Almost two years ago, I put up the first chapter of this story. It makes me shudder to think it's been that long, especially considering that it's a rather simple premise. I wrote "Twist of Fate" in a few months. So why did this spiritual successor take so much longer?
In short: standards. I have higher standards for myself now, and I hope that those standards have proven to be entertaining to you, the audience. For those who've stuck with this one since its beginning last February, thanks for hanging in there. I hope the ending satisfies. And for those new readers, who come across this piece of work in the future, thanks for stopping by. I hope the experience was worth the time.
The Forgotten King
Seto's expression did not change suddenly.
It slowly, slowly shifted to concrete neutrality, and only then did he speak, when his voice, too, was completely free of any emotion. He said, "...I shouldn't be surprised. I wondered when you would make a move. Tell me...what do you think are your chances of getting out of this house alive?"
A dark chuckle. Filled to the brim with narcissistic confidence.
"Don't flatter yourself. Your security couldn't stop me. You won't, either."
"Fascinating. And how did you come to that conclusion?"
He could feel Mokuba pressed up against him, shaking slightly. He patted the boy's shoulder and shifted himself so that his arms were free. His muscles were coiling, preparing to spring. His mind had shut off. Thinking was no longer necessary.
This was the moment.
This was the test.
This...was the end.
He felt something being pressed into his left hand. Seto blinked, surprised, as he realized that the semi-automatic pistol he kept hidden under his pillow was now in his grip. He smiled. Mokuba had just solved the most important problem for him.
That's my boy. Good job.
"You aren't prepared to handle a threat like me," said the voice of Seto's personal oblivion.
He felt his lips spread into a savage grin.
"Indeed," Seto hissed. "After all, no one else has managed to come even close to where you are." He moved his legs up beneath him, and knelt forward. "Who else has come so close to my brother, who else has come so far in the eternal quest to break me? You've truly managed the...near impossible."
"Trying to stall, are you? Enough of this. I'm not here to play games."
Seto shifted once more, and his feet landed with a whisper onto the floor. He stood tall, and watched as a figure stepped in from the doorway. His eyes widened as he realized he didn't recognize the man in front of him. Nor, he realized, had he recognized the voice.
And then he remembered that it didn't matter.
"Good," Seto said. "Neither am I."
He lifted his weapon and fired.
The sound echoed in his ears, sent sharp little bolts of pain arcing through his head. His opponent, such as it was, stared stupidly at him. Seto frowned. There was no pain in this man's face. There was no bleeding. He knew he'd hit. A Kaiba did not miss. And yet, here this man stood, completely unconcerned.
"More of this goddamned magic," Seto all but snarled.
The man was nonplussed for some reason. He looked distracted. Confused. Seto didn't question it. He fired again. Again. Both kneecaps should have exploded, but the man remained standing. There wasn't the faintest sign that Seto had done anything. What was this? A vision? A hallucination?
"Who are you?" Seto demanded. "Apparently I'm not dealing with a human being, but I am dealing with sentience. What are you doing? What is your goal? And why does it involve murdering children?"
Seto didn't need to look back at Mokuba to know that he was horrified. This was the man who had killed him. The last face he would have ever seen, if not for Yugi goddamned Mutou.
As if in slow-motion, the man finally showed a reaction. It was like spoken language went through a filtering process in this person's mind, as if it were some species of machine with an advanced—but slow—speech recognition component.
"You're one to talk...about murdering children...Kaiba-shachou."
Seto sighed. "Wonderful. Vengeance. I might have known. Fine. Lay your grievance, then. Try to talk your way out of this. I'm curious how you've managed to justify your actions."
The man had dark red hair, cut halfway down his neck and spread out so that his head looked like a mushroom with bangs. In spite of the ridiculous haircut, however, the man's grey eyes were alight with murderous intent. This was not a man who would feel remorse for murder. Not in the slightest.
This was a killer. Plain and simple.
He stepped forward again, closer to Seto. A long, sleeveless, light grey trench coat whispered about his shins. He wore pure black underneath, and nestled in the deep shadows of earliest morning he looked as though his head, and his coat, were the only parts of him with any substance.
If there was any substance at all.
"You...rechristened your company, didn't you, Kaiba-shachou?" the man asked. His voice was still slow. "The...Kaiba Electronic Gaming Corporation. Do you recall what it was called when your predecessor ran it?"
Seto smirked bitterly. "Kaiba Kabushiki-gaisha."
"And do you recall what that company made when your predecessor ran it?"
"Military technology. Weaponry. Any conceivable technology deemed necessary for war. You clearly know the answers to these questions you're posing, so do get on with it. I'm not interested in rehashing my corporation's history."
