Book II | "Beautiful"

Battle City Arc

Part I

Seto Kaiba: 19 years old

Kisara Pegasus: 17 years old

Kisara stretched, looking out her castle window as the setting sun colored the clouds first in reds and yellows and then in deep purples, blues and violets. The heat of the day would be giving way to evening's cool right about now. It was the perfect time for a run. She began fumbling around for her sports bra. There was no hitch in her movements, no hesitation in her stretches. As she yanked the bra on, her fingers subconsciously trailed over what had, one year before, been a sash of raw and blistering flesh. From left hip, to right shoulder. But the swelling had long since subdued. The welt had faded into the same pale tone as the rest of her skin, blue veins still snaking just underneath the surface, congregating above her heart.

There was, however, one difference. The texture of the mark had altered. It no longer felt like flesh when Kisara ran her fingers over it, as she now did, absentmindedly thinking on the time that kisses, not fingertips, had pressed there. Rather, the flesh was harder, smoother. In a certain half-light, when Kisara caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror in her room, she could almost have sworn that it glinted blue–

–like scales on some mythical beast.

With the cry of a bird from outside, Kisara was jolted out of her thoughts. She shuffled around, pulling on a pair of shorts, a tank-top, and a pair of keds. She grabbed her cassette player and bulky headphones, and was out the door.

Kaiba drummed away at his computer keys, his eyes fixed on the endless stream of emails and charts that never seemed to relent. The sun was setting slowly over his shoulder in his office at the Kaiba Mansion, and he had worked through the day without turning to take in its warmth. Mokuba lounged on the couch that Kaiba had procured just for his little brother. No one else was invited to sit in Kaiba's presence in his office. The couch, the television mounted on the wall, and the minifridge that Kaiba never touched himself but was stocked full of all Mokuba's favorite snacks – as well as a few insisted on greens – kept his little brother satisfied.

Since the events of the year before, Kaiba had abandoned the locked office doors and isolationism with which he had inadvertently come to keep his little brother out, along with the undesirable rabble. The rabble he still kept out. Emphatically. But since the events of Duelist Kingdom… It had been an unspoken shift. The addition of the couch. The fridge that was always stocked. Mokuba's unannounced entrances into Kaiba's office, where he would now spend much of his day in leu of his previous habit of rattling around the empty mansion by himself while Kaiba worked. The way Mokuba would simply enter the previously forbidden office and plop himself onto the new couch. Kaiba's lack of acknowledgment or greeting, with the exception of a head nod, before returning to his work.

Seto Kaiba could not say the exact moment in which he and his brother had mutually agreed that they needed the consistent and continual validation from each that the other was alright. The need to share a space, even in silence. Even when it meant that Kaiba's usually silent office was now always filled with the low hum of cartoons. Even if all Mokuba heard the entire day was Kaiba answering calls and uttering cutting orders over the speaker.

The Kaiba brothers needed the know they had each other. Neither put a name to it. Neither would ever admit to it as trauma.

It was for this reason that the television was even switched onto a channel that broadcasted the Egyptian curator's announcement about the new exhibit at the Domino Museum. It was Kaiba's own fault. He'd told Mokuba that, while Gargoyles seemed to be a perfectly decent cartoon, he drew the line at Powerpuff Girls (because he just knew Mokuba was only even watching it to see if he could flip it onto max volume when a particularly crucial phone call came in). Better luck next time, kid, Kaiba thought smugly, as Mokuba flipped through to rest on the History Channel.

As so often happened, Kaiba seemed to once again be his own worst enemy.

"In today's news, at Domino Museum, Ishizu Ishtar of the Egyptian Historical Society announced the opening of her highly anticipated Egyptian exhibit."

"Game fans are especially invited," came the melodious thrum of a woman's voice through the television. Accented, but entirely fluent. In years to come, when he knew both so much more and not enough, Kaiba would look back at that moment and wonder if he recognized that voice, even then. Did her words raise the hair on the back of his neck? Was there an echo of howling winds in his ear? Did he feel sand, so much finer than anywhere else on earth that it might have been dust, underneath his fingertips as he flew them across the keyboard?

Probably not. He was, and had always been, a man of the here and now. In any age, in any time, he lived to seize the opportunities that dangled before him and never hesitate. Never hesitate… A pair of blue eyes lidded in white lashes flashed before him. He blinked.

The woman on the television was still speaking. "This world premier showcases newly discovered and never before see artifacts chronicling the history of Egyptian games." Kaiba shook his head to mute out the background noise. It was easy enough to do when it was Hey Arnold. The voice continued. "In ancient times, games were not played just for fun as they are today. Everyone from princes to peasants waged dueling games against each other for land, wealth, but especially for power. These games were epic battles. I've unearthed relics that may confirm the great pharaoh himself may have competed in a game against a force that threatened to destroy the entire world! …Of course, this is still speculation and further studying needs to be done…"

Princes… peasants… power… Kaiba shook his head again, the words bleeding in through the work on his computer.

Mokuba sat at the edge of the couch, practically falling into the empty space between television and seat, riveted. He turned to his big brother. "We have to check out the exhibit, Seto! It sounds awesome!" Only Mokuba could tell Kaiba what he had to do.

Kaiba's mouth twitched. "I'm running a company, Mokuba. I don't have time for mummies and pharaohs…" He aimed to sound both casual and dismissive.

"Oh," Mokuba sounded genuinely surprised. "I thought you'd be into this kind of thing." He returned his attention to the television with a shrug. "Whatever," he said, with all of the nonchalance of a boy who no longer had to chase his big brother for attention and who was comfortable in the room as it was.

Before Kaiba could, however, return to the same state of comfort and properly refocus on his graphs, the telephone rang. He picked up without hesitation. Without tearing his eyes away from his screen. "Kaiba."

"This is Ishizu Ishtar." Now? Was it now? Now, when the voice forced itself from the background noise to clamor for his full attention? A breath against his ear. Was this the moment he sensed the subtlest trace of familiarity? Like fog clinging to the early dawn over a distant, slow river… "You should really pay closer attention to my press conference."

Kaiba furrowed his brow, the woman's words for the first time dragging his full attention, a sense of foreboding settling on him. Life a fog. "How'd you know I was watching?" His eyes once again made the habitual scan of the room for bugs. Since the attempted takeover by Pegasus… Kaiba had been paranoid in the extreme about security. His eyes went to Mokuba, still lounging on the couch. Engrossed in the interview. Kaiba followed his gaze to the screen, for the first time taking in the woman on the television.

She was strikingly beautiful. Her dark olive complexion made her green eyes almost startling. There was a dignity to her, her head held high. Kaiba recognized it. The mark of a person who knew their own worth. She wore a simple white kaftan with a black hem design. What she lacked in richness of attire she more than made of for in adornment. Her long black hair was pulled back with an assortment of what seemed to be golden ornaments, with a green gem resting at the center of her forehead on a coronet.

What caught Kaiba's attention, however, and from the sharp intake of breath he heard had caught Mokuba's as well, was the necklace that Ishizu Ishtar wore around her long neck. An eye. A golden eye. He had seen that eye before… had seen it emblazoned on the puzzle Yugi Mutou wore around his neck. Had seen it again embedded in the face of Maximillian Pegasus, one year ago.

A Millennium Eye.

The Ishizu Ishtar on the screen seemed to find Kaiba with her gaze, though that was impossible. This was, after all, a prerecorded interview, as the voice on the telephone confirmed. Still, Kaiba could not look away as the barest hint of a smile curled the corners of the curator's lips. "I'm personally inviting Seto Kaiba to this evening's private exhibition. I promise what he will witness will change his life forever."

The golden eye caught the light of flashing news cameras.

