Foaly stared at the screen, then pounded the keyboard in frustration. Almost instantly, he squealed and patted it, apologizing breathlessly for hurting it. Then the momentary computer insanity passed, and he went back to work.
“Why is the file gone?” he muttered angrily, his fingers flying over the keys. He had tried again and again to retrieve a copy of the People’s treaty with the Nameless Pharaoh, but each time, he came up with a blank screen.
He gritted his teeth. If the file had been deleted because of the method of storage, he might never be able to track that or retrieve the file. But…if the file had been erased, maybe Foaly could figure out who had done it.
He activated the voice command system; he was getting keyboard cramp, and even with the adrenaline rush, he was feeling slightly dizzy with exhaustion.
“Computer,” the centaur said. “Has anyone accessed this file within the last five years?”
“To which file are you referring?” The computer’s voice was crisp and metallic. Foaly winced; he’d have to change that. Maybe the more dulcet tones of a certain male centaur…
He groaned. “You’re going to make me check?”
“File number identification is essential for…”
“Rhetorical question,” Foaly said, cutting it off. He glanced at the label and took a big breath. “The file number is 1DK398DHFD9WPVM.” He glared at the screen. “Happy now?”
“I do not experience happiness or any other emotion,” the computer replied.
“Rhetorical question,” Foaly muttered.
The computer whirred busily for several minutes. Finally, it said, “There have been 17 attempts to access file 1DK398DHFD9WPVM within that time frame.”
Foaly sat up. “Really? Who?” He glanced at the list of names. “But…but they’re all me!”
“All of these attempts have occurred within the last two hours,” the computer’s voice continued serenely.
Foaly cursed. “Find out the last time that anyone other than me tried to open that file.”
“To which file are you referring?”
“To the same file!” Foaly yelled. “I designed you to be intelligent.”
“Well, you aren’t being very specific,” the computer said, almost snippily.
Foaly ground his teeth together so hard he was mildly surprised they didn’t shatter. “Do what I tell you, before I smash you into little tiny pieces and throw you in the recycler.”
“You wouldn’t do that,” the computer replied, but there was a hint of what sounded like nervousness in its tone. Foaly smirked. Not so cocky now.
He grinned devilishly. “Try me.”
Foaly yawned. He could now barely keep his eyes open. “Give me the results in the morning,” he said, clambering awkwardly to his feet. “I’m going to bed.”
“Sleep tight,” the computer said. It sounded exactly like Foaly now. If it had a mouth, it would have been evilly grinning.
Foaly hightailed it out of there. Some computers, he decided, were just plain scary.
“You hit me,” Artemis said in astonishment, climbing to his feet shakily. He was embarrassed that this seemed to be the best thing his brain could come up with; he was usually much more eloquent.
Mokuba chuckled. “You’re just lucky that Seto isn’t awake. A sore jaw would be the least of your problems.”
“Speaking of,” Root said, cautiously approaching Kaiba’s unconscious body. “When he wakes up, how are we going to stop him from doing the same thing again?”
“You threatened him,” Ryou spoke up. “His magic just reacted automatically. He probably didn’t even mean to do it.”
“Great,” Mulch complained. “Just great. We’ve got an out-of-control Mud Man who has magic. Anyone else thinking we should just let him get bio-bombed?”
He was ignored. “Something made him extremely angry,” Holly said. She fixed a steely gaze on Artemis. “What did you do?”
He gave her his best innocent look. It was about as convincing as Mulch’s (a.k.a. not very). “I suppose he is still angry about me breaking into his files…”
“Cut the crap,” Holly snapped. Artemis, stunned, closed his mouth. Suddenly the tiny fairy was looking a heck of a lot scarier. Everyone in the room had to concentrate on not flinching. “Tell me what you did.”
“He tried to get Seto accused of murder,” Mokuba said quietly. All eyes turned to the young man, “so that the Board of Child Services would remove me from my brother’s care.”
Holly’s eyes narrowed; rarely had she looked so angry. “Did you, Artemis?”
“He burned down my house,” Artemis said coolly, but the argument sounded extremely childish in his ears now, tantamount to ‘he started it!’ in kindergarten.
“So you decided to ruin our lives?” Mokuba demanded, fists clenched. He took a step towards Artemis, but this time, Butler was in the way. Mokuba stopped a few feet from the gigantic bodyguard. “Seto is all I have. We’ve been together since our parents died. What gave you the right to try and take that away?”
Artemis said nothing, but his heart was clenching painfully. Seeing the real pain in Mokuba’s eyes, though the boy tried to hide it, he felt like the biggest jerk in the history of the world.
Kaiba should have left me alone, he told himself firmly. He took something from me. Now I have to teach him a lesson: no one messes with Artemis Fowl. His conscience was not mollified. It retaliated with another sharp poke.