The man grinned. "Do you know, Kaiba-shachou, just how many lives your predecessor's technology stole from this planet? Do you know the damage your predecessor's weapons caused us all? Not just this city, not just this country, but the world at large? Do you know what your corporation took from me?"
Seto resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "Take a wild guess as to whether or not I care what my corporation 'took' from you."
"You'll care. By the time the sun rises on this day, you will care a great deal."
Seto hefted the apparition's gun, looking at it for a moment, before shaking his head. "You're all the same. Every solitary one of you. I'm beginning to wonder if I shouldn't start charging for the privilege of turning my brother into a target. None of you ever bother to turn your pointless, prating vengeance upon me. That would make too much sense."
"There is a simple reason for that, Kaiba-shachou," the man said. "It works."
"Yes, yes, and aren't you lucky to know firsthand the proof of that? Good work. I'll mail out a medal for you, so you can hang it on your wall and look at it every morning. You can show it to future generations and say, 'Look there, that's the proof that I am a spineless waste of plasma.' Are you done?"
It was working. The man's anger was rising. His attention was not on Mokuba. The young Kaiba had slipped off of his brother's bed and was huddled behind it. Seto could just barely see his hair, and a sliver of his forehead, in his peripheral vision.
"Cocky. Confident. As expected from you."
"So pleased that I met your expectations."
"But as I said..."
Seto blinked. Stared.
A symbol began to etch itself into the man's forehead, framed by his dried-blood-red hair. It glowed, a bright, otherworldly, sickly green that was mirrored in the man's wide, feverish eyes: a unicursal hexagram, set within a circle of runes. The very air in the room thickened in the light of that damnable insignia. It was becoming difficult to breathe.
The man lifted a hand, and gestured almost dismissively in Mokuba's direction.
Seto felt his body tighten, his muscles sang with sudden pain. He began to move, slowly, sluggishly, like a puppet on old strings. Slowly, woodenly, around the foot of his bed. Slowly, involuntarily, toward Mokuba.
Seto watched in horror as his right hand reached out to grip Mokuba by the hair. His left hand pressed his weapon against the boy's forehead.
Seto tried to speak.
His body refused to heed him.
His head turned, and he was staring straight into his brother's eyes.
The man was chuckling again.
"...You aren't prepared for a threat like me."
He had been forced to admit the truth of too many false beliefs. He had been forced to shift his belief systems too much. That magic could defy death, he could understand. That it could bring death, he could understand. That magic existed, he could understand.
But he could not, and would not, understand this.
He was hallucinating. This wasn't happening.
It was late. He'd fallen asleep. This was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. No one could have gotten into his home, into his sanctuary, this easily. No one could still stand after taking a bullet to each knee. No one could just wave their fucking hand and make him...and make him...
His eyes were fixed on Mokuba, but they weren't fixed of his volition. His right hand had hold of the boy's hair, but not on his command. His left hand held a gun to the boy's head, but not...not...damn it, what in hell was this?
He couldn't think. He couldn't move. He had no control over his own limbs, he couldn't drop the gun, he couldn't let go of his brother's hair, he couldn't back up, he couldn't even look at the son of a bitch responsible! He was a living, breathing statue. He could feel his heart beating, could feel his blood pumping, he could feel his stomach churning.
But his limbs were ghosts. Poltergeists. They no longer existed.
They were no longer his.
He tried to speak. He strained to force himself to speak. His lips would not move.
He was...he was...
"...How does it feel, Kaiba-shachou?" asked the apparition. "What's it like, being completely helpless? What's it like knowing that your every move, your every word, your every thought is under someone else's control?"
His thoughts weren't being controlled.
The apparition was lying. The apparition was overestimating its own strength.
He felt his lips begin to move. He heard his voice. He knew he was speaking.
The words were not—
"This is retribution," Seto heard himself say. "This is justice. This is what happens when the guilty are caught by the righteous. You will be taken. You will be sacrificed. It is necessary. Your life was taken once, and it will be taken again. So that I will understand the true meaning of consequence. The true meaning of loss."
He could tell that Mokuba was hurting, that his grip on the boy's hair was too tight, but he couldn't do anything about it. For the first time in his life, he was completely unable to comfort his brother.
This...this couldn't be.
It just couldn't.
Mokuba was crying. Again, he was crying, and again, Seto was the reason for it.
This couldn't be true.
Mokuba was scared.
He tried to close his eyes, tried to block out the sight in front of him, but he couldn't. He couldn't even blink. His eyes were beginning to itch. His breathing quickened. He felt cold. He felt sore. Mokuba was scared and hurting and he felt helpless.
This wasn't happening.
