Commander Root stood before the Council, delivering his report. This shouldn’t have occurred. All of the fairies on the bench were quite capable of reading a report all by themselves (or at least, Root assumed so). Root shouldn’t be forced to waste his valuable time with an oral presentation. But that was the Council for you. Things very rarely made sense.
“Foaly picked up four magical readings, not counting Seto Kaiba,” Root said. “The one in Domino City seems to be the strongest.”
“Do you have these Mud Men under surveillance?” Councilman Vox demanded shrilly. Root had never seen anyone who looked so much like a ferret. He was slender and his pointed face was dominated by an equally pointed nose that twitched when he was agitated. And now it was twitching like a demented rabbit. Root watched with mingled fascination and disgust.
“I have dispatched an operative to Domino City to monitor the two strongest signals,” he said as calmly as he could. “Foaly has identified these as Seto Kaiba and a Mud Boy by the name of Yugi Mutou.”
“Do you believe that the existence of these…magic Mud Men poses a threat to the People?” another councilman asked. Root could never remember his name. Absolutely nothing about the man was remarkable, except for his remarkable lack of anything remarkable.
“I do not believe that Yugi Mutou or the other three we have detected are yet a threat to the People,” Root answered after a moment. “Seto Kaiba, however, has knowledge of our ways and quite possibly a copy of the Book.”
Although they had all heard this before, the Council rocked back, a shocked murmur running around the chamber.
“How did this Kaiba come by the information?” Vox demanded.
Root resisted the urge to roll his eyes. They all knew how Kaiba had found out about the People. It had happened over twenty-four hours ago, for Haven’s sake! “He stole it from Artemis Fowl, who has already had some…contact with the People.”
This time, the murmur was of outrage. “Fowl has proven a liability,” Councilwoman Vinyáya said sternly.
Root said nothing. He had no argument. If he had his way, he would put Fowl in handcuffs and let him spend a few years in Howler’s Peak. Wipe that arrogant, insensitive smirk of his face. But Root couldn’t do that. By the rules of the People, Fowl had won. They were forced to leave him alone. Now if only Fowl would return the favor.
“Fowl is not the problem right now,” Councilman Brug said. “Kaiba is.” He reached forward to the panel in front of his chair, and the electronically recorded voice of Trouble Kelp rang through the chambers.
“Fowl, how much of a danger do you think Kaiba really is?”
The voice of Artemis Fowl spoke into the deadly quiet. “I think he has the potential to be one of the most dangerous threats the People have ever faced.”
“Commander,” Councilman Hagan cut in smoothly. “At some point, it may become necessary to…remove the threat that this Mud Boy poses. Would you consider yourself prepared to accomplish this, if, of course, further investigation seems to warrant such an action?”
“A fancy way of asking me if I’m prepared to order the execution of a human child,” Root said bluntly. A few of the Council members winced. “I can only answer by saying that I will do what is necessary to protect the People. But no more.”
They all seemed disappointed by his answer. “Very well, you are dismissed,” Councilman Hagan said.
Root left the Council Chambers, his mind churning. As he walked, he wondered if what he had told the Council was the truth. If they ordered him to have Kaiba removed, would he be able to do it? To defend the People, certainly, but…Root was still not sure that the Mud Boy posed a threat, despite his questionable background. Kaiba had taken no action in twenty-four hours of surveillance. Perhaps he would do nothing. And if Root did not believe Kaiba was a threat, how could he order his execution?
“Foaly,” he barked as soon as he entered the blacked-out Observation Booth. “I want you to put everything you can on tracking Kaiba. I want to know whether or not this guy’s going to be a danger to us.”
All the while, the question kept turning over in his mind. What would he do?
“The fire investigators have determined that the fire was definitely arson,” Butler reported as he hung up his cell phone. At that moment, the two of them were in the Lear jet over the Atlantic Ocean, making their way to Domino City. Artemis was engaged in staring out the window and planning his revenge on Seto Kaiba, and for a moment, he did not register the bodyguard’s words. Once he had, however, he sneered.
“Of course. I had no doubt in my mind upon that point.”
Butler was not deterred. “They have determined that the fire began in the study. The arsonist used gasoline and a cigarette to start the blaze.”
Artemis waved a hand impatiently. “I know all this, Butler. If it were not for this disk,” he lifted the golden-covered medallion that hung around his neck, “All my files would have been lost. Is there anything that is not readily apparent to even the blindest of detectives?”
Butler smiled. “I believe I know the culprit’s name.”
Artemis sat up abruptly in his chair, his attention fully engaged. “Tell me.”
