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Author’s Note: Hello everyone!  I thought that I’d take a moment to make a few comments on my last chapter, especially concerning the introduction of this celebration that I made reference to.  It’s important to note that the sed festival actually occurred in Ancient Egyptian history.  Though I am uncertain how accurate I am in describing this event, I am certain that it did indeed take place after a 30-year reigning period.  I remembered that in the manga, Simon Muran had told Yami, when Yami asked to know a little about his father, that he had ruled for 40 years or so.  So naturally Yami’s father, King Akunamukanon, would have qualified.  Even better, it seems to be accurate in terms of timing.  Though I have yet to describe the full details of this account that Teana is explaining to Yami, I estimated that if it was ten years ago that her flashback is occurring and if Yami’s father is about to finish his reign (which I will address later in my story) then the time table is just about right.  Also, since I mentioned in an earlier chapter that I wanted my story to take place shortly before Yami became pharaoh, a year, maybe less, then that also adds up in terms of timing, or at least in terms of making this fan fiction as closely related to the true Ancient Egyptian story arc as possible.

                Also, I wanted to make a few notes about a claim that I made in an earlier commentary.  I once said that I would only include information up to chapter 299 in order for the reader to fully understand what I plan to do in this fan fiction.  However, after months of developing this plot line, as new ideas came and continue to come to me still, and after following the real manga story line, I have decided to use some story elements in later chapters after all.  This will not affect the outcome or flow of this fan fiction, however!  I will still keep true to what I originally began and in doing this I hope that I will be giving the story much more depth and appeal.  I will also be able to tie many plot elements together, some of which I did not even foresee in the beginning of my story!  But even so, everything will continue to play out as I planned from the start.  I will still have Yami’s confrontation with Bakura as the cause of his death, regardless of whatever it was that led to his demise in the real story line.  For fans who only follow cannon, I think it is best to consider this fan fiction as an alternate reality of sorts that stems from chapter 299; a different scenario of events that very well could have happened, if looking at it from that point of view!  Again I will certainly do my best to make it that believable! :)

                 In addition, it has been recently revealed that Yami’s real name is Pharaoh Atemu or Atem.  However, since I began this fan fiction using the name “Yami” I will therefore continue to call him “Yami” to keep the story consistent, unless I am able to work his real name into the story somehow.  I suppose only time will tell in this sense also.  In terms of these other elements from the manga that I plan to use, it is my hope that it will only make Yami’s relationship with Teana much more poignant, realistic, and powerful.  I also hope that it will help to shape Teana and even Yami as characters in this story, as well as explain why the two think and behave the way they do.  In terms of what manga elements I will utilize, telling would only ruin the story. ^_- So instead I will make reference to them after they have already been played out.  I am hoping however, that perhaps some of you will be able to figure them out yourselves, if you too have been reading up on both the past and current manga plot!  That is my hope anyhow! :)  Well, please let me know everyone!  I’d appreciate any further comments if you are indeed enjoying this story and find it interesting.  It would mean a lot to me to know that I’m succeeding!  Also, if you have any questions about my writing, please don’t hesitate to ask!  Thank you again everyone!  Please enjoy!

Chapter 9

            As if he were awakening from some terrible dream, or perhaps returning to a nightmare was more accurate, Yami’s eyes shot open, the harshness of reality and his present predicament thundering upon him in that very instant!  There was no time to ponder the reasoning behind this sudden stirring, for at that moment, he knew only pain, an unbearable maddening pain that shot through him as if his wounds had been newly inflicted! 

            Like a drowned swimmer who had been revived, he felt himself inhaling deeply, gasping for whatever air his weakening heart and lungs allowed him before finally releasing a combination of both an insufferable cry and cough, which due to his extensive internal injuries also resulted in the flow of blood trickling from the side of his mouth.  And yet, despite all of this, his body seemed to demand even more than it was receiving and in cold sweat, his breathing began to quicken further still.

                        *What….?  Here….?*  Yami attempted to reason from within. 

