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 “So, lemme give you a quick rundown, new guy-”

 “Astral.”

 “Sure, whatever.”

 Yuuma grins and Astral glances over. He’s new, and right now, sharkbait. Probably literally if Shark hears there’s a new, clueless kid in class. Yuuma leans on the railings, watching the lunchroom below.

 “Here we go,” he says. “Here at Burning Heart Academy, gambling is the big thing.”

 “Gambling?” Astral says.

 “You’ll learn pretty quickly,” he laughs. “Whatever you learnt outside, forget it. Money and Duel Monsters is all that matters here. You’re ranked on how good you are. You pay the student council monthly too, that money gets separated into clubs, I think. Anyway, there’s a few you have to really watch out for. There.”

 

 Yuuma points down at the pair having tea together alone in one corner. A redhead and a boy with pink hair, both elegant and regal. Prim and proper. Surrounded by adoring fans, but none dare get too close. Thomas and Michael might as well be princes here.

 “Those are the Arclight brothers. Their big brother was student council president and introduced this system so, naturally, they’re pretty amazing. Their family are like super rich noble descendants. Unlimited money, although, every now and again their dad cuts them off for a month or so before they pester him into giving in. They usually play straight games, but they’re both brutal and have super rare cards. Like one of a kinds.”

 “That’s quite the handicap,” Astral murmurs.

 Yuuma nods. Although, Thomas and Michael are both legitimately good. Unlike some who Yuuma knows cheat but what can he do about that? Nothing. Maybe those higher up could, but everyone higher up on the social ladder seems to have an understanding to ignore it.

 “Tenjou Kaito,” Yuuma says, gesturing to a blond already playing. Against three victims at once. “He’s at least as good as the Arclights. He’s the new council pres. Has been since Chris left. He’s brutal too. Since he took over, the systems more and more harsh. Try not to play against him.”

 Astral nods and frowns as the trio of victims wail in denial. Kaito stands slowly and turns away. “Report to the student council office after class to arrange repayment.”

 

 “What happens if you can’t repay?” Astral says.

 “That kinda depends on the timing,” Yuuma says. “As long as you can pay off the council, you’re fine. You just have to pay if off when you can. If you can’t… well-”

 “You become property,” Shark says.

 Yuuma stiffens as hands fall on his shoulders and hot breath falls against his neck. “Sh-Shark.”

 “Hello, Yuuma.”

 Yuuma turns his head slowly, gazing into Shark’s eyes. Astral is staring at them but Yuuma ignores that, leaning into try and steal a kiss, but Shark tilts his head, looking over Astral with a sneer.

 “You’re the new kid?”

 “Yes,” Astral says. “What did you mean about people becoming property?”

 “Exactly what it sounds like,” Shark replies. Yuuma’s hand slides down to Shark’s arm, trying to ignore how unfair it is to be with him like this when Shark knows full well Yuuma likes him. “Yuuma couldn’t pay the council, or his debt, could you, Yuuma? Even after betting his precious key.”

 “Shark…”

 “Yuuma’s what we call a house pet. If you can’t bet anything else, you bet yourself. And you know what they say. The house always wins.”

 “I see,” Astral says. “So, until Yuuma repays his debt, he’s a second class citizen.”

 “Something like that.” He sneers, although he pets Yuuma’s head lightly. Completely distracting gesture from the harshness in his eyes. Yuuma knows he’s lucky. Shark doesn’t let anyone else bully him, despite how he bullies everyone else. “Yuuma’s mine. Do you duel, newbie? Let me get my teeth into you as a welcome to the Burning Heart.”

 “I do. I don’t have a deck at the moment, I’m afraid, however I’m quite good.”

 Shark sneers. “It wouldn’t be any fun if you weren’t.”

 He turns away to head to a table and Yuuma huffs. “You’d think being owned by a guy would result in more make outs.”

 

 “Kamishiro Ryouga, by the way,” Shark says, setting his deck on the table. “Yuuma. Lend him your deck, hmm?”

 “But, Shark-”

 “ Yuuma.

 Yuuma nods and takes his deck from his bag, handing it over to Astral. “Sorry, Astral. I’m not really great at deck building.”

 “I’m sure I’ll manage Yuuma,” Astral says quietly. “Thank you.”

 Yuuma smiles weakly and set a pile of chips on the table for Astral. Shark isn’t so bad. At least Shark just plays for money and valuables. Unlike some of the others. He just hopes Astral knows what he’s doing. Yuuma’s deck is weak, he knows that - even if Shark does help him sometimes, he can never quite grasp it - and really the best you can do against a player like Shark is defend or give in.

 But, Shark has a much more dangerous advantage too.

 

 “Since you’re new, we’ll start you off with a simple game,” Shark says. “You get complimentary one hundred thousand from the student council.”

 “That’s very kind of them,” Astral says softly.

 “The rules are the same as always as far as Duel Monsters is concerned,” he explains as a crowd starts to gather. Yuuma sighs, standing at the side of the table as the two shuffle each other’s decks. “However, this is Burning Heart, so something has to be on the line. When you draw, attack or summon from your extra deck, you pay into the pot. You have to at least match your opponent's last bet. At the end of the duel, whoever wins takes the pot.”

 “I see,” he says, nodding slightly. They swap their decks back and draw their hands. “So, the wisest strategy not to lose money would be a strong defense. But the longer the duel goes on, the higher the cost anyway. Doesn’t that encourage people to drag on the duels for higher stakes, though?”

 “The higher the stakes, the greater the risk for everyone,” Shark replies. “I’ll even give you the first turn free, since you're new.”

 “That’s generous of you,” Astral says, drawing his card. “I assume I can rely on you being an honourable duellist and not using my naive to cheat.”

 “Duel Monsters is a game of luck,” Shark replies. “And you shuffled my deck. Where’s the fun in gambling if it’s not a game of risk and chance.”

 “My thoughts precisely.” He smiles pleasantly and glances down at his cards. “I’ll set one monster face down, followed by two face downs. Your turn, Kamishiro.”

 “Be careful, Astral,” Yuuma whispers.

 A nasty glint flashes through Shark’s eyes and his smile widens a crack. Yuuma knows him too well. Shark already knows his opponent’s strategies and plays. Along with an incredible memory for cards, a quick wit and high adaptability and near unparalleled levels of experience, Shark never fights on an even playing field. Most people have lost the moment they accept his challenge.

 Yuuma’s gaze touch the golden key hanging off Shark’s keychain. He’d been blind to it because of how he felt about Shark, but in the end it seems Shark played that too.

