Notes: This was written for the Yu-Gi-Oh pairings challenge contest, for the prompt "Feignshipping (Pegasus/Otogi/Yami no Malik)". This is a divergent timeline fic, and takes the place of the Dungeon Dice Monsters arc.
Trigger warnings: Contains brief mentions of drug abuse, suicide, and mind control.
Malik sat in the hotel dining room and considered his options.
He had come to this city for much the same reason that so many others came here: this was the home of Industrial Illusions, and of the great man who ran it. It was a dueling enthusiast's paradise, whether you were a player, a spectator, or merely a collector of rare and interesting cards. Malik was a little of all three, which would have been enough even if he'd been merely an average tourist. Since he wasn't, he had another agenda in mind.
Topmost in his mind were the God Cards. He'd gathered that Pegasus had done a number of experiments with them before he'd finally taken the cowardly route and given them up. That information was still stored in his files somewhere, either in his place of work or somewhere in his home. There would be other useful information, too - how could there not be, when Pegasus was the man who had uncovered all this ancient Egyptian history in the first place, and who had claimed the Millennium Eye? It was also rumored that Pegasus was a dabbler in the arcane in a more general sense. Who knew what secrets he might have stashed away?
Then there was the material wealth to consider. From what Malik had heard, Industrial Illusions' vaults contained copies of every card ever released to the public, and several that hadn't been, and there was no telling what kind of valuable antiquities and magical artifacts a man like Pegasus had in his possession. Malik would have given a great deal to have an afternoon unobserved inside Pegasus's manor.
Still, it was the information that he wanted most. His meddling sister had made sure the third God Card found its way into the hands of a man who couldn't possibly be worthy of it - some suit-and-tie businessman who thought his money made him superior to the rest of the world. Malik was going to prove him wrong, and when the time came to do so, he wanted to be prepared.
It was very, very tempting to just walk into the Industrial Illusions main headquarters with a few of his Ghouls at his side, and subdue anyone who tried to get in his way. That would probably get him in. Allowing him to stay in and then get out again... well, that was another matter. This wasn't Egypt anymore. He hadn't yet managed to bribe enough authorities to give himself an easy escape, and there were no familiar deserts here that he could disappear into when he fled. A few of his more tech-savvy followers had done a preliminary scan of the Industrial Illusions building and had informed him that it was positively bristling with technology meant to keep people like him from nosing around where they weren't wanted. No one had been able to give him any useful specs on Pegasus's home, so he could only imagine what getting in there would be like. Moreover, there were rumors that Pegasus's sense of aesthetics, not to mention his sense of humor, extended to building secret passages and hidden rooms into any building he intended to occupy for any length of time. The only one who would know where all of those were was Pegasus himself, and Malik didn't think it would be easy to get him to admit to where they were. He wasn't even entirely sure that his Rod would work on Pegasus, not after he'd been so closely linked to the Eye for so long.
What Malik needed, he decided, was a helper on the inside - someone who could get him through doors and introduce him to people. Once he had that, it would be much easier to manipulate the people he needed and wend his way into the heart of Pegasus's stronghold, and perhaps even get a hold over Pegasus himself. The question was, who should it be? Not just any old run-of-the-mill paper-pushing employee. Ideally it would be someone close to Pegasus, someone with some clout to throw around, but not someone so highly ranked that it would seem strange for him to be hanging around with the apparently ordinary teenaged boy Malik was pretending to be. This was going to take some consideration.
Malik was so deep in consideration that he didn't see his solution when it walked through the door.
Otogi sauntered into the dining room of the Silver Shell Hotel, feeling as though nothing I the world could go wrong. His flight from Japan had taken off on time and made the trip without a hitch. Even the in-flight movie had been good. His bags, wonder of wonders, had arrived where they were supposed to, and he'd had no trouble catching a taxi to his hotel. His research had assured him that the Silver Shell was the finest hotel to be had in these parts, and he'd confirmed that in his own mind as soon as he'd stepped through the door. His bags had been whisked away to his room without him having to say much more than his name. Now he was comfortably ensconced in a spacious, airy room with a view of the ocean. It was, in fact, better than his room at home. Now, though, he had some time to kill, so he had decided to go down to the hotel dining room to enjoy a nice meal while he went over his notes.
The dining room turned out to be crowded. Not only did many of the hotel guests eat there, but they often brought friends or business associates with them, and even people who didn't have rooms there came in to enjoy the food and atmosphere. By the time Otogi got there, there weren't a lot of free tables left. A host told him that it would be at least a thirty-minute wait until he had a seat ready for him. Otogi assured the man that he didn't mind, and he found a bench to sit on while he waited.
At least he'd brought something to do. Tucked under his arm was a manilla folder full of material he intended to present to Pegasus the next day. He had already been over it a hundred times - throughout his entire flight, in fact, not to mention the days he'd spent getting ready for this trip - but tomorrow would be the day when it all really counted, and he didn't want to forget a single thing.
So intent was his focus that it took him a while to notice that someone was standing over him.
"What are you reading?" asked a male voice.
Otogi looked up to see a young man of about his own age looking down at him. He had fair hair, pale lavender eyes, and more than the usual amount of gold jewelry. He was looking down at Otogi's folder with interest.
"Industrial Illusions," the stranger murmured, reading the label on Otogi's file. "Do you work for them, then?"
That was an interesting question. The truest answer was, "No, but I desperately want to impress Pegasus enough that he'll back my ideas," but Otogi wasn't going to say that to a stranger. Instead, what he said was, "I'm more of a business associate, really. I'm in town for a meeting with Pegasus."
The stranger smiled. "Is that so? I wish I could meet him myself."
"Can't help you there," said Otogi, grinning back at him. "Took me months of negotiating to get this meeting set up for myself. Want me to try to get his autograph for you?"
The stranger shook his head, looking amused. "It's not autographs I'm here for. I'm a researcher. I'm interested in some of the work Pegasus has done on the history of ancient Egypt. I hear he's found some fascinating things, but it's not the sort of thing they put on public display."
"I see," said Otogi. "That's pretty interesting. Well, maybe I can put in a good word for you. What's your name?"
"Malik," said the stranger, offering a hand. "Malik Ishtar."
Otogi took the proffered hand and gave it a quick shake. "Ryuuji Otogi. Nice to meet you."
"Are you waiting for a table?" Malik asked. "I'd just gotten up to take a phone call, but I'm on the way back to mine now. I managed to get here early and take one all for myself, but there's room for one more if you can stand some company."
Otogi considered this offer. On the one hand, he had wanted to go over his notes. On the other hand, he'd gone over them so often already that he'd nearly memorized them by heart - at this point, rereading them was more a matter of soothing his nerves than aiding his memory. And Malik was a rather intriguing - and attractive - young man. The fact that he'd bothered to turn up and introduce himself on such a flimsy pretext, and then invite Otogi back to his table, suggested that it was just possible he was interested in "researching" something besides Egyptian history. If that was the case, Otogi didn't mind at all. If he managed to get this contract tied up, he would be happy to have some company to celebrate with, and if he didn't, well, it would be nice to have someone to take his mind off his troubles.
"Sure," he said. "I'd love to join you. Always happy to meet interesting new people."
He gave his new friend a wink, and Malik smiled back, looking unmistakably smug. Otogi grinned. It looked like he was reading the signs right after all.
Yeah, this week is going to turn out perfectly.
Things did not turn out perfectly.
They started going wrong, in fact, as soon as Otogi presented himself at the front desk of Industrial Illusions. The secretary consulted her files before looking up to give Otogi a sympathetic look from behind her square-rimmed glasses.
"I'm sorry," she said. "Mr. Pegasus won't be coming in today. Didn't anyone tell you?"
"No, they didn't," said Otogi. His heart sank. How important could he be if his appointment could be cancelled without anyone even remembering to tell him?
"That's too bad," said the secretary. "But I'm afraid Mr. Pegasus is unwell at the moment, and no one is quite sure when he'll be back."
"Unwell?" Otogi asked. "You mean he's sick?"
"He's not feeling his best," said the secretary guardedly, "and he's at home recovering. I'm sure he'll be back very soon. If you'll leave your name and number, I'll make sure someone calls you back when he's ready to reschedule."
Otogi left a message with the secretary and shuffled out of the building feeling thoroughly put out. After all that work and anticipation, he wasn't even going to get to see Pegasus, much less talk to him. Glumly, he considered his options. He could hang around town a while, see the sights, and hope that Pegasus would get well enough to come back to work and would still be willing to talk to him. He could go pitch his idea to someone else - he knew for a fact that Siegfried von Schroider was scouting for new talent, and even Kaiba might be willing to listen to him. Or... he could just give up, go home, and forget the whole thing.
As if, he told himself. He had worked far too hard on his Dungeon Dice Monsters to give up on the idea now, not when he'd had victory practically within his grasp. Besides, he wanted to work with Pegasus, not someone else. Ever since the first time he'd seen the man on television, Otogi had been impressed by the man's aristocratic grace, his flamboyant confidence and sly sense of humor. To tell the truth, he was more than a bit starstruck by him, and had been eagerly anticipating meeting him face to face. No, he was going to tough this thing out somehow. There had to be a way to make it work...
He'd been walking idly as he turned his thoughts over in his head, ambling up and down in front of various small shops, occasionally dodging tourists who had come to fill their suitcases with souvenirs. As he paused to let a particularly large gaggle of them pass by, his gaze came to rest on the window of a nearby gift shop. There was a handsome display of hand-carved wooden odds and ends, some ceramic bowls, a rack of handmade jewelry, and a glittering display of blown glass. A sign (handpainted, of course) declared that the perfect gifts for all occasions could be purchased there, including items "For the person who has everything!" Otogi studied the display, feeling the gears turning in his head.
Maybe there's a way to do this after all...
A few minutes later, he came out of the shop carrying a gift bag, containing an elegant wood and glass kaleidoscope. With that errand safely done, he paused just long enough to check his address book, and then caught a taxi that took him to Pegasus's front gate. Once he was there, he pressed a button on the console he found at the gatepost.
"State your business," said the gatepost.
"I'm Ryuuji Otogi," he said. "Pegasus had an appointment with me today. I heard he wasn't feeling well, so I came to bring him a get-well gift." He raised the bag he was holding, so that the camera he was certain was there could pick it up.
