What am I doing?
Aoi glanced out the tinted bulletproof windows of Seto Kaiba's limousine as the car pulled away from the Bright Star Arcade. She half expected Yugi and the others to come running out of the building after her, but no one did, and the arcade's glimmering facade slipped away from view.
"They don't realize I've left," she said softly of her friends.
"Can't you message them?"
"I don't have a phone."
Across from her, in the periphery of her vision, Kaiba drew a sleek silver smartphone from his jacket pocket. "Then I'll let Yugi know."
Aoi wondered how Yugi would react to the news that she'd left. She bit her lip and surreptitiously shifted her gaze to Kaiba. What am I doing? she wondered again. He hates me. He thinks I stole his dragon. He's probably going to interrogate me about that, or about Yugi-kun, and it'll wind up being a big mess and cause the Mutous no end of trouble...
"So, what do they think?" asked Kaiba, pocketing his phone after sending the message.
"Yugi and his hangers-on. Do they have any brilliant theories about," Kaiba gestured between the two of them, "how you know me, and I know you, even though we've never met?"
Aoi remembered the look on Kaiba's face when they'd made eye contact in the game shop, the way he'd breathed "But you're dead." So I didn't imagine that he recognized me. But what does Yugi-kun have to do with it?
"I don't understand. I haven't told Yugi-kun anything about my dreams," Aoi said.
Kaiba's spent a moment regarding her, seeming to weigh his options, before he corrected, "Our dreams."
"You have them, too?" breathed the girl disbelievingly. Her head spun. Did this mean she wasn't going crazy? "Then it's--it's real? The magic, the monsters..."
"To my eternal chagrin, yes," confirmed Kaiba. "Yugi really hasn't told you anything?"
"Does he also have dreams?"
"A bit more than just that. He's made no mention of Egypt or of someone named Atem?" When Aoi shook her head, Kaiba threw up his hands. "Unbelievable. He lets all of his dim-witted friends in on the secret, but he can't manage to communicate relevant information to the one person who might be of use to me!" he raged.
Aoi winced a bit on Yugi's behalf. "It's not his fault. I'm a stranger."
"You live in his house. He's put his trust in people for worse reasons." Kaiba heaved a frustrated sigh, then quieted, glaring at the floor of the car. The limousine had all but slowed to a stop in the heavy Saturday-night traffic. A brooding silence stretched between its passengers as the CEO stewed in his annoyance and Aoi wrestled with the implications of all he had said.
"The ka monsters from my dream--they're Duel Monsters, aren't they?" she blurted when it finally hit her.
Kaiba nodded. "The ridiculous man who created the game was a fan of esoteric, apocryphal Ancient Egyptian lore, the sort of legends that no self-respecting archaeologist would mistake for actual history, except in this case, they turned out to be true."
"And Kisara and Priest Set..."
"Are part of those legends." Had he twitched a little, hearing Kisara's name? Or had Set's disturbed him, being so close to his own? Aoi couldn't tell, because Kaiba quickly obscured any discomfort he might have felt with haughtiness. He folded his arms and continued with an air of deliberate superiority, "Kaiba Corp. has recently developed a more reliable type of polygraph machine. I can tell you all I know about the magic and legends behind Duel Monsters, but if I do, you have to answer every question I put to you about your dreams, and I'll use the lie detector to ensure you do so completely and truthfully."
Desperate for information, Aoi very nearly agreed, but she hesitated at the last moment, remembering the strange monitoring and measuring devices that had surrounded her at the hospital. She'd developed an intense dislike for them them by the end of her stay; the prospect of going through more such tests filled her with dread.
"Will you tell me all about your dreams, too?" she asked, stalling for time.
Kaiba frowned. He plainly hadn't expected any negotiation from her. "Only the parts I choose to divulge."
"Then," Aoi took a deep breath, her heart beating faster, "I decline."
If Kaiba had looked surprised at her response moments ago, the expression that flickered across his face then was positively incensed. "You can't decline," he said, furrowing his brow.
