With an ominous grinding noise, the plane touched down at the Domino Airport. The motion threw the lanky teenager against the back of the seat in front of him. He let out a surprised cry of pain and sat back, rubbing his forehead.
“I hate flying,” he grumbled, clutching the armrests as the plane slowly began to lose speed, its brakes squealing. Outside the windows, Domino City was awash in sunshine. The boy pressed his face against the window, drinking it in. For the first time in days, he started to feel properly warm.
The intercom came on, warning all the passengers to “remain in their seats with their seatbelts fastened until the aircraft has come to a complete stop at the gate.”
Not a problem there, the teen thought, eying the two men next to him. Both were huge and bulky, and trying to stand up to squeeze past them, slender as he was, would have been a miraculous feat. One of the men, the one directly beside him, had fallen asleep. His mouth was open and drool was falling from his mouth with every one of his resounding snores. Even when the plane had stopped moving and the passengers started shoving toward the door, the man slept on, oblivious.
The boy pushed tentatively at the sleeping man’s shoulder. “Excuse me, sir. Sir?” The man grumbled and opened one eye.
“What?” he growled, clearly still half-asleep.
The boy shrank back. “Um, we just landed. The plane has stopped.”
The man sat up and looked around. The boy was right. “Thank you,” he said gruffly, unbuckling his seat belt and standing up, only to smack his head resoundingly on the bulkhead above him.
“Are you alright, sir?” the boy asked, sounding concerned.
The man didn’t even answer, only collected his bag and pushed out into the aisle, rubbing his forehead with his free hand and muttering curses under his breath. The teenager winced as he heard a particularly foul one that had something to do with the…excretory functions of a camel. Oh my.
It took him a long time to get into the aisle. He was too polite to just shove his way past the other people streaming by, and so had to wait until a kind old lady stopped and let him step out of his row.
“Thank you,” he said gratefully and reached up to grab his bag. He almost knocked himself in the head with it as he tugged it free, but managed to avoid braining himself or anyone else. With the short, shuffling steps of someone carrying a heavy load, he grasped the suitcase’s handle with both hands and made his way slowly down the aisle and onto the boarding ramp. He ended up stuck behind a love struck pair of newlyweds, who walked slowly, hand in hand, stopping often to kiss as though they were idling along the Promenade.
Unseen by anyone, the boy’s sweet, open face hardened. His brown eyes narrowed, his cheekbones sharpened and his white hair stood on end as magic coursed through his slender host. He shoved past the couple, ignoring the woman’s protests. At the top of the ramp, he stopped and took a deep breath of air, gleefully aware of the passengers trapped behind him.
Bakura was back in town.
Trouble Kelp was gone, dispatched to Egypt to keep an eye on the remaining magic users, a brother and sister team of archaeologists who were on a dig in the Valley of the Kings. Root had considered sending Corporal Grub instead; from all accounts, it seemed like the job wouldn’t require much in the way of power or intuition, but at the last moment had changed his mind. Foaly had unearthed some disturbing rumors (none of which could be entirely disproved) about the boy in particular, and Root wanted someone intelligent in place in case Marik Ishtar ending up being a threat to the People.
Probably the most interesting, and slightly unnerving fact was that Marik and his sister Ishizu had participated in one of Kaiba’s card game tournaments: Battle City. Apparently, Ishizu had lost in a match against Kaiba himself in the quarter-finals, while Marik had gone on to duel against Yugi Mutou for the championship.
All of the “Magic Mud Men” as Foaly had taken to calling them, were interested in Duel Monsters, Root realized. More specifically, all of them had been in the Battle City finals. Even Ryou Bakura, whose signal had registered in England, had been in Domino City at the time of the tournament. He had made it to the quarter-finals. And the name of the other quarter-finalist: Odion Ishtar.
The significance of this last name was not lost on Commander Julius Root. But despite his name, Odion wasn’t showing up on Foaly’s magic scanners. Root had also asked (read “ordered”) Foaly to check out the other semi-finalist, a boy named Joey Wheeler, but he wasn’t showing up either. Still, it couldn’t be a coincidence that every single “Magic Mud Man” had competed in the Battle City Tournament.
Was it possible there was something to this card game after all? Or was it just that it was so geeky that it attracted all the freaks of nature?
Root sighed and rubbed his temples. He gazed at the images Foaly had found for him, taken from a poster of Battle City. Ishizu Ishtar was a slender young woman with long brown hair, held in place by a golden circlet. She was dressed in white flowing robes that seemed vaguely Egyptian, and a golden necklace lay upon her neck. As she was the head of an archaeological expedition in Egypt, Root supposed her style made sense. Ishizu’s face, tanned by the Egyptian sun, gave the appearance of wisdom; the smile she gave for the camera had a hint of mystery to it. Beautiful by human standards, he supposed.
Marik Ishtar looked nothing like his sister. He was also slender, and his skin was tanned, but that was where the similarities ended. He had messy light blond hair, nearly white. His eyes were violet, narrowed slightly for the camera. But the smile he gave appeared genuine, if a trifle reserved. He wore tight black pants and a loose, partially open lavender shirt.
