Chapter 2: Science and Sorcery
Manhattan, New York
As promised, the car arrived precisely at 8:15 in the morning, and was pulling up in front of the Ritz-Carlton when both Kaibas stepped out of the elevator. Seto was wearing what Mokuba had taken to calling the "Battle City" coat, the full length white trench.
The car was a spacious limousine, black with cream interior. The driver had come around the back of the car and opened the door, though he looked a little uncertain when Mokuba clambered in first. In fact, he looked about ready to open his mouth and object when Seto gave him a frosty glare, before climbing in himself.
"This is a nice car," Mokuba whispered, running a finger over the silk-embroidered XE on the seats. As the driver pulled away from the curb, he asked, "Do you think Xanatos is trying to impress us ?"
Seto shrugged. "It's probably a car he uses himself... its armored, and these windows are bulletproof, probably Lexan."
When the limo pulled up to the curb in the shadow of the Aerie Building, Seto opened the door before the driver had a chance to get out of the car, and Mokuba clambered out after him. Looking up, he could just make out a few rows of dark grey stone before the rest was swallowed by the cloud cover. "This guy really put a castle on his building," Mokuba said with an amazed shake of his head. "That's… eccentric."
"Does it make my Blue Eyes jet look tame by comparison ?" Seto asked, a small smile appearing briefly.
"Well, no." Mokuba admitted, earning a mock-glare. "But they're both really cool."
They were met in the lobby by Owen Burnett; he seemed even more startlingly pale in person than on television. He gave a polite bow, surprising both of them, and greeted, "Mister Kaiba, Master Kaiba. I'm Owen Burnett. If you'll follow me, the elevators are this way." He gestured with his left hand, turned, and the brothers saw that his right hand appeared to be made of… stone ?
Mokuba opened his mouth, but Seto shook his head slightly. The ride up the elevator was made without speaking, and Owen was either oblivious or ignoring the stares that Mokuba gave his hand until Seto nudged him reproachfully.
The elevators opened to a wide lobby, with wooden doors directly across from them. Owen stepped out first, crossed the navy carpet, and opened the doors for the Kaibas. Inside was a conference room, the walls spaced with windows and decorated with pictures of the castle perched above in various stages of construction. "If you'll make yourselves comfortable, I'll inform Mr. Xanatos that you've arrived," Owen said, inclining his head. "Can I bring you anything ?"
"No," Seto answered, and Mokuba also shook his head.
"Sugoi," Mokuba said, standing on tiptoes to peer at one of the pictures after Owen had left and pulled the doors shut behind him. "Look, 'nii-sama… there's levels between the castle and the office part."
"Probably living levels," Seto speculated, examining the diagram.
The doors opened again, revealing a tanned man with dark hair pulled into a neat ponytail. He smiled cordially at them both, extending a hand as he walked towards them. "Ah, Seto Kaiba. A pleasure to finally meet you in person. Welcome to Manhattan. I'm David Xanatos."
"Mr. Xanatos," Seto replied, marginally surprised to discover that they were the same height -- he was so used to being taller than everyone he associated with that he almost unconsciously used his stature as a means of intimidation. Xanatos shook his hand and then smiled and offered the same to Mokuba.
"And Mokuba Kaiba," he said. He sounded genuinely pleased to the younger brother, and unlike many who addressed him, didn't modulate his tone into one of false friendliness because of Mokuba's age. (Those who did shortly thereafter faced Seto's displeasure, and often lost salary, advancement opportunities, or contracts.)
"Nice to meet you," Mokuba answered.
"I see you were admiring my display. I thought it'd be interesting to document the construction, since it moved along so quickly." Xanatos smiled again, gesturing to the plush chairs around the oblong table. "Please, have a seat."
Narita International Airport
Yugi struggled to pull his suitcase through the turnstile with a small grunt, earning a tsk from his grandpa. "It's easier just to lift it over, Yugi."
