“So it is decided.” Councilwoman Vinyáya looked around, meeting all the other Council members’ eyes. “We shall bring the Mud Men in and attempt the mind-wipe.”
Councilman Hagan nodded, but Vox and Brug looked unconvinced. “Many of our scientists think that won’t work,” Vox said shrilly. “What do we do then?”
“We can cross that bridge when we come to it,” Vinyáya said sternly. “Are you so eager to harm innocent children?”
“There is substantial proof that the boy Kaiba murdered his adopted father!” Brug said. “And the Tomb Robber is anything but innocent. Who knows what he has done?”
“Even Bakura has done nothing to directly harm the People,” Hagen rumbled. Not a week before, he had been calling for the Mud Men’s elimination, but Vinyáya was pleased to see he had reconsidered. “I agree with my colleague. We should at least try the mind-wipe. If they refuse…”
“A refusal from these Mud Men might come in the form of our operatives lying on the ground in pieces,” Vox spat. “Or worse.”
Vinyáya banged her hand on the table. “Enough! You had a chance to do this arguing before we voted. Now you have to abide by the Council’s decision.”
Vox subsided into sullen silence.
“If there are no more objections, this Council is adjourned,” Hagen said stiffly.
The Council members rose, and without a word to each other, they departed. Brug was shaking his head disapprovingly, but he limited himself to that. He was honestly concerned for the People’s well-being, so perhaps his advocacy of an extreme solution could be excused. Vox, on the other hand, did not accept defeat so quietly.
“They’ll thank me,” he told himself. “I will be the savior of the People.” Muttering to himself, he headed off down the hallways towards the LEP headquarters. He had a bio- bomb to launch.
They emerged from the tunnel to find a pair of very pissed-off fairies waiting for them. Mulch froze, every instinct warning him to dive back underground. Impatient at the delay, Bakura wriggled so he could see around the dwarf’s bulk. He caught sight of Holly and Root and adopted a look of puzzled innocence.
“Is there a problem, officers?”
Root stood there for a moment, speechless with rage. In that interval, Bakura hauled himself completely out of the tunnel and began to calmly brush the dirt and mud from his clothes. He combed his fingers through his hair and straightened his collar. Behind them, there came the wail of alarms and shouting. Apparently, the actor had returned home.
“Let’s discuss this somewhere else,” Holly said, grabbing hold of Mulch and neatly handcuffing him again.
Bakura grinned, gave a mocking bow. “As you wish…”
And that was all he had time to say before Holly’s buzz baton clipped his rear end. He stared at her in astonishment, and a soft “oh” escaped his lips as his knees buckled. Holly cuffed him too, then clipped Mulch and the unconscious human to her Moonbelt. Root’s was mysteriously missing. All this was accomplished in no more than a minute. I’m getting slow, Holly thought to herself.
“I thought we had agreed I’d be the one to stun him.”
Holly grinned as she fired up her wings. “I can’t let you have all the fun.”
“Seto?” Mokuba’s quiet voice came from the doorway; an instant later, the boy himself stepped through the door. “Are you working?”
“No,” Kaiba said, closing the lid of his laptop. “Come in.”
Mokuba padded across the office and stopped in front of his brother. His gray eyes stared up at Seto and he rewarded him with a sweet, cheerful smile. As he reached out to hug his little brother, Seto thought, Who decided I was lucky enough to deserve you?
“Wow,” Mokuba said, his voice a little muffled. “Two hugs in two days. I feel special.”
“You are special,” Seto told him. He refused to acknowledge how much it hurt that giving hugs had become a rarity.
Mokuba relaxed, nestling his dark head in the crook of Kaiba’s shoulder. Seto lifted him tenderly, pulling the boy onto his lap. They sat for a while, simply enjoying each other’s company. I can’t remember the last time we did this, Seto thought. His heart clenched.
Mokuba must have felt his brother tense, because he looked up quizzically. “What’s wrong, Seto?”
Seto eased the boy gently off his lap and put his hands on Mokuba’s shoulders so he could look his brother in the face. “I have something important to tell you.”
Mokuba’s brow drew down with worry and confusion. “Seto, you’re scaring me.”
Just spit it out. Seto took a deep breath and began to recount his meeting with the Board. He did not mention Artemis Fowl. He could not bear the thought of Mokuba’s inevitable question: ‘Why is he doing this?’
