Cutscene: The Art of War

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Inside his study, Kei Nanjou broods.

He is not given to brooding, more oft contemplative when contemplativeness is occasioned -- pensive, briefly, but never brooding. Decisiveness, wonted and comfortable as a pair of supple leather gloves, is more his style; the hesitation, the doubt that plague Tatsuya Suou and others in his orbit are things foreign to the Nanjou heir. Certainly he might at times -- when things go wrong -- seem as though he were deep in disconsolate self-recrimination, so severe the set of his brow and so sharp the lashes he turns upon others, but such vanity is invariably far from his thoughts. The detachment in his blue-grey eyes traditionally evidences not emotional turmoil but the coldly methodical calculating of his strategic mind. Ever alert, he uses what opportunities and resources present themselves to achieve the outcome he desires -- and allows his opponent to play into his hands if possible. That is the way wars are won. Anger, if anger he feels, is another tool at his disposal. Everything he does is aimed toward a goal, each action carefully chosen to yield the greatest returns and deal the hardest blows. He has no regrets, save one. This isn't it.

That fact, noted with dispassion, is less moving than the melange of turned earth and scorched turf, of diesel fumes and drying blood, that perfumes the summer air. He reaches over and pulls the window shut. The handsome grandfather clock beside the casement chimes the half-hour as he does so, announcing that its brazen hands have sliced away forty-eight minutes since he retired to the well-appointed chamber. A ledger sits unopened atop the oaken desk before him, the work he had intended to do forgotten. Golden light spills from the desk lamp to his right, pooling upon the ledger's leather cover and bringing out the verdancy in its otherwise dull hue of forest green. There is tea, to his left; it's gone cold.

What is there to regret? Why regret what he could not prevent -- could not have anticipated? What use are guilt and sorrow when the energy required to inflict such torment upon himself could be put to better use in rescuing her? Kei shakes his head, the lightly-calloused fingertips of his right hand leaving his chin to explore the kanji embossed into the leather-bound ledger. He feels the questions occur to him as clearly as he feels the texture that rises and falls beneath the pads of those discerning digits. That they occur to him at all, even in spite of the unburdened ease with which they are dismissed, is a small victory on his part, another sign that he is not Takahisa Kandori.

In his mind's eye, he sees the dewy curve of her smile. Impish, genuine, unrestrained by propriety and by the distance she imposes between herself and those who have not earned her whole trust, the image of it wakes the ghost of a smile on his own lips. The lamplight gleams across a photograph, framed in brushed nickel, of his friends from St. Hermelin. How few he keeps in contact with, now...Toudou, Uesugi, Inaba, even the girls. This new circle has supplanted the old. He'll fight alongside them, shelter them, extend them aid and call them his friends -- for friends they are, if not especially familiar -- but at the end of the day, of them it's Naomi to whom he feels closest. To whom he feels he owes the most for providing him with the markers by which he might not stray onto that beshadowed path which lies parallel and so, so close to his own.

Maybe that's why he's brooding.

Ultimately, Kei will conduct this rescue mission in the same methodical, decisive, resolute fashion he does everything else. Thoughts of castigating Seiichi Miyamoto, of punishing Kyo Enda, of destroying the Shadow -- none of these enter his mind, save the latter two as briefly touched-upon incidentals. They are incontrovertable facts, not bullet points on a checklist or moral quandaries to be fretted over at length. If his surmise is correct, the Kyo Enda issue might well resolve itself before they even reach Naomi; he knows what ruthlessness lurks in her blood, and to see that ruthlessness freed of any check or stay...

He catches his hand clenching itself into a fist, nails gouging red crescents into his palm. Uncurling his fingers, Kei studies the impressions with a ruefully wry smile. He's angry, and he knows it. He can feel that imperious, affronted emotion ramping in his chest, offended by the very audacity of the assault even as the more logical parts of him allow that it was a fine maneuver indeed. There is little doubt in his mind that the Shadow will take whatever advantage she sees, use whatever opportunity presents itself, turn against them whatever weapons -- guilt, hate, anger -- they place in her white hands. If Naomi were so inclined, and she may be even in light of the circumstances, she might well be as impressed as he is.

He catches himself chuckling at the thought of such a thing, though he knows it's not an impossibility.

He is slower to catch himself missing her.

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