"Not when it's as big as I am, Ji-chan," Yugi protested. Suddenly he felt ghostly hands lifting the weight and helping the baggage through the mechanical portal. He beamed up at the figure only he and his grandfather could see. "Thanks, Yami."
"Of course, aibou," the spirit answered, knowing full well that none of the people passing within only inches of them would ever detect him. "Are all these people going where we are ?"
"Airports service the whole world, Yami," Solomon said amusedly. "But New York is a popular destination. The plane will probably be full."
"But we'll try to find a row with an empty seat, so you can sit if you want," Yugi added cheerfully.
Yami hid a grimace -- spirit or not, he remembered the last time he'd been on a plane and the nauseous feeling it had produced -- but gave his hikari an attempted smile of agreement. "How long will this journey take, again ?"
"Close to a day -- we have to change planes part of the way." Solomon explained. "The only plane that flies direct leaves in the wee hours of the morning, and from a different airport." He bounced energetically on the balls of his feet with more vigor than Yugi had seen in years. "Just wait, boys ! We'll make sure the IBCGA invites us back for every convention for years to come !"
/I think we're going to be showcased, Yami,/ Yugi groaned.
//Whatever gave you that idea, aibou ?// Yami replied dryly. //Surely you don't think that Grandfather would take advantage of our reputation for a little prestige ?//
/What ?/ Yugi gasped in mock outrage, playing along. /Not our Ji-chan !/
"I know you're talking to each other about me," Solomon chuckled, "you both get this dazed expression on your faces. Now come on, the gate we want is on the other side of the airport."
Manhattan, New York
It's hard to believe he's only 19… makes me feel old, Xanatos thought, looking across the table at Seto. He'd mentioned the fact earlier to Owen, and his aide had given him such a deadpan look that he'd immediately realized the irony of his remark. He glanced up from the file that held the majority of KaibaCorp's contract information, then purposefully set the paper down in front of him.
"We've been passing specs that we could have traded over the phone for," he glanced at the clock, "an hour and a half already. Do you think that's enough to satisfy the investors ?"
"I would hope so," Seto responded, tucking his own dossier of files into his briefcase.
"Excellent," Xanatos said, standing and going to the beverage tray along the wall. He poured himself a cup of coffee. "You know how investors are. The only reason we have a board of directors… they're good at pacifying the shareholders. Are you sure you two don't want anything to drink ?"
Seto let himself relax slightly. "Coffee would be fine. Mokuba ?"
"No, thank you," his brother answered with a polite shake of his head.That's a mature kid, Xanatos thought. Not once had he seen Mokuba fidget, or look inattentive to the conversation. Either he's a great actor, or he's genuinely interested in this. Still, this can't be easy for him to sit though.
Making his tone as unassuming as possible, he asked casually, "If you'd like to see the castle first hand… ?"
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Seto give him a frosty look, and re-evaluated the level of protectiveness between the two. He hastened to assure the elder, "The castle is unoccupied, and Owen would be happy to accompany him."
Xanatos watched in fascination as Mokuba's hand came up to brush the card-shaped necklace he wore, and after a moment, Seto relaxed again. Some sort of code between them, he wondered.
"If you want to," Seto said finally.
When Mokuba nodded, Xanatos raised his voice slightly to carry through the door. "Owen ?"
"Yes, Mr. Xanatos ?" The aide said smoothly, stepping inside the room.
"Please escort young Mr. Kaiba up to the castle level."
"Yes, sir." Owen held the door open wider, allowing Mokuba to slip out of the conference room, though not before he had given his brother a shy smile.
Seto took a sip of his coffee, though his eyes never left the door as it swung closed. His gaze switched back to Xanatos as the billionaire sat down, and he waited expectantly.
"I'm curious," Xanatos said, "as to why KaibaCorp spent years becoming foremost in heavy weaponry contracts for the military, only to abandon them and change focus to holographic and computer technology." He steepled his fingers together. "Not only that, but what military contracts haven't yet expired, have been tangled up in a very complicated web of legal tape." He paused, and smiled. "You were very thorough."
