Disclaimer- Yugioh is the property of several Japanese persons and corporations. Real Ghostbusters is the property of Columbia-Tri-Star and DIC. The Cthulu mythos is the property of a bunch of people, most prominently HP Lovecraft. I own Alix Gaudet, and that's about it. For those wondering, this is in a series with my other YGO stuff, and follows after "Duelists' Night Out." This fanfic is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for violence, adult themes, and language. Nothing you wouldn't expect from me by now, ne?
Shade and Shadow
This was getting entirely too domestic for comfort, Seto Kaiba mused. As had become his habit in the evenings, he'd brought his laptop out of his study and was putting the finishing touches on his projects while relaxing in the living room. Mokuba lay on the floor in front of the TV, absorbed in some anime series or other-- they all blurred together, so far as he was concerned. And on the other couch, Joey Wheeler was diligently working on the homework that the math teacher had assigned to them.
He'd never admit it, of course, but Seto was ALMOST impressed. Math was not one of the mutt's best subjects-- he did better in literature and history. But he DID work hard, and when he'd actually managed to get a glimpse of Joey's grades, he'd been startled. They weren't, of course, anywhere near his own level, but for someone who acted as though the space between his ears was permanently for rent, Wheeler was doing much more than just scraping by.
Joey'd been spending more and more time at the mansion, Seto realized, fingers slowing on the keys. Ever since school had started, the one or two nights a week of the original arrangement had grown to almost three out of five. And stranger still, he hadn't minded at all. Neither boy spoke much to the other, and when they did, their usual exchange of insults was more relaxed, almost ritual.
Gods help me, I'm getting used to him, the CEO thought, amusement mingling with slight panic. In fact, he was almost getting to ENJOY the extra company around the house. Joey might get on his nerves, but to give him credit, the American DID know when to back off. In fact, sometimes Seto thought Joey knew a lot more about things than he let on.
Almost in harmony with the thought, Kaiba noticed the other teen shifting uncomfortably on the other couch. He'd been favoring his ribs since he'd arrived this afternoon, an injury he'd passed off as just "a gym class stitch, y'know?" Mokuba'd accepted it. Seto, on the other hand, knew that stitches were in the muscles of the side, not the upper chest. The tender ribs suggested that Joey had hit something with some force, or vice versa. Like the visits, the injuries, too, were becoming more frequent.
It wasn't just his father, Kaiba knew. The elder Wheeler might be a drunk with a bad temper, but he wasn't a sadist. Blue eyes narrowed thoughtfully, all pretense of work forgotten. Understanding went both ways, after all. He remembered what it was like to be full of darkness; the power, the confidence, the savage exhilaration of having no more fear of pain. And he knew, too, what it was like when that darkness went away, and you saw what you had become. He'd had Pegasus to deal with, Mokuba to rescue... and a puzzle named Yugi Moto that he desperately wanted to solve. Even so, he'd ridden the edge of adrenaline and desperation. The memory of his desperate gambit and last-ditch threat to Yugi still made him wince.
Joey, though-- the blond didn't have anything else to focus on. Yugi and company couldn't distract him every moment, and Kaiba thought he knew the mutt well enough to predict what his safety valve would be.
He's looking for fights, Kaiba realized. And given his familiarity with the less genteel elements of Domino, he's more than able to find them. But they're only a stopgap at most... he needs something real to hold on to, something that doesn't just reflect the darkness.
Mentally, the brunet snorted. He'd long since stopped asking himself why he cared. He'd about accepted that Yugi and the others were going to drag him kicking and screaming back to humanity, and there wasn't anything he could do about it. He didn't think he even wanted to. Not that he would ever ADMIT that...
A shrill ringing cut through the quiet in the living room, drawing three sets of eyes to the cell phone lying on the coffee table. With an aggrieved sigh, Kaiba picked the phone up, flipping it open with a quick motion of the wrist.
"Whatever you're calling about had better be worth your job," he growled. "Not to mention any internal organs I decide to collect for interest."
"Nice to hear from you, too, boss." Amusement was clearly audible in the low Cajun drawl.
Kaiba's free hand came up to massage the bridge of his nose. She hadn't even told him what the problem was, and he already had a headache. "Alix. How much of a mess are we talking about here?"
"Get out the mop and bucket," his security head replied soberly. "Somebody just called from New York. They found one of the R and D guys dead in the storage room-- or at least, what was left of him."
Only biting his tongue let Kaiba keep back a word he was NOT going to use in front of Mokuba. "Accident?"
She snorted. "Not likely. Kaiba, we're talking not enough left of this guy to use as fertilizer. An' KCNY makes OPTICAL systems. Not like they keep ten-molar hydrofluoric acid on hand. Especially not in a file storage room."
"Fine. Have the SST ready to move out at 5 PM tomorrow. Pack a bag- we're going to be there a while, I think."
Hanging up, he rubbed his temples wearily, still conscious of Joey and Mokuba's concerned gazes. This, on top of everything else, was beginning to give him a headache. Life had been so much less complicated when he hadn't given a damn-- Wait.
Why not? You'd been planning on offering him a position eventually. Call it probation. Get him away from his dad, give him something to do... and if a man's been murdered, having the mutt as backup is probably a good idea.
Something close to an actual smile spread across Seto's face, causing Joey to quirk an eyebrow as their eyes met.
"So, Wheeler... how do you feel about a trip to New York?"
Solomon Moto looked up as the bell over his shop door tinkled, and his eyebrows quite nearly hit his hairline. Not that he wasn't beginning to get used to Seto Kaiba coming into his shop, of course. It was just that usually, the young man was being dragged in by Yugi, Mokuba, or both. To have him enter alone was practically unprecedented.
Which means, Solomon thought, amusement mixed with concern, he wants something more than he wants to pretend he has nothing to do with us and the attendant insanity. And given Kaiba's iron self-control and desire to appear "normal," that meant it had to be something very important indeed.
I had SO hoped we were going to have a break, the older man sighed, tucking the last of the new stock of Duel Monster cards into their places. I'm getting too old for this.
A rush of amusement answered him in the back of his mind. What is it you humans say? a draconic voice teased. 'Age is only a matter of mind...'
"I see yours is getting talkative too, Moto," Kaiba drawled, coming up to the counter. At Solomon's raised eyebrow, he elaborated. "Your eyes glaze over slightly. Yugi does the same when Yami talks to him. Mokuba says I do it when my dragons bother me."
"Ah," Solomon nodded. "Yes-- apparently the more magic that permeates the Domino area, the more-- active certain card spirits are. Luckily for us, in the long run, though I do wish she wouldn't nag."
The CEO rolled his eyes. "Try having THREE. I'm lucky to get ANY peace."
Adjusting a display, the older man chuckled. "I can only imagine. But I get the feeling you have business in mind other than building your deck further."
"Mm. I need you to sign something." Kaiba handed a sheet of paper across the counter, and Solomon took it curiously, pulling a pair of reading glasses out of his pocket as he did so.
"'Permission form. I hereby grant Joseph Wheeler permission to be absent from school in temporary custody of one Seto Kaiba for...'" Violet eyes looked up in surprise. "A school absence? For a week and a half?"
Kaiba nodded, leaning against the counter. "You and I know the mu- Wheeler's grades will easily handle a week and a half absence. I need him to come to New York with me-- I've got a situation, and since I've just hired him on as security, I need him with me."
Solomon's eyebrows rocketed upward. "You've hired Joey? For your security force?" It wasn't completely unthinkable, Solomon supposed. Heaven knew it was a job Joey was uniquely suited for. He had a strong protective streak, a keen sense of observation, and a quick mind. He also had a propensity for driving Seto Kaiba up the nearest wall.
The smile he got in return surprised him. "I've got a new security head-- she can deal with him most of the time. And I've seen him pull guard duty on Yugi often enough to know just how good he'll be at the job."
"So why bring this to me?" Solomon tapped the permission slip.
"As far as the school's concerned, you're his legal guardian. You've been listed as emergency contact for more than a year now; it didn't take too much to make it complete."
He'd been hacking again. The sparkle in the twilight eyes was unmistakable, but Solomon couldn't bring himself to be too upset. Not when it had been less than a year ago that he'd wondered if Seto Kaiba even had a heart. Still-- he wasn't quite ready to give in yet.
"All right, I'll sign it. Under one condition."
"Condition?" A brown eyebrow arched elegantly.
"You tell me why you're taking a newly-hired security trainee to New York for a week and half, instead of any of your more experienced employees. It doesn't have to do with Dueling, or you would have asked Yugi along as well, no matter how much it irked you."
The teen grumbled, but the sound didn't have the edge it once had. "Since when do archaeologists take courses in mind reading?" Seto sighed. "He needs the distraction. You don't come back from having that much darkness poured into you in a day."
A rare gleam of humor flashed in the usually-icy eyes. "Not that anyone expects him to-- except himself. Even Taylor knows better than that.
"Wheeler's still riding the edge, looking for the rush, trying to make himself believe he's all the way back. He needs something to do besides running the streets at night looking for fights. And..." Seto suddenly found his fingernails fascinating, "one of my people is dead, Solomon. I don't think it's dueling, but I KNOW I can trust Joey at my back in a fight. More than that, I know I can trust him to take care of Mokuba. When it comes down to it, I know exactly what I can trust Joey to be able to handle for me. I can only say that about a fraction of my staff, even though I know they're loyal."
The shopkeeper didn't think Seto'd even realized he'd stopped using last names. From anyone else, it would have been a mark of disrespect, but from the usually formal Kaiba, it was a rare show of equality-- and vulnerability.
'My people.' Solomon hid a sudden smile. For all that the boy in front of him liked to appear icy and aloof, he had a fierce sense of loyalty to those under his protection that was slowly rebuilding Kaiba Corporation stronger than ever. Most of the employees had jumped ship after the-- disappearance of the Big 5, but those who remained knew their boss would defend them to the death, though he'd never be caught admitting it. And every person still left, Yugi had told him, would return the favor without hesitation.
"Very well," the older man announced, breaking the silence that had fallen. Quickly, he scribbled his name on the bottom line of the permission form. "Just bring him back in one piece."
Seto snorted, tucking the piece of paper away. "Wheeler, Mokuba, and Alix Gaudet on the loose in New York City? I'm the one you have to worry about." With a nod, he strode out the door, trenchcoat trailing behind in his wake.
He might be a prickly bastard, a constant stressor, and a demanding son of a bitch to work for, but having Seto Kaiba as a boss had its definite compensations, Alix decided, sharply choking back her amusement. No one at Kaiba Corporation's New York headquarters had been prepared for the company president and CEO to drop in on them, obviously, and the sight of the white-clad whirlwind stalking through the building corridors had employees of all ranks scrambling to find somewhere- ANYWHERE- out of the scowling man's way. Scurrying along in his wake, Alix went almost completely unnoticed, her boss's presence overwhelming hers in every respect.
