Fortified with a new cup of coffee and eight hours sleep, Foaly returned to the Operations Booth ready for action.
“Okay, computer,” he said, dropping into his custom-made swivel chair and stretching his arms. “Let her rip.”
“I’m a computer,” the computer told him oh so innocently. “I’m not capable of ripping anything.”
Foaly grit his teeth. “Just give me the results, you stupid machine!”
“Well, why didn’t you say so?” the computer inquired.
Foaly restrained the urge to yell and throw things. “Computer, revert to the default voice module,” he ground out. He had the sudden, horrible realization that he sounded exactly like Commander Julius Root.
“Yes sir,” the computer said, in perfectly clipped, metallic tones.
“Alright,” Foaly said, taking a deep breath. “When was the last time that this file was accessed?”
“To which file are you referring?”
Several of the LEP operatives working in their cubicles outside would have required hearing aids if the Operations Booth hadn’t been sound-proofed.
“So,” Seto said, his voice low and venomous. “What are the odds that every single one of the KaibaCorp jets is currently undergoing repairs?”
Mokuba shrugged, ignoring the suspicious looks his brother was giving him. They were sitting in the back of one of the KaibaCorp limos on their way to the airstrip. Much to Kaiba’s everlasting shame, they would be flying with Artemis Fowl. The Pharaoh sat across from them, but he was determinedly not looking in their direction. Mokuba got the impression that the King of Games was repressing a smirk.
Holly, rather than ride with an angry Kaiba, had taken to the air. She was somewhere above them now; they’d meet up on the runway. Mokuba envied her. He just hoped Seto and Artemis would work things out during the flight; otherwise, he’d be stuck with a foul-tempered and possibly unstable brother with nothing to show for his little stunt.
Seto had lapsed into a grumpy silence, arms crossed, staring out the window. Pharaoh shifted restlessly. Then, without warning, he kicked Kaiba in the shin. Not particularly hard, but definitely enough to get the other boy’s attention. Kaiba’s glare could have singlehandedly produced another Hiroshima. The pharaoh met his gaze without flinching.
“You’re acting like a child,” he said. “So your jets are unavailable. Get. Over. It.”
This time, it was a marvel that the King of Games did not spontaneously combust, such was the heat of Kaiba’s glare. Yugi would have cringed and withdrawn immediately, but the Pharaoh was still in control of the body, and did not move.
For a long moment, the two boys were locked together in a battle of wills. Mokuba watched with bated breath as they stared unmoving into each other’s eyes; the mental contest between them was practically visible. Alerted by the possible threat, their unconscious magic stirred.
It was this that restored them both to sanity. The Pharaoh went back to looking out the window, and Seto pulled his laptop from his bag. Though the mood in the limo was still tense, it was now a different kind of tension, a little less stifling. Mokuba breathed a sigh of relief.
“Sir,” the driver said, after several long minutes in absolute silence. “We are approaching the airstrip.”
Seto closed his laptop and shoved it back into his briefcase.
If not for a particularly ambitious gnome, the bio-bomb might have never been launched.
Ark Sool was unusually tall and thin for a gnome, and he had a brusque no-nonsense attitude that immediately rubbed Vox the wrong way. But he had access to the bio-bomb, and he knew how to program it. And more importantly, he was willing to help. It was well-known that Sool disapproved of the way the LEP was run under Julius Root, viewing it as “a bunch of loose cannons run by a maverick.” If Root were to die, his replacement would have the chance to change this. And Sool was power-hungry, which suited Vox just fine.
Unfortunately, the process was taking hours. And even worse, in Vox’s view, only one bio-bomb could be prepped at a time. Which meant that the two remaining Magic Mud Men, tucked out of the way in Egypt, would have to wait. The other three were far more powerful, and therefore, more of a threat.
But finally, the programming was complete. The bio-bomb was ready to be launched.
“We have another problem,” Sool reported to Vox, who was hunched over a computer console, examining a technical readout of the bio-bomb and pretending to understand it. “I checked the sensors. Two of the Mud Men – Mutou and Kaiba – are in the air. They’re traveling too fast for the bio-bomb to target them.”
“What about the other one?” Vox asked, gripping the edges of the console convulsively. “Bakura?”
“Still in Domino City.”
Vox cursed, very creatively and at length. Finally, since Sool seemed to be waiting for some kind of coherent response, he took a deep breath. “Launch the bio-bomb when they land. And send someone to take care of Bakura,” he added shrilly. “He’s the dangerous one.”
Sool restrained the urge to roll his eyes. Clearly, the councilman didn’t feel comfortable saying the word ‘assassin.’ “You’ll support me for Root’s successor?”
“Yes,” Vox said impatiently. Honestly, was that all the gnome cared about?
“Then I’ll take care of it.”
The door swung so hard into the opposite wall that it left a dent as it rebounded. Ishizu gave her brother a disapproving look.
“I was just about to send someone out to look for you,” she said, folding the last crisp white robe and hoisting the laundry basket to her hip. As always, she looked like a queen, not someone who should be doing something as mundane as laundry.
But Marik barely noticed. “Where is it?”
She looked puzzled. “Where is what?”
