Author's note: this fic can be read as a prequel to my multichapter mystery fic, "Geheimnisse im Tanzsaal." I realize that there are a lot of loose ends in this fic, but they will all be explained in other fics in my timeline. And the characters are not mine, except for Aranea Vulsor, and the story is. Any and all in-jokes/references are intentional. Thanks to LuckyLadybug for plot help!
Alister, Valon, and Raphael never did consider themselves as the heroic type. As such, it was a surprise to them when they had been summoned to the San Francisco office of Industrial Illusions in order for Maximillion Pegasus to ask them for a favor. It had been a large annoyance; they had been riding to Domino, and had been very close when Pegasus had insisted that he needed their help.
Valon had wanted to refuse at first, saying that they were almost at their destination. And while Raphael agreed that it would be taking them out of their way (and in the opposite direction no less), perhaps they should, at least, see what Pegasus wanted. Alister thought along the same lines; if Pegasus needed their help, then it must be something serious.
And that was how the trio found themselves in Pegasus's office.
"I understand that you three wanted to go to Domino, so you'll forgive me for ruining your plans," said the CEO. "But Industrial Illusions has come under attack by people unknown, which is why I need your help."
"With all due respect, shouldn't you be asking Yugi Muto for this 'hero' bit? Why us? You know, I heard that there's a branch of a pretty good detective agency here in San Francisco; why not hire them?" asked Valon, the annoyance evident in his voice. He didn't trust the game designer at all, and he didn't see why he was trusting them; after all, he knew as well as they did that they once worked for Dartz.
"I have a feeling that Yugi is going to become involved regardless of what I ask him," Pegasus replied. "But since you three are already here, and are not associated with Industrial Illusions in any way, it helps considerably. I want to hire you three to find out the one behind all of Industrial Illusion's troubles. They've gone too far already; they already tried to finish me off with a venomous spider. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to escape it. I need you three to investigate what's going on; detective agencies aren't going to be of much help."
"And… you want our help specifically because…?" Valon prompted.
"I have it on reliable authority that one of you can pull off an impersonation of me so flawless that it even fooled Seto Kaiba," Pegasus explained.
"Is that your plan?" snarled Alister. "You want me to masquerade as you and be the sacrificial lamb!?"
"Not at all!" Pegasus insisted. "You'll be accompanied by all of my best security staff--"
"Forget it," said Alister. "I'd rather have Valon and Raphael as my security."
"You don't mean that you're going to go along with this!?" asked Raphael, stunned.
"Yes, I am," said the redhead. "But I'm not doing it for Pegasus."
And then Raphael understood; Alister was trying to make amends for the deeds he had done while under the influence of the Orichalcos. True, this was not a task he wanted to do; it was a task he had to do.
Alister turned to his two companions.
"Are you two coming?"
Raphael paused for a moment, considering the task at hand. He was skeptical of Pegasus' plan, certain that it would lead them into trouble, but he also knew that Alister had a better chance in succeeding if he wasn't going in alone. With that in mind, he nodded, signaling his support.
Valon, although annoyed that his plans to go to Domino and see Mai again would be once again deterred, was on board.
"I thank you, gentlemen," said Pegasus. He handed them a file. "This contains all of the details of the case. I'll have you outfitted with the costumes and equipment that you need. Good luck, gentlemen, and thank you."
Several minutes later, Valon was attaching the receiver of a miniature communicator to his ear. He glanced at his reflection; the three-piece suit wasn't his style at all, but he couldn't resist being amused at his appearance.
"The name is Bond…" he mused, attaching the communicator itself to a wristwatch. "Valon Bond…"
"If you're quite finished, 'Mr. Bond,' I suggest we find Alister and get moving," said Raphael, for whom the suit had been a tight fit, due to his broad shoulders. "He's getting some last-minute information from Pegasus."
"Right, right," the brown-haired youth replied. "But you have to admit that these communicators are wicked; they're completely invisible and wireless--"
"Do you even realize the seriousness of what's going on, Valon?" the blond man asked, in a slightly patronizing tone.
"Of course; I'm just trying not to worry about it," he replied. "If Alister sees how nervous we are, he might get nervous, too; and out of the three of us, he's the one who needs to keep his wits about him as he convinces everyone else that he's Pegasus."
Raphael glanced down the hallway, his eyebrows arched.
"That shouldn't be too difficult," he commented.
Valon looked down the corridor to see two identical versions of Maximillion Pegasus.
"Alister?" asked Valon, glancing uncertainly at the one on the left.
"Lucky guess, Valon" said the redhead's voice, emanating from the ersatz CEO.