Just as well Joey took Mokuba back to the hotel to get us checked in, she mused, ducking into the elevator that had arrived for them, almost on cue. They're neither of 'em used to jet lag just yet, an' Wheeler isn't exactly the type to fade into the woodwork. Not without a few lessons, anyway, but Alix had a feeling he'd be a quick study.
Given the length and energy of Seto's stride, they reached the basement area in little time. Yellow crime scene tape closed the file room off, but the scene looked... off, somehow, to Alix. Then she realized why-- only a few officers and forensics detectives occupied the room. That made sense, in a way; most of the crime scene analysis would have been done the day the body was discovered. The only reason anyone would still be examining the scene was if something about it didn't add up.
Before Seto even reached the ring of tape, his path was blocked by a man who reminded Alix of some sumo wrestlers she had seen. Fully six and a half feet tall, at least, the man had the same type of solid corpulence that seemed neither muscle nor fat, but some type of strange amalgamation of the two. In a worn, wrinkled suit and battered fedora, he looked like someone who had read too much Marlowe and seen too many movies-- save for the sharp, cold sparkle of intelligence in the jaded eyes.
"Crime scene, buddy," the larger man announced, his voice as flat and "New York Cop" as the rest of his appearance. "No admittance."
Arctic blue eyes flashed, but Kaiba's reply was surprisingly mild. "Seto Kaiba, CEO. Are you the officer in charge of the scene, Detective…?"
"Frump. And yeah, Mr. Kaiba, I'm in charge. But I thought corporate headquarters was in Japan."
"It is. But when one of my people drops dead in a file room under suspicious circumstances," you could almost hear him underline the words, "I consider that more than enough reason to be present for the investigation."
The detective made a grunting noise, possibly of affirmation. Feeling that sharp gaze rest on her, Alix smiled as charmingly as she could.
"Alix Gaudet, Kaiba Corp security head. If someone's been murdered, that's certainly a security matter, eh?"
"Murder? Hasn't been decided yet. Right now, it's just suspicious circumstances," the detective told them, not making any effort to sound convincing. Apparently he considered them intelligent enough not to be playing games with.
A shrill ring from Frump's pocket made the older man scowl, looking down in irritation. "Damn things... never unavailable when you wanna be anymore..." Looking at the two teens, his gaze sharpened. "If you'll excuse me, I gotta take care of this. Feel free to show yourselves out." He moved away, already flipping open his phone.
"And the hounds of justice are on the trail," Seto commented, a flash of wry amusement lurking in his tone.
"That one is smarter than he looks, I think," Alix agreed. "Wonder what kind of puzzle is still keeping 'em here?"
Kaiba said nothing, his gaze roaming the bloodstained concrete floor, the rows of filing cabinets and the single line of bare light bulbs that lit the maze from above. Frowning, he sniffed the air carefully.
"Do you smell that?"
Inhaling delicately, Alix smelled nothing for a second, then nearly gagged as the odor faded in. "Mon Dieu, what IS that? Smells like a skunk dead three weeks in the hot sun!"
"This is why we embalmed corpses," Seto muttered absently, one hand covering his mouth and nose.
"Embalmed? He wasn't down here THAT long, chere."
Seto shook his head, eyes losing their unfocused quality. "Come on; let's hit the main security office. I want to take a look at the tape logs from that night."
The security head was already waiting at the "God Station" when Seto and Alix reached it, computers booted up and running. In his mid-twenties, the man had short, spiky blond hair, wire-rimmed glasses, and an athletic build that suggested that computer surveillance wasn't the only type of security he was involved in.
"Mr. Kaiba." The man extended a hand as the two approached. "Ryan Delaplane, Security. I've got all the archives from last night cued up for you. Call it a hunch."
Delaplane's handshake was firm and brief, causing Seto's approval to ratchet up another notch. The man was competent, without a trace of nervousness or sycophancy. And aside from this recent... disturbance, KCNY's security record was unblemished, indicating that Delaplane was very good at his job.
"Thank you," Seto nodded, ignoring the expression of mock-shock on the face of the redhead behind him. Some people DID deserve his politeness and respect, just not that many. "Do we have cameras in that storage room?"
The blond slid into the main operator's seat with a wry chuckle. "This is a Kaiba Corp building. We have cameras everywhere but the bathrooms. And we're working on those." Fingers tapped speedily over the keyboard. "Of course, life is NEVER that easy..." On the monitor, an image of the storage room came up, time stamp showing 3:25 AM. A man was shown filing items from the large stack of papers in his arms.
"That the victim?" Alix asked, leaning past the two men for a closer look.
"Yeah. Mark Kingsley. He worked in Records, the king of the filing cabinets," Delaplane shrugged. "Don't know why anybody would want to kill him. Anyway, it goes on like this for another fifteen minutes or so, then..." A few keystrokes advanced the file to 3:45, when the image began to grow smoky, wavering. On screen, Kingsley spun around, eyes huge, staring at something or someone just off camera. Then everything went completely black.
"This wasn't a real high priority camera, so we only check it every fifteen minutes," the security man continued. "It was about five 'til when we noticed that the feed was out. We sent a guy down to check it-- as soon as he walked in, the picture came back."
Onscreen, blackness suddenly snapped back into clear images, showing a body lying on the floor, the sound of a technician losing his lunch, and a timestamp of 4 AM.
Seto frowned. "It was that bad?"
"Lou said it was the worst thing he'd ever seen. And he was in Vietnam," the older man replied grimly.
"It's your stomach." The camera image focused in on the body, enhancing it pixel by pixel. As it cleared, Seto heard Alix give a disgusted noise behind him, and even he had to grab onto the desk.
Parts of Kingsley's flesh were just-- gone in areas, white bone peeking through. Other areas were unmarked, no bruises, cuts, or burns to be seen. Kaiba growled softly.
"No acid does THAT."
"Not without corroding the floor too," Alix agreed, "and I didn't see any evidence of that. Funny... didn't see much blood, either."
"Dissolution like that tends to cauterize in its path-- there wouldn't be much," he replied absently, attention still fixed on the body on the screen. "But to achieve that effect with any type of caustic solution so neatly, without getting any on the floor... that would take a HELL of a lot longer than fifteen minutes."
His security head nodded. "Doesn't look like he put up much of a struggle-- what the HELL are we dealing with here?"
Blue eyes narrowed thoughtfully. He didn't know, but he was just as glad he'd sent Mokuba to the hotel.
"So. We've got a guy dissolved to death in the basement by caustic substances unknown, with no motive, and a damned short window of opportunity... How come you don't look nearly as confused as everybody else?"
Seto didn't even bother to dignify Alix's question with a look. Actually, that wasn't the reason he wasn't looking at her-- he honestly couldn't think of a good excuse. 'I read about something kind of like this while researching nameless evils beyond existence' wasn't exactly something you could tell your head of security, not without her trying to cart you off to the local asylum, anyway.
But it DID fit, far too well, with some of the things he'd read while doing research on the Black Pharaoh; things that still haunted his nightmares sometimes when he was overtired. That's why he was heading to the office set aside for him here-- a quick web search might help narrow down the options, not to mention he wanted to look for previous disturbances that might fit the pattern. If there was a rip in reality opening in the basement, he doubted this was the first manifestation. His experience might be limited, but that and his research indicated that these things built up over time.
Entering the office, Seto's gaze was arrested by the view through the floor-to-ceiling windows that formed half the back wall. The sunset, blazing orange, could be seen reflecting off the towers all around them-- it had, after all, been a remarkably clear, warm day. But clouds were gathering in the north, clouds far too familiar.
"Damn," he growled, already reaching for his cell phone. "Delaplane-- Seto Kaiba. What's the weather been like here the past few days? Or specifically the nights."
Confusion was evident in the other man's tone, but he answered readily enough. "Funny you should ask-- it's started raining everyday almost exactly at sunset, probably for the past week. Why?"
"A hunch, that's all... I'll run it down myself. Thanks." Cutting the contact, he took one last glance out the windows towards the gathering clouds, and then turned towards his desk. He hadn't gotten more than two steps before there was a shattering crash, and the glass walls fountained outwards towards the street.
The CEO's office was a good twenty-five stories above the ground- easily more than three hundred feet from the ground. And with the rising storm, there was more than enough pressure differential for every loose object in the office to go flying out into the twilight-- executives included. For one endless second, Kaiba could feel the sickening sensation of weightless free-fall.
Then a surge of power kicked through him and his fall slowed, just as a slim hand caught his wrist and yanked, every ounce of muscle in Alix's five-three frame dedicated to altering his trajectory just--that--much.
It worked. Seto slewed sideways, away from the window, hitting the office wall with a solid thunk. Lying still as the pressure equalized and he tried to catch his breath, one absurd thought raced through his head. Oh gods, I hope I didn't ACTUALLY grow wings there...
Not visible ones, a gruff draconic voice soothed. Though that one might see more than she lets on.
No. SOMEONE in my employ has got to be normal, damn it. Ignoring the pain in his back, Seto levered himself to his feet, as Alix, on the other side of the windows, did the same. Then he blinked. The office equipment, which he'd last seen being sucked out the window for a very fast trip down to street level, was... floating. No, it was FLYING, he corrected himself, ducking as a fax machine attempted to take the top of his head off— And it seemed to be in almost as bad a mood as he was.
Drawing Alix the rest of the way to her feet, Seto hauled the small woman almost bodily out of the office and into the work floor, slamming the door behind them both.
"You all right?" he asked, as casually as possible.
She shot him the type of glare he usually only saw in the mirror. "Oh, just peachy, chere-- dead bodies, depressurizing offices, and bloodthirsty possessed office equipment-- my day is just complete." Her tirade cut off suddenly, eyes widening as she stared at something behind him. His patience finally snapped.
"Put it down, or find out what they mean by 'Fate worse than death,'" he announced icily, not even looking behind him. A quiet thump was the only answer.
Alix grinned, a bit of color coming back into her face. "Congratulations, boss, you just terrified an office desk."
... He was either going to fire her or give her a raise.
"Whoo-ee," Joey whistled, as the elevator doors closed behind him. "Been redecoratin', boss man?" He kept his tone deliberately light, not wanting the boy beside him to pick up on his anxiety. Not that Mokuba wasn't smart enough to have more than enough worries of his own-- police cars, shattered glass, and the occasional telephone embedded in the asphalt weren't the most comforting things to see upon getting out of a taxi.
Kaiba scowled, folding his arms across his chest as the American approached, but Joey thought the blue eyes lightened somewhat as they fell on Mokuba.
"What are you doing here, mutt? I thought you were staying back at the hotel."
"Yeah, well, your novel approach to air conditioning is all over the police band, so you can understand that we were a bit-- concerned," the blonde shot back.
One dark eyebrow rose. "You have a police radio scanner?"
"I'm a man of many talents."
"Most of them capable of getting you ten to twenty."