The apparition was smirking, Seto could see him in his peripheral vision, and the apparition's eyes were glowing, mirroring the sick green of the symbol on his forehead, and this wasn't happening. The symbol looked like it was erupting out of the apparition's flesh, and this wasn't real. The hexagram was the source of all this, he knew it, and this wasn't fucking possible.
God damn it all.
This...this can't...it can't be...damn...motherfu—
Mokuba was not like his brother.
They were fundamentally opposed, and it was nearly impossible to understand how they got along as well as they did. Seto had learned a long time ago how to hide his emotions, how to make his face into a mask that showed nothing at all. Mokuba had not.
Sometimes, in the rarest of rare occasions, Mokuba was able to put on such a mask.
But he couldn't summon it at will.
And right now, as one of his brother's hands pulled out his hair and the other held a gun to his forehead, every emotion the young Kaiba had ever felt was playing across his face like an abstract play on a flesh-and-blood stage.
He heard Seto speak, but he could tell that it wasn't his voice. It was his voice, but the words weren't his, and that made all the difference in the world. It didn't sound like him, even though it did. Mokuba knew who was actually saying those words, he could hear the man who killed him in them. He could feel the man who killed him in them, and it felt like insects burrowing through him.
To say that he was scared was so understated that it felt like the opposite of the truth, like calling the ocean dry. He didn't know what he really was, there wasn't a word for it. There wasn't a word for it in any language, least of all his. But he knew that if he felt it for much longer it would kill him.
Just like the gun would kill him. The gun that belonged to his brother but was actually the same gun that had killed him the first time. The gun that had propelled seven bits of metal into his body and let his blood run from him like people screaming and biting and crawling all over themselves to escape a burning building.
Except his body wasn't burning this time.
It was freezing.
Mokuba wasn't an atheist, not like Seto. Mokuba believed in God, or at least he believed there was something out there more powerful than people. But as he stared up into his Niisama's eyes, the only part of him that wasn't being controlled by the murderer with the red hair, the only part of him that was honest anymore, Mokuba Yagami Kaiba renounced that higher power, tossed it aside like so much rotting garbage, and decided that if he was going to die today, if he was going to die again, then he was going to blame the man responsible. No safety nets. No passing the buck.
God had nothing to do with it. God had no hand in this.
Tonight, there was no God.
It was all him.
There were certain inalienable truths when it came to the Kaiba brothers.
One of the most clear-cut, one of the most fundamental, was that Seto Kaiba's dedication, indeed devotion, to his position as Big Brother was irrefutable. It was untouchable. It was the closest thing to sacred that he held anymore.
Mokuba held a similar devotion to his position as Little Brother, but right now it was the former being twisted. Sabotaged. Defaced and blasphemed. The spirit who called itself Yami—who had made Seto Kaiba's psychology into a pet research project—watched from the corner of the room, where he had been lying in wait (and wasn't it magnificent that Kaiba hadn't ever noticed?) as his rival grabbed young Mokuba by the hair and pushed a weapon against his head.
The ancient king had two moods: swaggering confidence and abject fury. A switch flipped in Yami's head, for the first time in centuries. His eyes gleamed like the gold of the puzzle chained to his neck. He stepped forward, into the meager light, not as a spirit but as a king.
As a god.
The first to react was the target. The second was Mokuba. Kaiba did not move.
"Release him," Yami commanded.
The target stared at him. "Who the hell—"
Yami clenched a fist and flung his arm forward. A drawer from Kaiba's desk sailed through the air and exploded into a shower of splinters and office supplies about the target's head. The target made no real reaction.
"You're not the only one with tricks up his sleeve," Yami snarled, "and you're not the only one with a mean streak. I'd warn you not to test me, but I'm not in a merciful mood tonight. So if you want even a passable chance that your death will be painless, release him. Now."
The target smirked. "Cute trick." The target made a hand gesture that was clearly meant to retaliate. Nothing happened. The target blinked. Stared again. The target's eyes narrowed.
Normally, Yami would have smirked.
His face was fixed in concrete now.
"So...you've decided to make an enemy of me. I'm not surprised. Nor am I disappointed."
Yami turned his attention to the Kaibas, concentrating. He lifted up a fist, and slowly uncurled it. Kaiba shook as if electrocuted, then slumped forward. One hand released Mokuba's hair, the other threw the gun across the room. Kaiba held his brother close as if certain his body would refuse to answer his commands again at any moment.
Yami could hear him whispering to the boy. He caught, "...last words..." and "...proud of you..." and "...love..." before turning his attention back to the matter at hand.
The target lost its smirk. "So...you're the one who resurrected him."
Yami sighed. "Your mind works about as quickly as I had expected."