            He squinted his now watering eyes shut; while at the same time, he maintained his accelerated intake of oxygen, at that same rhythmic pace.  Desperate for a distraction, some means to pacify himself, he began to tightly grab, to clutch the material of the cloak that he wore; even to the point where he could feel his own finger nails digging into the palm of his hand!  When that proved useless, he soon found that attempting to think was his only hope, his only course of action to combat these fierce sensations at all!  Yes..... He had to think..... of.... something....anything else!  Though still cloudy, it was then that his mind had begun to break free of the confusion that plagued him, though almost simultaneously, he immediately felt as if he was being pulled, forced in a number of directions both physically and mentally, which only added to his torment!  *I remember..... I was.... with Teana.... sitting with her.... listening.... She was about to tell me.... to tell me about.... But.... now.....?

            What Yami comprehended, was that he had, for the most part, returned from his journey into his pastmemories and was again lying on the palace floor, mortally wounded from his duel with Bakura.  That was what had happened.....  Wasn’t it.....?  He...  He just didn’t know.....!  It was true that he had returned to this time and place on many occasions now, but he soon discovered that this was the first instance, his first real opportunity to clearly process those experiences!  It was then that he realized that he couldn’t be sure of anything either.....  Not any more.....  Were these really memories that he was recalling?  Could he even trust what he saw, what he felt?

            The one fact that he was certain of was that he could not hold out for much longer.....  It was too hard, too painful....  He felt an overwhelming desire to just submit to death, to rid himself of his agony, to let go, once and for all.....  But suddenly, those thoughts were interrupted when he felt the light touch of a fabric of some sorts near his lips.  His eyes only partially opened, and his vision a blur, he adjusted them once more, focusing on the figure before him.  *Teana….*  Yami thought to himself.  She was still there..... beside him..... Yes.....  She had never left his side.....  He had sensed her presence each and every time that he was brought back, before he had drifted off again.....  Had she been waiting for him to reawaken?  Just how many times had he fallen in and out of consciousness?  How long had it even been since she had first approached him in this place, or since he had begun having these supposed memories?  What was the truth behind all of this, or even the reasoning for why he would experience this now?  What was real and what wasn’t?!

            There were so many questions....questions that could very well remain unanswered if the truth wasn’t revealed soon.... However, Yami dismissed his ponderings as he gazed at Teana, who had silently and solemnly begun to wipe the blood on his face away, using the very head band that she had worn when he had first seen her, for what he believed to be mere minutes ago.  He attempted to speak, but once more he felt himself beginning to fade away, being ripped away was more like it, to.... some distant location.... But to where exactly.....?!

                        “I just don’t know what to do anymore.....” Yami heard Teana say, interrupting his contemplations again.  He noticed that she seemed to be speaking more to herself than to him.  “Gods….  If you can hear me….please….help me….Help him!”  Teana cried as she gazed upward.  “He’s done so much…  Saved so many lives….He’s… He’s good….a good ruler….and a good man….  You can’t just take him like thi-…. No….” With those words, she shifted her focus down towards Yami again.   “It can’t end like this!  I won’t believe it!  But then….  He won’t respond no matter what I try...... If this goes on, he’ll.…..”

             Still observing her every movement, he watched as she gradually began to sink forward...wearily...bringing her face, her entire body close, until she was able to lay her forehead tenderly against his.  With trembling hands, she began to feel for his face, his chest, then towards his face again, as if to reassure herself, convince herself rather, that he wouldn’t just vanish before her very eyes.  Almost as if she had a healing touch, Yami felt himself begin to quiet down..... some of his pain lessening, his breathing settling..... She was so near..... And as he inhaled again; he sensed that same aroma; that familiar scent of perfume that he had noticed previously…..

                        *Lilies.....Yes....That’s what this is.....* he concluded to himself.  It was…. just like in one of the visions that he had had.....
                        "Yami....  I'm so scared....." Teana sobbed.

            As she continued to lie there, so intimately, Yami then felt her tears fall to his cheeks, near his own eyes, before rolling off the side of his face; to be lost into the pool of blood beneath him.....  Her shoulders, her entire body shook as she quietly proceeded to weep.  *She’s crying.....*  Yami thought again.  *No.....please don’t cry.....please.....I just can’t bear to see you cry.....*  He wanted to say these words, to comfort her, to wipe away her tears, to do something, but found that he still couldn’t..... He was there with her, and yet he felt as if he wasn’t, as if he were caught in between past and present, or perhaps even life and death itself!  *Wait......*  Yami stopped, back tracking a bit.  *Just now...  I felt...*  Yes!  What he was remembering was real!  It had to be!  He could feel it!  The feelings that he once had.... They were returning to him.... And not just in the form of some memory from a long forgotten past, but those emotions were rekindled here and now as well! wasn’t enough.....He wanted to know more.....He needed additional explanations, further answers!  If he could just have more time!  If he could just go back again....  He simply had to remember the rest....!  *No!* Yami thought with a new found determination.  *I will not allow myself to die like this!  Not yet!  Not until I......*