 

 “We’ll start off slow so you get the hang of it, then,” Shark says, holding up two chips. “Just two hundred this turn.” He tosses them into the middle of the table before drawing. “Here I come, Astral. Unfortunately, I can’t take it easy on you just because you’re a newbie. That just wouldn’t be sportsmanlike.”

 “By all means, come at me with all your might.”

 “As long as you’re sure. I start with Skull Kraken. When Skull Kraken is summoned I can destroy an opponent’s Spell or Trap, and I pick the left.”

 Astral flips over the trap and puts it in the Graveyard. Half Unbreak. Yuuma sighs as the corner of Shark’s lips tug upwards slightly. Astral can’t win.

 “Next, when there’s a WATER monster on the field, I can special summon Silent Angler. Then I activate Falling Current to reduce its Level by one. Now they’re both the same Level. I overlay my Skull Kraken and Silent Angler.” He tosses another two chips in but Astral’s face remains an impassive, pleasant smile. “To Xyz summon Submersible Carrier Aero Shark. Its effect allows me to inflict four hundred points of damage for each card in my hand.”

 “That’s three,” Astral says. “Twelve hundred.”

 “Yuuma, keep track of the life points, will you?”

 “R-right, Shark!” Yuuma stammers, bringing up the app on his phone. “Uh, how much again?”

 “Twelve hundred.” His smile grows as he straightens up. “I set one card and end my turn.” He holds out his hand casually. “Your turn.”

 “You didn’t attack?” Astral says. “Despite having quite the powerful monster, relative to its Rank?”

 “I don’t see the point in tossing away money on a pointless charge at a defence position monster,” Shark replies with a shrug. “Plus you have two face downs. Do you think I’m a beginner at this game?”

 “I see, you’re quite the shrewd duellist, Kamishiro.”

 “You all just assume sharks are mindless beasts who attack whatever moves. They’re actually highly intelligent, discerning hunters. Their fearsome reputation is simply a result of their efficiency. Who wouldn’t an apex predator evolved to perfection. Something they have no hope against, when it decided to sink its teeth into you.”

 

 Astral smiles and nods, picking up his chips. “I’ll bet one thousand this turn.”

 The crowd murmurs and whispers. Yuuma swallows heavily. Betting that much already seems a high risk. He must have something good. Astral glances down at his hand as he draws. There’s a heavy moment so silence and Shark gazes down at the back of the cards with his smile never faltering. Shark really is almost invincible. Especially when playing like he is now. There's nothing Astral can do.

 “I summon Gagaga Magician,” Astral says and Shark’s eyes flash with malice. “And then I activate the Trap Copy Knight.”

 “I activate Booming Urchin,” Ryouga says. Yuuma sighs. Shark really sees through Astral’s every move. Astral can’t do a thing Shark isn’t ready for. “When you activate a Trap, this can activate. During my next Standby Phase, you’ll take one thousand points of damage.”

 “My, you certainly do know how to back one into a corner, don’t you, Kamishiro?”

 


 

 “Keep an eye on things for me, Michael,” Thomas says quietly, standing from the table. Michael smiles and nods. “I think our dear president and I need to have a chat about our new student.”

 “Yes, Thomas,” Michael says quietly as the crowd above cheers for Ryouga. An obvious victory. “I don’t know why you’re concerned though.”

 Thomas just nods, throws his blazer over his shoulder and heads out the lunch room. As he passes the stairs to the balcony, the hears Astral quietly requesting a second duel and Ryouga’s sneering acceptance. And, of course, he feels the need to point out Astral is low on chips. Ryouga should be careful. Pride comes before a fall around here and fortune can change on the turn of a card.

 “Kaito,” Thomas calls, slipping into the council room. Kaito is at his desk. Thomas beams, wanders over and sits on his desk, swinging his legs absently. “What do you think about the new guy? Gonna be broke before his first day is even over at this rate. Do you remember how that feels, Kaito?”

 Kaito narrows his eyes slightly and Thomas grins, leaning back and tilting his head. “Please, try to have some respect and decency, Thomas.”

 “Decency and modesty aren’t my style, pres,” he teases, reaching over and tucking Kaito’s hair behind his ear.

 “I never mentioned modesty,” Kaito murmurs, leaning closer. “Feel free to be as immodest as you like. As long as it’s within my rules.”

 “Hey, Kaito. Bet with me.” Kaito tilts his head and Thomas grins. “New guy’s gonna be Rouga’s by close of house tonight.”

 “You’re rather lucky I believe Kamishiro will be brought to his needs today,” Kaito says. “What do I get if I’m right? Will you stop lounging around on my furniture?”

 “If you really want,” Thomas replies. “Although I’m not sure you do. And if newbie loses, I wanna spend the night.”

 “That’s just not fair. You can’t offer me something that. It makes me want to lose”

 “Fine, fine. Throw in Chris’ Dyson Sphere then.”

 “That’ll do.”

Chapter Text

 “You do seem to be out of chips, Astral,” Shark says, watching the pot in the middle of the table. “It’s not too late to surrender. Quit before you get in too deep.”

 “Shark,” Yuuma whispers, glancing over.

 Shark looks like he’s ready to go in for the kill. There’s no way Astral can last much longer as they are. Shark really is unbeatable like this. Astral should have listened to Yuuma’s warnings. Yuuma should have listened to his own warnings.

 “But the further one is out of their depth, the more interesting the game, no?” Astral replies. “You’re very concerned over my levels of debt, Kamishiro. I should be thankful, but your concern isn’t necessary.”

 He takes his school bag and Shark narrows his eyes. He piles bundles of notes from his bag onto the table and Shark’s hand lowers slowly, staring back at him. Astral just smiles back calmly.

 “This kind of money, it matters little to me.”

 

 Shark stares for a moment longer, the groups around them whispering amongst themselves. How did Astral carry around that much cash like it was nothing?! Shark’s eyes soften after a moment, his grin widening.

 “Will that satisfy you, Kamishiro?”

 “That’ll do fine,” Shark says.

 “I’m glad,” Astral says. “In that case, it’s my draw.”

 He tosses a bundle of cash into the pot and tilts his head a little, watching Shark’s Leviathan Dragon. It marks him out as one of the best duellists in the school. Numbers were only given to the greatest duellists. All the Student Council members had one. Yuuma knows a few others are floating around. No one’s really sure how you get one, just that when you reach a certain point in your duelling, you’re given one. And they’re worth a fortune. If you could get your hands on one, almost all doors could be unlocked.

 “I start by summoning Ganbara Knight. Then I activate Monster Reborn, to bring back Gagaga Magician.”