Aoi looked down at her hands, which had tightened anxiously around the edges of her purikura printouts, but she murmured, "Yes, I can. You just said that Yugi-kun knows about the magic, too. I don't want to be monitored or tested, so I'd just as soon ask him about it instead."
"The fact that you're protesting such a simple measure proves you have something to hide," Kaiba accused her.
"It proves I don't want to be hooked up to a machine," said Aoi. She wondered from whence this sudden bout of courage had sprung, then realized it wasn't courage at all: she simply feared being tested more than she feared Kaiba's anger.
"It's a lie detector, not a torture device! You can't expect me to just take you at your word," snapped Kaiba.
"I want to figure out what's happening as much as you do. What reason do I have to lie?"
"You could be a con artist trying to screw with me."
"Have you told anyone else Kisara's name?" Aoi asked, trying to find some information that would convince Kaiba otherwise. "Does Yugi-kun know it?"
"I don't know. He hasn't told me if he does."
Aoi was surprised. "You haven't asked him about your dreams?"
"Because the day I rely on Mutou Yugi for intelligence is the day I retire from Duel Monsters," said Kaiba. "What does my having talked to him matter to you?"
"You said he knows about the magic and legends, so I just thought..."
"Well, I haven't. Nor do I plan to," said Kaiba.
Aoi reasoned, "Then you have to take me at my word, unless there's someone else who can help you figure things out."
Kaiba ground his teeth together in frustration. More to himself than Aoi, he muttered, "There is, but she's not speaking to me at the moment."
"...Why?" Aoi dared to ask.
"Because I desecrated a sacred tomb guarded by her ancestors for almost five thousand years," Kaiba answered, turning the full force of his glare onto Aoi, "and I'll do much worse than that in order to get what I want. On that note, you should ask yourself what exactly is stopping me from strapping you to my polygraph machine by force."
Aoi's mouth went dry. She couldn't answer for a good minute; such a long interval passed, in fact, that Kaiba began to look smug, convinced he had won. Then Aoi whispered, "Because you aren't that kind of person."
"How would you know what kind of person I am?" snorted Kaiba. "Maybe you're thinking of Priest Set, that oh-so-honorable soul who saved Kisara from the torture chamber he sent her to in the first place?"
"That wasn't Lord Set's fault," Aoi argued, feeling strangely defensive of the man from her dreams. "Akhnadin forced him to put Kisara in the arena."
"So? Even if the old man hadn't, it wouldn't have changed the fact that Set willingly condemned other people to that dungeon. The fact that he allowed Akhnadin to sway him just means he was spineless as well as cruel."
Aoi bristled. "Lord Set isn't! I mean, he wasn't, or if he was, he changed for Kisara's sake. He risked his life to help her. That means something, doesn't it?"
"Yes: it means he didn't have the courage to watch a pretty girl eaten alive in front of him. That makes him a hypocrite, not a good person." Kaiba's eyes narrowed at her. "And I promise you, I am afflicted with neither his weak stomach nor his pretentions of nobility."
"You can't mean that," said Aoi.
Kaiba crossed his arms with a glower that clearly said try me. Aoi managed to hold his stare despite her inner turmoil. Something told her that Kaiba didn't actually want to drag her kicking and screaming to take his lie detector test, but she also suspected that if she called his bluff, pride would obligate him to follow through on the threat. She couldn't give in, but neither could she refuse him outright. Swallowing around the tightness in her throat, Aoi screwed up her courage and asked,
"C-Couldn't we start with an ordinary conversation? If you think I've lied to you at all by the end, I'll take your test willingly. Just give me a chance to tell the truth on my own. Please," she added.
Kaiba made a tch noise, then settled back into the leather car seat. "Fine, but it'll be a waste of time, because I don't trust you."
"But I haven't done anything to you. I know you think I stole your card, but I didn't. I couldn't have."