"He isn't taking visitors at the moment," the voice said brusquely. "If you'll wait a moment, someone will be sent to..."
He was cut off by a less audible but more familiar voice.
"Oh, don't be so unsociable, Crocketts," said Pegasus. "I'm not an invalid. I'm sure I can withstand the dreadful strain of someone bringing me a present."
"Are you quite certain that's a good idea?" asked the other voice. "You're not at your best..."
"Oh, nonsense. Give me that!" There was a scuffle, and then Pegasus's voice came through more clearly. "Otogi-boy! Delighted to see you. So kind of you to drop by. Give me half a moment while I open the gate for you."
The words were accompanied by a soft whirring, and the gates swung smoothly open.
"Just let yourself in the front door," said Pegasus. "Someone will be there waiting for you."
Otogi thanked him and started up the front walk. It was a long walk, long enough to make him start to get nervous. He'd never actually been in a house this size before; it loomed up ahead of him like a cliff. Crossing the expanse of smooth green lawn, dotted with ornamental trees and gently splashing fountains, felt like a trek through the wilderness. By the time he'd reached the front door, he'd half-convinced himself he'd traveled into another world altogether, and he was fighting a small but persistent compulsion to turn around and leave.
The decision was made for him when the door swung smoothly open at his approach, and Otogi found himself facing a stern-looking man in a dark suit. A butler, he wondered? He'd never seen a butler outside of movies. This man, though, was wearing a pair of dark glasses inside the house, and the cut of his jacket did not entirely mask the fact that he was armed. Security, then. That didn't make Otogi feel much better.
"Do come in," said the man, and the voice was that of the man Pegasus had called "Crocketts." His voice as as cool and expressionless as his dark glasses.
"Thanks," said Otogi, trying for nonchalance.
He sauntered through the door and looked around with interest. He found himself in a foyer, complete with marble floor, red-carpeted staircases, and a glass chandelier that cast a comfortably muted light. It was about what he'd expected from someone with Pegasus's tastes - grand and just a tiny bit overstated, but with a certain classic charm. Crocketts began leading Otogi up the right-hand staircase, watching him the whole time as though suspecting there was an explosive in his gift bag.
"So, what's wrong with Pegasus?" Otogi asked. "Is he okay?"
The man took a moment before answering, selecting his words with care. "Pegasus is... adjusting."
"Oh," said Otogi. His stomach twisted a little queasily. When he'd heard that Pegasus was unwell, he'd assumed the man had come down with a nasty cold or something - unpleasant while it lasted, but a temporary annoyance. "Adjusting" suggested that something was not only seriously wrong, but was probably never going to get completely well. The thought made him uneasy. Visiting someone with the sniffles was one thing, but a permanent injury - something bad enough to require "adjusting" - was not something he was sure he was equipped to deal with.
But Pegasus had said he wanted to see him. Otogi clung to that with all his willpower. If Pegasus was willing to talk to him, then Otogi would do his best to be companionable.
Crocketts led him through a maze of corridors, up more stairs, and finally deposited him in front of a door. He rapped on it smartly while Otogi tried not to fidget beside him.
"Mr. Pegasus, your guest is here," he said stiffly.
"Then don't be stuffy," said Pegasus briskly. "Send him in already."
Crocketts opened the door, ushering Otogi in with a little half-bow. Once Otogi had stepped inside, he pushed it silently shut behind him.
Otogi could see at a glance that these had to be Pegasus's own private living quarters. They were as elegantly, even opulently, furnished as the main entryway, all antique furniture and plush oriental rugs, but there was something essentially lived-in about them. There were several shelves of books tucked wherever there was wall space on them, filled not with the handsome old bindings he might have expected, but oversized art books and brightly colored comics, all showing signs of much use. Others looked like reference books on a wide variety of subjects, their pages bursting with bookmarks and multicolored sticky notes. A coffee table was strewn with yet more books and a scattering of papers and writing utensils. What free wall space there was held some handsomely framed paintings in what was recognizably Pegasus's style, mostly landscapes of exotic locales.
Amid all this splendor was Pegasus himself, tucked into a chair near one of the tall windows at the far end of the room, gazing out at the beautifully groomed garden beyond them. He held a book on his lap, his fingers tucked between the pages as if he'd set it down for a moment and forgotten all about it. He was dressed in pajamas, a fluffy yellow bathrobe, and an actual pair of pink fuzzy bunny slippers. Otogi had to work not to let his surprise show. He didn't think he'd ever seen a pair of pink bunny slippers, and certainly not on someone of Pegasus's wealth and rank. He raised his eyes quickly, and his gaze fell on a little amber plastic bottle, which rested next to a glass and pitcher of water on a small end table, comfortably within Pegasus's reach.
Painkillers? Otogi wondered. What did Pegasus need those for? He seemed to be...
Then Pegasus turned away from the window, and Otogi took an involuntary step back as he realized that the left side of Pegasus's face was swathed in bandages, particularly over his left eye. Or... the place where Pegasus's eye should have been? That couldn't be just some little scratch that needed to be protected until it got better - not if Pegasus needed to adjust to it. If Pegasus hadn't lost the eye entirely, he'd certainly lost at least part of his vision in it.
What a terrible thing to happen to an artist...
Pegasus's face was pale and drawn, but the smile he gave seemed genuine enough.
"Oh, don't look at me like I'm Frankenstein's monster," he said. "It's not as bad as you think."
Otogi suspected that last was a lie, but he took a few steps closer anyway.
"Sorry for just barging in on you like this," he said.
Pegasus waved a hand. "No apologies necessary. I should be apologizing to you. It looks as though we aren't going to have a proper meeting. Unless you've decided to corner me in my lair and beat a contract out of me?" A smile and a raised eyebrow made it clear he was teasing.
Otogi laughed and spread his hands out wide - See, no notes, no briefcase.
"Hate to disappoint you," he said. "I just heard you weren't feeling well and thought I'd come see how you were doing. Oh, and to bring you a present."
"Presents are always appreciated," said Pegasus. "As you can see, I haven't got nearly enough things cluttering up the place."
Otogi laughed again. It was good to see that the man was in a good humor. He felt himself relaxing a little. If Pegasus could make jokes, he couldn't be in such bad condition after all. He handed his bag over to Pegasus, who fished inside the folds of tissue paper with all the uncomplicated glee of a small child opening a birthday present.
Then his heart sank as Pegasus fished out the kaleidoscope, and he realized what a tactless gift it had been. What a thing to hand to someone who couldn't see properly! The last thing Pegasus needed now was another reminder of his injury. Even though there was no way Otogi could have known what was wrong, it would still reflect poorly on him. Pegasus turned the object over in his hands, studying it gravely, and Otogi felt his face warming.
"Sorry if it's a little weird," he said. It wasn't what he wanted to apologize for, but "Sorry for reminding you that you're half blind right now" wouldn't have been any better.
"No need to apologize," said Pegasus. He raised the scope to his good eye and turned towards the light of the window, giving the wheel of the kaleidoscope a spin to set it spinning. "This is a beautiful thing. If I can only see half as much as I used to, I feel entitled to making sure that the things I do see are twice as beautiful to make up for it."
"Oh," said Otogi. "That's... philosophical."
Pegasus surprised him by laughing. "Yes, I am very philosophical. My mind is replete with abstruse notions. Please, dear boy, don't walk on eggshells on my account. I am not going to forget that I am injured, and I am far from happy about it, but I am not going to break down into fits of hysterics about it."
"Sorry. I don't mean to be..." Otogi spread his hands. "It's just kind of a shock, you know?"
Pegasus's smile was wry. "It came as rather a surprise to me as well."
"So, what happened?" Otogi asked. He dropped into a chair, sparing Pegasus the trouble of having to stare up at him.
Pegasus hesitated a moment, apparently deciding how much he wanted to say. Otogi didn't blame him. The experience must have been traumatic.
"A thief got into my private quarters," he said. "He wanted an item, a rare artifact, that I was carrying on my person. I refused to give it up, we had a tussle, and he turned out to be much stronger than I was. He took what he wanted and left me some scars for opposing him. A nasty piece of work, he was."
"Ouch," said Otogi sympathetically. "Well, I'm glad it wasn't worse. I mean, this is pretty bad, but..."
Pegasus smiled. "I know what you mean. Believe me, I have sufficiently high regard for the importance of my own life."
Otogi relaxed a little more. That was something he'd always admired about Pegasus: his grace, his ability to negotiate social situations, always saying something apt and witty. Every time Otogi put his foot in his mouth, Pegasus found just the thing to say to put him at ease and make him feel like somehow he'd said exactly the right thing. What a truly remarkable person this man was.
"What did the guy take, anyway?" Otogi asked.
"A little golden trinket," said Pegasus. "Very old, very valuable. One of a kind, in fact. Still," he said musingly, "it was probably not such a great loss."
"I guess you do have other stuff," said Otogi, looking around the room. What shelves weren't crammed with books were cluttered with an eclectic assortment of antiquities - carved jade dragons, clay pots, bronze age knives covered in verdigris, a stone hand axe.
"I do have other stuff," Pegasus agreed, flashing his irrepressible smile again. "Come again another day and I'll be happy to show them to you, if you're interested."
"Well, I'm only going to be in town a few days," Otogi said. "I'd only planned to be here long enough for our meeting..."
"You'll be here tomorrow, won't you?" Pegasus persisted. "Tomorrow will do. I just want a little time to tidy up."
Otogi had been expecting to hear that Pegasus had meant the invitation for sometime in the future, after Pegasus had healed a bit more. An invitation for tomorrow came as a surprise.
"Sure, I can come tomorrow," he heard himself saying.
Pegasus beamed. "Splendid! I will look forward to it with great anticipation."
"What time should I get here?" Otogi asked.
"Oh, any time," said Pegasus, waving a hand negligently. "It isn't as though I'm going anywhere."
"What if someone else is here?" Otogi asked.
Pegasus made a show of looking around. "Yes, I'm just flocked with well-wishers, it's true. Well, perhaps I can still fit you in somewhere. I'll make it a priority."
