Root was starting to regret bringing Mulch Diggums to Domino City. The convict wasn’t any use in guarding the Magic Mud Men, and if he kept talking, Root was going to strangle him with his own intestines.
“You know, Julius,” Mulch drawled, helping himself to a bottle of Irish spring water from the cooler in the back of the shuttle, “If I’d known that this little trip was going to be so boring, I’d have taken jail.”
Root exploded. “Like you had a choice, Convict!”
Mulch tried raising the one eyebrow again. If possible, it looked even dumber than it had the first time he tried it. But it accomplished what Mulch had intended: irritate the crap out of Commander Julius Root.
So perhaps Root could not be blamed when he decided to leave Mulch in the shuttle when he went to check up on Yugi and the Pharaoh. To his credit, he handcuffed the dwarf to something stationary, far from the shuttle’s controls or anything that could be pocketed. He left Mulch some food and water, warned him on pain of disembowelment not to touch ANYTHING, and left. He locked the shuttle doors.
He was so frustrated and angry that he failed to notice the shadow pressed against the shuttle’s hull. He was already focusing on Yugi and planning a trip to check on Kaiba sometime in the near future.
So perhaps Root could not be blamed for the chaos that ensued.
The shadow silently detached itself from the hull and padded just as silently to the shuttle’s doors. A hand came up; the skin glowed gold. The doors slid open.
The shadow smiled.
Mulch was cursing Root’s ancestry (very creatively) when the shuttle doors slid open. He straightened as much as possible, expecting to see Root or Holly.
It was Bakura.
“Well, would you look at this,” Bakura drawled. “Your luck doesn’t seem to have improved much, Hairy.”
“You!” Mulch gasped. “How…?”
Bakura waved the question away with a casual gesture. “Magic.”
“Magic. That’s great!” Mulch said as cheerily as he could through the pounding of his heart. “Could you magic me out of these things?” He lifted his bound wrists.
Bakura arched one eyebrow elegantly. Mulch felt a surge of envy. “I could…”
Mulch waited as the silence lengthened. “I bet you couldn’t,” he said finally when Bakura still made no move towards him. “Don’t be embarrassed. These are pretty high-quality handcuffs.” He mimed trying to pull the cuffs apart. “Impossible to break. Harder to pick.”
Bakura snorted. “I know what you’re doing,” he said. He tilted his head, considering Mulch. “Still…”
In a motion almost inhumanely fast and fluid, he was beside Mulch and reaching out for his wrists. His fingers glowed gold and the cuffs dropped open.
“Neat trick,” Mulch said, rubbing his wrists.
Bakura just chuckled. “You should watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat.’”
He turned away from Mulch and started poking around the shuttle. Mulch noticed several small things – a buzz baton, a Moonbelt, Commander Root’s prized coffee mug – disappearing into the folds of the Thief King’s clothes. It would be extremely hypocritical to protest, so Mulch joined him.
“Do you know how to fly this thing?” Bakura asked after a minute, brushing his fingers lightly over the shuttle’s controls.
“No,” Mulch said, sitting down. “Let’s try it.”
A smirk crossed Bakura’s face. “I like the way you think, Dwarf.”
“Mulch.” Bakura leaned over and pressed a button. The engines fired.
“Good guess,” Mulch said. “My turn.” He pressed a button at random. There was a whirring sound, then music began to play. Bakura raised an eyebrow again.
“What is this?”
Mulch grimaced. “Dances with Pixies. Who knew old Julius was a fan?” He grinned at the mental picture of Julius Root singing along to the well-known musical.
Bakura laughed. “So, my hygienically challenged friend, what do you say we have a bit of fun?”
“Seto?” The voice on the other end of the line was sweet and girlish; it grated on Kaiba’s nerves. He forced warmth into his voice with difficulty.
She giggled. “You do remember me. You haven’t called.”
I took you out last night. Just what I need: a needy female. “How could I forget such a lovely woman?”
She giggled again. “If you apologize sweetly, I might give you the information you asked for.”