"That remains to be seen. Now," Kaiba steepled his fingers, fixing Aoi with an evaluative stare. "First questions: when did your visions start, and were you awake or asleep when you first noticed them?"
With a small sigh, Aoi gave up trying to defend her innocence in favor of replying, "Right after I came to Domino, I started hearing voices in the back of my mind."
Aoi shook her head. "I say 'hearing,' but they weren't that vivid--it was more like I was remembering them involuntarily. I didn't actually see anything until I slept that first night."
"Did anything in particular precede the onset of these memories, other than your arrival here?"
Aoi recalled the Kaiba Corp. Duel Monster holograph machine in the train station, and she hesitantly recounted the incident with the Blue-Eyes White Dragon projection to Kaiba.
"Of course that mess happened because of you," he growled after she'd finished. "You know I spent two whole days last week checking behind my engineers, trying to figure out what went wrong with that model? And I had to apologize to the station manager after the blackout." He all but spat the word apologize.
"You really said you were sorry?" Aoi blurted.
"Not personally," replied Kaiba. "I had the holo-projector's head developer issue his regrets. It was almost as bad."
"What's so bad about apologizing?"
"It's the principle of the thing. If I hadn't been aware of the risks involved, I wouldn't have installed the projector in the first place. The fact that one of those risks became reality doesn't mean I regret my initial decision."
"A lot of people got hurt. You don't regret the part you played in that?"
"Since I paid off their medical bills, no. Do you?"
"If the machine broke because of me, then I feel bad, yes."
Kaiba rolled his eyes. "You and Kisara share a martyr complex. I advise you to divest yourself of it as soon as possible unless you want to end up like her."
"Everybody dies, Kaiba-san," said Aoi softly.
"But not everybody has to die a victim. Speaking of which, have you seen Kisara's death yet?"
Aoi shook her head no.
"Interesting. That was the first thing I ever saw," said Kaiba.
"Was...was he very sad?"
"He? Oh, the priest. He looked it, but I can't say for sure."
Aoi regarded Kaiba confusedly. "You mean you didn't feel what he felt?"
"Why would I have?" Almost immediately, Kaiba answered his own question: "Are you saying that when you dream, events unfold from Kisara's point of view? As though you're in her body, seeing through her eyes?"
Aoi nodded. "I thought it was the same for you with Priest Set."
"It isn't. It's like I'm hovering over his shoulder, following him. I see things unfold from his vantage point, yes, but I can see him as well. I'm very much a third-person viewer." Kaiba drummed his fingers on the seat next to him contemplatively. "We're experiencing their memories in different ways, then. That's useful to know. How do events play out in your visions?"
"What do you mean?"
"Do things happen in chronological order?"
"When I was unconscious in the hospital, they did. Everything felt more vivid, too. But when I dream normally, it's all mixed up. I only see parts and pieces."
"We're alike in that respect, although I've seen enough to get an idea of the bigger picture." Kaiba frowned. "Still, I'm almost certainly missing something—an important piece..."
"Is that why you're curious about my dreams?"
"Partly, but right now it's impossible to determine whether you've really seen something I haven't. You could fabricate a recollection and throw off the data."
"Why would I do that?"
"I don't know, but you could all the same."
Exasperation briefly overrode Aoi's timidity: "Is everyone guilty until proven innocent as far as you're concerned?"
"Yes, so don't think you're special," sneered Kaiba.
"I'd promise you that I don't, but you likely wouldn't believe that, either."
Aoi's own boldness startled her. To her further shock, Kaiba cracked a halfway genuine smile in response to it.
"Someone's learning," he drawled. Then he pressed a button on the car door and said, "Isono."
Aoi jumped when unseen speakers transmitted a man's voice into her and Kaiba's closed-off section of the limousine. "Yes, Kaiba-sama?"
"Shirogane and I will be dining at Ukiyo this evening. Ensure that the usual accommodations are in place."
Kaiba pressed the button again, concluding the exchange.