"I suggest you have a look at that file before you decide on what to do," said the real Pegasus. "The gist of it is that we've tracked the emails and phone calls from an abandoned lab a few blocks from here."
"Apparently, it isn't as abandoned as everyone thinks," said Raphael, dryly.
"So we've got take a look 'round!" said Valon.
"And there's also a meeting requested by the CEO of another company," said Alister, going over the file. "Why is this information in here? Do you think that she's part of the conspiracy?"
"I wasn't so sure," said Pegasus. "I'm having my staff look into her credentials, and she seems innocent enough, though if you think meeting her will help with the investigation, then go ahead. However, my concern is the abandoned lab; I have a feeling that the perpetrators are striking from there. And from the moment you leave this building, you are no longer your true selves. Croquet will be at your assistance; be sure to keep him posted on everything."
"I say that we pay this CEO a little visit, and then head to the lab," said Valon.
"As you wish," said Pegasus. "But I must stress upon you again to be careful."
The trio were en route to the business meeting, in Pegasus' limo, going over the details of the file.
"According to this, the only problem for most of the time was the influx of emails and a few weird calls from someone who wasn't speaking too clearly," said Alister. "But after they were ignored, spiders started showing up."
"What kind of lunatic uses spiders like that!?" asked Valon, frowning.
"A crazed and dangerous one," replied Raphael, flatly. "They'd be untraceable, yet potentially deadly. And keep in mind, Valon, that we're supposed to be hired security for 'Pegasus' over here, and that we don't know him personally. So don't talk or blurt out any of your commentaries."
"Right," the brunet replied, placing on the dark shades that went with his disguise. "Though I'll be surprised if my hair doesn't raise a few eyebrows, anyway…"
"We're here, gentlemen," said Croquet, who had been accompanying them, as they pulled up to another office building. "I will remain here in the limo, which is entirely at your disposal."
"We'll be going to that abandoned lab after this," said Alister, as he and the others departed. He then launched into the flawless imitation of Pegasus' voice. "This shouldn't take too long, Croquet; see to it that my refreshments will be waiting for me upon my return."
"Yes, Master Pegasus," Croquet replied, amazed at the imitation.
The trio walked into the building in silence. Only Alister spoke as he introduced himself as Pegasus.
"Miss Vulsor has been expecting you," said the secretary, after he had spoken. "She's in the board room."
The trio hadn't known what to expect, but it certainly hadn't been a tall, slender young woman with long, whitish-blond hair. A crimson hue painted her lips as she smiled at them. She wasn't alone; a stern-faced man was also at the table, along with a woman with long, brunette hair.
"Welcome, Mr. Pegasus," she said. "I am Aranea Vulsor, head of the Dronyche Company."
Alister nodded in reply. He wasn't sure why, but something about Vulsor unnerved him. Nevertheless, he politely maintained his disguise and discussed the slew of emails and spiders surrounding the case. Raphael played his role of silent security agent flawlessly; however, there were a few anxious moments as Valon found it difficult to stand still without moving or showing any emotions in response to what was being discussed.
"I should get an award for this…" he thought to himself. "Not to mention for putting up with this infernal tie…"
"You haven't the slightest idea as to who might be behind such a thing?" asked Vulsor, seemingly oblivious to Valon's fidgeting.
"Not at all, I'm afraid," said Alister. "Industrial Illusions does have plans to investigate; we're even willing to turn to the Schroeder and Kaiba Corporations (or anyone else, for that matter) if we absolutely have to."
"Would they be willing to help?" asked Vulsor, in slight surprise. Was she faking it? "From what I've heard, Siegfried von Schroeder and Seto Kaiba aren't the most sociable people around."
"If they have to deal with people like you, then it's no wonder," Valon thought, derisively.
"I'm afraid that those are questions that only von Schroeder and Kaiba can answer," said Alister.
"Oh," she said. "You'll have to excuse me; I'm rather new to this CEO game, you see. See, my family comes from a long line of researchers; business has never been our thing."
She proceeded to monopolize the remainder of the meeting with her commentary. Needless to say, it was a relief to all three, when they departed the Dronyche Company building. Vulsor saw them off.
"You take care, Mr. Pegasus," she called, with a sweet schoolgirl-like grin on her face (that didn't suit her). "Let me know if you discover anything!"
"We'll do that, Miss Vulsor!" Alister called, putting one the most fake cheery voice he had ever put on before. "I don't know how Pegasus always sounds that annoyingly cheerful…" he added to himself.