Root passed over the pictures of Joey Wheeler and Odion Ishtar to closely examine the next in line: Ryou Bakura. He was a shy, gentle looking creature with a mane of shocking white hair. His eyes were a soft, doe-like brown. His smile was almost non-existent; he looked slightly anxious. He was wearing a blue and white striped shirt and jeans. Though on first glance, he seemed the most harmless of the lot, Root got the strange impression that it was all an act, like Bakura had depths that even his competitors, smiling beside him, could not see.
Seto Kaiba stood next to Bakura, his arms folded. He was not smiling; instead, he was wearing an arrogant half-smirk, and his blue eyes were dark with superiority and a hint of sullen anger. Despite his apparent ill temper, he cut an imposing figure. His ridiculous white trench-coat flowed out behind him, setting off his black shirt and pants. Belts with silver buckles were strapped around his arms and over his knee-high black boots. Even if he hadn’t been a possible threat to the People, Root wouldn’t have liked him. Still, he hesitated over this picture. Dislike wasn’t an excuse for justifying an execution.
And then there was Yugi Mutou. As befit the champion, he stood in the forefront of the poster, arms folded across his chest. The first thing that Root noticed was that he was short. Judging by the height of the people around him, he would only be about two feet taller than Root, which was not much when it came to Mud Men. But Yugi Mutou was one of those people to whom height is simply unnecessary. His entire bearing exuded confidence. Root could almost see the power radiating from the boy.
He was certainly strange looking. Yugi had tri-colored hair that reminded Root forcibly of a multicolored starfish. It should have looked ridiculous. It didn’t. Blond, lightning-shaped bangs hung in his face, managing somehow to highlight his royal purple eyes. He was smirking at the camera, regally acknowledging his victory. But Root could also see a twinkle of good humor in Yugi’s eyes, as though a truly noble character lurked under the picture of a conceited card-playing teenager.
Root narrowed his eyes. There was something…different between the Yugi on this poster and one that Holly had sent him images of. Quickly, he called up the clip of Kaiba’s conversation with Yugi outside Domino High School and looked at it closely. The Yugi on the screen was outwardly the same, but he was lacking something…the arrogance…the confidence.
Root played the audio.
“Now don’t bite my head off for saying this,” Yugi said, “But it sounds like you have your own magic.”
Root frowned. Here, Yugi’s voice was small and hesitant, as though he was afraid of Kaiba’s reaction. But the Yugi on the poster…Root had a hard time believing that that Yugi would be afraid of anyone. In the video clip of the tiny King of Games – Root snorted; that name was just ridiculous – his violet eyes were wide and innocent. Again, the confidence, the…regalness of the Battle City Yugi was gone.
“Isn’t he a little young for you, Commander?”
Root whirled around to see Foaly standing behind him, his face dominated by a wide smirk. The centaur was holding a cup of coffee, marked with the distinctive Starbucks symbol. Root shook his head. A Starbucks underground. The Mud Men didn’t even need to invade.
“Actually Foaly, since you’re the one who’s currently in the market, maybe you should take a look,” he said.
The grin disappeared. The centaur actually looked affronted. He was just about to stomp off back to his chair when Root called him back.
“Snap out of your pony pout and come take a look at this.”
Foaly stomped back to Root’s side and looked at the Battle City poster. “Haven, they all look completely ridiculous.”
Root had to concede the point. “Yes, but look at him.” He jabbed a finger at Yugi.
Foaly cocked his head. “What about him, Commander? A little short for a Mud Man, but he’s got the inherent arrogance down pat. And…what’s with that hair? It looks like a starfish.”
Root’s beet-red face got even redder. “Quit your snipping and compare this poster with this.” He restarted the video clip. He froze the image on an unobstructed shot of Yugi looking at the camera, his eyes wide and bewildered. The audio continued to play.
“Now don’t bite my head off for saying this,” Yugi said hesitantly, “But it sounds like you have your own magic.”
Foaly looked from the poster to the video and back again. “You’re right, Julius. Something’s different. This Yugi,” he pointed at the computer screen, “doesn’t have the same “I’m king of the universe” vibe going.”
Root stared at the poster Yugi again. It was then that he noticed that the Mud Boy was wearing the same giant, tacky gold pyramid that was in Holly’s video. It was hung by a heavy chain, and was the only vibrant color that the Mud Boy wore. Everything else, from his uniform jacket to his shirt to his school pants, was dark blue or black.
The Fairy Commander bent in closer. There was an engraving on the pendant’s face. But he couldn’t quite make it out…
“Save your eyesight, Commander,” Foaly said, tapping a few keys. The Yugi on the computer screen was magnified by a factor of ten. Foaly zoomed in on the pendant.
It was the eye of Horus. Root was struck by a strange realization. He picked up the poster. Around Ishizu Ishtar’s neck, the golden necklace glittered. On it was the eye of Horus. There was a glimmer of gold at Marik Ishtar’s waistband. Barely visible, because whatever it was tucked into the back of Marik’s pants, but Root could make out what could be the same engraving. He didn’t see the symbol on Kaiba or Bakura, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything. That voluminous coat could hide anything.