He’s doing this because of me, he thought. He’s doing this because of my foolish pride. If I lose Mokuba, it will be my own damn fault. The thought nearly crippled him with agony. Everything that is done to Mokuba is because of me, he realized. The cool, logical part of his mind told him that this streak of self-pity was useless; he needed to focus on the problem at hand. The other part, however, the emotions usually deeply repressed, the part of Kaiba that was still human, cried out with the sting of the realization. Every kidnapping, every moment of fear and pain. My enemies always use him to get to me.
In that moment, perhaps for the first time in his life, Seto Kaiba laid his ego aside. Mokuba is all that matters.
He squeezed Mokuba’s shoulders, meeting his gaze, trying to impart this to his brother. The young boy’s face was streaming with tears; his lip was trembling. He’s so young.
“Mokie,” Seto said gently. Who would have thought Seto Kaiba was capable of tenderness? “I’ve spent so much time worrying about me, my thoughts, my feelings, that I haven’t consulted you. I’m sorry I kept this from you for so long.” He forced himself to speak the words that were cutting him like knives. Mokuba is all that matters. “If you…if you want…I mean, I would understand if you want to go and live somewhere else. I could talk to Yugi…”
“Are you sending me away?” Mokuba’s voice was strangely flat and toneless. He did not look into Seto’s eyes.
“No!” Seto hastened to assure him. “I just…I want you to be happy.” He swallowed hard before continuing. “I’m afraid I don’t always make time for you. I’m broken, Mokuba, and maybe I can’t be fixed.” The cool, Gozaboro-trained side of his brain informed him that he was being hopelessly sentimental. He fiercely told his brain to shut up. “So I want whatever you want. With the Board…it’s up to you.”
“I want to fight.” Mokuba raised his head. His gray eyes flashed, his voice was firm. He hugged his big brother tightly around the waist. “I don’t want to leave you, Seto, not ever.”
To his horror, Seto felt his eyes actually brimming with tears. He brushed them away with his sleeve. The knot in his chest loosened. A deep-seated contentment took its place. Then he took a deep breath and was himself again.
“Then we’ll fight,” he said. He reached a hand towards the phone, then paused. There was one more thing that needed to be said.
“Mokuba,” he said hesitantly. “I killed Gozaboro.”
Mokuba was silent for a moment, his head pillowed against Seto’s stomach. His grip tightened. “I thought so.”
“I never told you because I…I didn’t want you to see me as a monster,” Seto said. “I killed him. And I’ve done other things…”
Mokuba put a finger against his big brother’s lips. “Don’t tell me,” he said, his young voice surprisingly serious. “It doesn’t matter. Gozaboro was the monster, not you. The offer stuff…it doesn’t matter.” He stared into Seto’s eyes. “I meant what I said. I want to stay with you.”
“I love you so much.”
“Hey,” Mokuba broke the embrace and lightly pushed his shoulder. His voice was forcibly light and airy. “Don’t you have someone you should be calling? Someone we can intimidate?”
Seto chuckled and reached for the phone again. He had just picked it up when Mokuba started to laugh. Startled, he turned to look back his little brother.
“Nothing,” Mokuba gasped. “It’s just…” He straightened up and attempted to make his voice deeper and more serious.
“We have engaged the Board.”
Ryou’s head hurt. He tried to open his eyes, but the ceiling swirled alarmingly and he shut them again. The rest of his body wasn’t responding to his commands.
A concerned voice floated just over his head. “Bakura, are you okay?”
Ryou tried to open his mouth to answer; the voice sounded vaguely familiar. The voice spoke again, to someone else, a woman, and the two voices carried on a conversation for several minutes. Then the first voice came back.
“Bakura, it’s Yugi. Can you hear me?”
Ryou managed a tiny nod. Yugi’s voice sounded relieved. “Can you move? Holly said the effect of buzz baton should wear off soon.”
Holly? Buzz baton?
Ryou tested his limbs and felt them stir. He decided to try opening his eyes again. Yugi was hovering over him, his violet eyes filled with worry. When he saw that Ryou was definitely conscious, he smiled hugely. “I was so worried. You were out a long time.”
Ryou rubbed his head. The motion was sluggish, and he had to concentrate an inordinate amount on making the muscles move. “What…what happened?”
Yugi’s expressive face shifted to one of embarrassment. “Well, you…that is to say Yami Bakura…”
“Holly shocked you on the butt.” A small hairy figure sidled into view on Ryou’s other side. Ryou had to search his memory hard to come up with a name. He had never actually met the dwarf when he was in control of the body.
“Mulch…” he said.
The dwarf exchanged a concerned look with Yugi. “That’s my name. Mulch Diggums.” His look to Yugi added, ‘What the hell’s wrong with him?’
