A/N: My b, I made some fairly significant errors with the first part of Jamie and Zane's duel last chapter. I forgot to deduct 1000 life points from Zane's total due to him activating Instant Fusion. Also Jamie should have six of his extra deck monsters banished face-down since he activated Pot of Prosperity, despite it getting negated via Ash Blossom he would still pay the cost for that card. Also, Solemn Strike cannot negate that Monster Reborn so let's make it Dark Bribe instead. I goof with the duels in small ways a lot, but this was big to the point where it would impact the outcome of the game, so that's my bad. Anyways Zane's life points are at 1500 now instead of 2000 (He did not pay 1500 for Strike but did pay 1000 for Instant, net gain 500). I will change the previous chapter sometime to reflect this. Normally I am not this bad with the details but I wrote that whole duel in one day and posted it soon after, so that's what I get for rushing. Thank you to the readers who pointed this out, it helps make the story better. On to the chapter.

Chapter 62: The Desired Savior

(Jaden Yuki POV)

Since being found by the roving party of Duel Spirits, Jaden and Sartorius were moving a lot faster, although to where exactly was unclear. Whatever the case, they had nourishment, shelter, and relative protection, although there was always a bit of tension present during the voyage. Most of the duel spirits didn't have warm feelings about humanity as a whole, and indeed the two human's continued presence was contingent on them doing menial chores to earn their keep. Jaden would scrub out pots in the cook's tent, wash clothes, and help set up and tear down the camp whenever it was time to move again. Unluckily for him, Sartorius tended to get stuck on latrine duty. Cleaning up unending heaps of demon shit day in and day out proved to be a rather demoralizing experience. Still, the two of them understood that their position was far improved than what it was before, and if necessary they were confident they could fight their way out of the camp if it came to that. Well, at least Jaden was confident. He wasn't sure how good Sartorius was in a fight since it appeared he lost most of his Light powers. If he didn't have the ability to alter destiny, that Arcana Force deck would probably lose to a deck full of normal monsters.

While Sartorius was sullen and quiet these days, Jaden had earned a measure of respect from most of the spirits for his plucky optimism and refusal to complain, even when confronted with the most demeaning of tasks. Somehow, he always found a way to smile and never took any ball-busting remarks from the other soldiers personally. Indeed, he was returning them in kind before long.

It was a simple existence, far removed from the scheming ever present on Academy Island. Jaden had no idea how Jamie dealt with everything. Between the shadowy threat of multiple independent enemies, trying to please Seto Kaiba (who was an insane manchild as far as Jaden could tell), and the constant jockeying for position within Obelisk Blue, Jaden was surprised that the guy didn't have a nervous breakdown by now. They didn't know each other that well, but Jaden had to respect the guy's resilience. "They're probably working day and night towards a way of getting us home." He thought during his rare private moments.

They always kept him busy, especially lately. Jinzo and the weird guy in the red hat got some sort of message from "the castle", wherever that was, and they had been riding the scouting party hard to get back there as soon as possible. While most of the duel spirits proceeded on foot or by air, there were some that took mounts, particularly the warrior-types. Jaden and Sartorius were given two Dark Gray spirits to ride from place to place. Jinzo and the Vagabond each rode lavish Garnecia Elephantis spirits, as befit their rank. Jaden was amazed at the sheer scope of this mysterious army's ranks. Fiends and warriors made up the bulk of the infantry, but they were supplemented by a variety of beasts, beast-warriors, winged beasts, zombies, fairies, dragons, fish, and everything in-between. It was a fantastical kitchen sink, with creatures suited for every kind of battle.

"What purpose could have assembled all of these disparate beings under the same banner?" He wondered aloud as they rode in a column.

"We will probably find out, for better or worse, when we reach this castle they keep talking about." Sartorius replied pessimistically.

Jaden shrugged, itching at his shirt while keeping one hand on his mount's reins. They wore roughspun brown tunics, black riding gloves, plain white pants, and boots that luckily fit alright after a break-in period. Jaden couldn't wait until he had a chance to wear red again. "Maybe I'll ask the big cheese what the deal is." He hadn't gotten much of a chance to speak to Jinzo or the red-capped guy, the two of them frequently preoccupied with logistical matters. Spurring his Dark Gray, Jaden raced to the front of the column, slowing to a canter alongside the lumbering elephants. Although initially the other monsters groused at his impertinence by approaching the leaders directly, once they realized it was Jaden they shrugged in bemusement. Over time, they had begun to think of the boy as something like a pet dog, his presence cheering up the drudgery of daily affairs.