Kisara launched herself off one bolder and onto another, and then back onto the sand. She felt her torso twist beneath her and her muscles ache in satisfaction. It had been a year since she set aside her cane, and she still reveled in the freedom of movement her body allotted her.

Her headphones sat securely on her head, blaring music in her ears from this year's release of Backstreet Boys' Everybody (Backstreet's Back). It had just come out and Kisara had been listening to the album on repeat.

EVERYBODY

ROCK YOUR BODY

Kisara launched forward along the beach, her feet digging divots in the sand, which slowed her down and caused her calf muscles to scream. She could have laughed. She veered from the beach and onto the forest path, each step placing her on firmer ground. Each step launched her further and faster forward. Her white hair whipped out behind her.

EVERYBODY

ROCK YOUR BODY

Kisara had always been a great runner. Not a duelist. Not a fighter. But she could outrun near anyone. When all else failed her, her legs had always been there to carry her away. Before her accident she had been one of the top fastest runners in her age group in the United States of America. Now, after a year of fighting her way back from her injury, she was one of the top three.

BACKSTREET'S BACK

ALRIGHT!

The sun had set. Hours had passed. Mokuba had begged him not to go. Kaiba had done his best to quell the rising panic in the office between them before he stepped out the front door of their mansion. The scene was too uncanny. Too similar to that day… over a year ago… after Kaiba had lost to Yugi… after he had been left nie-comatose… and had fled… leaving Mokuba alone.

"Seto, don't go!"

But he had to. He could not explain why. Something pulled on him. So Kaiba did what he had promised himself he would never do again. He left Mokuba alone when his little brother asked him not to. Now, sitting in the backseat of his limousine, his guilt and the nerves that had plagued him for the last year since Duelist Kingdom began to be overridden with an older, hungrier feeling. A curiosity that was Kaiba to his core. This was a new game.

Kaiba never could resist a game.

The limousine slid in front of the Domino Museum entrance. The driver opened Kaiba's door. Kaiba eased out of the car and craned his neck to look up at the neoclassical architecture, ionic columns and marble facing. "Keep the engine running," he said coolly. "I won't be long."

"Yes sir."

Kaiba rose along the steps to the museum. The automatic doors opened for him. He was in the lobby, empty save for Ishizu Ishtar herself, and two bearded Egyptian men in turbans, black suits and ties, who seemed to be acting as both private security to the curator and museum night shift.

But no visitors. No tour.

"Thank you for coming, Seto Kaiba," Ishizu Ishtar said as Kaiba crossed the distance between them, large pharaonic scenes already on display on either side of them in the entrance, clearly already prepared for the opening of the exhibit. Kaiba's eyes trailed up and down his hostess, taking stock. The confidence he had perceived from her interview was tenfold in person. She stood with her back straight and yet relaxed, as though regality was her natural default. The green stone, which Kaiba now suspected to be an emerald, rested on her forehead and complemented her cool green eyes perfectly, without flaw. She was a beautiful woman, and much more his usual type than–

"Where are the other guests?" he asked, cutting through the small talk, his paranoia still on high alert.

Ishizu Ishtar raised an eyebrow. "I said this was a private exhibition. You were the only one invited because it makes conducting business so much easier," she answered smoothly. Normally Kaiba would almost have appreciated the tactical move. He was not one to dismiss a clever woman who took pains to get him alone. However…

A prickling at Kaiba's back. Two more men of Ishizu's staff, now on either side of the automatic doors which, considering their proximity, should have been opening at the moment. "We've locked all the entrances," one announced. "No one's allowed in or out," the other confirmed.

This was not Kaiba's idea of a clandestine meeting. His hands tightened into fists. Really, this old hand? "It's only been a minute, but I'm already bored," he said, allowing his voice to convey how dull he found all this entrapment. "If you don't tell me what this is all about," he turned on his heels with a single fluid movement, "I'm leaving now." He did not fear this woman. He did not fear showing her his back. After what he had seen, Kaiba might very well have had ice for veins. But he had no intention of indulging nonsense.

Ishizu Ishtar nodded, seemingly understanding his unspoken drift. "Excuse us. We've faced a string of thefts and we have to be careful." Again, she fixed that green-eyed gaze on him. "You may leave any time you wish, Seto Kaiba. However, I believe it's in your best interest to see all that we have to offer."

Enjoying the power play and the attempt at appeasement, Kaiba was placated. For the moment. The game had begun. "Really now?" he said, half turning back to face his hostess. "Hmm… And how do you know what's best for me?" It had merely been meant as a sparring challenge to a beautiful woman… and yet…

Did the silence sit a moment too long between them? Did a ripple of something ancient stir when Seto Kaiba of Japan asked Ishizu Ishtar of Egypt this question, thousands of years and miles removed from the ancestral home of the artifacts that now surrounded them?

…How do you know what's best for me…

Never breaking eye contact, Ishizu Ishtar swept one of her voluminous sleeves behind her as she gestured deeper into the half-lit museum. "Please," she said quietly, "come with me."

The guards fell away as Kaiba followed, his feet lifting of their own accord to trail behind this stranger down a pathway he had never tread before. They were alone now, with the past closing in tightly in the darkened halls.

"Kaiba," Ishizu said after a few moments of silence, their footsteps echoing along the tiled floor, "do you believe in destiny?" She asked the question as they passed a black granite statue of Pharaoh Seti II, according to his plaque, wearing his ceremonial beard and looking blankly back at Seto as the latter passed.

Kaiba's nostrils flared at the question. A cascading mane of white hair falling into his face as he looked up, flashed before his eyes. "Does it matter?" he shot back without giving an answer.

Ishizu Ishtar's head twitched back toward him and Kaiba could have sworn… from looking at the back of her head… she was smiling. "Ancient Egyptians thought that the true path of one's life was predetermined," was all she answered in leu of explanation as she led him past wooden and glass cabinets with alabaster jars in the shape of animal heads, "because history repeats itself, through the ages, in a never ending circle." They walked past mummies wrapped in bandaging and sarcophagi laid out in golden splendor, shrouded in the shadows of the museum's closing hour and the red of the EXIT signs. Ishizu continued. "They would say it was not your choice to come here, for it was destined that the two of us would meet."

That was a step to far. Kaiba did not know what it was exactly. A knee jerk reaction, perhaps, to the memory of the pull that had brought him here, despite Mokuba's pleas. Or the memory of those blue eyes that never let him rest at night. Whatever it was, Ishizu Ishtar said gave Kaiba the violent need to refute her. He stopped short. He was as willing to play along with an intriguing and seemingly intelligent woman as the next man, but after all, they had never even met before.

"Look, all that nonsense may interest you," he snapped, cutting through the lull of her tour, "but I didn't come here for Egyptian History 101." He straightened a little. "I came here because you said it would be worth my while. But it looks like you've wasted my time." Kaiba suddenly had the deepest urge to be as far from this place as possible. As far as possible from this half-lit wing with these old relics that meant nothing to him – so why did they fill him with such foreboding? As far away as possible from this woman, whom he had never before seen and did not know. "If there's a point to all this, lets get to it already. I have a company to run."

Through his entire outburst, Ishizu Ishtar merely stared back at him, unblinking, turquoise eyes fixed. "Hm."

Kaiba forged ahead. "You said you had an exclusive offer for me." He recalled their conversation over the telephone earlier that evening, that voice in his ear for the first time, so strange to his senses and yet… not.

"I know of your passion for Duel Monsters. Are you interested in owning a card stronger than Exodia?" Those has been her words. That had been the lure with which she had hooked him, despite his brother's pleas that he desist. It had nothing to do with the sense of uncanny familiarity that now irritated at the back of his mind. It had been the promise of a power stronger than Exodia.

Now he stared down this Egyptian curator, demanding that she make good on her claims. "I know everything about Duel Monsters," he continued. "And nothing can stop Exodia. So quit the charade and tell me what's going on."