                        “What am I even doing?!”  Teana exclaimed suddenly raising herself upward again.  “I can’t just sit here like this!  I won’t!  I won’t let him die!  I have to do something!!  I have to get help!”  Bringing herself to her knees she was about to lift herself off the floor, when Yami, as if it were a reflex action, felt his right hand shoot forward, grabbing her wrist.  “Yami.....?”  Teana asked him.  She turned to face him once more, seemingly both startled and hopeful by this surprising response.

                        *I can’t let her leave..... There’s…. There’s nothing that she can do now.....* He thought, gently urging her towards him again.  As he did so, however, he felt himself cringe.  It appeared that when he reached out for her, something inside of him had torn, opening further.....  He had increased the size of a gash perhaps, damage done to an organ even.....  He wasn't certain....  But at that moment he could care less..... It didn’t matter if he could only accomplish all that he had come for....
                        “Yami, what is it?  Can you hear me?  I’m right here with you......” Teana said with desperation.
                        *This feeling......this is it.....the trigger.....what I need in order to.....  Yes....  Maybe..... maybe if she stays with me.... I’ll remember more.....* Yami reasoned.  He continued to tug at her wrist, slowly bringing her even closer to him, yet frantically, almost urgently, but gently enough not to hurt her.....  Finally she was just as close to him as she had been moments ago, when she was lying with him......
                        “Yami, I’m here....” Teana whispered again.  “You want me to stay....?  Does....  Does this help you somehow?”  Teana asked him.

            Yami could hear the uncertainty in her voice, her fear.....  He knew that she was fighting her instincts to search for someone to help him.  Despite her doubts, she seemed hopeful that he would survive; that somehow he would be able to beat this.  But.....deep down, Yami knew..... he knew that that simply would not happen.....  Not then, and not now.....  If he could only tell her....  If he could only spare her the pain that was sure to come......

                        *Please stay.....* Yami wanted to say aloud.  He felt himself being comforted by her presence, as he rested his head on the palace floor again, never once letting go of her hand.  *With you here....perhaps I will remember.....I can keep fighting......I won’t give up until I learn all that I can....Yes, I have to know......* Yami thought as he drowsily closed his eyes……

                        *I have to know..... but.....* Yami thought again as he continued to sit patiently at Teana’s bedside.  “Teana?” Yami inquired.  Teana had suddenly stopped speaking and it was then that he noticed that her eyelids were beginning to droop and that her head had begun to lower, just slightly, before raising itself again in a repetitive motion.  Seeing that Teana was unaware of this herself only proved to Yami how completely and utterly exhausted she was; that this evening, the injuries inflicted upon her, as well as this draining account, could very well take its toll on her, if the two weren’t cautious.  That was certainly the case, if it was becoming a strenuous effort for her to simply remain conscious! 

            The more that Yami considered this thought, the more he realized that these concerns were indeed outweighing his curiosity.  No…  He would not allow Teana to risk her health….  Without a sound Yami, began to raise himself from the stool in which he sat, hoping to allow her the time to sleep that she so desperately needed.  Gazing at her face again, he found that, without even realizing, he had begun to reach for her….  Yes…. Fearful of waking her, he had to stop himself abruptly; suppressing the urge to brush the locks of hair from her forehead one last time….  Closing his eyes momentarily, Yami turned to leave.  However, before he could even take a step towards the exit, he suddenly felt a small tug on his sleeve and he turned to confront Teana, who had awakened again, yet seemed unwilling to look him in the eyes.

                        “Please don’t go.....not yet.....” she said softly.
                        “Shhh….  This is too much for you...  You need to rest.”  Yami responded, gently.
                        “No.....  I won’t rest until I’ve told you everything.....  Please Yami..... You need to know....”  Teana begged.

            Yami looked down at the hand that held him, as he observed that it was shaking, unsteady…  Lifting her face slowly to meet his, her weary yet focused eyes seemed to plead to him even further.  Despite her fatigue, Yami could also see the intensity in those eyes, the determination.....  Taking only a moment more to ponder her words, Yami sighed in acceptance.