The two of them chatted a while longer, mostly about the latest doings in the gaming world. Eventually, Otogi sensed that Pegasus's energy was beginning to flag, and his gaze was drifting towards the painkillers. Otogi took his hint and made polite excuses for himself. Pegasus let him go with a reminder to come back soon.
He was shown out by the same security man who'd let him in.
"A word, if you will," said Crocketts, as they started down the hallway.
Otogi shrugged. "Sure. It's not like I can stop you from talking."
"We have not made the nature of Pegasus's injury known to the general public," said Crocketts, ignoring the quip. "As far as most people are aware, Pegasus has retreated to his home only to recover from the stress of the Duelist Kingdom tournament."
"And you don't want me telling everyone and their dog," Otogi said. "Right. I understand."
The guard relaxed just a trifle. "I'm glad I can trust in your discretion. Do I understand correctly that you will be returning for another visit?"
Otogi nodded. "Pegasus seems to think we should hang out more."
"That's good," said Crocketts. "Pegasus has been taking all of this..." He waved a hand, indicating who-knew-what. "...very hard. It's good to see him opening up and talking to someone."
"Well, I don't mind hanging around as long as everyone is cool with it," said Otogi with a shrug. "Do they serve lunch around here?"
Crocketts almost smiled. "On rare occasions."
Otogi left the house with mixed emotions. On the one hand, he was glad that things had gone well. Pegasus had seemed to enjoy his company, and that boded well for their future business dealings. Besides that, he admired - all right, idolized - Pegasus. The man was a genius by any yardstick you cared to use: a talented artist, a brilliant entrepreneur, apparently well- versed in a variety of historical and scientific studies, able to speak a number of languages, and possessed of a charming personality and sly wit besides. You couldn't help but admire a man like that. He was attractive, too, with his aristocratic features and hair like silver silk. Yes, it was definitely worth cultivating an acquaintance like Pegasus. And if Pegasus wanted to be more than acquaintances, well... who would protest? Not Otogi, that's for certain.
On the other hand, he was also feeling more than a little unsettled. The violence of Pegasus's injury bothered him. It shocked him to think of anyone doing something so needlessly gruesome to anyone, but to Pegasus, that was awfulness on a whole different level. It was like defacing a work of art. Just thinking about it made him angry. If he could have gotten hold of whoever had done this, he'd willingly pay them back with interest. It made him wonder why Pegasus and his people seemed so insistent on hushing the matter up. Didn't they want the thief caught? Then again, maybe they were covering it up because they'd already caught him, and then done something horrible to him. Otogi wouldn't put much past the man with the dark glasses.
The other thing that was really making him angry was the fact that apparently no one besides him could be bothered to come and visit. Even if they were hushing things up from the general populace, even from Pegasus's co-workers, there should have been someone at his bedside. Didn't the man have friends or family? Why weren't they here, hovering over him, bringing him food, tucking blankets around him, and generally making a fuss over him? Pegasus had even joked about it, pointing out the fact that Otogi wouldn't be interrupting anyone else by visiting because no one else was around. Even if Pegasus hadn't told them, surely someone would have come to check on him by now.
Unless there was no one to check on him. Otogi had always heard that Pegasus was a bit of a recluse, but he'd seen the man on television and had formed a conception of him as an outgoing, personable sort. Surely someone like that must have surrounded himself with a handpicked circle of friends and admirers, even if he didn't care to go out and mingle with the common rabble. Maybe it was time to rethink that idea.
Well, if he hasn't got anyone else, he'll at least have me, Otogi decided. This wasn't about business anymore. Now it was about making sure a deserving man wasn't left alone during a trying time.
And if it was perhaps also about an excuse to spend time with someone Otogi was interested in, well, what harm was there in that?
Malik was pleased with how his work had been progressing so far. By means of some diligent questioning and careful application of his followers' talents, he'd managed to pick up a few interesting tidbits of information. Several of his less obtrusive followers had actually gone inside Industrial Illusions, into the first floor areas that were open to tourists, and had started taking notes on how the place was run and who was in charge of what and how much.
He had also learned one other pertinent fact: that Pegasus was not currently spending any time in his office. The official story going around was that he was resting after his last tournament, perhaps even working up some new and even more dramatic publicity stunt. But there was another story, one that Malik's men had gotten by means of following a few members of the security team to their favorite watering holes after work and buying a few beers for them.
The other story, the one that Malik preferred, was that Pegasus had been badly, perhaps even near-fatally injured, and that he'd crawled into his lair to lick his wounds. Malik had put some of his best information gatherers on the job, and they'd managed to dig up some medical records that confirmed the story: just after the end of the Duelist Kingdom tournament, Pegasus had checked into a hospital, undergone various procedures and been issued an assortment of medicines.
Malik liked that idea. It meant that the man who knew all the things he wanted to know was not in a highly secure building full of people who could decide to interfere at any time. He was alone in his home, probably with only a few servants for company, with a ready supply of painkillers close at hand. How difficult could it be to get him alone and force him to cough up his secrets? Even if he had some magical defense from the Rod's power, either from the Eye itself or from some other trinket in his collection, it wasn't likely to do him a lot of good if he'd been fed a few pills. If Malik played it right, he doubted anyone would ever notice anything had happened. Everyone knew Pegasus liked a drink or two. Who was to say he hadn't given in to temptation and ignored the warnings about what mixing alcohol and painkillers would do to him? Anything he said about what happened to him after that could be written off as hallucination.
As for actually getting inside to do anything, well... Malik had ideas for that, too.
He was in the hotel dining room, enjoying a breakfast of fresh fruit and yogurt, when he saw his contact come ambling through the door. He put on a smile that was not entirely feigned and waved to him. Otogi waved back and began threading his way through the restaurant to stop at his table.
"Morning," he said, as he slid into his chair.
"Otogi, good morning," said Malik. "How did your meeting go yesterday?"
"Didn't," said Otogi. "Pegasus wasn't in his office."
"Oh, that's too bad," said Malik, all sympathy. "So, does that mean the deal is off?"
"Don't think so," said Otogi. He smiled. "I went by Pegasus's house to bring him a get- well present, and we hit it off like old pals. I'm going back again today."
"That's lucky," said Malik. "I hope you have a good time. What's wrong with Pegasus, anyway? I heard he was at home resting from the last tournament. I hadn't heard he was sick."
"Well..." said Otogi, his expression closing off.
Malik offered his friendliest smile. "All right, what aren't you telling me?"
"I'm not really supposed to talk about it," said Otogi. "Pegasus doesn't want the gossip getting around."
"I'm not going to tell anyone," said Malik persuasively. "I don't even know anyone in this city to tell besides you. You trust me, don't you?
He placed a hand over one of Otogi's and was pleased to see the slightest touch of a flush come into the young man's cheeks. He'd noticed Otogi's attraction to him when they'd first met, and he wasn't above using that as leverage. Otogi was attractive enough that it was no real strain to do so, even if he had to carry the ruse beyond a little casual flirtation. In fact, it would be much more fun than simply controlling him outright.
"Sure, I trust you," said Otogi.
"So, satisfy my curiosity," said Malik. "You've gotten my interest now. I'll just go poking around on my own if you won't tell me."
"Well, it's like this," said Otogi, and quickly explained the nature of Pegasus's injury.
Malik listened with genuine interest. Someone had stolen the Millennium Eye - there was no other possible explanation. That put a whole new complexion on things. He'd gone in assuming that Pegasus would have his greatest weapon there to protect him, but with this information, the situation looked a lot more promising. He wished he could meet the thief who'd taken it so he could thank him properly, and then kill him and take the Eye for himself.
"It burns me up to think that someone could do something like this to Pegasus," Otogi said, as he wrapped up his explanation. "If I knew who'd done it, I'd take off a few of his pieces."
Malik shook his head sympathetically, but inside, he was trying not to snicker. Oh, if you really knew all about Pegasus, you wouldn't be so quick to jump to his defense. But perhaps he could turn this to his advantage.
"I'll keep my ears open for any gossip," he said. "Perhaps I'll hear something when I'm talking to Pegasus's researchers. You never know who might have seen something."
"I guess it's worth looking into," said Otogi.
"You said it was some sort of artifact that was stolen," said Malik slowly. "Doesn't that seem odd to you? It couldn't have been easy to get that close to Pegasus just to steal one little artifact. There must be much more valuable things that it would be easier to lay hands on. There must have been something special about that one object, wouldn't you agree? Some reason somebody wanted that item and no other."
"You're right. That makes sense," said Otogi. "So you think that if we knew more about the object that was taken, we might get a clue as to who took it."
"Exactly," said Malik. "And I specialize in ancient artifacts. I could probably find out all kinds of things once I have something to go on."
"I'll see what I can do," said Otogi.
"Even if you could find out sort of generally what Pegasus has been researching lately, it might be a place to start," said Malik. "Maybe you can get him to show off the rest of his collection. If nothing else, it would probably be interesting for you. I hear he has all sorts of strange things stashed away in his house. They say he even has secret rooms hidden in there."
Otogi laughed. "I'd believe it. He's just that kind of guy."
"Well, if he shows them to you, let me know," said Malik, with perfect sincerity. "I'd love to hear all about them."
For the first time in several days, Pegasus had come out of his rooms. Watching the staff fly into a tizzy over his sudden reappearance gave him a modicum of amusement. They had been getting lax while their employer had been in his self-imposed isolation, and now they were scrambling to make up for lost time. Pegasus took a certain wicked enjoyment in demanding higher standards out of them than usual - after all, he was expecting a guest, and he needed to make a good show.
Not that he could truly blame them for ignoring their duties a little. Ever since Duelist Kingdom had ended and he'd come home from the hospital, he'd been doing very little but hiding in his rooms and staring off into space. Part of that had been the pain, part the effect of the medicine he'd been taking to control it, but most of it had been just a general lethargy. For the second time in his life, all his plans had fallen down around his ears, with no chance of putting them back together again. So there he was: young, healthy, attractive (even figuring in the wreckage of his eye), well educated, famous, spectacularly wealthy... and without a jot of use for any of it. He had lost any hope of ever having the one thing he truly wanted, so what was the point of anything? So he'd sat in his room with nothing but the pain to distract him, sinking deeper and deeper into thoughts of gloom and despair.
