This story's first section moves slowly. I know that. I apologize, but assure you that it will pick up. I'm taking particular care with this one, specifically because it's a delicate enterprise. I'm on a tightrope walk here.

You'll see why as things progress.

I get the feeling that this entire first section is my attempts to figure out the Kaibas' characterizations. Basing everything solely on the manga, which contains our favorite brothers' darkest moments, is interesting, to say the absolute least.


The closest people came to uncovering the entire enterprise was when Kaiba Seto fired his entire marketing team, and more than a few members of his KC-North development team; the rest of his employees might have been more motivated to ask questions, if not for two things: one, he didn't bring new people in to fill the now-vacant positions, but offered hefty pay raises to those employees he still had. Two, it was hardly out of character for the president of the Kaiba Corporation to randomly fire people.

What was out of character, oddly enough, was just how furiously he'd made these cuts to the payroll. It was, in every sense but literal, a bloodletting.

Tsukuda Isono was one of the few people who knew why he'd done it; as Kaiba-shachou's majordomo, Isono was the only member of staff who held positions both at the Kaiba Corporation and the Kaiba Estate, and thus had reason to know what actions outside of work influenced his employer's decisions inside it.

Kaiba swept into the lounge on the third floor that morning, and immediately set about firing a kettle of water; he had given up coffee. Those few workers who were seated on the couches nearby immediately shot to their feet, as though they'd been caught in the middle of some clandestine tryst, but Kaiba said nothing to any of them. He didn't look at them. His vision was wholly inward.

As the young, urban warlord tossed a bag of black tea into a nondescript, cream-colored mug, Isono approached. "Good morning, sir," he said. Kaiba grunted. "How is the young master this morning?"

Isono asked this entirely without preamble. Kaiba did not answer until the kettle started to boil; he drained the water into his mug and set the tea aside to steep on a nearby counter before turning to face his assistant.

"He disapproves of your tie." The man's tone was sardonic, but deadpan; perhaps that was why Isono had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing. It never did any good to laugh at a Kaiba with that look in his eyes, but that didn't stop the whole thing from being funny. Neither Kaiba nor Mokuba seemed to understand that they had a sense of humor, much less the same sense of humor.

Isono cleared his throat.

"On what grounds does he disapprove of it?" he asked; he rather liked the black-and-grey checkerboard design currently set against his red shirt. It was a frivolous question, but then Kaiba had given a frivolous answer.

Kaiba shrugged. "He claims it is stupid, and that it irritates him."

"I would hope that there are things on the young master's mind that would irritate him far more than my fashion sense," Isono said, his real question clearly resonating in his dark eyes. He did not expect a response to this line of questioning that he would like in any fashion whatsoever, but unlike a great number of his fellow employees Isono did not fear reprimand or retribution; he understood that Kaiba-shachou rather prized people who annoyed him—they kept him sharp, kept him from slipping into complacent habit. That Isono would countermand, even on trivial discussions such as these, was one reason he was the only worker at the Kaiba Corporation to have also worked for its predecessor, Kaiba Gozaburo.

The last bloodletting to have taken place here.

There was only one other man who could claim that honor, and that one other man was gone now. Vanished. Where he was, nobody ever dared to ask. Whenever Cecil Normack's name came up these days, both Kaibas reacted . . .