                        “All right then....  Please continue.”  He remarked as he reclaimed his seating.

            Teana nodded idly, as she opened her mouth to speak again.....

            With the shutting of their front door, laughter could be heard as little Teana and her father, Djal, exited their home hand in hand; happily discussing and predicting all that they would witness that day during the king’s celebration.  Despite the newfound enthusiasm, prompted from her father’s words, Teana found that she had stopped herself unexpectedly when she caught sight of her mother, Ruia, who turned to face them both with crossed arms and a seemingly aggravated glare.  Taken aback, Teana’s face fell, her grin vanishing.  Gulping nervously, a wave of confusion and uncertainty overtook her, as she wondered what had caused this sudden change, this foul new mood her mother was in.  Yes, even Teana was able to tell that she looked upset, to say the very least; more so than she did only minutes ago.....!  Her intimidation growing, Teana found herself squeezing her father’s hand tightly, cowering behind him for protection.  Strangely enough, Teana watched as her mother’s gaze shifted to those joined hands, as somehow this seemed to harden her expression further still.

                        “Well now!” Djal interjected.  “Shall we go?”  Sensing Ruia’s irritability, as well as Teana’s discomfort, he hoped his remark would disrupt the awkwardness between them.  “Ruia…?”  He inquired tenderly, as he extended his available hand to his wife.  For a brief moment…it appeared as if Ruia was considering his offer…  And in that same instant Djal could have sworn that he had seen the hand at her side raise slightly, a show of emotion passing through her eyes….  However, he soon found himself disappointed when Ruia disregarded it instead, choosing to walk ahead of both him and Teana without even a glance.

             Sighing sadly, Djal then looked down at his daughter with all of his love, a smile forming, as if only the sight of her was comforting, reassuring somehow….  Returning the gesture, Teana’s worries melted away, and as she gazed behind her, she suddenly remembered the purpose of this outing!  Twirling about in absolute delight, she looked towards the stunning display ahead; the parading, the array of festivities, all of which were already under way!  Completely awestruck, Teana felt her eyes widening, her excitement growing!  Though it was true that she had seen her share of celebrations in the last several years, she had never seen one as bright and as lavish as this!  The colorful costumes and masks!  The music resonating all around her!  The people smiling and laughing!  Undoubtedly the jubilation could be seen radiating on everyone’s face!  They all looked so happy….  Despite the difficult morning, Teana could feel herself being affected by the blissful scene, giving in to it; and as she watched both her father and her mother, she could feel beginning to hope as well….

                        *Maybe…  Maybe today will be fun, for everybody…  For us too….* Teana thought, racing to rejoin her father, at his side.

            As the three began to walk throughout the streets of the village, little Teana found that she simply could not contain her glee, as she proceeded to run in various directions, bolting energetically from one attraction, one performer to the next; trying to take in, to absorb as much as she possibly could! 
                        “Don’t go too far!”  Djal called to her.
                        “K daddy!”  Teana giggled  as she ran further still, yet not far enough for her to lose sight of her parents or vice versa. 

            She was having so much fun!  And how incredible it was for her to be able to move freely among the people like this!  It was something that she had never experienced before!  Feeling as if she belonged….feeling accepted…..welcome even!  A single day, one moment in time without the hurtful words of the other children or the incriminating stares given even by the adults….!  This sensation….  The happiness she felt…  Teana didn’t want it to end…
            It was then that she noticed a group of extravagantly dressed, beautiful women approaching in her direction and Teana moved aside, out from the very middle of the road, allowing them room to continue onward.  Now this was something new, something Teana had surely never seen before!  A troupe of dancers,with an accompanying band of musicians, some of which were selected to frequently display their talents before the royal family (as she heard some of the villagers say) were making their way to the palace, entertaining the crowd as they passed.  *Wow….  Look at that!  They’re all so pretty…!*  She thought to herself. 

            Dimly, she became aware of the fact that many members of the crowd seemed to share her sentiments, certainly an unusual phenomenon in itself!  But at that moment Teana’s eyes were locked in place, paying more attention to the performance, more so than the way the dancers (it was they who had captured her interest) looked!  Yes, even aside from their stunning appearance, their styled, flowing hair, their dazzling multi-hued jewelry, or the elegant robes and gowns they wore, Teana instead saw how gracefully the women moved; their every action, their every movement of their arm or leg, each timed flawlessly with the sounds of harps, drums, cymbals, and lutes! 

