“Commander Root. Holly,” the slender dark-haired boy at the door greeted with a smirk. “I had not expected the pleasure of your company.” He nodded at Mulch as well, his smile cooling a little, then his eyes flickered to Yugi. “And you’ve brought a friend.” In all his life, Yugi had never seen a boy his own age look so…predatory. Kaiba was a few years older.
“Fowl,” Root said without preamble. “We need to talk.”
With a shrug, Artemis Fowl took a step back, tacitly giving them permission to enter the hotel room. Once inside, Yugi looked around in admiration. The room must have cost nearly as much as the game shop earned in a month. It was tastefully decorated in the modern style, and the furnishings were brand-new. With a gasp, Yugi’s eyes caught on the huge mountain of a man who was folded into a chair at the other end of the suite. He was reading a magazine, but as the others entered, he stood up. Yugi gasped again, feeling a fool. The man must be almost seven feet tall! An aura of danger radiated from the man as he casually strolled to Fowl’s side, shielding him from potential harm. The Pharaoh reached out in Yugi’s mind, calming him, offering him confidence.
“Commander,” the man mountain greeted. He smiled slightly as he looked at Holly. “Captain Short. To what do we owe the honor?”
Holly grinned. “Good to see you too, Butler.” She gestured towards Yugi. “This is Yugi Mutou. We have a particular…challenge, Artemis, that you may be the best person to address.”
Artemis smirked and seated himself in a chair. “A challenge? I am intrigued; continue.”
As tersely as possible, Commander Root explained about Yugi’s…unusual abilities (Yugi noticed he did not mention Kaiba), as well as the Council’s intention to use a bio-bomb to eliminate the threat. Artemis listened in silence, his fingers steepled beneath his chin.
When Root had finished, Fowl treated him to his best vampire smile. “So you came to me, because I am the only human to have ever survived a blue rinse. How flattering.”
Before Root could explode, Holly swiftly stepped in. “Don’t play games, Artemis. We want your help to save innocent lives.”
Lives? Artemis thought with interest. But before he could frame a question, Mulch broke into the conversation with all the gracefulness of an elephant attempting to tap dance. “Before you start into all that,” the dwarf complained, “Could someone please get me something to eat? The thought of imminent dying makes me work up an appetite.”
Artemis raised an eyebrow, but then nodded at Butler. The giant bodyguard disappeared into the next room: to the kitchen, presumably, but not before he leveled a death glare at the dwarf, who at that very moment had been trying to sneak a rather large sculpture into his jacket. The dwarf gulped and hastily returned the statue to its proper place.
Artemis continued as though nothing had happened. “The reason I was able to avoid the bio-bomb in the past was because the LEP initiated a time-stop,” he explained. “From what you’ve described, that doesn’t seem to be a factor in this case.” He spread his hands. “I would need time to think if I wished to avoid the bio-bomb without that particular factor in play.”
“Then think!” Holly said angrily. “That’s what you’re supposed to be so good at, Mud Boy. We don’t have a lot of time.”
Artemis raised his eyebrow again. “Resorting to racial epithets is a rather infantile response, Captain Short.” Then he seemed to relent. “I will help you, but only under the condition that you inform me of all the factors in play. In other words, full disclosure.” His eyes met Yugi’s. “Will that be possible?”
“I will certainly try to help in any way I can,” Yugi said blandly.
Fowl’s eyes narrowed. “Very well. Then let us begin.”
Foaly rubbed his eyes sleepily. He had been seated at the computer for nearly twenty-four hours straight, clandestinely monitoring Root and Holly, as well as looking for anything that would help the People deal with the threat of the Magic Mud Men. Hopefully, without resorting to a bio-bomb.
Foaly chuckled. Magic Mud Men. He never got tired of saying it. Especially when a certain Julius Root was around, so Foaly could watch his face turn purple.
The centaur felt his head spin a little and reached for his cup of coffee. Empty. Foaly cursed fluently in several languages for several minutes, and decided that when the coffee disappeared, it was a sign to go to bed. The Mud Men could wait until later. Much later, like after eight hours sleep, a hot shower, and a Starbucks run. The world couldn’t end in eight hours time, could it?
Foaly yawned, and decided he didn’t care. He was practically asleep on his feet…um…hooves. He was in the process of hauling his unwieldy hindquarters out of his custom-made swivel chair when he caught sight of the screen…and froze.
For the past couple of hours, the centaur had been combing records from the time of the Nameless Pharaoh. From what he’d been able to gather, the guy had been a reasonably good king. Came to power (lots of power), died young. Still, there wasn’t much information about the man, and it always paid to be prepared.
