"I hate to say it," Mokuba began, and he actually sounded like he really meant that, "but it almost looks like the bastard is up to his old tricks again." He stood and walked over to the desk, turning his laptop around to face the other two men in the room so they could see what it had to say.
He could almost literally feel the blood draining from his face as he skimmed quickly over the contents. Eight young men, all between the ages of eighteen and twenty, had been found in the same drained condition that Ryou had been found in. All of them had the same odd cuff scars around their wrists, and from the pictures Mokuba had somehow turned up, they looked almost identical to the ones he and Bakura still bore.
There were differences, though, enough that some people were starting to take notice. He had managed to keep his own kidnapping out of the media, thanks to Mokuba and also a large but anonymous donation to the police force, but when it was a tourist who disappeared, people did tend to notice things like that. So the Collector wasn't just choosing duelists now-or at least not the ones who had competed in Battle City-or people with a connection to the Nameless Pharaoh.
If he was choosing people at random, then that made him ever so much more difficult to try to anticipate. At least before he could monitor the duelists from Battle City or anyone who had a connection with the Lost Dynasty and make sure no one was approaching them who seemed too out of the ordinary.
Now, though? Now he was going to have to come up with something truly brilliant and inspired. When things were as random as this was proving to be, it was hard to make any kind of second guesses.
That didn't mean he wasn't going to try, though. He just had to come up with something completely out there to combat an enemy was also completely out there.
Easier said than done.
Bakura was frowning hard as he studied the page, commandeering the trackpad and scrolling through some of the news articles and photos quickly. He had to wonder if the white-haired man had seen something they were missing.
With a jolt, Bakura looked up, seemingly completely startled by the sudden sound of his voice. In typical Bakura fashion, though, he recovered quickly, so much so in fact that he could have almost sworn that he had imagined the look on surprise on the other man's face.
"Yeah?" Bakura returned.
"Did you see something here? Is there something there we need to know?" Because there was no way in hell he was going to ask if there was some magical significance to the number or the nationalities or even to where they were found: just off the docks in various coastal cities: Tokyo, Domino, Okinawa... but mostly here in Domino.
"Eight seems like an odd number," Bakura finally stated after a lengthy pause while he considered over his words. "It seems like there should have only been five. Barring that, there probably should have been thirteen of them." And he wasn't going to ask what that meant. He wasn't. There was no way he wanted to know that kind of information.
Mokuba, on the other hand, was a completely different story. "What makes the numbers significant, Bakura-kun?"
Bakura shook his head slowly, apparently barely paying attention to the conversation he was the focus of. "Five for the five elements. Thirteen because it's an unlucky number; some people even say it's unholy."
"Could they be working their way to thirteen, and we just caught on too quickly?" Mokuba prompted after an extended silence.
But Bakura was already shaking his head. "It doesn't sound right." He tapped a few buttons on Mokuba's laptop, bringing up a map of Japan, and he quickly added spots on the maps for where each of the bodies was found before continuing. "And there isn't a pattern of anything kind to be seen in this. No way: it's too random."
"So there's no... other explanations about the deaths. Should we be looking at something less obvious?" Mokuba prompted.
Well, the whole... 'other explanations', as Mokuba so aptly put it, was the solution that had made the most sense.
"He needs power to run the machine that would bring the Unnamed Pharaoh back from the dead, for real this time," Kaiba ventured forth with. "Maybe we were wrong in thinking it was only people connected to the other Yuugi that he was targeting." He paused a long second before continuing. "We might have made his target of preference-duelers or people connected to Egypt-too difficult to reach. He might have had to... I don't know: venture outside his comfort zone."
"Assuming that none of the boys who have been drained aren't duelists, just on the amateur circuit?" countered Bakura.
Sadly that was a fair point. While he still might know a majority of the professional duelists out there, there were thousands playing as amateurs, maybe more. It was too broad a field to try to narrow down.
Still, he had to concede the point. "Unless they're amateur duelists. I can't keep up with all of them."
"Only you would even bother to try," Mokuba commented dryly. Sometimes he had to love his little brother's bone-dry wit. Sometimes, he really didn't. "So maybe they're duelists, maybe they're not," he continued. "That doesn't change the fact that eight seems like an odd number to me."
