When the Elder had breathed his last, he left behind a prophecy that left the village in shambles.
Among us will rise again the Goddess who has loved us and blessed us. From her time mortal, she will take her only tithe. She will give her heart only once, and to the holder of that most beloved object, she will raise him to the stars with her and bless us forever. Should she pass back into eternity alone, so will we.
"This is stupid." He muttered.
Beside him, Atem snickered. "I know."
"Who would have ever thought the mutt's sister would want to marry Tristan." He snorted derisively. "We know she's not the goddess."
"You don't know that."
"I should think the goddess would be self-aware, especially if she plans to only fall in love once."
"Most people only fall in love once."
"That's bullshit. My mother fell in love twice. That's why I have Mokuba."
"Love and lust are not the same thing." Atem nudged him. "That's why I have Yugi."
"Speak for yourself, then." He rolled his eyes. "You foreigners barge in and wreck up the place just in time for a curse to descend on the village."
"A curse?" Atem grinned. "I would hardly consider this is curse."
"Fine. Assured destruction."
That brought Atem's good humour down. "You actually think this is a bad idea."
"Of course I do." He practically snarled. "The Goddess has looked after us forever, same as the one from your village. But she's not looking for worthy wielders of her artifacts, she wants a lover. She's giving her heart, not her hand. There's a very small, but crucial difference."
Atem looked on the ceremony a little differently now, seeing the dim light in Serenity's eyes and Tristan's bland confirmation. It had been the same at JOey and Mai's wedding, Duke and Tea's before that.
"The elders are damning us." Seto ground out. "They're going to bind her, when she does come, to someone she doesn't love and the light in my village will go out. We, as the ones forced together, will stand on the precipice of blackness and regret having ever been born."
"You can join my clan." Atem offered. "You and Mokuba."
"Your own village was destroyed recently." He pointed out.
"Yes, but that was on purpose." He gently touched the Puzzle. "Ra commanded it, once we were worthy. It is to keep us safe."
"I know. Now think what She will say when she comes to her senses, alone in the stars." Seto looked up, the evening oncoming. "Our gods are different, Atem, but can you imagine disappointing them when their very vessel told you what to do?"
"No." Atem replied softly. "I can't imagine what would have befallen us had Mahad never become his voice."
"Exactly." He sighed. "Speaking of Yugi, though, how's she doing?"
"Safe from this, thankfully." Atem chuckled. "My mother is a viper, and no amount of insistence will dissuade her."
"Hmm. I imagine Solomon is a pest in your household."
Atem shrugged. "She slaps him when be brings up all the recent marriages or questions if Yugi found someone she likes."
"Good." He was quiet for a while, watching as they cut the red ribbon that bound husband and wife together. "Mokuba's over at Rebecca's. Mind if I swing over with you once this is done?"
"Sure. Seth is back from his hunting, though.
He shrugged. "Control your boyfriend and we won't have any issues."
Atem slapped him. "Don't talk that way about him!"
He rolled his eyes, but of everyone in this village, he liked Atem the most - insufferable as he could become.
Atem's clan had once been the village across the sea, their direct trading partner. His village would trade food and timber for stone and livestock, but Kul Elna had fallen and when they arrived on the shores of Domino, they had been little more than ashen refugees. This had been when both men had been children barely able to walk.
According to the stories, Mahad - a five year old at the time - had his eyes light up golden and spoke the words of the Sun, the power of the commands shaking the earth. The artifacts of Ra had been uncovered from the cryptic directions and given to the appointed children - Atem had the King's Puzzle, Mahad had the Magician's Ring, Isis had the Seer's Necklace, Seth the General's Rod, Maximillion the Advisor's Eye, Marik the Keeper's Key and Kisara the Judge's Scales. Once the Items were given, they were told by a golden-eyed Mahad that they would thrive for a millennia, but only had a matter of days to leave the village, never to return. It had been what they had done, and when Domino had greeted them at the shore, they took in the clan.
Yugi had just been one of the first to come from the union of the two villages, Mokuba coming later down the line.
They slipped away from the wedding when the others stood to go to the reception. Atem led him through the empty village to his own home, though Seto knew the way perfectly well.
"Yugi! We're home!" Atem called as he threw open the door.
She peeked out of the corner. "Oh. That was fast."
"We skipped the party because Seto didn't want to stay."
"Ah. I was just feeding Slifer. You can have him back if you want."
Atem took the small dragon from his sister, the lizard coiling around him affectionately, as he rolled his eyes. "Yes, yes. I see how it is."
"Huh?" She cocked her head. Slifer was her brother's pet from the moment the boy brought him home. What was so wrong with giving him back?
"You just want to spend time with Seto without me." Atem winked. "Go get 'em."