On a lark, Foaly had also been running searches on fairy history of that time. Perhaps the People had had contact with Shadowmancers before, though perhaps that was too much to hope for. Actually, he’d been running one of these searches when the coffee ran dry.
And now there was a match.
Exhaustion forgotten, the centaur dropped back into his chair and stared at the screen. There, at the bottom, in small lettering, were the words “Treaty with Pharaoh…”
There was space for a name after “Pharaoh,” but it was as though the computer had forgotten it, or wiped it blank. Foaly frowned. Glitches in his beloved computers always made him cranky. He ran a full diagnostic scan on the file, but the result came up clear. No errors. Then why…?
Then he understood. The Nameless Pharaoh. The Pharaoh who had erased his name from history in an attempt to save the world. The People had dealt with him specifically?
Foaly tried to access the file. An error message flashed. The centaur frowned again and pressed a couple of keys. This time, the file opened. Foaly grinned in triumph.
It was blank. Erased. Clearly, this file had once contained a report of some kind, documentation of the treaty with the Nameless Pharaoh. But it was gone.
Foaly leaned forward and pressed a button, opening a secure channel to Julius Root on the other side of the world. Root answered after only a moment or two.
“What is it, Foaly?”
“Commander,” the centaur said, staring at the screen and feeling the tension in the pit of his stomach. Had the file been erased deliberately? Or had it just been corrupted by the passage of time and the poor data storage methods in the early days of the People? “I found something I think you should know about.”
“In light of this new development, the Board simply does not believe that you make a good guardian for young Mokuba Kaiba.” The stares from the Board members were just short of hostile. A bad sign.
Kaiba stood in the center of the room, fists clenched, trying to hold on to his temper. “Any accusations of criminal activity are unwarranted, Mr. Garning,” he said. “I believe I am innocent until proven guilty.”
“But surely if you were entirely blameless, these rumors would not arise?” old and angular Ms. Cross asked. She smiled a sickly sweet smile. “Surely you understand our position, Mr. Kaiba. We cannot allow a child to be raised in a household where there is the possibility of serious crimes being committed. And of course, there is the age consideration. You are, Mr. Kaiba, a minor, correct?”
“I turn eighteen in four months,” Kaiba said stiffly.
Ms. Cross smiled that sickly sweet smile again. “That is not what I asked,” she said.
Kaiba fought the urge to lunge across the room and strangle her. Murdering a member of the Board of Child Services when under the suspicion of committing violent crimes was probably pretty high on the “DON’T” list. A shame really. Kaiba did not generally consider himself a violent man, but every fiber of his being longed to dismantle Ms. Cross’ smug smile. Not the least because, in all probability, she would be the one to take Mokuba away.
No! Kaiba told himself. Don’t think that way! You won’t lose him. You won’t! He lifted his head and stared each Board member in the eye.
“I have committed no crimes,” he said in a clear, ringing voice. Gozaboro had taught him well; nothing short of the mind-reading powers of the Millennium Eye would be able to tell that he was lying at that moment. “Such allegations are completely unfounded, and I expect that further investigation will reveal this to your satisfaction.”
There was a rash of muttering through the room. The Board members were looking at each other doubtfully; the apparent sincerity in the young man’s voice was disarming. He did not flinch from their scrutiny. Ms. Cross, apparently the spokesperson for the group, finally spoke again. “The strength of your denial is admirable, Mr. Kaiba,” she said. “But that does not change the facts that we have only your word, no hard facts.” She paused. “I propose that Mokuba be placed in a foster home until the police have investigated thoroughly.”
“You have no right to remove my brother from my care,” Kaiba said, his voice cold enough now that a few of the Board members shivered. “The “possibility for serious crime” as you called it exists in every family, not just mine.”
“Not every family is under suspicion of murder!” Ms. Cross said shrilly.
Kaiba’s eyes narrowed. Murder? Gozaboro? Then he frowned as his thoughts took a new turn. Who would accuse me of murder? Who would dare? A nagging suspicion started forming at the back of his mind, but he was distracted by Ms. Cross’ voice.
“We will discuss this more. But I suggest,” here she leered unpleasantly. “That you tell Mokuba to start pack his things.”
Kaiba fought down an urge to tear her heart, assuming she had one, out of her chest with his bare hands. “Just make sure if you decide to take the one relative that I have remaining away from me that you are doing it for his sake, not because of a personal vendetta against me.” He looked up at her, ignoring her gasp of outrage. “And that you understand the consequences.”
She swelled up like a giant puffer-fish. “Are you threatening me?”