Tenderly, Yugi touched Ryou’s shoulder to regain his attention. “What’s the last thing you remember?”
Ryou searched his memory again. “I…I remember coming back from England. There’s a blank spot, but…I remember going to school the next day.” He smiled. “We talked in history class.”
Holly, sitting in the shuttle’s copilot seat, stared at the white-haired boy. That was almost a week ago, before Root had even come to Domino City. No one lost their memories just from being stunned by a buzz baton. She opened her mouth to speak.
Yugi stopped her with a gesture. “Anything more recent?” he asked gently.
Ryou was silent for a moment, thinking. “I remember looking out through Bakura’s eyes a couple of times. We…we were in your room once, Yugi. I don’t know why; he shut me out when he felt me looking.”
The Pharaoh stirred. That’s not good.
Yugi felt a pang of pity. Ryou Bakura experienced none of the joys Yugi had found in having a Millennium Item. Whole months of his life had been wiped out the Tomb Robber’s harsh possession of his body. Yugi and the Pharaoh shared their body, each observing the other’s actions, talking, drawing strength and comfort from one another. Ryou was forced to wait in darkness and isolation, terrified of what hell world he might wake up to.
Ryou stared at Yugi as though he knew what the other boy was thinking and gave him a sad, knowing smile. “I remember…I remember playing that trick on Bakura and the Pharaoh.” His smile became more genuine. “I remember Bakura’s reaction when he realized he’d been snuggling.”
Yugi smiled too. Pharaoh had been outraged at first, but in the end had started laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. He could sense the Pharaoh smiling at the memory.
Ryou’s smile turned into a small grimace of remembered pain. “He was so angry…” At Yugi’s horrified expression, he forced a chuckle. “Don’t worry. It was worth it.”
“Well, if you’re done with the reminiscing,” Mulch interrupted, “maybe you could explain what’s going on.”
Yugi explained. “This is the real Bakura. He doesn’t remember anything when the other Bakura is in control of the body. It used to be that way with me too, before Yami and I learned to share.”
“Yami?” Root asked from the pilot’s seat. He’d been remarkably quiet up ‘til now.
Yugi flushed. “Pharaoh.”
Ryou’s doe-brown eyes suddenly opened wide. He grabbed the other boy’s sleeve urgently. “Yugi, what did Bakura do?”
Yugi laid a calming hand on his shoulder. “Nothing important. It’s alright.”
“He and Mulch robbed a house,” Holly said. “But no one got hurt,” she added quickly at Ryou’s dismayed look.
“Speaking of which,” Root said, leaving the pilot seat and walking over to the Mud Boy’s side. “Do you happen to know what’s become of…well, I had a coffee mug earlier, and it’s not here anymore.”
His head had cleared sufficiently by now that Ryou was able to sit up. He was lying on a low table that had been covered with a thin blanket. He checked his pants pockets, then put his hand inside the leather coat that Bakura had lately taken to wearing. There he found what he assumed was a buzz baton, a belt made of some unfamiliar fabric, and the aforementioned coffee mug. He also found an assortment of other small things that Bakura had secreted away that probably didn’t belong to him. Shamefaced, he handed the entire pile to Root.
“Sorry,” he mumbled.
Root eyed him, then shrugged. “It wasn’t you.”
Ryou took the period of awkward silence that followed to glance around. He had seen enough of Bakura’s memories that he recognized the interior of the LEP shuttle. “Where are we going?”
“We’re going to meet with Artemis Fowl,” Yugi explained. “Commander Root’s received some kind of message, and he wants to talk about it with Artemis. We’re just going to pick up Kaiba first.”
Ryou nodded. Now that the effects of the buzz baton had worn off, he was savoring his first taste of freedom in a week. Yugi could have been telling him that they were going to a German concentration camp or to a convention of rabid fangirls and he would have still gleefully enjoyed the feeling of breathing, speaking, and moving when he wanted to, instead of dancing at the whim of someone else like a marionette. Then he realized what Yugi was saying. Me, Yugi, Kaiba, two fairy commandos, Artemis Fowl and his man mountain in the same room, discussing some ominous fairy message that probably means we’re all about to die.
He sighed. This will be fun.
The shuttle pulled up outside the KaibaCorp manor. They didn’t unshield, but Yugi called Kaiba on his cell phone to tell him they were there and to come outside. They waited a long time. When the teenage CEO finally appeared, a boy of perhaps twelve was following along at his heels. He had messy black hair and bright gray eyes. Kaiba paused, closed his eyes for a moment, then headed unerringly to the shuttle. The doors slid open and Kaiba stuck his head in.