"I don't think I'm dressed for the kind of restaurant that you're dressed for," stammered Aoi into the renewed quiet. "Also, I don't have any—"
"If you finish that sentence with the word 'money,' I'm going to think much less of you. I make a million yen a day at minimum; I can spring for your damn dinner, so don't be deliberately dense in the name of politeness or humility or whatever insipid moral you feel the need to demonstrate right now." Kaiba rubbed at his eyes briefly, and Aoi realized then that he must be quite tired--perhaps his dreams caused him as many restless nights as hers did. "Also, what you're wearing is fine, and even if it wasn't, the restaurant owners won't complain... What are you clinging to there?"
Aoi turned the photo booth printouts around so Kaiba could see them. He didn't immediately disregard them as she thought he would; rather, he studied them all carefully before huffing out a scornful tch noise.
"Katsuya looks adroit as ever," he observed dryly. Aoi glanced down at Jounouchi's image in the last photo Kaiba had looked at; the poor blond's eyes were half-closed, his mouth half-open, like he'd been about to sneeze. She had to physically bite down on her lower lip to keep from laughing.
"Making fun of other people's appearances is unsporting as well as unkind, Kaiba-san," she told him with as much displeasure as she could muster, because she still felt it had to be said.
"I'll stop when he stops making it so easy," Kaiba retorted.
They spent the rest of the half-hour ride in near silence. Kaiba, having apparently run out of questions for the moment, tapped on his smartphone for most of that time. During the last few minutes, he dozed, his head drooping but his hand still holding his device at the ready. Aoi couldn't help but stare at him. In sleep he looked—not innocent, exactly, but certainly less vicious than usual. Kaiba was the most intense person she'd ever met, and what's more, he was that intense all the time. He never seemed to give anything less than a hundred percent of himself to whatever he did, even if that was only talking or answering e-mails. No wonder he's tired, she thought, wondering where he found the energy to fuel the sheer forcefulness of his baseline personality.
Sensing when the limousine was about to pull to a stop, Aoi made certain to be looking out the nearest window when it did. She could feel Kaiba glare suspiciously at her after the shift in velocity woke him up, but Aoi held as still as a rabbit before a fox. He plainly knew she'd seen him sleeping, and she knew he knew it, but she didn't intend to trigger any more hostility from him than necessary. Still, he sounded especially grumpy as he ordered her, "Come on, and try not to gawk."
The limousine driver opened Kaiba's door. He stepped out of the car, and Aoi shifted over clumsily to follow him. She curled one hand around the edge of the limousine's doorway as she prepared to step onto the sidewalk, only to find Kaiba impatiently holding out his own hand to her.
"Don't get fingerprints on the car," he said.
Aoi had been hesitating, remembering what happened the last time she touched Kaiba, but after that comment, she figured it would serve Kaiba right if she fainted on him again, so she accepted his help. To her relief, no dart of light struck her as she used Kaiba's hand to steady herself. She exited the car and straightened. The building before her—the restaurant Ukiyo, she presumed—looked like a traditional inn or bathhouse, all sliding shoji doors, dark wood lintels, and a gently curving tile roof. Aoi was most impressed by the landscaping around the single story, free-standing building. Carefully placed lights illuminated the old, gnarled pines and boulders that dominated the garden, making them look more like hallowed monuments than natural features.
It didn't seem like Seto Kaiba's sort of place, and not just because it was old; from the shadows cast on the paper screen doors and the murmured din filtering out of the building, Aoi could tell that the restaurant was quite crowded, too, which didn't track with Kaiba's paranoid desire for privacy. As Aoi wondered about that, an aproned woman, older than Omocha but younger than Sugoroku, emerged from Ukiyo and approached them with a wide smile.
"Good evening, Kaiba-sama," she greeted him, bowing low. "I've set up your room. Please follow me."
