Chapter 22: Pandora's Box
The Solyanka was loud, dark, and filled with smoke, and expensive as hell to get into – to say nothing of the back rooms; in other words, it was the sort of place that only encouraged the richest sort of scum.
Malik would have been a lot happier to leave Mutou back at his hotel with Rishid, but where a God was involved, it seemed Mutou had to be. Malik knew the reason for this, but it didn't please him any more now than it had yesterday, when he had found out the truth of how …
He clenched his fist and relaxed it on the armrest of his plush chair. The room was small but ornate, and poorly lit; a poker table took up most of the room, surrounded by three comfortable chairs and a side table for booze and cigars. Petrov was running a bit late – probably to annoy him, Malik reflected irritably. He shot a glance at Mutou; the other boy had not moved, staring at the far wall with one hand clenched – no doubt around the piece of the Puzzle Malik had sent him – and the other pressed flat against the armrest of his chair. Left alone, Yuugi could retreat like this for hours at a time, and often did in times of immutable stress.
Malik had let Mutou – no, the Spirit of the Puzzle – get uppity, he reflected, annoyed with himself. He had let the spirit taste power and the Spirit had snapped at the bit, eager to hold it and wield it, thinking he could interpret orders and do as he pleased. While he doubted Mutou had meant to agitate him – after all, the Spirit would do nearly anything for a chance to solve the Puzzle – the mythical Pharaoh of Malik's childhood stories had controlled all three of the Gods and an even greater monster with no name. Mutou could probably barely help himself with these three great ka. Still, Malik would have to break him of that, remind him that he was not the Pharaoh and that he had no right to these. Malik had wrested the crown from his hands; Malik was the new Pharaoh, and he would soon be affirmed as such. Soon – as soon as Yuugi had placed in his hands the token of the final God – their role reversal would be only a reassembled Puzzle and a few Items away from complete.
Yuugi's head turned slightly – almost a twitch. It was the first movement he had made since sitting in his chair. "An Item Bearer comes," he said, his voice low.
"The statue lives," Malik couldn't help mocking. Yuugi said nothing; he almost never did. He had almost entirely ceased to deliver his cutting, acerbic wit to Malik's face some years ago. "A Millennium Item? Are you sure it's not me you sense?"
Yuugi glanced at him, and Malik hated how despite the Spirit's best efforts to submit, he could still give Malik a look of such dismissal. His gaze turned away so fast, however, that it was fleeting, as if he knew he could not hide his contempt. "I am certain," the Spirit said slowly.
The door received a single knock before it was opened to admit a tall, stocky-looking Russian. His hair was blond with a smattering of gray at the temples; his shoulders were wide and his suit was neat but not overly pressed. Most notably, he wore an eye patch. "Hello," said the man in Arabic without a trace of an accent. "My name is Petrov Kazynski. Is it with the Bearer of the Millennium Rod I now speak?"
Malik recognized him immediately from his vision through his Ghoul – probably dead now, the poor fool – and narrowed his eyes. "My name is Malik," he said, ignoring the rudeness of not appending his last name, "And I bear the Rod, yes." He stood, offering his hand to the Russian, and Petrov shook it with a nearly crushing grip.
"Very good, sir, very good. You may guess that I am no ordinary Egyptologist, but I assure you my interest is entirely academic." To Malik's dismay, however, the man's single eye darted towards Mutou, who stared back at the man with a flat, unblinking glare. "… And your … servant?" Petrov asked, gesturing to Yuugi impatiently.
"His name is Mutou. Ignore him," Malik advised. In the back of his mind he recognized how incredibly irrational he was being when he felt seething anger that even this stranger fixed upon Yuugi as if he were something special. He grit his teeth against the emotion, setting it on the backburner. "More importantly, you should not lie, Mr. Kazynski. How painful was it, having your eye replaced with a Millennium Item?" The Eye, of course – it could pierce the minds of men. It was how Petrov had so easily called to him through the Ghoul.
Petrov smirked. "I see you are perceptive, Mr. Malik. But I wish to speak not of my Item, but of yours." He finally took his seat on the opposite side of the table, and Malik took his. "I promised I would bring you to the tablet if you would show me the Items you hold."
Malik reached for the narrow, flute-like case that held the Rod; the other Items were with him as well, but they were for later. He placed the case on the table and snapped it open.
The Rod stared up at them all, its single unblinking eye calling to Malik. It occurred to him that he did not wish Petrov to look into his mind; it would be best to hold the Rod and protect himself. He reached for it at the same moment as Petrov. "Hold," Malik snapped. "You may not examine it until you have taken me to the ka tablet. This is merely to show you my good faith." He reached for the Rod again and drew it out.
His irritation with the Spirit of the Puzzle surged again, then receded like a wave pulling at his feet. Malik's gaze went to Petrov, scheming suddenly how he could have the Eye taken from him. But Petrov gazed upon the narrow golden staff with lust. "There are more. You must show me them."
