she watched the children play when suddenly a very familiar odour snapped her back to full consciousness. The rich lavender aroma, which she had grown so fond of, could only belong to one person. She turned around to see her master standing behind her, staff in hand. Mana gasped in surprised when she saw him because it was still quite early and she had always been the one to come to him. Nevertheless, she found the shift in routine actually quite pleasing and secretly wished he would join her.
As if reading her thoughts, her master eased himself down beside her, laying the staff between them. Ignoring her bewildering glance, he kept his gaze straight ahead of him to the far side of the Nile where the children played. Mana shifted uncomfortably, every few seconds taking a glimpse of him out of the corner of her eye. The silence was unnerving but she was afraid to break it. Instead, she pretended to take interest in what he was watching.
"It's a beautiful morning."
"Tell me," her master asked, his voice just above a whisper "Why do you come here every morning?"
"I like, I like the weather," Mana replied shyly, "The daytime is too hot and the night time is too cold. Mornings are just perfect. And I like to watch the children play. When I see them I think to myself, 'I used to do those things.'"
There were two boys and one girl. The three played closely together as if family but one can tell they weren't related. The eldest was no more than nine yet he had the body of a fourteen-year-old and carried himself as one. Already he had lost the prominent belly of childhood and his skin sported an even, golden tan. A thick shock of messy dark hair crowned his head, accentuating a pair of alert, steely grey eyes. His devious but slightly goofy smile was his treasure.
The younger boy held plain yet intelligent features. He was a skinny little thing with thin brown tresses that partially covered his doe-like auburn eyes. The child was more of a thinker rather than a doer and although he was the younger, he showed a higher sense of maturity than the dark-haired boy.
The girl, being the youngest, was no more than a ball of energy. She was the personification of the sun itself with a mat of delicate blonde hair, which fell down her back like a waterfall, and laughing green eyes. She clung onto the younger boy's arm like a little sister but he didn't seem to mind.
Her master was amused by her bashfulness, especially when her cheeks tinted rose.
Maintaining his position, the man further inquired, "Which would you rather do, be out there with the children or keeping to your studies?"
Mana hesitated but regretted doing so when she sensed her master's disapproving eyes on her. She turned away and began drawing shapes on the ground with her finger. "I think everyone needs a balance of both in their lives. While studying helps a person gain valuable knowledge that can give her a higher social standing, being able to find time to make friends and develop a social life gives her strong interpersonal skills which, in a sense, is equally as important. Learning feeds the mind while playing feeds the heart and soul."
He nodded silently, more than satisfied with what was said. The woman sitting beside him was definitely not the same person he first took under his wing all those years ago.
The little girl squealed and tried to squirm away but the brunette kept a tight hold on her as he tickled her mercilessly for having tackled him out of nowhere. She was stronger than she looked and found the opportunity to catch him when he least expected it.
A sudden gust blew past her and Mana shivered. "Odd," she thought, "Why would I shiver from a warm wind?"
Silence. For some reason, the uncomfortable silence returned and Mana felt her master was the reason for it. Just a moment ago, they were speaking comfortably, why would the mood change now?
"I'm going to be leaving this place." He said calmly. Somehow, the words seemed to leave his mouth with great reluctance.
She turned her head swiftly, "Where are you going, master?"
Mana tensed, fear diffusing within her body like a bottle of perfume without a lid. She'd heard of the ominous place known as Ashtoreth but never expected anyone would try to seek it out. There had been a story of one person actually making it past the magical barrier but the horrid silence in the place proved to be too much for him and he hung himself.
"Why?" her response was barely audible.
"The Pharaoh believes I have the strength of become a sage." Her master shifted in his seat. Pride was evident in his voice.
The older boy gasped and knelt down beside the girl who was bawling profusely with her hand over her forehead. He'd accidentally elbowed her when she crept up behind him unannounced. He'd hit her with such force that she fell backwards, landing hard on her bottom. Now there was a large, pink splotch on her brow.
"You are an excellent student, it will be difficult but, I know you are capable of continuing my work once I'm gone." Her master understood her distress. Anyone would have responded the same way.
Mana nodded slowly, hearing but not listening to his attempt at consoling her.
The sun had raised high in the sky; palace activity would have been noticeable by now. Strange enough, everything remained quiet, peaceful, as if there was no need for anyone to wake up today.
The younger boy came to her side and wrapped his arms around her but she shoved him away irritably, preferring to bear the pain alone. She didn't need anyone to comfort her; she was capable of doing it on her own. Besides, she had no intention of appearing weak in front of them.
The man was undecided. Was Mana so devoted to her studies that she didn't want him to leave or was it because she wasn't ready to make it on her own? There was no reason for Mana to be concerned about his safety; the pharaoh himself had given him the offer. Atemu always knew best.
"Our pharaoh knows I am capable of becoming a sage. I trust him." The last statement was more of a reassurance to himself rather than his apprentice. Again, he had begun to lose faith in the king.