Ishizu Ishtar seemed unfazed by the outburst. Again, see seemed almost to be enjoying herself. As though she had seen Kaiba lose his temper a thousand times. As though she knew exactly how to handle him. Ridiculous. "All in good time, Kaiba." He had not misjudged her confidence. It was not anyone who could remain calm under his scrutiny. She continued. "Duel Monsters is based upon a 3,000 year old game. It was played by Ancient Egyptians for power and was extremely dangerous." Her eyes remained locked on his.

He resisted the urge to fall into her words. Into this story she was crafting. He narrowed his eyes against her gaze. "Who cares?" he pushed back.

"Maximillian Pegasus did," she parried just as ruthlessly. Kaiba felt every nerve in him tense at the name. But Ishizu Ishtar forged ahead. "He fell in love with the game and decided to reinvent it for modern times." That cruel face, sneering at him from across the duel arena, flashed before Kaiba's eyes. His daughter buckled over in pain. Too far away for Kaiba to do anything about it. Out of reach, across the distance.

"What's your point?" he snapped.

"I'm getting to it," his guide answered smoothly. "Unbeknownst to most duelists, Pegasus created a series of all-powerful cards that were never released to the public. It's no surprise that he kept the strongest monsters for himself."

That shadows seemed to shift around them.

"Hm." Kaiba said nothing. He remembered Pegasus's Toon World. He could not deny it made sense. He would have done the same.

Ishizu Ishtar smiled knowingly. She knew she had him. Now it was she who turned her back on him and, with a backward toss of that shining black hair, she said, "Follow me, Kaiba, and I'll reveal the reason I called you here today."

Kaiba hesitated for only a moment. She certainly cut a sculptural figure as she walked away. He almost felt as though the antiquity around him murmured in the darkness, waiting to see what he would do. Again, he followed Ishizu Ishtar further into the museum.

Kisara jumped over a fallen tree, enjoying using the vast and varied terrane of the island as her natural obstacle court. Soon it would be full dark, and she would go back into the castle and check on her father. Her father… so much had happened a year ago and so little had happened in the twelve months since. She had fallen into a comfortable rhythm, music strumming in her ear.

WHAT ABOUT YOUR

YOUR 10,000 PROMISES?

Kisara had made a choice, a year ago, when she had seen the state of her father after the conclusion of the Duelist Kingdom Tournament. She had made a choice to stay with him and to help him back to health, both physical and mental. It had not been an easy choice. It still was not easy. Not after everything that happened between them. Kisara had been made to feel afraid in her own home, and that was not something that could be forgotten. But then… neither could the months that had happened since. The thousand little ways in which her father tried to make amends. The thousand little ways in which he knew he could not and did not ask for forgiveness. Only for one more day with Kisara. Just one more day, before he was certain she would find it all too hard and would leave him for good. Kisara could not lie… She could not assuage those fears. Sometimes… sometimes the temptation was almost too great. To run. To run further than she had ever run before. Get in a helicopter. Leave. Go to mainland California. Or better yet… Japan.

THAT YOU GAVE TO ME

YOUR 10,000 PROMISES

But Kisara had fought for what she loved in Duelist Kingdom. She would not stop now. Not when her father was making genuine progress. Not even if sometimes… it was very, very, very hard. In those moments… Kisara would sometimes allow her mind to wander… to Japan. To Seto Kaiba.

She did not feel the insecurity she had felt two years ago after the Intercontinental Duel Monster's Tournament. Nor before the events of Duelist Kingdom. She knew that what she had once taken for his indifference was actually denial. Denial that she would have been foolish to think had completely dissipated merely because of what had passed between them in the dungeons of her father's castle. She also knew that sometimes, as frustrating as it was, time was the only aid. Time… of which they had already wasted so much.

THAT YOU PROMISED ME

They had both suffered so much the previous year. Time was needed. Time had passed. And Kisara did not allow herself to linger on Kaiba long, even now. But Kisara's thoughts were faster than even her feet.

Seto Kaiba and Ishizu Ishtar went through a pair of maintenance doors and left behind the marble halls and carefully displayed Egyptian finery laid out for the tourists of the following day. Rather, as Kaiba descended a set of concrete steps, past a Personnel Only placard, he found his curiosity piquing despite himself. The smell of dust lingered in the air.

"I've secured the most precious artifacts here," she explained as they descended into the basement of the Domino Museum. "We've recovered stone carvings that depict the earliest known game played in Egypt." She did not turn back to look at him, but her voice was almost indulgent. "I'm sure you'll find it most familiar." Finally, she turned. The look at her face of was unreadable. She stood in the doorway to this final storeroom. "Kaiba, behold the origin of Duel Monsters."

Kaiba walked forward into the dark room, his eyes searching. Before him he could just make out a great sheet of sandstone mounted on the wall, protected by glass. The lights came on. He was flooded with the images chiseled into the stone. His eyes dilated.

"It can't be." His eyes leapt over the surface of the sandstone, "These carvings look like Duel Monsters cards." The weight of what he was seeing, and of what Ishizu Ishtar had said to him, settled on his shoulders. The battles for power. For prestige. "Then that means… your story is true…"

Despite himself, Kaiba's mind shifted back to the Blue-Eyes White Dragon card that he treasured so dearly, and to the impossible revelation he'd had during his duel with Maximillian Pegasus – that the young woman who lived on Duelist Kingdom island was somehow linked to the card, and that all harm that Kaiba inflicted personally on the card… he had also inflicted on her.

Kisara Pegasus.

Her bare chest in the darkness of the dungeons. Her cool flesh beneath his fingers. The ribs he could feel as he splayed out his hands to steady her. The heat of her injured skin at his mouth…

"I see you've come to your senses." Kaiba almost jumped out of his skin when Ishizu spoke. She had stepped to stand directly behind him. He had been too lost in thought – lost in the carvings – to notice. "Furthermore," Ishizu continued, seemingly not noticing or at least no remarking on Kaiba's reverie, "there's a theory that in ancient times, these monsters were real. And born from human hearts. What the Egyptians would have called… a ka." Or perhaps she had guessed all to perfectly, somehow, where Kaiba's mind had gone.

The taste of real warm lips hovering over his ghosted across his mouth. He swallowed.

Ishizu Ishtar pressed on. "Egyptian priests and mages summoned monsters to earth to do their bidding."

Kaiba's eyes continued to scan across the stone tablet as he took in the images of Duel Monsters wreaking havoc across crops and peoples. "Priests and mages?" he asked distractedly. "Why, was there a difference?" Not that he really cared. So why did he ask?

"Oh, and how." Ishizu said darkly. "The former were disciples of the Pharaoh, and meant to be entrusted with the seven Millennium Items, whereas the latter…" For a moment her voice trailed away. "But they soon realized," she picked up again, "that the monsters could not be controlled."

Kaiba's lips almost twitched at the memory of that dueling arena of one year ago, as he leaned across the expanse between himself and the balcony, begging her to forgive him. To stand down. He remembered that defiant, calm smile of hers, even as she could not help the spasms of pain that went through her or the blood that dribbled from her corner of her mouth, stark against her pale skin. Could not be controlled indeed.

"They destroyed countless villages and brought earth to the bring of destruction."

Kaiba arched an eyebrow. But not her… his mind wandered. She was a protector. Her power came out only to protect what she cared for. He did not know where that thought came from – a dungeon flashed before his minds eye for a moment, but one far more ancient than that of Pegasus's castle. The image, just as suddenly as it had appeared, was once again intangible. Like the familiarity with which Ishizu addressed him.

"Though the monsters could not be destroyed completely, the Egyptians learned to seal them away in stone tablets. This brought peace to the world."