"Howdy, red hat!" Jaden waved up at the vagabond, who glimpsed at him within the canopy.

The Vagabond nodded with faint amusement. "How can I help you today?"

"Well see, I was just wonderin' something. How come your energy feels human? And what's with the red hat? Sun hardly ever comes out around here."

In response, he took off the red hat - apparently his identity wasn't some big secret after all. Upon seeing his ponytailed white-blond hair and amethyst eyes, something clicked in Jaden's head.

"Say, you remind me an awful lot of -"

"Yeah, I know." He cut off. "I was once of the Ishtar clan, but no longer. One day, I will be a free man who controls his own destiny."

"Is that why ya left the family? To be free?" Jaden asked.

"Yes - you would leave too, if you knew what was expected of a clan member. They hold to barbaric traditions and reject modern comforts for no other reason than blind reverence for the past. What's so great about the past anyways? They butchered children to make those Millennium Items, did you know that?!" Noticing that his voice was rising to a fever pitch, Hank took a moment to cool off.

"From birth, I was marked as a subordinate to my cousins in the main branch of the family. I was subjected to watch over the pharaoh's tombs every night. I barely even saw my cousins since they were sleeping while I was awake and vice-versa. And yet they were my masters by right of their birth."

Repeatedly, Hank Ishtar's voice grew intense and angry as he spoke, as if he could barely contain the depths of his indignation. Jaden felt moved by the story, but he felt there was another side to it he wasn't hearing. "So if you want freedom, how come you joined this army? They got some good benefits package or what?"

"I was not asked to join, I was conscripted. But still, I aim to use this army's power to dismantle the institutions that once held me in bondage. After that task is done...to say anything more would be unwise." His purple irises glimmered with hate before remembering who he was talking to. "Satisfied?"

"Uh...yeah. Sorry if I brought up any bad memories. So what's your name anyways, pal?" Jaden's tone stayed casual.

"It was Hank, but -" Hank was cut off by Jaden's uproarious laughter. "Oh come on, it's not that funny!"

"Well, it kinda is, just a bit." Jaden quickly quieted, although he couldn't help but keep grinning.

"Yes, it was Hank, but no longer. My parents were idiots, end of story. Now, just call me the Vagabond." He donned his red cap once more with a solemn mien.

"Sure thing, Hank - oops, I mean sure thing, mister Vagabond!" Jaden cheerily waved as he turned his mount away to retake his place next to Sartorius in the marching column.

"How come no one ever wants to hear my backstory?" Jinzo complained next to Hank.

"Just go back to sleep, you get cranky when you're tired." Hank replied curtly as he withdrew the blinds on his own canopy.

XxXxXxXxXxXxXxXxXx

(Jamie Lancaster POV)

My field held Invoked Purgatrio and a set card. Zane's field had no cards. It was Zane's turn.

"I set a card and end my turn." I had just finished clearing Zane's field, destroying the Kaiju I gave him with Invoked Purgatrio. The fiery goons were dancing in joy as they celebrated a successful battle. (Jamie 2550/Zane 1000)

Zane's battle-hungry grin widened as he drew his next card. "This will give me the resources to shatter your defense, Jamie! I activate Card of Sanctity." The two of us replenished our hands. "Now, I'll discard King of the Swamp (500/1100) from my hand to search a Polymerization from my deck. Then, I'll use the effect of Cyberdark Cannon (1600/800). By discarding it to the graveyard, I can search another Cyberdark machine monster from my deck."

His black t-shirt and jeans rippled in the wind as he called forth his next monster. "I summon Cyberdark Keel (800/800)." The thin black serpent coiled around him. "Like any Cyberdark, I can equip a level three or lower dragon from my graveyard to it. I equip Cyberdark Cannon, boosting Keel's attack points to 2400." The cannon was mounted atop the snake's head, a ridged violet machine that configured itself into the shape of a turret.

"That may be, but Invoked Purgatrio's attack points increase by 200 for each card you control. Since you control two cards, the monster and the equip spell, he sits at 2700." I pointed out, unbuttoning the top notch of my Obelisk Blue coat to breathe a little more.

"Yes, your monster grows stronger the more it is faced with resistance, much like we do as duelists." Zane acknowledged. "But it's not an issue. My deck always has more power. From my hand, I activate the effect of Attachment Cybern (1600/800). This monster can equip itself to Cyberdark Keel from my hand, boosting its attack by an additional 600. Your Purgatrio gains 200 from another card on the field, but it's still only at 2900 while Keel is at 3000!" Zane thrust his hand forward. "Cyberdark Keel, attack and destroy Invoked Purgatrio!"