Kaiba and Aoi fell into step behind her. At some point when Aoi had been distracted by the restaurant and garden, another car containing Kaiba's bodyguards had pulled up; two of the suited men exited and followed their employer wordlessly. Each carried a silvery duralumin briefcase and wore sunglasses despite the late hour. Aoi's heart beat faster when they entered her peripheral vision. She increased her pace so the men weren't directly flanking her, as that formation brought up unpleasant memories of being escorted through a different kind of darkness by a different pair of guards. In her hurry, she stumbled and almost ran into Kaiba, who shot a look of annoyance and confusion over his shoulder but who made no remark on Aoi's clumsiness.
The room the woman led them to was small but elegant. It also seemed more secure than the rest of the building: situated towards the rear of Ukiyo, its walls were constructed entirely of hardwood instead of paper screens, and its single door featured a sturdy lock that could be engaged from both sides. Kaiba's bodyguards took up positions to the left and right of the doorway, while Kaiba and Aoi followed the woman into the room itself. Perhaps Kaiba wasn't the only powerful diner who expected a degree of privacy in return for his patronage, but as she listened to the conversation between Kaiba and the aproned woman, Aoi began to suspect the area had been constructed entirely for his personal use:
"Things seem well here, Sae," said Kaiba as he took a seat at the table in the center of the room. Though the table only rose about a foot above ground level, the square recession beneath it allowed Kaiba's long legs to dangle naturally so he didn't have to kneel. Wooden chair-backs behind the floor cushions provided additional support and comfort, for which Aoi felt grateful as she sat across from Kaiba.
"It's as you see, Kaiba-sama. The place is so crowded I can barely keep up! We have a six-month waiting list for customer reservations now, can you imagine?" said Sae.
"Yet you still won't expand?"
Sae shook her head. "There's no other building like this in all of Domino. I'm only grateful that, with your help, I've managed to do enough business in order to maintain it. I wouldn't dream of altering it for any reason."
"I know you don't see the point," chuckled the woman. "I promise I'm not being stubborn just to annoy you, but you're young still, Kaiba-sama. You might yet come to appreciate history as I do."
"I appreciate history so long as it doesn't limit possibilities for the future. Idealizing bygone eras is the practice of weak minds unwilling to change with the times," Kaiba stated.
Aoi glanced nervously at Sae, who only grinned wider; she'd obviously heard this speech before and didn't take offense. "Ah, but there's value in remembering where we came from, as my many customers demonstrate," she said, gesturing to indicate the restaurant as a whole.
"Your customers are here because you make the best ochazuke in the country, Sae."
"If I didn't know how much you hate flattery, I'd accuse you of playing to my ego, Kaiba-sama!" chortled Sae. "As it is, I simply thank you for the compliment."
"Objective fact," corrected Kaiba, but the frown lines around his mouth softened slightly.
"As you like." Sae glanced at Aoi. "Will you indulge an old lady and introduce me to your dinner companion?"
"She's capable of introducing herself."
"I'm Shirogane Aoi. It's a pleasure to meet you," said the girl with a slight bow, then added with genuine admiration, "Your restaurant is beautiful."
"What a sweet girl. Are you a Duelist, then, Shirogane-san?"
"Um, I know how to play Duel Monsters, but I'm not a professional..."
"Shirogane is assisting me with a project," said Kaiba, saving Aoi from having to make up a lie explaining her connection to one of the most powerful men in the world.
"I see." If Sae had suspicions about Aoi, neither her tone nor her countenance betrayed them. Then again, for all Aoi knew, Kaiba brought business associates or fellow duelists to Ukiyo all the time. Perhaps a good many of those dining companions were women. It wouldn't be unusual or wrong, she reasoned, for Kaiba to have such connections, though the idea made her strangely uncomfortable. "Well, I hope you enjoy yourself-both of you. If you'll excuse me, I'll see to your food right away," said Sae.
"There are no menus here," Kaiba explained to Aoi after the older woman bowed and departed. "Sae makes different dishes every night depending on what's locally available. It's all excellent."