Kaiba narrowed his eyes. He did not know why… but those little pictographs of stone tablets, with the etchings of monsters incased within them… like tombstones… For some reason the image unsettled him in the extreme. These tablets were not merely the source of salvation that Ishizu was describing. Something… something just under the surface of his memory… A scream. A creature clawing for freedom, even as it was pulled into solid stone. A figure falling into his arms, so much colder than the memory he had of her from one year ago…

Kaiba blinked. What was he thinking?

"Over time," Ishizu was still explaining, "the priests and mages learned how to control the monsters and release them from the tablets."

Again, Kaiba had a memory of Pegasus brandishing the Blue-Eyes White Dragon card across the expanse of the duel arena.

"With their army of powerful monsters, the sorcerers were confidant that no one could stand in their way. They betrayed the pharaoh and his priests and waged an all our war against him." Kaiba hardly heard her footsteps as she left his side and went to stand before another stone tablet, to the left of the one in front of which he was now rooted. He had not even noticed the second, so absorbed was he with the first. Ishizu continued. "This is the one you must look at," she said simply.

"Hm?" he tore his gaze away from the rows of little tablet tombstones that Ishizu had insisted were a salvation and which filled him with dread. He blinked at his guide.

"This carving is the reason I've called you here tonight," she explained. The reason she had called him… The purpose for all the strangeness of the evening. Kaiba turned and walked toward her, before directing his gaze onto the second stone slab, mounted behind glass like its peer. As he approached, Ishizu continued. "It depicts one of the main conflicts in the war, when the mages took power. This is between the pharaoh and his greatest opponent. And friend." Kaiba came to a stop by her side. "Closely examine this artifact," she said, her gaze not wavering from the slab. "After this moment, Kaiba, your life will never be the same."

Kaiba raised an eyebrow at the gravitas of the statement, before following her gaze. It took him only a moment before an involuntary intake of breath shot out of him, his eyes going wide. "That's the pharaoh?" he said, eyes locked on a ba-relief depiction of a man with a singular and unmistakable mop of hair. "But… that's Yugi!" His eyes trailed up, not quite believing what he was seeing. "And the monster carved above him… is the Dark Magician!"

Did Kaiba imagine the little, quiet sigh of pain that rattled from Ishizu Ishtar at the mention of the Dark Magician? If so, she overrode it quickly.

"On the left is the sorcerer fighting against him." Kaiba followed her words with his eyes and fixed on the all too familiar figure. "That's you, Kaiba," she said, though he already recognized the reflection staring back at him through time. "If you still have any doubt, look at his monster. It's the Blue-Eyes White Dragon." Kaiba's eyes snapped to look above the figure.

It took all of Kaiba's self-control to not take a step back at the sight of her, stretched out above the image of the priest like a guardian spirit, her grace and might in no way eroded or diminished in the 3,000 years since this table's creation. For a moment… Did Kaiba imagine it… For a moment there was almost a sense of intimacy in the basement of the Domino Museum… As Ishizu Ishtar surveyed the carving of the Dark Magician, and Seto Kaiba that of the Blue-Eyes… both people… looking though time… to creatures they could not touch.

Perhaps that was the kinship Kaiba had sensed to the Egyptian woman at his side. Perhaps…

She was speaking again. "The hieroglyphs read that the mages brought a High Priest of the Pharaoh's inner entourage to their side. At the height of a coup against the throne, the High Priest stood as a figure shrouded in mystery, his loyalties uncertain, with the exception of those to his dragon." Kaiba said nothing, his mouth dry. Ishtar continued. "The pharaoh accepted the challenge of the priest who had fallen to the mages, and their epic battle began. Both opponents unleashed their most powerful monsters against each other. Today, 3,000 years later, this ancient battle is being played out once again." Her words reverberated around them. "Do you see? Now do you believe in destiny, Kaiba?"

There was something of a thrill that went through Kaiba at the sight of her. Of the dragon, just over his shoulder. Through all of time, in every age, she had been his.

And he had been hers.

With a ruthless twitch, he suppressed the thought. He clenched his fists and straightened. "This can't be real. There's no way. This piece of rock has got to be a fake." He kept his eyes firmly glued on the figure that looked far too much like the modern Yugi Mutou to possibly be an Egyptian pharaoh, and did not allow his gaze to wander back to the dragon hovering above the shoulder of the other man. Some idiot priest, so weak minded as to fall prey to someone else's leadership. Someone else's coup. To betray his own people. It didn't sound like him.

It wasn't good business, for a start. Kaiba was ruthless, but not imbecilic.

Ishizu turned to him, resolute. Unshaken. "If you won't trust my words, then you must look back in time and experience a part of the battle firsthand. Which I can help you do with my Millennium Necklace."

The moment that Kaiba had dreaded sprung upon him. The golden eye that hung from Ishizu Ishtar's necklace glowed. The last time an eye like that had glowed before Kaiba, he had felt his soul peeled from his very flesh, and when next he had awoken, he was in a dungeon cell of Maximillian Pegasus's castle. Only, there was no Kisara now with keys and gentle caresses to come to his aid.

Kaiba shrank back from Ishizu Ishtar, the memory of the duel arena cutting through him like a knife. Ishizu Ishtar raised her hands to either side of her necklace. The light increased. "Now," she said, almost in a chant, "open your mind, and see into the past!" The light became blinding. Kaiba threw up an arm to shield his eyes, but he was engulfed in the searing light.

"And while your soul is away, your body will be employed as my obedient servant." Pegasus lifted the two versions of The Soul's Prison card before him, each with a Kaiba brother emblazoned on the surface. "Take away that empty shell," he ordered casually without even looking across the field at what had once been Seto Kaiba. "Teach it to wash dishes or something." He added, casually and dismissively. Then, he finally looked to Kisara, who watched the scene unfold in mounting horror. "What do you say, Angel-face?" Pegasus turned his attention to his daughter as the two men came down the ramp, took Kaiba underneath the arms, and hauled him away. As they dragged his limp body, his feet scraped the floor. "Perhaps you need a new manservant to do your laundry? I would happily gift him to you. After all, never let it be said I wasn't a loving father."

Even months later… how those words haunted her…

The scene shifted from the dueling arena, to the entrance hall. …Months later… Seto was dressed in a butler's uniform, his beautiful blue eyes hollow, offering Kisara her coat, her father cooing over what a good dish-boy he was.

"Seto," Kisara took his face in her hands, staring up at him, her every nerve on fire with terror. "Seto, please! You must hear me!" This wasn't right… She knew this wasn't right. This wasn't how it happened. Seto was alright. She knew he was alright. And he had made her alright. She remembered those hands, holding her so gently. Those lips against her neck, between the valley of her breasts…

Those vacant eyes stared back at her. She needed to snap him out of it. She had to! Kisara surged onto tip toe and pulled Seto's face near, catching his lips in a kiss. His lips moved and his arms wrapped around her and for a moment Kisara's heart leapt. He was alright. He was back. She pulled away to smile at him and the laughter of relief caught of her throat. His eyes were still blank. Instead, the laughter that filled the air was that of her father.

She turned, still held in Seto's arms, still holding his face protectively in her hands, to see her father. There he was, in all his cruel glory, that Millennium Eye shining from his face. No… this wasn't right either. The Eye was gone. Her father was recovering but not yet well. He was penitent. He was–

"Oh, but I KNEW you wouldn't be able to resist him for too long," Pegasus jeered. "But I am disappointed in you, dish-boy. I thought I'd instructed you on what to do far better than that. Give it another go, and make sure it's extra saucy this time. After all, my daughter deserves nothing but the best of servicing."

Seto's arms tightening around Kisara, locking her into place. She looked up in horror at his still glassy eyes closed and his lips parted in a perfunctory action over which he had no control, his soul gone, his body a shell, and Maximillian Pegasus the puppeteer who held both their strings.