“What, the great Artemis Fowl has nothing to say?” Holly said scornfully. She turned away. That hurt worse than the conscience prickle had.
Root cleared his throat. “What are we going to do about Kaiba?”
Holly pulled a pair of handcuffs from her belt. Artemis raised an eyebrow. Haven’t seen those before. The thought was accompanied by a whole slew of mental images that he immediately pounced on and purged.
“You can’t handcuff my brother!” Mokuba said indignantly.
“Mokuba,” the Pharaoh said. His voice was still quiet, but the boy stopped protesting immediately. “The magic might have been an accident, but the intent was not. I do not like it any more than you do, but it might be wise to restrain Kaiba until we are sure that he will at least tolerate Artemis’ presence. After all, we are allies.” That last was said while looking at Artemis. Artemis felt like a naughty child being reminded to wash behind his ears. What was it about this man that made him feel so…foolish? He had felt wrong-footed ever since they had first been introduced. It was not a feeling he was used to, or particularly liked.
“Restraining him may be the thing that triggers his magic,” Ryou said. He had been silent throughout the whole debate, but now he pushed away from the wall and spoke. “His magic doesn’t like it when he’s threatened.”
“I don’t think so,” the Pharaoh said thoughtfully. “Kaiba deeply values self-control. He will be on guard against losing it a second time. You may not think it,” he added with a small smile, “but Kaiba has the strongest willpower of any man I have ever met.” He paused. “But I still stand by my earlier opinion. It’s much better to be safe than to be sorry, especially when dealing with Shadow Magic.”
“Um…not to rain on your parade or anything,” Mulch commented from the corner, “but would those even stop him?” He pointed at the handcuffs. “I mean…after what he’s proven he can do?”
There was another silence. Everyone was staring at the handcuffs in Holly’s hands, which suddenly looked incredibly flimsy.
“Probably not,” Root said breezily after a moment, taking the handcuffs from Holly. “But it would make me feel better.”
And so it was that when Kaiba finally did wake, he did so in handcuffs.
It was like dragging himself out of a barrel of molasses. Seto wrestled with consciousness, flickering in and out. He heard a few brief snatches of conversation, and what sounded like arguing, but the sound was muffled, like it was coming from a million miles away. Then he heard Mokuba’s voice. He sounded upset.
That was enough to give Seto strength. He fought to wake, bringing to bear every ounce of stubbornness and willpower he possessed. And as Yami had just commented outside of Seto’s hearing, Kaiba did not lack for either.
With tremendous effort, he forced his eyes to open.
“He’s waking up!”
Mokuba and the Pharaoh were instantly at Kaiba’s side. Artemis shifted slightly closer to Butler, though he wasn’t consciously aware of the movement. Everyone else in the room tensed. Mulch actually tried to hide, which, given his bulk and body odor, was about as successful as attempting to fly to the moon in a soda can. The brunette stirred, mumbled something, and opened his eyes.
His looked at Mokuba first. “Are…are you alright?” he asked. His voice was extremely hoarse.
Mokuba nodded and Kaiba swept his gaze over the rest of the room. “What happened?”
“You don’t remember?” Root asked incredulously.
“Remember what?” Kaiba said irritably, and attempted to push himself to a sitting position. It was then that he discovered that his hands were cuffed behind his back. “What the hell?”
“You lost control of the magic,” the Pharaoh informed him, quite calmly given the circumstances. “We thought it best to…restrain you until we were sure that you and Artemis could get along.”
Kaiba snorted. “Lost control of the magic? Magic is your little fetish, not mine. Now get these things off me.”
Root shook his head. “Not a chance.”
Kaiba glared at him and managed to push himself up into a sitting position using the wall.
“What do you remember?” the Pharaoh asked. When he had asked Ryou the same question, he had shifted back to Yugi, but he sensed that in this case that would be a mistake. Kaiba respected very few people in this world, but the Pharaoh was one of them.
Kaiba made a motion like he wanted to steeple his hands beneath his chin, but the cuffs stopped him and he had to settle for shaking his head instead. “I remember driving here,” he said, glancing around the hotel room. “I remember entering.” His eyes ticked to Butler. “You pointed a gun at me.” His tone was not particularly accusing; rather it was the same tone he might use to say that someone had shaken his hand. “After that…I don’t….I don’t remember anything.” He stared up at the Pharaoh, and Yami could see a trace of fear in his eyes. “What happened to me?”
“You used magic,” Yami said gently. “It reacted automatically to the threat.”
To everyone’s surprise, Kaiba did not immediately dismiss this. Instead, he looked like he was mulling it over. “Does this end the threat of the bio-bomb?” he asked. “If I am capable of unleashing such power, couldn’t I just destroy it?”