“The Rod!” Marik yelled.
For a moment, something like real shock flickered across Ishizu’s face. The laundry basket tumbled to the floor. She didn’t seem to notice. “The Rod is with Yugi,” she said shakily. “So is the Necklace. Marik, you know this.”
He was shaking his head. “It’s not. It’s here! Why did you hide it from me?” He was growing angrier by the second. “I thought we agreed you wouldn’t try and manipulate me like Father did!”
She shook her head too, her expression a mixture of hurt and bewilderment. “Marik, the Rod and the Necklace are not here. I am not hiding anything from you.”
“Our sensors say the Items are definitely here.”
Ishizu let out a little shriek as she finally noticed the fairy commando hovering behind her brother. She stumbled backwards, her brown eyes wide with shock. “Who are you? What are you doing in our house?”
“Sister, it’s okay,” Marik hurried to assure her. “This is Captain Trouble Kelp. He’s a fairy.”
Ishizu had just opened her mouth to ask another question when the phone rang. Casting another wary glance at Trouble, Ishizu went to answer it.
Marik perked up his ears, but the rest of the conversation was lost as Ishizu turned her back to them and lowered her voice. He could hear her murmuring, then pause to listen to the white-haired boy’s response. The conversation seemed to go on for hours, though in reality it was probably only a few minutes. Finally, she hung up the phone and turned back to Marik and Trouble.
One look at her face told Marik exactly how much trouble they were in.
“Sister,” he said more softly, “Are the Rod and the Necklace here?”
Her shoulders slumped. “I don’t know,” she whispered.
Moving mechanically, she led them to the back of the house, into the bedroom that she kept off-limits from Marik and Odion. Ishizu lived simply; the room contained little more than a bed covered in clean white sheets, a bookcase filled with fairly innocuous books on ancient Egypt, and a desk where she could do her work. Looking around, Marik could see nothing that warranted a ban on entering. Perhaps Ishizu simply liked her privacy.
She went to the closet in the back of the room and stood there for a moment before its doors, hesitating. Marik was afraid she would never move, but at last, she opened the closet. Her movements were stiff and uncertain. She reached inside and pulled out a FedEx box. It looked unopened.
“The Pharaoh sent me this a few weeks ago,” Ishizu said, turning back to Marik and Trouble with the box in her hands. “I haven’t had the…the courage to open it. He said I would know when it was time.”
There was a moment’s pause. Then: “He FedExed the Millennium Items?” Marik asked incredulously.
Ishizu smiled slightly, some of the tension gone from her face. “I suppose he’s just adjusting to the times, Marik.” She reached into her robes and pulled out a small folding knife, used for prying out stubborn artifacts and occasionally – though not so often now – for self-defense. Taking a deep breath, she cut through the tape and opened the box.
The Millennium Rod and the Millennium Necklace lay cradled in a thick cushion of packing peanuts. The gold winked up at Marik innocently, as though the Items weren’t magical and hadn’t been created using the blood and souls of an entire village. Marik shuddered; that was one more secret of the Pharaoh he wished he had never learned.
Without a word, Ishizu reached into box and lifted the Necklace out. Lowering the box onto the bed, she fastened the Item around her neck. Instantly, it began to glow, briefly illuminating Ishizu’s face. Then the glow was gone, and the Necklace lay dormant as before. Ishizu turned to Marik, and there was a question in her eyes.
Marik took a deep breath. All that remained was for him to reach into the box and grasp the Rod. He stretched out a hand…and hesitated. He remembered Battle City, holding the Rod in his hand as he dueled and destroyed Yugi’s friends one by one. How he had tried to destroy the Pharaoh himself. Unlike Bakura, Marik did not have the excuse of being possessed by an evil spirit. The darkness that the Rod had unleashed had come entirely from Marik himself.
He remembered how the Rod had felt at first in his hands: raw, alien, and somehow wrong. As though he was not the one meant to wield it. But he had quickly repressed the thought and finally bent the Item to his will. He had no doubt that he could do so again.
Simply put, the Rod was power, and power felt good. Marik’s fingers tightened convulsively on air. With this in his hand, and with his knowledge of how to wield it, he could handle anything. But could he take that risk?
Is this my only choice? he thought. To protect Odion and Ishizu? To protect myself?
He reached out for the Rod…and then drew his hand back.
“Keep it,” he told Ishizu, turning away from the open box with an effort. “Until we’re sure there’s no other choice.”
As Ishizu closed the package without comment and returned the box to her closet, Marik stood with his back to her, fists clenched. He was trembling.
I just hope it doesn’t come to that.
“So…joining us after all, Mr. Kaiba?” Artemis asked. Part of him – and Butler, judging by his disapproving glare – knew that it was unwise to bait Kaiba, but Artemis found he simply couldn’t resist.
Kaiba’s blue eyes narrowed, but he said nothing. Instead, he beckoned to Mokuba and made to enter the jet. But the gigantic bodyguard stepped into his way. Kaiba’s cold eyes slid slowly up to Butler’s face. The look in them would have made a lesser man shudder.
“Sorry, but I’ll need any weapons you may be carrying,” Butler said, ignoring his own discomfort.