Rolling his eyes at the sparring between the older boys, Mokuba crossed over to where Alix had just finished talking to a uniformed police officer.
"Is everybody okay?" the boy asked, as the redhead turned her attention to him. "Nii-sama probably wouldn't be fighting with Joey if they weren't, but..."
"Ever'body's fine, kiddo," she assured him. "Well, aside from a couple pieces o' office equipment that wouldn't take no for an answer, but your brother dealt with 'em real quick."
Mokuba winced, envisioning the probable destruction of said equipment. "The officers said the windows just-- blew out?"
"Mm. Damndest thing. Lotta glass flying around, but nobody got cut. Though I don't think your brother's gonna be goin' near any balconies for a while."
"Me either." The boy shivered. Then his head cocked as the ding of the elevator caught his attention. "Hey-- who's that?"
Alix frowned. "Ryan Delaplane, KCNY's security head. Seto's actually impressed with him. He looks nervous. Come on, let's go eavesdrop."
"You want to do what?" Seto Kaiba's tone was sufficient to cause icicles to develop on the climate control.
To his credit, Delaplane barely flinched. "Sir, two secretaries in Payroll spent the last twenty minutes hiding from a rabid copier. You nearly got blown out a twenty-fifth story window. The cops have privately admitted to me that they can think of no EARTHLY explanation for Kingsley's death, and these storms are about as far from natural as you can get. Under normal circumstances, I'd already be calling them as we speak. You're the boss, so it is your decision, but I would submit that there really isn't a better choice."
"They're legit, Kaiba," Joey agreed, chiming in. "I lived here the first eleven years of my life, believe me, I know. They're pretty good guys, too... Scientists, not treasure hunters."
Seto sighed. "Fine. Delaplane, you have my permission."
At this point, Mokuba, who had been left out of most of this conversation, piped up. "Nii-sama? Who're you going to call?"
"That is a BIG building," Peter Venkman commented, neck craned as he peered through the car window. The gaping hole on the twenty-fifth floor was almost invisible in the pouring rain that had hit the city almost simultaneously with the onset of full night.
"Indeed," a bass reply came from the front passenger seat. "Kaiba Corporation is one of the world's leaders in technical research and development, primarily in the areas of games and other entertainment genres. Their work with holographic display systems is unmatched."
"Thank you, Egon, I really needed that Fortune 500 brief," the psychologist shot back sarcastically.
As he put the car in park, Winston Zeddemore frowned. "Wasn't that where they found the dead guy in the basement a few nights ago?" The black Ghostbuster made it a point to stay on top of information like that-- his colleagues, though all geniuses in their fields, often dismissed such things until it came back to bite them in the butts.
"Yeah, but this doesn't sound like a Class 4, and poltergeists usually don't hurt anybody," Ray Stantz interjected. "Well, not DIRECTLY, anyway..."
"As long as you duck fast, you mean," Venkman grumped. "Well, come on... If we make a break for it, we should be able to get in the building without getting TOO wet."
Once inside, Peter dropped back a bit to walk beside Winston. "Dead guy?" he asked in an undertone.
"Don't know much about it," his friend replied, volume matching. "They're calling it murder, but-- not much else said. Oh, and Frump's working the case."
Green eyes shot heavenward. "Oh, JUST peachy... wonder if he'll try and arrest us for this one, too."
Elevator doors opening on the twenty-fifth floor, the four men stepped out into what was obviously the center of activity. If the knot of people standing in the work areas hadn't given it away, the telephone half-embedded in the wall would have. As they passed, Peter noticed with some interest that it was still beeping pathetically.
"Somebody call for a paranormal investigator?" the brunet asked brightly, gaze sweeping over those present. Twenty-something with a cell phone, a PDA, and a gym build-- check, probably the security head who'd called. Two teenage boys, one looking vaguely amused, the other radiating enough suspicion to power Manhattan. One black-haired kid, probably about thirteen. And a redhead in a suit jacket, no taller than the kid, but considerably older, given the two pistols he could see nestled in shoulder holsters under her jacket. Oh, this was going to be INTERESTING.
"Ryan Delaplane," the twenty-something introduced himself, hand extended. "Gentlemen, this is Seto Kaiba, CEO of Kaiba Corp, Mokuba Kaiba, his younger brother, and security personnel Joseph Wheeler and Alix Gaudet."
"Charmed. Peter Venkman, Winston Zeddemore, Egon Spengler, and Ray Stantz. Egon, put the PKE meter down at least long enough to be polite, will ya?" Kaiba pointedly acknowledged the introductions with nothing more than a brief nod, something Peter did not overlook.
"Fascinating," the physicist commented, looking up from the device in his hand. "I'm getting several very unusual readings here-- the poltergeist activity, for one, though those are quiescent and fading quickly, but..." He made a few adjustments, and then nodded.
"I regret the rudeness of this question, Mr. Kaiba, but how old are all of you?"
Kaiba's eyes narrowed calculatingly, and then shrugged. "I'm seventeen-- eighteen in April. Mokuba is thirteen. The mutt is seventeen, and Miss Gaudet is eighteen."
Ray nodded excitedly. "Thirteen's the most common age to trigger poltergeist activity; seventeen's not unknown, though it's usually way too settled."
"Yeah, but Mokuba and I were back at the hotel when the windows decided to break," Wheeler volunteered.
The CEO's expression didn't change. "I rather doubt either my brother or I would create a situation in which I was propelled out of a twenty-fifth story window," he said coolly.
"These don't look like the typical readings of a psychokinetic eruption anyway," Egon agreed, still studying his machine. "More disciplined. Though there are fading residuals of something else in your readings, Mr. Wheeler."
"Is that a fact," Wheeler said casually. The kid had the best poker face Peter'd ever run across, but there was a flicker of-- something in the brown eyes just before everything shut down. Whatever the something else was, Peter'd bet money that it had been very, very unpleasant.
"Look," Kaiba broke in, arms folded across his chest. "The disturbances have settled for now. I don't care what you four do, so long as you solve this problem. I'm taking my people back to the hotel and getting some SLEEP."
Peter nodded, all smiles. "Sure, no problem. We'll need to do more research anyway. we'll keep you posted."
"Do that." And with that curt reply, Seto Kaiba stalked towards the elevator, ice forming in his wake.
Egon Spengler knew he could sometimes be oblivious. And that was putting it rather charitably-- Peter had often likened getting his attention to blasting granite. However, over the last two decades, he'd developed a keen sense for certain subjects-- he'd had to. Learning to read Peter Venkman (and Ray, later and to a lesser extent) had not only gotten him through college, it had more than likely saved his life on more than one occasion. So by now, he could quite quickly pick up on when something was amiss.
Case in point. Peter had been quiet the entire ride back from the Kaiba Corporation building, unusual for a man who'd had more than one hospital stay simply because he would not leave off haranguing whatever Class Six entity the four of them were facing that day. His expression was less troubled than thoughtful, something which rarely boded for a simple situation. And as soon as they'd returned to the firehouse, Peter had disappeared into his "office," stating his plans to start some online research. The other three had exchanged glances, then moved off to start their own research in various fields. However, with the computer currently analyzing all the readings he'd taken at Kaiba Corporation, Egon decided that it was time to beard the psychologist in his den, as it were.
Normally when Peter retreated to his office, he could be found either relaxing with his feet on the desk, or making out the bills that kept the business running. The psychology and parapsychology journals spread out over the desk were a less common sight, but still far more usual than seeing Peter tapping away at his computer's keyboard, a look of intense concentration on his face. As was typical, however, he looked up as Egon entered the space enclosed by filing cabinets.
"What's up, Spengs? Run out of molds to scrutinize?" the younger man asked casually.
"My samples and readings are currently undergoing statistical analysis," the blond replied. "Ray is researching various occult sources for poltergeist occurrences similar to this one, and Winston is calling some old friends, getting some information on our four new arrivals. I thought it might be a good idea to check into your research direction as well."
Peter chewed his lip absently, looking back at the computer screen. "Yeah, about that, Egon... I think poltergeist activity is barking up the wrong tree. The Gaudet girl's way too old, emotionally speaking-- she's a licensed bodyguard; you don't get that job with emotional upheavals going on. Besides, you didn't get more than residuals off her, right? And Seto Kaiba-- not a chance."
"He DID read extremely strongly of PKE," Egon offered neutrally.
"Oh, sure, he's practically a nightlight. But a poltergeist focus? Egon, that kid was ICE. Guys like that, control is practically a religion. Even their nervous breakdowns are focused and controlled. If Seto Kaiba had an overwhelming emotionally triggered PKE surge, it wouldn't break windows and set off office equipment. Somebody'd be DEAD. I guarantee it."
Egon raised an eyebrow, hiding the start Peter's words had given him. "Surely that's a bit of an exaggeration?"
"Nope." Peter looked up, green eyes unreadable. "In fact, I think it's already happened. Like I said, I did some research-- it wasn't easy, but I managed to put together a bare-bones bio of Seto Kaiba. A tested, off-the-charts genius, orphaned at age 8, adopted at age 10 by one Gozaburo Kaiba, CEO of Kaiba Corporation. Apparently the guy was the only one willing to adopt both Seto and his little brother. No more news for another four years, when Gozaburo Kaiba drops dead of a heart attack, and Seto takes control of the company."
"You think Seto Kaiba was responsible for his adoptive father's death?"
"Define 'responsible.' Everything I've read about this Gozaburo guy suggests he wasn't exactly Father of the Year material. Put that together with our current Ice Prince... I'd probably call it self-defense. Or at least justifiable homicide."
"OH yeah. Nobody gets that kind of armor without it. So if you're thinking about the dead body Winston mentioned, I doubt Kaiba was responsible. 'Sides, the discovery predates him flying into the country."
Egon leaned against the wall behind him. "So you don't believe the Kaibas are responsible for the eruption."
"Didn't say that. It's pretty obvious that Seto Kaiba triggered it somehow, but I don't think it's poltergeist activity. I don't think it's internal at all-- more like something reacting to him." The psychologist shrugged. "But that's about the limit of my fascinating insight."
"It certainly gives me new directions to take the research in." The blond frowned, seeing his friend wasn't listening. "Peter?"
"Huh? Oh, sorry, just had a funny feeling there for a moment. Go on back to your readings, Spengs. I've got a few more closets to shake down before I call it a night."
Frowning, Egon made his way back towards his lab. Peter having "funny feelings" rarely boded well for the rest of them. Perhaps he'd inform Ray and Winston-- best to be prepared, after all.
Outside, the streets of New York were shrouded in a hard, dark rain, enough even to dampen the spirit of the City That Never Sleeps. Inside the hotel suite, Joey Wheeler sat gazing out one of the wide windows, absently shuffling his Duel Deck. His eyes might be fixed on the downpour outside, but his attention was somewhere else entirely.