She flushed brightly, but Seto reached over and flicked him in the forehead hard enough to make him take a step back.
"Be nice. That's no way to talk about your sister."
He rubbed his forehead and stuck out his tongue. "Evidently, I have a dragon to feed. Have fun." He threw his head back dramatically. "Without me."
"Shut up, Atem." Seth muttered from the other side of the living room, having been trying to nap on the couch. Atem softened immediately at his voice, this dazed and glazed look taking over his face.
"Oh yeah, and Yugi's the lovesick idiot." Seto ushered her out of the room with a vigorous eye roll.
Yugi giggled into her hands as she led him away. It was telling that Atem didn't even bother to argue. They went into her bedroom, where they always hung out, and she gently shut the door.
"He really does love Seth, you know."
"I do." He flopped down on her bed, letting out an exhausted sigh. "Why do you get a pass on going to these damned weddings?"
"Because I know I'll be accosted." She replied primly, sitting down next to him and taking his hand. "If by no one else than my father. I've already met every boy in the village, I don't know why he keeps insisting on introducing them to me."
"You're one of the last ones of age left in the village." He rolled onto his side to look at her. "And the only one of age to have any blood from this village."
She laid down next to him with a soft sigh. "I know. But I don't want to marry."
"I know." He replied. "I don't think this marriage business is what She wants anyway. It's just a whole bunch of people being unhappily tied to each other forever."
She hummed. "That's what my mom says. She says that Hathor would not want this, and neither would your Lady."
They sit in silence for a while, staring at each other. He could tell she had something she wanted to say.
"Spit it out."
"Is that why you're not married yet?"
He blinked. "Huh?"
She flushed, averted her eyes. "I mean, you're older than I am. You would have always had your pick of the pretty girls. Probably would have liked one of them if you'd have given them a chance to talk to you."
He considered her for a moment alongside his answer. She'd adopted her father's pale skin, but her mother's luminescent eyes - an enthralling purple to rival Atem's vibrant red. She was petite, her face framed by golden bangs but the rest of her hair a shimmering violet-black. She was a rare and stunning find that had the men of the village drooling and fighting over her until their mothers had forced them together with a good match. She still had their attention - Joey and Tristan still looked at her with veiled hunger, Duke more openly so.
"Every girl in this village is raised to think that there's a chance she's a goddess in human flesh. She's raised with the fate of her village on her shoulders just in case. And she looks at the boys around her, trying desperately to find her soulmate, a true love. She overlooks troubling flaws and dubious traits because she forces herself to try and feel love. Then, she is afraid, because she can only love once. She tries to feel love for every boy she meets, every boy she knows, but she's so afraid to have it happen more than the allotted amount. She's scared when she should be elated - it means she's not the goddess, she's free. But she knows her parents will not allow her to act on it, will insist that there is still a chance. So she'll give up on feeling much of anything, because she's afraid to, and afraid not to. She'll let her parents decide, trade her like cattle, and settle for the man she doesn't love but doesn't dislike and live a life in monochrome, numb. If she ever does learn what love is like, she'll hide it. She's married, she can only give her heart once, not ever realizing that she's never heard what her heart sounds like, never been able to listen."
She stared at him in astonished silence.
"Why would I ever want that?" He asked quietly. "What's there for me? An empty heart and a mind pre-occupied with a prophecy that might not even come true in our lifetime."
She reached over, cupping his cheek with her palm. Her eyes shine, so very very beautiful. "You don't want them because they don't have the capacity to love you."
"Tell me if I'm wrong, but you want the kind of relationship Atem has with Seth - like he hung the very stars themselves in the sky to impress him - rather than the blank nothingness in Tea's eyes when she's walking hand in hand with Duke." He let her play with his hair, closing his eyes when she began carding her fingertips along his scalp.
"Is that why you like me so much?"
"I like you because you're interesting." He corrected gently. "And you play Duel Monsters too well."
She smirked and sat up. "Speaking of."
"The next round of girls is coming of age soon." The elder said, walking next to him.
"You should really consider them."
"We've been over this, Gozaburo." He snapped. "I'm not doing anything unless it's on my own time. I mind the dams and the waterways - that's my job. Not marrying some random girl because you insist I do."
"Then marry Yugi. You're very friendly with each other and it would get the other men off her back, like you're always concerned about."
He turned a scowl so sharp and bitter on Gozaburo that the old man shrunk away. "Fuck. Off."
"It was only a suggestion. You have no parents to make the match for you."
"My mother wouldn't want us forced off." He replied sourly. "And I won't let you force me or my brother."
"Bad enough Yugi and her clan are so obstinate, you don't have to be as well."
"Bad enough you speak about our closest allies like dogs unwilling to obey their master." He sneered. "Their gods are different. They won't abandon them just because you want them to, because they're somewhere else."