Bakura was nodding, leaning back into his chair again. "It's a weird number. He can't have gotten the amount of magic and souls he would need off that few people. Most people just don't have enough of it in them to power a battery, much less bring His Royal Pain in My Ass back to life."
"So he'll probably make a move soon for someone with more... magic?" He could actually hear Mokuba hesitated over the world 'magic'. It was still such a silly concept to both of the Kaiba brothers, but there was no escaping it, not any time soon. "Do you think that's possible, Bakura-kun?"
The white-haired man shrugged slightly. "I wouldn't put it past him. From my limited experience with him, he's egotistical and probably thinks he won't get caught doing this."
He nodded slightly. "That meshes with what I experienced with him as well." He paused for a second, tossing an idea back and forth in his mind before tentatively giving voice to it. "I'm relatively certain he has a lot of money. None of that equipment would come cheap. Even if you built it from scratch, some of the components would be very hard to get a hold of."
"Making them cost more," Mokuba added in.
He nodded in agreement. "He also was very... arrogant about not needing ransom money, like the thought of it was somehow beneath him."
Bakura snorted. "Sounds like new money then." Mokuba shot the other man a curious look, and he might well have been also because that was a comment from out of nowhere. The white-haired man snickered softly. "Time may come and go, but one thing always stays the same: money and the people with it. People who earn it treat it one way, but people who inherit it treat it in another way. He sounds like the flashy kind of new money, the kind who wants to display it to the world."
And he suddenly had a very clear picture of his board of directors and where all of them fit in that neat little division Bakura had drawn. Most of them, he felt, would fall on the 'new money' side.
"So niisama and me?" Mokuba questioned. "Where do we fall?"
And Bakura actually laughed at that, one of those rare laughs he rarely got to hear. "You two are freaks of nature, just like me."
That dragged laughter out of Mokuba and half a smile out of him. They were all a bit odd at that. Bakura, though, was the only one who, more or less, celebrated it. He might not be the same Bakura he had known in high school, but he did still behave in a lot of the same ways: he was always impetuous but with an endgame in mind; if someone ever pissed him off, he would extract revenge for a long, long time, and it didn't matter if it was served hot or cold, as long as he got his revenge; he could still let loose a cackle that would probably make Jounouchi hide under the desk; and he still hated both of the Yuugis beyond all reason, more than even he hated them.
Too soon, though, the laughter had to die down, as Mokuba asked the question that he was sure was on all of their minds. "So what do we do from here?"
"We keep searching," he immediately answered. "There has to be a pattern of some sort."
Bakura was conspicuously silent for several long moments before speaking up as well, long enough for the clock to tick through a full minute of the eight o'clock hour. "We don't go anywhere by ourselves, especially not you, Seto." He started to object, but Bakura just spoke over him. "You're the one he took last time. You're the one he sent the note to this time. He's going to be coming. I don't know when or where, but he will be coming." Under his breath, clearly not meaning for the words to be heard, he continued. "It's what I would do."
There was that uncomfortable silence again. He hated it. God, how he hated it. He didn't like the look that came over Bakura's face when something from the time he had been possessed by Zork was brought up: the way it shuttered over and went completely blank. He hated it. He hated that he knew it so well.
"We'll all take extra precautions," he stated flatly, rather than address what he was actually thinking. "Mokuba, I'm authorizing you to pull several guards from security duty. They're going to with us around the clock."
So maybe he still wasn't so good with the emotional parts of a relationship, be it with his younger brother or his... lover (it never quite seemed like the right word, like it was almost too tawdry or something, but there was no way he was calling Bakura his 'boyfriend'). He was, however, quite good at showing concern for their physical wellbeing, and that was a huge step for him. It was a bigger change for him than most people, excluding the two in the room, would ever realize.
He couldn't be perfect, but he was trying to be better. As long as the Collector stayed off his back, he might actually get to being good at it, so long as he kept consciously reminding himself of it. And that was the challenge of it.
30 December 2013
If you're still reading, please let me know, so I can keep writing. This is the last currently finished chapter.