 Shark narrows his eyes and Yuuma frowns. Two level fours. But Yuuma doesn’t have any Xyz monsters. Shark keeps muttering about maybe buying him some one day and teaching him how to use them, but they never got around to it. Yuuma was always just grateful to be able to sit with Shark and work through his deck.

 “Next, I overlay my Ganbara Knight and Gagaga Magician,” Astral says, sweeping the cards away. He smiles and tosses in another bundle of money. “Forgive me, Yuuma, but I will be using my own extra deck for this duel. I exceed summon Number 39: King of Wishes, Hope.”

 “Number…”

 “Not what you expecting, I assume,” he says.

 Yuuma’s staring down in amazement. Astral has a Number. He’s using a Number with Yuuma’s deck! Someone of Astral’s level is playing with Yuuma’s deck! Shark’s glaring furiously, hands shaking with rage around his cards. He’s been tricked, Yuuma realises. Astral lured Shark into higher stakes by losing the first duel as if he couldn’t duel with Yuuma’s deck. He was feeling Shark out. And yet he smiles so pleasantly. As if he really is just enjoying the game.

 

 “You have an incredible memory, Kamishiro,” Astral continues, eyes sparkling in a way Yuuma isn’t sure he recognises. “And an incredible eye for detail. It’s little wonder you’re truly a fun player to gamble with. Stacking the odds so firmly against me. It’s quite the challenge to surmount.”

 “What?” Shark hisses, staring up at Astral.

 “But, you remember what they say, don’t you, Kamishiro? Your best trump card, is the one your opponent doesn’t know you have.” He smiles and taps Hope. “And you do know all my cards, don’t you, Kamishiro? You can’t have it all your own way, of course. It’s the luck of the draw in Duel Monsters. But isn’t it so that you know every card in Yuuma’s deck, locked away inside that incredible memory?”

 Of course, Yuuma knew Shark knew his deck. And all his combos. Shark had worked with him on his deck. One of Yuuma’s favourite things was to sit next to Shark with their cards spread across the floor as Shark taught him. Sometimes, Yuuma doesn’t know if Shark feels the same or not. He never really acts like he does, but then, when they’re alone like that… sometimes Yuuma thinks he might.

 Or maybe he’s just using Yuuma for his traps, as always.

 “But it’s more than just know Yuuma’s deck, isn’t it, Kamishiro?” Astral says, eyes never leaving Shark’s. “It’s so much more. You know every card in my hand, you know my next draw before I do, you know every face down and every single move I could possibly make with these combinations of cards. No one ever realised there was such a simple way to beat you - to simply put card sleeves over Yuuma’s cards.”

 Shark is staring. Colour is draining from his face. His hands aren’t shaking from rage anymore. The crowd is murmuring. What is Astral even accusing him of?

 “So, there was only one thing I could do, no?” Astral says. “To play a card you’ve never seen before. I wanted to show you as much fun as you’ve shown me.” He tosses another bundle into the pot. “Hope will attack your Drill Barnacle. That takes Kamishiro’s life points down to 2500, please Yuuma.”

 “R-right!”

 

 Shark’s still staring, completely lost. As if he’s completely lost. His trembling hand grasps his Drill Barnacle and drops it into the graveyard. He’s never seen Shark so shaken by a duel. It’s not even a big hit, why is Shark worrying? He doesn’t understand.

 Astral just smiles as pleasantly and holds out his hand. “Please, take your turn, Kamishiro.”

 It takes Shark a few moments. Yuuma doesn’t understand why. One card can’t change the entire game, can it? Shark still knows all his other cards, right? Why is he looking like that? It takes a bit longer than expected, but Shark swallows thickly and stands straighter, eyes narrowed. That’s better. Much as yuuma doesn’t want Astral to get into debt on his first day, he wants Shark to do his best.

 “No more games,” Shark hisses.

 “Oh?” Astral says, smile widening and eye shining. “You weren’t serious before? You have more to show me? Even after you said you would give it your all before?”

 Shark growls and pushes his chip into the pot. There’s a strange look about Shark too. Reckless and aggressive. He needs to calm down.

 “My draw.” He glares down at the cards, and then at Yuuma’s cards in Astral’s hand. “I activate Surface. This let’s me special summon from my Graveyard in defence. I summon back Big Jaws. But he’s not staying long. I sacrifice Big Jaws to summon Jawsman. By Jawsman’s effect, he gains 300 attack points when another WATER monster is on the field. Leviathan Dragon will attack Hope!”

 Another piles of chips are pushed into the pot and Astral smiles, reaching for an overlay unit. “Hope can negate an attack by removing an overlay unit.”

 “Then I’ll attack with Jawsman too,” Ryouga hisses.

 “You’re getting worked up, Shark,” Yuuma whispers as Shark pays in more.

 “As you know,” Astral says. “Numbers can not be destroyed except by other Numbers.”

 “But damage still-”

 

 Shark stops dead, eyes wide, some realisation coming to him. Astral reaches down and his fingers brush a face down. Yuuma glances between them. What’s the face down? What does Shark think it is?

 “Bye Bye Damage,” Shark whispers.

 Yuuma frowns as Astral flips the card. Shark is right. “How did you-”

 “I told you, didn’t I, Yuuma?” Astral says, gesturing to the field in front of him. “Kamishiro already knows every card in your deck. Intimately.” Shark’s nose wrinkles and his eyes narrow. “Really, Kamishiro has an truly incredible memory. It’s what made this game such a fun one. Kamishiro already knew every card I played and every combination I could make.”

 “How could he possibly-”

 “Because he knows not just your cards, but the cards themselves,” he explains. “No, Kamishiro?” He runs his fingers over the back of the card and Yuuma frowns as his fingertip trace a crease along the back of a card. Shark’s fists clench. “Kamishiro knows every crease and fold and indent of your cards, Yuuma. I suppose he asks you to handle them a lot when they’re new. To gain their own individual markers and dents. Each card with a character of its own. A special sign to tell Kamishiro precisely what’s in store.”

 “Shark?”

 “Are you trying to accuse me of cheating?” Shark hisses.

 “Not at all,” Astral replies. “You can hardly be accused of cheating simply because you’re familiar with cards and have known Yuuma and his deck for so long. How could you possibly be accused of cheating for that? As I said, Duel Monsters played like this is still a game of luck. Your cards and mine must be used in the right ways at the right time, no? No amount of knowledge can defend you from a dead hand. No, Yuuma, Kamishiro is simply highly aware and highly intelligent. As I said, did I not? Haven’t I said it enough time by now? He has an incredible memory and eye for detail. I imagine you’d make quite an attentive lover, Kamishiro.”