Cyberdark Cannon's equip spell effect allowed Zane to send a monster from his deck to his graveyard, which he did. The mounted cannon shot a volley of bright green laser blasts that took down each of the spectres. I threw up my arms to keep the smoke out of my eyes. (Jamie 2450/Zane 1000)

Cyberdark Keel dealt an additional 300 for destroying a monster in battle, another laser grazing my side as I stumbled. (Jamie 2150/Zane 1000)

"I set a card and end my turn." Zane finished with a smile. I was surprised he didn't fuse, but maybe he just used King of the Swamp to thin his deck some more. "I draw."

My eyes glinted as I slapped down the spell card. "Since I control no monsters, I can play the spell card Ostinato! This lets me fusion summon a Melodious monster by sending materials directly from my deck to my graveyard! I send Elegy the Melodious Diva and Shopina the Melodious Maestra from my deck to my graveyard to call forth Bloom Diva, the Melodious Choir (1000/2000) in defense mode." The onlookers laughed as my big play summoned a tiny singer girl draped in princess finery, violet and yellow ribbons trailing behind her.

Zane failed to conceal a grin. "I'm rather surprised the blast gave you cards like that, Jamie. And even more surprised that you continued to use them. I mean they don't really fit your personality, you know what I mean?'

"Only using cards that fit your personality or career choice tends to make you a predictable duelist." I replied flippantly. "Should office workers be limited to playing with deskbots?"

"Touche. I certainly wouldn't use the word predictable to describe you, at least in most respects. What does this card do?" He asked.

"Bloom Diva cannot be destroyed by battle or card effects, and I take no damage from battles involving it. Furthermore, when it attacks a special summoned monster, I can destroy that monster and inflict damage to you equivalent to the difference between that monster's original attack and this card's attack value of 1000. Luckily, your Keel is a normal summoned monster, so I'll just set a card and end my turn."

"That monster is really well-suited for taking on Zane's deck. He'll have a really hard time getting around that unless he has a Kaiju of his own." Alexis observed.

"It's entirely possible, one of the Kaijus is a light machine, so it has some synergy with Zane's strategy. But I don't know if he runs it or in how many quantities." Bastion concurred.

"I get an unsettling vibe from those Cyberdark monsters. Syrus, do you know anything about these?" said Jasmine.

Syrus shook his head. "No, I only heard rumors that Sheppard had some secret forbidden deck in the back of that dojo. I never even stepped foot in the entryway of that place, much less see the deck itself. They seem to work decently well with Cyber Dragons. But I agree, something doesn't feel right about them."

"Those cards are...evil." Jesse's expression was harsh and wary. It was as if he could find no other word to describe them but evil, despite trying. "I can just smell it." When the others looked at him, he refused to elaborate, instead staring down at the duel intensely.

"Ok…" Erin raised a brow at Jesse's weird behavior before pressing on. "Well, Jamie has Aleister in hand, so he might be able to fuse something again this turn. Zane doesn't have many life points left."

"It's hard to tell who will win. They used to be dead even last year, but a lot has changed since then." Bastion added.

Zane drew. "I play the spell Extra Foolish Burial. By paying half of my life points, I can send a monster directly from my extra deck to the graveyard. I choose to send my Cyber End Dragon." He showed me his iconic boss monster before seemingly discarding it like refuse. (Jamie 2150/Zane 500)

"Is he planning on reviving it?" Jasmine asked.

"No, it can't be revived since it wasn't properly summoned first. Could he be planning on using it as equipment for a Cyberdark?" Bastion wondered.

"Then, I'll play another copy of Future Fusion! And with no Invoked Mechaba, this effect will resolve, allowing me to dump fusion materials from my deck to my graveyard." To my surprise, he elected to send five Cyberdark monsters from his deck to the grave. At this point, he had to be running pretty low on cards. But somehow I doubted I could actually deck Zane of all people out. "That's right, and the card I'm preparing to summon is Cyberdarkness Dragon, a fusion monster with five Cyberdarks as materials. Go ahead and wall up, Jamie. The moment you attempt to make an offensive, my monsters will strike back with a vengeance! From there, my turn is over!" Zane cackled, enjoying himself immensely as he tried to crack my defense.