What are the odds? he thought with dark humor. I musta really pissed someone off in a past life. O' course, given the way things have turned out with this group, that's actually a very real possibility. He didn't actually know whether he'd lived in Egypt back then, the way Kaiba and Yugi had; but more and more, he was beginning to think he had. The Shadows in his deck felt too RIGHT, too familiar for him to have picked it up just recently. He'd learned so fast-- even with Grandpa Moto's teaching, his learning curve had been insane.
And under the Black Pharaoh's power, he'd almost remembered. Dim images, shadows of black and red... The Nameless Pharaoh, before the split, strong and calm and clear. Battles and Duels and shadows and blood... and it was all gone, all of it, except when his nightmares got a little too frisky and decided to come out and play.
Except, of course, that somebody decided we needed a rerun of that particular horror-show in my life, the blond Duelist thought sourly. It can't be the Pharaoh, true, 'cause Yugi, Yami, and Tea banished it way beyond the Shadow Realm. But there's a whole list of nasty things to choose from, if you read Lovecraft's books, an' I don't particularly wanna meet any of 'em!
Not to mention, he didn't want to remember the darkness pounding through his veins, the sweet, intoxicating taste of blood, the clear, certain knowledge that he would never be a loser again, never wind up lost and broken and hiding in a bottle to make the pain go away. Or the rush of the power, the strength, the control... everything in the world at his fingertips... Mai in his arms, soft and warm and waiting...
Somewhere beyond the shrouding rain, he could dimly hear the sound of a church bell tolling dolorously, once, twice... Three o'clock. Honey-brown eyes, already unfocused, slowly darkened to an empty shade barely distinguishable from black. The Duel Deck fell from Joey's suddenly lax grip as he stood and made for the doorway, no longer seeing anything in this world.
He barely noticed the rain pouring down, feet unerringly following the path set for them as he moved in a green, misty darkness filled with twisted images of family and friends. 'Worthless,' they whispered, 'weak, useless, stupid fool.'
No one needs you. No one wants you. They've moved on. You only hold them back. Everything would be so much better if you'd just let go...the darkness crooned.
His deck was gone, but something else was in his hand now-- the handle of his knife. Kaiba'd given it to him-- said if he was working security, he'd need SOMETHING for the threats that didn't come with cards of their own.
Kaiba... gave... he wanted... Feebly, a spark of light flared under the blanketing chill.
To pay a debt he felt he owed. He has Alix. He doesn't need you. She's a hundred times stronger than you ever have been or will be. She'll take care of him. You know what you must do.
Right. He raised the blade to his neck, cool razor edge kissing his skin. Easy enough, one quick swipe to open carotid and jugular, and his life would bleed onto the pavement in a matter of minutes. Fall into the darkness and all pain would end...
No. I won't. Bright and stubborn, memories flared of a sunset watched from the top of the school, and a promise-- a promise he'd never broken, and never yet would.
He has his yami now. What can you do next to a spirit with the Shadow Realm at its call?
Then they woulda put a stake through my heart an' had done with it! Joey shot back fiercely, mind beginning to clear. I don't know who or WHAT you are, but you're full o' shit, and I'm not listening anymore!
Fool! You're mine now. Your body will obey my will, even if your mind does not!Joey could feel his arm muscles tighten, body prepared for one sharp slash...
And a strong hand clamped down on his wrist, wrestling the arm and knife away from his throat. A spurt of hope shot through him, even as his body attempted to fight free from the hold.
"Kid, I don't know what your problem is, but trust me, an emergency tracheotomy is NOT the answer," a tenor voice puffed in his ear. "Now why don't you drop the knife, we can go get warm and dry, an' talk it out over a nice cup of coffee?"
Joey gritted his teeth. "Tryin..." he gasped, fighting his own muscles all the way.
Gotta make a shield, somethin' it can't break or corrupt; somethin' I can hold... His sense of humor once again came to his rescue, serving up the image of Maximillian Pegasus in a chicken suit. It worked-- he could feel the dark force recoil in anger and confusion.
Cluck cluck, sucker, he snarled triumphantly, focusing on every feather, every strand of hair. Find another patsy-- an' GET OUTTA MY HEAD! One more shove, and his body was his own again, as he collapsed in the pouring rain.
"Feeling better?" his rescuer asked wryly. Joey looked up, his mind racing for an excuse-- and looked into the knowing green eyes of a very wet Ghostbuster.
Flicking on the bunkroom's overhead light, Peter expertly ducked the stuffed dog launched at his head. Ray might be the quintessential morning person, but wake him up at four AM, and the occultist could be just as cranky as Peter ever was before his coffee.
Winston, as usual, was already awake and alert, a talent that Peter sometimes envied, even if he didn't particularly want the experiences that had fostered it. "You're getting us up early? This had better be good, Pete," the black man warned, arms folded across his chest.
"You're wet," Egon announced, sliding his glasses on as he sat up. "You've been outside?"
Peter rolled his eyes. "No, Egon, I took a shower in my clothes to save time on laundry duty. Yes, I've been outside-- To the Kaiba Corporation building, as a matter of fact. Had a hunch I needed to be there, and it was a good thing I did. Got there in time to keep one of the security guys from slicing his own throat open right there in the plaza."
The other three stared at him in total shock. "Is he okay?" Ray finally managed, eyes wide.
"Yeah, he's in the shower right now getting warm," Peter replied. "And to answer your next question, no, I don't think he's actually suicidal. His eyes were... well, he was just really out of it. And besides, people generally don't slash their own throats. It goes against every instinct you have. Anyway, Winston, the kid's about your size. I was wondering if I could borrow a set of your sweats?"
"Kid?" the older man blinked. "The one we met earlier tonight- Wheeler?"
"Yeah. Like I said, he didn't strike me as the type. Something had a hold on him."
Winston nodded, climbing out of bed. "Sure, Pete, loan him a pair. You know where to find 'em. I'm gonna go check the security systems."
"An excellent idea," Egon agreed, rising as well. "Raymond, if you would ready the lab equipment? I think it would be best to scan Mr. Wheeler to make certain none of the influence remains."
"Sure, Egon," the occultist replied, already headed for the door.
Peter folded his arms, regarding the physicist with a raised eyebrow. "And just what are you gonna do, Spengs?"
A blond eyebrow cocked in response. "I'm going to make cocoa. I think this is likely to be a discussion requiring it."
Peter couldn't argue with that.
Warm, dry, and wrapped up in a sweat suit just slightly too big for him, Joey sat at the Ghostbusters' kitchen table, staring with some suspicion at the mug of brown liquid in front of him. It SMELLED wonderful, and he could use the hot liquid to keep down the shivers starting up inside him. But after Kaiba's encounter with Gramps' "special" tea, he was understandably nervous about drinking anything to "calm his nerves."
Looking across the table, he saw Venkman's lips twitch. "Don't worry," the man assured him in an undertone. "It's just cocoa. Not that Winston and I haven't added-- er, extra ingredients to it on occasion, but Spengs would probably skin us alive if he knew we'd "adulterated" his specialty."
"Got it," Joey chuckled, despite himself. Taking a long sip, he relaxed, feeling the heat from the drink spreading through him. "Sorry, force o' habit, I guess."
"Hey, I lived in Brooklyn myself as a kid," the man replied. "No hurt feelings here."
Ahh. That explained the way the guy had wrestled the knife away from him, like it was something he'd had way too much experience with. Not that Joey was complaining. Which reminded him...
"Hey, I didn't say thanks for keepin' me from makin' a mess all over the building plaza. I really do appreciate it."
A careless shrug. "Hey, I'm just glad my insomnia was acting up. Seemed like as good a place to walk as any."
"Uh huh." Well, this conversation was going nowhere. The calculating green gaze on the other side of the table indicated that the Ghostbuster wasn't gonna give away any more secrets than Joey himself.
"You wanna talk about it?" The invitation was quiet, non-confrontational. Part of Joey instinctively wanted to refuse, used to hiding things from adults, who were more likely to interfere than assist. But-- God, he DID want to talk.
"I can't-- look, some of it I can't. Not yet. But, a few months back, somethin' bad happened to me. Somethin' kinda like this. I did some things; bad things. I didn't mean 'em, exactly; and tonight... it was like I was back there. An' I couldn't stop remembering how bad it was, and something was telling me I was useless, hopeless, that my friends would be better off without me... An' I guess for a second, I believed it, just enough to give whatever it was an opening. I don't know WHY it wanted me to kill myself, or why it didn't just have me do it in the hotel room. But that definitely WASN'T me. I don't want..." He swallowed convulsively. "God, I do NOT wanna die, especially not like that. 'Sides, if I killed myself, Kaiba'd probably find a way to bring me back just so he could kick my ass. An' the line'd form behind him."
Peter nodded. "Got good friends, huh?"
The teenager let go a long breath. "The best. Even the Iceman, though if you tell him I said that, I'll have ta kill you."
"My lips are sealed," the brunet promised. "I'm guessing that whatever happened, Kaiba was involved in it? I can't imagine you two hitting it off without some external force pushing it."
"Well, we go to high school together, but yeah, before that we mainly hit each other. Then we realized how much we have in common." Joey shrugged.
Another nod. "Oh, THAT sounds familiar... listen, the mad scientists have the scanners in the lab up and running. they'd like to check and make sure whatever it is that got a hold on you is really gone, at least for now. You don't have to say yes. It's completely up to you. But I know what it's like to have something take up residence in your head that shouldn't be there-- Sometimes taking over, and sometimes just making you into somebody you're not. And believe me, you generally sleep a little better at night knowing it's GONE."
Joey shrugged again. "Sure, why not? I ain't gonna be sleeping until the sun comes up; THAT'S for sure..." He drained his cup in one long swallow. "Lead the way."
Mokuba Kaiba had never been a particularly heavy sleeper. You had to feel SAFE somewhere to develop that habit, and between the orphanage and living under the whim of Gozaburo Kaiba, an approximate third of his life had been pretty much the exact opposite. Even after Gozaburo'd died, he hadn't felt completely safe-- not having to watch Seto get colder and more distant every day; almost turning into the man he'd despised. And while THAT had changed after that fateful Duel between Seto and Yugi, subsequent events had opened a "whole 'NOTHER can of worms," as Joey liked to say. He had the big brother he'd always loved and remembered back, but now that he knew the monsters under his bed could be real, under the right conditions... well, the type of heavy sleep people expected from kids was probably never going to be within his reach.
The curtains were drawn in the bedroom he was sharing with Seto, so it wasn't the light that had woken him. Lying still, the boy stretched his senses outward, looking for any subtle alteration in his environment.
"... just WOULDN'T leave without his Deck," his older brother's voice floated in. The tones were low and contained, but Mokuba could hear a well-controlled edge of panic in his brother's voice. "Panic" and "Seto" didn't often go together, and when they did-- bad things were happening. Climbing out of bed, Mokuba pushed the door open and entered the main room of the suite, noticing absently as he did so that the sun was just beginning to peek over the horizon. He made a face. The rain had stopped with the sunrise, just like last time. No wonder Nii-sama seemed so unhappy.