"I can't imagine She is pleased with this turn of events." Gozaburo grumbled.
"I was unaware you were her new mouthpiece."
Gozaburo reared back in offense, so Seto took his chance to leave.
He found himself by the water's edge, looking out over the sea. The remains of Kul Elna were visible in the setting sun. He almost believed he could see smoke still rising from the village's shell, but those fires had been burnt out for nearly twenty years.
"You look a little lonely."
He glanced up at Yugi, who sat down next to him, legs dangling next to his. The white linens and golden bands that decorated her clan didn't suit her as well as they could, but the sunset's bronzes and reds did. Her pale skin glowed in the rich colours, made him want to reach out and touch her.
"Gozaburo was riding my ass again."
She hummed thoughtfully, reaching over to take his hand. He sighed and let himself drift over to lay his head in her lap, cradling her dainty hand against his chest.
"I just want him to leave us alone." He muttered, watching the way her bangs ignited and glittered. If Atem didn't very nearly have the same hair, he would have been convinced that Yugi was the goddess and even more determined to protect her.
"At least Mokuba and Rebecca seem to get along very well."
"He's enamoured." Seto admitted. "His will be the only happy marriage out of the whole damn village. But that might also be because Rebecca doesn't believe in the Goddess."
Yugi shrugged. "Faith, I find, is a matter of perspective. A god has to do a great work to inspire belief, not reward empty faith in nothing. She must also not punish those who don't believe, but love and protect them all the same."
He settled more comfortably on her legs, reaching up to stroke her cheek. "Who do you believe in?"
She closed her eyes, leaning into his touch with a gentle sigh. "I believe in you, Seto."
"You want to know something?"
She kissed his palm. "Hmm?"
"I've loved you since we were children."
She opened her eyes and gazed down at him, the space of millions of years in her eyes. "So have I. It's always been you, Seto. From the moment I laid eyes on you."
He gingerly pushed himself up, just in case she didn't want to. She let go of his hand and bent down, no hesitation in the way she kissed him.
His body melted, like this is where he'd been waiting to be without knowing it. The entire world settled down and realigned correctly. For a brief moment, all was as it should be.
Then the alarm bells from the village began to ring.
Seth met them halfway back to the village.
"Mokuba fell into the sea and was smashed against the cliffs."
His breath froze in his lungs, but his body moved forward and he took off running. Inside the village's healing house, Mokuba was laid out with healers all around him. Atem came running with Mahad, the magician already working on trying to cast healing magic.
The only one not in a panic was Yugi. She stood next to Mokuba's bed, gazing down at him as if trying to decipher a foreign language.
"Seto, take him to the altar."
The entire room stopped and they looked at her. Her gaze was fixed solely on Seto.
"I need you to carry him to the altar."
In retrospect, he can't say why he did what she said, followed it like a command. But he picked up his dying brother in his arms and followed her to the Goddess' altar in the middle of the village and laid him upon it. The villagers followed them, curious and nervous.
"Do you expect a miracle?" Isis asked, not unkindly.
"No." Yugi replied, then turned to Seto. She reached up and stroked her knuckles along the back of his cheek sweetly.
"I will come back for you." She cut him off, eyes shining. "I promise."
"Come back for me?"
She offered the smile of a martyr, one who gives up that within their reach for the best of someone else. "Yes. It will take some time, but it will be done."
"You were right. I was always aware. From the beginning." She turned away from him, standing where the Elder would stand and opening her arms. Immediately, deep purple winds wrapped themselves around Mokuba's failing body. Similarly coloured light wrapped itself around Yugi and they both began to float. The light increased until it was blinding, but when it settled, Mokuba was just as Seto had left him - flawless smooth skin and easy breathing.
Behind the altar, Yugi collapsed and breathed her last, Mokuba's wounds claiming her life.
When he hit his knees, he didn't know whether it was in grief for Yugi's loss or elation at Mokuba's saving.
"Yugi was the Goddess." Joey murmured in amazement.
"And Mokuba has doomed us all." Gozaburo said. The village's silence was deafening.
Seth got up in Gozaburo's face, a menacing snarl on his lips, his shimmering azure eyes alight with dragonfire. "You touch that boy, so much as a brush of your fingertips, I will kill you."
"You have nerve to threaten me, Outsider." Gozaburo sneered in reply.
"You should respect the choices of your goddess." Mahad returned, staring down his nose distastefully. "She gave you the prophecy. If she decides to break it, that's her decision."
Solomon knelt next to his daughter's body, silent tears streaming down his face. The golden light had escaped her, her perfect white linens spotting crimson.