Narrowed eyes. "Who are you?"
Yami gestured to his face, and his hair, as if to say, Honestly?
Yami did not grace the target with a direct response. Instead, he declared, "You may have power, but it is not your own. You are an underling. You speak of justice and retribution, you speak of righteousness. Your words ring hollow. You borrow from one with true power. I feel it in you. You have no more control over your own tricks than a slave over his master's horse."
The target was growing angry.
Yami was already there.
"Don't lecture me. You don't know the half of it."
"Neither do you."
"Don't play word games with me, Mutou!"
"Conversation itself is a word game. Do not blame me if you haven't the mental aptitude to play it against me."
"I know what you're doing! You're trying to piss me off! You're trying to make me forget!" The target whirled on Kaiba, still holding tight to his brother and shaking violently. The target thrust out an open palm, and the symbol on his forehead brightened.
Yami heard Kaiba's words, soft and comforting, stop immediately.
"I'm here for a reason!" the target shrieked. "You won't stop me again!"
Mokuba's face, barely visible, made it all too clear that he couldn't breathe.
Yami tossed his head back and rolled his eyes at the ceiling.
He touched the Millennium Puzzle with the fingertips of both hands.
An eye, wrought of purest golden light, appeared on the gambler's forehead; the antithesis of the target's hexagram. The gods had descended. Horus was with him. Horus was become him, and Mayet's feather fluttered in the air.
The Great Eye fixed upon the target, and would know its name.
"The question has been asked of this one," said the vessel of the Fourth Dynasty, "and it would be asked of you. What are you called, he who would slaughter the innocent? What are you called, heretic who would visit upon the innocent the crimes set upon you?"
"I take no orders from you!"
WHAT ARE YOU CALLED, YOU WHO WOULD DEFY ME?
The words boomed and clashed like thunder given a language, and it seemed like the body of Yugi Mutou would not contain the raw power coursing through it. This was not Yami, the spirit of the Millennium Puzzle.
This was not the voice of Yami, the gambler, the avenger, the protector.
This was the voice of Atemhotep. The Forgotten King.
The peasant did not learn. It raised its head high, crossed its arms. It said, haughtily, indignantly, "...My name is Amelda. And I serve a power ten times stronger than you could ever imagine. Save your parlor tricks for someone they'll work on, Mutou."
No smirk crossed the king's face.
The king's brows furrowed, and the king's eyes narrowed.
"You serve a delusion. There is no power but mine. There is no judgment but mine. There is no vengeance but mine. The name to which you attach your fantasy of power does not concern me. You are ended here, Amelda."
The king lifted his right hand, and snapped his middle finger against his thumb.
The laughter ceased immediately, as the condemned man fell to his knees, hacking and choking.
The king turned his attention to his only living equal.
"That is..." he murmured, "...unless your target elects...clemency."
Kaiba drew in a slow, steady breath. He removed himself from his small sibling's desperate embrace and rose to his feet. Amelda stared at him, unable to move. The king raised an eyebrow. The magic of the hexagram was stronger than anticipated. Amelda could breathe again already.
"Clemency," Kaiba spat, as if the word were a physical presence in his mouth, and he found it disgusting. He turned to glance at the gun across the room, then back to the target. The king waited. "I will have the answer to a question. What...has my brother...done to you?"
The target sneered. "Nothing."
"So you admit that. Abjectly fascinating. So then, hypocrite, I will know...why him?"
"You know precisely why him, Kaiba-shachou," the target snarled.
"You have a ridiculously inflated sense of your own importance," Kaiba shot back, "if you honestly think I know who in fucking hell you are. Answer...the goddamned...question."
"...Fine. You want to know who I am? I'll tell you. I'm a survivor. I'm a child soldier, I'm leftovers. I'm a victim of your father's god-cursed crusade! Your corporation made the weapons that destroyed my home!"
"My corporation made nothing of the kind," Kaiba said. "If your problem is with my predecessor, then I highly suggest you wait in line like everyone else. I should tell you not to pass the sins of the father to the son, but then you wouldn't listen, would you? No, you twice removed yourself from your own vengeance, didn't you?"
"You think I wanted to kill the boy. Tch. Typical."
"You damn well better have wanted to kill my brother!"
The venom in Kaiba's voice was palpable, a sentience of the darkest order. The expression on his face made Amelda's anger seem like that of a spoiled child in the middle of a tantrum. The king watched as realization dawned on his face.
The realization that he had made an enemy out of the wrong person.
"...What...did you just—"
"I said you damned well better have wanted to kill him!" Kaiba all but screamed. "If you dare try to turn yourself into a martyr over the murder of an innocent child, my innocent child, I swear by all that's holy I will rip you apart!"