            As the villagers clapped, whistled, and cheered, it was evident that even the dancers themselves were enjoying their perfected routine, their support of each other as an ensemble, the attention they were receiving; as they all raised their heads high, beaming with both pride and accomplishment!  It was quite a sight to behold!  The leaping, the seemingly flying into the air…  The daring acrobatics they had managed…  The athletic feats!  Truly, all Teana could do was stare in amazement, even as they advanced past her, until they were out of sight, too far lost within the audience up ahead for Teana to marvel at them any longer.  Djal, seeing that his daughter was near by, with a particularly good view, having found a place in the very front of the much taller villagers, allowed her to remain where she was, undisturbed; especially when he noticed the first genuine, glowing smile on her face that he had seen in ages… 

            Having stood there for so long, now lost in the daydreams that were beginning to form in her mind, Teana never even heard the deep, growl-like cackling that advanced…she never noticed the others behind her mumbling words of displeasure; for they had moved aside to make room for a gang of drunken, shabby looking men, a total of four, all of which had exited a Tavern located in the opposite direction.  No, not once had she sensed them approaching…not until the last moment when she felt herself being roughly shoved, stomach first, into the ground!  A small yelp escaped her; the fall had caught her off guard, knocking the wind out from under her, and with a shake of her head, she rearranged herself in a sitting position, looking up towards those who had tossed her aside to begin with. 

                        “Stupid girl!  Out of the way!” one of the more coherent, yet slightly staggering men said as he stepped forward, evidently wanting to continue on the path in which a fearful Teana now sat.
                        “Teana!” Djal cried, making his way through the group of spectators.  Despite the seemingly offended gasping, or the rude, threatening remarks that he faced as he did so, Djal kept moving towards her, struggling onward, fighting any and all resistance in order to reach his daughter’s side!  Finally he was able to emerge from crowd.  “Are you all right?!” Djal asked kneeling before Teana. 

            He placed a hand on her shoulder, his eyes scanning for any injuries.  Though in truth, if Djal had allowed himself to fully give in to his paternal instincts, preferably he would have taken her in his arms, away from any danger or anyone else who would dare to hurt her ever again!
                        “Yeah…  I’m ok daddy.” Teana responded to her father’s inquiry, instinctively inching even closer to him. 
                        “Here, let me help you…”  Djal voiced with concern.

            Near by, Ruia, who was standing quietly with the rest of the villagers, was eyeing them both, grimly witnessing the scene, yet choosing to stay out of it, far enough away, in hopes of avoiding the unwanted attention that she felt certain would soon follow…

            Meanwhile, as Teana accepted her father’s help, she proceeded to raise herself, brushing away the dirt and sand that now covered her white linen dress. 

            As she did so, Djal turned to glare at the men, facing them directly, as he too lifted himself off the ground.
                        “You….  How could you do such a thing?!  And to a small child!” Djal protested angrily.
                        “Ya..?  An’ wut of it….?  It’s ‘er fault, fer jus’ standin’ thar starin’ inta space an’ all….”  Another man hiccuped.
                        “Right…  This issa pardy!  She can’t be doin’ that!  Ruinin’ ar’ fun!”
                        “Ha!  Didja see‘er fall on’er face like dat….?  Yea… I a’most felt s’rry fer ‘er!  Heh heh…  A’most…!” a fourth particularly slurred voice snickered before bursting into a fit of laughter!

            Each of the men then followed suit, releasing a simultaneous, mocking series of chuckles that paused only due to discharges of equally appalling belches, intermixed with splattering saliva…!  Seeing this gruesome scene, as well as the many eyes upon her as she looked about, Teana lowered her own gaze, her stomach in knots due to her embarrassment as well as the sense of foreboding increasing within her…  Worse yet, she was beginning to feel sick… nauseated by the stench, the reek of alcohol emanating all about these men!  Djal however was finding it difficult to contain his disgust for another reason entirely, the men’s loathsome behavior, that hideous, ridiculing noise they had uttered and continued to utter still, but most of all, he despised the very thought of what they had done to his precious daughter…  He could tolerate anything else, even when it was directed upon himself, just as he always had…. but he would not allow such treatment to be inflicted upon Teana…or Ruia…  Yes…  That was what he found revolting, as he tightly clenched his fists, trying to suppress his emotions, to restrain himself from giving in to the urge to teach them a lesson they would not soon forget…. 