Kaiba felt a surge of excitement. “You have it?”
He could picture her wagging a finger at him. “Uh uh. No cheating. Say you’re sorry first.”
He squeezed the phone tightly, reining in his temper. “I humbly apologize. I shamefully neglected you, Melissa.”
“Good boy.” She lowered her voice conspiratorially “I looked into the Board’s files. The accusation was made by a man named Stefan Bashkir.”
At last! “Thank you,” he forced himself to say. Melissa might yet prove to be of use to him. “I promise to be more faithful in my calls from now on.” If I need something else from you.
She giggled yet again. It was starting to become irritating. “You’d better.” She hung up.
Kaiba immediately reached for his laptop. Stefan Bashkir…I don’t recognize the name. It might take some time to track down this Mr. Bashkir, but Seto was not one to be balked by a little difficulty. Whoever this man was, whatever information he possessed, and whatever grudge he had against Seto Kaiba, he was going down.
And if Kaiba had his way, as painfully as possible.
The house had one of the most extensive security systems Mulch had ever seen. It had high walls, barbed wire, sensors everywhere, dogs, armed guards, even piles of tin cans in front of the doors for all he knew.
All of this wasn’t a problem for Mulch Diggums. He and Bakura were planning on going underground.
Bakura eyed the soft dirt outside the walls dubiously. “It would be easier to simply sneak by the security and slip in through an unlocked door or open window.”
“You can do things the hard way if you want,” Mulch said, licking his palms to make them glow in the darkness of the tunnel he was about to create. “You’re not claustrophobic, are you?”
“Of course not!” Bakura snapped. “I’m a Tomb Robber.”
“Then come on,” Mulch said, unbuttoning his bum flap and unhinging his jaw. He launched himself into the earth.
“I’m com…” Bakura began, before a large lump of recently digested clay hit him in the face. He could hear Mulch’s muffled laughter. He cursed in every language he knew (including some that were definitely not human) and followed. He hated to admit it…but he didn’t have much of a choice. But nobody embarrassed the Thief King and got away with it.
Down in the tunnel, Mulch felt a gurgling in his bowels. Leaving a tunnel open for someone else meant that he had to hold a lot of gas in. Uncomfortable. He hoped that they would break into the cellar of the wealthy actor’s house in a minute or two. Any longer than that and it could get hairy…er. He heard Bakura’s soft footsteps a safe distance behind.
The clay turned to wood. They had reached the cellar. He chomped a hole in the floor, then scrambled out of the makeshift tunnel. He paused to let Bakura catch up. The boy glared at him. His white hair was matted with mud. But, as Mulch had suspected, the Tomb Robber didn’t make a sound.
With a huge gasp of relief, Mulch sealed the tunnel.
Without discussion, they tiptoed up the stairs leading to the rest of the house, keeping to the sides to prevent them from squeaking. Mulch placed his ear flat against the door and listened for a long moment. Finally, he shook his head. No one there. Bakura listened intently before nodding.
They eased out onto the main floor. It was magnificently decorated, with rich hangings and luxurious furniture. Bakura scanned it with mingled glee and distaste before leading the way into the study. This too was elegant, and probably cost more than most Americans made in a year. Again without discussion, the two thieves began to look for a safe.
To the actor’s credit, it was not in any of the usual places: behind any of the pictures of stuffy old men on the walls or under the rug (though there was a pressure pad that they were forced to avoid). It wasn’t under the desk either, or behind the bookcase.
Bakura stopped and stood in the center of the room, ignoring the movements of the dwarf, and closed his eyes. There was a soft hiss, like smoke being let out of a jar, and the Millennium Ring began to glow. The spikes lifted.
Mulch straightened just in time to see Bakura put his foot on the edge of the desk and hoist himself upward. His fingers caught a metal grill that had been hidden by a pile of boxes stacked on the bookcase. Bakura didn’t pull, just stood there for a minute, examining the grill.
“Trapped?” Mulch asked.