Now Kaiba smirked. “I wouldn’t dare. I meant the consequences of tearing a young boy away from the only family he’s ever known.”
With that, he turned and left, aware that he moved stiffly, rigidly, tension humming through every line of his body. He made a concentrated effort to relax. It was a hopeless task. Now that he was no longer before the committee, he could feel a wave of despair rising up to tear him apart.
I can’t lose Mokuba, he thought desperately, leaning against a wall and dropping his head into his hands. I can’t!
Memories flashed through his head: Mokuba giving him a drawing of a Blue Eyes White Dragon, how the small boy had kept him strong through Gozaboro’s torture, how he always had a smile just when Seto needed it the most.
Seto Kaiba was never one for self-pity. He took a slow, deep breath, and with that breath, regained control. One of Gozaboro’s lessons: only fools blubber instead of seeking a solution. He pushed himself away from the wall and walked towards the receptionist’s desk, relieved to see that his stride was smooth and graceful again. The woman looked up as he approached; she was blonde with wide blue eyes and a sizable chest. Kaiba thought of Mokuba and smiled as warmly as he could.
“Hello,” he said, leaning down and watching as her eyes widened in appreciation. Charm was a tactic he rarely used, but he was well aware of his impact on the opposite sex. “I was hoping you could help me.”
“I can try,” she said flirtatiously, leaning forward and giving him a much better view down the front of her shirt.
This is almost too easy. “Do you know if the Board will be meeting again this week? I want to know when I can expect a decision on my case.”
“Let’s take a look,” she said, pulling up the schedule on her computer, “It says here there will be another Board meeting on Wednesday and another on Friday. Perhaps your case will be discussed then?”
“You seem very organized,” Kaiba said admiringly. “They’re lucky to have you.”
She preened a little. “It’s not so hard. And it’s interesting to watch all the different people coming through.” As she spoke, her eyes roved up and down his body.
Seto returned the scrutiny, and gave the wide smile of a man who liked what he saw. “What time do you get off?” he asked. Part of him wondered if he was laying it on too thick or too fast.
But it seemed to work. Her smile widened. “At five.”
“Let me take you out to dinner?”
She pretended to consider it, but Seto could tell he had her. “I think I can make it.”
He let the flirty smile soften into a sweet, boyish grin that people who knew him wouldn’t have thought he’d be capable of. “Good. I’ll pick you up?”
“I’ll be here.” She gave a coquettish giggle and waved to him as he left. As soon as he was out of her line of sight, he let the smile fade, replacing it with his usual stony expression.
I will do anything to keep Mokuba, he thought to himself, sliding in behind the wheel of his car. Anything.
“Well, that was interesting,” Artemis said when Yugi and the others had departed.
Butler inwardly winced. There was that word again. Interesting.
“They’re hiding something from me,” Artemis continued, steepling his hands under his chin. “I want to figure out what.”
Butler thought about it for a moment or two. “You think that Yugi and that other one…Bakura?...aren’t the only humans with magic in Domino City?”
Artemis nodded. “Yugi is a poor liar. Pharaoh though…”
For a brief moment during their meeting, Yugi had allowed the pharaoh to take control of their shared body. The change was immediate. Yugi seemed to grow several inches, though that may just have been the incredible confidence that settled over him. The violet eyes had seemed suddenly depthless. He had considered Artemis with the detachment of a scientist eying a dissecting specimen. But then he had smiled, and, if Artemis was given toward romanticizing, he might have said that the man’s face channeled sunlight. A leader that others would follow, that they would give their lives for. Artemis had had to mentally slap himself to keep himself from instinctively sinking to his knees.
A force to be reckoned with.
“This poses an interesting problem,” Artemis said, opening a bottle of Irish spring water. “I look forward to putting my mind at work and finding a solution.”
“Artemis,” Butler pleaded suddenly. “You have an immense vocabulary. Please use another adjective. I’m beginning to equate ‘interesting’ with ‘we’re going to get in a lot of trouble.’”
Artemis looked startled for a moment, then raised an eyebrow. “I find the problem intriguing, exciting, fascinating, appealing, remarkable, worthy of note, stimulating, absorbing, invigorating, thought-provoking, extraordinary, astonishing, enticing, and significant. Are any of those better, old friend?”
“Yes,” Butler said reluctantly. But not by much.
“Pharaoh, we need to talk.”
Yugi looked up sharply. He was in the process of opening his backpack to check what homework his teachers had assigned that weekend. Unfortunately, just because you’re in danger of being killed by fairy police, it doesn’t mean that you can explain that to your teachers and be excused from schoolwork.