                        “Hmph!” Djal smirked, deciding on a verbal attack instead.  “You speak of ruining the atmosphere…  I assume that was what you meant just now, though I admit it was difficult for me to tell for certain, given your unique circumstances…  To be quite honest, I find that particular remark rather ironic coming from the likes of you!”  Djal challenged, crossing his arms defiantly. "In any case, I strongly suggest that you return to your homes now and sleep off this pitiful, drunken stupor before the king sees you!  Go and leave the rest of us in peace!  That is, unless you don't mind making fools of yourselves....  Oh yes, I’m sure our majesty would be so pleased to see his loyal subjects in the state that you five display!  And today of all days…!  ”

                        “Why yoooou….!”  One of the men bellowed.  He attempted to charge forward, resulting in Djal stepping back, just slightly, in order to shield Teana.  But before he could even come close to reaching the two, another man in the group extended an arm before his companion, halting him in place.
                        “Hay…. Waita secon’….” That same man remarked, moving his out stretched, yet faltering arm into a pointing position.  “Ya guysss know who‘e isss don’cha?”  The man had pointed directly at Djal. 
                        “Yea… dat’s right, it is ‘im….  Ya can tell by da way’e looks!”

            Although the surrounding villagers had already been watching the events unfold, since the ruckus had first been instigated in fact, these specific observations, noted by the drunken men, appeared to prompt even more attention among them as a rippling murmur spread around Djal and Teana both…

                        “Heh Heh Heh….  Smug are we?  So self-righteous even….”  The man closest to Djal and Teana proclaimed.  “Let me ask you this…  What right do you have to talk to us like that, given your situation, your origins…!  You’re no better after all!  You’re worse in fact!  And everyone here knows it too…  They always have…  Just keep trying to hide it…  Keep pretending!  You can talk all you want, but in the end…it doesn’t change a thing!  You’ll always be one of them!  Nothing more than a filthy, savage th-….”
                        “Enough!”  Djal yelled, feeling his temper rising, something inside of him swelling; craving to be released….!  Taking a step forward again, the man before him sneered, cracking his knuckles in anticipation.  His grin widening, the man seemed to enjoy, to relish the sight of Djal losing his composure, while his own expression, his entire demeanor seemingly dared him to make a move!  In response, Djal raised his head confidently, fearlessly, as if to say that he was ready and willing to meet any challenge!
                        “Daddy….?”  Teana inquired in a hushed tone.  “Can we go now? Please…?”  Placing her tiny hand in his she attempted to pull him away from the men, using all of what little strength she was able to employ from her small frame. 

            Her words penetrating through his rage, Djal turned to look down at daughter, as she tugged his arm, seeing her apprehension, her pleading expression.  Then, he looked towards Ruia, still standing in the crowd, looking away from him…  though her eyes were filled with distress, with anguish even….  Perceiving this, Djal quickly calmed himself… exhaling deeply, allowing his inner demons to diminish…

                        “You’re right…” Djal replied reassuringly.  “Let’s go Teana….  We’re finished here…”  In spite of his words, as he turned, he allowed himself one last chilling scowl towards the men, before choosing to abandon the setting and the intensity of anger, completely.

            The man before Djal hissed, cursing under his breath.  As a means to vent his frustrations, he allowed himself to forcefully pound, to eagerly grind his fist into the palm of his left hand!  Though he hated to do so, he too decided against pressing the issue, dimly aware of the fact that any more attention could result in the intervention of the palace guards, whose numbers were plentiful due to the day’s events.  Having been in custody before, the man knew that any misbehavior would be severely reprimanded, especially on such an occasion as the king’s festival.  Though he hadn’t considered it previously, he was fortunate that they hadn’t witnessed his treatment of the young girl, who, at first glance anyhow, looked like any other wandering child.  And in spite of what he knew of Djal, the man groggily reasoned, that he and his especially inebriated companions would more likely be held accountable for what had happened given their appearances!