 “Save your pillow talk,” he snaps, flipping over his own Trap. “You remember my Booming Urchin, right? So during my next Standby Phase, you’ll take 1000 points of damage.”

 “Yuuma, Kamishiro’s life points have gone down to 1700 and mine are at 100.”

 “You have to do something fast or you’ll lose,” Yuuma says quietly, fixing the life point counter.

 “That’s alright,” Astral says quietly. “There is no fun to be had gambling unless there’s something at risk, no? The greater the risk, the greater the thrill. There’s no point if there’s nothing to lose.”

 “Astral…”

 There’s something strange about him. Something wrong. His eyes narrow slightly. Astral is way too into this. He’s going to lose all this money and he’s smiling. His eyes are lit up in a way Yuuma almost recognises. Excitement. He’s enjoying it. With everything on the line like this.

 

 “Take your turn, Astral. It will be your last.”

 “I think it will be,” Astral replies. He smiles and throws in yet more money. This is getting crazy. “My draw.” He glances over his cards and smiles slowly. “This really was enjoyable, Kamishiro.” He puts half his remaining money in the pot. “Hope will attack Leviathan Dragon.”

 “What?!”

 “Have you gone crazy?” Shark sneers.

 “Then use Hope’s last Overlay Unit to negate his attack,” he says. Shark scowls and Yuuma frowns. Why stop his own attack? Then Shark’s eyes widen. His cards fall to the table and Astral turns a Spell card. “Then activate Double or Nothing!”

 “That… doubles a monster’s attack when it’s negated, right?” Yuuma says softly.

 Shark’s shaking hands grip the table and Astral smiles, pushing the last of his money into the pot. “Correct. And now, Hope will attack Leviathan Dragon once more. And I believe that’s game, no?”

 “Y-yeah…” He stares back at Shark, who’s watching Astral in terrified, stunned silence. “Shark loses.”

 

 “What a wonderful game,” Astral says, pulling the pot over towards him. “I had such fun, Kamishiro.” He smiles and shuffles his deck slowly, tucking Hope away once more. “Shall we play again?”

 “What?” Shark whispers, voice shaking.

 “Ah, but you only have a few chips left,” he sighs. “That’s not enough to play a proper duel. Hmm, can’t you get more? I can wait. You’re such an amusing opponent.”

 “N-no.”

 “Or you could write an IOU.” He reaches across the table and tucks Shark’s hair behind his ear. Shark jerks back, staring up at him. “Didn’t you say you say if you had nothing left to bet, you bet yourself?”

 “I…” His voice catches and Astral smiles, eyes bright and wide with some kind of thrill and excitement on a level Yuuma has only seen a twice before. “I can’t.”

 “Oh? Then what about trinkets? You took your key off Yuuma, correct? Then...” His fingers brush the pendant around Shark’s neck and he snatches back, hand clasped around it desperately. “No? Then I guess there’s little more to play for.”

 Yuuma frowns. “If Shark’s out of money…”

 “That’s alright.” Astral takes Leviathan Dragon from the field and leaves a bundle of money in it’s place. “I think you need the money more than this card, Kamishiro. I’m sure you can earn back what you’ve lost, no? Thank you for such a great game today. I had fun. I look forward to duelling you again one day. Yuuma.”

 “Shark…”

 Yuuma chases after Astral, leaving Shark in shock. He’d never seen Shark beaten like that. He’s never seen someone lure Shark in and take so much money from him. Michael is watching quietly from his table in the corner, sipping his tea casually. Yuuma absently wonders where Thomas has gone. But that’s quickly pushed away as Rio heads up the stairs with Kotori following. That’s not going to go well.

 

 “Yuuma,” Astral says, stopping outside in the hall. “You require money to repay your debt, correct?”

 Yuuma nods. He’s in debt to Shark and the Student Council. He frowns, playing with the tag around his neck. It marked him out as property. He was lucky Shark liked him enough to stop anyone else bullying him. He’d seen how bad it could be for others. But with Shark now out of money-

 Astral pushes cash into his hand and smiles a little. “That’s what it says on your tag, correct? That should be enough to free you from the Student Council, no?”

 “Yeah. Thanks but why-”

 “Because you’re deck helped me win,” Astral replies. Yuuma smiles and nods. “And for Kamishiro-”

 “I’ll pay off Shark, don’t worry. This is more than enough. Uh, if you want to change your chips to cash, or the other way, you need to see the Student Council. The safe’s in their room. And they’ve got all the receipts. I gotta go that way anyway, to pay this off.”

 “That’s quite alright, Yuuma. I’ll see you later. After all, I’m sure there are a lot more people for me to have fun with. Thank you, for introducing me to such an enjoyable friend. I’m sure Kamishiro and I will have a lot more fun in the future.”

 “I’m sure…” Yuuma laughs, turning away.

 That Astral really was a bit nuts. Yuuma sighs and shakes his head. He hopes Shark is going to be ok. It’s payment time. If Shark can’t pay the Student Council… He frowns and shakes his head. He can’t think about that right now. Shark will be fine. He’s always fine. Shark’s an apex predator, after all. Yuuma’s debt wasn’t so bad. He’d only missed a few payments. This would see him clear! It’s a miracle really. No one ever came back from being property.

 

 Yuuma knocks on the door a little too eagerly and there’s a quiet call for him to come in. He opens the door slowly and finds Michael’s somehow beat him here, sitting at the coffee table on one of the couches, eating a slice of cake. Something with a lot of strawberries and cream. He smiles politely and Yuuma grins back.

 “What can we do for you, Tsukumo?” Michael says quietly. “We’ve already collected your donation for this month, I seem to remember. Something more personal?”

 “I… I want to pay my debt,” Yuuma says. Michael tilts his head and his smile softens a little, eyes falling on the cash in Yuuma’s hands. “I want to clear it.”

 Michael nods and gestures to the grand doors beyond. “Then I’m sure they’ll be happy to help you.”

 They? That’s where Thomas is? With Kaito? Hardly the most surprising thing about the day. Kaito and Thomas have a strange connection. A world of their own, tangled in a web of thrills and risk. They’re nearly as bad as that Astral, he’s sure. That’s where he’s seen that look. When those two are in full swing.

 He knocks quietly once more and Kaito calls for him. There’s no sign of Thomas. Yuuma frowns a little and Yuuma smiles, shutting the door behind him. Kaito glances up and gives him a tight, professional smile, gesturing to a seat across him his desk. There might not be any sign of Thomas, but his cards are on the table with Kaito’s. They’d been duelling. From the looks of Thomas’ field, and Kaito’s Neo-Galaxy Eyes, he might have lost and gone for a walk to cool off.

