Months after the Shadow War, Mana learns that peace is as hard to keep as a war is to fight. (Spoilers up to chapter 336.)
Author's Notes: Mana's new job as head guardian of tombs is based on the fact that Mahaado used to do it. I figured that she inherited the job along with the Millennium Ring. Also, there's a sequel in the works.
Mana's mind buzzed as she catalogued all the things she had to do, her thoughts like angry bees fighting for space in her overcrowded head. Her fingers peeled a fig with frantic speed as she thought of Tombs that had to be finished and guards that had to be assigned to them. There was a Pharaoh to avoid, in case he started giving her those doubtful sideways looks like he didn't think someone like her should be given such important duties. There were a thousand things she would have to offer to help the other priests with, and it was almost time for prayers and finally, she thought...
All of it could wait.
She sagged back against the wall, stretched her legs and took a huge, relieved bite from the pulpy flesh of her fig, and at that moment became unable to contain her smiles. The priestess sitting beside her on the bench gave her a horrified look for the openmouth chewing.
"Mana!" Isis said, voice reprimanding, and it made Mana begin to giggle in earnest. She hiccuped with the force of her laughter.
Isis sighed, fond and exasperated. "At least we're alone," she said, returning to her meal.
"Sorry," Mana said once the giggles had subsided. "I couldn't help it!"
Isis gave her a kindly smile. "Perhaps I shouldn't be too quick to say when anyone should laugh. Many hard months have passed, and their end should be celebrated."
Mana nodded. "I feel like a stretched rope that's suddenly been cut! When have we last had time to sit down/ /like this? We've been building and directing and helping and ... oh, everything!" She swallowed the word 'mourning' with the rest of her fig; it was a duty that had become common in the days after the Shadow War, but it was still a private wound that could not be touched too often.
"We've been working hard, true enough," Isis said. "It's good to see how far we've come because of it."
"Yeah. The builders made the palace even better than ever! Sometimes I'm sad that it's different from how it was before, because I can't find any of the places I used to hide or play or walk - but it's good that everything's new and beautiful," Mana said. "I'm glad to be a part of this."
"You've done your work well, young priestess," Isis said. "Though I would not have expected a child such as you to take so well to being the guardian of tombs."
Mana shrugged. "Shimon had a lot of plans drawn up to show the traps in tombs, and I've always been good at tricks and traps. Plus, the architects jump to explain everything for me." She had found that she was surprisingly comfortable in the new tombs when she went to see that everything was in order. She supposed the dark stillness was soothing because she knew she had done her best to serve the dead.
"Still, you are young. And more than shouldering your own burden, you've managed to make others' lighter." Isis's expression was affectionate, but Mana didn't like the weariness that accompanied it, making the darkness under Isis's eyes become too pronounced.
"Don't sound so tired, Isis! It makes you sound like a grandmother - a great-great-grandmother, even."
"I am tired," Isis countered with a laugh. "There's still a lot of work to do, even if the bulk of it is over."
"Tell me about it," Mana huffed, fishing a chicken leg out of the basket of food between them.
"Why, if it weren't for you, we'd be working right this moment."
Mana grinned. If your old hiding places were ruined, you found new ones, of course. That had been a lesson well learned since childhood. "I knew no one would think that we'd be near all these workers. As if we were too delicate! I still think the new latrines would have been the best place to go. No one's used them yet."
"I'm more at ease here," Isis said, grimacing. She looked around the room, and Mana did too, taking in the freshness of the sternly cut stone and the beauty of the carved pillars as she attacked the chicken leg. Builders were swarming on the opposite side of the chamber to finish the roof, and there were no furnishings and decorations yet, but it was easy to see that the room would be beautiful. Just as the rest of the palace was beautiful and perfect.
"We should have a giant party for all the architects and everyone that worked for them," Mana said. "We wouldn't have come far without them."
Isis hurriedly swallowed the sip of wine she had taken and laughed. "A party for the workers? I think the crowning ceremony simply gave you a taste for celebrating."
Mana's stomach clenched, half a sensation of violent joy and half of pain. She stilled, trying not to show the reaction the words had caused in her. Then she cautiously asked, "Isis, do you think it would be wrong of me that I felt both happy and sad that day?"
"I'm sure that was how we all felt," Isis said. "That's how it is when the old has to die for the new to be born."
Mana nodded, turning to the food basket for a distraction. That was not quite the way she had felt. She had watched the new Pharaoh throughout the ceremony, taking strength in the way he stood so proudly, feeling joy that a man so strong would take care of Kemet. But she had forced herself to look away when he held the remnants of the Millennium Pendant aloft so that the people could give thanks. There had been an unbearable feeling of satisfaction within her, pushing the beginnings of a smirk on to her face.
