“Now would be a very good time for a plan,” Holly shouted, jumping to her feet and reaching for her gun.
The portal was widening, Shadows pouring out of it, turning the night to a darker black. In the middle of the whirling shapes, a larger shape was forming. In moments, it had assumed the form of a man. It was like seeing an artist dab a pencil-sketching with color. Shadowy hair turned white, skin darkened, eyes turned from grey to brown. The Shadows peeled away entirely.
Bakura took in the figure of the Pharaoh lying on the ground and laughed. “It seems I’ve arrived just in time.”
The whine of the bio-bomb was growing louder. Holly looked up and saw the distant blue light barreling closer. It would be here in moments. She looked at Artemis and was disconcerted to see the expression in his thin face. For the first time in his life, the great Artemis Fowl was at a loss.
In a few seconds, we’re all going to die.
Bakura lifted his head towards the sky and cursed. “Looks like I’ll have to do this quickly.”
There was a sound like a thunderclap. The air tore. The Shadows cackled in glee…and swallowed the bio-bomb whole. The distinctive whine cut off abruptly.
In the silence, all eyes turned towards Pharaoh. Somehow, he was standing, his feet set wide apart. The Millennium Puzzle glowed like a star.
“You can take all the time you need, Bakura,” he said quietly.
Terrible…and beautiful…that was how Pharaoh looked in that moment. Emblazoned across his forehead was the golden eye of Horus, and the Shadows were in his eyes. Bakura’s eyes widened involuntarily. Then Pharaoh swayed, his eyes half-closing, hand clutching at Butler’s arm for support. The sight gave Bakura courage.
“Five thousand years ago you couldn’t beat me,” he sneered. “Now look at you! You’re barely standing. How can you hope to defeat me now?”
“He won’t stand alone,” Kaiba said. His expression was fierce as he came up to stand beside Pharaoh. Artemis gasped. Kaiba’s blue eyes were strangely luminous, the blue tinged with a familiar gold.
Bakura swore, and the Shadows formed again. With a roar, a monster erupted from thin air in front of him. It had the torso of a man and the lower end of a snake, complete with huge venomous fangs. “Diabound, attack!” A huge ball of magic formed between the creature’s hands.
Golden light welled up in Kaiba’s eyes. He raised a hand, and the magic erupted from it in an explosion of blue flame. And from that flame…
Everything, from its body armored in interlocking scales as hard as plate to its crested head was made of the purest white. It glittered. It shone. It awed. A piercing gaze, the same color as Kaiba’s own, eyed Diabound contemptuously. It unfurled its wings – God, they had to be at least fifty feet from tip to tip – and reared up onto its hind legs, letting out a deafening roar.
All this as fast as thought.
Diabound released its magic. The dragon opened its jaws wide and a jet of pure white light sprang forward like an arrow. The magicks warred against each other, neither one gaining dominance. Then, slowly, ever so slowly, Diabound’s attack began gaining ground. Kaiba’s eyes narrowed in concentration as he fought back, but it was a losing battle. The magic was just too new, and Bakura was just too strong.
Butler acted. Shoving the pharaoh into Artemis’ arms, he reached beneath his jacket and pulled out his gun. Ignoring the magical battle going on above his head, he took aim and fired.
Human beings are so fragile. It takes less than ten pounds of pressure to break a collarbone, and less than one to break the skin.
And a bullet exerts far, far more than that.
It slammed into Bakura’s shoulder, accompanied by the horrifying crack of breaking bone. The Thief King let loose a piteous scream of agony. His knees buckled, his magic faltered, and Diabound hesitated. Too long. Suddenly free from opposition, the dragon’s blast surged forward, overriding the failing remnants of the other monster’s attack. The white light struck Diabound directly. With a scream to match its master’s, it disintegrated.
Kaiba stalked forward. His blue gold eyes showed no mercy as he glared at the Thief King on the ground. Bakura raised his head, his handsome face contorted by hatred and pain. The dragon’s mouth gaped wide, and another burst of white light began to form between its jaws.
If Pharaoh had expected the instant obedience – perhaps his memories were still of Seth –he was sorely disappointed. Kaiba ignored him entirely. By now, the ball of white lightning was nearly large enough to be released. As they watched, the Thief King’s eyes softened, the angular face became more round, and the hatred disappeared. Ryou sobbed in agony.
At the sound of that voice, the dragon’s jaws snapped shut immediately, extinguishing the magical attack. Kaiba turned toward Mokuba, the anger in his face warring with remorse at the heartsick expression on the younger boy’s face.
“Don’t kill him,” Mokuba said quietly. “Please don’t.”
Kaiba stared wordlessly at his younger brother. The emotions ran across his face too quickly to be grasped: reluctance, anger, love, hate.
The dragon disappeared.
Pharaoh was already moving. Wearily, in a way that was more than half a fall, he knelt down at Ryou’s side. His hand reached out slowly and touched the boy’s shaking head. “I’m sorry, Ryou,” he said quietly. “I hate to cause you even more pain.”
The Ring was tuned to his power. He had the memories to unlock it. Now he only hoped he had the strength.
Bakura shrank back into a corner of his soul room, snarling with helpless fury. The walls were crumbling, the floor tearing up beneath his feet. Slowly, but steadily, the Millennium Ring was loosening its grip on Ryou’s soul.
It can’t end like this!
