The room was large in size. It had been used as an office by its previous occupant, and now it still served that purpose—but it appeared much less welcoming than in the past. The lighting was dim, almost non-existent, and the glow that was in use cast an almost blue shade around the space, bathing the area in ice. It was appropriate; the hue was reminiscent of the tanzanite stones that were giving power to the Neo-Orichalcos.
The red chair at the dark wooden desk was seating its new owner. The man leaned forward, his short, barely flipped hair brushing against the sides of his face. He was resting his elbows on the desk, his fingers clasped under his chin. A viewing screen, empowered by tanzanite, was in front of him. He was observing all the activity of his warriors tonight. They had done well. Surely the Neo-Orichalcos was preparing to reward them for their loyalty and cunning.
Some in his position would have been foolish enough to try taking over a major business right away. Instead, he had searched for a smaller company, one with a known criminal at its head. The businessman and his cohorts had been defeated in duels, and now the unsavory characters were working for him as members of the Neo-Orichalcos. Poetic justice. Any time someone would think something odd was going on, the mind-controlled white-collar criminal would simply tell them No it was not, or whatever he needed to in order to appease them. He still attended to all the normal duties of the company. Its rightful, new leader only took his place in this office in the evenings.
For the time being, it was a perfect location to continue their operations. The members would stay here until something else could be arranged. Eventually he planned to create a portal, such as the one Dartz had made connecting the Paradius building with the Orichalcos temple.
The bodies of his and his right-hand man's loved ones were being kept in the basement. They were obviously dead, but none had shown any signs of deterioration. The Neo-Orichalcos was preserving them, waiting until just the right amount of power was gathered in order to revive them all. At times he journeyed down there to visit them, though he never stayed for long. Mostly he was only checking on their conditions. Even knowing they could be restored, he could not bear to stay with their lifeless bodies for more than a couple of minutes.
By contrast, the older man spent many hours in the basement, meditating in silence. The redhead found this extremely morbid. It was not the same thing as being in a cemetery, which had been one of his favored pastimes. The bodies were under the ground in a cemetery. They were not on display for everyone to see, except in rare cases where people had installed a window in a grave. But maybe the Egyptian did not consider his siblings to be dead. Maybe to him, they were only sleeping or comatose.
The gray-eyed man knew better. They were dead. That was the problem. They were all dead!
He unclasped his fingers, clenching them into fists. If he could only reverse time, back to when they had entered that fateful building. . . . If he could just stop the duels from taking place. . . . They had weakened the entire structure, when so many had been going on at once. But it had been the final explosions ripping through the floors that had sealed the building's fate. The losers of the duels had probably perished in the tanzanite bubbles, though having the building fall on them could not have helped.
He stood up, pushing the chair back. There was no sense dwelling on the past. That had always been one of his weaknesses. He had to focus on the future, on what would come if he continued to be determined and fight for his loved ones' liberation. The Neo-Orichalcos would be benevolent to those that served it.
Wait . . . what was this? His gaze went back to the screen on his desk. Fire flamed in his eyes. What was this member thinking? The man was engaged in a duel against a child. And though the boy was holding his own, it was apparent that he was going to lose. The lanky man leaned down, pressing the fast forward button. Sure enough, the child was defeated. His mouth opened in a pained scream as the light closed around him. When it faded, he collapsed to the floor. The member of the Neo-Orichalcos laughed, fleeing the scene.
This was not to be allowed. Children were off-limits to the Neo-Orichalcos, even if they were gaming prodigies. It was only adults who were supposed to be targeted, and the members were supposed to be careful in their selection so as to pick ones who deserved what they received.
He pressed the intercom button. "Rishid, did Richard Cristoffson come in?" he demanded.
There was a pause as the database was checked. "Yes, Mr. Mackenzie. He returned twenty minutes ago."
"I want him in my office. Now!"
"Of course, Mr. Mackenzie." The intercom clicked.
He straightened up, spinning away from the desk to walk to the window. Rishid had been a good help to him, despite his initial objections. At times he was still not certain of what they were doing, but the stones always served to reassure his mind. Or they seemed to, at least; he had not tried to revolt. But he would not do that, would he? He still did not trust the other with his sister's research. He wanted to be around to see how it was used. And the part of him that wanted to believe longed to accept that his siblings would be revived. Yes, Rishid would stay.