She told herself that the satisfaction had been for what Pharaoh Atem had accomplished with his sacrifice. It had felt strange because it was the first day in a long time in which she'd hardly worked, so that the easing of the strain had thrown her off-balance.
What other explanation could there be? She had been miserable about everything that had been destroyed, and she had hardly ever felt more grateful than she'd felt to Pharaoh Atemu. Life was wonderful now because of the heroes she'd once known: Her country was saved; she had been bequeathed the Millennium Ring; she could serve a great power and attain power herself through doing so.
As she thought of it now, the thankfulness rose into her throat and thickened, like the onset of tears ... like the rising of bile.
Mana swallowed hard. Of course it was tears. The thought of all that Pharaoh Atem, Mahaado, Shimon and everyone had given would drive anyone to tears. But she wouldn't cry anymore. There had been plenty of tears already, and no amount of it would appease the dead. The living had to carry on.
The thought shot away from her like an arrow fired into the distance. Instinct lashed around it, and with a suddenness that shocked, Mana felt ravenous for the future, eager for all the power that might be and all the things that could be accomplished. There was a world to win over!
Mana leapt to her feet. There was something so dizzy within her that she didn't really want to move, but she couldn't stay still. It seemed important to speak her mind and say all the words that she would mean the most, because even after all the rebuilding they had done, she could feel the fragility of the world.
"It's as easy to break as an eggshell, Isis. All these things around us - look, this chamber isn't even finished yet. We built tombs before we even thought to build homes for the living! If an enemy comes, the palace would be taken easily!"
"Sit down! Don't say those things here." Isis sounded far away, her voice echoing down some long tunnel, and Mana couldn't understand why she looked disturbed. "I fear that the tension has caught up with you. Perhaps--"
Mana interrupted, uncaring that it would insult the elder priestess. Her words felt uncontrollable, strengthening and spilling out. She needed to speak before something broke; she need to know who she was before the dizziness took her whole mind.
"Pharaoh is my leader, my rising sun and guiding light, and I bow in gratefulness for his strength and wisdom. I hope he knows that I love him and my country..." Her throat became dry with all the words spilling out, and she rasped, sounding like someone else, "I love the thought of my foot in his face, I love the land that is mine to take."
There was the split where the opposing minds could no longer be reconciled. There was the moment when Mana realised that the spirit of the Thief King was within her mind and part of her magic, and the bewildered spirit realised its own existence. There was the point where pain began, and it did not stop.
Mana screamed in two voices. The sound rose and fell in time to the beams of magic streaming from the rattling needles of the Millennium Ring, weaving into the jerking dance of light and shadows.
She felt as if she were pinned to a wall by a giant hand while a sword cleaved the crown of her head. He felt the same and tore back against the feeling, because he had thought he was dead and defeated, and now he could feel a way to live. He tore through her, struggling to regain his sense of self and the solidity of a body. He tore through himself, because his spirit was wrapped into the magic that had been bound to her. They screamed in each other's pain, impossibly confused.
It vanished in an instant. Mana knew instinctively, in the place where her magic came from, that the Millennium Ring had been torn from her ... and with it, the spirit that was sealed into it.
When she opened her eyes, it felt as if she had been far away for a long time. Isis's face hovered above her, and Mana thought that perhaps she was lying on the woman's lap. It was unfair that her body couldn't feel the warmth Isis was trying to give her.
"Didn't know before ... he's in there," Mana said. "Bakura ... Zork..."
The other had been only a tinge to her thoughts. He hadn't known he was still in the mortal world, and had not known he could push into her mind. She had been too busy and determined to allow an opening that he could notice, until now.
"Hush." Isis drew her sleeve along Mana's cheek, taking away the wetness Mana only noticed now, and kissed her brow. "Would you like a sip of wine?"
Mana wanted only to keep hold of her friend as the darkness lowered around her, as if that would keep her here. She could not lift her head to drink, anyway.
"Your king, your country and your friends will honour you," Isis promised.
The susurrus in the background broke into loud exclamations, and Mana realised that the sound was not a hissing in her head, but the whispers from workers surrounding her and Isis. They had realised from Isis's words that the priestess of the Millennium Ring was dying...
Mana could feel the tears that Bakura had made between her soul and body. There was no pain, but only the lying feeling of peace; Mana could feel the quietness of the lands beyond life calling to her. She could have screamed. If she had the strength, she would have taken a workman's hammer to the Millennium Ring and smashed it into specks the size of the stars in the sky. But she had only the darkness to turn to.
There was one thing she had to let Isis know before she went: "Tell them. War's ... not over."
Mana closed her eyes and threw herself into the shadows.
The soul of her teacher called her unmistakeably. As she hurtled towards him, she drew her ka and magic out of her body, and with the love for everything she had been torn from, she sealed herself into a new existence.
Black Magician Girl opened her eyes in the place where monsters lived, and she managed to smile as she sank to the ground. She had not left them to fight without her.