"Thank you," Seto said.
"But why go to such an extent ?"
"My vision of KaibaCorp and that of my adoptive father's are very different. When the company became mine, so did the choice of what was in the best interests of the corporation."
"Yes, I heard about Gozaburo Kaiba's death. A terrible accident. Still, why such a deliberate delay on the research ?"
"By the time the lawyers can clear it up, the designs will be obsolete. It will never be reach market. Already, most of the units in service have been decommissioned and replaced."
Xanatos watched with great interest the ferocity with which Seto spoke, and the underlying anger in his posture. Clearly, there was no lost love between him and his predecessor. As quickly as the anger appeared, however, it vanished, and Seto regarded him coolly.
"So why the sudden interest in such outdated material ? We both know that you can already produce more sophisticated and superior results to what you're trying to buy from me."
Xanatos smiled. It was a smile that his competitors had come to dread.
Narita International Airport
The captain's voice droned over the speakers, informing them of the distance and estimated time of arrival, but Yami barely noticed. As Yugi had promised, they'd managed to find a trio of unoccupied seats, and somehow his persuasive aibou had convinced him to come out of the Puzzle during takeoff. He gripped the armrests tightly, looking around desperately for something to focus his attention on that wasn't bouncing around as the plane taxied down the runway.
With a shudder, the plane lifted into the air, and the vibrations slowed and then stopped altogether, replaced by the dull sound of the engines.
/You ok, Yami ?/ Yugi questioned, seeing his Dark's expression.
Yami loosened his grip on the fabric armrest, hoping the indents would come out eventually. //How often will it do that ?//
/Umm… probably when we land. And maybe if we hit some turbulence. And we… have to change planes, so we'll have to take off at least once more./
At the stricken look on his 'grandson's' face, Grandpa chuckled. "You imagine it worse than it really is, Yami. Try not to think about it so much. Besides… you're already dead. Even if we crash, you can't die again."
Yami and Yugi shot him identical glares.
Castle Wyvern, Aerie Building
Manhattan, New York
The ride up to the castle took even longer than the ride from the lobby to the conference room. Mokuba tried not to stare, but his gaze kept sliding back to the stone fist that hung at Owen's side. Finally, unable to contain his curiosity any longer, he asked, "What happened to your hand ?"
"An unfortunate incident, involving a fickle liquid and an uncharacteristic lack of foresight," Owen replied calmly.
Mokuba turned red and looked down at the patterned floor. "Gomen nasai," he said.
"Daijobu desu," Owen responded, startling the young teen.
The elevator slowed, stopped, and dinged cheerfully. The doors slid open to reveal an expansive room made almost entirely of stone. "The Great Hall," Owen announced. "Originally, this would have been used by the prince and princess to greet visitors to the castle, or to hold banquets in when the extra space was needed."
"Where was the castle moved from ?" Mokuba asked.
"Scotland. Historical references place it at about fourteen hundred years old."
"Sugoi," Mokuba said, standing in front of a tapestry. Other than a small section in the bottom corner, it seemed untouched by time. A thought struck him, and he looked over his shoulder at Owen. "Where'd you learn Japanese ?"
"I found it advantageous to be fluent in a number of languages. You seem to be well-versed in English."
"Yeah, well… our adoptive father thought it'd be a good thing for Seto and I to learn."
Owen noticed that the young teen's attitude became uncomfortable when he mentioned the subject, so he let it drop. Instead, he gestured towards the archway. "The stairs are this way," he said, and Mokuba was quick to accept the distraction. His attention, however, was drawn to a section of wall beside the doorway. He ran his fingers over the stone brick, but jumped back when it puffed faintly and drew back, revealing a metal safe inside.