Neither Seto nor Alix noticed him at first, too absorbed in their own conversation. The bodyguard had her arms folded across her chest, and was giving his big brother a very calculating glance.
"There's something you're not telling me, chere," she said slowly. "Actually, I'm guessing there are a LOT of things, some of them are none of my business, but this... " she swept a hand, indicating the Duel Deck resting on one of the suite's end tables, "this is gonna affect how I do my job. And I won't stand for that. Either you come clean, or I'm gonna have to walk."
"Is-- is that Joey's?" Mokuba asked, understanding dawning. The blond was nowhere to be seen, and as Seto had said, there was no way a Duelist would be without his deck. Especially not after what had happened the LAST time Seto'd been separated from his.
The older Kaiba massaged the bridge of his nose, looking older than Mokuba could remember seeing him. "Go change into street clothes, Mokuba. We're going up to the roof. Alix deserves an explanation, and I've got an idea on how to find Joey."
The roof? Why would... Mokuba's eyes lit up as he realized what Seto was thinking, and he grinned. "Got it, Nii-sama," he chirped, dashing back into the suite. "Just a second!"
Setting what he privately considered to be a world-record in speed dressing, Mokuba dashed back into the living room and made a beeline for the door. Alix raised an eyebrow at him.
"Now what's got YOU so excited?"
Unable to contain himself, the boy grinned at her. "You'll see; it's gonna be really COOL!"
"Stop bouncing before you make somebody seasick," Seto grumbled, handing Joey's deck to his younger brother. "And hold onto this. I think the mutt's more likely to trust you with it than anyone."
Calming down, Mokuba tucked the deck carefully into the left-hand pocket of his jeans, where they matched the bulge of his own deck on the right.
Watching all of this with an unreadable expression, Alix shot a look at Seto. "They're not just cards-- are they?"
He grimaced. "Not-- exactly. Come on... I promise, I'll explain once we reach the roof."
Her employer, Alix had noticed, had a definite affection for high, open places-- places where it was easy to feel the open wind and sky. Actually, now that she thought about it, Joey and Mokuba were the same way, lacking even a normal person's understandable trepidation with heights.
You'd almost think they expected to be able to grow wings, she mused. Not that she'd seen any evidence of that, and with Seto Kaiba's fondness for tailored trench-coats, it would be rather hard to miss. Then again, the way those things flap in the wind... She shook herself back to reality as he began to speak.
"I can't tell you everything-- not all of it is my secret to tell. But I can promise to tell you everything I'm not specifically bound to keep, and to be truthful about all of it. I'll give you my word on that-- good enough?"
Alix considered that. Her time working for Kaiba Corporation had taught her that Seto Kaiba almost never gave his word, because once given, he ALWAYS kept it. He might not always be a NICE man, but he was an honorable one. She nodded sharply.
"Good enough, chere. I'm listening."
"Okay..." He let out a long breath, and Alix realized that this was the first time she'd ever seen Seto Kaiba nervous. Not worried, frightened, or uncertain-- nervous, as if he expected her to laugh at him... or run away in fear.
"A long time ago, in Ancient Egypt, there was a-- well, I guess you could call it a place. It wasn't, really; more like a state of mind, or an extra dimension. They called it the Shadow Realm. It lay under our world, like a dark mirror, everywhere and anywhere, and it was full of creatures the likes of which never walked the earth. People in Egypt learned to tap into this realm, and created what they called the Shadow Games. These games called on the creatures and powers of the Shadow Realm. you pitted your monsters against an opponent's, to see who was stronger.. smarter... to get ready to defend the kingdom against its enemies... whoever they might be.
"At the same time, the priests forged seven powerful items of gold and Shadow Magic, seven items that gave their wielders even greater control of the Shadows; greater power in the Shadow Games. They were known as the Millennium Items-- or at least, that's the closest translation."
He sighed, eyes shifting to the rising sun, and his voice grew softer, almost tired. "Something went wrong. I don't know what-- we may never know. But the Shadow Games got out of control, and the Pharaoh of the time gave his life and his name to lock the Shadows away from the world. And for the ancient Egyptians, to have your name erased was worse than death, because it meant no afterlife, either. The Items were hidden, and the Shadow Games were wiped from history.
"Fast-forward three-thousand years, to the present day. A young man named Maximillian Pegasus, in depression and unbalanced over the death of his fiancée, went to Egypt, and found he was destined to hold one of these items-- the Millennium Eye. It let him see her, but not touch her or keep her with him-- and my best guess is that that's when he lost his mind. He determined he could bring her back if he had all seven items, and the souls to power them. But he couldn't just steal souls at random. He needed ones with power, ones that would-- well, unlock themselves for him. So, he brought back the Shadow Games... as a card game known as Duel Monsters."
Alix could feel her jaw hanging somewhere around her knees, and quickly pulled it shut. "Pegasus-- as in Industrial Illusions? You're saying he resurrected a three-thousand year old magic game all by himself?"
"He was desperate, insane, and very, very smart," Seto replied roughly. "Duel Monsters, of course, spread like wildfire, and every so often, Pegasus would challenge a powerful player-- who'd always lose, since Pegasus had the Eye, which allowed him to read his opponent's mind. Once the duel was lost, Pegasus stole his opponent's soul.
"As for where I come into this... Pegasus wanted my company, to use its technology to help bring back his fiancée. And since I was the Duel Monsters champion, he wanted my soul, as well. He held a tournament-- well. Let's just say he failed, miserably.
"The thing is-- Duel Monsters IS still the Shadow Games, just much more accessible. And some people-- some people still have the power to call their monsters, for real. We call them Duelists. I'm one of them, so is Mokuba. And so is Joey. For a Duelist, the Deck is a part of them. No Duelist would leave their deck behind willingly. So if the mutt left his deck here..."
Alix nodded. "Somethin' is VERY wrong. So, how does comin' up here help us find him, chere?"
"Joey's strongest monster is the Red Eyes Black Dragon, sort of a dark reflection of my Blue Eyes. And one dragon can always find another. Besides, I figured I might as well offer you some proof." Taking a card from the deck he held, Seto took a deep breath and held the piece of pasteboard aloft.
"I summon the Blue Eyes White Dragon!"
Lightning crashed, white light and the smell of ozone blotting out the world for a long moment. When she could see again, Alix found herself face to face with a mountain of white scales and brilliant azure eyes.
/Hello, Alix,/ a voice rumbled in her head. /I'm called Taiyuu./
"Oh... my... God... you're REAL," she whispered, eyes taking in every detail of the creature before her. One trembling hand reached out to gently trace the edge of a scaled head-ridge. Then the dam broke.
"You.... you're BEAUTIFUL!" the redhead exclaimed, throwing herself forward and wrapping the white-scaled muzzle in a tight hug. That got a pleased rumble, and, Alix noticed, the faintest blush under white scales.
/You're not unpleasant yourself, for a human,/ the voice teased. /Add wings and scales, and you'd be a knockout./
"Now there's an image I could live without," Kaiba replied dryly. A good deal of the tension had gone out of his posture upon seeing her reaction to the dragon.
"What were you worried 'bout, chere?" she asked, releasing the scaled muzzle. "'Fraid I'd scream an' run?"
"The thought did cross my mind."
Alix laughed throatily. "Honey, I'm from New ORLEANS. He's just a bit bigger than the gators, that's all, an' I've seen vodun priests do things YOU probably wouldn't believe."
He shrugged, turning to the dragon. "Wipe that silly grin off your face, will you? We need to find Joey; he's missing. Can you track down the Red Eyes' echo?"
/Of course,/ Taiyuu replied, raising his head to sniff the wind. /He's alive-- seems in good shape, though the aura's a bit ragged... somewhere here on the island, I believe, I sense no blocking from the river. I could lead you to him./
"Oh, that's gonna have a real interesting effect on traffic," Alix snorted.
Seto shook his head. "If I send you back into the card, can you still direct us?
/Not without being able to feel the currents of magic, no. But you do have a vessel in my image that could cloak me./
"A vessel? What are you talking--" Seto groaned. "OH no. You can't mean..."
"Shiro!" Mokuba cheered. "I knew there was a reason I brought him!" Like lightning himself, the boy zipped down the stairs again.
Alix blinked. "Shiro? You mean Mokuba's stuffed dragon?"
Her boss was still grumbling to himself. "I really am going to kill that mutt. And Taylor. And Bakura... If I can catch him."
Early-morning sunlight poured into the third-floor lab of the old firehouse now unofficially known as Ghostbuster Central. Stretching, Winston Zeddemore fought back a yawn. For the last two hours, Egon and Ray had been running any and all conceivable tests on Joey Wheeler, making certain that whatever dark magic had touched the teen, it no longer had any type of hold on him. The blond had taken the scans with surprising grace, trading comments with Peter, who was hovering with the usual protectiveness that kids always brought out in the man. With a bit of a jolt, Winston realized that Wheeler hadn't even been born at the time they'd formed the business… a rather sobering thought.
The black man held back another yawn. Peter'd woken the three of them up around four AM, which meant that all of them were running on about five hours sleep, except for Peter and Joey, who'd never been to bed in the first place. And while Winston wasn't unused to pulling all-nighters, usually he was DOING something. Sitting up keeping watch when nothing was going on was never particularly conducive to wakefulness.
The rising sun had had a marked effect on their guest, as well. The nervous wariness that had radiated from Joey since his arrival had gone, as if someone had flipped a switch, and Winston could see the boy was now fighting off sleep himself.
He feels safe now that the sun's up, the Ghostbuster mused. He's like Pete-- hardly ever lets his guard down unless he KNOWS he can. So… what does he know that we don't?
The "mad scientists," at least, were having no problems staying awake. The two of them were poring over the results of the latest scan, exchanging rapid-fire analysis in scientific jargon that left the rest of them in the dust. Finally, exasperated, Peter rolled his eyes and broke in.
"Egon, speak; he's not a fungus. Just what the heck has got you two so enthralled?"
The physicist pushed his glasses upwards on the bridge of his nose, shooting a semi-apologetic look at the teen in the scanner seat. "First of all, we can state that there are no more than the same trace residuals in Mr. Wheeler's aura as during our last scan. Whatever it was that was influencing you, it's gone once again."
"There's a relief," the younger blond yawned. "An' call me Joey… 'Mr. Wheeler' makes me look for my dad. Call me crazy, though, but I'm guessing it didn't take two hours for you to figure that out."