Kisara jerked her face away with a scream– and thrashed awake.

For a moment, she was disoriented. She was gasping for air. The cool night air filled her lungs. She looked about herself wildly. She had taken a rest from her evening jog and had fallen asleep against the roots of a mossy tree. The forest smelled fresh and alive around her. Kisara let out a dry sob, her pale fingers digging into the velvety moss, rooting it up, squeezing it, and thrashing it across the forest floor.

She was safe. This was her island. There were no duelists here anymore. No eliminators prowling the woods. There was no Millennium Eye. Her father just left his bed for the first time last month… had even managed a walk along the parapets. He was using Kisara's old cane to regain his strength.

Still… the trauma lingered…

Kisara curled into a ball, clutching at her knees, taking deep breaths. Whenever she felt overwhelmed by the sensation of falling through the trap door and being encased in the waters of the Pacific Ocean surrounding the island, she thought of Mako Tsunami… of the rain pattering melodiously on his tent walls. When thoughts of her father and what he had become last year took over… she tried to remember Funny Bunny and the happy memories that came with it, before Toon World… When she fell into the trap of a world in which Seto Kaiba had not been saved… Kisara raised trembling fingers to her lips and recalled the way he had held her, her bare back resting against his chest, her injuries healing with each passing moment, each touch, his coat wrapped around them both against the chill of the dungeon air.

Her breathing calmed. But her mind was never still. Something was wrong… Something was stirring. Shakely, Kisara got back to her feet. She looked up at the towers of the castle looming over the trees. Something was about to happen, and Seto Kaiba was at the center of it…

She knew… She was his protector, after all…

Seto Kaiba was hovering fifteen feet above some sort of temple complex. He tried to move, but found that he was incapable of getting too far. Fixed in place. Like a hat on a peg. He looked down at his hands and found that they were translucent. Did this sound ridiculous? Yes? That's because it was. "What is this place?" he demanded, even as his voiceless voice echoed in the air around him.

Far below, his own voice answered. "I hereby declare a challenge to the pharaoh!" His own voice… but not in Japanese… not in English either… "By the rights of tradition, duel me if you are not a coward!" A man, staff raised, was speaking. Not a staff… some sort of rod. It, like Ishizu's necklace and Yugi's puzzle and Pegasus's eye, was also embossed with the same golden eyeball as Kaiba had seen before. A Millennium eye, on a Millennium Rod.

Great. I'm learning the nerd-speak jargon, Kaiba thought ruefully. However, even as he attempted to distract himself with some modicum of humor, he could not help the fixation with which he stared at the man who held this Millennium Rod and who spoke with his voice but not in his language and who had his face… but… It was an uncanny thing to see. The man was not his mirror image. He had a much darker complexion to begin with. And furthermore… Kaiba squinted… It was beyond the realm of uncanny to be looking at a face that, while undoubtedly shared his facial features, was of an entirely different race from his own. An Egyptian face. An Ancient Egyptian face. The juxtaposition of what Kaiba knew about his own Japanese features with those of the man before him made him feel as though he was looking through a mirage.

In the arm that did not hold the Millennium Rod, this man propped up a semi-conscious figure. A petite woman who, as Kaiba looked more closely, looked suspiciously like Tea Gardner. But not Tea Gardner. Dressed far more finely. Her complexion also darker. Another mirage… not quite aligned with what Kaiba knew of the here and now.

Behind the man who was not Kaiba stood a tall figure of a man, his skin ashen grey, draped in purple robes, with a violet pharaonic beard quivering on his chin. Before the man who was not Kaiba stood…. Before him stood…

Kaiba's mouth went dry. There stood Yugi. Not the child who ran around with his friends, but the one whom Kaiba recognized from their duels. The older Yugi. So now he knew… this… was a Pharaoh. This was the sight on which Kaiba's attention should have remained fully fixed. Yugi, his dark skin bedecked in gold and jewels, the grime of battle on his robes, and the full power of all his memories intact in his violet eyes. And it did hold Kaiba's full attention…

…until he looked just behind the great Pharaoh. There, standing near the back of the chamber, stood two other figures in Yugi's retinue. Kisara, dressed to perfection in a nie-sheer shift, wearing arresting necklaces of silver… and she was holding hands with a man.

He would know that mop of blond hair anywhere, though it stood out all the more starkly against his darkened skin. A man who was not Joey Wheeler, but who already pissed Kaiba off just as much. Kisara stared past Kaiba, at the man who perhaps had once been him, and the hurt and betrayal in her eye shocked Kaiba out of his reprieve, though it was all he could do to tear his eyes away from those clasped hands.

The man who was not Joey Wheeler called out, "We're here for Teana! We're here– In the name of all the gods, what do you think you're doing Seto?! Snap out of it! Remember who you are!"

"Remember who I am?" The man named Seto sneers back, and Kaiba could here that the jealousy that he could not utter all the same seeped through his counterpart's voice as the priest's gaze flickered to those clasped hands. "Aren't you one to talk, Jono. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I assigned you to be the lady's bodyguard. No more, yes?"

Jono made a protective step in front of Kisara. "I don't know what kind of madness has set on your mind for you to betray your Pharaoh and think your friend your rival… but you need to wake up."

Kisara walked slowly back toward the castle. The night sounds of crickets filled the air around her, the dusk fully turned to night. Her headphones hung around her neck, the music still pooling up to her through the night as she walked.

DON'T CARE WHAT IS WRITTEN IN YOUR HISTORY

AS LONG AS YOU'RE HERE WITH ME

She was going to stop in to wish her father goodnight, and then she was headed straight to Croquet's office. She wanted him to notify her the moment Kaiba Corp. made any sort of announcement. She just had a feeling…

I DON'T CARE WHO YOU ARE

WHERE YOU'RE FROM

And then… then she was headed back to the library. It had been a year since Kisara had stumbled upon the startling discovery that she could read hieroglyphs. Now seemed like a particularly good time to refresh some of her recently reawakened memories. She knew that she remembered far more than Seto. Knew that she accepted more still. But there were still great swaths of time she could not account for. She was her father's daughter… for better or worse. And he, who was a painter and an artist, had also been a historian and archaeologist in Egypt.

Something was nagging at her now… something to do with to the coup of the mages, just after the first sightings of 'the thief king.' Just after she had first told Priest Seto… her name…

WHAT YOU DID

AS LONG AS YOU LOVE ME

"So," the man with ashen grey skin and the violet beard cooed across the chamber as Kaiba hovered above the scene. "I never dreamed that you would still be alive, Pharaoh. There is much to be said of the Millennium Puzzle's power. Actually, I should thank my lucky stars that the Puzzle still exists for me to take. Seto," he looked to the man by his side, still propping up the young half-conscious woman, "destroy these pests! Then defeat the Pharaoh, and I will make you Guardian of the Puzzle."

Seto inclined his head. Did Kaiba imagine the difficulty with which he tore his gaze away from Kisara and Jono? "I thank you, my Lord," he responded. "Leave his life in my hands."

The man chortled. "Then I shall. He is all yours. I will meet you back at the Dark Shrine." With that, he stepped back from Seto and the Pharaoh, and exited by a side passageway, still laughing quietly to himself.

What the hell was the Dark Shrine and could it possibly sound any more stupidly evil? Kaiba could not help but stare, first at the Pharaoh who was not Yugi, then at the blond man who was not Joey, and finally at Kisara…

She was exactly the same. They were all different, but she was exactly the same. A lighthouse in the seas of shifting time.

The Seto who stood before them in corporeal form turned to his visitors. "My, my," he crooned. "I am surprised you passed the trials of the Labyrinth."