Everyone but Mokuba was staring at him, stunned by how quickly he had overcome his emotional response and was now considering the practical applications of what had happened. Mokuba just smiled. He knew his brother too well.
“Maybe…” Root said, trailing off uncertainly, but Artemis interrupted.
“No, probably not,” he said briskly, seeking to regain some control of the situation. “As you say, you can’t control your power.”
Kaiba glanced in his direction. “I guess you’re right. After all, you’re still alive.”
“You said you had something to tell us?” Ryou said, turning to Root before the awkward silence could turn into something nastier.
Root cleared his throat. “Yes. I have received a message from the Council. They’ve decided to try mind-wiping you.”
“That’s a good thing?” Ryou asked hesitantly.
“It is when you consider that the other option is to kill you,” Holly pointed out.
Ryou nodded. “I guess so.”
“What does a mind-wipe entail?” Kaiba asked. “And yes,” he added when Artemis smirked and opened his mouth, “I suspect it involves wiping part of the mind. How much, and what are the risks?” His tone was businesslike.
“There are two kinds of mind-wipe,” Holly explained. “One is the blanket wipe, which takes out all your memories during a certain period of time. The other is more fine-tuned. It would remove only certain memories. For example, all your memories of the People.”
“How could you keep this secret?” Kaiba asked incredulously. “Entire sections of the mind wiped blank? That’s fairly noticeable.”
“Your brain provides new memories to fill the gaps,” Root said briskly. “At any rate, the Council would try the fine-tuned wipe. More precise, and less chance of brain damage.”
“If they have access to this technology,” the Pharaoh said, rising to his feet, “why were the People even considering the use of force?”
Root fidgeted awkwardly. “There are some who think the procedure won’t work.”
“Think about it, Yugi,” Ryou said. “Why do you think Marik never tried to control you when he had the Millennium Rod? The Puzzle protects you.”
“Then that poses a new problem,” Kaiba said. “What will happen when the mind-wipe fails? We put ourselves at the mercy of the People for this procedure, and when it fails, we get a bullet in the back of the head?”
Holly and Root said nothing. They were both uncomfortably aware that this was exactly might happen. Or it might not. They just didn’t know.
“Soon I’ll have no more memories left,” Pharaoh said, attempting a joke to lighten the mood.
“It occurs to me,” Artemis Fowl said, and everyone fell silent, “that what you did to your own memories is very similarto a mind-wipe. And that has loopholes.”
“Loopholes?” the Pharaoh repeated. His violet eyes gleamed.
Artemis nodded. “Sometimes, memories erased by a mind-wipe can be triggered by something strongly associated with what you’ve forgotten. In your case, something from your past.”
The Pharaoh laughed. “Kaiba is the reincarnation of my High Priest, and the Tomb Robber is leaning against the wall.” He nodded at Ryou. “I have fought enemies armed with the Millennium Items from my past and I am wearing the vessel that I supposedly sealed my soul with.” His fingers brushed the Puzzle. He chuckled again. “I fail to see what stronger associations I can have.”
“Your name,” Artemis said.
The Pharaoh sighed. “I have been seeking my true name for years, ever since I awoke in this body. It has been erased.”
Artemis considered this. “Then perhaps something else? Perhaps if your own magic was restored?”
The Pharaoh spread his hands. “I am open for suggestions.”
There was yet another silence. This one was broken when Mulch commented, “Too bad you just can’t do some ritual or something and POOF!” He illustrated this with his cuffed hands.
Root and Holly looked at each other. It was clear they had both had the same thought. “The Ritual,” they breathed.
“The what?” Mokuba said.
Holly looked excited. “The Ritual is what fairies do to recharge their magic. I’ve heard of fairies who thought they’d lost their powers and had them restored by the Ritual. Perhaps it won’t have the same effect on humans…”
“But if it does, you’d get your magic back,” Root said.
Kaiba snorted. “Having magic is not the problem,” he said. “Remembering how to use it is.”
“Conscious use of our magic is lost,” the Pharaoh corrected. He sounded excited too. “Perhaps the Ritual will have no effect, but it can’t hurt, can it?”
“Then let’s do it now!” Mokuba said.
“We have to go to Ireland,” Artemis said. “There are no oaks of sufficient age to perform the Ritual here.”
Mokuba cast him a sidelong glance. “Sometime I’ll have to ask you how you know that.”
“Fine,” Root said. “Uncuff the kid and let’s go.”
“Don’t bother,” Kaiba said, standing up and twirling the handcuffs around one finger. “I got them off half-an-hour ago.”
Artemis eyed him. “You certainly have some interesting talents, Mr. Kaiba.”
Butler cleared his throat. He had been watching the entire proceedings in silence up ‘til now, so his deep voice came as something of a surprise. “We are wasting time. We should go.”
“Fine,” Artemis and Kaiba said at the exact same time, “We’ll take my jet.”