Please Read and Review: I'd love to know how you think the story is starting off, but, especially in the beginning, I'll settle for just knowing people are reading the thing!
THE SETTING: The story takes place after Battle City and after the DOOM arc. It doesn't include the Ancient Egypt arc from the manga, because then there'd be nothing left to say. Instead I have taken some elements from it to create my own alternative story line. Briefly: Akunadin (who is Priest Seto's father) and Zork Necropolis, who is this kind of embodiment of evil, tried to take over the world in the time of the pharaoh. When they failed, the Sennen Items in their possession, the Rod and the Eye became split – with one version remaining in their control, and the other pair continuing into the current timeline in present day Domino.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: A while ago I read an unfinished story called "The Ties That Bind" by George Takahashi. It brought a 10 year old Seto and a 5 year old Mokuba to Domino. It started me thinking about why Kaiba might try to escape, and what age he might be, and what the two versions of the brothers might have to say to each other. The result is this story. Although it is (hopefully) original, I wanted to acknowledge that the inspiration came from "The Ties That Bind."
THANKS to Kagemihari for betaing these chapters, and to her and samurai ashes for their encouragement.
MANGA NOTE: I use the manga version of events, where possible, with mentions of the Virtual World and Noa's Arc episodes thrown in, simply because they have a lot of the Kaiba brothers and I like them. I also have some references to DOOM,. When necessary, I'll put in a Manga or Anime Note explaining plot or character differences from the dub version.
DEATH-T: The story also relies on the manga version of Yami Yugi and Seto Kaiba's history. After Yugi beats Kaiba, in their first duel, he's driven to create the Death-T tournament, and to force Yugi and his friends to enter a competition that could really kill them. Mokuba insists on being one of Yugi's challengers, and when Yugi beats him, Kaiba forces Mokuba to go through the "death simulation chamber" that he had prepared for Yugi, until Mokuba is rescued by Yami.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Authour chooses not to warn.
BEFORE THE BEGINNING
The boy was not running. With proper planning, you didn't need to run. And the boy had planned very carefully. There was no sign of pursuit. With luck, the hunt would never begin.
The boy had known that they couldn't just run. That would have been a challenge, and he would never have rested until he had beaten them. But what if he thought they had taken another way out? Thought that the prize was permanently beyond his reach?
It was the only logical way. The boy hadn't left behind a suicide note. That would have been too phony. What had been harder was to leave their lockets behind, to be snagged on the jagged rocks, to bobble in the swirling currents of the river on their grounds.
"We can't leave them! They're all we have left," his brother had protested.
"No. They're not." The boy had answered. "Not as long as we have each other. Look. It's all right. The pictures are just copies. I still have the originals. I'll get us better lockets – ones with Duel Monsters on them – just as soon as we're free. I promise."
Another unbreakable, impossible promise.
He paused for a moment, hesitating, giving his brother time to catch up to his longer strides. He wondered if he was doing the right thing, taking his younger sibling from the comfort and safety of the richest house in Domino.
He wasn't used to putting himself first. It wasn't the beatings, the endless sleepless nights. He had been prepared for that; would never have disrupted his brother's life for something so minor. But it had been brought home to him that if the mansion was still comfortable – it was no longer safe. Not for his brother. Worse, the greatest threat was not the most obvious… the one smoking the cigar. The true danger lay in his own heart; in the darkness that was starting to creep into its cracks. It all came down to the money fueling their escape… and how he had gotten it.
He may have only been 13, but he wasn't stupid. In fact he was a genius. That was the problem. That had always been the problem. He knew they couldn't live by themselves. That was a sure way to get caught and sent back. But given enough money, they could hire someone to pretend to be a relative. Given enough money they could get a new identity. A third family name, the boy thought with a smile. After all, the only name that had ever mattered to him was Mokuba's.
Getting the money had been difficult, but not impossible. If the money had simply disappeared, Gozaburo would have known they were not dead, but on the run. So he had provided an explanation – and a scapegoat.
No one knew just how good he was on the computer. It was his most closely guarded secret. No one knew he could hack into the Kaiba Corporation network; could transfer money; could make it look like someone else was the thief.
The choice of his victim was easy. Kaeru was his adoptive father's right hand man. The person Gozaburo trusted as much as he trusted anyone – which was not at all. Kaeru was the one in charge of making sure that he never slept until he completed an assignment, the one who woke him up with a smack in the mouth; the one who had figured out what a potent hold his brother had on him, the one who kept him from Mokuba.