 “What can I do for you, Tsukumo?” Kaito says.

 “I want to clear my debt,” Yuuma says quietly.

 Kaito nods. “You have the cash? Or you want to make a payment plan? You know if you want to talk about a payment plan you have to talk with Durbe. I think he’s out collecting payments right now.”

 “N-no,” Yuuma says, shaking his head. “All of it.” He sets the pile of cash on the table and Kaito raises an eyebrow. “That new guy gave it to me. For letting him use me deck against Shark.”

 “I heard Kamishiro lost,” Kaito says, his smile widening into something cruel. Like there’s some cruel inside joke. Yuuma doesn’t think he wants to know what Kaito finds amusing. “I do hope it doesn’t impede his ability to pay his donations.”

 “Me too,” he sighs.

 He’s sure Kaito finds his concern for Shark amusing too. But there’s something oddly serene about him today too. Calm and relaxed. Perhaps it’s getting to duel Thomas. Yuuma heard he’s about the only one who keeps Kaito’s interest in a duel.

 

 “So, will it do?” Yuuma says quietly.

 Kaito nods, taking the money slowly and giving it a quick flick through to check the amount before nodding once more. He picks up a receipt book from his draw, scrawling on it quickly. He pushes it over to Yuuma with a pen.

 “Check it and sign.”

 Yuuma nods, glancing through over the receipt. It all looked right. He signs, before handing it back to Kaito. He tears off the receipt and hands Yuuma the copy beneath. Kaito’s copy is attached to the bundle of money and shut in a lock box.

 “You can hand back your tag,” Kaito says, "and enjoy your freedom. Welcome back to the world of the living, Tsukumo. Please keep on top of your debts this time."

 Yuuma nods and slowly takes off the tag, handing it over to Kaito. It’s an incredible weight off his shoulders. He’s finally free. Kaito crosses something off a page in a book and waves his hand. Yuuma knows it’s time to go. He stands quickly and hurries towards the door.Best not to linger too long around the Studen Council. You'll get sucked in by Kaito's gravity and never escape his grasp.

 

 “I’m glad you’re such a good dog,” Kaito murmurs. Yuuma almost glances back, but he knows better than to wonderful about the Student Council President’s musing. There’s a muffled growl, something that sounds oddly like Thomas’ voice, as Yuuma turns the handle. “Hush now, just behave a little longer.”

 Yuuma shuts the door behind him just as there’s a thud against the desk. He doesn’t want to know. He doesn’t want to get involved in Student Council stuff. He’s heard Thomas and Kaito referred to as Gambling Demons. He’s heard all sorts of crazy rumours. From gambling for sexual favours, to duels that made damage real, in perilous situations, even things like Russian Roulette. He’s all sorts of things about Thomas and Kaito’s relationship. Thomas is not technically on the council. Michael is. Thomas just spends a lot of time there. He’s heard older kids say Kaito actually owns Thomas. That he won him in a game against his older brother, along with his Number and position on the council. Just as many said Kaito had fallen into debt the day he arrived and Thomas was one of his worst tormentors.

 Whatever the truth, Yuuma doesn’t want to get involved.

 

 “Tsukumo,” Michael says softly. Yuuma glances back and Michael gets up, approaching slowly. Yuuma is struck by his grace and elegance. He smiles and takes Yuuma’s arm lightly. “Come and gamble with me, Yuuma. I’ll pay for you. To celebrate your release.” Yuuma frowns and Michael smiles warmly. “I do mean pay for, not lend. No debt. I’ve wanted to talk to you for a while.”

Chapter Text

 “Yuuma,” Astral call quietly. Yuuma turns as Astral approaches. “Good morning, Yuuma.”

 “Hi,” Yuuma says with a grin.

 “You’re free of your tag,” he says, gesturing at Yuuma’s neck. Yuuma grins and nods. “I’m glad I could help a friend.”

 “Me too,” he laughs, nodding slightly. “And Michael took me gambling last night to celebrate. It’s really nice to have people acknowledging me again. Even if it kinda sucks that something as little as a tag around my neck changes everything so much.”

 “It is rather a shame,” Astral says as they walk down the halls towards their classes. “But, it does add a new element of thrill to the games, don’t you think?”

 “Maybe for you,” Yuuma sighs.

 

 Yuuma pauses as they go passed Shark’s classroom. Astral stops next to him with a frown. Yuuma had been worried about that. There’s a tag on Shark’s desk. Graffiti scrawled all over it and cut into it, rude words and names and slurs. A broken doll looking remarkably like Shark broken into pieces. Yuuma sighs. The higher you fly, the further you fall. No one ever cared about Yuuma, he was always a small fish. But not Shark.

 “What’s going on?” Astral says softly. “Is Kamishiro being bullied?”

 “No,” Yuuma sighs. He glances over at Rio, who has two rings on her fingers and Shark’s pendant around her neck. “No, Shark… Shark lost all his money… and he hadn’t paid the Student Council yet.”

 “Then Kamishiro has become a house pet?”

 Yuuma sighs and turns away. He doesn’t want to be here when Shark comes in. He doesn’t think he can stand seeing Shark like that. He walks away and Astral follows to their own classroom. Poor Shark. He won’t even get to have anyone looking after him like Yuuma did.

 

 The day passes slowly and Yuuma can’t help worrying over shark the entire time. Poor Shark doesn’t deserve this. He was always kind to Yuuma. Even if he did use him to cheat. Astral doesn’t understand this school yet. He’ll learn eventually. Yuuma hopes he’ll learn before he wanders too far into trouble.

 “Yuuma.” Yuuma stiffens as a chair is kicked out for him across from Michael. “Sit with me.”

 “R-right,” Yuuma says quietly and sits in the seat offered.

 He sets down his dinner tray and Michael smiles warmly, sipping his tea. Seeing Michael gamble last night was eye opening. His endless supply of money, his amazing skill and tactics. Everyone saw his cuteness and assumed, and then just as quickly Michael tore them apart with ruthless efficiency. He’s walked away several tens of thousands better off.

 “Tell me about your new friend, Yuuma,” Michael says softly. Yuuma frowns. “Amou Astral, no?”

 “Yeah… He’s….” He smiles a little, trying to figure out the best way to explain it. “He’s like Thomas and the Pres, I think.”

 Michael laughs a little and smiles. “I certainly got that feeling when I saw him against Kamishiro yesterday. What a shame what’s happened to him, no? He really had such a promising future, now he’s nothing more than a pet?”

 “What’s going to happen to him?” Yuuma says quietly.

 “Isn’t that the question?” Michael chuckles into his hand. “That is up to the President, I’m afraid. He’ll decide Kamishiro’s fate from here. The President has a plan for everyone, you know? Everyone useful, that is.”