“We’re taking one of my cars,” he said in a tone that brooked no argument. “I’m not riding in that thing.” He pulled back, crossed his arms, and waited.
Yugi glanced at the two fairies and before shrugging and clambering out of the shuttle. Ryou followed.
Holly and Root sat for a moment, unsure of what to do. Then without a word they made sure the shuttle would stay shielded, parked it out of the way, then pulled Mulch with them after the others. Kaiba smirked and slid gracefully behind the wheel of a sleek black car that was already waiting nearby. The black-haired boy grinned and slid into the seat next to him. Helplessly, the others crowded in.
As Kaiba turned the ignition, the black-haired boy twisted around in his seat to look at Holly, Root, and Mulch. “I’m Mokuba Kaiba,” he said with a big smile. “Seto’s my big brother.”
So this is Mokuba, Holly thought. He seemed such a contrast to his brother: a ready smile, big doe eyes, a bright, friendly attitude. But there was the same strength in the boy’s eyes, the same determination, the same fire.
“Good to meet you,” she said, returning the smile.
“Where to?” Kaiba interrupted. He was tapping his long fingers on the steering wheel, his expression a mixture of impatience and boredom.
Root clambered into the seat next to Mokuba and pointed. “Drive, Mud Boy. I’ll tell you when to turn.”
Kaiba’s eyes narrowed, but he pressed the acceleration and the big car began to move. “Why the group meeting?”
“We need to meet with Artemis Fowl,” Root said, watching Kaiba’s expression closely. “There are things we couldn’t discuss over the phone.”
Kaiba’s jaw clenched and his hands tightened on the steering wheel. He fought for control. Wait. “Why not?”
Holly snorted. “Apart from the danger of the phone companies learning of our existence, the People have equipment that picks up on certain fairy-related keywords. It’s just best to err on the side of caution.”
Kaiba nodded tightly. “Makes sense.”
Root pointed. “Turn here.”
When the doorbell rang, Artemis himself went to get it. Behind him, Butler heaved himself out of the chair and quietly checked the pistol in the holster under his arm. Artemis didn’t comment. He knew who was coming to visit, but he also knew that the bodyguard believed in caution. It had kept them alive.
Holly was the first to enter the room. Her smile made Artemis’ heart flutter wildly, and it took all his self-control to say quietly, “Captain Short.” Any tender moment they might conceivably have had was spoiled in the next instant when Commander Root followed her in. He was dragging Mulch Diggums, who was handcuffed and looking sullen.
Artemis did not recognize the white-haired boy who trailed along behind. He walked slowly, tentatively, like one who is either injured or very shy, and his wild white hair tumbled to halfway down his back. But when he entered, he spoke in a friendly enough tone, his voice tinged with a British accent.
“Hello. I’m Ryou Bakura.”
Artemis nodded a greeting and cast a significant look at Butler. From what they had heard, this shy, quiet boy possessed remarkable power. If so, none of it was evident in his looks.
Pharaoh followed. Artemis was struck again by how utterly confident his stride was, the aura of power that surrounded him. He nodded a greeting to Artemis and another to Butler, his presence dominating the entire room. Caught up as he was with Pharaoh’s appearance, Artemis momentarily failed to recognize the last people to enter the room.
When he did, and their eyes met, the entire room fell silent. Artemis stood frozen near the door, looking into the harsh blue gaze of Seto Kaiba.
Artemis’ snappy comeback died in his throat at the naked fury in those eyes.
“How. Dare. You.” Kaiba growled. Even Pharaoh drew back a pace at the brunette’s tone. Beneath their feet, the floor began to shake. Ryou Bakura shrank back against the wall. He had seen magic wielded with the delicacy of a scalpel, seen his other half tease threads of Shadow Magic through a lock or through a narrow crack in the wall. But he knew magic also had another half. A flip side.
Raw, undiluted, uncontrolled power.
Kaiba took a step towards Artemis. Artemis felt fear rise up to choke him. He had dealt with criminals, with fairy police officers, with goblins, with trolls, with insane, mass-murdering pixies, but he had never been truly afraid before. He was afraid now.
“B...Butler,” he gasped, stumbling backwards.
“Don’t move,” Butler barked. He had his pistol out now, pointed straight at Kaiba’s head. Mokuba let out a little cry and tried to run forward, but Ryou grabbed him. Whatever was going to happen now, this boy couldn’t be a part of it. The fairies had their Neutrinos out, aimed at Kaiba as well. They were wary, but resolute. They would not hesitate to fire.