Jono bristled. "Are you kidding! We could have done it with both hands tied behind our backs! Is that the best you could do?!" He still certainly had all the bluster of the modern Joey. Kisara placed a placating hand on his upper arm. Seto and Kaiba's eyes darted to where it made contact. She then turned to Seto. Kaiba held his breath. What would she say to this man who was not him? Would she berate him, as Jono had done? Would she stand with the Pharaoh? Rebuke Seto for his cruel actions? Already Kaiba knew each and every rebuttal that Seto would have ready for any one of those exclamations. He knew them as surely as he knew himself. He was prepared.

But he was not prepared for Kisara.

"It is beneath you to have a hostage," she said coolly, holding his gaze. Kaiba now stood directly in front of Seto and it seemed to him that she looked right through him. "You are a better strategist than to rely on an unconscious woman who might encumber either your battle or your escape. You are better than this, Seto."

The sound of her voice saying his name… Even in another language, and ancient language, the sound of it was still the same… It sent a shiver down Kaiba's spine.

Seto laughed uneasily. There was a shift and a groan, as though the woman was reviving. "Ah, the hostage. You can have her back!" He pushed her across the distance between them. She stumbled forward unsteady feet.

The Pharaoh reached out his arms and caught her with a gasp of, "Teana!" With relief she sank into his arms.

Seto continued. "There is no joy in simply trading the hostage for the Puzzle. The joy is in the battle! Duel me, Pharaoh! If you are man enough!"

Jono rushed forward to take Teana from the Pharaoh's arms. The Pharaoh stood, planting his feet, ready for battle. Over his shoulder, Kaiba could see Kisara, her robes already gently wafting in an unseen breeze, her eyes taking on the light blue sheen he had seen once before, at Duelist Kingdom.

Seto smiled. "You should have finished me off when you had the chance, for I will now call forth the ultimate beast of destruction."

In the distance, a dragon roared. Not a beast of destruction. A being of protection.

Kaiba blinked. He was on his hands and knees, panting, the back of his neck clammy and cold. He stared into the cracked and dusty floor, so different from the polished marble of the exhibit above them. In his ear, however, he still hears that roar across the centuries. Closer at hand, Ishizu was talking. "The duel raged on without any mercy. They summoned monsters that were increasingly more powerful and vicious."

Shakely, Kaiba looked up. He did not feel he could yet stand.

Ishtar gesticulated to a damaged portion of the slab. "The winner of the duel was written here, but as you can see the hieroglyphs have been worn away. Worn away? They looked as though they had been taken to with a chisel.

"That High Priest is a big mouth, losing chump!" Kaiba growled, shakily rising to one knee. "You can't compare him to me!"

The slowness with which Ishizu turned to look at him and the blackness of her expression was almost comical. It wasn't, but almost. That priest was a loser. Kaiba could not imagine a world – could not imagine a millennium – in which he would ever allow for someone else, Joey Wheeler least of all, to get to Kisara's heart and hand before he himself.

Though the thought would plague him for days now…

And how long has it been since you've seen her? A voice that sounded far too much like Pegasus chuckled in his ear. Twelve months… plenty of time for her to move on… make friends… get friendly with someone else…

"Yes, but though we don't know the outcome," Ishizu was prompting, "there's still much that we can learn. At the very least, now are you convinced, Kaiba? As I said before, history is destined to repeat itself. It's not just coincidence that Yugi is your greatest opponent. You two have battled in the ancient past! It was destiny that you and Yugi dueled, and its destined that you two will battle again."

Kaiba stared, rooted to the sight of the tablet. Destiny… His eyes traveled to the dragon… history…. repeating… He remembered how he had hurt her last year, without even being aware of it. He now remembered the hurt and betrayal he had seen in her eyes, not minutes ago, as Jono stepped in front of her, shielding her… from him.

He would not make that mistake again. Kaiba rose to his feet.

"Thanks for the lecture," he said, dusting himself off and straightening his jacket. "But I make my own destiny. And I do what I wanna do." What a lie. What a bare faced lie. He wanted to defeat Yugi. Had he achieved that? Achieved that truly, without the interference of parapets and Pegasus? And what of his other great want? How many times in the last months had be awoken in the night, her name on his lips, his hands searching the space next to him, his head filled with dreams he could not remember and memories that were not his. How many times had his sole greatest want been to reach out to her? And how many times had be suppressed it?

They – he, she and Mokuba – had been through so much at the hands of Maximillian Pegasus. He had to trust that she was taking care of matters as she saw fit. Had to trust her. For months after Duelist Kingdom he had looked for her to arrive in Domino City. Expected her to flee the island, flee her father. But she had not. Some sense of duty kept her there. And Kaiba had to respect her choices. He was under not illusion as to her feelings. He knew she felt as he did which, frighteningly, meant that she knew he felt as she did.

But be was not one to beg.

He now began to walk away from Ishizu Ishtar, the beginning of a migraine itching at his skull.

"Kaiba," Ishizu said artfully in that melodious voice that betrayed that she spoke the very same language, lost to time, that Kaiba had just heard in those visions. A language he did not know and yet which he understood. "What I thought you wanted were powerful monsters." She spoke with the confidence of a lover who knew the intimacies of a partner or husband of many years. She also spoke as though she could sense his hesitation to use the Blue-Eyes White Dragon in combat. As though she could see into his very heart. It was a far more unnerving trait than all Ishizu Ishtar's smoke and mirrors with a past that was not his and a face that did not match.

Kaiba stopped walking.

Ishizu continued. "The Duel Monsters cards that surpassed the powers of Exodia. What if I told you they were in front of your eyes the whole time?"

"What?!" Kaiba turned.

She gestured back to the slab with the duel between Pharaoh and Priest, Magician and Dragon. "Take a look at the top." The top. Kaiba had been so fixated on the duel… She continued. "They were the strongest, and most feared creatures of annihilation."

Kaiba let out a slow breath as he finally saw to what she was pointing. Or rather, to whom. It was a brea

th of supplication. There were three rectangles at the top of the slab – three stone tablets, just as he had seen before.

"Obelisk the Tormentor," Ishizu proclaimed. "Slifer the Sky Dragon. And… the Winged Dragon of Ra." One by one, Kaiba took them in. These crude yet ancient etchings, their simple lines hiding the latent power within. "Control one," Ishizu said, "and you can destroy a million armies. Wield all three and the planet itself will quake in fear."

Creatures of annihilation. Raw power. With no Blue-Eyes… no white lashes… to fear for every time the beasts were summoned. Kaiba swallowed. "And Pegasus turned them into cards?"

"Yes."

"You lie," he snapped. "If he had them, why didn't he use them against me at Duelist Kingdom?" In his minds eye, blood dripped down her chin as she steadied herself on the balcony, the Toon Dragon cackling into the expanse of the chamber.

Ishizu had a ready answer. "Because Pegasus feared the power of these Egyptian God Cards." Her green eyes were bottomless. They had stared into the depths of history more than once with her Millennium Item, and history had blinked. "You cannot fathom the magical energy contained within. Pegasus could not control the power of the cards he created. They threatened to overwhelm and destroy him."

Kaiba's mind was reeling. Cards that even make Pegasus quake in his boots. If I can obtain the three legendary monsters, I'll be unstoppable in any duel. Yugi won't stand a chance. But how do I get them? I can't ask Pegasus. He's dropped off the face of the earth. They have to exist somewhere…

For a single moment, it seemed like the perfect excuse. He would fly his helicopter to Duelist Kingdom island. He would throw the doors open. Demand to see Pegasus in whatever high tower he was skulking since his miserable defeat to Yugi one year before. Kaiba would pry the three God Cards from the man's shaking fingers with ruthless satisfaction, relishing his power over the once great Creator of Duel Monsters.

He would do it right this time. Would catch Kisara alone. Tell her that she was a fool to waste her energies on a man who had betrayed them all. That she should leave that old drafty castle with its haunting memories. That she should come back to Domino City. With him.