"Not yet," Malik said simply, smiling a little to see how easily Petrov succumbed to his desire for power. "Take me to your tablet first."
Petrov's gaze first went to Mutou – and why him? Malik resisted the urge to cuff the slightly smaller man without reason – and then to Malik. "Very well," the man said, rising again. "Let us go immediately."
Why did he have to be here!?
Bakura mentally stormed in circles. The boy who had banished him to the darkness – looking so much smaller now that Bakura possessed a body so much larger – trailed along behind himself and Malik Ishtar in complete silence. Of course he was in Malik's service – it was only natural for him to be in the Masoleum – but for him to be a personal handservant to the Rod-bearer was not part of Bakura's plan.
That even meeting Malik face-to-face would not have been possible without this little mishap was merely coincidence.
Bakura had tried to scan his mind with the Eye, but three things had stopped him – first, Malik's obvious discomfort with having 'Mutou' noticed. He did not need Malik fighting him just yet. Secondly, whenever he tried to channel his effort into the Eye now, Petrov had taken up the annoying habit of surging to the surface, trying to wrest back control of his body. Apparently getting into these shady dealings was too much for the Egyptologist to handle. Finally, the brief chance he had taken – upon first seeing the boy – it had been like finding something that wasn't actually there, his gaze slipping around and losing its grip on something invisible and wet. Could it be that the Items had no dominion over him? How could that possibly be!?
He had, of course, commissioned a limo and a driver for this trip; he could trap the driver's mind in something inanimate after he was done and no one would ever know the location he intended – but Malik walked right past him, indicating a waiting car of his own. Bakura decided that the disadvantage this created was tolerable. Mutou, however, was not. He stepped slightly into Malik's path before the would-be Pharaoh could join his servant in the car. "Leave the Mutou boy here," he said, his voice flat.
Malik's hand wrapped more tightly around the Rod. Bakura had not been surprised to witness the subtle change in personality that overcame the Egyptian upon contact with the Item, but he had been interested to see that the probably Other Personality apparently needed constant contact with the Rod to maintain control. It also seemed to work closely enough with Malik that Malik himself was likely unaware of the switch. "He stays," Malik hissed, "Or I will simply send my men to find the tablet after your untimely death."
Bakura snorted at this bravado. He could live indefinitely in the Eye; if Petrov was killed and the Eye taken from him, it would be inconvenient, but it was unlikely that Malik would not find someone to employ the Eye – and thus free Bakura – again. After all, a Pharaoh couldn't be without his Court. "Your threats do not scare me," he said calmly in the shorter man's ear. But Malik's eyes narrowed in suspicion, and Bakura realized he was in danger of overplaying his hand. Malik could not know he was afraid of Mutou, but perhaps – "But how can you assure that one's obedience? Your Rod does not affect him."
Malik did seem a little surprised that 'Petrov' could know that, but he recovered quickly and shouldered past Bakura. "You, too, are perceptive," he smirked, "But then again, you're a puppet of the Eye – you can't even help it." He climbed into the car, and Bakura followed without any other choice.
Yuugi's senses felt muted, like his head was wrapped with cotton fuzz. He was on his feet only with a heavy dose of fever-reducers and painkillers administered by Rishid before he'd been shoved out the door and into Malik's car for the impromptu trip; the good news was that his head no longer swam so much that he couldn't walk straight. His joints ached and his chest hurt, like when he had caught the flu a few years ago, only with more blood-vomiting.
Could he do nothing right? What kind of care was he taking with his aibou's body? Yuugi chastised himself within the confines of his own mind, only dimly aware of the goings-on around him.
Posturing between Pharaoh Malik and the man calling himself 'Petrov'. Millennium Items were everywhere; even sick as he was, Yuugi could feel them calling him dimly. With this many he could have dragged the whole car into the Shadows and a Dark Game if he needed to, but he had to conserve his strength. There was another God tablet at the end of this trip, supposedly, and Yuugi would have to claim it in his Pharaoh's name.
What did Petrov want, Yuugi wondered dimly. Probably the Millennium Items. He wondered if Malik knew it and if Malik had any trump cards but the Gods in mind to keep Petrov from taking them. Of course, there was always that weapon … but Malik should have brought Rishid along for muscle. He didn't dare mention it, of course, not with Malik holding the Rod. Would Malik play a Shadow Game for the Eye? Would Petrov accept?
He stared with rapt attention at the junction of the seats to the floor and said nothing, and Malik did nothing to draw him out. Petrov had his full attention.
Or so Yuugi thought. The car came to a stop and Petrov climbed out, claiming they had arrived. Malik grabbed Yuugi's arm at the junction of his biceps and shoulder, his grip dangerously tight. Yuugi didn't even try to suppress his wince. "It is you Petrov fears," Malik hissed. "What have you done to him? What secret does he know?"
"I don't know," Yuugi whispered back, almost wanting to beat Malik's hand off of himself as he subconsciously tried to pull away. "I have never met him before to my knowledge!"