A soft meow brought his attention downward. Liu was peering up at him, having walked over from her basket in the corner of the room. Not knowing how long they would be gone, Raphael had brought the Ragdoll cat with them. She had been left in the hotel suite when they had journeyed to their fate. Now the redhead was looking after her while waiting for Raphael's return. She knew something was wrong, though she did not understand what, and she deeply missed Raphael. He had never let her see the body. She was so devoted that she might have then remained in the basement unceasingly, without eating and barely sleeping.
He bent down, petting her furry head. He was not in the habit of talking to cats, but he did show her attention. She had often been curled up with him while he was in the office. Now she nuzzled him, her blue eyes sad.
"Soon," he uttered. "It won't be just the two of us for much longer."
The door opening brought his attention elsewhere. He turned, looking to the man who was just entering. He straightened, his eyes narrowing at the sight.
"You wanted to see me, Master Alister?" Cristoffson asked.
"Yes," Alister confirmed. He walked forward, his steps determined. Liu hung back, a frightened mew escaping her lips. She did not want to see whatever was going to happen now. Alister was angry. He was scary when he was angry.
"I was watching the playback of your exploits tonight," Alister said. "You were at a business dinner in Domino City?"
"That's right. Me and Crane, but Crane got whomped by the Wheeler guy," Cristoffson reported. "He's a zombie now."
"And you went upstairs and attacked a boy," Alister said, his tone clipped and dangerous.
"Yeah, the von Schroider kid," Cristoffson said. "The guy's a creep. You hear what he did during Kaiba's Grand Prix tournament? Not that Kaiba himself hasn't done some garbage too. But von Schroider probably still isn't any different. Those businessmen, they're a ruthless bunch."
"So why didn't you go after von Schroider himself?" Alister asked.
"It's more effective to keep him alive and punish him by seeing what's happened to his brother," Cristoffson said.
"And punish the innocent while you're at it," Alister surmised.
Cristoffson blinked. "But sir, wouldn't it be worse to get rid of von Schroider and leave the kid to deal with it?" he wondered.
"Maybe in that case you should have made an exception and left them both alone," Alister said. "You can't think I, or the Neo-Orichalcos, will let you get away with this." He began to draw his deck out of his pocket. Around his neck, the stone glowed a deep blue.
"M-master Alister!" Cristoffson took a step back. "I won the duel. . . . Doesn't that mean the Neo-Orichalcos wasn't displeased with me?"
"Some people can win through dumb luck," Alister said. "That doesn't have anything to do with the Neo-Orichalcos's wishes. If it was displeased, it might bide its time and wait for someone else to deal out justice. And I'm that person."
The blue light shot forth from the gem and encircled them both. Liu meowed in distress, retreating to her basket. Raphael would not like any of what was happening here. If only he would come back!
It did not take Siegfried long to journey upstairs to where their suite was located. His heart was racing, his mind awhirl as he pushed open the door moments later. Several thoughts continued to echo around him, imprisoning him as the answer remained out of reach. Was it true what the maid had said? Was Leonhard . . . dead? What if he was merely unconscious? But he was an excellent duelist. Would the Neo-Orichalcos have stooped so low as to target him?
His green-eyed gaze traveled the room in an instant. Leonhard was still laying on the floor. The maid had likely fled the instant she had seen him, running downstairs to inform Siegfried of what she had found.
His heart twisted taut as he hastened over and knelt beside the still form. "Leonhard," he pleaded, gripping the limp shoulder as he reached with his other hand to check for a pulse. There was nothing.
Siegfried took his brother's body into his arms. Why had this happened? Surely they had not targeted Leonhard because Siegfried had revealed what he had seen concerning the Neo-Orichalcos. The display downstairs had indicated that they wanted to be known. This had just been a heartless, brutal attack against a child. Rage began to build in his heart.
"Mr. von Schroider?"
His head jerked up. People had begun to crowd into the doorway. A reporter was in front. Behind her, familiar faces could be seen. Yugi Muto and his friends were staring in shock and horror. Mokuba Kaiba's eyes were filled with unshed tears. And there were many others, people he did not even know but who had come out of morbid curiosity and surprise. His anger continued to rise.
"This is not for spectators!" he cried, pulling himself to his feet while holding onto Leonhard's body. "Do you have no decency?"
"Siegfried, my boy, calm down," Pegasus said from somewhere in the crowd. "We only want to help you. Is it true that poor Leonhard is . . ."