Owen's eyebrows rose to his hairline. Xanatos had installed safe caches of energy weapons around the castle shortly after Oberon had tried to take Alexander during the Gathering. But he'd insisted that they be hidden, artfully camouflaged and supposedly undetectable to casual observation. Yet Mokuba, unfamiliar with the castle, had managed to spot one within minutes.
"A security feature," he explained evenly. "Mr. Xanatos has had some… undesirable incidents take place here in the past."
Mokuba looked up at him with more shrewdness than a twelve year old should possess.
Demona tightened her grip on the thick bronze chain of the amulet she held. It was deeply etched with Nordic runes, so that the user could trace fingers over the grooves and read the spell written there, but Demona, in her guise as Dominique Destine, knew the spell by heart."Fela minn líkami brott allr auga. Skjoldr minn rodd allr heill. Varda sækja fródleikr. Leyna, leyna, leyna !"
Thankfully, a pure accent isn't required to activate the Aureole of Hod, she thought, looking down at herself. Her body was fading from view, exactly as the amulet's spell promised. Hide my body away from all eyes. Shield my voice from all listeners. Guard against seeking magics. Conceal, conceal, conceal !
Once she was completely invisible, she slipped the chain around her neck. The Nordic talisman felt chilled, even under the Egyptian sun. She ignored it and pulled an electronic identity card from her pocket. It had been a simple spell to take over the mind of a security guard, and leave him immobilized in a dusty alleyway. She had been tempted to just kill him, but had decided that since his memory would be wiped, he wouldn't remember being terrified of her, and that took most of the fun out of it.
She entered the cool recesses of the steel underground that housed (unbeknownst to the locals and tourists above) the Illuminati Headquarters for most of Africa. Her fingers itched as she slid silently past one guard after another.
It was a challenge, obtaining the code to the central vault. It had involved a number of spells, threats, and one late-night visit to a particularly superstitious director.
Her hand came up again to brush the Aureole, but the spell was holding firmly. She crept up behind the sentry at the desk, and with a quick blow, sent him slumping into unconsciousness. This is almost too easy, she thought, a sadistic smile crossing her face. They've obviously become complacent in their safety measures… if they only knew.
The vault opened before her, and Demona stepped over the threshold and into the carefully climate-controlled interior. Non-fluorescent lighting, safer for documents and artifacts, provided the room with a faintly yellow tinge, but it was bright enough to allow her to see exactly what she came for.
It was roughly the same size as the Grimorum Arcanorum, though in better condition despite its advanced age. Her hands tingled when she touched it. She read the small, white card placed precisely in the display clip.Unknown magical tome of Egyptian origin. Examination of hieroglyphics on the book's spine suggest Old Kingdom, possibly previous era. Spellbound gold binding lock. Contents unknown.
Manhattan, New York
"… and as far as rFz frequency coding is concerned, your prototype," Xanatos checked his notes, "LD-360, is too fragile to support anything above a 7.21 amplitude."
"Gozaburo wasn't interested in production of a harmonizer that small," Seto countered. "It was intended for fighter jets, but with three axes, it was found to have too small an area of effect."
"But jets aren't nearly as maneuverable as, say, a humanoid robot. With the airborne agility of a machine like that, the radius deficiency could be cut down exponentially." Xanatos said enigmatically, then stood and smiled charmingly. "But I'm getting ahead of myself, it's past noon. Could I entice you and your brother to join my wife and I for lunch ?"
Seto thought for a moment, then nodded. "All right," he said. He wanted to check up on Mokuba anyway, even though he would have known if something was wrong. Without thinking, his hand come up to touch the edge of his locket as he stood as well, a gesture that might have been easily overlooked if Xanatos hadn't watched him do it already. Again, the billionaire was intrigued by the movement.
"Excellent," Xanatos said. "We'll head up to the castle and find Owen and your brother first."
