Marik Ishtar was headed home, a bag of groceries clasped in his arms, when he realized he was being followed. Instantly, his instincts were on high alert. He had done enough sneaking his own lifetime to realize that whoever was following him wasn’t really trying to hide. They were too easily detected.
Which could only mean they wanted to be detected.
That didn’t bode well for Marik. If his pursuer didn’t care whether he knew they were there or not, then they weren’t afraid of him. For the first time since he had given it up, Marik longed for the cool, reassuring grip of the Millennium Rod. But he had given it to Yugi.
He decided to pretend he didn’t notice. He took a deep breath and readjusted the grocery bag, surreptitiously giving him easier access to the knife tucked into his belt. He had another in his boot, less detectable, but he would only use that as a last resort.
Pretending to idle in front of one of the shops, Marik scanned the window’s reflection of the street behind him, hoping to catch a glimpse of his pursuer. But there was nothing that stood out, just people going about their business in downtown Cairo, the normal noises, the normal sights, the normal sounds, the normal heat waves hovering over the street and clinging to the walls.
A man with dark hair and a beard caught Marik’s eye. Dark hair was not uncommon, nor were beards, but something about the man lifted the hair on the back of the young man’s neck. The man’s eyes were covered by dark sunglasses.
Again, not unusual in Egypt, but…
Marik turned away from the window and set off at a brisk walk towards home, glancing in the windows alongside either side of the street to check on the mystery man’s progress. Was it his imagination, or did he seem to be drawing closer?
Marik quickened his pace. He began ducking and weaving through the crowd, using his slender build to his advantage. The mystery man was bigger, and would have a harder time moving through the throng of people. He risked a quick glance over his shoulder and saw the man still walking along the street behind him. But he had been stalled by a carpet-seller, and for a moment at least, he was not looking in Marik’s direction.
A moment was all Marik needed to make his escape. Still tightly clutching the bag of groceries, he ducked into a nearby alley. There were several dumpsters in there, huge metal things that looked extremely strange in an Egyptian alley, but Marik wasn’t complaining. If he hadn’t been carrying the groceries, he would have dived into one the dumpsters – rarely was there to be found a more perfect hiding place – but Ishizu would be angry, to put it mildly, if the groceries were mixed in with rotting meat and human waste, so he settled for crouching behind one of the cans. He set the bag down carefully, got a good grip on his knife, and waited.
A minute passed, then two. Marik did not move. Years of crouching motionless in ancient Egyptian tombs, trying to decipher half-crumbled texts, had taught him patience. Okay, being put in a potentially life-threatening situation had taught him patience – nothing short of that would have any effect – but still…
Finally, he saw the man with the sunglasses appear in the mouth of the alley. Marik crouched utterly still. To his relief (and vague surprise), the mystery man didn’t pause, but just walked right on by. The teen did not move for several moments, until he was sure the man had gone, then he straightened up with a relieved sigh, rubbing his back where it had cramped. He took a few steps, feeling the tension drain out of his muscles.
“Now, if you’re done being paranoid, do you think you might have time to talk?”
Marik emitted a highly feminine shriek of surprise and sprang backward, tripping over the bag of groceries and ending up sprawled on his back in the narrow alley. A tomato squished underneath him. Ishizu’s going to be mad. But there was no time to worry about ruined groceries. He scrambled to his feet, his hand flying to his knife, pulling it free.
The mystery voice came again. “Relax, kid, I’m not going to hurt you.”
Wildly, Marik scanned the alley, his brain finally confirming what his eyes had already told him. There was no one there.
“Who are you?” he gasped, fingers still clenched tightly on the knife.
“A friend,” the voice said. “Calm down.”
Taking a deep breath, Marik forced himself to scan the alleyway more thoroughly. There was nothing, just the shimmer of a heat wave about five feet away, against the wall of an adjacent building. Wait a minute…a heat wave in the shade? It was hot outside, but not that hot.
“If you’re a friend,” Marik said, addressing his words to that shimmer of heat, “Then show yourself.”
“Alright,” the voice said, “but don’t freak out.”
A shape began to form in the center of the heat wave. Marik felt a brief thrill of triumph. And then his brain became preoccupied with wondering, What the hell is it?
The figure was small, a little under three feet high. His features were not those of a child, but rather a fully-grown man. Some kind of magical midget? Marik wondered. The midget was dressed in a close-fitting black uniform. He carried a helmet under one arm, and his shoulders were crisscrossed with straps and gear. More items were strapped to his belt, including, Marik was frightened to see, a fairly large gun.
