One Last Theft

Chapter 20

Commander Julius Root certainly had other duties to attend to. Foaly was involved with his own project, and Mulch was in a nice comfy cell. As for the commander himself, he had a rather intimidating stack of paperwork that had been accumulating during his absence. But no matter how often Root tried to repress them, his thoughts kept wandering back to Yugi and the Pharaoh. And Kaiba too, though Root would rather spend six months doing sewer duty in Atlantis than admit it. He had demanded updates of both Holly andTrouble, andso far everything seemed to be running relatively smoothly. Marik and Ishizu were in possession of their Millennium Items and were holding tight for a while. At the first sign of trouble, they were prepared to disappear. According to Holly, Kaiba and Artemis were…working out their differences, and so far neither one had killed the other. Yugi and the Pharaoh were alright as well, if somewhat distant.

Everything was fine. They would reach Ireland soon, perform the Ritual, and, hopefully, restore the Pharaoh’s memories.

So why was Root feeling so twitchy?

Finally, after reading the same line of the same report for the fifth time, he gave up. Ten minutes later, he was in a shuttle and headed for the surface.

If Julius Root had hung around Headquarters for just five more minutes, he would have been in time to see Foaly charge out of the Operations Booth, waving a sheet of paper and yelling “Commander! Commander!” at the top of his lungs.

If Julius Root had hung around Headquarters for just five more minutes, he would have also seen (and laughed at) the centaur trip over his own hooves and face-plant on the floor.

But Root had already departed for the surface by the time Foaly did any of these things, and he had turned off his communicator, so whatever message the centaur had wanted to impart was fated to go unheard.

Finding a professional assassin among a supposedly peace-loving people is fairly difficult. Fortunately, Ark Sool knew the right elf for the job.

The specifics of Mortimer Sharpe’s childhood weren’t that important. Typical mom, typical dad, typical brothers and sisters. Young Mortimer was pretty typical too, with one exception.

He liked to kill things.

At age 12, his parents enrolled him in martial arts classes.

“He just needs to work off some energy,” his father told his mother. “You know how boys are.” He wasn’t unduly worried. Mortimer was a fairly typical kid, aside from a couple incidents with swear toads (and wasn’t he doing everyone a favor by getting rid of them?), and his father fully expected the martial arts to serve as a perfect distraction.

Unfortunately, it didn’t take Mortimer long to master his first martial art. This time, it wasn’t swear toads. It was cats. His parents enrolled him in another class.

Mortimer took it like a fish to water.

By age twenty, Mortimer was proficient in just about every martial art that existed and a few that didn’t. As a result, he spent several years making money by beating local martial arts champions. He even had a small (but highly dedicated) fan base. But the problem with being so good at anything is that soon you get bored.

So Mortimer Sharpe decided to advance to more interesting game: humanoids. Though it was difficult to find a teacher in the art of assassination, Mortimer was persistent.

Jasper Oak was a living legend among the criminal underworld. It was rumored that he had actually assassinated three major heads of state in the same day using nothing more than a toothpick and a napkin. Mortimer proved himself to be a most willing pupil.

By age thirty, he could kill with just about anything, including, as he knew from experience, a roll of toilet paper.

But that’s another story.

All that mattered at the moment was that he was currently crouched outside the window of a very expensive hotel room, dreaming of the vast sums of money he was about to make and preparing to make an entrance. He could of course have taken out Ryou Bakura from two thousand yards with his high-powered custom-made sniper rifle, but where was the fun in that?

The boy was standing with his back to the window, apparently staring into space. Mentally, Mortimer snorted.

Like taking candy from a baby.

He looked around the room, debating what to use. Chair? No, too awkward. Besides, any idiot and his brother could knock someone over the head. Bed sheets? Could work, except that the target was currently standing between him and the bed. Mortimer scanned the desk.

Perfect. Paperclips. He slipped through the window and entered the room.

When Mortimer was two feet from his target, Bakura turned. Mortimer was not alarmed; a mere human wouldn’t be able to see through his shield. Bakura’s face was drawn as though in pain, but his lips were twitching in a cruel smile. His dark eyes gleamed with satisfaction.

“Don’t you understand, my dear light?” he murmured to thin air. The last words were nearly a purr, deadly soft. “You are mine.”

Then he laughed. The sound raised all the hair on Mortimer’s arms and on the back of his neck. There was absolutely no humanity in that laughter, no shred of kindness or compassion. For the first time in almost a hundred years, he was afraid.

As suddenly as it had begun, the laughter stopped. The mirth in Bakura’s eyes vanished. The body stopped its shuddering. Slowly, deliberately, the boy’s eyes met Mortimer’s.