              Even so, the man was bothered by the fact that Djal had walked away, without either of them having thrown a single punch…much less any other exertion of force...  For the man had seen it…there was something in Djal’s eyes,  something that made him burn with curiosity; a fierce hunger to see what Djal’s true capabilities were, had they managed to carry through with their brawl.  Since the moment he and his companions had identified him, the man wanted to know if a specific rumor pertaining to Djal’s descent was true…  But then, perhaps it didn’t matter any more….  For in his mind, the man had already won!  In the end, he had been successful in tormenting Djal with words and words alone!  Words that he felt certain would haunt Djal, making things even more difficult for not only himself, but for his family as well.  Yes…  When Djal reached his limit, the very peak of his tolerance, perhaps then the man would be able to verify his suspicions…  It was only a matter of time…  With that thought, as the man watched Djal walking even further away, he couldn’t resist pouring salt in the wound just once more… 

                        “That’s it!  Get out of here!” the man called from behind, stopping Djal in his tracks.  “Take your cursed family and go back to where you came from!  Nobody wants you here!  You hear me!!”

            Moments later when her father seemed unwilling to continue on, Teana gazed up at him again, noticing a strange new distance, an expression on his face that she couldn’t interpret or comprehend…  But without further hesitation Djal urged Teana forward, rejoining Ruia, among the other villagers, some of which had attempted to carry on, unconvincingly behaving as if nothing had happened, while others blatantly continued to stare at them, gossiping amongst themselves, clearly unconcerned whether they were heard or not. 

                        “I should have known…” Ruia began, when her husband and daughter were in close range of her controlled protests. Seemingly unable to mask it, her words erupted with bitterness and discontentment!  “I just knew that things would turn out like-!  Why did I even think that we could-!”  Even so, she reluctantly decided against raising her voice any further as she silently hoped that the focus placed upon them would be dismissed due to other activities occurring; most notably the pharaoh’s emergence before the populace which would begin momentarily…  “This was a mistake...”  Ruia said simply.  With an exasperated breath she quieted down at last, yet, as if it were anticipated, she allowed her eyes to travel from one direction to the next, aware of the encircling grumbles which continued to span among the people!  And yes…when listening carefully, their very words could be heard; the harshness in every phrase, their every syllable, growing with each passing second…

                        “As awful as those men were, they’re right…  What are they doing out here?  And with the rest of us too!  You’d think they’d have the decency to allow us to celebrate without having to worry about them showing their faces!” 
                        “Not likely...  But then, what can you expect from their kind?”
                        “Mommy, isn’t that the girl you told me to stay away from?  Because her mommy and daddy are bad people right?”
                        “Don’t look at them sweetie!  Just forget all about them!”
                        “If only it were that easy….”
                        “If only they would just leave….”
                        “We mustn’t concern ourselves….  The gods are devising the perfect punishment for them, even as we speak!”
                        “But then again, that may be the problem…  I can’t speak for the rest of you but I certainly don’t want to be anywhere near them when it happens!”
                        “That man there….it is true, isn’t it?  He’s from-”
                        “Yes…  That god forsaken place….  How frightening…”
                        “It’s not his birth place that we should fear!  Not any more at least…  Didn’t you hear?  It was destroyed nearly ten years ago!  Though no one is certain of what actually occurred there, it has been reasoned that the gods did indeed unleash their wrath, as retribution for the many sins his people committed!  No one dares set foot there now though it has been presumed that only ruins remain….  There were no known survivors either…  No one…but him…
                        “Yet now his bloodline is continued in that child of his…  Surely that does not bode well….!”
                        “Forget the girl…and the foolishness that her mother showed when she chose him for her husband.  Yes…  He’s the real threat to us!  Did you see the look in his eyes?!  If that isn’t proof of his evil then I don’t know what is!”
                        “And he’s living here?! With us?!  How can the pharaoh allow such a thing!?”
                        “The pharaoh is much too kind….  But we have only to wait.  He’ll see them for what they really are and then he’ll take action!”
                        “Let’s hope so….”

            As Teana listened on, she found that it was becoming increasingly difficult for her to breathe.  She felt as if the whispers were attacking her physically, as if the words were smothering her, engulfing her even; as a sea of hateful, accusing eyes greeted her at every turn.  Placing her hands over her ears she attempted to shut it out, hoping to make it all stop, but unfortunately her efforts were in vain...  Doing so only allowed her to remember the frequentness of this scenario; the days, the weeks, the years that the three would merely endure treatment much like what they were experiencing now.  And though she wished to forget, she recalled how even the children in her own age group would be told to stay far away from her, or worse yet… they would take it upon themselves to torment Teana…in so many ways…to the point in which she would return home crying uncontrollably, with no one to comfort her but her father…  Her father…yes… she had to think of him right now…  Though she wasn’t entirely sure of what the men meant when they had provoked him, or what some of the people were referring to even now, Teana was sure of the fact that he was the one who had been hurt most of all…  And… since he was also the one who had come to her aid in the first place, Teana felt responsible…guilty…  She wanted to at least try to make amends, to make him feel better…somehow….  Yet she didn’t know what she could do for him, exactly how she could make things right…