“Who are you?” he asked again, mortified to realize that his voice trembled.
The figure spoke. “My name is Captain Trouble Kelp,” he said, lifting one hand soothingly. “I’m a fairy.”
Despite the danger he was in, at those words, Marik burst out laughing. Trouble stared at him in confusion for a moment or two, then looked appalled. “No, not that kind of fairy! I mean…literally.”
The laughter died. Marik stared at the man…the fairy…his mind working furiously. No, it should not be possible. Fairies were a myth; they didn’t exist. But didn’t Marik know, more than most, that the world was not as it appeared? That magic did exist? If there could be seven pieces of gold that had the power to control minds and rearrange souls, was there any particular reason that fairies could not exist as well?
Trouble was relieved to see comprehension and acceptance flit across the Mud Boy’s face fairly quickly. Quicker than most, probably because he was already immersed in magic. It would take a lot to drastically upset his worldview.
“You were the one following me,” Marik realized.
Trouble nodded. “I needed to talk to you.”
“Why now?” Marik asked. “Why me?”
“You’re in trouble,” Trouble said. “I came to warn you.”
Marik chuckled. “A fairy named Trouble comes to tell me that I’m in trouble.” Then his eyes widened. “What kind of trouble?”
Trouble hesitated. He had been wrestling with his conscience for quite some time now, trying to decide if it was alright to spill fairy secrets in the hopes of protecting a human. But with the threat of a bio-bomb, there wasn’t much choice. Trouble liked to believe that he was idealistic, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to believe that the Council was entirely sincere in its promise to leave the Mud Men alone if the mind-wipe failed. And so for the first time in his life, he was disobeying orders.
“My people consider you a threat,” he said bluntly. Better to get this over as quickly as possible. “You’re one of the first Mud…humans…to have magic in thousands of years. Some among us are afraid that you will use that power to destroy us.”
“But I’d never heard of you until today!” Marik protested. “And I’ve given magic up; I can’t possibly be a threat to anybody!”
“Magic can’t be given up,” Trouble said. “Especially not the kind you have.”
“Shadowmancy,” Marik breathed. “But without the Rod…” He briefly squeezed his eyes shut, remembering the disastrous events of Battle City, how close he’d come to being lost entirely to the darkness inside himself. Wow, and if that isn’t one of the most melodramatic things I’ve ever thought.
Now Trouble looked confused. “The Millennium Rod?”
Marik nodded. “It’s how I used my power,” he explained. “Just as my sister…” He stopped; Ishizu was none of this guy’s business.
“But the Rod is here in Egypt,” Trouble said, still puzzled. “It’s at your house.”
For a second, Marik could swear his breathing stopped.
“Excuse me,” Artemis asked, his lips twitching upward in a smirk, “but by ‘jet’, do you mean your dragon jet?” Artemis’ emphasis on that single word said it all.
No one insulted Kaiba’s precious Blue Eyes and got away with it. “The Blue Eyes jet is the peak of technological progress,” he growled. “Faster and more efficient than anything you might possess.”
“Yes, if our plan is to incapacitate the LEP through laughter,” Artemis said. “Frankly, your jet is…how shall I put this?...ridiculous. Mine on the other hand…”
Holly spoke up. “We should take Artemis’ jet.” Before Kaiba could argue, she continued, “How else are they going to get it back to Ireland?”
“We’ll take two then,” Kaiba said. “One of mine, and Fowl’s. Mokuba and I’ll need to get back home after this…business is concluded.”
Holly shuddered. “Don’t you Mud Men pollute the environment enough?”
And things might have gotten extremely ugly if there hadn’t been someone in the room who still retained their common sense. Mokuba stepped in between.
“Stop it, both of you,” he said, so firmly that both squabbling teenagers looked at him. “This argument is ridiculous. You’re supposed to be masterminds.” Both Kaiba and Artemis had the grace to look uncomfortable. “Let’s try and focus on the important issues.” Then he glanced at his brother nervously. “Besides, Seto, the Blue Eyes jet is only designed for two people.”
Artemis smirked at Kaiba triumphantly. “And in case you haven’t noticed,” he purred, “there are nine of us. So…”
“Eight.” Ryou stepped away from the wall, drawing everyone’s attention and cutting off whatever Artemis might have been about to say. The white-haired boy looked around, meeting everyone’s eyes. “I won’t be going with you.”