"Not exactly," Ray replied, taking up the narrative. "But well, your aura is so different than we normally see, it took us a while just to sort out all the different energies and make sure there wasn't anything foreign. It's really neat-- there's normal human biorhythms, then the kind of PKE residuals that our readings have, then there's something else… actually two patterns woven together, so tightly it's hard to tell they're not one signal. THEN there's the beginning of a second overlay… that one's not nearly as developed yet. And on top of all that, there are residuals of something else… something kind of nasty. That's probably what made you vulnerable to whatever was calling you in the first place. It's being taken out of your aura naturally, but it takes a while."
Winston tilted his head as he regarded the still-yawning teenager. "You don't look that surprised," he ventured.
Joey flashed him a tired grin. "I'm not. It makes sense, kinda… I didn't know about it before, but it all kinda fits."
Just then, the chime of the doorbell echoed through the building, cutting off any reply. The oldest of the Ghostbusters sighed.
"I'll get it… you guys finish up here, okay?"
As he headed down the stairs, he ran through a mental list of who could possibly be ringing the doorbell this early. Janine wasn't due for another hour, and she had a key. It COULD be Frump, he supposed, but he was pretty sure there was nothing in any way that would link them to the murder case. Yet, anyway. And they'd actually been fairly quiet running their experiments this morning, so it probably wasn't any irate neighbors coming by to complain.
Opening the door, Winston blinked. Well… wrong on all counts. Standing on their doorstep was one Seto Kaiba, face an emotionless mask, flanked by his bodyguard and younger brother. Somehow, the Ghostbuster couldn't bring himself to be surprised by this turn of events.
"He's upstairs in the lab," Zeddemore informed the trio, stepping aside to let them enter. "Pete brought him home at four this morning. I don't know the whole story, but I warn you, he's still a little punch-drunk from no sleep."
Kaiba nodded in acknowledgement, already headed for the stairs, long stride allowing him to move quickly without sacrificing his dignity. Behind the CEO, the two smaller members of his entourage hurried to keep up, far less concerned with appearances. Winston brought up the rear, and for just a second, could almost have sworn he saw the stuffed dragon in Mokuba Kaiba's arms turn to look at him. Just for a second. He really wanted to write it off as not enough sleep… but more than fifteen years experience argued against it.
Joey looked up as his employer entered the lab, a wide, if still tired, smile splitting his face. "Ey, boss… sorry I didn't call… been kinda busy."
Kaiba's expression didn't change, but Winston could see the set of the boy's shoulders ease, as if a wave of tension have flowed out of him. "I can see that," the brunet replied dryly, folding his arms across his chest. "Mokuba."
"You left your Deck on the floor," the younger boy added, pulling a set of cards out of his jean pocket. "Seto was kinda worried."
"Thanks, half-pint," Joey replied, taking the deck with a relief that seemed out of place for a simple card game. Ray, standing nearby, suddenly perked up.
"Hey… those are Duel Monsters cards! Wow… you're THAT Seto Kaiba? The World Champion?"
Kaiba's eyes rolled, but he nodded sharply. "You Duel?" he asked, one eyebrow raised.
"Well, only occasionally… When I can find somebody to play with," the occultist replied. "But they're really fascinating, especially from a historical perspective. Actually, it was a friend from Japan who got me interested in it, an archaeologist who ran a few digs I went on, back in college."
Joey and both Kaibas had gone very still, Winston noted, regarding Ray with unreadable expressions. "An archaeologist… from Japan," Kaiba repeated flatly. "Named Solomon Moto?"
Ray blinked, astonished. "Yeah! How did you know?"
Seto didn't answer, just turned his icy blue gaze on Joey, who had started laughing uncontrollably.
Raising an eyebrow, Peter looked from one boy to the other. "What's so funny?" he asked, turning to Joey.
"Tristan owes me twenty bucks!"
Joey'd finally succumbed to the effects of the night before, and was now snoring away on the spare couch in the Ghostbusters' lab, well beyond the reach of any stimulus below Armageddon. Egon Spengler was tapping away at his computer, completely engrossed in whatever readings the mutt had allowed the scientists to take, occasionally muttering to himself. In one corner of the room, Alix was debating the merits of Dick Francis versus Jessica Fletcher with Winston Zeddemore, while in another, Mokuba was helping Ray Stantz tweak his Duel Deck. And having just gotten off of a long-distance call to a certain Game Shop, Seto Kaiba found himself nursing a headache. It didn't help, either, that Venkman was regarding him with the same penetrating, unreadable gaze Kaiba usually got from a certain King of Games.
Actually… the man had quite a bit more in common with Yami than was necessarily comfortable. Seto supposed he really shouldn't have been surprised Stantz was a friend of Solomon's… The occultist was entirely more… well, LIGHT than any adult human had a right to be. Wonder if that's what Yugi'll be like when he grows up. And like any proper hikari, the man had his own personal darkness around, radiating the usual "I can kill you and they'll never find the body" style protectiveness that was a hallmark of the breed.
The CEO sighed, massaging the bridge of his nose. At least he was fairly sure none of the Ghostbusters spoke Japanese… As conversations with the Moto family so frequently did, this one had involved a few too many admissions Kaiba hadn't intended on making. Oh well… Solomon had been rather vehement on the trustworthiness of the Ghostbusters… and if nothing else, Seto trusted the man's judgment. At least where people were concerned.
"Headache?" Venkman asked, modulated tones giving nothing away. Seto tried to summon up the strength to glare at him, only to find a bottle of aspirin pressed into his hand.
"Having the situation flip upside down on you sucks, doesn't it?" the man continued. "Bet the headaches wouldn't be so bad if you didn't grit your teeth so much…"
Blue eyes narrowed. "I beg your pardon?" Gods, he really did NOT want to dry-swallow these caplets… he'd done it before, but with the pounding in his head, he'd probably gag, if not actually get sick… and there was no way he wanted Mokuba to see THAT. On the other hand, this still felt like a Duel… and you did NOT ask your opponent for a glass of water.
Taking the decision out of his hands, Venkman passed him a thermos. One sniff revealed that the contents were coffee… and very GOOD coffee at that. To hell with dignity, Seto decided. He quickly filled the plastic lid of the thermos and gulped the aspirin down along with the still hot liquid. Between the pills and the caffeine, his headache began to ease almost instantly.
"Believe me, I know the signs," the older brunet replied easily. "One control freak to another. One of the first effects of stress is to clench the jaw muscles… keep the bone from being broken by an attack. Unfortunately, if you keep it up, it gives you the headache from hell."
Control freak. Heh. Seto was too tired to either deny that or take offense. He decided to settle for ignoring it in favor of a second cup of the coffee. It really was good… either that, or he was just in withdrawal.
Then, reluctantly, he set the thermos aside and took a deep breath. "I think it's time for some sharing of information." It galled him a bit, having to tell this story to four complete strangers… but he remembered all too well how very close their last encounter with things of this nature had been, and this time, he didn't have the advantage of two yami and a priestess backing him up. Not to mention the chilling picture painted by the situation Joey'd escaped. He owed Venkman for that, he supposed, if nothing else… and there was no way Seto Kaiba was going to lose anyone else. Even an annoying mutt.
He laid out the basic explanation as quickly and simply as possible, once again skipping over anything that might reveal Yami's existence. Telling them Yugi was a Duelist was necessary… but who knew how four paranormal eliminators might take the idea of a dark, possessing spirit? Of course, that made explaining HOW they'd finally gotten rid of the Black Pharaoh a bit dicey… but he managed. Venkman and Zeddemore seemed to notice the holes in his story, but neither of them looked willing to call him on it. Carefully, Seto did NOT look at Alix. He honestly wasn't sure how she was going to take realizing that his explanation on the roof had skipped a few points. He didn't think she'd quit, but given her friendship with the mutt, he might want to check his chair for booby-traps for the next month or so…
When he finished, there was a long moment of silence. It was finally, somewhat predictably, broken by Ray.
Ray was officially impressed now. And after almost twenty years busting ghosts, it took a lot to impress him anymore. Not to interest or excite him--he knew his enthusiasm for life and his job sometimes carried him away with it. But to actually impress him… that was a different matter.
"The Black Pharaoh?" he repeated, tones approaching awe. "Wow!"
"Excuse me," Peter raised a hand. "Would you mind translating for those of us who HAVEN'T committed the contents of Who's Who and What's That to memory?"
It was Egon who replied. "The Black Pharaoh is one of the names of Nyarlathotep, the herald of the Great Old Ones," the physicist rumbled, looking from Kaiba to the sleeping Joey with new interest. "That explains a great deal about the traces we found in Joey's aura."
"Nyarlathotep?" Winston asked, with a perceptible lack of enthusiasm. "That's Lovecraft, right?"
Peter groaned. "Oh great, one squid-god from beyond the deep wasn't enough?"
"This actually puts a lot of recent events into perspective," Egon continued, shoving his classes further up the bridge of his nose. "The storms, the poltergeist eruptions… even the death of that records clerk. All are symptomatic of something from beyond trying to force its way into our world. Remember the storm brewing the night we fought Cthulu?"
"Do I ever," Peter grumped. "I was the one riding the coaster in the storm, Egon!"
Hoping to head that off before Peter got any farther, Ray turned back to Seto, who had been rather silent since finishing his story.
"You said you used an Egyptian ritual to beat the Pharaoh?"
The CEO shook his head. "The ritual sealed the gate. I wasn't present when Yugi defeated the Pharaoh… I know he turned the power of his deck on it, and there was something about guessing names…"
Ray nodded. "That makes sense. Egyptian Magic was focused on naming things. If your friend knew the Black Pharaoh's names, and it didn't know his, he'd have an advantage over it. Actually, that explains a few things about the card games, too… like why you have to call out the name of the card when you play it. If it's a holdover from when the game was a ritual, it would be the way you actually activated the monster. Actually, Egyptian magic is probably the best way of dealing with Lovecraftian Entities I can think of. Your friend who did the spell to close the gate… was she a Duelist?"
"Not… exactly," Kaiba replied, arms folded across his chest.
"Tea duels, but she's not really a Duelist," Mokuba threw in. "She doesn't use Shadow Magic. We had her do the spell because… well, she's got a lot of faith."
Another nod from Ray. "That'd make her stand in for the priest. Of course, the priests and the sorcerers weren't that different in Ancient Egypt… "
A raised finger from Peter cut the occultist off before he could get going. "Why would Egyptian magic be so good against squid from beyond, Ray?"
"Huh? Oh… well, Lovecraft's known for having practically introduced the concept of the "nameless horror." See, practically every culture's believed that the name of a thing is a manifestation of its essence. That's why you get a new name when you're baptized in most traditions. If you know what a thing IS, you can control it. But the things Lovecraft wrote about… most of them don't HAVE names, not in any way we can understand. Oh, they have PROPER names, personal names, things that let people call them… but they don't have classifications, so you can't understand what it IS. But see, an Egyptian priest or sorcerer SPECIALIZED in using names, and giving things names. The names of the gods, the names of men… your name was your afterlife, literally your immortality. If your name didn't survive, then neither did you. That's why the tombs have the names of their occupants written on them literally THOUSANDS of times, so that nothing could wipe them out. It was eternity. So… if anybody could understand a Lovecraftian entity well enough to name it, it would be an Egyptian sorcerer."