"Out!" Siegfried stormed forward, taking hold of the door with one hand. He looked from Pegasus to the reporter. "I will not answer your questions or be subjected to your false concern. You will all kindly leave us alone!" He slammed the door shut, turning the lock. Perhaps later he would regret this outburst. It would certainly not look good in the papers. But he doubted Pegasus was truly bothered by this tragedy. And the few who actually were worried about Leonhard he did not want to deal with right now. The fury and grief were too strong.
The Neo-Orichalcos would pay for this.
On the other side of the door, Yugi and the others were stricken. Most of the crowd was starting to disperse—but the teens lingered, wanting to do something yet not knowing what it could ever be.
"Did you see him?" Tristan finally asked. "He really looked awful."
"Von Schroider or his brother?" Duke wondered.
"Leon," Tristan said. "Man . . . it really looked like he was . . ."
Duke nodded. "I don't blame von Schroider for getting uptight," he said. "Finding his brother like that, and then seeing all those people crowding at the door. . . ."
"But we weren't being nosy," Joey objected. "It was just some of the others."
"When you're really grief-stricken, you don't always think clearly," Duke said.
"And how do you know so much, Devlin?" Joey frowned. Duke never had been one of his favorite people. He tolerated him as a member of the group, and of course did not want anything bad to happen to him, but he doubted they would ever be that close. And when Duke and Tristan had such a war over Serenity, one that was often not so friendly, Joey wondered how they could ever enjoy hanging out together, either.
"It's not something you'd understand." Duke brushed the stray locks away from his face. "But anyway, I'm not the issue here," he said before Joey could retort. "So it looks like Leon is really dead. Why?"
"If he was really attacked by the Neo-Orichalcos, someone should have seen something," Téa said, "like a blue light outside his window."
"Good thinking, Téa!" Yugi declared. "We should go outside and start asking people if they saw anything strange."
"We should ask people in here, too," Mokuba finally spoke up. "Maybe someone saw a weird guy running from the direction of Leon's suite."
"Yeah!" Joey said. "What if the creep's even still hanging around? He could be a guest here or something."
"We shouldn't put it past him," Yugi said.
"So, is it true?" another voice asked.
All turned to look. Seto was coming down the hall, his expression unreadable. Mokuba hurried over to him.
"It's true," he said, his voice lowering in anguish. "We saw him laying there, Seto! . . . And Siegfried was so upset. . . ."
"He slammed the door on everybody," Joey said. "He's not gonna want to talk to you, if you were hoping to try."
Seto rolled his eyes. "I couldn't care less about trying, Wheeler," he said. "I'm the last person von Schroider would want to hear from on something like this." He looked down at Mokuba, laying a hand on his brother's shoulder. He may not want to speak with von Schroider, but he could understand the man's grief. If that was his own brother, and everyone was congregated in the doorway with their wide and curious eyes, he would not hesitate to order them away.
. . . What if it had been his own brother? What if it still would be? If this had been the work of the Neo-Orichalcos, they could target Mokuba just as easily as Leonhard.
"Did von Schroider know what had happened?" Seto asked at last.
"We don't know," Téa said. "I guess it could have been the Neo-Orichalcos. It would be really weird if it was a coincidence."
"But it's not supposed to kill people!" Mokuba exclaimed, turning back to them. "It leaves them in comas, or even gets them to be zombies or something, but it isn't supposed to kill them!" The tears were pricking harder at his eyes. A few escaped, traveling down the sides of his face. Every possibility they learned about the Neo-Orichalcos was more horrifying than the last. It was horrible enough that this had happened. But now he also had to worry all the more about Marik. Maybe this was what had happened to him. Maybe Marik was laying dead somewhere, too.
Seto gripped tighter at Mokuba's shoulder. "I'm going to get to the bottom of this," he vowed. "I guess I don't even need to ask if you're going to work on it too."
"Of course we are!" Joey exclaimed, stepping forward. "You think we could just sit back and ignore all of this?!"
"Then how about making yourselves useful and start questioning people? . . . Subtly," he added, giving Joey a pointed look. Being subtle was not one of Joey's specialities.
"We were going to do that," Duke said.
"Yeah! You're not the only one with a brain, Kaiba!" Joey added.
"Don't make this harder than it is," Seto grunted. It was grating on his nerves, and Mokuba was not happy about the fighting, either. The boy was looking from one to another, clenching a fist.