The elder boy knelt by the shore of the Nile and scooped some water into a small cup. He brought it over to the weeping girl who accepted it in spite of herself. She gulped the water down greedily before coughing it up onto the ground. The girl screamed. There, in the centre of the pool of water was a shiny, black beetle, struggling on its back. She was in so much terror that she hadn't realised she was gripping tightly onto the younger boy.
"Will you have to give up the ring?" Mana asked softly
"Will you have to give up the ring?"
The man looked down at the item hanging around his neck and traced the circle lightly, "No."
She nodded, focusing her attention on a spot on the ground. It was a stupid question. She'd never known her master to ever leave the ring, not even for a moment. Only a select few were given the privilege to wield the Millennium Items and the ones who did, guarded them with their own lives. Her master may have been a priest but he was still a very proud man. He wore his item with his head held high as if it was a prestigious award. He loved it too much to ever leave it.
Mana smiled bitterly, "You must be glad, glad to not be abandoning anything important to you."
He studied her for a moment, "You must not be important than."
Her breath caught in her throat and her eyes widened.
He continued, "You are my student, we've worked together and I've taught you many things over the years, how can you not be important to me?"
She held back a painful sob.
"And the pharaoh," he paused, "I will miss him very much."
The pharaoh. Although he gained the loyalty and respect of his nation, rarely anyone could be considered as 'close' to him. He ruled wisely, surrounding himself with powerful advisors whose opinions did not lead him astray. Unlike many past kings, his focus was on the nation rather than himself. The people lived prosperously under his protective guidance and continued to do so in times of hardship and war. No one could say they resented the pharaoh. However...
Splash. The girl wiped the water away from her eyes and pouted as she watched the boys playfully wrestling each other in the water. After the beetle incident, she'd forgotten about the 'brutal assault' so the other two no longer felt guilty and decided to strip naked and relieve themselves from the heat by taking a swim. Noticing how happy they were together, she began to pity herself and sat down on the dirty ground with her knees drawn up to her chin.
Mana could feel an impending headache but she knew the heat was not the culprit. She feared the answer to the nest question but the words slipped out without her consent, "How long will you be gone, master?"
"One millennium." Was the regretful answer.
"Come into the water!"
Somehow, that did not surprise her. Even if it had, she did not react to it. She mourned for the early studies she'd hated, for the harsh discipline he administered whenever she fell asleep during training and the early mornings spent clearing her mind before class began.
"C'mon! It'll make you feel better."
She watched as a servant girl rushed to the edge of the river with a basket of laundry on her head. The palace was coming back to life.
"No, I won't go!"
He placed a firm hand on her shoulder, "The magic there will grant me a longer mortality but..." a wave of melancholy washed through him and he closed his eyes, collecting his thoughts, "...I, I know you will make me proud."
"You'll need it!"
She remained on the ground and watched as he stood up and straighten out his robes before turning to head for the palace, "Master!" she called as he began walking away.
He turned back sharply. She held the staff to him, "You, you forgot this."
He shook his head and pushed it back towards her, "This is yours now. You will need it." And with that he walked away, never turning back even once.
She looked down at the staff in her hands. It had a glossy sky-blue neck which led up to a golden shell-shaped head. She closed her hand over it, eyes looking upon the treasure with a new perspective...
He was right; the girl was going to need it.
The rusted chains binding the Dark Magician fell away, revealing the spellcaster to be nothing more than a frail old crone. Joey smiled, the magic of the Time Wizard having come through for him once again. Not only did it manage to age the field one thousand years into the future, it devastated one of Yugi's most powerful monsters, not to mention his favourite.
Yugi's other being, however, did not appear too concerned about the situation. He patiently waited and watched as his opponent celebrated over what seemed like an impending victory. Then he ordered the transformation.
A bright light emanated from the magician and exploded in a blast of white blindness. Centuries worth of knowledge in magic and enchantment presented themselves at the magician's feet and he readily accepted them. With every passing second, doors into other worlds, other dimensions, other times opened up before him, shattering the barriers between reality and fantasy. The unreal became tangible and the concrete revealed hidden properties never before even fathomed to be possible. His understanding became a bottomless abyss, filled to the ends of the universe and beyond.
The light receded. The Dark Magician was gone. In his place a figure sat calmly as if in deep meditation. He did not hold the same alertness and swiftness as the previous creature but he was far superior to him in other ways.
One thousand years had passed, the spellcaster having now fully acquired the skills to tap into his hidden powers. He felt the well of knowledge and abilities inside him swell and burst from their restraints, spilling over and spreading throughout his consciousness. He knew what others could barely dream of and was well familiar with concepts mind-boggling to the mortal mind. He was a sage and after all those years of discipline and patience, great was his reward.
Much had changed over the years, as was expected. However, the past events concerning the pharaoh and his loyal servant still lingered in his mind.
He had not understood before but, in his vast knowledge, he could now see everything clearly. There had been no reason to doubt the pharaoh all those years ago. His sovereign always knew best, even in times when great risks were needed to be taken. The option was flawless and he had taken the right path. That, he was sure of.
He had no regrets.