"Whew!" sighed Valon, reclining in the seat of the limo as he wiped the sweat from his brow. "Am I glad to be out of there! Another five minutes, and I'd have been cooked like a shrimp!" He loosened up his collar and tie. "Much better…"
"You nearly blew our cover," said Raphael, with a frown. "I, for one, am amazed that she didn't suspect anything."
"We lucked out," agreed Alister, glad to be able to remove the wig, mask, and speak in his normal voice again. "But I think she knows more about this fiasco than she's letting on."
"You mean… all those phone calls and emails from that abandoned lab?" the brunet asked, running a hand through his hair in frustration. "I nearly forgot about that… and here I was thinking that this mission was over…" Mai and Domino would have to wait even longer, it seemed.
The drive to the old lab was uneventful, and using the skeleton key that Pegasus had provided to them.
"Wow…" said Valon, looking around wide-eyed at the amount of spiderwebs (and accompanying spiders) that had overrun the lab. "It's an exterminator's fortune if I've ever seen one…"
"Remember what Pegasus said?" asked Alister. "He was attacked by a venomous spider."
Raphael picked up a few pieces of paper.
"They're packing slips," he announced as the others wordlessly inquired about them. "Apparently, everything in this lab was getting ready to be moved to Los Angeles, but only half of it was moved before the place was abandoned."
"So why would someone just drop the job halfway?" asked Valon, perplexed.
"If the laboratory log is around somewhere, then maybe we'll be able to pick up a few answers as to what this place was used for… though I'm guessing that spiders played some sort of part," said Alister, looking behind a few doors. After the fifth door, he froze.
"What is it?" asked Raphael.
Alister stared wordlessly at an outline on the floor; the shape was human.
"It's like one of those murder mysteries!" Valon said, his eyes wide. "With those chalk outlines and everything…"
"But it isn't chalk," said Raphael, daring to inspect the outline. "It must have been, at some point, but… someone went over the chalk outline with paint."
Valon looked disgusted.
"Why would anyone do a thing like that!?" he asked. "That's just wrong. It's like they want it to be permanent." He shuddered.
"I think you hit the nail on the head," said Raphael. "Look… someone wrote this with the paint next to the outline…"
The other two bent forward to read it.
Here is where he was taken. I was not allowed to know. Now I will have it engraved in my memory.
"Well…" said Alister, his eyebrows arched. "Whoever outlined it did it to ensure that anyone who came by here would remember what happened to this unfortunate person…"
"Whatever it was…" said Raphael.
"Hmm…" the redhead went on, going over the outline. "It looks as though whoever this was had been reaching for something on that shelf when… whatever happened to him happened…"
"But there's nothing on there except a few vials, some letters, and…" Valon began, but he trailed off upon seeing a few bottles of wine, the green glass visible on the top shelf.
"Why would anyone store wine in a laboratory—especially with all of these spiders crawling around?" asked Raphael, his arms folded.
"Well, we'll find out," said Valon, climbing the shelves.
"Careful…" Raphael warned. The shelves looked like the flimsy, cheap ones that most labs had, and he wasn't sure if they'd be able to hold the brunet's weight for very long.
"I found the laboratory log," announced Alister, as he began to look through it. "Apparently, a lot of entomology was studied in this lab for generations. The last entry was written about fifteen years ago; it mentions something about an experiment with funnel web spiders--"
"Funnel webs?" Valon repeated, nearing the top of the shelves. He turned back to face Alister. "Those things are venomous! They're about the worst bite you can get from a spider…"
The three of them turned to look at the outline on the floor.
"I think I'm beginning to piece together what happened," said Raphael, dryly. Someone must've gotten a bite from one of those during the experiment. There must've been some anti-venom in one of the shelves…" He trailed off as he noticed the shelves beginning to tip. "Valon!"
Raphael's warning came too late. The brunet yelped as the shelves came crashing down on him.
"Valon!" the others both yelled.
Fortunately, the shelves were not heavy, and they were able to free their comrade fairly quickly. However, all of the contents of the shelves had spilled, and several items, including all of the wine bottles, had smashed.
"Phew!" gasped Valon, glancing in disgust at the odd, green liquid that he was now drenched in. "This isn't wine; they must've been using the bottles to store something else! And now it's all over me… Ow…" He flinched as he noticed a cut on his hand from the glass, which was being aggravated by the odd liquid that had been inside it.
"Are you alright?" asked Raphael.
"Yeah," Valon grinned. "Which is more than can be said for this stuff; the only things that survived this fall were a few vials and this note!"
The note was old—it dated from 1880, and it seemed to be for one of the people who had worked in the lab.