Kaiba blinked, surprisingly flustered by such an absolutely absurd and ridiculous thought. He refocused on the actual solution to his problem. The actual person he needed to address on to get his information.

"Ishizu," he said painstakingly. "What did Pegasus do with the cards?"

She smiled that unnerving smile… as though she was reading his every thought. He hated it. Too… too much like Pegasus. "He gave them to me for safe keeping. Pegasus realized that if these cards fell into the wrong hands, they could bring about the end of the world. He had me bury them in secret locations up and down the Nile, in the dried-out Wadi where no one ever goes. But the cards were discovered. I must find them and hide them once again!"

"You mean someone already found the cards?" Kaiba asked, his voice a thick mix of disappointment and derision.

Ishizu bowered her head. "Yes."

He had no use for her shame. "Tell me who."

"The Rare Hunters," she spat out the name like a curse.

"Rare Hunters?" he repeated the name, committing it to memory.

"They're a ruthless underground sect of elite duelists," Ishizu explained with deliberate slowness, as though it was all she could to not allow the words to rush out. "They rob and steal rare cards worldwide, to sell on the black market, for enormous profits. However, they keep the strongest cards for themselves, to create powerful decks that destroy all opposition."

Kaiba nodded. Nothing Ishizu said surprising him. After all, his own methods in obtaining the Blue-Eyes White Dragon cards had been less than above board.

"They operate in shadows, so they're nearly impossible to find. That is why I need your help to draw them out into the open."

Ah. Now we came to the crux of it. Ishizu Ishtar had made her pitch to Kaiba. Now she came to what she wanted. This was a field Kaiba was far more familiar with that Ancient Egyptian counterparts. His shoulders settled. After all, he was a brilliant businessman. He was probably one of the few men alive to whom a catch was actually a relief.

"Kaiba…" she said, somewhat coaxingly, "If you were to start a Duel Monsters Tournament, your reputation would attract the greatest duelists in the world. This would be the greatest concentration of precious cards ever assembled in one location."

Kaiba smirked. Her words set fire to his imagination. A tournament… it was perfect. "I see," he said. "It's a trap." His smile widened. He could already see it. He would name it the Domino City Tournament of 1997, and with his resources it would vastly outmatch both the Duelist Kingdom Tournament and the Intercontinental Duel Monster's Tournament of the two previous years. He would leave Pegasus's legacy well and truly in the dust. It would give both him and Mokuba an opportunity to finally move forward, and for Kaiba Corp. to move forward with them. "The Rare Hunters won't be able to resist such tempting bate. They'll come by the droves, like vultures to a carcass. And they'll bring the Egyptian God Cards."

Ishizu nodded and crossed the distance between them. For a moment, Kaiba wondered vaguely if she would stop short or walk right into his arms with a proposition. He wouldn't have minded. Under his skin, he could still feel the tension at seeing Kisara's hand joined with that of Jono, whoever the hell he was. And Ishizu was beautiful, intelligent, and he could certainly use the distraction from–

She stopped short in front of him. "One last thing," she said. "Take this card." And what she offered him was far better than any woman's proposition. Almost any woman. His eyes widened at the blue painted monster on the card.

"Can it be?" He took the card from her and brought it closer. "It's Obelisk the Tormenter. I thought the cards were stolen!"

"I never said they were all stolen," Ishizu replied smoothly. "I managed to retrieve one in time." Kaiba looked up from the card to this fascinating woman who had come into his life baring such gifts. She continued. "You may borrow it during the tournament, but I expect it back."

Kaiba raised an eyebrow archly, taking a step closer to her. What a thrill this evening was turning out to be after all. "It's not every day a card this rare is handed to me," he answered silkily. He played with the cards, skipping it between his long fingers in the space between them. "What if I chose to keep it forever…." He leaned in a little further, until he was breathing his next words into Ishizu's ear, her lotus perfume playing against his senses. …Lotus? How did he know it was lotus? "What makes you think I can be trusted?" he practically purred, already enjoying the power the card sent surging through him. "I could walk out, and you'd never see it again." And what a shame that would be.

Ishizu turned her face a millimeter so that Kaiba was again confronted by those shocking green eyes. There was challenge there. He liked that. "You will return the card to me."

Kaiba chuckled, shrugged, and turned from her, sliding the card into an inside pocket of his jacket. He began to stride away from Ishizu Ishtar, their business concluded. For now.

"I have foreseen it," she added darkly. There was no worry in her voice. No fear of miscalculation.

"I'll bet," Kaiba said over his shoulder.

"You may not yet believe in destiny," Ishizu said with fervor. "But before this tournament is done, you will have to face your past."

Kaiba smiled wryly, hiding any shadow of foreboding at her words. "You know, I read that once in a fortune cookie." He straightened. "I'll organize this tournament."

"I thank you," she said in that soothing, lyrical voice of hers. He wondered just how far her thanks might extend… Instead, a pale form flashed before his eyes. He frowned.

"But I'm not going to set it up because of your fairytales and your hocus pocus mind tricks," he asserted a little too forcefully. "I want to reclaim my title as the number one duelist." That said, and without another word in farewell, Kaiba left the basement, its curator, and the two slabs that were mounted on its wall… one of which bore the chiseled markings of a duel he could not remember, but could not forget.

Some minutes later, Kaiba sat once again in his limousine, headed back to the Kaiba Mansion. Mokuba had been notified and assuaged that all was well. Now, Seto Kaiba held in his hand a power unlike any other. And one which he could wield, no holds barred. Just his kind of game.

He started to chuckle. "One card down, and two more to go." The rush in his veins grew, and he began to laugh.

Kisara stood in the doorway of her father's room. He was not in his bed, or in the armchair by his fire. That was good. She stepped further into his room and saw him standing out on the balcony. Not so good.

"Father, you'll catch a cold out there," she said wearily. It was almost midnight, and the winds from the ocean had picked up. Even from here she could see his robe flitting about in the sea breeze.

"You're going, aren't you?" his words were almost lost to the winds.

Kisara stopped short, his coat in her hands. She could see as his fingers clenched around the handle of his cane. Her cane.

"I don't know when, exactly," she answered honestly.

"But you will. And you are. Going, that is." Maximillian Pegasus turned to look at her with his one good eye. He had refused to take up an eyepatch for the socket that once housed his Millennium Item and which had been carved out of his face with a relentless finger. Luckily, he liked to quip, he'd always had such a flare for the dramatic that his cascading sheets of silver hair tended to hide that side of his face anyway.

Not tonight. Tonight the winds picked up and lifted his mane of hair, revealing to Kisara the blackened hole where the Millennium Eye had once resided. How was it that his foresight into the otherworldly seemed to have in no way diminished, despite its loss.

Kisara did not look always. "Yes. I will go," she answered.

"Good," he nodded, surprising her a little. "It's time. You've been here too long, watching me wallow, repent my sins."

"Father, I–"

"You have a uniquely rich past, Angle-face," her father said, finally coming indoors from the balcony. His hair settled. The firelight played kindly across his face. He seemed both older and… better. "But I think it's time… you started to balance the scales, as it were. Give a little to your future." He gave her a knowing grin, as he had in the old days, as though he'd just made a particularly funny joke. "And you go with my full blessing– not that you need it –" he interrupted himself before she could. "And… which is far more important," he gave her the sly look of a businessman who had not only been in the game too long, but had probably invented it, "you go with my backing, Kisara Pegasus. … Domino City, Japan, won't know what hit them."

Kaiba Corp. tower was buzzing with activity. Across the intercoms the voice of the Junior Engineer called out, "All hands stand by for the final test of the new Duel Disk system."