 “The Pres is kinda scary sometimes,” he laughs weakly.

 Michael nods but pauses and glances up. Yuuma turns. Astral is there, smiling pleasantly as ever. Yuuma smiles back.

 “Ah, Astral, this is Michael Arclight,” Yuuma says quietly. “He’s Secretary of the Student Council. Michael this is Astral.”

 “A pleasure to meet you,” Astral says, inclining his head slightly. “Yuuma says all those on the Council are remarkable duellists and gamblers. I do hope to have the chance to play many thrilling games with you all soon.”

 “I’m sure,” Michael says quietly.

 “I’m not sure you should wish to face the Student Council so easily,” Yuuma laughs nervously. He really doesn’t have any shame, does he? “Michael is Secretary. Kaito is the President. And-”

 “You!” Yuuma sighs at Rio’s yell and Michael smiles tightly. Astral turns and Rio has her eyes narrowed as he storms over. “You, you’re the one who beat Ryouga.”

 “Yes, Kamishiro was a truly fun match.”

 

 Rio’s eyes narrow further. If looks could kill Astral would be encased in ice and shattered into pieces. Michael laughs softly. “Amou, this is the head of the Disciplinary Committee and member of the Student Council. Kamishiro Rio. She’s never lost a game. Although, she’s never played with other members of the Council.”

 “Kamishiro. Rio.” Rio nods and Astral tilts his head. “You’re related to Kamishiro Ryouga, then? Oh.” He smiles and tilts his head, gesturing to her chest and Rio jerks back defensively. “That’s his pendant, no? And wasn’t he wearing a ring just like yours?”

 “This is a family heirloom,” Rio snaps. “It belongs to the heir of the Kamishiro family. It was once Ryouga’s yes. But he lost the right to wear it when he became nothing more than a pet.”

 “Ah, I see. So in becoming less than human, he lost all his possessions that marked him out as important in your family,” Astral says. “How unfortunate.”

 “Even if it’s disgusting for him to show such weakness, this slight won’t go unpunished,” she says, shaking her head. “I will avenge this disgraceful loss. So, Astral. Gamble with me.”

 Astral’s eyes light up and he claps his hands together. “Of course.”

 “I was afraid you were going to say that,” Yuuma sighs.

 “Wonderful,” Rio laughs. She turns on her heel and stalks away. “Come with me. There’s a table up on the gallery.”

 Astral follows her unquestioningly and Yuuma sighs. “Sorry, Michael. I should go and keep an eye on him.”

 

 Michael nods and smiles and Yuuma hurries after the pair, up the stairs to the gallery above where they’re either side of a large table. Astral’s eyes and wide and glowing with excitement, just as before as Rio sets a case on the desk.

 “Is two hundred thousand a suitable bet?” Rio says. “Enough to get the juices flowing, correct?”

 “Ahh, that’s wonderful,” Astral replies. “But I’m afraid I don’t have that kind of money with me any more.”

 Yuuma’s jaw drops. He gambled away all that money in one night? After a moment, Rio’s perfect smile returns and she flicks out her hair with grace and elegance that only Rio could pull off.

 “No to worry,” she says. “In order to avenge my baby brother’s humiliating defeat I, Rio the great heir to the Kamishiro family, will loan you two hundred thousand. Interest free.”

 “Really?” Astral says, beaming over. “That’s so kind.”

 “Astral,” Yuuma sighs.

 “So, what shall we play, Miss Kamishiro?”

 “A test of memory,” Rio says.

 “Oh? Do you have your brother’s incredible memory skills to?”

 “He has my memory skills,” she snaps. Even so, she sighs and takes out two stacks of chips, setting them aside. “It’s a simple game, Astral. We’ll play with two identical decks. You scatter the cards face down. Every card has a double. You turn over two cards. If you get a match, you can use that card’s effect and get to make another pick. If you miss, it’s your opponent’s turn. Understand?”

 “It’s a duel, but with no idea what card comes next?” Astral says.

 “That’s right. However, rather than losing life points, you start at zero and gain damage, with every attack being direct,” Rio says. “Whoever has the most damage when all the cards have been played, loses. Oh, and as an extra rule, if you get enough monsters of the same level in a row, you can Xyz summon, if you need higher attack power. Of course, some card effects won’t be able to be used, but they will whittle down the field. Sound good?”

 “Sounds like fun.”

 Astral is way too easy to please. Yuuma enjoys duelling but this is insane. He’s just going to get himself into debt at this rate.

 

 Rio beams and hands over a sealed deck to Astral and one for herself. The pair break the seals, cut and shuffle the decks before swapping them. The decks were merged and split in two again before they start to spread them across the table.

 “Ready?” Rio says. Astral nods. “Please, take the first turn.”

 “There’s little to be done on the first turn,” Astral says. “It really is a matter of luck. So…” He reaches out and flips one of the cards. “Lost Blue Breaker and…” He pauses and flips another. Yuuma sighs. “...Aqua Jet. What a shame, but not entirely unexpected.”

 “The first turn is always tricky,” she agrees, nodding slightly as Astral turns them back face down. “There’s nothing to go on but luck early on. Let’s see.” She hums and hovers over the cards before nodding and flipping one of the cards. “Ah. Lost Blue Breaker. Luck seems to be on my side. And I know where that is.”

 She reaches over and flips one of the cards Astral had. A match. Yuuma stares up at Astral, who’s smiling back pleasantly as one of the crowd adds on the damage.

 “I’m glad you have luck on your side, Miss Kamishiro,” Astral says as calm as ever. “It would be boring if there weren’t overwhelming odds, don’t you think?”

 “I’m glad you don’t seem like the type to be a sore loser, Astral,” Rio says, sweeping the pair of cards away. “I get another turn now then. Let’s see.” She smiles and flips over another pair of card. “Oh! Another match! But it’s only Water Hazard. Hmm.” She flips over another pair and sighs. “And a miss. Your turn, Astral.”

 “My my, Miss Kamishiro,” Astral says softly. “What luck. I will need all my skills of memory to keep up with you, I’m sure.”

 “I’m sure.”

 “Let’s see if luck will smile on me too.”

 


 

 “So, what’s with the tower?” Thomas says, folding his arms. Kaito smiles a little and Thomas frowns. “Kaito.”

 “It’s my Tower of Doors,” Kaito replies.

 “Uh-huh,” he mutters.

 The tower is pretty impressive. It soars above them. At least four floors. With doors on the outside. Like a turret without a castle. In the middle of a field of white lilies and dominating the landscape.