Meyrei, as per your wish, I have brought the bottles here, and have secured one of them in your manor. No one will guess; I hope all goes well for you in Paris.
Valon looked at the others and shrugged. He didn't know what to make of it, other than that the bottles he had just smashed had been brought here by this Isabella.
"I think it stands to reason that whoever asked for the bottles did not get a chance to return for them," said Raphael. "Something must have happened in Paris."
"Meyrei…" said Alister, eyes narrowing. He paged through the laboratory log, and, in the earlier pages, found her entries. "According to this, she was working on an experiment with… spider venom."
"What is it with these people and spider venom!?" Valon asked, ignoring his throbbing cut. "Wait… you don't think that the stuff I got all over me is…"
Raphael and Alister glanced at him, concerned.
"You feeling alright?" asked Alister, glancing at the cut.
"Oh, yeah, I'm fine," he insisted, washing his cut under the nearest sink he could find. But it did not stop throbbing, not even when he bandaged it with the first aid kit that had been hanging on the wall.
"Maybe you should go and have that looked at…" said Raphael.
"No worries," said Valon. "If it gets any worse, I'll let you know; let's keep looking."
Old files and drawers turned up several reports on spider behavior and venom properties, but it was Raphael who found a stack of old letters. The envelopes had long since been thrown out, but the letters still remained.
"They're all for this Meyrei, written by Isabella," he announced, going over them. He froze as he paged through them.
"What is it?" asked Alister.
"I think you'll find this one to be interesting," the blond deadpanned, holding it out for the others to read.
Meyrei, you will forgive me if this letter is short and abrupt. I haven't the time or the chance to write to you as much as I wish to do so; Agnes is on my case, so I must make myself scarce. However, I simply must tell you of the magnificent emeralds I happened to come across. I crossed paths with some odd gentleman with long, green hair who went by the name of Dartz and claimed that a few of the artifacts in my collection belonged to him. He must be mad; the relics were retrieved from the sea, and unless he is from Atlantis, he has no claim to them. I sent him on his way, but he did not know that he was out a dozen odd emeralds that he had concealed in his pocket; I am having them made into a brooch—another priceless treasure to add to the growing stack of Sandiego heirlooms. I will show them to you when next we meet.
Valon's jaw dropped in amazement.
"You mean she picked Dartz's pocket and stole some Orichalcos stones!?" he yelped.
"It looks like it," said Alister. "If they were made into a brooch as she claimed, the stones may have been affected by them."
"But even if they're still out there, they shouldn't be a problem," rationalized Raphael. "The Leviathan is gone; they should be harmless."
"Perhaps," said Alister, folding his arms. "But it still doesn't explain what going on with Pegasus's company. It's quite clear that Isabella and Meyrei were up to something, but that was nearly 130 years ago."
"I guess it would be impossible for them to be making phone calls and sending emails…" Raphael deadpanned.
"You sounded just like Kaiba there," the redhead replied with a roll of his eyes. "But in all seriousness, there is this…" He indicated the outline on the floor. "Judging by how strong the paint is, I'd say that this was drawn within the last few years. So maybe our answer lies--"
He was cut off by a crashing sound. Both he and Raphael turned to see Valon doubled over by one of the lab benches, trembling.
"Valon!?" Alister exclaimed, his eyes widening.
"I knew we should've insisted that you get that cut examined," scowled Raphael, reaching for his cell phone. They would have to call the emergency room
But Valon suddenly looked up, his eyes flaring. He struck the phone from Raphael's hand and made a grab for the letters in his other hand.
"Valon, what are you doing!?" asked Alister. His eyes turned to the spilled liquid all over the floor. "What was that stuff…?"
He jumped out of the way as Valon moved to attack him now.
"Valon, get ahold of yourself!" Raphael ordered.
"Uh, from what I heard, Boyos, ol' Big Hair ain't gonna pull it off," said a new voice.
Alister and Raphael turned to see a young teenaged girl dressed in punk-style attire. Her hair was highlighted in bright, multiple colors, and she seemed to be wearing rollerblades. She had a pair of headphones resting on her head, and the music issuing from them was as loud as the color of her hair.
"Don't tell me you're the one making the calls to Industrial Illusions," said Raphael, in disbelief as he and Alister tried to restrain Valon. "This isn't funny, Kid."
"Whoa, Big Guy; just chillax," she said, raising her hands up. "Yeah, I'm the one chatting it up with Mr. Card Creator. But it's a win-win situation for me and the Boss Lady; she gets her work done, and I get to listen to my tracks in this lab without anyone tellin' me to turn down the volume."