Bakura snorted. “Oh yes.” He studied it some more. “Clever. It puts the safe at an angle that makes it impossible to lay your ear alongside it. Harder to hear the tumblers fall.”
Bakura nodded. “There’s a wire connecting the grill to the safe. Magnetic. If I try and open it…”
Mulch knew what would happen. He also knew how to disable it. “Let me see.”
The Tomb Robber eyed him. “You’re not tall enough to reach the grill, even if you stand on the desk.”
He was right. Mulch cursed. If he’d known there was going to be climbing involved, he wouldn’t have been drinking all that Irish spring water.
Bakura smirked. “How about you just wait down there,” he said. Mulch took an instant dislike to his tone. “I’ll do the work.” He turned back to the grate, examining it closely, ignoring Mulch’s murderous glare.
Bakura’s face became one of intense concentration. His smirk faded, his eyes narrowed, his fingers danced lightly over the wire. Mulch held his breath.
Mulch remembered how to breathe again. Bakura pulled, and the grate fell open. The Thief King grinned.
“Don’t celebrate yet,” the dwarf reminded him sourly. “There’s still the safe.”
“Not for long,” Bakura said smugly. The look of concentration returned and he twirled the dial.
“You’re leaving fingerprints,” Mulch pointed out. Bakura was good, but apparently not as good as he thought he was. Probably no one was as good as Bakura thought he was. Except myself, of course.
“No I’m not,” Bakura said, lifting one hand from the grate to show to Mulch. A dark, shadowy substance coated the boy’s fingers, clinging to the skin like a tight-fitting glove. Except that this glove was clearly not made of fabric.
“Why can you use your power, but the Pharaoh can’t?” Mulch demanded. He is good though.
“Shut up.” ‘I’m working,’ was the clear subtext, but apparently the so-called Thief King didn’t want to waste more breath on the dwarf. Mulch hmmphed, but shut up.
“Got it,” Bakura breathed, his voice hushed, awed, a man communing with his god. He reached into the safe, pulled free a sheaf of papers reverently. Then he glanced at the top one and his face distorted into a snarl.
“What kind of person keeps this in a trapped safe?” He dropped the paper on the ground and began to rifle through the others. Mulch glanced at it. Judging by the drawing ability, it had been done by a five-year-old girl.
“Pretty pony,” Mulch chortled. “Great haul, Bakura.”
“Shut up!” This time, the subtext was more along the lines of ‘Open your mouth again and I will pull out your teeth with pliers and replace them with your toenails.’
The Tomb Robber tossed the rest of the papers – more drawings – to the floor and reached into the safe again. This time he grinned with satisfaction, drawing forth handfuls of cash.
“That’s more like it.”
Mulch was looking at the papers Bakura had dropped. “Nice.” Bakura, curious despite himself, glanced at the one the dwarf was holding. He looked appalled.
“What is it?”
Mulch turned the page upside down. “I think it’s a dog.”
“Is that its head?”
“It might be a leg.”
They exchanged a look. Then Mulch snorted.
Bakura nodded. “Pathetic.”
They were halfway back to the cellars when Mulch said, “Wait a minute. You’re human!”
Bakura’s smile sent a shiver down Mulch’s spine. In all his life, he had never seen anything quite as frightening as Bakura’s smile.
“Are you sure?”
Mulch stood there, frozen, temporarily unable to breathe. His head told him to move, to run, to do anything, but his legs refused to obey. Casually, Bakura turned, opened the door, headed down the steps. A few stairs down, the Tomb Robber stopped and turned. He smiled again, this time with the sweet, innocent smile of the boy whose body he had stolen.
I knew it.
Seto Kaiba leaned back in his chair, staring at his computer screen. He was not surprised. He had known it, or at least strongly suspected it, since before he had begun this search. All along, he had known. He had just been waiting to hear his suspicions confirmed.
He leaned forward, laced his fingers beneath his chin. Stared at the computer. Stared at the words on the screen.
Stefan Bashkir. An alias for Artemis Fowl.