A small smile quirked the corners of Kaiba’s mouth. He did not mention what they both were thinking: with the magic that was – albeit tentatively – under Kaiba’s command, he was a weapon. Instead, he reached under his coat and produced a gun, which he offered to the bodyguard.
It was a FN 57, a military pistol capable of punching through Kevlar vests and CRISAT protection with ease. It was expensive, but to a man who did not have to worry about money, it was the perfect gun. Semi-compact, easily concealed, and with little recoil, it fired a 5.7mm bullet, and just one magazine held twenty rounds of ammo. But a man like Kaiba would not carry just one mag…
Kaiba arched an eyebrow, but reached into the shoulder holster now visible beneath his coat and procured a backup magazine. He handed this to Butler as well. Eying him narrowly, Butler slid the active magazine from the gun and then stowed the gun itself inside his jacket.
Kaiba looked almost bored by the whole procedure. “Satisfied?”
Not remotely. Butler performed a thorough pat-down, which Kaiba endured in silence. His cold eyes met Artemis’ over the bodyguard’s shoulder when Butler bent down, and the expression in them was anything but friendly. But Artemis did not flinch. The Pharaoh was also looking at him, and this brought back the memory of the man’s last words before leaving the apartment. Compared with the Pharaoh, Kaiba seemed tame.
Butler soon found the backup gun, a Walter PPS secured to the outside of Kaiba’s right calf. He held it up before Kaiba’s face accusingly, and Kaiba shrugged.
The others looked at him wide-eyed.
Finally finished, Butler nodded for the brunette to enter the plane. He performed similar pat-downs on the Pharaoh and Mokuba as well, though perhaps not quite as thorough, and then waved them inside. Holly slipped inside at the last moment, unshielding in one of the plushly padded seats. Butler glanced at her, and by unspoken communication left her alone.
Kaiba settled back into his chair as they took off, feeling the comforting weight of the Infidel switchblade in his boot. A classic hiding place, perhaps, but these boots were specially designed to withstand searching without revealing their hidden contents. And, Kaiba thought with a smirk, they’ve performed according to expectations.
“Look, Seto. A chess board!”
He looked. Mokuba was right; there was a chess board near the rear of the airplane, carefully stowed for take-off. Despite himself, Kaiba felt a pang of longing. He hadn’t played chess in so long; it was hard to find an opponent skilled enough to offer him a real fight. Yugi didn’t play.
At the same time, it was impossible not to associate chess with Gozaboro, since it was a game of chess that had won Seto and Mokuba a place in the billionaire’s home. Though Kaiba was not one to look back at the past, he found himself wishing sometimes that he had never challenged the man. His victory had been a costly one. Judging by Mokuba’s expression, his brother was having the same associations.
“You play chess?” Holly asked. She vaguely remembered Foaly saying something about Kaiba and a chess game.
Mokuba nodded before Kaiba could answer. “Seto and I used to play all the time in the orphanage. Winning at a chess game was how we entered Gozaboro’s house.”
“Right,” Holly said uncomfortably. She had seen the guns Kaiba carried, and now she could remember Foaly telling her about Gozaboro Kaiba’s unfortunate ‘fall’ from his office window. She was having less and less trouble believing that Kaiba could have murdered his stepfather. And not for the first time, she found herself worrying about Artemis. What had he gotten himself into?
“You and Artemis should play,” Mokuba suggested to his brother, a little too brightly. “You shouldn’t work on your laptop the whole time, Seto.”
Kaiba opened his mouth to protest, then closed it again. Fowl was watching him with a slightly patronizing smirk. All at once, Seto felt an almost overwhelming desire to beat the other boy and to feel the familiar carved pieces in his hand. So instead of protesting, he smiled.
“I don’t have to ask you if you play, do I, Stefan?” he asked. Artemis’ eyes gleamed, and he slowly shook his head.
A few moments later, they sat on either side of the board, Kaiba white and Artemis black. Kaiba lifted his dark blue eyes to meet Artemis’ identical ones. The challenge there was unmistakable. Then, slowly, his lip curled in a cruel parody of a smile.
“Pawn to F4.”
He could feel his host struggling to restrain him, and he laughed at the foolish boy’s pathetic efforts. With a burst of strength, he swept his soul restraints aside.
For a long while, he merely stretched, reveling in the feeling of their shared mind under his control. Then, eliciting a particularly anguished moan from his host, he violently searched their memories, trying to see exactly what the boy had hoped to conceal. They were patchy, scratched and blurred like an old CD. More secrets.
The images sharpened as he focused his power. He saw a hotel room, and the hated Pharaoh with the others. He heard voices, words, and the brat’s plan became suddenly clear.
So the Pharaoh hoped to regain his power? That would not happen. He would not allow it to happen.
Ignoring his host’s futile cries of protest, he sought the Pharaoh with his magic. He frowned. The Pharaoh was over the ocean? But that made no sense, unless…a curse rose to his lips. He did not know where they planned to land, or where the Ritual would ultimately take place. He would have to wait.
But in the meantime, he thought, turning back to the white-haired boy shaking with pain and fear on the floor of his soul room, he would make his host pay for his interference.