"'Boss Lady'?" asked Alister. "So someone put you up to this; that must be the one we're really after. Who's the one behind this, Kid?"
"I ain't a rat," she said, making a face. "And besides, I ain't crazy to divulge her when she's seeing and listening to everything right now with her buddy."
"Duh," said the girl. "You think she didn't install video cams in here? Anyway, she and her associate told me to tell you that this bottle here has the stuff to undo what that stuff did to your buddy." She held out a vial. "They're kinda mad that you smashed all that stuff they were looking for, but they're willing to lemme give this to you for those letters and that lab log."
"We'll give them to you if you tell us who you're working for," said Raphael.
"Look, you're gettin' nothing from me," the girl said. "I was hired by my boss, who's helping out a friend. That's all you're getting. Now d'you want your friend back to norms or not?"
Before either of the others could reply, Valon broke free with a crazed yell, throwing punches at the both of them.
"What was in that stuff anyway?" demanded Raphael.
"Look, I dunno any of that; all I know is that I need to deliver that stuff. They've been looking for it."
Raphael struggled to regain his hold on Valon.
"It must be some sort of mind-control drug," Alister realized, going through the logbook frantically. "But the effects described here are a lot more serious than what Valon seems to be having…"
"Duh, he only got a little bit; if he had gotten the full dose, he'd have headed straight for the loony bin," said the girl, rolling her eyes. "You going to give me what I asked for, or shall I go tell the Boss Ladies that you're going to be doing things the hard way?"
She held her arm out, intending to take the letters and the logbook. But Valon struck out at her now. With a yelp, the girl's rollerblades slipped, sending her crashing to the ground. The vial in her other hand fell, and Alister made a dive for it.
The girl started to grab the vial, but changed her mind halfway and seized the book from Alister. Raphael, who had been trying once again to calm Valon down, lost a few of the letters to the girl as well. Deciding that some letters were better than none, the girl sped off, leaping through a window to make her getaway.
If it hadn't been for Valon, the others would have considered giving chase. But since the girl had fled, Valon had once again turned on them, though he was trying desperately to fight the effects of whatever it was that was causing him to act like this.
"Just hold on to yourself, Valon," ordered Raphael. "If the Orichalcos couldn't change you for good, then neither can that serum!"
Perhaps it was his time under the influence of the Orichalcos, coupled with the fact that he hadn't taken in all that much of the serum that was allowing him to fight against its effects.
He forced his arms down, and, though he couldn't speak, he forced himself to stop attacking.
"You'll be fine," Alister assured him, looking at the vial that had been given to them. It hopefully was the cure, but they would have to analyze it to be certain. But Valon had regained control; he would be alright.
Several hours later, after analysts had ensured that the contents of the vial were harmless and Valon was slowly returning to normal, the trio discussed the case with Pegasus.
"I only had a little bit of that stuff from that cut," Valon was saying. "What would've happened if I did get the full dose?"
"I think some questions are better left unanswered," said Pegasus. I suppose I owe you boys an apology for getting you into this mess."
"'Suppose'?" asked Valon, darkly.
"We were just lucky," Alister said.
"And you still don't know who was behind it?" asked Pegasus.
"No," said Raphael. "We gathered that there are two women in charge, and they use the laboratory's old research as their offensive. And as for the emails and calls, they enlisted some kid to do that for them."
"Clever…" muttered Pegasus. "And therefore impossible to trace… This mystery is far from solved, I see. But I guess it can't be helped."
"I have my doubts about that Vulsor lady," said Raphael.
"The CEO of Dronyche?" asked Pegasus.
"We know that the mastermind is a woman," the blond went on. "Why couldn't it be her? She didn't seem too concerned by the emails that she was getting…"
"I'm not so sure," Pegasus replied. "She hasn't been spending much time here as of late; she's been away on business a lot. She would have to be in town in order to pull of something."
"She has a partner in crime," Valon reminded him. "But, you're right; we don't have proof. She could be a victim, for all we know…"
Alister clenched a fist. Whether it was her or not, they had to find out who the perpetrator was.
"I think we'll be staying in San Francisco for a little while longer," he said.
Neither Raphael nor Valon seemed surprised by his announcement, though Pegasus was.
"We need to find out who ordered all of this," he went on. "I have a bit of a score to settle with them."
"And, of course, we'll be there with you!" said Valon, his cheerful demeanor returning to him. "We're back on the case! No, wait… we never really left… Ah, well; we're still on the case!"
Raphael shook his head in amusement. Valon was back to normal, alright. And they would figure out this perplexing case.