"We're all on the same side!" Mokuba cried. "We've gotta find out who did this to Leon and catch them. Can't we forget about how some of us feel about each other for now?!"
Joey sighed. "You're right, Mokuba," he conceded. "Oh well, I guess we can try to keep a truce going for tonight." He certainly felt a lot better towards Seto than he had in the past. Their various adventures had helped with that. But it did not change that the cold businessman could still get Joey very frustrated. His patience was especially short tonight.
"If it was the Neo-Orichalcos," Duke spoke up, "wasn't it probably the guy Joey took out who attacked Leon?"
"Maybe," Tristan said. "It depends on when Leon was being dueled. There might be more than one of those creeps that got in."
"That's one of the things we need to find out," Yugi said. "Let's split up and start looking."
"An excellent idea," Seto grumbled. "I'm going to begin on this floor. Mokuba will stay with me."
Mokuba nodded. He certainly did not have any objections to that idea. He wanted to be alone now even less than he had before the dinner.
"I'll take the upper floors," Tristan volunteered.
"Why don't we try outside, Joey?" Yugi suggested.
Joey nodded. "Fine with me," he said. "What about you guys?" He looked from Duke to Téa.
"I'll go with Tristan," Duke said.
"I'll do some investigating on my own," Téa decided. "Maybe the person snuck into the room where the dinner is. I'll try to check it out."
Yugi frowned in concern. "Are you sure, Téa?" he asked. Under these circumstances, he did not like the thought of any of them being on their own.
"Yeah," she smiled. "There'll be people all around. If I need help, someone will come. And if I see somebody suspicious, I won't try to catch them all by myself."
Yugi nodded. "Okay," he said, still not liking the idea. "Let's all meet in there in thirty minutes."
"Fine by me," Duke said.
With that, everyone went their separate ways.
Tristan was frustrated by the end of the first floor they searched. No one had seen anything. Most did not even know anything was wrong. Any noise they had heard they had thought had come from the room where the business dinner was being held. But when they asked what was amiss, Tristan and Duke did not give direct answers. "Oh, someone'll probably come tell you about it soon," Tristan told one confused person.
"Watch anybody who acts suspicious," Duke added. "You might be helping to stop someone dangerous."
"Now you're going to have the whole floor in an uproar," Tristan moaned as they walked on. "And we haven't learned anything, either."
"We learned that nobody was paying attention," Duke said, half-sarcastic. He moved to mosey ahead to the corner. By now they were walking by the righthand wall, going towards the corridor that turned to the left.
"Hey wait!" Tristan hissed, grabbing at the other teen's arm.
Duke frowned. "Now what?" he grumbled, stopping in mid-walk.
"Just look!" Tristan gestured ahead. Azazel Rakesh was standing in the doorway of the room at the corner, his back to the duo. He was conversing with someone inside, but they were speaking too low to be heard.
Duke blinked. "That weird guy from Fragmented Triangle," he said. "What's he doing?"
"Let's try to get closer!" Tristan decided. Without waiting for Duke to reply, he began to creep forward. Muttering under his breath, Duke hurried after him. They stopped as soon as the words ahead were audible, pressing themselves against the wall in an attempt to remain unseen.
"What is this?!" the raven-haired boy whispered in disbelief. "I don't see that he's talking to anyone!"
Tristan stared. Indeed, Azazel was standing and facing nothing. But as he spoke, someone else answered back.
"Something strange is going on," Azazel was saying. "I don't know what it is, but this Neo-Orichalcos is behind it. I wouldn't care, except that they might come after us. And I don't particularly want to lose my soul or become a zombie. Dalton doesn't, either."
"Well," purred the other voice, "I know what to do."
"And don't waste time teasing people again," Azazel objected.
An odd laugh. "If I do my duty, there's no reason why I can't have a little fun, too. You worry too much, Azazel."
"When it's you, I doubt that," Azazel retorted.
"I'll take it as such, anyway. Because most of what you worry about is so enjoyable to take part in."
With that a dark-haired form began to materialize out of thin air. But even when fully visible, it remained translucent. The ice-blue eyes lit up, peering past Azazel. It had noticed the boys some time ago, but had said nothing. Blinking in surprise, Azazel turned to look as well.
Tristan could not control the alarmed yelp that tore from his lips. The spectre looked exactly like Azazel!