He hadn't expected someone to walk into his house and drag him out of his malaise. He still wasn't exactly sure how it had happened. If someone had asked him before Otogi had shown up on his doorstep, he probably would have said that he'd have refused to see him. Instead, the visit had kindled the first spark of real interest he'd felt in days. Someone had come to see him, and had even gone to the bother of bringing him a gift. He hadn't truly thought that anyone would bother to come check on him, or even particularly mind that he was gone. He'd made arrangements for his subordinates to take care of the company's day to day affairs in his absence, and he had no family or close friends to worry about him. As far as he knew, he should have been able to vanish into obscurity without anyone being bothered.
But someone had cared, and that was an encouraging thought. It was the first time since Duelist Kingdom that Pegasus had found himself looking forward to something, even if it was just as small a thing as an afternoon's visit. He wanted to make sure Otogi didn't regret coming to see him, so he was busy arranging for some enticements.
By the time Otogi arrived, Pegasus had been reduced to a state of nervous excitement, peering out the window every three minutes, like a girl awaiting her prom date. When he finally saw the taxi pull up to the front gate, it was all he could do to restrain himself from rushing up the drive to go meet his guest. Only several years of learning to perform a public role helped him keep his cool. Instead, he paused by his mirror, checking his reflection for the umpteenth time that day, reassuring himself that he was looking as good as he could under the circumstances. He was looking perhaps a bit haggard from not sleeping so well lately, but that wasn't really so bad, and his hair hid most of the bandages. He wouldn't have wanted to appear on the cover of a magazine like this, but under the circumstances he thought he'd managed fairly well.
He managed to be sweeping down the stairs just as Otogi was being ushered into the foyer.
"Ah, Otogi-boy, so splendid to see you again," he said, as he stepped off the bottom stair.
Otogi grinned. "Good to see you too. Hey, you're looking a lot better today."
"Due entirely to your presence," said Pegasus with a playful little bow.
Otogi laughed, and Pegasus smiled. Some people hid the truth by telling lies. Pegasus, on the other hand, had learned to conceal the truth with the truth, stating the raw facts in a cheerful, nudge-nudge, wink-wink, you-don't-think-I-mean-that manner that left everyone who heard him quite certain that the truth had to be anything but what he'd just said. Sometimes he even confused himself as to what the real truth was.
"In all honesty, I am feeling much better today," said Pegasus. "Nothing keeps me down for very long."
"I'm glad to hear it," said Otogi. "So does that mean you'll be getting back to work soon?"
"I don't know about that," said Pegasus. "I'm not in any great rush, if you'll excuse my saying so. I know you're looking forward to making the negotiations for your game. If you'd like, I can delegate the matter to one of my subordinates so you can go ahead and get it done. It's really just a formality - I was very impressed with the detailss you sent me, so I foresee no difficulty in getting your proposal accepted."
"I'm glad to hear it," said Otogi, looking cheered, "but I'd still rather negotiate with you."
Pegasus raised an eyebrow. "I see. You'd rather get word from the highest authority and be perfectly certain, yes?"
"Well, there's that," said Otogi. He grinned more broadly. "But mostly I would just rather negotiate with you."
Pegasus found himself unaccountably flattered.
"I'm pleased to hear it," he said. "Perhaps I can at least make up for the delay. I have a small gift for you today, if you'll do me the honor of accepting it."
Now it was Otogi's turn to look flattered. "You didn't have to do that..."
"Consider it an apology for canceling our appointment," said Pegasus. "Come, follow me and I'll show you."
He hurried Otogi down a hallway leading off into the south wing of the house.
"This is my library," said Pegasus, as they paused before a pair of double wooden doors. "Do you appreciate libraries?"
"Well, I can't say I'm much of a reader but..." Otogi began, and trailed off as the doors swung open. His eyes went wide. "Wow."
Pegasus preened a little internally. He was very proud of his library. It extended the entire three stories of the house, a glorious maze of walkways, reading nooks, tables, chairs, and shelves upon shelves of books. The effect of standing at the doorway with all those shelves looming over you was purposefully overwhelming, and it never failed to make jaws drop the first time people saw it.
"I should say this is my public library," said Pegasus, as casually as if everyone had a library or three in their homes. "The one I allow guests into, I mean. I have another one that serves as my private reference library."
Otogi recovered his wits with admirable speed. "So, read all these books, then?"
"Oh, a fair few," said Pegasus. "But this isn't what I wanted to show you. It's just where I happened to leave it. Come, come."
He beckoned Otogi over to a table, where a modest little wooden box was sitting. It was, in fact, a jewelry box that Pegasus had repurposed for the occasion, full of drawers and compartments lined with cream-white velvet. Otogi reached out a hand for it and paused to look inquiringly at Pegasus. Pegasus smiled and made little shooing motions with his hands. Otogi opened up the lid of the box and peered inside.
It was, of course, filled with dice - and not the cheap plastic kind, either. These were made of a variety of materials, no two alike: clear glass, carved wood, polished metal, and a rainbow of semiprecious stones. Some were the standard six-sided, but others were the four-, ten- , or twenty-sided variety used in role playing games. Otogi stared, first with blank amazement, then with a slowly growing smile of delight. He picked them up one at a time to examine them, gathered handfuls and let them slide through his fingers with a satisfying clatter. He looked up at Pegasus.
"This is amazing," he said. "Where did you.. How did you...?"
Pegasus laughed, pleased by his reaction. "Oh, you know, it's all part of the business. I just happened to have a few things lying around and got the idea you'd like them." Not quite true - some of the finer pieces in that box had been special ordered and rushed to him overnight, but what was the good of being an international gaming mogul if you couldn't get game pieces in a hurry?
"Well, I have to admit, this is probably the best gift anyone has ever offered me," said Otogi. "It's almost too good to keep."
"Almost?" Pegasus repeated, amused.
Otogi grinned. "Almost. Not quite. In fact, I think it's safe to say you'd have a hard time prying it away from me now."
Pegasus laughed. It was a genuine laugh, not just part of the act he put on, and it felt good. Seeing Otogi's transparent delight in the gift gave him the feeling that maybe there was possibly still some good in the life ahead of him.
"I'm glad you're willing to keep it," said Pegasus.
"Well, I figure you can just about afford it," said Otogi. He looked appreciatively around the library. "I almost believe you when you say you just had this stuff lying around."
"You'd be amazed by the things I keep lying around," said Pegasus.
"I've heard some rumors," Otogi admitted. "They say you have all kinds of crazy stuff stashed away in this house."
"Define 'crazy'," said Pegasus.
"Well, not crazy," said Otogi. "But, you know, old relics and ancient artifacts."
"Oh, those," said Pegasus. "Yes, I have a number of those lying about."
"Well, maybe you'll let me get a look at them sometime," said Otogi.
Pegasus weighed his options. He didn't normally let outsiders get a look at his private collection, but perhaps this was the time to make an exception to the rule.
"I suppose I could show you a few things," said Pegasus. "Since you're here. But you have to promise to keep this secret. Some of this is too valuable for me to want it widely known that I have it in my possession."
Reflexively, his hand went to the bandages that hid his eye. Otogi's expression turned appropriately grave.
"Don't worry. You can trust me," he said.
"All right, then," said Pegasus.
He stepped over to one of the bookshelves, slipped one of the books out of its place, and slipped his hand into the gap to press on a hidden latch. There was a click, and Pegasus gave the shelf a slight push that set it sliding smoothly backwards into a recess. Then he pushed it aside, revealing a passage into the next room.
"Behold, my secret lair," said Pegasus, with a suitably dramatic flourish.
Otogi beamed. "So you do have secret passages. I wondered."
Pegasus stepped through the door, beckoning for Otogi to follow him. This room was far smaller than the library, consisting of only a single floor, but it was quite large enough in its own right. Where the library had been designed to awe, this room was comfortable and functional but largely unadorned, containing only a work bench, a desk chair, an adjustable lamp, and an abundance of shelves and cabinets. In fact, the only things in the room that might have been considered "decorative" were the items on the shelves, many of which were quite beautiful. There was jewelry in abundance, ranging from simple carved bits of wood or crude pottery beads on up to spectacular creations of gems and gold. There were also a number of small statues, assorted crystals, some jars containing assorted herbs or powders, an assortment of loose charms and trinkets, carved bones, candles, and miscellaneous less identifiable items. There were also several shelves of books, scrolls, and bundles of paper, most of which looked extremely old and few of which were written in English.
And nothing seemed to be arranged in any obvious order. The overall impression was that things had been shoved onto shelves wherever there was room for them, with no regard to age, material, or type. The truth was, Pegasus had a system - it just wasn't one that anyone would be able to understand at a casual glance. Every object in this room was, to some extent or another, imbued with magic, or was at least a component in some sort of occult rite. Pegasus had carefully ordered them in groups depending on what their uses were and how powerful they were, ranging from the potentially dangerous to the probably useless. He'd been building up this collection for years, on the off chance that some of it might come in handy someday. That was the danger of getting involved in magical happenings: once you started, you tended to want to keep going. He hadn't thought about it much recently, not after his other plans had solidified, but he was still rather proud of it. After all, getting things that were genuinely magical took some effort.
"Wow, this is like a museum," said Otogi, wandering among the shelves. He paused in front of the books. "Can you actually read these?"
"I can and I do. Cover to cover," said Pegasus, truthfully.
Otogi laughed. "If that's true, you really are a genius."
"I have a facility with languages," said Pegasus. "Just don't ask me to explain what they're about."
Otogi laughed again, and this time Pegasus laughed with him, enjoying his own joke.
It occurred to Pegasus that he was working very hard to earn the approval of a relative stranger. On reflection, though, perhaps that was not so strange. He had never really been the most sociable man in the world. He'd been shy and quiet as a child. His parents had home- schooled him, hiring the best of tutors and educating him on the subjects they felt a young man of his station should know. He'd grown up reading the classics when other children were reading comic books. He'd never had much in common with his peers, and few opportunities to interact with them. Cyndia had truly been his best and only friend, and when he'd lost her, he had thought that he would be completely alone without her. He'd been certain that getting her back was the only alternative to a life of complete solitude, but...