 “What’s it for?” he says at last. “I mean, you built it for a purpose, right?”

 “Not really,” Kaito replies. Thomas scowls and Kaito smiles. “The idea just took me really. I have the resources and money and little else to do with them? Why not build such a thing?”

 Thomas frowns. “How phallic.”

 “Hmm? What does that say about your priorities that your mind goes there?” Thomas sticks out his tongue and Kaito smiles. “I think it’s rather fortunate timing. Let’s see what our dear Ice Queen can do again Amou.”

 “Someone got your attention? Should I be jealous? You built a tower just to show him how big your dragon is?”

 Kaito smiles and tilts his head, gazing up at the tower. “It’s a little more like… every aquarium needs a castle to entertain it fish, don’t you think? And a place to hide when a predator enters the tank.”

 “I’d forgotten that’s how you see us all,” Thomas says, rolling his eyes and turning away. “Nothing more than colourful fish eating each other for your amusement.”  

 “Of course,” he says. “And aren’t you the most precious, glittering specimen among my collection? Please, don’t get yourself eaten by our new shark, my dear.”

Chapter Text

 Ryouga’s fingers tremble against his desk. He’s going to make Astral pay. He’s going to make them all pay. The council included. He still had time to pay his donation. It wasn’t supposed to cut off yet. He was supposed to still have time. It would have only taken him a few days to get the money together. That prick Kaito shifted the schedule to trap him! He wouldn’t put it passed Thomas to have been behind that. Kaito and Thomas are so entwined it’s hard to tell where one starts and the other begins.

 His fingers move to the tag around his neck. The edges dig into his palm. They’re all going to pay!

 “Oi, Fido.” Ryouga’s shoulders stiffen. Pet was taken far too literally around here. “Kamishiro.” His chair is kicked and he stands and turned. “I split my tea.”

 His fist clench, glaring down at them. One of the girls laughs. “Are you going to refuse, Fido?”

 “That’s an uncooperative attitude, right?” another laughs. “That’ll get you deeper in debt with the council, right?”

 

 Ryouga turns and stomps off to the closet. He returns to the classroom with a mop and bucket of water, ignoring the stares. It’s fine. He’s not afraid of hard work. It does piss him off though. He throws off his jacket, rolls up his sleeves and puts his hair back into a ponytail. Fuck them. Fuck them all. He’s not such a spoilt rich brat he’s going to break from a bit of cleaning and bullying.

 “Hey, Rio’s playing the new guy,” calls a voice from the door. Ryouga glances up. “They’re playing memory.”

 “No way!”

 “They’re in the cafeteria!”

 The classroom empties within moments and Ryouga sighs, sitting back on his heels and glaring at the mess they’ve made of the puddle he was cleaning up. At least Rio will make that Astral bastard suffer for what he did. He hopes she takes him for all he has.

 

 There’s a pair of footsteps that pause at the classroom door. He frowns and turns slightly. Durbe. Durbe is standing there, gazing into the room, but not quite looking at him. Of course not. Durbe is the Treasurer of the Student Council. As if one of those elite would ever look directly at a pet. Even if they’ve known each other since they were children.

 After a long, silent moment, Durbe walks in.

 “You should be cleaning that,” he says, still not quite looking at him.

 Ryouga nods, returning to cleaning the puddle on his hands and knees, but watching Durbe out the corner of his eye. Durbe gazes down at his ruined desk for a moment before opening it up and setting an envelope inside.

 “The President has a plan for you, Kamishiro,” he says, his back to him. “Word has been spread not to play with you.” Ryouga frowns. That will only keep him in debt a little longer. It’s not like he can’t just buy himself out once his allowance comes through next month. “The only way you’ll be allowed to play is in an official match.”

 So that’s their game. Drown him in so much debt he can’t just buy his way out of it.

 “Please, don’t do anything stupid. Do something uncharacteristically sensible. Don’t play into his hand.” He turns and heads back towards the door. “It’s pointless warning you though, isn’t it?”

 “Thank you,” Ryouga mutters, returning to cleaning.

 “I didn’t do anything.”

 When Durbe s gone and Ryouga is finished, he returns to his desk, opening the envelope. It’s exactly what he expected. Durbe really is too good to him. He’ll hand it off to Rio later to cover Yuuma’s debt to him, which she had taken control of now too. And Ryouga really is too soft, thinking of Yuuma at a time like this.

 Kaito has a plan for him, huh? Well, he was never the type to avoid a good trap. If they want him to play an official match, he’ll just have to beat them at their own game.

 


 

 “And with that, I win,” Rio laughs softly, clapping her hands together.

 Everyone is staring. Yuuma is staring. He can’t believe how incredible that was! Neither of them missed a single match. If the card had already been seen once they both hit it every time. Shark and his sis really did have incredible memories. And Astral too!

 But Astral is staring. Rio heads over to the balcony, waving at her audience. He just stares at the table as he if can’t believe it. This isn’t the sort of duelling that can be won with much skill. It’s all about luck and memory. Something Rio has in spades.

 “Kamishiro,” Astral says at last. Rio turns, watching over her shoulder. “Please. Play with me again.”

 “Huh?”

 “Astral,” Yuuma says, shaking his head. “You can’t-”

 “I don’t have that money, Yumma,” Astral says. “I can’t be in that level of debt right now. It’s far too much. Unless you were about to offer to pay for me?”

 “Ah, well… you know, if I could…”

 “Then I have no choice but to play again,” he says, turning back to Rio. “Please. We have the same memory skills. I shouldn’t have made such a mistake. I can not be satisfied if I lost by my own negligence rather than skill and I’d imagine you pride would say the same, Kamishiro, if you are anything like your brother.”

 “My pride?” Rio says.

 “That is why you wished to avenge your brother, is it not?”

 “You’re a troublemaker, aren’t you?” she laughs airily, turning back to the table. “To be quite honest, two hundred thousand here or there is little to bother me, I wouldn’t mind it going missing, and you do seem desperate.” She sighs and flicks out her hair. “Alright, I’ll tell you what; I will put up another two hundred thousand for you, however, money really is of little interest to me at that sort of level.”

 “I understand,” Astral says. “A bet that means nothing to you really isn’t worth anything.”

 “Exactly,” she says.

 “So, I will put up the money and in return…” She hums and tilts his head, tapping her chin. “Ah, I know. You know, I have a collection, you know? So, if you lose, you’ll have to be a part of my collection too, ok?”

 “Me?” Astral says.

 “Well, I already inherited Yuuma from Ryouga,” she replies. “So, I’ll add you to my collection of cute things too, ok?”