The eye of Horus. The symbol of ancient Egypt.
“Foaly,” he said, jabbing his finger at the screen, ignoring Foaly’s yelp at the threat to his precious computer. “Find out everything you can about ancient Egyptian magic. I want to know why three of your “Magic Mud Men” are sporting the eye of Horus on their accessories.”
“Right away Julius.”
Root leaned over and grabbed the collar of the Foaly’s shirt. He hauled the centaur’s face up close to his, completely ignoring his prisoner’s indignant squawking.
“I’m going to make this really clear to you right now, Foaly,” he said in a deadly calm voice. Foaly gulped. “Don’t. Call. Me. Julius.”
“Yes, Commander,” Foaly stammered.
Root released him. “Okay then. Get to work.”
Butler held up a sheaf of papers. “I found the information you wanted, Artemis.”
Artemis barely glanced up. “Thank you. Lay it on the desk.”
The hotel room where they were staying was modernly furnished. Domino was undergoing an architectural “revolution,” which emphasized almost Spartan decorations. Everything was hard edges and white lines. The place had a metallic, sterile look. Artemis hated it, and wished fervently that he could be back in Ireland in his manor, curled up in his favorite chair in his father’s study.
But the manor had burned to the ground. It would take time to rebuild, and some of the furnishings could never be replaced.
At least the room had a desk. If you could call it a desk. To Artemis, it resembled nothing more than an interrogation table. Now all he needed was a bare bulb hanging overhead for the final touch.
Butler laid the papers on the desk by Artemis’ hand without a word and then walked across the room to a stiff armchair. He sat down uncomfortably and opened up a magazine. Artemis glanced up and smiled. Guns and Ammo. How very Butler-esque.
He worked for a few minutes more before he looked up again. “I know you want to ask me something, Butler.”
The bodyguard shifted, but it could just have been that he was trying to rearrange his huge bulk in the cramped chair. He turned a page without looking up. “You’ll tell me what you think is important when you’re ready.”
“Yes, but you still want to ask me something.”
Butler laid his magazine aside. “I just wanted to know what you intend to do about Mokuba Kaiba. If we’re going to executing a…operation, I would like to know ahead of time. But,” he added, “You’ll tell me when you’re ready.”
“You mean a kidnapping,” Artemis said matter-of-factly. Butler looked slightly uncomfortable, but he nodded.
“Don’t worry, Butler. I’m not going to lay a finger on young Mr. Kaiba. This won’t be like our first encounter with the People.”
Though he tried to hide it, Butler was slightly relieved. Their first encounter with the People had involved the kidnapping of a fairy police officer, a siege, an angry troll, a couple of timely healings, a kleptomaniac dwarf, a time stop, lots of fairy gold, and a bio bomb. Not that there hadn’t been a couple of high points – taking out the fairy Retrieval Squad had been fairly satisfying – but Butler had no desire to repeat the experience.
Artemis gestured towards his computer. “I was just examining Mr. Kaiba’s guardianship of his brother. He is, after all, a minor himself, not to mention that a previous psychologist described him as “emotionally under-developed.” Apparently, the brothers have made some enemies on the Board of Child Services, so Kaiba’s hold on Mokuba is rather tenuous at the moment.” Artemis held up the papers Butler had given him. “And with this information on Necros, I think we can go a long way towards depriving Mr. Kaiba of the thing he values the most. His little brother.” At Butler’s look, he added, “He hides it well.”
Butler knew there was no point in asking Artemis what exactly he was planning, but it seemed that Artemis was in a talkative mood.
“The conditions of Kaiba’s guardianship state that if he is ever convicted of a violent crime, he immediately loses all rights to his brother. Actually, what with his relationship with the Board being what it is, it wouldn’t even take a conviction. Even a criminal investigation would be enough to tip the scales.”
Butler understood. “You want to try to connect him to Necros.”
“Not try, Butler,” Artemis said. “But Necros is just one avenue I could pursue. I’ve done some research, and I believe I could find evidence to link Kaiba to several instances of theft, extortion, and bribery. Maybe even murder. It seems that the Kaibas’ adopted father, Gozaboro Kaiba, committed suicide a few years ago by jumping out his office window. His death left the entire KaibaCorp empire to the current Mr. Kaiba.”
“I’ve gotten hold of a complete psychiatric evaluation for Gozaboro Kaiba held only a few weeks before his death. Part of his business contract. There were no manifestations of suicidal tendencies at that time.”
“So he didn’t kill himself.”
Artemis shrugged. “Consider it an avenue of exploration.”
“He knows you’re here now, Artemis,” Butler said. “There’s a chance that he might try something.”
Artemis smirked. “If he does, then you will be here to foil it, and I have this,” he held up the slightly battered fairy camera, “to collect the evidence. If he moves against me, then I have him. A violent crime investigation would lose him Mokuba and hurt his company, and a conviction would lose him everything.” He laughed. “No, Kaiba would be a fool to take any action against me.” He leaned his elbows momentarily against the desk.
“Though I do expect that our next encounter will be…interesting.”
Butler shuddered and picked up his magazine again. Interesting. He was really starting to hate that word.