“His name is Necrophades. Known as Necros by his employers.”
“Death,” murmured Artemis. “Fitting.”
Butler continued. “I have heard of him before; he is almost a legend in the criminal world. He has managed to pull off several high-profile assassinations, as well as numerous robberies, kidnappings, and other felonies. A bodyguard’s nightmare. Though to the best of my knowledge, he has never been convicted or even charged with a crime.”
“Remarkable,” Artemis said. “How did you identify him?”
Butler pulled a tiny security device from his pocket. “The camera that you constructed from the fairy surveillance equipment managed to register an image. Its casing was somewhat damaged in the fire, but there is still enough resolution to provide us with an identification.” His eyes narrowed. “And Necros is someone a man like Kaiba would be likely to hire. Untraceable, since no one has ever been able to assemble a concrete list of his employers.”
Artemis took the tiny camera and hooked it up to his laptop. Thank God he had taken it with him to KaibaCorp. A blurry image appeared on the screen. Through some technical maneuvering, Artemis was able to make the picture a little more focused. It showed a nondescript man dressed in a servant’s uniform with a head of nut-brown hair and the same color eyes. He did not attract the eye: a perfect quality in an assassin.
“That’s the man I saw,” Artemis said. “But I’m surprised you were able to connect this man with Necros, if as you say, no one has ever tracked him down.”
Butler shrugged. “All things are possible with enough money.”
Artemis closed the laptop, deciding he did not need to know who Butler had bribed to get this information. He had what he wanted: ammunition against Kaiba.
“You know, Butler,” he said, staring out the window again, “I am almost enjoying this little game with Mr. Kaiba.”
Butler shook his head. He did not look forward to the day when Artemis got smacked in the face with the realization of his own mortality. It would be a heavy blow.
All Butler had to do now was make sure Artemis survived long enough to see it happen.
Yugi Mutou sighed and slumped down a little farther in his chair. He glanced up hopefully at the clock, in case it had miraculously jumped forward in the last thirty seconds. It hadn’t. In front of him, the teacher droned on and on, his voice fading into a kind of permanent buzzing that tickled Yugi’s ears.
Why so restless, aibou? the Pharaoh’s voice rumbled in his head.
Yugi, gazing at his yami across the hall separating their soul rooms, snorted. Are you listening to the same lecture as I am, Pharaoh?
The spirit’s lips twitched in a slight smile. He rarely laughed. I confess, Yugi, I have not been listening at all. I trust you to do that.
Yugi glanced at the clock again, hoping that he did not look like he was carrying on a conversation with a person inside his head to his classmates. Sometimes he would forget to speak through his mind and would burst out with some random phrase or gesture. This, needless to say, was disconcerting to people who were not in the know, and hilarious to those who were.
Where is Kaiba? Yugi wondered after a moment of mental silence. He’s been gone for over a week.
Presumably he’s on a business trip, Yami said.
Yugi flushed. I should have thought of that.
You’re just so occupied with the lecture that you can’t concentrate on anything else.
Yugi laughed and looked at the clock again. Two minutes had passed. He sighed.
Pharaoh, do you know any good knock-knock jokes? A true act of desperation.
Yami was just about to ask what exactly a “knock-knock joke” was when the door of the classroom opened. Seto Kaiba strode in, tossed a short apology at the teacher, and swept regally to his seat, managing to draw the eyes of every single student in the room. Seto Kaiba was hard to miss.
Yugi studied the taller teenager over his shoulder. Kaiba laid his silver briefcase on the desk, then leaned back in his chair and fixed the teacher with his patented “Get on with it” stare.
The lecture resumed.
Yugi was just about to face forward and drift off into a stupor again when he caught Kaiba staring at him intently. Yugi shifted uncomfortably; the clear blue eyes were unnerving. He finally offered a small shrug, as if to ask, ‘What?’ As though embarrassed to be caught staring, Kaiba looked away. Yugi was amused to note that he also glanced at the clock.
The bell finally rang fifteen excruciating minutes later. Yugi stood up, ran a few mental laps in the narrow hallway outside his soul room to clear his mind, and started to collect his belongings.
He heard footsteps approach his desk and stop. Yugi looked up, to be met once again by Kaiba’s piercing gaze.
“Yugi, I need to talk with you,” the other boy said.
“What is it, Kaiba?” Yugi asked with some concern. Kaiba looked a little less impeccable than normal, and his jaw was tight with tension.
“Not here,” Kaiba said. “Can you meet me at the southeast corner after school?”