Kaiba stood in the center of the testing platform. He had not felt so alive in months. For the first time in an age he could properly look to the future. See clearly. He had been clouded by what had happened to him and Mokuba in the last year. But now they were stepping forward. And leaving all stragglers behind. He cut an imposing figure in his new white trench coat over his black turtleneck and pants.

"As you've requested, Mr. Kaiba," chimed in the Chief Engineer over the intercom. "We've removed all safeguards from the computer."

"You're crazy if you go through with this, Seto," Mokuba's voice rose in protest. Kaiba had installed a microchip into the collar of his trench coat that offered a private line between his brother and himself, secured with end to end encryption. Just because they were no longer sitting in one office, did not mean they would be out of touch with one another, even for an instant. Now that voice flooded the encrypted line once again. "If the safeguards are turned off, the monsters in this duel could really hurt you."

Kaiba lifted the new Duel Disk to his wrist. "Enough whining," he brushed his brother off. "Let's go." He'd allowed them both to wallow in their hurt for long enough. Well, now things were going to be different. They were going to be better. Stronger. Kaiba would not allow either of them to ever be caught unawares again. No more weakness. Blue eyes. Soft smile–

No more weakness.

"Keep the medics on standby," said the Chief Engineer. "Probability of injury: 90%:

Mokuba growled. "Listen! Why don't you keep your calculations to yourself!"

The Chief Engineer bowered his head apologetically. "I'm just doing by job. Since the Duel Robot is armed with the exact same deck Mr. Kaiba used at Duelist Kingdom, risk of injury is high."

Mokuba paled. "Ah… you put all three Blue-Eyes White Dragons in the Duel Robot's deck?"

"Right," the man nodded. "Those were Mr. Kaiba's direct orders."

Kaiba set his deck into his Duel Disk. Ishizu had hinted that Obelisk might be too powerful for him to control. Powerful, huh? Well there's no way I'll know how strong an Egyptian God Card is until I see it with my own two eyes. He smiled at the robot. And the best test of Obelisk the Tormentor's strength is against the might of not one…but three of the most powerful dragons in all of Duel Monsters. He reached out his arms and launched the hologram projectors from his Duel Disk. "It's time to duel," he growled.

Hardly a few moves into the game had passed when the Duel Robot whirled to life. If Kaiba didn't know better, he would almost have said it was excited. "Analyzing new tournament rules," the robot croaked out. "Must sacrifice two monsters to summon Blue-Eyes White Dragon."

Kaiba swallowed. "What?!" he almost gagged as, from the torrent of holographic sparks, she rose and careened into the air. White scales, shimmering in the light, eyes bluer than the sky. She heralded her arrival with that roar he had heard so many times before, and which most recently had echoed in the recesses of his mind in some ancient temple, millennia from Kaiba Corp. tower and all it held within it. Kaiba stared up at the had been one thing conceptually to imagine pitting himself and his new God Card against the Blue-Eyes… but he doubted he would ever get used to seeing his dragon on the wrong side of the field.

She looked down at Kaiba, as though she could see all his sins. All his fears from the last year. All that he had avoided and all that he now coveted. He exhaled with a dry, low chuckle. "Now I'm in trouble…"

He could hear Mokuba yelling for the engineers to turn off the machine, for fear of Kaiba getting hurt. In its next move, the Duel Robot summoned Lord of Dragons in attack mode, whose special effect protected dragons from all magic, trap and monster cards. Kaiba could almost have laughed out loud again, just as he had in that limousine. What else had he expected of his own deck, but that it should try and protect what was most precious to him….

Next, the Duel Robot played Flute of Summoning Dragon. There was almost something thrilling… to be on the opposite end of what he knew was coming. The Lord of Dragon played his Flute, and thus was able to summon two more dragons from the Duel Robot's hand onto the field. Before Kaiba could hardly blink, he was looking at all three of his majestic Blue-Eyes White Dragons. "There's no way…" he whispered. The sight was too splendid, even from the perspective of the prey.

In the next moment, the Duel Robot had played Polymerization and had fused the three dragons into the Blue-Eyes Ultimate Dragon. Oh, but she was going to make him sweat, wasn't she. He did not know what had come over him. Was it the imminent dread of hospitalization? Or was it the irrational belief that somehow… somehow he knew that she wouldn't hurt him.

Just as he knew he would never hurt her again. And that was why he'd had no fear when placing the three dragons into the deck of the Duel Robot.

"Get out of there Seto!" Mokuba cried out over the intercom. "The Dragon's neutron blast will cause you real, serious physical injury! Shut down the duel!" Kaiba tuned his brother out. He had eyes now for nothing but her. He surveyed the three heads of the dragon, together, white scales gleaming, their blue gaze all too familiar and all too human. When he saw her like this he could almost forget that it had been an entire year… Despite himself, Kaiba smiled. "Beautiful…" he breathed, too low for anyone to hear.

He knew, somehow, that this would not injure her. The tear in her soul had been healed. He knew, somehow, that those ties between himself, the card and her soul had slackened at the conclusion of the Duelist Kingdom Tournament, in those moments… when he and she had been in the dungeon together. When he had held her in his arms, with all the reverie of worship he could never articulate. He knew she was safe.

"It's time for my final test," he growled. "Now I'll see what an Egyptian God Card can do!" And with that he summoned him – Obelisk the Tormentor. With a roar of fury, straining blue flesh, bulging muscles and gnashing teeth, he arose behind Kaiba. He was a colossus. "Obelisk the Tormentor, let's see how powerful you really are!" Out of the corner of his eye, Kaiba could see the control panel smoking as the charts strained under the statistics of Obelisk's strength. "Obelisk," he said simply. "Attack. Fist of Fate!"

With a single blow, the dragon was defeated. The Duel Robot sparked and sputtered under the blast. "System Error! System Error! Power Overload! Danger! Danger!" It exploded in fire. Kaiba stared in rapture at the card in his hand. It was a good thing that Kaiba's deck had only been digitally imputed. Now, Kaiba had eyes only for the god he held at his command. "Incredible..." he whispered. "If this is the power of one card, with all three Egyptian God Cards, I will be unstoppable."

Across the Pacific Ocean, Kisara Pegasus felt the barest tingle. She looked up from her packing… out across the ocean… to where she knew Domino City and Seto Kaiba were in the distance… She knew without knowing what she had just experienced. She had experienced it once before when, over a year ago Yugi Mutou had defeated Seto Kaiba in a Duel Monster's duel, eliminating all three of his Blue-Eyes White Dragons with a single blow.

Tonight… it had been another monster that unleashed the final punch. And it had been the Ultimate Dragon at the receiving end of it. So… Seto was stretching his limits, was he… seeing what he – and by extension she – capable of.

Kisara rolled her neck, her hand coming up to massage the place where scaled flesh met skin. She smiled, looking down at her suitcase. A year before, that duel had left her broken and shattered. Now… it was just a sense. A sense of what was, and what was yet to come…

Kisara threw the Ancient Egyptian text on mages and their links to sorcery into her suitcases. She reached for her laptop. On it flashed Seto Kaiba's smug, handsome face.

CEO OF KAIBA CORP. ANNOUNCES NEW DOMINO CITY TORNAMENT:

Only Top 8 Duelists Will Be Admitted to the Final Round.

"Come to the place where Ancient Duelists and Their Cards Slumber in Stones."

Kisara stared at the byline, wondering where exactly he'd gotten the idea for that slogan. And really… making a point of defeating all three dragons in one blow? She closed her laptop and slid it into her bag. She then snapped the suitcase shut.

"Come on, Seto," she mused to no one in particular, again looking to the distant horizon over the ocean. Kisara could just see the light of the dawn touching the sky. Already the clouds were flickering in and out with blues and whites. "That's just rude."

...

Our main characters are back! They have trauma now! And they will be dealing with their trauma with different and and varying levels of success and good sense. Welcome to Book II: Battle City.