As one, all eyes in the place turned to Seto, who simply growled, turned on his heel, and stalked out. Ray blinked.
"Was it something I said?"
Peter shook his head. "I'll handle this… you guys see if you can make any headway into figuring out WHAT we're up against."
When in doubt, go up. Loners like Seto Kaiba had a tendency to perch like pigeons when agitated, something Peter was personally familiar with. Then again, pigeons don't usually look THAT pissed off, the psychologist thought, catching sight of a flapping white trenchcoat as he reached the roof. I see why this guy's favorite cards are supposed to be dragons.
Peter made sure the gravel was crunching underneath his feet as he headed to join Kaiba at the roof's edge. Magic aside, the smooth, confident flow to the teenager's walk indicated that he was NOT someone you wanted to sneak up on. Especially given that Peter himself wasn't going to see the young side of forty again.
Blue eyes barely flickered in his direction as the psychologist made himself comfortable against the roof's railing. "You want something?" Kaiba asked coolly, staring out at the Manhattan skyline.
"Just got a couple questions. Like Ray's cards… we gotta worry about anything busting loose from them?"
"No. Your friend couldn't summon Shadows if he tried. He's too Light… they'd run screaming."
Peter chuckled. "I seem to remember Ray having that affect on ME, when we first met. Along with making me wonder if anyone could actually be that NICE… especially to someone like me."
"I don't need a psychological evaluation, Dr. Venkman," Kaiba said evenly, lightly stressing the title.
"Nope," the older man agreed easily. "You're about as sane as they come. What I think you MIGHT need is a little reassurance."
A dark brow quirked. "Reassurance?"
"That you're normal."
That startled a grim laugh out of the usually unflappable teen. "Normal? Apparently you haven't been paying much attention. I'm the CEO of a multimillion-dollar company, with a tested IQ that borders on immeasurable. Not to mention I can summon Shadows with playing cards. Where in this do you get normal?"
"The fact that you're worried about it, for one. 'Normal' is a lot broader than you think. For instance, I'd bet you're NOT smarter than Egon… and he still qualifies as normal." Peter grimaced. "Okay, so I'm talking a psychologist's definition of normal… which doesn't necessarily mean you fit comfortably into society. And the Shadow-summoning is a little off-model, but that's what you can DO. It's not what you ARE."
"And what AM I, in your professional opinion?" Blue eyes pinned him with lethal challenge.
"A survivor. Somebody who's gone through a lot of shit, and managed to come out of it alive and still functioning, even if it's not at a hundred percent in all areas. Somebody who managed to keep his little brother from ever having to experience the hell he went through. If you were half the monster you seem to think you are, your brother wouldn't worship the ground you walk on. Kids are smart; Mokuba's got a pretty good idea of what it is you did for him."
Another laugh, this one bitter. "I doubt that, Doctor."
"If you mean the death of your foster father… well, I'm pretty sure he knows it wasn't an accident."
"Wh- I don't know what you're talking about." A flicker of shock, there and gone in an instant. If it weren't for years of experience, Peter would never have noticed it.
"I don't know if the Japanese legal system has the concept of justifiable homicide, though I'd bet it does… But four years of systematic abuse is more than enough to qualify. Especially if you've got a little brother to protect."
Slender fingers gripped the concrete wall around the roof hard enough to turn knuckles white. "You've jumped to some erroneous conclusions, Venkman."
Peter shrugged. "Maybe. Point is, your brother knows what you're capable of. So does your bodyguard. So does Joey. They're not staying with you 'cause they think you're something you're not. It's kind of scary, realizing someone knows what you are and loves you anyway. I've had twenty years to get used to the idea, and it STILL scares me some days…"
"I'm just… I'm tired of being different." From the look on Kaiba's face, the words had slipped out before he could catch them.
"Yeah… Thing you've gotta remember is, you may be different, but you're still HUMAN. That includes needs, too. However much you might think you don't need people… you do. Luckily, if you've got good friends, they're never gonna let you get away with pushing them away." The Ghostbuster chuckled. "I should know."
The smell penetrated Joey's consciousness first, rich and warm. His nose twitched, and he slowly followed the scent up from the warm darkness he'd been floating in. Without opening his eyes, he quickly catalogued the information from his other senses-- something soft under and around him-- the cushions of a couch. Around him, a soft hum indicated the presence of computers, and soft conversation suggested there were people using them. And the odors in the air spoke of chemicals, electricity, gas flames, and strongest of all…
Joey's eyes flew open, and he saw a smirking redhead in front of him, holding a steaming mug of life-giving liquid. Alix backed off quickly as the blonde almost levitated into a sitting position.
"Gimme," Joey slurred, extending a hand imperatively. From one of the lab consoles, Ray snickered.
"And I thought PETER was bad…" the occultist observed.
Alix rolled her eyes, handing Joey the mug. "Good mornin' to you too, bra. Or should I say, afternoon? It bein' four PM, after all."
Pausing to let the first gulp clear the fog in his head, Joey frowned. "Four? Why the heck did you let me sleep this late?"
"Wheeler, it would damn near take an atomic bomb to wake you up before you've had your eight hours. Besides, you're not the only one catchin' up on sleep. Most of the Ghostbusters have been nappin' in shifts. Venkman's sleeping himself out, making up for savin' your butt last night… Mokuba's conked out on the downstairs couch, and Seto's commandeered the net connection to do more research. We figure on having a strategy session to figure out what exactly we're up against this time." She grinned.
"An' before you ask, you bottomless pit, yes, there'll be food. Winston and I have spent a fair amount of our time in the kitchen. Right now, we're just waiting on you to get your butt up and come downstairs."
Joey snorted, taking another slug from the coffee cup. "Yeah, yeah. I'm on my way."
Once in the living room, the blond teen ensconced himself in one of the recliners with his coffee cup, noticing with some amusement that Peter was doing the same thing. The others of the group settled on various pieces of furniture around the room, sandwiches and mugs of stew close at hand.
"So," Venkman asked, looking around, "What all have we come up with?"
Egon shoved his glasses further up the bridge of his nose. "Analysis of the data suggests that we're probably dealing with a very small rift on the premises of the Kaiba Corporation building, probably in or accessed via the file room. Whatever was calling Joey probably hasn't been able to come all the way through yet. Otherwise we would have seen much more activity and a probable manifestation."
"What attacked that file clerk was… well, we'd basically call them living shadows," Ray added, taking up the explanation. "They would have been let out to feed, but that energy wouldn't be enough to open the gate more than a little at a time. Given that they're literally chaos, non-existence in solid form, it wouldn't be too hard for them to… well, dissolve somebody." The auburn-haired man looked faintly green.
A sheaf of notes in front of him, Mokuba spoke next. "When the thing sensed Seto in the building, it freaked. It knew he could seal it if he got the chance, so it triggered the poltergeist activity in the office, trying to kill him or at least scare him off. Of course, we all know how well THAT worked…" the boy made a face. That got chuckles from all present.
Seto rolled his eyes, but there was the tiniest hint of a smile on his face. "The thing sensed Joey's lingering taint from the Black Pharaoh, and planned to use him as a sacrifice to open the gate all the way, Duelist's blood being very, very magically strong. And the darkness that still remained from the conversion would give the creature more than enough sympathy to pull everything Joey had to its service."
"Which brings us to our last conclusion," Egon finished, distaste obvious in his voice. "This is a very small rift. On its own, I rather doubt it would attract the attention of anything intelligent enough to behave the way we've seen thus far."
"You think somebody's summoning it," Winston translated, his own face reflecting his disgust.
The physicist nodded. "That's the only logical conclusion given our data."
In his armchair, Venkman had suddenly gone quiet and still, his expression thoughtful. "Hold on just a second," the brunet announced, levering himself to his feet. "I'm gonna make a phone call…"
The rest of the group listened as Peter dialed the phone, and the one-sided conversation that followed.
"Hey, Detective Frump! Yeah, it's one of your favorite people… well, I have a favor to ask, but before you chew me out, I think it might help on one of YOUR cases. Yeah. The Kaiba Corp murder, right. Well, I'd like you to look something up for me… tell me, is Clark Ashton still in prison? Sure, I'll wait… What? Uh-huh. Yeah… No, no proof, yet, just a hunch. I promise, if we find anything, we'll call immediately. Scout's honor. Yes, I was. Eagle, actually. Really. Okay, I'll be in touch."
Coming out of the kitchen, Peter shook his head. "Man, he is GRUMPY in the mornings. And the afternoons."
"You bring out the worst in him, Pete," Winston replied dryly. "So… you think it's Ashton, huh?"
"Well, he's been known to play with the Necronomicon, he's a world-class jerk, AND," Peter lifted a finger for emphasis, "he's been out on parole for about a month."
Winston folded his arms across his chest. "Aren't they supposed to TELL us when the psychos get out of jail? You know, in case they're still carrying a grudge?"
Raising a hand, Joey broke in. "Uh… somebody wanna tell us who this guy is?"
"Clark Ashton," Ray replied. "He was the curator of a library exhibit involving the Necronomicon-- the grimoire of the Cthulu cult. He also was a cult leader who stole it, trying to summon Cthulu."
"Trying, hell," Peter replied. "He DID. Lucky for us we had a rollercoaster and a well-timed lightning storm to fry the Big C and send him back out to sea."
Twilight blue eyes narrowed. "And you think he's trying to summon entities from the Outer Dark in MY office building."
"The question is," Mokuba piped up, "what do we do about it?"
He'd actually left Mokuba behind. The occurrence boggled Alix's mind. Seto Kaiba, a man who practically defined the phrase "fanatically overprotective," had actually left Mokuba at the firehouse, without insisting that either she or Joey stay behind as well. Of course, the Kaiba Corp building was probably going to be the center of most of the action, and Janine Melnitz was almost certainly just as dangerous as any bodyguard or security specialist could be… but still. It was enough to make her wonder if pigs were currently on approach to La Guardia.
It was, she reflected, a good thing that the Ghostbusters had used a hearse as the basis for their converted vehicle. Seven people was a bit of a tight fit, and while Seto, of course, had managed to snag the shotgun seat, she and Joey were relegated to the back seating area with the proton packs. Still, any other type of car would have probably had her sitting on somebody's lap, given her size, and that was an indignity she'd just as soon avoid.
By dint of careful wheedling and the dropping of more than a few names, Venkman had managed to get the seven of them access to the basement where the body had been found. The officers standing guard had given the three teenagers skeptical looks, but one of Kaiba's patented glares had been more than enough to forestall any comments. Now they were searching the file room, looking for any instance of a rip or a passage that might show where Ashton was bringing creatures into the world.