                        “Daddy….”  Teana said, approaching him hesitantly.  When he had turned to acknowledge her with a questioning glance, she sensed a small twinge of pain inside of her, in her chest; a pain that was beginning to worsen…  Then, seconds later she felt as if something had broken completely!  With tears streaming down her face she rushed towards Djal wrapping both arms around his waist.  “Daddy!  I’m sorry…!  I’m so sorry!  I didn’t mean for this to-”  Teana cried, unable to finish her statement due to the lump that had formed in her throat.  Despite her feeble attempt to be strong for him, she simply couldn’t stop the tears from flowing!  Burying her face within Djal’s stomach she attempted to make them cease by squinting her eyes shut, as she held him even more tightly.  But when that was unsuccessful, she let go of her father, stepping back, struggling to quickly wipe away her tears with both hands. 
                        “Shh….” Djal responded as he kneeled before her again, his face and eyes on the same level as hers.  Gently, he placed a hand on the side of her head.  “Don’t cry…  You have nothing to be sorry for.  Do you hear me?  Nothing.” 
                        “But this was all my fault…”  Briefly, Teana’s gaze shifted towards her mother as well, her eyes seemingly asking for her forgiveness and reassurance too.  But Ruia only replied with an icy glare, one that appeared to confirm Teana’s initial beliefs.  “My fault…” Teana said again. 
                        “It’s not.  You didn’t do anything wrong...  Come on…  Look at me.”  Djal said cupping her face in his hands.  “I want you to understand that, ok?  Ok?”
                        “That’s my girl…” 

            With those words, Djal softly wiped Teana’s tears away, unlike she herself had done, which resulted in the redness and irritation of her face and eyes.  When Teana had finally composed herself she noticed something in her father’s own eyes.  They appeared lighter, happier; almost mischievous, as if an idea had suddenly crossed his mind.  “Well then, I suppose we should be off!”  he said at last.

                        “Huh?” Teana asked with a tilt of her head.

            Without another word, Djal grinned playfully as he lifted Teana up high in the air; before finally allowing her to sit upon his shoulders. 
                        “Whoa!”  Teana exclaimed in astonishment as she attempted to steady herself in this new position.  “Daddy? What-” 
                        “We don’t want to be late now, do we?”
                        “Have you forgotten already?  If we don’t hurry we’ll miss seeing the pharaoh before he begins his tour throughout the village.  This way you’ll have the first look at seeing him when he appears on the balcony! And who knows?  Maybe you’ll even have the chance to see his young so-”
                        “It would be best if we returned home.”  Ruia interrupted, her eyes burning into those of her husband’s.  Her words took both Teana and Djal by surprise, however, after a moment of consideration, Djal challenged her gaze with one of equal seriousness! 
                        “No Ruia.”  He remarked firmly.  “We can’t just keep running.  And like I told Teana, we’ve done nothing wrong.  None of us!  We have just as much right to be here as anyone else!  Though I would greatly prefer it if you joined us, if you wish to return home, I won’t stop you.  The choice is yours!”

            Ruia looked at him in silence for a moment…her eyes wide, seemingly stunned by his assertion.  Finally she closed her eyes, breaking the stare, as well as the intensity and awkwardness between them. 
                        “Fine then….” She said at last.

            Teana and Djal watched as Ruia walked past them once more, without another word or a glance…  Observing her movements, they saw that she was walking towards…the palace!  “Why are you still standing there?”  Ruia asked them, without looking back.  “As you yourself said, Djal, we need to hurry...”  As she continued on her path Djal couldn’t help but smile.  Though Ruia had shown her usual stubbornness and distance, she had surprised him when she had opted against returning home.  Perhaps there was hope for her, hope for each of them, yet…!  With a rekindled sense of optimism and newfound faith, Djal then directed his attention towards Teana once more.

                        “And now my little princess,” Djal said, repositioning Teana, so that she was sitting securely on his shoulders.  “It’s time to meet your prince…”