"I believe that," said Aoi, then, unable to contain her curiosity, she asked, "You helped her start this restaurant?"
"Sae used to manage Kaiba Corp.'s employee cafeteria. She also volunteered at the Domino City Historical Preservation Society. When she heard from a fellow Society member that Ikeda Construction planned to buy the oldest building in Domino City, tear it down, and turn the property into a retail center, Sae came up with an alternative business plan. She went to some banks first to get approval for a loan, but none of them would take a chance on her."
A bleached-blond, sour-faced waiter brought them some cold water and hot tea. After he left, Kaiba replied, "Take your pick of reasons why not. She's past her prime age-wise, which made people doubt her energy and commitment. She's a woman, and most loan approval boards are made up of conservative old men. She'd never run a restaurant before, and restaurants are risky investments to begin with. Additionally, Ikeda Construction does business with most of the city's major banks; I suspect that had more to do with their stonewalling her than any of the other reasons combined. I wasn't so encumbered, and her business plan was more than solid, so I loaned her the money instead." Kaiba took a sip of water and glanced up at Aoi. "Don't look at me like that."
"L-Like what?" stammered Aoi, caught.
"Like you approve of what I did because you think I was being nice. I wasn't. I knew Sae was a capable manager, and like I said, she had an excellent plan. I also wanted to screw Ikeda out of the property, so my investment in Ukiyo was a logical move, not a nice one." He set his cup down a bit more forcefully than necessary to emphasize his point.
"Can't it be both?" Aoi asked.
"If you fundamentally misrepresent my motivations for helping her, yes."
"But you did help her." Aoi smiled at him. "To the person receiving it, kindness is kindness, no matter the motive."
Kaiba's eyes narrowed. "So by that logic, you'd call Priest Set 'kind' for saving Kisara, even though he was only interested in her powerful ka spirit," he said.
"Ridiculous," spat Kaiba. "You've seen what I've seen. He was a terrible person!"
"He was also the first person to give Kisara a chance. You gave Sae-san a chance, too, even though doing so constituted a risk for you."
"For someone with my income, hardly," muttered Kaiba.
Aoi didn't push the point. She sipped her tea quietly, letting Kaiba mull over her words. Their waiter returned with an appetizer of agedashi tofu and some sake; he set both on the table with a pointed clunk. Kaiba seized the bottle, poured for both Aoi and himself, and knocked back an entire shot before Aoi could so much as open her mouth.
"Um, I actually don't drink..." she protested, eyeing her own porcelain cup.
"Great. More for me." So saying, Kaiba reached across the table and drained her sake as well. He flashed her a sharp, almost cruel smile. Something about it made Aoi's stomach feel funny, and, face heating, she averted her gaze.
"Okay, seriously?!" squawked the waiter.
Kaiba and Aoi swung their heads toward him in unison. Neither had noticed Sae's employee still standing in the room. Kaiba's bodyguards darted through the open door at the young man's shout. They seized the waiter by his arms and pulled him back as the young man attempted to kick their boss's table.
"You don't even remember me, Kaiba, you bastard?!" howled the spiky-haired waiter. "You ruined my damn life!"
Aoi flinched back involuntarily from the waiter's flailing limbs. Kaiba just looked thoughtful. He held up a hand to keep his bodyguards from dragging the young man out of the room.
"I've ruined a lot of people's lives," he said, sounding almost chipper about it. "You're going to have to be more specific."
"Battle City!" shrieked the young man. "Nagumo Koji! You cheated to beat me and made me into a laughingstock!"
Recognition lit Kaiba's eyes. "Hyozanryu," he said. The waiter let out a cry of incoherent rage and redoubled his efforts to break free of the bodyguards' hold. Aoi was thoroughly confused. "I remember beating you now. I understand that competent gameplay must look like cheating to someone at your level, but real duelists know better."
"Cheater! Those so-called god cards you and Mutou Yugi used were cheats!" asserted Nagumo. "They were never sanctioned by Industrial Illusions!"