Mokuba flinched away from his brother, scared of the murderous glint in his eyes. The king didn't much blame the boy; he had only recently escaped death, been pulled back from it, and here death was again, standing before him in slacks and a button-down shirt. Kaiba did not retrieve his weapon; he didn't need it. Kaiba was a weapon.
There were times when the king wondered if Kaiba's affection for his brother might not be just another mask, just another game. But then there were times like this, when every mask was torn down by that most primal of emotions, and the truth made itself all too obvious.
Fury like this could only be bred from hate. And hate like this could only be bred from love. Kaiba was quite literally wearing his heart on his sleeve, and it was seething.
The king approved.
The target did not cower. Amelda met Kaiba's challenge with his head held high. "You just don't ge—"
"Finish. That sentence. I fucking dare you."
"That's right! Keep deflecting! Keep ignoring the blood on your hands! How many of those weapons did you design? Hm? You want to tell me your father didn't bring his prized little heir into the family business? How many, Kaiba-shachou? How many of those goddamned death machines did you bring into the world?"
"Two," Kaiba replied flatly. The king raised an eyebrow. Mokuba looked like he wanted to be surprised. "So that is what this is about. Is my brother the only one called to the chopping block for that? Or is your idiotic zealotry at least consistent?"
"Your brother...is a part of this, whether you like it or not. Contrary to what you might believe, I don't want to kill the boy any more than you would."
"And I have every reason to believe you."
"You do have every reason to believe me. I do not lie." The target looked over at Mokuba, who scrambled backward as if expecting to die just from looking at him.. "Tell him. I did not want to do this to you. I still do not. You know the truth, Mokuba."
"Don't speak to him!" Kaiba commanded. "You have no right to speak to him, you have no right to look at him!"
"Say his name again and I'll rip out your tongue and hang you with it!"
The target smirked. "Such anger, Kaiba-shachou. Is it any wonder why people target your brother? You make it so pathetically obvious."
"Don't patronize me, you overgrown maggot. I don't—"
"Why...are you here, Amelda."
The king's voice, backed by the gods, cut Kaiba short.
Amelda glared. "You know why."
"I know everything. Do you know why you are here? Can you put words to it?"
Kaiba didn't bother to ask.
He simply crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow. He almost looked like his usual self; he almost looked like he was in a normal mood, casually irate and mutely disgusted. The rage was still there, but it was quiet now. Simmering.
The switch was so sudden that the target flinched.
The king heard Mokuba, breathing quickly, and glanced at him. The boy was trying to take up as little space as possible, curled in the fetal position and leaning against his brother's leg. Kaiba had instinctively stepped in front of him.
The king let out a resentful breath and said, "This is clearly the point at which you deliver the speech you have been planning ever since you started on this crusade. Tell us, peasant, who Miruko is."
"Miruko...was...my brother." The target seemed to have regained its composure, and some measure of confidence. "You're not the only one who would give his life to see his family again, Kaiba-shachou. Apparently you are the only one with the option, though."
The target glared at the king.
"This one," said the king, gesturing at Kaiba, "for what it is worth, has earned my favor. His brother, too, has earned my favor. You, and yours, have not. Nor are you making progress in changing that."
The target scoffed. "I don't care. It happened, that's all that matters. Somehow, some way, you brought Kaiba-shachou's beloved little mascot back, and that means there's hope for Miru."
The king raised an eyebrow. "Is that right? And how is it that you know that? What if my magic did not bring the young one back, but simply thwarted you? Am I correct in assuming that you left the boy to die, in order not to be caught? How can you be certain that my intervention did not occur then?"
The target barked a laugh, but it sounded forced. The king could see fear in the target's eyes. Uncertainty.
"I've heard enough of this," Kaiba spat.
"Oh, and you're so high and mighty?" the target demanded. "You have the right to look down on my decisions, is that right? And what did you do, as soon as your brother was taken from you? Huh? You went straight on the warpath, didn't you? Didn't you?"
Kaiba shook his head. "I sought out the one responsible for the crime."
"And I didn't? Aha, I see, so you didn't take part in your father's business, then?"
"Whatever blood was on my hands, I have paid for it. You still seem intent to ignore the fact that, even if I were directly responsible for however your brother died, you did not target me."
"Your father killed innocents. My brother had no part in that damned war, and yet he died."
"And your brother has my sympathy."
"Don't make me laugh. You don't have sympathy."
"It has never been my intention to make you laugh, and I hardly care about whatever conclusions you have to share in regard to my personality. I've heard enough. You've told me all that I need to know. You've told me more than I need to know."
"Well, isn't that fantastic?"