"Mmm," Spengler rumbled, adjusting the meter in his hand. "The readings don't indicate even an inactive rip in close proximity. My guess would be that there's another room hidden somewhere around here… someplace where the actual rituals occur."
Joey shifted uncomfortably, then sighed. "Here… lemme try. Back off a bit, will ya?" As the others moved to do so, the blond teen ambled to the center of the room, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath.
For a few moments, Joey stood still, his only movements the rise and fall of his chest as he sniffed at the air, and his hand tracing the Duel Deck in his pocket. Then his eyes opened, a decisive gleam in them.
"Over there," he pointed, indicating the corner farthest from the door. The single bulb on the ceiling didn't cast much illumination there. Alix squinted, moving to examine the walls.
"I think you're on to somethin', bra," she agreed, brushing one hand along concrete. "Feels… different somehow… HEY!" The redhead yelped in surprise as the solid surface suddenly dissolved beneath her hand, sending her pitching forward into darkness.
Light came back to meet her only a second before cold stone smashed the breath from her lungs. Rolling painfully to hands and knees, Alix was only barely aware of the others exiting the dark tunnel behind her. The majority of her attention was taken up with the large, rippling tear in the air about halfway across the large cavern. Roiling black mist seemed to issue from it, and she remembered with a stomach-turning jolt what similar black mist had done to Martin Kingsley. Not too far from the rip, a tall man with brown hair, a moustache, and vaguely predatory air stood, laughing.
"Ashton," she heard Venkman growl behind her.
"Nice to see you again, Ghostbusters," the cultist laughed. "You may have ruined my last attempt at summoning the Great Ones, but this time, you're FAR too late! But don't worry, you'll have the honor of being the first sacrificed to my master Nyogtha when he breaks through. In fact… why don't we see who goes first! Ia!"
One hand waved in a strange gesture, and the rip opened further, a tendril of black mist striking through and curling around Alix's legs with mind-numbing speed. Feeling the acidic bite of the thing's grip, she screamed, thrashing even as she was yanked off her feet. Dimly, she could hear the sound of proton packs firing, but the creature's grip was like iron as it continued to drag her across the floor.
And the world froze in a wash of golden light.
Well… that was unexpected, Seto Kaiba thought wryly, a bead of sweat inching down the side of his head. His action had been more instinctive than anything else, galvanized by Alix's scream and his memories of the damage done to Kennedy's corpse. Now everything around him seemed frozen in amber… but this was getting DAMN hard to hold.
What was it Stantz had said? "Egyptian magic is about naming things… Egyptian magic is probably the best way of dealing with Lovecraftian Entities… The name of a thing defines it, it gives you control over it…" But how the hell could he name something that… literally wasn't there? It was… a tear… a hole… his head hurt just trying to get his mind around it. But if he didn't do SOMETHING… he was going to lose what little ground he'd gained… and that thing was going to dissolve his head of security.
All right… focus. First of all, he needed to figure out just what had happened… somehow, he didn't think he was seeing things entirely with his eyes anymore. Aside from the golden light filling the cavern, his companions no longer looked… well, anything like he remembered.
The Ghostbusters were glowing shapes in clear, bright colors, Venkman's brilliant green shining strongest of all. Ashton was a writhing column of darkness that made him quickly tear his eyes away. Alix, still struggling with the dark tendrils, was a steel-bright spark; no magic, but a powerful soul. And Joey…
Where Joey had been, there was now a tall, flickering flame, gold and black and purple, the magic of a Duelist burning bright and clear. Wrapped around the flame were two… nets, almost, one of burning gold, one shimmering crystal blue and white. Realizing what it was, he almost groaned.
The Puzzle… and me. We've marked him… both of us. And judging by the way dark ropes of the rift's magic were shying back from Joey's glow… that might just be the answer. But he'd have to say it… and mean it.
With a deep breath, he closed his eyes and raised his hands once more… and his "voice" echoed through the cavern.
In a swirl of crystal and thunder, the world snapped into motion again. Whatever had happened in that moment of stillness, Peter was thankful, because all of a sudden, the packs were cutting through the black tendrils like a cheese slicer through fine Gouda. In fact, if he squinted, Peter thought he could see a pulsing blue-white aura around the proton beams that hadn't been there before. And it wasn't just the packs. The same blue-white light seemed to pulse around all of them, Ghostbusters and Kaiba Corp alike. Shooting a quick glance at the CEO, Peter caught sight of the teen's expression of concentration and grinned slightly. Somehow, he wasn't surprised at all...
Okay, THAT surprised him. The psychologist nearly fumbled his thrower. Not that he wasn't used to that little whispered word floating around, but it was usually easily traced back to his own hindbrain. He was protective, some might even say possessive, when it came to his friends. But as familiar as that little whisper WAS, this time it didn't come from his own head.
Makes sense, though, he mused, shaking a bead of sweat off his forehead. Egyptian magic is about naming, labeling-- and that's about the first label any kid learns. And hell, dragons are supposed to be possessive of their treasures. Guess that includes friends and allies.
Problem was, while Kaiba's spell might be holding back the creature, it wasn't strong enough to do anything BUT. Ashton kept chanting, the rift kept ripping, and for every tentacle they blasted, two more seemed to push their way out of the darkness. They were fighting a holding action, and there was no way they could keep it up forever.
Something bumped lightly against his shoulder, and Peter risked a quick glance back to see Joey, wielding a flaming sword, of all things, that he'd somehow called out of his deck. The teen slashed at another tentacle that was attempting to flank the group, and puffed out a breath.
"We can't keep this up much longer! We gotta shut that thing down!" the boy yelled.
"I'm open to suggestions!"
"Well... what's keepin' it open?"
As one, green eyes and brown were drawn to the chanting Ashton. One shaped brown eyebrow quirked.
"Ya think?" Wheeler asked, amused.
Venkman nodded, quickly surveying the group. The other three Ghostbusters were busy trying to keep the tentacles from reaching Alix Gaudet; she was no longer being dragged to the portal, but it didn't look like she was going to be able to get up any time soon. Kaiba was concentrating on holding the protection spell over the fighters, and Ashton was paying more attention to that group than either of them.
"Can you handle it?" Peter asked, keeping his tone low. He was pretty sure he'd read Joey correctly, and there was really no way he could break off from the proton assault—but damn, he hated asking a teenager to do this sort of thing for him.
Joey's lips quirked, though his honey-brown eyes were bleak. "Hell... wouldn't be the first time. Just keep him watchin' the light show."
"No problem... and good luck."
With the grace of someone used to the chaos of the battlefield, Joey vaulted over a flailing tendril and dashed across the cavern floor, slicing his way through the mass of tentacles with ease. Distracted by the play of proton beams, Ashton was taken by surprise as Joey hit him with a body check that knocked him easily off his feet.
One hand still holding the flaming blade, Joey reached down and easily picked the cultist up by the collar. "Shut it down," the teen growled into the older man's face.
"Never! Nyogtha comes, he comes in dark destruction, and soon you will all die!" Ashton laughed, a cracked sound indicating that sanity had long since gone on vacation.
Joey shrugged. "Suit yourself. Hope you packed a lunch." Before Ashton could even TRY and figure that one out, the boy turned on one heel and physically FLUNG the cultist into the widening rip. There was a horrible sound, of screaming and rumbling and other things that reminded Peter entirely too much of Slimer after a four-course meal. Then the rip slowly sealed itself, the remaining tentacles fading into mist. The packs shut down, and silence fell.
"Ah can walk, damn it!"
For a licensed bodyguard and marksmanship title holder, Winston reflected, Alix Gaudet was acting quite a bit like the twelve-year-old she resembled. Currently, she was sitting in a wheelchair, arms folded, with a pout on her face that would put Peter to shame. The man beside her rolled his eyes and responded in tones that indicated this was not a new discussion.
"The hospital wants you to keep off your legs for a few days. The acid burns were minor, but there's no sense in aggravating the healing tissue. It could scar or get infected," Kaiba said. "And the last thing you need is to miss a stretch of work because you were down with an infection. By the time you got better, the mutt would have your job."
Hampered as she was by the wheelchair, Alix couldn't really swat her employer. But she made an excellent attempt.
Idly, Winston wondered whose idea it had been to invite them to the airport to see off the Japanese quartet. He'd assumed it was Joey, who'd spent quite a bit of time talking to Peter while the emergency room doctors had taken care of Alix's wounds. But given the way security had waved them through to the private landing strip, he was beginning to wonder. Especially since Seto Kaiba didn't look surprised to see them.
"Gentlemen," the teenage CEO nodded stiffly, as they approached. "I wanted to say, your help was... appreciated in this matter." Behind him, Alix and Joey exchanged looks.
"Was that a 'thank you?'" Wheeler asked, wearing an expression of total shock.
The redhead nodded. "Miracles never cease," she grinned.
Without even looking behind him, Kaiba rolled his eyes. "It would behoove the two of you to remember I sign your paychecks." His employees looked distinctly uncowed.
"No problem," Peter shrugged. "It's what they pay us for." Reaching behind him, the psychologist brought out a plush Stay-Puft doll, handing it to the wheelchair-bound girl.
"Everybody deserves a present or two on getting out of the hospital, even if it was only after a couple hours," he grinned. Alix hugged the stuffed toy, giving him an answering grin.
"Thanks, Dr. Venkman... it'll transport better than flowers, too."
Watching this exchange, Winston was interested to note that Joey and Mokuba were smiling at the gift as well. Seto Kaiba, on the other hand, looked moderately annoyed.
Next, Peter handed Joey a slip of paper. "Phone number and e-mail addresses. Just in case. Don't worry about the phone rates, we've got an international number." Another glance was exchanged, and Winston had the feeling he was missing something.
The private plane's door opened, and the gangplank was lowered, causing a moment of confusion when the group realized that the plane was not wheelchair accessible. A determined expression crossed Alix's face, and she moved to stand. Before she could, however, Kaiba scooped her up into his arms and carried her up into the plane.
"I've discovered when dealing with stubborn Americans, the direct approach is best," he said dryly, returning to the doorway. Mokuba giggled, while a set of surprisingly well-synchronized rude noises came from Alix and Joey.
Goodbyes said, door shut, and stubborn security heads convinced to recline in the seat and take a nap, Seto Kaiba finally settled down for take-off. Wheeler was already buried in a magazine, of what type, Seto didn't particularly care to know. Mokuba and Alix, in the rear, were both stretched out and sleeping peacefully, wrapped around respective lumps of white fluff. Except... he frowned. Looking closer, he could see that the toy in Mokuba's arms was the large Marshmallow man, which meant...
Uh huh. His little brother's stuffed Blue Eyes was cradled in Alix's arms, head pillowed on delicate collarbone and small curves. It looked disgustingly comfortable there. As he watched, he could swear he saw the toy wink at him, and snuggle down farther. Seto groaned.
I think I'm going to need a LOT of coffee...