He smiled at the thought of Kaeru in trouble, a cold and remorseless smile. Gozaburo would certainly have him punished, maybe even killed. He grinned, as a true Kaiba would – and that was what finally convinced him to run. He didn't want to be a true Kaiba, but was starting to see no other choice. He was starting to believe that the only way to survive was to become as much like Gozaburo as possible, and beat him at his own game. It had been enough to scare him into running.
He had planned their escape carefully – planned for everything but the tall figure in the flowing robes blocking their way, calling his name.
"I am sorry, Seto. It was a good plan. It might have worked." the man said sadly.
Seto knew the man really was sorry. He was good at reading people. But he also knew this man meant to stop him. His dart to the left was quick, as all his reactions were quick, but it didn't work. Instead a blinding light engulfed both the boy and his brother.
"More is at stake than you realize. More than your own life, or even your brother's. You have a task to do before you must return to your own time. Seek out Yugi Motou and his… yami at the Turtle Game Shop. This is not our last encounter."
"Like I'd want to meet that turbaned freak again," was Seto's last thought.
Both the boy and the man had been so intent on their confrontation that neither had noticed the figure watching from the shadows in the alley. A figure that cursed as he saw the flash of light; saw the boys disappear… then grew thoughtful. He had spent the last 3,000 years at the feet of his master, Zork Necropolis. In the time of the pharaoh, they had tried to cover the world in Darkness. He had failed. Worse, the items he had placed so much faith in, had lost their power.
Oh, the golden Eye still glittered coldly in place of his own, the Rod was still hidden among his robes. But when he had been defeated, duplicates had appeared – only to be quickly seized and guarded by the pharaoh's priests. And their power had been dispersed, split between the two opposing copies, that should not have existed in the same time and place. For his master's purposes, his precious objects were worthless until they were reunited. That was his mission.
And so, he had watched from the shadows for 3,000 years; waiting in a place where time meant nothing. One advantage, he thought, of an eternity in limbo, was that it had given him the same power as his ancient enemy, Shadi – the power to travel through time. He had been ready when the items finally reappeared – along with the reincarnation of the son who had betrayed him. And he knew – this version was perfect. The perfect tool to correct his mistake.
The first time, he had sold his soul to make his son, the pharaoh. He had wanted the boy to be raised as an orphan, uncorrupted by familial love. But he had also wanted a hand in raising the child he had denied. So his solution had been the priesthood. He had raised his son to be cold, to desire power. But he had cared for the boy, in spite of his best intentions; and he had raised the child with a code of honor; an integrity that in the end, his son would not betray. And that had been his fatal mistake, a father's mistake. For in caring for the boy, he had unwittingly made him able to care for others. And so Seto had given his fierce loyalty, possibly his love, to his pharaoh. And Akunadin had failed.
But this was a different time; a different boy who moved so purposefully through the streets. He had a far better, far crueler teacher.
It was strange, Akunadin mused. He had sold his soul to the embodiment of evil. Yet in this age, his son had found – no, had chosen – an even more demonic mentor.
And Gozaburo had succeeded where Akunadin had failed. He had broken every tie with humanity that Seto possessed. Akunadin had rejoiced as the boy created Death-T. There was a darkness in him, a darkness that would grow – until finally extinguished by the pharaoh. Until the boy himself had been banished to the Shadow Realm.
Akunadin was under no illusions that the young man who had returned would be a suitable tool. He was too hardened; would serve no one's purposes but his own.
But this slightly younger version; this one running to his own damnation; this boy was perfect. He was feral; recognized no law but his own will. He would be willing to hazard his soul – or better still, believed it did not exist. And he was desperate to escape from the trap of his own design. Zork Necropolis had seen that much before his vision had faded; concealing the future from their sight; revealing their course of action.
He considered the smaller child, tagging at his older brother's heels. He was unexpected; had not existed in the past. But Akunadin had researched this timeline very carefully. He had seen his quarry almost kill his brother, casually, over a game. Seto had left him to die in a room filled with monsters conjured by his technology – his modern age magic. In the end, Mokuba had been rescued by Akunadin's nemesis –the pharaoh. But Seto had abandoned him. So the younger child must be a negligible quantity; the bond between the brothers weak; of no hindrance to his plans.
He was about to reveal himself when he saw an enemy – Shadi. Then he saw the flash of light, and when he opened his eyes, he was alone in the alley.
But Akunadin thought about it and smiled. He could turn this to his advantage. He knew Shadi was trying to forestall him; trying to preserve the timeline unbroken. Which meant Seto had to be returned. But what would Seto not do for the man who could now promise so total an escape?
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Kaeru means "toad" which seemed to be a good way to describe him (Thanks, Kagi).