"Would you like to see a bit more of the house?" Pegasus suggested.
"I think I can work it into my schedule," said Otogi playfully. "But don't tire yourself out on my account. Aren't you supposed to be recovering or something."
"Nonsense. I feel fine," said Pegasus, drawing himself up. "Never better. Certainly well enough to spend some time with an honored guest."
And it really was the truth. Even the pain of his poor torn face didn't bother him as much as it had before.
"Lead the way, then," said Otogi, and flashed one of his dazzling smiles.
Pegasus smiled back, thinking that maybe things were going to be all right after all.
"...and he's got this amazing gallery of paintings - stuff he did himself, mostly, but he's got some other things too, genuine Old Masters..."
Otogi was vaguely aware that he was rambling, and had been for some time, but he couldn't seem to stop himself. He had thoroughly enjoyed his afternoon at Pegasus's home. The two of them had spent an hour or so wandering around the house, admiring Pegasus's collection of art and antiquities, while Pegasus had regaled him with stories of how some of the more exotic pieces had come into his hands. The man had been all over the world, looking for treasures and delving into the roots of various myths and legends. After that, they'd gone outside to stroll around the extensive gardens, and when they'd tired of that, they'd had what was surely one of the best lunches Otogi had ever enjoyed, in the shade of a pleasant little gazebo.
Eventually, though, Pegasus's energy had given out, and Otogi had politely excused himself and retreated to his hotel. Now he was at a coffee shop located conveniently next door to his hotel, hashing over his day with Malik. He had to admit that his new friend was a good listener. He'd never once shown any sign of being bored, and had in fact pumped him with questions about the things he'd seen. He seemed particularly interested in Pegasus's collection of antiquities.
Well, he would. He's some kind of expert in that kind of thing, isn't he?
Otogi felt a little bad for monopolizing the conversation, but he was still riding a high and wanted to share it. Already the whole morning felt rather like a pleasant dream - a day spent in luxurious surroundings and fascinating company. There was a part of him that had been a little afraid, when he'd first showed up on Pegasus's doorstep, that the great man would turn out to be less than the brief televised clips had made him out to be. Instead, he'd been exactly what Otogi had been hoping for: intelligent, witty, well-spoken, full of fascinating stories about his adventuresome life. They'd spent the better part of lunch just discussing game design without either of them growing bored, and Pegasus had filled several sheets of paper with sketches of the things they'd talked about. Otogi couldn't remember ever meeting anyone else whose company he found so stimulating. Even now, he was still carrying a pocket full of the dice that Pegasus had given him, as if they were good luck tokens that could retain a little of the day's magic.
"It sounds like you had quite a day," said Malik. "So I guess you and Pegasus are getting to be pretty good friends. It looks like you're in solid."
"Looks that way," Otogi agreed. Then he thought about what that meant. He'd come out to get his game accepted, and as far as everything but strictest technicality was concerned, he had. He could probably go home any time he cared to, but he didn't want to. He was already eager to go back to Pegasus's place tomorrow and talk some more about some of the ideas they'd been kicking around. He'd had some thoughts on the drive home that he wanted to run by him...
Malik smiled slowly. "Sounds like you have something to celebrate."
"I might just, at that," Otogi agreed. "How about you? How's your research going?"
"I think I might have a few promising opportunities," said Malik. His expression left no doubt that he wasn't talking about scholarly pursuits. "Perhaps you'd like to come back to my place and discuss them?"
Otogi grinned and got up. "Sure, sounds like a plan."
The two of them got up and began ambling back towards the hotel. Otogi let his mind wander, feeling as content as he ever had in his life. Things were going well for him. His game was going to get approved, Pegasus had as good as promised, and he had a new one already in the planning stages. His future success was assured. Tomorrow, he'd meet with Pegasus again, and they could flesh out the plans they'd made today, maybe over lunch, or better yet, a nice dinner. Maybe there would be time for something more entertaining than business talk. Pegasus had said something about perhaps digging out his dueling deck and playing a game or two with him, or perhaps even bringing over Otogi's prototype of the Dungeon Dice Monsters game. The day was full of things to look forward to. As for the long-term future, that was straightforward and simple, too. He'd wrap up high school, find a nice apartment around here somewhere, someplace he could be close to his newfound corporate partner, maybe sign up for some classes at a local college. Thanks to Pegasus's influence, the local game design program was widely acknowledged as one of the best in the country and possibly the world. The future he imagined was full of challenging work and stimulating company, and he was looking forward to every minute of it.
It wasn't until he felt an arm sliding possessively around him that he remembered where he was: in an elevator, with an attractive young man who was under the impression that they were about to go back to his hotel room for an amorous encounter of some sort. Otogi offered him a smile, trying to cover up for his momentary lapse.
Only... maybe not so momentary. Otogi considered. On the one hand, he liked Malik and found him appealing. When he had planned this trip, he had done so more or less expecting that he would take the opportunity to have a bit of fun away from the eyes of anyone who'd known him back home. He certainly hadn't seen any harm in the idea at the time. Now it was dawning on him that he wasn't entirely sure this was what he wanted. Here he was with a perfectly friendly, attractive, intelligent young man, and he was busy planning his life around someone else. That wasn't fair to him or to Malik.
After meeting Pegasus, anyone else is going to have a tough act to follow.
Not that he really expected to have much chance with the great man, but it seemed that Otogi wasn't going to be able to give his full attention to anyone else while he was still overwhelmed by Pegasus's charm. Maybe in time, he'd get over it, but for now, it was obviously not the time to get into an entanglement, no matter how brief.
As they reached the door to Malik's room, Otogi stopped and said, "Look, I'm having some second thoughts about this. I really don't think I'm ready for something like this."
Malik smiled pleasantly. "Well, at least come in and visit for a little while. I can show you my latest research. Come on, what can it hurt?"
"Well, okay," said Otogi, "but just a quick visit, all right? I've got some stuff I want to go over tonight."
"I'll keep this short, then," Malik promised. "There's just something I really want you to see."
Otogi followed him into his hotel room. It was, in essence, very like Otogi's hotel room, though it was obvious Malik had sprung for better accommodations than he had. Otogi had decided to stay at this hotel largely for the cachet - telling people that they could reach him at the best hotel in the city sounded far more professional than saying he was camping out at a chain motel. This was a penthouse suite, clearly one of the best the hotel had to offer. Otogi frowned, momentarily thrown off his stride. He had a notion that researchers mostly lived for their research, and unless they were wealthy dabblers like Pegasus who had the money to indulge their intellectual passions in comfort, they did not stay in the penthouse suites of five-star hotels.
The other thing that caught his eye was that there were Duel Monsters cards more or less everywhere, filed in shoeboxes, piled in neat stacks, or spread out across any convenient flat surface. Otogi thought it odd that a man would be staying in the birthplace of the game, spending time with someone who was affiliated with the company that made it, know for a fact that Otogi had been meeting with the man who invented the game, and never once mention an interest in dueling.
At least the rest of the room looked sufficiently like a researcher's room. He could see a laptop open on the coffee table, which was showing some sort of chart with a lot of pointing arrows on it. Papers, printouts, folders, and newspaper clippings were strewn about the room. Someone had been working very hard in there. Otogi, moved by curiosity, moved a little closer to the laptop. It looked, he thought, like the floor plan of a building. In fact...
Behind him, he could hear Malik opening a drawer, rummaging around, and then closing it again. His footsteps were almost inaudible as he crossed the carpeted floor.
"Interested in my research?" Malik asked pleasantly.
"Why have you got a map of Industrial Illusions?" Otogi asked.
"That's not important now," said Malik.
There was something flat about his voice that made Otogi look up, suddenly wary. Malik's face had lost its pleasant smile, and now there was something else there, a look of barely-concealed anger. In his hands was a long, gleaming, golden staff with a shape like a winged eye on one end. Otogi felt a chill go down his spine. Something about the way Malik was holding that thing, as if it were a weapon, was enough to make Otogi scramble a few paces backwards.
"Hey," he said, holding up his hands placatingly. "What are you..."
He saw Malik raise the staff, his expression one of triumph. Then the image seemed to recede, as though Otogi were falling down a long well, watching Malik get further and further away from him, until he was too far away to see. Then everything went dark.
Malik stood in his room, feeling a mixed sense of accomplishment and annoyance. Before him stood Otogi, shoulder slumped, head tipped slightly to one side, as if his head had become too heavy for him to hold up. His eyes, previously so brilliant, were blank, unfocused, staring at nothing. He had been a good patsy, doing Malik's work without ever knowing he was doing it.
If only he hadn't spoiled the ending! Malik had planned everything down to the final scene. He'd stooped to flirting with this boy, had coaxed him back to his penthouse, had planned on having a bit of fun with him before he took control of his mind. Instead, he'd been rejected. He could guess why, too. Otogi had done nothing all afternoon but ramble about how marvelous Pegasus was, about all the amazing things he'd done, about how witty and charming and brilliant he was. All that fuss over a half-blind, half-mad man who was probably too deeply caught up in his own sad little world to care about anyone else. Malik had dug up enough of Pegasus's history to be at least generally aware of what he'd wanted to do with the Millennium Items, and he had not formed the most positive impression of the man. To have been rejected in favor of such a lunatic made him grit his teeth.
Maybe I should have let him keep his mind just a little longer, he mused, looking over his new puppet. I could have told him a few things about his idol that would crush that hero-worship right out of him.
Then again, it might be more fun this way. He could free Otogi after everything was finished, and he could see what he'd done to betray the person he'd so looked up to. That would be fun. He could arrange it so Pegasus would reject him even more thoroughly than Otogi had rejected Malik. Yes, that would be a fitting revenge.
"Come, puppet," said Malik, beckoning. Otogi shook himself and began walking silently to Malik's side. The two of them stepped out the door together and set out on their mission.
Pegasus relaxed by his window, tired but strangely content. It had been a long time since he had voluntarily spent so much time in another person's company. He rarely had guests in this house - proper guests, anyway. Occasionally he would throw a dinner party or cocktail hour for various celebrities, board members, other people he was trying to impress, but it had been years since he'd had someone over just because he desired their company. Having Otogi haround had been a real pleasure. The boy was bold, cocky, smart as a whip, and not at all conducive to a mood in which Pegasus could feel sorry for himself, which made him exactly the sort of company he needed right now. Pegasus hoped he could persuade him to stick around for a while, perhaps even convince him that their business together would require taking up at least semi- permanent residence in the city.