“He’s listening,” he said to Root, who was currently hovering near the window. Holly and Mulch were doing sweeps in the shuttle.
Root folded his arms. “Directly.”
Alarmed now, Yugi reached inside himself for the power he knew was there. In the Millennium Puzzle, Pharaoh stirred, and, feeling Yugi’s call, rose quickly to the surface.
“What is it?” he asked, mirroring Root’s stance of crossed arms and widely-set feet.
“Why didn’t you tell us you’ve dealt directly with the People before?” Root demanded.
What?! Yugi’s voice echoed in Pharaoh’s head. Yami didn’t let any of his confusion show on his face. “I didn’t know.”
“What do you mean?” Root looked positively incensed. “How can you not know?”
For a fraction of a second, Pharaoh’s confident expression faltered. “I do not remember my past,” he said slowly. “When I sacrificed my body and soul to save the world, I gave up my name, my identity.” He paused. “Or so I have been told. I do not remember.”
Root froze as the implication of this sank in. He knew that this particular Pharaoh was called “the Nameless Pharaoh,” but to realize that this extended to memories as well. “You can’t control your power, can you?” he asked in a strangely quiet voice. “That control was linked to your memories.”
Pharaoh hesitated. “No.”
Root all but exploded. “And you didn’t think to tell us this before?!”
Pharaoh’s eyes narrowed and he met Root’s angry gaze directly, without flinching. “I didn’t know if I could trust you, Commander. Your people are trying to kill me. At any rate,” he added, “I can control aspects of it. As I learn more, as I live more in Yugi’s body, with each new discovery, I gain more power, get closer to remembering my past. But…without my true name, I cannot access my full potential. I am limited to instinct.”
Root gaped, momentarily stricken dumb with fury.
Pharaoh continued, his gaze challenging. “Instinct for a Shadowmancer is a powerful thing. I am not helpless.”
Root took a couple of calming breaths. “As if I needed this to become any more complicated.”
Now Pharaoh smiled, a wry grin that transformed his face into something close to radiant. “Welcome to my world.”
Seto Kaiba’s smile faded the instant Melissa, the receptionist, waved goodbye and closed her front door. He retreated to his car, slid behind the wheel, and thought about what he had accomplished.
At five, he had returned to the Board of Child Services building in a dark blue suit that matched his eyes and a sleek black limo. Melissa had been entranced. She had insisted on stopping by her apartment to “tidy up,” and Seto had acceded. She had been like a little girl in the limo, getting herself a bottle of wine and reclining in the soft cushioned seats. Seto encouraged this; his plan would work better if she had had a little to drink first.
She had emerged from the apartment twenty minutes later, dressed in a – Seto had to admit – stunning blue dress that was low-cut and tight in all the right places. She had looked very pretty, though he rarely noticed such things, and Seto had been relieved that perhaps the night would not be all business. He had complimented her, of course, smiling a sexy smile that had her giggling and twirling in the short skirt. The smile was a bit rusty from long disuse, but Melissa hadn’t seemed to mind.
Her delight had only increased when they had reached the restaurant. The surroundings were lavish, the food exquisite. Do you eat here all the time, Seto? Actually, Seto rarely ate out, and preferred more Spartan surroundings when he did.
“Only with the pretty girls.” To his own ears, the words had sounded fake, stilted, but seeing her look of adoration, Seto had wondered briefly what he was getting himself into.
It’s for Mokuba, he had reminded himself as he ordered them a bottle of wine.
A little known fact about Seto Kaiba: he had a tolerance for alcohol usually reserved for Irish dockworkers. He had toasted frequently, slipping in small smiles and compliments, and watching as Melissa became tipsy, then intoxicated. He had gently stopped her then; he wanted her to remember his request in the morning. The wine gave an attractive flush to her features, and Seto had found his voice, usually harsh, becoming husky of its own accord. He pictured Mokuba’s face and focused on the task at hand.
“Melissa,” he had said gently, after several glasses of wine. “I need you to find out something for me.”
“Anything,” she had whispered breathlessly.
They had sealed the deal with a kiss. Seto had tasted the wine on her lips. A deep sense of longing had swept over him, but he had buried with the rest of his emotions, focusing coldly on what he was gaining with the embrace.
Now, sitting in his car, he pushed that strange feeling aside once more and turned the key. He was not drunk, not remotely, and his hand was utterly steady on the wheel.
He had gotten what he wanted. Melissa would find out who had been behind the accusation of murder. She would confirm or deny his nagging suspicions. She would find out who wanted to take Mokuba away from him. And then Kaiba would deal with it.
To put it politely.