“You know, it’s very rude to enter someone’s room without their permission,” Bakura said conversationally.

But that’s impossible! Humans can’t see through shields!

Fortunately, Mortimer recovered quickly from this little setback. He’d worry about the how of it later. He unshielded and accessed the mesmer. “Ignore me,” he droned. “Go back to what you were doing.”

Bakura grinned. “Or not.”

And before Mortimer Sharpe could so much as open his mouth to try again, a blast of Shadow Magic struck him in the chest.

Butler sat behind the wheel of the Bentley, driving in silence. Pharaoh, riding shotgun, was equally silent; every moment that they drew closer to their goal he seemed to get more and more withdrawn. The others sat in the back, not talking. Mokuba had made some attempts at conversation, but when nobody seemed inclined to help him, he had stopped.

Finally, Holly decided to address the subject they were all avoiding. “It was just a chess game. It’s not the end of the world.”

Artemis and Kaiba shifted uncomfortably, but still no one spoke.

Holly wasn’t willing to let this go. “You’re being childish!” she exploded. “What is the big deal?”

“It was a stalemate,” Pharaoh said.

Holly glared at him. “So what?”

That elicited a tiny smile from Pharaoh. “So they both hate to lose,” he rumbled. “And to have no winner at all is far worse.”

Holly snorted and crossed her arms. “I still think they’re being childish,” she muttered grumpily.

“It’s ironic,” Pharaoh murmured, so quietly that only Butler could hear.

The bodyguard glanced at him. “How so?”

Pharaoh shook his head. “Never mind.” He went back to staring out the window.

And they continued on in silence.

The pharaoh had landed.

Bakura smirked and called the Shadows. A little judicious use of magic and he would be in Ireland – if he was reading the other man’s position correctly – within moments. Plenty of time to prevent the Ritual. Darkness began to seep from his eyes until it blanketed the room.

But something was wrong. The Shadows responded, yes, but sluggishly. He snarled and focused harder. More Shadows came, but still not enough. He could sense a portal a few inches beyond his mental fingers, but he could not bring it into being!

Anger, mixed with panic, engulfed him. Then his eyes fell on the still body of the fairy assassin. He cursed as realization hit.

He had overextended his power. In wasting some of it on destroying his would-be assailant, he had inadvertently ruined his chance to create a portal. His magic would return with rest, but by then it might be too late…

A cry of rage surged to his lips, but he contained it. Instead, he restrained himself to delivering a violent kick to the corpse’s ribs.

Well Pharaoh, he sneered, I guess you have just won yourself a reprieve. Enjoy it while you can.

He refused to think about the consequences should the Ritual succeed.

“This is it?”

Though he was much too polite to echo Kaiba’s incredulous tone, Pharaoh privately had to admit that the other boy had a point. The scene before them was nothing special. The sheer size of the tree was impressive, to be sure, but that was the only thing that caught his eye. The only sound was the chirping of crickets.

“What were you expecting?” Holly asked, raising an eyebrow.

Kaiba didn’t have an answer for that. Holly waited a moment or two until it was clear that he wasn’t about to respond, then smirked. “Can’t you feel the magic, Mud Boy?”

Now that Holly had mentioned it, Pharaoh could feel it. It was faint, but it was certainly there. It was also uncomfortable, like wearing burlap.

Pharaoh, are you alright?

Yami smiled at the tender concern in the other’s voice. Yes, Aibou. I’m fine.

This place feels wonderful, Yugi said dreamily. Comforting. Like hot chocolate on a cold day when you’re snuggled up to the fire. He stopped, clearly embarrassed. Sorry.

No need to apologize, Yami hastened to reassure him. But why does it not bother him?

Artemis Fowl was looking around with interest. “This is the location of our first meeting,” he observed to Holly. His expression was somewhere between amused and curious. “An interesting choice.”

Holly narrowed her eyes. “It’s remote, which means the People are more unlikely to visit it. And we don’t need you learning any more of our hotspots.”

“Really, Captain,” Artemis said. “Do you think I would revert to my old ways?”

“Better safe than sorry,” she said curtly. She turned away, and therefore missed the brief pang that flashed across Artemis’ face. It was gone so quickly that anyone observing it might have passed it off as his imagination.

Holly led the group over to a patch of dirt beneath the wide-spreading branches of the tree. The ground was covered with acorns, some of them fairly large.

“So what now?” Kaiba asked, looking down at Holly. “How does this Ritual thing work?”

“Take an acorn,” Holly said simply. “And bury it.”