"Confident to the end. Commendable. Disgusting, but commendable. I'll be sure to put in a good word for you at your funeral."
"Confident. Right. Because you have every reason to be confident, right? Now that your pet magician is here to watch your—"
The target suddenly started to choke again, as the king turned his eyes away and gave the slightest of grimaces. "I agree with Kaiba," he murmured softly. "You have said enough, Amelda. Something you must understand: the only reason your heart is beating at all is to satisfy our collective curiosity as to your motivation."
"F-Fine! Then...kill...kill me!"
The king flipped a hand, and Kaiba's weapon flew into it. He eyed it critically. He knew little about firearms, just enough to know that they were entirely too complex for his tastes. Far too many chances for malfunction. For a weapon, meant for protection, it seemed entirely too counter-intuitive. However, it was simple enough to determine that Kaiba kept his personal...piece, he believed was the proper terminology, in prime condition. He glanced at Kaiba. "If you are certain that you have heard enough, then the deed is yours to complete. The gods will not deprive you of it."
"The gods," Kaiba muttered. "The same gods that let this waste of space kill my brother to begin with? How magnanimous of them."
The king shrugged. "If it eases your mind, recall that these same gods are currently protecting your brother. And you, for that matter. These same gods delivered the knowledge to me which is responsible for the fact that your brother is sitting behind you right now. I do not pretend to advocate their every decision. Truthfully, I think that your belief system has its merits. Many of them. However, that matters little. Take the task, if you will have it."
Kaiba locked eyes with the king for a long moment before finally taking the gun.
"Do you know why I own this?" Kaiba asked, and it seemed like a general question, not aimed at the king or Amelda, nor even Mokuba. The king obliged him, however, and shook his head. "To protect my brother. I trust in my own skills, my own body, more than enough to protect myself without it. But I trust nothing but the most efficient, the absolute best, option when the subject at hand is Mokuba. My own pride means nothing compared to his welfare."
The king offered the ghost of a smile.
"My pride," Kaiba continued, as he lifted the gun in his hand, "tells me that this man is far too pathetic. I would soil that pride, sully my own reputation, by falling to his level and using this gun to kill him."
The ghost gained a body as a grin spread on the king's face. "Is that so, Kaiba?"
"Oh, it is," Kaiba replied in a dark voice. "It certainly is. I have earned a reputation for being heartless, for being willing to kill. That willingness has always stopped me from needing to prove it. But the truth of the matter is that most of the people to whom I have extended that threat have been so disgusting that I likely would have refused to kill them even given the perfect circumstances."
Kaiba turned to the target. "My pride would refuse to bring about your death."
The target's eyes widened.
"Mokuba's welfare demands it."
The will of the gods was served. Amelda folded in upon himself as the room was filled with thunder.
"I find it rather unlikely that everyone on this estate would remain asleep through so many gunshots," Seto muttered as he and Yugi stepped into the ground floor parlor. "I suppose you had something to do with that."
Yugi shrugged. "What can I say? It seemed fitting that he should have no audience. After all, what was he looking for, if not attention? And what better way to prove his ultimate failure than by denying it to him?"
Seto frowned. "Hn."
"I'm surprised at you, Kaiba," Yugi said. "Leaving your brother alone after such a frightful night? Surely he wants his Niisama. Who are we to deprive him of that?"
Seto ran his right hand through his hair. "Given the choice, I assure you that I prefer Mokuba's company to yours, Mutou. However, before I can lay this matter to rest, I must know one thing, and that requires further interaction."
"Well, it must be important, then. What is this information you wish from me?"
Yugi stood in the center of the room, arms crossed over his chest. He looked rather gleeful, as if he had been expecting this exchange from the beginning, and was quite pleased that it had finally come to pass. If forced to guess, Seto would have said that the man already knew the question he was going to ask. Yugi Mutou always seemed to know the questions people were going to ask him.
It was a part of his favorite game of all.
Seto sighed, held his hands out, and said, "Why?"
Yugi chuckled. "Aha. Yes, the ultimate inquiry. Such power in a single word. It defines everything, doesn't it? It defines us. It defines our minds, it defines..." He made a gesture as if to encompass everything around him. As if to indicate the world itself.
"Yes..." Seto murmured, scowling.
Yugi cleared his throat. "Very well. I will tell you. I did not lie to our dear...guest. You have earned my favor, Kaiba, and dearest Mokuba has done the same. I doubt you find much pleasure or pride in the fact, but understand, it means a great deal to me, and especially to the gods I serve. For your...performance tonight, I owe you at least an honest answer."
Yugi's grin widened. "Oh, yes. You have done holy work tonight, Seto-chan."
Seto's face gave a violent spasm at the sound of the nickname. He said nothing.