“What?” The Pharaoh had been startled out of his composure. “Why not?”
Ryou smiled sadly. “Think about it, Pharaoh. If this works, you’ll get your memories back. You’ll be able to access all your powers. Do you really think the spirit possessing me would allow that?”
There was dead silence as the ramifications of this sank in. Ryou lifted his chin and spoke into that silence. “He’d kill you rather than let that happen. And he’d use my body to do it. To stop him, you’d have to kill me. I’m staying here.”
“But…” the Pharaoh began.
“He’s making sense,” Holly said quietly. “Ryou knows better than any of us what the Tomb Robber’s capable of.”
“I’ll try and delay him as much as I can,” Ryou said, still in the calm, detached tone. “I can’t promise he won’t seize control and go after you, but I’m hoping that if you’re not nearby he’ll be quieter. You can at least get a head start.”
“What about the bio-bomb?” Mokuba protested. “If you’re all by yourself, will you be able to stop it?”
Ryou laughed. “One of the few advantages to sharing a body with Bakura is that he doesn’t let anyone else hurt me. He can use his power; we’ll be alright. Go, Yugi, and don’t worry about me.”
His brown eyes looked into the Pharaoh’s beseechingly. Slowly, reluctantly, the Pharaoh nodded. “Very well.”
“I have to get back to Haven,” Root said uncomfortably. “I’ll take the convict back with me in the shuttle.”
“Hey, wait a minute…” Mulch started to protest, but as per usual, Root cut him off.
“You don’t have a choice, Convict,” he growled. “It’s time to find you a nice comfy cell.”
“But I’ve been helping!” exclaimed Mulch indignantly. At everyone’s skeptical look, his shrugged. “Sorta.”
“As in ‘not.’” Root said. “You’ve done nothing but eat, sleep, and steal ever since you arrived…”
“I’m a necessary member of this team…!”
“We’re wasting time.” The Pharaoh’s words cut through the argument and restored order.
Abashed, everyone shut up.
“This is how it will be,” the Pharaoh said, in a voice that brooked no argument. “Commander Root and Mulch will return to Haven by shuttle as planned. Artemis and Butler will travel in their jet, assuming it can be fueled and ready to fly by the time we reach the airstrip. Kaiba, Mokuba, Holly, and I will travel in a KaibaCorp jet, again assuming one is ready for takeoff immediately. We will rely on you,” he said, nodding at Holly, “to direct us.”
Holly nodded. Unconsciously, her body straightened and her arms clamped tight to her sides.
The Pharaoh’s violet eyes turned to Ryou. “Take care of yourself.”
“I’ll be fine. I’ll call Marik and Ishizu,” the white-haired boy replied, forcing a smile. “They’re vulnerable without their Millennium Items.”
A slight smile tugged at the corners of the Pharaoh’s mouth. “I think you’ll find that they’re less helpless than you think. But they will still need a warning.”
“I will contact my operative in Cairo,” Root said. “They’ll get the warning.”
The Pharaoh nodded acknowledgement. He turned to the room at large. “And there will be no more arguing,” he finished firmly.
The banter and squabbling from before was gone. The mood was suddenly serious, as each realized that this was not a game. People could actually die. And the man who they had played pranks on and dismissed as merely ‘annoying’ – Bakura – would kill without a thought.
“Well then, let’s go,” Kaiba said finally, striding for the door. “Like the Pharaoh said, we’re wasting time.” The Pharaoh hid a smile at the careless way Kaiba used his title. “Let’s go, Mokuba.”
The Kaiba brothers left the room. After a slight hesitation, Butler, Holly, Root, and Mulch followed, the fairy commander once again dragging the reluctant dwarf. As Artemis made to go after them, Pharaoh laid a staying hand on his arm. The teen stopped, startled at the expression in the other man’s eyes.
“I hope for your sake that Kaiba and Mokuba are wrong about what you’re doing,” he said quietly. “Because if it is true, there is nowhere you could run where you’d be safe.”
Artemis gave him his coolest look. “From them?”
The Pharaoh blinked at him with those eerie violet eyes. In the light, they had taken on a strange crimson shade, the color of blood. Artemis stood frozen. He could hear his heart hammering.
“From me.” Then without another word, the Pharaoh turned and left the room, trotting a few paces to catch up with the others.
Despite himself, Artemis shivered.