But for a man who was unused to spending long stretches of time in someone else's company, especially while still recovering from a near-fatal injury, socializing could be very tiring. For the moment, all Pegasus wanted to do was relax by his open window, enjoying the breeze and the scent of the gardens outside, letting his mind wander. Absently, he reached for the bottle of painkillers on the end table next to him, and then paused, hand halfway to its destination.
What am I doing? he asked himself.
He didn't like the answer he got. When he'd first been injured, he'd spent a few days in the hospital, dosed heavily with a variety of substances - drugged to the eyeballs, he might have said - that had left him floating in a state of peaceful numbness, unaware of where he was, what had happened to him, or much of anything at all. That had been rather relaxing. He hadn't wanted to think about anything. All the things he had to think about were unpleasant, full of violence and guilt and loss. When he'd come home, the medicine had come with him, and as long as he kept taking it, he didn't have to think or do much of anything. That was what he wanted, wasn't it? He had no more goals to achieve, nothing important that he needed to accomplish, so why not simply numb his pain and let the medicine do for him what the thief had not? Sometimes he'd even toyed with the idea of downing the whole bottle at a go, perhaps with a glass or two of wine to make sure it had the desired effect, and then sitting back to let all his troubles fade away permanently. The idea was enticing, but somehow he'd never quite worked up the energy or the courage to try it.
Now it dawned on him just how close he'd come to spending the rest of what would have undoubtably been a short life walking around in a drug-induced daze. The thought made him unexpectedly angry. Damn it all, he was not going to end up another burnt-out has-been celebrity, drugging himself into insensibility, living and dying as nothing more than a source of salacious headlines in tabloid newspapers. He still had more pride than that. It surprised him a little to realize it. He'd thought he'd already fallen as far as he could go, but apparently there were still depths to which he hadn't sunk and didn't care to.
Anyway, the pain wasn't that bad. He ached where the fragile skin and muscles around his eye had been torn, but he'd had headaches that were worse, especially after he tried to chair a board meeting when he'd gotten no sleep the night before. This was nothing he couldn't cope with. Resolutely, he picked up the pill bottle, stood, and carried it into the bathroom, where he exchanged it for a bottle of everyday asprin. He felt better about himself. Apparently, it seemed, he'd decided he wanted to live, after all.
As for what he was going to do with the rest of his life... perhaps the deciding moment had come when he had given the dice to Otogi. He'd thought about the gift only in terms of pleasing his guest, but seeing the boy's transparent joy had reminded him of all the other things he'd been doing for the last seven years. He'd told himself that his company was an incidental thing - if he'd been able to get Cyndia back by selling life insurance or opening a coffee shop, he'd have done it - but the truth was that he'd found his niche at Industrial Illusions. His skill at art, his natural intelligence and curiosity, his innate flair for showmanship had all combined to make him perfect for the role he'd created for himself. Moreover, it was good work. It made people happy, which was better than he could say for some of the other things he'd been doing lately. Even if it didn't make him happy, it might at least give him some sense of purpose.
And the best place to start would be with the plans he and Otogi had made that afternoon. Thinking about them made Pegasus decide he wasn't as tired as all that. Perhaps, he thought, he'd go spend a couple of hours in his studio before he turned in for the night. It was not, after all, as if anyone expected him to get up early and go to work tomorrow. With his spirits feeling lighter than he had in weeks, he opened the door to the hallway.
There was a man standing there with a knife.
Some time previous to that moment, Malik had been standing in the entry hall of Pegasus's manor. Getting inside had been easier than he'd expected.. Pegasus did have a pretty fair security system around his house, but Malik's handpicked companions, senior members of his Ghoul squad, were experts in disarming security systems. There had been some sort of security guard or night watchman, but Malik was good at deflecting the interest of night watchmen. They were no threat, when all he had to do was wave his Millennium Rod and make them believe they hadn't seen anything, that their shift was over, and they should turn around and go back home to bed. Right now, he had Rishid and some of his other men patrolling the house and grounds, making sure there was nothing else to interfere with his work. Satisfied that all would go smoothly, he turned his attention to his puppet.
"Now, where is this secret room you were telling me about?"
"This way," said Otogi, his tone flat. He began walking briskly down one of the hallways, and Malik strolled after him, his eyes flitting over the house's furnishings as he went. He thought it a pity now that he hadn't come with a truck. The car he'd arrived in had limited space, and he would not be able to carry off everything he found himself coveting. There were several Egyptian artifacts on display that Malik felt would be better off in Egypt, or at least in Egyptian hands. His own would do. Tonight, though, he needed to limit himself to taking only the things he could use. Another time, though, when he was more secure...
Otogi led him into a vast library, and he paused in the doorway, impressed in spite of himself. Having spent much of his life starved for knowledge of the outside world, he appreciated books, and he envied this rich man for having more than he could ever read or need. He almost missed it when his puppet walked over to one of the shelves and activated a hidden latch inside it. He did notice, though, when the door swung open. The wash of power that seeped out was palpable, and made his skin prickle. His head snapped around to stare into the dark opening. The lights were off in there, and there were no windows. Something about that sense of power and absolute darkness made him suddenly reluctant to pass over the threshold.
Otogi snapped a light switch, and the room was instantly filled with a warm glow. Malik shook himself. Now was not the time to let his resolve waver. Steeling himself, he stepped towards the door. The closer he got, the more he could feel the concentrated power of the things in that room. It throbbed, like a headache outside his head trying to get in. He grimaced and pushed back at it. All he had to do, he told himself, was get in, find the information he was looking for, and get out. He could bear it until then. He could...
Something in his head seemed to snap. He cried out, clawing at his scalp in pain and panic. The Rod fell from his hands and clattered to the floor.
And in that moment, that lapse of concentration, Otogi suddenly realized where he was.
What the hell is going on?
Otogi blinked, disoriented, feeling as though he was waking up from a dream. The last thing he remembered, he'd been in Malik's hotel room, and Malik had pulled out some sort of strange golden wand, and then everything had somehow gotten lost. For a second or two, he had no idea where he was or how he might have gotten there. Then he realized that he knew where he was, and he had been there just once before: it was Pegasus's secret library, the one where he kept his mysterious odds and ends. As for how he'd gotten there...
"Malik?" he said aloud.
Malik didn't answer him. He seemed to be having some sort of fit, gasping and clutching at his skull as if he thought it would burst. Otogi was halfway convinced that now would be a good time to run, and half feeling that he should try to do something to help. Either way, he concluded, he was going to have to get closer, because Malik was blocking the door. He took a cautious step forward. As he did so, he noticed the golden wand lying on the floor at Malik's feet. He frowned a little. He still wasn't sure what had happened to him, but he was sure that thing was at fault. He crouched, reaching for it...
A foot came down on his wrist, hard, and Otogi shouted and managed to jerk his hand away.
"Don't you dare," a voice hissed.
Otogi looked up to see Malik staring down at him... only... something was very wrong. His hair was standing up in crazy spikes, and his eyes had taken on a strange cast, his pupils contracted to pinpoints. Even stranger, there was now a glowing outline of a third eye set high on his forehead. Malik smiled down at him, and Otogi reflexively scrambled backwards.
"Oh, poor little puppet," Malik crooned, "you are in trouble now?"
"What's wrong with you?" Otogi demanced.
Malik laughed. "Wrong? Nothing is wrong. I feel much, much better now that I'm free. My other self, however, might not be too happy right now."
"Other self?" Otogi repeated, but Malik ignored him.
"On the other hand, he might be pleased," he continued. "He's very angry at you. You rejected him. Now you're going to pay for it."
"What do you mean?" Otogi asked, but his voice sounded shaky. He tried again, more forcefully this time. "What the hell is going on here?"
"You're helping me with a robbery," said Malik. He was grinning crazily, his lips stretched so widely it should have been painful. "An armed robbery. Possibly a murder. I'd like that."
"No way I'm helping you do any of that," said Otogi. "You're out of your mind."
Malik only laughed. "In a sense. But you will help me. You already guided me this far, and you don't remember doing any of it, do you?"
Otogi felt a creeping sensation as he realized that no, he had no idea how he got where he was now. And if he hadn't done what Malik was saying he had, how had Malik even known how to get here?
"You hypnotized me or something!" he accused.
"That's the power of my Millennium Rod," said Malik, twirling it idly in his hands. "I can use it to make you do whatever I want. So, what shall I do with you, do you think? Shall I make you my follower? Shall I leave you to take the blame for me? I think what I want is for you to go to Pegasus's room and slit his throat. I might even let you free for a little while, just long enough to watch him die..."
"No!" Otogi protested, backing away. "I won't do it! I won't hurt Pegasus."
"You will," said Malik, still grinning. "And I'll tell everyone you did it. You pursued him, and he rejected you, so you killed him. A crime of passion. I can make everyone believe me. You'd come willingly to me after that. Only I can make you forget what you did. You'd be my willing slave..."
Otogi ran into a shelf and cringed as he heard its contents wobble. He couldn't retreat any further, and there was no way out. He was trapped with this madman... no, it couldn't be just madness. There was something unnatural going on here. What could he...? How could he...?
He looked around frantically, thinking vaguely of finding something to throw, and his gaze fell on a dish of carved bones - runestones, he thought. That triggered something in his brain. During his visit earlier that day, Pegasus had spoken vaguely of getting the idea for Duel Monsters from some long-ago sacred ceremony. Games and magic were inextricably linked - casting the runes wasn't so different from playing dice, and the Tarot wasn't far removed from a deck of ordinary playing cards. If Malik, or whatever was speaking through Malik, was magical itself, wouldn't it have to respect that power?
"Wait," said Otogi. "Let's make this interesting. How about we make a wager?"
Malik laughed a wild laugh, too long and too loud. "A wager? What do you have to wager that I would want?"