“Sure,” Yugi said. “I usually walk home anyway.”
“Today, I’ll give you a ride.”
Yugi could only gape at him. Whatever he wants to say must be important, he remarked to the Pharaoh. Yami only nodded. Before Yugi could ask any questions, Kaiba disappeared out the door and merged into the crowd.
Three hours later, Artemis and Butler sat in a rented car outside Domino High School, watching as the students poured out of the building. Artemis grimaced. The clothing and hairstyles in this place were simply appalling. He even noticed a boy who looked short enough to be in middle school and sported a gigantic head of hair that reminded Artemis vaguely of a multicolored starfish. To top it off, the boy wore an enormous, tacky gold pendant around his neck. It was in the shape of an upside-down pyramid, and its size alone made it unwieldy. Artemis sneered at how stupid the entire ensemble looked. The boy glanced both ways, then headed around the corner of the school, towards the back of the campus.
It was an unusually warm day, and Artemis opened his window in an attempt to channel some cooler air into the car. There was no sign of Kaiba, and Artemis wondered if there was another entrance to the school that the CEO was in the habit of using. But no, there he was. Kaiba stepped out of the school’s double doors, as proud and regal as always, and looked both ways, evidently looking for someone. Artemis shrank down slightly in his seat. Kaiba hesitated again for the briefest moment, holding his silver briefcase in one hand, and then followed the path the boy with the starfish hair had taken around the building and out of sight.
Artemis frowned, and was just about to tell Butler to circle around in an attempt to locate Kaiba when a boy just about Artemis’ age stopped beside the car, blocking his view. He had unruly black hair and an unnaturally steely gaze for one so young. Artemis felt immediately wary.
“You must be Artemis Fowl,” the boy said almost conversationally. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.” Artemis was just about to reply when the boy continued, still in a pleasant tone. “I’m Mokuba Kaiba. I understand you’ve had some run-ins with my brother.”
Beside Artemis, Butler tensed. Despite his surprise, Artemis was not worried. Mokuba was small and slender. He wasn’t physically a threat. Though the fact that they had been recognized by Seto Kaiba’s younger brother did complicate things. He waited in silence. Sometimes, the best way to get an opponent to talk and lose the advantage was to simply say nothing at all.
It worked. “I want those files.”
Now Artemis arched an eyebrow. “What files?” he asked innocently.
“Cut the crap, Fowl,” Mokuba said coldly. “You know what I’m talking about.”
Artemis smirked and leaned back in his seat, folding his hands. At the same time, he observed Mokuba closely. “I’m afraid my manor burned down in a fire just a few hours ago,” he said. “My computer and my files were destroyed.”
“I’m sorry,” the boy said with surprising sincerity. “I know what it’s like to lose a home.” Then, he leaned forward slightly, and his gray eyes narrowed again. “But you’d be a complete idiot not to back up your files somewhere else.”
Though his insides were churning with anger, Artemis simply smiled. “I have nothing of yours,” he told the younger Kaiba.
Mokuba straightened up with a snort of bitter disgust. “Of course not.”
The smile changed to a smirk. “The facts remain,” Artemis said coolly. Without his eyes leaving Mokuba’s, he signaled Butler to drive on. As the car pulled smoothly away from the curb, Artemis glanced in the side view mirrors to watch Mokuba Kaiba, who still stood on the curb, looking angry.
“Kaiba overplayed his hand,” Butler remarked as they turned the corner.
Artemis snorted. “Kaiba is the kind of man to confront his rivals on his own. He doesn’t need to send a messenger. I think little Mokuba was acting on his own. He lacks his brother’s coolness and self-control.” The anger that the bodyguard had witnessed at the ruins of the Fowl Manor was gone, to be replaced by Artemis’ usual calculating manner.
“Besides,” Artemis continued. “Mokuba has given me an idea.”
Holly Short checked to make sure her shield was still firmly in place before stepping from the shadow of the building towards Kaiba and the other boy. Who, by the way, had the most ridiculous hairstyle Holly had ever seen. It reminded her vividly of a multicolored starfish. He had an unbelievable innocent-looking face, dominated by a pair of wide violet eyes. Hardly the kind of boy prone to fits of world domination.
But in her visor, which was displaying a muted signal from the magical readings, both boys were glowing like stars. And the enormous, tacky golden pendant was shining the most brightly of all. Holly carefully manipulated her helmet so that sensors attached to it would pick up every detail of the boys’ conversation and relate it back to her. She was stationed farther away this time, to ensure that the Mud Boys’ magic did not reveal her.