He tried to bend the Ring to his will, but it refused to respond. In five minutes, the Pharaoh was unraveling what had taken the Thief King five thousand years to accomplish.
Blackness began to eat at the corners of his vision. He tried to rise, to stumble to the door of his soul room, but his legs refused to support his weight.
He looked up…and saw Ryou standing before him. The sweet face showed no malice or hatred, only a strange sort of sadness. “Goodbye, Bakura,” he said quietly.
Cursing, Bakura was dragged down into the void.
Pharaoh would have fallen but for Butler, who caught him and lowered him gently to the ground. He lay there, eyes closed, his breathing harsh and uneven.
“I have…released Ryou from the Ring’s power…” he managed at last, violet eyes creaking open with an effort. “At least…I think I have.”
Are you alright? Yugi’s voice, weak and shaky, but there, spoke up for the first time since the spell. Pharaoh’s heart leapt within him, and the secret terror that he had been repressing finally died away.
Now I am, he said fervently, ignoring the aching weariness he felt, pulling the other into a tight embrace in the hallway of their soul rooms. Now I am.
Ryou had fallen silent. Holly glanced over at him and saw that his chest was still rising and falling, but feebly. The blood streaming from his broken collarbone was a stark contrast to his chalk-white face.
“Haven, couldn’t you have shot him in the leg?” she demanded of Butler, kneeling down at the boy’s side and feeling for the entry wound.
“Barely,” she muttered, finally finding the injury itself beneath the thick covering of blood. “Heal.” Blue sparks raced down her fingers into the boy’s shoulder. He moaned as the bones grated and shifted into their proper place, sealing together with a soft click. This accomplished, they began to knit the skin back together. The bullet fell to the ground. When the last of the sparks faded, Ryou had passed from unconsciousness into a natural sleep.
“Is that it?” Mokuba asked in a small voice.
Kaiba spared a glance at Ryou. “Looks like it.”
Suddenly, Mokuba flung his arms around his brother’s waist, the only bit he could comfortably reach, and buried his dark head in the folds of his white coat. Tears began streaming down his cheeks.
“Hey…” Kaiba said gently. He dropped to his knees and pulled Mokuba to him in a tight hug. “It’s over. It’s alright.”
Mokuba laid his head on his brother’s shoulder, and soon his sobs had trailed away into a series of shuddering sighs. “I’m sorry,” he sniffed. “I didn’t mean to cry…”
“It’s alright,” Kaiba repeated, stroking Mokuba’s tangled hair. “Don’t apologize.”
Artemis watched the pair of them, a heavy feeling in the pit of his stomach. There was nothing of the harsh, ruthless businessman now, just a boy comforting his little brother. There were still remnants of the magic in Kaiba’s eyes, and his face still bore traces of the painful spell he had endured, but he was heedless of that. To him, Mokuba was the entire world.
Suddenly, a mansion didn’t seem as important any more.
Inwardly, Artemis groaned. Will these attacks of conscience never cease plaguing me?
The sound of footsteps on dry leaves had them all spinning around, Butler and Holly’s hands going to their guns. But it was only Julius Root. The LEP commander was breathing hard, his mechanical wings folded against his back. “What did I miss?”
“I died.” With Butler’s help, Pharaoh managed to pull himself into a sitting position. His violet eyes gleamed with humor.
Root turned purple. “You WHAT?!”
“We got bio-bombed.” Holly this time.
“I summoned the Blue Eyes White Dragon.” Kaiba.
“We stopped the Thief King.” Butler.
“Oh, and Pharaoh got his memories back.” Artemis, smiling smugly.
Root glared at them, then turned to Mokuba. “And I suppose you have something to report too?”
“Nope,” Mokuba said, hugging his big brother even more tightly. “That just about covers it.”
It’s not over yet, is it, Pharaoh?
Pharaoh sighed. No, little one. The fairies still remain to be dealt with. I think the bio-bomb declared their intentions well enough.
What about the memories? Yugi asked. Parethmus and Naeglith?
Don’t worry, Aibou. I have some ideas on that score.
The younger boy’s voice was determined. Wherever you go, I’ll be right there by your side.
Pharaoh smiled. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Kaiba turned slowly at the sound of Fowl’s voice, eyes narrowed suspiciously. He felt the magic rising again, the blue once again crowded upon by gold, but with an effort, he forced it down. Mokuba looked anxiously from one to the other.
“What do you want, Fowl?”
“A business partnership.”
Even Seto Kaiba could not entirely conceal his shocked reaction. “What?”
Fowl smiled his calculating smile. “I have come to admire you in our encounters, Mr. Kaiba, and despite our…” He paused. “Past grievances, I believe we each have something valuable to offer the other.”
Kaiba laughed incredulously. “You want us to work together?”
Kaiba’s laughter died and his eyes grew cold. “Don’t think that because we’ve shared the same…experience” he growled – even now, it hurt to think about the visions – “or because we briefly shared a common enemy that we’re friends now, Fowl. I don’t forgive so easily.”
Fowl just gave him an infuriating smile. “Well, if you change your mind, just give me a call.” He started to walk off towards the Bentley, then stopped. “Oh, and you might be needing these back.” Reaching into his jacket, he held out Kaiba’s confiscated guns.
Kaiba loaded both guns with practiced ease and slid them back into their holsters, all the while resisting the urge to fire a few rounds into Fowl’s retreating back.