"Now you care about the rules? As I recall, I initially found you robbing another Battle City duelist and refusing to yield to the referee's judgment," said Kaiba.
Presently, Sae appeared in the doorway, crying, "Koji-kun, what on Earth?"
"Sae, do you know this boy?" asked Kaiba. At nearly the same time, the waiter yelled, "He's a liar and a crook, Aunt Sae! You can't trust him!"
Sae closed her eyes in embarrassed horror. "He's my nephew," she answered. "Kaiba-sama, I am so terribly sorry..."
By now, Nagumo had worn himself out fighting against the bodyguards. He drooped between them, panting, but he still managed to spit at Kaiba,
"It's not fair! Hardworking people like me an' Aunt Sae have to serve rich cheaters like you, while you get to sit there drinking with some whore!"
It took Aoi a good few seconds to understand that Nagumo was referring to her, during which time a tense silence descended on the room at large. Poor Sae dropped her head into her hands despairingly; more worried for the restaurant proprietor than embarrassed for herself, Aoi glanced imploringly at Kaiba, hoping he'd stop toying with Nagumo and bring a swift end to the chaos. She found Kaiba's facial expression essentially unchanged from before the waiter had last spoken, but as she studied him closer, Aoi noticed a certain tightness about Kaiba's neck and jaw that she hadn't seen previously.
For his part, Kaiba didn't look at Aoi at all. His eyes were fixed on the young man in front of him. "Do you have your Duel Disk with you, Nagumo?" he inquired. His tone was light, almost conversational, while Nagumo's went sullen and a bit uncertain as he answered,
"I don't bring it to my job."
"But you must keep your deck with you, at least?" The boy shook his head. "What a shame, although I can't say I'm surprised. You were never a true duelist. You only cared about the game insofar as it gave you power over others."
"Says the biggest bully of them all," Nagumo shot back.
As Kaiba's smirk grew, so did its tight, strained quality. "That's right. In many ways, you and I are similar. The difference is, I actually have power to throw around and talent to back it up..." Kaiba motioned to his bodyguards. One of them kept hold of the young man, while the other passed Kaiba one of the two briefcases they had brought into the restaurant with them. Kaiba undid its combination lock with practiced movements, finishing, "...and I always have cards to play."
Aoi flinched away from the briefcase before she realized it was not the same case that Kaiba had been carrying when he'd invaded Kame Game Shop a week prior--this container looked older, a bit scuffed, and instead of a Duel Disk and Kaiba's personal deck, it was filled entirely with Duel Monsters cards. There have to be ten thousand different ones in there, the girl marveled despite her stress and confusion.
In addition to meticulously-organized loose cards, the briefcase held a product Aoi recognized from working in the game store: one of the official Duel Monsters starter decks put out by Industrial Illusions. Kaiba tossed the unopened deck to Nagumo, who just barely managed to catch it one-handed.
"Look through that. You'll find it's completely ordinary," Kaiba told him.
The bodyguard who had kept hold of Nagumo released him, though he and his counterpart remained close at hand to forestall any more sudden assaults. The waiter tore off the deck's packaging and flipped through the cards. When he finished, he glowered suspiciously at Kaiba. "It's regulation. So?"
"So make your choice: would you like to duel with that deck, or construct one from the cards in my briefcase, just like you did before? Bear in mind, you'll be playing against whichever selection you don't pick."
"Then of course I choose the cards in your briefcase!"
"Fine," said Kaiba. "I'll even give you until we finish our dinner to build your deck. The starter stays here with me, but you can check it again before the duel to make sure that I haven't tampered with it."
Nagumo shot him an ugly scowl. "Without your god card or your white dragons, you'll be no challenge for me."
"Oh, you won't be dueling me--at least, not until you beat her first."
Kaiba looked pointedly at Aoi. The girl froze in her seat, wide-eyed, as his words sank in.
...Uh-oh, she thought.