"The answer is simple. The answer to everything is simple. The answer is...justice."
Seto raised an eyebrow. "Elaborate."
"Amelda was a disservice. Entirely, without question. You may wonder, Kaiba, as to the purpose of my existence. It is that: justice. I live now, several thousand years past my mortal lifetime, to serve justice. To serve Mayet, and to balance her scales."
"You expect me to believe that your motives were that simple."
"In all honesty, Kaiba, I have long since stopped expecting you to believe anything I say. It is a great deal of the reason why I've come to enjoy your company so much."
Seto smirked, and it felt natural for the first time in what felt like an eternity. "I have been under the impression for a long while now that you were smarter than you let on, Mutou."
"The same can be said of you, my friend."
Seto ignored that. "You mention only...Amelda." The sound of the man's name sent a shock of anger through his mind, and it brought the taste of blood to his mouth. He grimaced and turned his eyes away, seeking some kind of refuge in the shadows of the parlor. After only a few seconds, he turned his attention back to Yugi.
"I mention Amelda because my mission was Amelda. And you have assisted me in carrying out that mission. For that I commend you."
"Your...mission. So then, Mokuba...?"
Yugi shrugged. "A means to an end."
"You brought my brother back from the dead so that his killer would reveal himself?"
"More or less."
Seto blinked, stared, looked halfway between throwing a fist at the gambler and bursting out laughing. He tossed his head back and decided on a scoff of borderline disbelief. "The saddest part is, I believe you. I honestly fucking believe you."
Yugi turned toward the door. "You two may have my favor, Kaiba. I will never deny that. But you seriously overestimate that favor if you believe I would have brought back the youngling simply to help. The will of the gods is not so simply and superficially countermanded."
Seto hung his head low, hands on his hips, and looked up at his rival through his thick chestnut hair. Sighing heavily, he held out his right hand.
Yugi did not take the offered hand. He bowed deeply at the waist.
"You are most welcome."
He turned, and stepped toward the door.
"While we are on the subject, however..." Yugi said slowly, hauntingly. He turned his head to glance back at Seto. "...Do know this: the ritual that has given you back your reason to live cannot be used again. This is your final chance. So sharpen up."
Seto closed his eyes, and nodded.
"I expected that."
When he opened his eyes again, Yugi Mutou was gone.
"Is it...is it over?"
Mokuba Kaiba was a strong boy. He was brave, he was smart, he was resilient. In the ten years they had been together, Seto had only seen him look honestly vulnerable a handful of times. This was one of those times.
Considering the fact that he'd just seen his idol kill a man, it wasn't really a surprise.
Seto wanted to give him a comforting answer, but found as he considered the question that he couldn't. He drew in a deep breath and said, "...I don't think that it will ever be over, Mokuba." He glanced at his young sibling and gave a smirk. "But I'm prepared this time. We both are."
Surprisingly, Mokuba smiled. Some of the fear left his face. "...Yes, Niisama."
Seto sat down at the chair in the corner of the room, but this time he didn't lapse into a depressive trance. His eyes were bright. "That's my boy."
Mokuba sat on his brother's bed, legs pulled up against his chest. For some reason, he said, "You know...I think he was...telling the truth. I don't think...he wanted to do it."
Seto leaned his head back and looked up at the ceiling. "That doesn't excuse him. It makes his actions all the more disgusting. The only type of person I hate more than a man who wants to kill children is a man who doesn't, but kills them anyway."
"Maybe someone forced him to do it."
"You heard him, Mokuba. No one forced that maggot to do anything." Seto turned his eyes to his brother. "If you can find it in yourself to forgive him, Mokuba, then please, forgive him. I'll commend you, and I'll be proud of you for it. But don't force it."
"Okay." The boy's face fell. He looked up suddenly. "What are we going to do now? We can't tell people what happened to him, can we? We can't say you killed him. People might...they might..."
Seto shrugged. "It will be handled. Compared to neutralizing the threat in the first place, this part is hardly worth thinking about. What I'm going to do now is figure out if the threat has actually been neutralized. Yugi seems to think he wasn't working alone."
"You trust Yugi?" Mokuba asked, with an impish smile rising on his lips.
Seto looked over, saw the smile on his brother's face, and found the slightest smile of his own. A sort of peace fell over the elder Kaiba as he realized that the immediate threat was gone. His mission, the mission he had thought to be his last, was done. Complete. And regardless of the fact that Yugi Mutou had—yet again—been instrumental in its success, the final deed had been his own.
It had not been satisfying. In the deepest part of his mind, Seto admitted to himself that it had even been a fair bit frightening to finally carry it out, to end a life with a twitch of a finger. To be an executioner.