He'd taken on the village's rejection. Mokuba was young and innocent, not at all at fault for the politics of their religion. But each night, when the sunset was bronze, he walked to the cliffs and sat down, wondering what Yugi had meant, if she really was the goddess.
"I miss her too." Atem comforted him. "My only sibling, gone."
Yugi had gotten an appropriate funeral, her body done up the way of Kul Elna. Her mother was a viper, after all.
Mokuba's resurrection was now commonly considered to have been because of Seto. He supposed that was ultimately true - who else she would have given up her mortal life for, he's not sure. He wished he could have known. That she had of been willing to share.
Being the village pariah was not what he'd planned for his life to be, but here he was.
"We need to excise him as one would a plague carrier." Gozaburo yelled, arguing with Maxmillion. "He brings evil with him!"
"You speak on what you don't understand."
"Yami abandoned us! Our crops fail and our water runs dry because he remains here!"
"I have done so as a warning against this abuse."
The small crowd turned to the altar, where Yu-Yami sat in all her splendour. She looked the same as she had mortally, save her eyes shifted like space dust. Black-purple vapour made up the fabric of her clothing and her skin was pale as the blue moon.
Yami, the Goddess of Darkness, matron of Domino.
"Sister." Atem broke out into a blinding smile.
"Brother." She replied, equally sentimental.
"I am relieved to see you well."
Seth bowed. "Goddess."
"None of that." She waved them away playfully. "You are my kin. Who I must speak to are my villagers, my people."
They shrunk away from her and wispish curls of shadow, the shifting purples and black satins that made up her essence.
"I sent a message when I pulled the last Elder into the Shadow Realm for his Eternal Rest. I have not appointed another for the frenzy that has overtaken you. There was only one among you who asked me what I meant." She turned her gaze to him. "And that was a young boy named Seto."
The villagers turned to stare at him in collective silence.
"Seto, a boy of no more than four years, asked how I would know I had found love, and if it would be hard to find. He also requested I not be mad should my love be brief, because his mother loved deeply and truly but never for long. I came to you amongst those from Kul Elna, Ra's own chosen, and found Seto as beautiful and true and hard as he had been in prayer. Meanwhile, those of you with care and control panic for your own lives in a total disregard for those you command. What use is there in appeasing me if your life under me is not worth living?" She cocked her head. "Not that I understood your frenzy. I have never been wrathful, even at your worst."
"You said you would abandon us." Joey said suddenly, likely without thought.
"I said that if I return to the immortal plane alone, you will as well." She pushed back some of her hair. "I planned on removing the bind between lovers that makes them die within weeks of each other, so you would pass into the Shadows alone, when your time was upon you."
They all breathe a sigh of relief.
"But I am not very pleased with you now." She slid off the altar, moving so gracefully she looked almost to be floating. "I annul all of these terrible forced matches. As one brilliant man told me, a husband is not necessarily a lover."
"You've returned to take Seto, then." Mahad stated.
She looked up at him, shifting eyes mesmerizing. "Should he wish to come."
"I know. You wish to see him through, and I do not blame you. I did not come empty of options." She winked. "I am always listening, and I know from your heart that you wished me to return. I know that if I leave you with the option to join me at any time, you won't take it. You'll wait in silence to hear from me, to ensure a mortal still has my attention, then you will begin to doubt. I don't want that for you. I would stay with you, until you are ready to go, but I cannot leave the Shadow Realm unattended to. That leaves me here, where I take you back with me now, or manifest once every season for a week to spend with you, so you know you are not forgotten and can chose then to come if the desire strikes you so."
"I think you should go with her."
He turned to look back and there was Mokuba, standing with Rebecca with a soft, melancholy smile on his face.
"No, you've done enough for me. You sacrificed your own childhood to raise me. I don't want you giving this up too."
"You'll only be alive so long, how can I-"
"When I die, you'll be in the Shadow Realm to greet me."
"You can also visit, if you'd prefer that." She offered softly. "You won't be able to be far from me for too long, but you could come. Same as I offered."
He pulled Mokuba into him, grip tight. "Is that okay? Four times a year for a week?"
"I want you to be happy with the girl you love." Mokuba hugged him back. "Trust your heart."
He took a breath. "Okay."
"Well, she's over there, Seto."
He let Mokuba go, tears beading in his eyes. Shadow crept across the ground and caressed Mokuba.
"Mokuba was blessed by me, a lover's gift." Yami said softly from his side. "No harm will come to him again, I promise."
"Then I'll- I'll go."
She took his hand, led him to the altar, then stopped to look back at the people of the village.
"I shall forgive this one transgression. And the lover's bond will remain intact. However, should threat from within ever take you again, I will be less benevolent in your course correction."
Atem beamed. "We will temper them. Mother is a viper."
"Good. Live well, until I see you again."
And they melted away.