Threat. The word did not so much pass through Kaiba’s mind as it did through his body. He could feel it like a stinging in his skin, a drumming of his heart. And the magic, which had lain dormant for so long, unacknowledged, untouched, untapped, uncontrolled, surged forth to protect its wielder. Kaiba was swallowed up, and for a moment, there was only the magic.
In that instant, Artemis saw Kaiba’s eyes turn gold.
“Step away from…” Butler began, but that was all he managed before the magic tore into him. He was hurled from his feet and slammed with bone-breaking force into the wall. He hung there, gasping with pain, helpless to move. Then, carelessly, the magic released him, and he collapsed in a heap.
Mulch yelled and Root and Holly fired. The magic caught the bolts as they streaked towards Kaiba and winked them out of existence. Writhing rings of golden fire caught the fairies and engulfed them. Root’s uniform was burning; cursing and yelling, he dropped to the ground and rolled, trying to extinguish the magical flames. The magic scooped up Holly like a doll and tightened around her chest. She was immobile, and in the confusion, she had dropped her gun.
Golden eyes turned back to Artemis.
Artemis could not make his legs move. He knew, with terrible certainty, that he was about to die.
“Fight it, Kaiba!” Pharaoh cried, latching on to Kaiba’s wrist. He shouted the words in Kaiba’s face, but the other boy did not seem to hear. His eyes were still that eerie, empty gold.
“Seto!” Mokuba tore himself from Ryou’s arms and flung himself at his brother, throwing his arms around his waist and clinging to him. “Seto!”
Deep inside Kaiba’s mind, where his consciousness had been shoved as the magic ripped its way free, Mokuba’s cry awoke something. The soul of Seto Kaiba fought back. He grappled with the magic, restrained it, thrust it back in its cage. He fought hard for control, heard that familiar voice calling his name.
The gold fled from Kaiba’s eyes, to be replaced with a deep, ordinary blue. The fire that licked up Root’s clothing flickered out like it had never existed. Blue sparks danced over his skin, repairing the damage the magic had done. Holly dropped to the floor where she lay panting. For a moment, Kaiba stared into Artemis’ terrified eyes. Then with a groan, his knees buckled. The pharaoh managed to catch him and lay him down carefully. He was unconscious.
Holly dragged herself to her feet and staggered over to Butler. The man was breathing, to her relief. She laid her hands on his back, where most of the damage was, and whispered, “Heal.” Blue sparks sped down her fingers. Butler groaned, stirred, and opened his eyes.
She laid a hand on his forehead. “He’s alright.”
For a moment, Butler smiled, an honest smile of relief. Then as quickly as it had come, the smile faded. “Kaiba?”
Holly glanced toward the boy still lying on the floor. His face was pale and drawn; he looked almost dead, save for the steady rise and fall of his chest when he breathed. Mokuba and Pharaoh were crouched beside him.
She looked back at Butler. “He’ll live. Can you sit up?” With her help, he managed to sit up and prop himself against the wall. She noticed that he did not slip his pistol back into its holster.
“Did…did you see what he just did?”Mulch asked, pointing a shaky finger in Kaiba’s direction.
“Of course we did, Convict,” Root roared, glad to have someone to yell at. “We’re not blind.” He too looked at Kaiba. “What’s wrong with him?”
“He’s just exhausted,” Ryou said. He swallowed nervously when all eyes turned his way. “It happens when you use too much magic at a time.”
“Perfect!” Root barked. “His crazy stunt just nearly killed all of us, and he’s sleeping it off on the floor!”
“You said you wanted to talk,” Pharaoh interrupted quietly. “Then let’s talk.”
“Just a minute,” Mokuba said. He pushed himself up from his brother’s side and walked up to where Artemis was still standing, frozen with shock. He put his hands on his hips and waited until Artemis focused on him.
“You’re the one who contacted the Board of Child Services,” he said softly. It wasn’t a question. His voice was cool, almost disinterested. No one in the room spoke, but all eyes were fixed on the pair. Mokuba was several inches shorter than Artemis, but it didn’t seem that way as he stared into the older boy’s eyes. “You’re the one trying to take me away from my brother.” His voice was still calm, his stance relaxed; one might have thought he was talking about the weather.
Then, without warning, he hauled back and punched Artemis Fowl right in the jaw. Artemis stumbled back and ended up on his butt on the floor, staring up at the younger boy with an expression of utter surprise.
Mokuba shook out his hand, wincing a little at the sting in his knuckles. Then he turned to look at the rest of the group, who were staring at him with much the same expression. He gave them his brightest, most cheerful smile.
“Okay. Let’s talk.”