"My free will," said Otogi. His mind was racing quickly. He had to make this offer enticing enough that Malik would take it, but not ask so much that he wouldn't dare take the risk of losing. "If you win, you don't have to do any hocus-pocus on me. I'll come with you and do whatever it is you ask me to do. But if I win, you let Pegasus live. Just take this stuff you came to get and then you leave."
Malik looked thoughtful. "And how would we decide this wager?"
"We each roll a dice," said Otogi. He reached into his pocket and took out one of those that Pegasus had given him, a simple six-sided die made of something black and shiny, onyx perhaps, and set with tiny bits of crystal for the pips. "Whoever gets the highest number wins. If we tie, we roll again. Fair?"
For a moment, he thought Malik wasn't going to go for it. Then, abruptly, Malik smiled.
"Agreed," he said.
He snatched the die out of Otogi's hand and tossed it onto the work table. It tumbled over the scree of papers, ricocheted off the wall behind it, and finally rolled to a stop.
"Six!" Malik crowed. "I win!"
"Not yet, you don't," said Otogi, trying to project confidence. "If I tie with you, we both get to roll again, remember?"
"So go on, get on with it," said Malik, waving his hands impatiently.
Otogi closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He had a chance to win this. He knew he still could win. He had to win - Pegasus's life and his own future sanity was riding on it. On the other hand, the odds could still easily go against him, and in the end, Malik might not agree to abide by his conditions. But he had to try. Otogi reached into his pocket, took out a die, and threw it onto the table. It bounced and spun, twinkling in the strong clear light. Otogi kept his eyes fixed on it, willing it to land the way he wanted it, until it finally came to a halt. He breathed a sigh of relief and mustered up one of his customary cocky smiles.
"What do you know," he said. "I rolled a seven."
Malik stared in consternation at the die. It was a pretty thing, carved of misty pink quartz. It was also one of the twenty-sided dice used by role-playing gamers.
"You cheated!" Malik accused.
"Did not," said Otogi, scooping up his dice. "I just said that we would each roll a die. Never said we both had to use the same die. Never said you had to use the one I gave you. You could have asked for a better one, if you'd thought about it."
"Not fair!" Malik accused.
"Hey, you're the one with the magic mind-control thingy. All I have his pocket full of dice," said Otogi reasonably. "I make the most of what I've got."
Malik's expression twisted, and for a moment, Otogi thought the man was going to just stab him to death then and there. Then, abruptly, Malik froze, as if he'd heard an unidentifiable sound and was straining to make it out. Then he smiled. It was a smile that made him almost sorry that Malik hadn't just stabbed him and been done with it.
"Fine," said Malik. "Then show me to Pegasus's room."
"You agreed you wouldn't kill Pegasus!" Otogi protested.
"Yes," said Malik. "I did not agree not to rob him, and you said I could take what I want. You said he had treasures and notes in his room. I want them."
"I never agreed I'd help you," said Otogi. "Go find them yourself."
"We never agreed yo wouldn't, either," said Malik, still smiling. He held up the Rod in both hands and pulled at it, and a knife slid free of its handle. Malik began advancing slowly forward. "Shall we renegotiate?"
"No, no, it's cool," said Otogi, holding up his hands placatingly. "I'll show you."
"Very good," said Malik.
He backed away a little, giving Otogi a clear path to the door. Otogi started towards it, breathing a small sigh of relief. Maybe he could still give this guy the slip. He knew his way around this building better than Malik possibly could - he could go find a place to hide, or slip out the back door. Maybe he could even manage to warn Pegasus, or at least...
Malik slipped behind him and brought his arm around Otogi's through, pressing the tip of a knife to his throat.
"Just to be sure you cooperate," he said.
"Okay, okay, I'm cooperating! See, I'm cooperating," Otogi babbled. The knife was pressing down harder on his Adam's apple than he liked. A small, distracted part of his mind was already wondering if it was going to leave a scar on his previously flawless skin. He'd had too many shocks already that evening; his mind was starting to bury itself in trivialities in self- defense.
All right, get hold of yourself, he thought. You can still get out of this. Pegasus is probably sound asleep right now. If he's been taking painkillers, he's probably too out of it to notice a whole cavalcade of people in his room. If Otogi could just keep this guy distracted, they could get in and out without any more violence. That meant at least Pegasus would be safe. As for the rest of it...
Otogi led Malik upstairs with his mind in a whirl, considering and discarding plans for escape. He was so wrapped up in his thoughts that he was almost surprised when he realized they had already reached the door to Pegasus's room, and he still didn't have any solid ideas. Hesitantly, he reached for the doorknob, preparing to turn it as silently as he could.
The door opened before he could touch it, and there was Pegasus, wide awake and staring at both of them. Otogi gave him a weak smile.
"Hi," he said. "Guess I should introduce you to my friend, huh?"
For the first instant, all Pegasus could muster was a gut-level, all-encompassing, mind- numbing terror. It wasn't even a fear that he was going to die. The thought never crossed his mind. What flashed through his head when he saw Otogi standing there with a wild-haired madman holding a knife at his throat was that it was all going to happen again. He had let himself get close to someone, start to think about a future that would include them one way or another, and now that someone was going to die, and there would be nothing he could do about it. Again. It wasn't fair, and he wouldn't be able to bear the blow a second time.
But the first time, he'd been just a boy, innocent and honest. Now he had seven years of trickery, deception, and general underhanded dealing to call on. In the next instant, he called up his habitual patter and put on a sunny smile, ignoring the fact that it hurt one side of his face to do so. He pulled the door open wider and gestured grandly.
"Well, this is an unexpected surprise," he said. "Please do come in. To what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?"
The man with the knife looked startled, as Pegasus hoped he would. Pegasus kept his patented "Look at me, aren't I silly?" grin fixed firmly in place. It was, after all, the best weapon he had in his arsenal. Many a rival businessman had succumbed to his facade of tomfoolery, believing him to be, if not completely mad, then at least quite foolish, right up until the moment when he sprang whatever he'd been planning on them and left them completely without escape. He hoped he'd be able to pull that maneuver off tonight. It was, he thought, a very good thing he'd opted not to take his pain pills tonight. He was going to need his head clear for this.
"Pegasus," said Otogi, speaking carefully - as anyone would with a blade against his throat, "this is Malik. He wants to, uh, borrow some stuff from you."
"Oh, is that so? Well, why didn't you say so right out?" said Pegasus brightly. He was under no illusions about what "borrow" meant, but it hardly mattered. He'd let this man back a truck up to the front door and haul away everything he could carry if it would keep Otogi safe.
Malik narrowed his eyes. "None of your tricks, Pegasus. I know all about you."
"You mean you don't trust me? I'm crushed." Pegasus struck an attitude of exaggerated anguish. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched as Malik shoved Otogi inside, sending him sprawling on the carpet, before striding across the room to begin examining shelves. Pegasus wanted to go to Otogi's side to help him up and make sure he was all right, but he didn't dare drop his act. Showing concern for Otogi would just give this dangerous character more excuses to antagonize the boy.
And this man was dangerous, that much was obvious. The glowing mark on his forehead proclaimed it vividly. The object in which Malik sheathed his knife displayed it more subtly, but to Pegasus's mind, more chillingly. He knew a Millennium Item when he saw it, and could only imagine how much trouble such a thing could cause. He had to keep the man distracted and off-balance as much as possible to keep him from thinking about using it.
"Is there something particular you're looking for?" he asked helpfully, as Malik snooped around the room.
"Quiet, you," Malik snapped. "Both of you sit down and shut up."
Pegasus sat down on his sofa. Otogi sat too.
"I'm sorry," Otogi murmured. "This is all my fault. I was the one who brought him here."
"I think," said Pegasus, "that of all the people whose fault this could have been, your name doesn't even make the top five."
"What are you two whispering about over there?" Malik snapped. "Do I need to do something to shut you two up?"
"Not at all," said Pegasus pleasantly. "I was just thinking I could use a drink. What about you? Are either of you gentlemen thirsty?"
He cast a look at Otogi, trying desperately to communicate. Otogi must have caught on, because he assumed an expression of sincerity.
"I wouldn't pass it up," he said.
"I didn't say either of you could serve refreshments," Malik said, scowling.
"Oh, come on," said Otogi. "Are you really going to pass up a chance to drink gazillion- dollar wine with one of the most important men in the world? That's something to brag about right there."
Bless you for being quick on the uptake! Pegasus thought, and it was a good thing that his silly-goose act already called for him to be grinning like a fool or he might have given the game away right there. Otogi had obviously found the weakest point in their captor's armor: his pride. Pegasus watched the expressions glint across Malik's face and felt a small stirring of something like reassurance. He had come to rely on the Eye to tell him what he needed to know about the people he'd been dealing with, and he hadn't wanted to face going back to the ordinary way of trying to guess. He hadn't realized up until that point just how much he had picked up about the subtle expressions on a person's face and the ways their body moved, and what those movements meant about what they were thinking. He may not have been able to see exactly what Malik was thinking now, but his body language proclaimed it as loudly as speaking: he was not going to stand for the two of them enjoying anything he did not, and he simply could not bring himself to turn down any honor that might come his way, whether he particularly wanted it or not.
"Fine," he said. "I suppose if you insist."
"Wonderful!" Pegasus gushed. "I'll get some glasses for us, shall I?"
Without waiting to be given permission, he bounced up to get the drinks. Instead of heading for the wine cabinet, though, he headed for the bathroom. He made sure to leave the door open, giving Malik a clear line of sight on him the whole time. There was a shelf of plastic tumblers next to the sink, in an assortment of tasteful colors and patterns, on the grounds that he was far too important to do anything as unhygienic as reuse the cup he'd been brushing his teeth that morning if he should happen to want a drink of water. He took three of these down and stacked them neatly. Then, making sure he was still within easy view, he reached into the medicine cabinet, took down the bottle of painkillers, and tipped a few into the palm of his hand. He could almost hear Malik smirking as he went through the motions of swallowing them.
That's right, you fiend. I'm just a silly fool, addled by drugs and alcohol, and surely in no condition to be of any threat to you. I'm not thinking about anything but the quickest way to shut my mind down because I'm too afraid of you to cope.
He put the pill bottle away and carried the tumblers over to the wine rack.
"I'm afraid I don't have proper glasses today," he said. "I'm not supposed to be drinking at all right now, but you won't tell, will you?"