But it had been necessary.
And across the room from him, there was a little smile that reminded him why.
"I love you, Mokuba," Seto said suddenly. "I'm proud of you."
Mokuba's smile widened. His eyes were wet.
"You told me, Niisama. I love you, too. And...I'm proud of you, too."
"So? Guess it's done, then, huh?"
Yami wasn't all that surprised to hear Joey Wheeler's voice as he stepped into Yugi's bedroom. "Of course it's done. I would not be here, were it not. The gods smiled upon us, Joey. Mayet has been served. Her scales are balanced." His eyes gleamed. "The bone eater ate well tonight."
Joey grimaced. "You're fucked up."
Yami didn't answer.
He sat at Yugi's desk, cradled his head in a hand, and looked out the window into the night sky. A coin danced between the fingers of his other hand, and Joey didn't bother asking where it had come from. The blond was lying on Yugi's bed, arms crossed beneath his head as he stared up at the ceiling. He thought about the sacrifice he had made, and wondered how it could seem so far in the past already. How long would it be until he could forget it entirely? Until he wasn't haunted by it anymore?
He reminded himself: Mokuba was alive.
That's what mattered.
That's all that mattered. And every time he thought back on that hellish night, he just needed to think about Mokuba's face at that press conference he had watched with Serenity, about the tears running down the boy's face as his legions of fans cheered their heads off and threw flowers at his feet. Literally, flowers.
The boy wonder was back. He was loved, he was exalted, he was safe.
He was alive.
"So...when do I get to collect, huh?" Joey asked. "When do I get to tell Kaiba he owes me big time for this one?"
He'd meant it as a joke. He'd no more tell Kaiba what he'd given up for Mokuba than he'd tell Mokuba himself. Joey just wasn't that kind of guy. But all he same, when Yami looked at him, he felt his heart freeze in his chest.
The entire room may as well have been rimmed in frost, and the gambler king's eyes were an arctic hurricane.
"On the day you wish to die."
The man named Amelda was not a peasant, and he was not a target.
He was an instrument.
And as he opened his eyes again, so sure that everything had ended, he expected to see his king. He expected to owe his life to that king, yet again, and he expected that he would have to put his mission aside. There was no way to convince the Master to let him try again. Not this time. And he thought that he would call himself lucky to be alive.
He was a broken instrument. His only hope now was to be repaired on the Master's terms.
But when his vision cleared, and he could see again, he did not see the Master.
He saw a dark figure, swathed in rags.
He looked around, and saw a graveyard. But he could tell that it was no closer to a resting place for the dead than this figure in front of him was a king. It was like his every memory of what a graveyard should be had been given rise to reality around him. Everything was hazy, undefined, and he couldn't tell if anything was even real. He wondered if he was dreaming. Dared to hope.
The dark figure was moving forward. It did not seem to walk, but glide.
"Amelda," came a voice, a dark voice, and he felt his every muscle sing with horrendous pain at the sound of it. He crumpled to the ground, and watched with sudden terror as a hand extended itself from the rags and pulled them aside.
The last thing Amelda saw before descending into damnation was a single lock of shock-white hair, and a gleaming golden ring, hanging from a rotting cord.
"...It's time to dance."
I know what you're thinking. Amelda? Why the hell him? Heh. My reasoning for using an anime-only filler villain for this particular story was simply a way for me to write him. Not that I'm particularly fond of him as a character...that might be why he died. I count three Seto clones in the anime for Yu-Gi-Oh!: Rishid Ishtar, Amelda, and Siegfried von Schroeder. All of them share certain elements with Seto, most glaringly in the function of their having little brothers. The only one of those three that I find particularly interesting is Rishid, and I think it's no mistake that he's the one that shows up in the original story, where the other two don't.
Regardless of that, I thought Amelda made a good fit for this particular story, because let's face it...guy's kind of unhinged.
This story has proven to be a highly effective learning experience, and it's interesting to me to think back on the genesis of it.
It's always fascinating to take a general idea and see what two different writers will do with it. "Mokuba's death" is the general idea, in this case. What would two separate authors make of the notion? I'm sure there are a multitude of excellent examples that far outshine my efforts.
But the fun part of this project, for me, is to see what the same author will do with it, twice over, with only time distancing them. "Twist of Fate" was the first major story I ever finished, and published on this site. How interesting that this story become another finished work, the fourth unless my reckoning is off, published on the same site seven years later.
This has become the definitive version of my take. This is how I picture it. This was the story I wanted "Twist of Fate" to be.
Thank you all, yet again, for allowing me to take time out of your lives to show you the workings of my imagination. It means the world to me.
See you on the next journey.