Several stories above them, Mokuba was leaning over the turret's edge, looking down at the city in a position that Owen found unnerving, despite the many times he had watched Alexander do the same (though with he or Lexington never far away). Still, he did not want to admonish the younger Kaiba in the manner of a guardian, sensing that the boy would only listen to his older brother.
He was saved from having to bring up a warning, however, as Mokuba suddenly stepped away from the edge, a fleeting look of delight crossing his features. He looked down at the card-shaped necklace around his neck, and then up at Owen.
"I think 'nii-sama is on his way," he said simply.
"Perhaps we should meet him," Owen suggested.
"Ok," Mokuba agreed, heading for the steps that led down into the castle proper.
"That's an interesting ornament," Owen commented, leading the way through the confusing corridors towards the business levels. "It looks like a playing card."
"It's a locket," Mokuba said, pressing the side and popping open the red and black face. Inside was a picture of Seto, clearly taken several years ago. "Seto's has my picture in it."
Owen allowed an imperceptible smile at that.
Seto and Xanatos met them in the Great Hall. "We were just coming to find you," Xanatos said in mild surprise, but recovered quickly. "Lunch should be ready shortly, Owen ?"
"Yes sir," the aide replied. "I'll see to its setup in the dining hall." With a nod to Mokuba and Seto, he excused himself and vanished down the elevator.
Xanatos smiled at Mokuba, his tone turning joking. "How was the dime tour ?"
"I liked it."
"Well, shall we go see what the kitchen's prepared ?"
O'Hare International Airport
"Welcome to Chicago, boys," Solomon said, trying not to get stepped on by the crush of people making their way through the terminal. "Watch your step, Yugi. Don't get separated from me, now."
Yami looked distinctly unhappy as several people passed through him, and resorted to pressing back against the wall in order to escape the unpleasant feeling. Yugi couldn't help but giggle. "Didn't that happen in a movie ?" he asked.
//It feels like… like… being inside one of those bouncing food cubes.//
Yami sounded out the English letters for his Light, who burst into laughter. /Jello ?! When people walk through you, it feels like jello ?/
//Aibou, it isn't funny…// Yami tried to scold, but Yugi's laughter was infectious and he chuckled after a moment.
"We're halfway there," Grandpa assured them. "We have a few hours to wait before we can board our plane. Help me find the lounge, we can have somewhere comfortable to sit down."
//What about your bags, aibou ?// Yami inquired.
/Oh, the airport has people who will transfer our luggage from that plane to the other one, when it arrives. Oh ! We have to stop at the gift shop. Téa asked me to get her a souvenir. She's never been to Chicago./ Yugi blushed slightly, at which Yami chuckled again, and they hurried to catch up with Solomon.
The theft did not remain undetected for long, although it took them nearly an hour to check all the vaults and libraries, before they could confirm that only a single thing had been taken. Saman Morathi, the Regional Coordinator for the African continent, had his staff scurrying with completed reports.
"Just a spell book, with all our other artifacts not three feet away," he mused, leaning back in his leather chair. "And we don't even know what it contained ?"
"No sir," his assistant, Jirari, answered. "It was a recent acquisition. We hadn't had time yet to find the proper means to open the locks."
"Where did we get it ?"
Jirari checked his notes nervously. "Ah… it was sent to us from one of our field agents, sir. He claimed that he'd found it unguarded in a cache of artifacts to be sold to the black market."
Morathi snorted. "Which means it was stolen, and the original owner may come looking for it."
"Could the thief have been the original owner ?" Jirari questioned.
"I don't think so. It was too specific." With a touch of the controls in front of him, he brought up security footage on his computer screen. "Mr. Mendel said that no visual evidence of our thief showed up on these tapes, correct ?"
"That's right, sir."
"Mr. Mendel has an entirely too narrow view of investigation."
Morathi leaned closer to the screen, and spoke, his voice taking on a powerful echo. "By the opened eye of Baldr, reveal what has been hidden by your brother's blindness."