The boy with the starfish hair – Yugi Mutou, presumably, unless Domino City had sprouted another magic Mud Man – spoke first. “What’s this about, Kaiba?”
Kaiba paced restlessly up and down for a moment or two before answering. “Yugi, when you assembled the Millennium Puzzle, what…what did you feel?”
Yugi looked puzzled. “I felt excited of course,” he said, fingering the golden pendant idly. “I worked on it for almost eight years. But nervous too, because I didn’t know what was going to happen. The legends Grandpa told me were kind of confusing.”
“No,” Kaiba said impatiently. “I mean, when you…when you…activated it. What did it feel like?”
Yugi stared at him with an expression that Holly recognized as one of bewilderment. “You don’t believe in magic, Kaiba. Why are you suddenly interested in my Puzzle?”
Holly’s jaw nearly dropped off in shock. One of the most powerful sources of magic she had ever seen, and Kaiba did not even believe in it? She felt a wave of relief. If Kaiba would dismiss his acquired fairy knowledge out of hand, maybe he would not pose any sort of threat to the People.
Kaiba looked away. “Maybe there is something to all that magic crap after all,” he said softly.
Yugi stared at him. “Kaiba…”
Kaiba ignored his companion’s astonishment. “I think…” He hesitated; Holly sensed that the boy rarely allowed himself to appear so vulnerable. “I felt something while I was in Ireland. I think…I think it might be magic.”
Yugi’s youthful face turned suddenly solemn. “Tell me,” he said.
Reluctantly, Kaiba told the story of his meeting with Artemis Fowl and the strange sensation he had in the office afterwards. “It felt as though someone, or something were in the room with me,” Kaiba said. “And my throat tightened and my stomach churned, like there was something inside of me.”
Holly realized he was describing his reaction to herpresence. Can it be, she thought incredulously, that Kaiba doesn’t even realize he has magic? The thought had never occurred to her. She wasn’t sure if that made him more or less dangerous.
“Now don’t bite my head off for saying this,” Yugi said hesitantly, “But it sounds like you have your own magic.”
Kaiba stood stock still for a moment, nostrils flaring and his eyes closed. Holly noticed that the Mud Boy’s hands were clenched into fists at his sides. After a moment though, Kaiba took a deep breath and forced them open.
“Fine,” he said through gritted teeth. “How do I get rid of it?”
Yugi frowned. “I don’t think you can, Kaiba. The magic is a part of you. Now that it’s stirring, it might kill you to try and take it away.”
Kaiba’s face was very pale, and his jaw was clenching so hard that Holly half expected his teeth to shatter.
“This is ridiculous,” he mumbled finally.
Yugi smiled a little. “Well, the good news is that you’ll be able to defend yourself magically from now on. That’s got to count for something.” The smile became a tiny bit more genuine. “Next time a crazy megalomaniac tries to take over the world, I won’t have to stand alone.”
Holly raised an eyebrow. Next time a crazy megalomaniac tries to take over the world? Now that was a story that would be worth hearing.
Kaiba still said nothing, so Yugi pressed on. “Think of the implications to KaibaCorp. Magical toys, magical security systems…Who knows, you might even be able to summon a real Blue Eyes.”
Holly thought she saw Kaiba’s eyes light up slightly at that, but she didn’t understand the reference. The taller boy relaxed a little.
“Thank you, Yugi,” he said, still somewhat stiffly.
“No problem,” Yugi said cheerfully, tilting his head back to look his friend in the face. “Glad I could help.”
“Come, I’ll drive you home,” Kaiba said, turning away and striding off in the direction of the distant parking lot. Yugi had to jog to keep up. After only a few paces though, the smaller boy stopped.
“Kaiba,” he called. Kaiba glanced over his shoulder, and seeing that Yugi was no longer walking, stopped and turned.
“You wanted to know what it felt like,” Yugi said slowly, his hand drifting to the golden pendant. “When I assembled the Millennium Puzzle.”
Kaiba’s only reply was a single nod. Yugi continued. “It felt…wonderful. The Puzzle made all my dreams come true.”
Kaiba stood frozen for a moment, head bowed. Yugi waited patiently, this time in silence. When they finally resumed walking toward the car, Holly sent the feed by a secure line to Haven and took to the air with a slight buzz. One hundred feet up, she paused to consider the implications of what she had just heard.
She no longer believed that these…children would pose a threat to the People. They were scared and confused, and out of their depth. Holly felt a pang of regret. Their magic would bring pain, and make them targets for others to exploit or destroy. They might never be able to stop running.