 “Astral-”

 “That is acceptable. As your brother said, if you can’t bet anything else, you bet yourself, right?”

 “But I’m not sure being Rio’s is worth it.”

 “What’s that supposed to mean, Yuuma?” Rio snaps.

 “Nothing, nothing!”

 “Ok, same rules as before,” she says, taking two new sealed decks from her bag. She opens them up and they scatter them over the tables. “And, you can go first again. Because I’m a kind and merciful mistress.”

 “That’s not what Shark said,” Yuuma mutters.

 

 “That is incredibly kind of you,” Astra says, reaching for the first card. “Kamishiro, don’t you think you’re being a bit disingenuous though?”

 “I’m not following.”

 “Ah, Astral, it’s a match,” Yuuma calls.

 “So it is,” he replies. “Let me ask you, Kamishiro, how much is your family’s reputation worth? If someone like you is revealed to also be a cheat, how much would your fortune suffer?” Rio’s eyes widen and Yuuma frowns as Astral turns over another match. “How much do you value me at, Kamishiro?”

 “What are you talking about?” Rio snaps.

 “You really are just like your brother, Kamishiro,” Astral continues. Yuuma’s jaw drops. Another match. “You got too carried away with your own scheme. Had you used a different pattern, I would have been in trouble.”

 “You- you mean-”

 “Even for me, it’s rather tough to memorise them all,” he says, flipping over match after match. He’s not put a foot wrong. “You and he really do have incredible memories. I’m glad I could match you.”

 “But on my turn,” Rio murmurs, staring up at Astral. “On my turn-”

 “Oh?” Astral says, stepping back from the table. “But, I’ve already won, Kamishiro.” He gestures to the table. “That’s all the monsters, no? You can’t attack without a monster card, can you?”

 

 Rio sways slightly, as if totally lost by what just happened. Yuuma’s not entirely sure what just happened either. Astral smiles and tilts his head. He hadn’t missed a single pair. What kind of demon is Astral?!

 “How- how-” Rio staggers back from the table. “Did you really... remember…”

 “Should we play again?” Astral says.

 “I don’t understand,” Yuuma says.

 “It’s fascinating,” he replies. “You see, Kamishiro has been using special decks. And extra level to the game, as it were. For a few minutes, when taken from her heated bag, they have subtle marks that denote the pairings.”

 “She’s cheating too? Just like Shark?”

 “Cheating?” Astral says, then shakes his head. “They were quite obviously there. It’s a matter of obviously there. There was nothing in the rules that said the decks weren’t allowed to be marked. The fact that you don’t notice is the players fault, no? Kamishiro still had to memorise all the matching pairs and their locations before they faded. It certainly wasn’t an easy job. It’s very impressive.”

 “What kind of monster are you? How is that possible? How could you possibly-”

 “What shall we play next, Kamishiro?” Astral says, sweeping over and grasping Rio’s hands. Yuuma frowns. He’s got that crazy look in his eyes again. “There are so many great ways to duel here, I’m sure we can do something fun, can’t we? I’m sure you can bet something more meaningful, can’t you? Meet the same stakes. If I win, you should bet yourself-”

 “Stop!” Rio cries, stumbling back and hitting the floor, staring up at Astral. “What- what are you- how could you-”

 “You suggested the stakes so I’m sure you won’t mind, right?” he says. “You won’t disappoint me like your brother, will you? Such an ingenious way to stack the odds in your favour-”

 “Astral, enough,” Yuuma calls.

 “Rio!” Kotori cries and Yuuma grabs her before she can run over. “Let me-”

 “Don’t,” he says, shaking his head. “I don’t think you should get in the middle of it while he’s like that. Astral, come on-”

 “Duel with me,” Astral says, grasping Rio’s hands. “Duel with me more. Duel with me. Duel. Duel. Duel!”

 “No!” Rio yells, shaking her head desperately.

 Thunder booms, the lights flicker, rain starts to pound against the windows and the room falls into utter silence apart from Rio’s terrified panting. Yuuma let’s Kotori go and she bolts over to Rio, falling to her knees and wrapping her up in her arms.

 

 “Astral,” Yuuma says quietly.

 “How boring,” Astral says.

 “Huh?”

 Boring? He’s terrified poor Rio. He’s won all his money back and yet he’s bored? Yuuma doesn’t understand at all. Just what is Astral?

 There’s a quiet clink of china and Yuuma glances over the balcony. Michael is striding away towards the exit without even a glance back. After a moment, Astral turns and sweeps away down from the gallery and back towards the exit too. Yuuma hesitates a second, then follows out into the hall and down the staircase.

 “Astral? Astral, what was that?”

 Astral pause and turns before smiling. “I apologise, Yuuma. Sometimes I simply get a little carried away with all the fun. It’s like a black mist falls over me.”

 “Black mist?”

 That sounds weird. Even so, he follows Astral as he continues to walk away towards the classrooms. He doesn’t get Astral at all. He went from a ridiculously nice guy to obsessively insistent. Like the second he picked up a deck, everything about him changed. Nothing about Astral makes sense to Yuuma.

 


 

 “And that concludes my report,” Michael says softly, hands clasped against the edge of his blazer. There’s a nervousness that comes from being under Kaito’s gaze. Michael is far from timid, despite being polite and quiet, but Kaito really is rather terrifying at times. “With Kamishiro’s loss-”

 “She will, of course, be removed from the council,” Mizael says.

 “As expected of someone who reached the council’s level from money rather than skill,” Alit says. “We never got a chance to test her ourselves, after all. And losing to some newbie-”

 “And who was it that recommended her for the council in the first place?” Vector sighs, glancing over at Durbe, who adjusts his glasses to hide the guilty glance away. “So? This newbie’s going to start getting cocky?”

 “What shall we do, President?” Droite says, turning to Kaito.

 Kaito gazes back at Michael impassively. Michael’s fingers tighten around his blazer’s edge, swallowing thickly. Seeing that new student like that didn’t make Michael happy. Far from it. It brought back awful memories. His beloved big brother tormented into a similar fever pitch under Kaito’s guidance. Kaito had torn apart his big brothers in search of his own amusement. And, of course, no one is unaware of Thomas lounging on the couch behind Kaito at the head of the meeting table, flipping through a book lazily and listening in on the entire council meeting. Nothing less of Kaito’s pet. At least Thomas is well enough behaved for Kaito that he doesn’t interrupt a meeting he’s not supposed to be privy to.

 Finally, Kaito sighs and folds his hands under his chin. “It’s fine, an interesting new player is always fun. Still, perhaps we should play with him a little. Perhaps we can knock him down a little before he gets too big for his boots. Make sure he understands how this school works.”