Kaiba’s expression matched his earlier tone. “Bury an acorn?” he repeated. “That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

Kaiba snorted in disbelief. “You can’t be serious.”

Holly shrugged. “Do it or don’t. I don’t really care.”

Pharaoh leaned down and picked up a sizable acorn, about the size of a golf ball. Holding it in his hand, he knelt down and began digging a small hole with his fingers.

Kaiba sighed and handed his briefcase to Mokuba. “This has to be the stupidest looking thing I have ever done.” Wisely, no one commented. The lanky CEO scooped up another acorn and crouched down. In moments, he had a hole roughly the same size as Yugi’s.

Yami looked up at him. “Together?”

Kaiba shrugged assent. Pharaoh clenched the acorn even more tightly.

Are you ready, Aibou? he asked. He could feel Yugi’s comforting presence beside him, offering his support.

I’m ready.

Yami took a deep breath, and plunged his hand into the hole.

Artemis watched with mingled fascination and horror as Kaiba, who was nearer, doubled over with a groan. The boy’s proud features were no longer composed. Face twisted with pain and anguish, he stared at something no one else could see.

“No! Kisara! Pharaoh!” The words seemed torn from him without his volition; Artemis was certain that Kaiba would never under ordinary circumstances have allowed so much emotion to cloud his voice. He caught a glimpse of Holly, her hazel eyes wide with dismay.

Perhaps it was this that prompted Artemis to act. He strode forward and grasped Kaiba by the shoulder. He was not sure what he intended to do, but he could not just stand there and watch.

His fingers brushed fabric…

Walking on the banks of the Nile. The city streets, the smell of cooking food. The feel of cool metal in his grip.

The visions were flashing by too quickly: a whole lifetime of memories condensed into a single minute.

A battlefield. Two figures huddle behind shards of broken rock. Wind whips their hair and clothing, blood drenches everything. Words, too hard to hear over the roaring wind.

Bodies everywhere. They wade over the bodies of the dead.

A ruined temple, the desert stretching on beyond. A dead girl in his arms. No, not his arms, not his arms, not…

Bright blade, red blood splashing to the ground. Strange that gold could cut so deep. Shadows, shrieking, whirling, calling…bright light. A man, dead or dying. His companion cries his name. No, not his name. That’s gone…

Shattered pieces of the Puzzle, carefully collected. No time to grieve, no time to mourn. No time to remember. No time…

“Artemis! Artemis!”

The real world returned with a jerk. Artemis found himself kneeling on the ground next to Kaiba. His entire body was shaking uncontrollably. Butler crouched over him, calling his name, voice tight with worry. Part of Artemis’ mind registered that Kaiba had fallen silent.

“I’m…fine,” he managed to gasp. “I’m fine.” Taking deep breaths, he glanced over at Kaiba, who was on his hands and knees, supporting himself with trembling arms.

It was Kaiba, and yet not Kaiba, staring out at Artemis through those old, old eyes. A kind of understanding passed between them at that moment. Perhaps it was not bosom friendship, but it was a start.

“Oh my God.”

Both turned to see what was causing such horror in Mokuba’s voice. And both gasped as they saw what he had seen.

For Kaiba, the process of restoring his magic, though painful, was fairly straightforward. Seth’s soul, his identity, was untouched, completely present in his reincarnation. The memories were there, ready to be awakened. It was simply a matter of creating a link.

The Pharaoh was not so lucky. His name, his identity, had been erased. His soul was fragmented, broken, just like the Puzzle where it had resided for five thousand years. He was little more than a parasite now, a spirit that flitted at the corners of the real world. He had sealed away his memories behind barriers paid for with his soul.

To retrieve them, to reawaken the magic, the Ritual would need to tear these barriers down. The Shadows guarding them rose up to resist.

The Pharaoh’s body had just become a battlefield.

Can’t scream can’t breathe can’t move oh gods make it stop

Let me die

The Pharaoh’s voiceless howl would remain with Holly for the rest of her life. He writhed, cracking his head sharply on the ground, keening without sound. Both hands tightened compulsively, clawing at the ground as though desperate to stay anchored. His forehead smashed into the ground again, and as he raised it, she could see a dark smear of blood. He looked like he was having some kind of epileptic fit. Blood was oozing from his clenched fist, so tight was his grip on the acorn within it. Blood spilled from his mouth as well; he had bitten his tongue.

Then, without warning, he fell utterly still, facedown on the ground.

Holly reached his side at the same time that Butler did. Together, they turned his body over. There was no movement, no sign of breathing. Quick fingers found the side of Pharaoh’s neck, checked for a pulse.


Pharaoh’s heart had stopped.

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