"Are you certain!?" Malik demanded, his voice still low, his hand squeezing harder. "Perhaps in another form, you have met him?"
Yuugi stared at Malik. How much did Malik know, really, about Yuugi's belief of what the Puzzle held? Was there any reason for Malik to believe that perhaps Items contained spirits, or the power to split one spirit into two? "I have never seen one who wields the Eye, not this user or another, so, no, I do not believe I have met him," he growled, his entire fuzzy, wavering attention narrowed down to the painful grip. Malik's hand tightened. "After all you did last night will you break my arm as well!?" Yuugi asked in a desperate, angry gasp, and then, when Malik merely looked at him, he shut his eyes, swallowed his pride, and begged. "Please, my Pharaoh! Please stop!"
Malik took a moment to consider before he relented. "… Do not leave my sight," Malik ordered, and climbed out of the car, taking the Rod and the case holding the Key and Scales with him.
Yuugi, hiding a furious scowl behind his bangs and rubbing his bruised arm, merely followed, an obedient dog.
Petrov took them through a security checkpoint using a keycard and a fingerprint scanner, then down a long and well-lit hallway. A final door, and they entered a room that, like Malik's previous home for Osiris, was not unlike an unused warehouse.
The stench that hit Yuugi's nostrils almost sent him to the floor with a wave of dizzying nausea. He probably would not have been so affected if he had been fully healthy, for the body he saw only moments later was not long dead; it was the smell of human waste, urine and worse, probably released posthumously. The man's head sat awkwardly on his shoulders, his eyes not even closed nor his body unbound from the chair he still sat upon.
Malik gave the body almost no notice as he approached the only other item of note in the room: the ka tablet, bearing the image of a great phoenix rising from its own ashes, carved in the style of the Ancient Egyptians. "Atum-Ra," he breathed, "the rising sun …" He ran two fingers down its surface, refusing to relinquish the case or his Rod to properly reverence the tablet.
Yuugi breathed slow and deep through his mouth, keeping his hand against the wall to recover himself. He felt eyes upon him; he twisted and saw Petrov watching him with an unblinking gaze. Yuugi straightened slowly, but did not speak.
Petrov approached Yuugi until the distance between them was just small enough for discomfort. Yuugi leaned against the wall in an effort to appear nonchalant, but Petrov seemed to be trying to penetrate Yuugi's mind with the Eye, not attack him physically. Yuugi had nothing to fear from his Item.
Finally, with a frustrated sound, Petrov gave up, but his stare remained piercing even as he curled his lip. "You are not so strong as last time," he sneered.
Yuugi narrowed his eyes. "What?"
"What reason do you have for loyalty to him?" Petrov asked. Yuugi realized the Eye Bearer was trying to sow discord between himself and Malik, and he almost laughed, but Petrov continued, "Why do you not simply wrest the Rod away from him as you wrested the Ring from me?"
Yuugi's breath turned to ice in his lungs, and he went very still. Petrov's lip curled as he saw recognition dawn in Yuugi's eyes. "The Spirit of the Ring!?" he asked sotto-voice, hardly able to believe it himself.
He did not realize how completely distracted he had been until Malik shouted for him, fury evident in his voice: "Yuugi!"
"I could help you," not-Petrov whispered to Yuugi, even as he straightened in automatic response to his Pharaoh.
"Leave me alone," Yuugi snapped, his mind reeling as he went to Malik.
"Ra does not answer," Malik said as soon as he drew close enough, and his teeth were clenched. "You must call him out first."
Yuugi had known this, but had not dared to tell Malik because of this exact response. But there was a way to fool Malik, perhaps – it had come to him while he slept. He kept his head down as he said, "Perhaps if there was a Dark Game, you could call it out." In truth, Yuugi knew that if he or someone else initiated a Dark Game, then the tablet would call to him just as the others had. It would be a lie to say he was not slightly giddy at the thought. "And of course, if you want Petrov's Millennium Eye, then …" he trailed off as something new, slightly distant, thrummed at him.
"What are you waiting for?" Malik asked with deceptive calm. "Game Petrov, and I will draw out the spirit of Ra!"
But Yuugi was distracted. He looked at the floor, unseeing, as something else tugged at his soul. "Pharaoh," he said, his voice catching slightly on a cough, "there is another Item Bearer coming."
"What!?" Malik snapped. "Another one? Where!?"
Yuugi closed his eyes and pointed before he looked, lifting his head to gaze up at the skylights of the warehouse. "Up … there?"
That was all the warning either of them got before the skylight shattered, and all hell broke loose.
To be continued
Notes: I wanted to thank everyone that has stuck through my long, long absences and struggles with this story. I can promise you an end to this particular arc to the story; the rest of the arcs, which include the Oricalchos and a retelling of Memory World, will probably be a long time in coming but I hope to produce them all for you someday.
In the meantime, thank you again for reading and please leave a review!