The video feed on the screen flickered, as though the spell encountered resistance, but then magic asserted itself and, like a Polaroid image, a figure appeared in a hazy blur on the footage. Who said science and sorcery don't mix, he laughed to himself. "There's the thief," Morathi said.
Jirari stared. "How did you know what counter spell to use, sir ?"
Morathi glared at him, and the assistant took the hint. "I'll spread the word, sir. Yes sir. Right away, sir." He ducked back out of the office.
Morathi sighed and reached for the phone. The number was keyed into memory, and there was the double-click of the call being connected internationally. It rang once, twice, and then a man's groggy voice answered, "It's 3 in the morning. Who the hell is this ?"
"Mr. Duval, it's Morathi. We have a problem."
Matt Bluestone's Apartment
Manhattan, New York
An obnoxious ring tone jarred Bluestone awake, and he fumbled blindly for the phone on his nightstand before he realized that the cacophonic noise wasn't from a landline. Swearing under his breath, he threw back the covers and snagged his pants off the back of the chair, pulling his cell phone from their pocket. "Bluestone."
"Still asleep ? Your shift starts in a few hours, Matthew."
"Hacker." Bluestone flopped back on the bed. "It's the joy of working all nights. Why are you calling me ?"
"I thought you might be interested to know a little bit of Illuminatus trivia."
Bluestone sat up quickly, dumping the sheet on the floor. "What sort of trivia ?"
"What does it take to rile up the entire board of Regional Coordinators ?"
"Uhh… an allergy to shellfish ?"
"Cute, but no. There's been a theft at the Cairo Headquarters. You might know the perpetrator: highly skilled magic user, fanatical hatred of humanity, doubles as a CEO in the daylight hours --"
"Demona ?" Bluestone said, baffled. "What would she want in Cairo ?"
Nightstone Unlimited Building
Manhattan, New York
Demona, still in her guise as Dominique Destine, strode through the lushly carpeted hallways of Nightstone, a cardboard box tucked under one arm as she strode to her office. Most of the staff had already gone home for the night, though some of them remained, including her secretary. Demona went through a lot of secretaries, most of which broke down under the constant stress that Demona subjected them to. But this one had hung around for a few months now, and Demona had to grudgingly admit that for a human, this one wasn't nearly as loathsome as the rest of them.
She just couldn't remember the silly girl's name, that was all.
"Ms. Destine, you're back ! Did you have a safe trip ?" the brunette said, getting up quickly from her desk. "Here, can I carry that for you ?"
She held out her hands to relieve the box, but Demona snatched it back from her outstretched hands. "No," she snarled, and then caught herself. "That won't be necessary --" she glanced at the brass-plated name plaque on the desk -- "Sonja. It's not heavy."
"Yes, ma'am. I've got those documents prepared for next Tuesday that you asked for."
"Good. Put them on my desk," Demona said. Her internal clock protested, and she realized how close to sunset it was. "In the morning. You're done for tonight, go home."
"Yes, ma'am. Thank you, Ms. Destine," Sonja said, and Demona gave the human no further thought as she locked herself in the office. The cardboard box and the linen wrapping were carelessly discarded into the corner.
"They had no idea of the power you possess, did they ?" She asked, stroking the gold-wrought black cover of the tome. "I wonder how they managed to find this…"
The golden symbol on the front, a symmetric Eye of Horus, gleamed invitingly.
Hod and Baldr: Twin sons of Odin and Frigg. Frigg, who knew of every person's destiny, tried to prevent Baldr's death by gathering the oath of every object in nature that they would not harm him, except mistletoe, whom she thought was too small to to ask of the oath. All the other gods, thinking Baldr invincible, often used him for target practise with knives or archery. Loki, who was jealous of Baldr, gave his blind brother Hod a dart made of mistletoe, and Hod, not knowing what he was throwing, killed Baldr with it.
sugoi - "cool!" or
gomen nasai - I'm very sorry
daijobu desu - It's all right