He drew out a bottle of dark red wine and began filling all three tumblers. It was rather good wine, really. Shame to waste it on this character. After he'd filled the third glass, he took a drink from it and topped it off again, in the manner of a man for whom one drink is not going to be enough. Then he set the bottle aside, reached for the cups, and assumed an expression of consternation as he fumbled for a way to carry three cups with just two hands.
He stared at them so long that Malik finally snapped, "Bring me mine first! Worry about yourself later."
"Right, right, of course," said Pegasus. "How silly of me. Why didn't I think of that?"
He carried the tumbler over to the table, carefully setting it down in front of Malik with a deferential little crouch that seemed to please him. Then he doubled back to return with the other two cups. While he was taking care of that matter, Malik raised his own cup, sniffed at it thoughtfully, and took a sip. He considered a moment, then apparently decided he liked it, and took a longer swallow. Pegasus had to stifle a sense of irritation. Good wine was not meant to be gulped. Or served in plastic tumblers with polka-dots on them, either. He felt as though he should be praying to Dionysus for forgiveness.
"Sit down," Malik ordered.
Pegasus sat. He toyed with his drink, trying to ignore the agitated looks Otogi was giving him.
"Now, here is what we are going to do," said Malik. "You are going to give me all the information you have on the God Cards. You are going to tell me everything you know about the God Cards. You are going to give me and my followers a tour of your house and let us take whatever we find that I want. Then you will give us clearance to go into your headquarters and take any cards we like. If you hold anything back, if you lie to me, if you call any sort of security, this boy will die." He gestured with his knife towards Otogi. "Do I make myself perfectly clear?"
"Completely," said Pegasus, trying not to sound shaken. The throttling sense of fear was rising up in him again. He wasn't going to bluff his way out of this one. It wasn't going to work. Any minute now, he was going to slip and say the wrong thing, and that knife was going to come flashing down...
"Good," said Malik. "Start talking."
Well, that was something Pegasus could do. With the right opening, he could ramble with the best of them. Now he began to talk, spinning out the yarn of how he'd discovered the God Cards, the research he'd done on them, the process of creating them, the experiments he and his staff had done. He spun it out as long as he could. Malik, meanwhile, listened - first with intent interest, then with diffused interest. When he began nodding off, Pegasus paused and looked at him expectantly. Malik shook himself.
"What...?" he began. "I don't... what?"
Pegasus smiled sweetly. "Would you like another drink?"
For a moment, Malik's face was blank. He looked at his empty tumbler, at Pegasus, and then back at the drink. With glacial slowness, his expression changed from one of slack incomprehension to growing fury.
"You drugged me!" he snarled. At least, that sounded like what he was trying to say. His voice sounded thick and indistinct, but his wild eyes, at least, were bright and sharp with anger. "You never took those pills - you put them in my drink!"
"The alcohol probably had something to do with it, too," said Pegasus mildly. "It can hit you rather hard if you're not used to it."
Malik gave a roar of fury and lunged, slashing with his knife. The coffee table went over, crashing and spilling half-empty drinks everywhere. Pegasus dove out of the way, and heard the sound of the knife slashing through the sofa fabric behind him. Otogi swore and rushed away in the other direction. Pegasus hit the carpet and managed to roll over enough to see Malik staring wildly in all directions.
"I'll kill you both!" he bellowed. "Both of you are dead!" His gaze fell on Pegasus again, focused finally. "This is all your fault!"
Oh, hell's bell, Pegasus thought vaguely. His heart was thudding in his chest. He was no sort of fighter, and even with Malik drugged and clumsy, all it would take was one lucky swing wit that knife...
Malik dove, and Pegasus rolled out of the way. He heard the knife come whistling down, and then the hollow thud of it lodging in the wood of the floor. At that same moment, he felt himself brought up short, and realized the knife had caught in the fabric of his shirt, just below his armpit. He was stuck. Malik seemed to realize it, too. He seemed to relax a little, his face breaking into a slow wicked smile.
"Got you now," he said.
"Oh, no you don't!" said Otogi.
Malik turned around in time to see Otogi grab one of the gewgaws on a nearby shelf, a fist-sized chunk of carved rock with some Celtic designs worked into it, and threw it. It glanced off of Malik's shoulder without really hurting him, but it was enough to distract him long enough for Pegasus to wiggle away. He rolled over with as much force as he could, and the fine fabric of his shirt tore where the knife had speared it. Malik wrenched his knife free and turned on Otogi with a snarl.
"I've had enough of you," he said. He slipped the knife back into its sheath and held the Rod up in front of him. "No more deals. No more bargains. No going back."
He began taking a few careful steps forward, as Otogi backed slowly away. The tip of the Rod wavered, but his gaze stayed fixed on his target. One step... Two steps...
Then his foot caught on an invisible wrinkle in the carpet, and he fell forwards in a heap. He made a clumsy effort to raise himself, but then slumped to the floor again. Otogi just stood staring at him. Pegasus sat up warily, still not quite convinced that the man had finally run out of steam.
There was a pounding of footsteps from somewhere deeper within the house. Seconds later, the door burst open, and a tall man with a tattooed face rushed in, followed more uncertainly by several other men, rendered anonymous by hooded cloaks.
"What's going on?" the man in front demanded. His gaze roved around the room until it landed on the unconscious Malik. "What have you done to him?"
"I'm not entirely sure," Pegasus admitted. "But if you value him at all, you might want to get some medical help for him. I'm not exactly sure what mixing the pills I gave him with alcohol will do, but I know I'm not supposed to do it, so it can't be anything good. You'll probably want to hurry."
Pegasus concentrated on keeping his expression composed. There was still a chance that these men might not care enough not to try to silence Pegasus and Otogi before they left, but he was counting on them not thinking of it. The ones in the cloaks were looking jittery, as if they might break and bolt at the first sign of trouble, and Pegasus guessed they weren't accustomed to thinking for themselves and not happy that their boss was out of commission. The one who seemed to be in charge, however, looked genuinely concerned.
"You!" he said, pointing at one of his men. "Get him to the car, now."
The men scrambled to pick up their fallen leader. The tall man watched gravely as they gathered Malik up, ensuring that the Rod was hooked back on his belt where they seemed to feel it belonged. Then he gathered up the files and papers that Malik had collected.
"I'll be taking these," he said. He said it very calmly, but there was a glint in his eyes that made Pegasus imagine he was thinking that if Malik didn't recover, then he would be back, and the next time he would be taking a lot more than files and papers. Pegasus nodded that he'd understood both messages.
Then the men were gone. A few moments later, there was the distant sound of car doors slamming and an engine growling as the car drove away. The silence in the room continued to stretch on. Finally, Otogi let out a sigh of relief and turned to face Pegasus.
"Okay," he said. "What the hell was that all about?"
Pegasus explained. Otogi listened. It was a long story, and a strange one - a love story, about a young man who had loved a young woman so much that he'd been willing to challenge death himself for her.
Well, Otogi mused when it was over, I guess that explains why Malik was so sure he'd reject me.
They hadn't talked much more after that. It had been a long night - almost a long morning; the sun was starting to turn the eastern sky gray by the time Pegasus had run out of explanations. Pegasus had politely offered to let him stay for breakfast, but Otogi had declined to take so much as a cup of coffee. All he wanted to do, he'd said, was go back to his hotel room and take a nap.
And stew over the way things had turned out. He felt awful. Pegasus had told him not to tell anyone about his secret room, and Otogi had managed to blab about it to the worst possible person, and then give that person access to it. He'd come so close to getting Pegasus killed. He wasn't sure he could bring himself to face Pegasus again after that. Besides, even if he hadn't royally botched things up, it sounded like Pegasus was pretty seriously unavailable. It was probably best all around if he just avoided him from now on.
Before he'd left the city for good, Otogi had faxed the specs for his game to Industrial Illusion. Pegasus had sent a contract back fifteen minutes later, ready to be signed. Otogi had almost called him then, but he lost his nerve. He signed it and mailed it back to him, and that was that.
Now he was back in Domino City, trying to keep tabs on the latest events. He hadn't forgotten about Malik, who was doubtless out there somewhere, plotting. Now Otogi knew what he'd been plotting about. There was a rumor going around that there was about to be an immense duel tournament, right there in Domino City, and Otogi had no doubt that Malik and his Ghouls would be there, making trouble. He was going to have to keep a close eye on that situation.
Because I'm halfway responsible. He got all that information because of me.
He was still trying to figure out exactly what he was going to do about it when his phone rang. He scrambled up out of his desk chair and went to grab it.
"Hello?" he asked uneasily. After the dark thoughts he'd been having, he was braced for anything.
"Well, hello, Otogi-boy!" said a cheerful voice on the other end of the line. "Did I catch you at a bad time?"
"No, no, of course not," said Otogi hastily. He felt dazed. Why was Pegasus calling him now? Was something wrong? Was he about to have his contract cancelled?
"That's good. I'm glad to hear it," said Pegasus. "Listen, I'm at the Domino Imperial..."
"You're here?" asked Otogi, sitting up a little straighter.
"Well, yes," said Pegasus. "I caught wind of a tournament and thought I might like to come see the action up close and personal."
"Oh. Well, hope you enjoy it." Otogi felt like smacking himself. What an inane thing to say!
"I'm sure I will," said Pegasus. "Anyway, the reason I'm calling... well, I thought that since I was in the neighborhood, perhaps you would permit me to drop in for a visit?"
"A visit?" Otogi repeated. "You mean... here? At my house?" He looked around his room frantically, taking in every sock that had escaped its hamper, every crumpled piece of paper that hadn't quite made it into the trash can. Why hadn't he thought to clean?
"Or we could go find a nice restaurant. I'm sure you could recommend one," said Pegasus. "It's just... we haven't had... the opportunity to speak to each other in a while. I'd like very much to see you again."
"You would?" Otogi exclaimed, and laughed. "I keep repeating you, don't I? But seriously, if you really want to see me..."
"I would," said Pegasus. "I told you once before, didn't I? If I can only see half as much, I need to make sure the things I see are the best ones. Don't you agree?"
"Yeah," he said. "And I can't wait to see you again, too."