I hated to admit it, but he had a good point. I needed to allow myself to be vulnerable to launch an attack. But that vulnerability is all he needs. I needed to finish him off in one attack, or his counterattack would immediately wipe me out.

I drew. "I activate the spell Monster Reincarnation, allowing me to add a monster from my graveyard to my hand at the cost of discarding a card." I pitched a Melodious Diva to return Gameciel to my hand. The Kaiju would be a sure way of dealing with his boss monster...if I lasted that long. "I end my turn." I didn't trust myself to summon another monster.

"My draw. One turn has passed on Future Fusion." Zane said. Another one and Cyberdarkness Dragon was coming out. "I set two cards and end my turn." He had no way past my Bloom Diva for now. As our snoozefest of a duel continued on, I could hear and see bolts of lightning and massive energy beams flying across the field where Aster and Chazz were dueling. They were probably offering the most power for the gate, but I wanted to beat Zane more than I cared about that. The gate would have enough power, I knew it would. Kaiba would care more that I won than anything else. It would reflect better on his image.

Sighing in relief at my next card, I immediately played it. "I activate One Day of Peace. This spell allows each of us to draw a card. Until the end phase of the next turn, neither of us takes any damage. Then, I'll summon Witch of the Black Forest (1100/1200) in attack mode." The spellcaster had a third eye hidden beneath raven bangs. "I attack Cyberdark Keel with my witch!" Her black robes flapped in the wind as she raced to her death, speared by the serpent's tail.

"When my Witch of the Black Forest is destroyed, I can add a monster with 1500 or less defense points from my deck to my hand." I searched for another monster, feeling confident I could make a strong push next turn.

"Ah, so you took advantage of One Day of Peace to avoid taking damage from the battle. Nice." Zane noted. He had a catlike grin on his face from the card he just drew. I ended my turn with another set card.

"Two standby phases have come and gone - now my Future Fusion will come to pass!" Zane declared on standby phase, thick purple lightning bolts striking near his feet from nowhere. "It's over for you, Jamie! I call upon Cyberdarkness Dragon (2000/2000)!" The largest monster summoned by the four of us so far, Cyberdarkness Dragon vaguel resembled an "evil" version of Zane's Cyber End Dragon, its plating a stormy grey instead of chrome. However, it was also decked out with so much accessories and extra shit that I could barely tell what I was even supposed to be looking at, apart from a writhing mass of sharp edges. It appeared to have the Cyberdark monsters Horn, Edge, Keel, Cannon, and Claw attached to it in some shape or form. Its appearance was equally busy as it was intimidating. "Incredible…" I muttered.

"Upon summon, I can equip one dragon or machine monster from my graveyard to Cyberdarkness Dragon. Cyberdarkness Dragon gains that monster's attack points. Furthermore, if you activate an effect I don't like, I can send any equip card I control to the graveyard to negate that effect. And that's not once per turn, by the way." As Zane explained the cards effect, the massive Cyberdarkness Dragon hooked itself to an unearthed, inert Cyber End Dragon dug up from Zane's graveyard. "I equip Cyber End Dragon to Cyberdarkness Dragon, boosting its attack to a total of 6000!"

Something about the sight of the Cyber End Dragon used as a tool by the larger beast unnerved Syrus. "Is that really what it means to treat your cards with respect...to use their very bodies as weapons? It doesn't seem right."

"It seems like the right strategy if you're actually trying to win the game." Kaiba interjected. "Zane now has access to multiple negates and a body with 6000 attack. Too bad for him Lancaster has that Kaiju in hand. Oh well, summoning that big boss monster juiced up our battery quite a bit, so it was helpful in that respect."

Syrus' uneasy expression mirrored Jesse's. Alexis' countenance was a bit more neutral. "This is certainly a new take for Zane. He doesn't seem all that different on the surface, but I wonder how his experiences in the real world have changed him…" She was reminded of how Chazz criticized her, saying her ideals did not gel with the real world. She dismissed those words easily at the time, but now….

"Your spell may have helped you avoid death this turn," Zane used the term death metaphorically, or at least I hoped he was, "But I can still get over that annoying Bloom Diva with this card. I cast the spell Dark Ruler No More!"

A burst of light enveloped the field, like some sort of magnified flash camera. It left my Bloom Diva dazed and confused, blinking rapidly to try and realign herself. "This card negates the effects of all monsters on your side of the field until the end of the turn. In exchange for such a powerful effect, I can no longer inflict any damage on you for the rest of the turn. However, since you were already protected under One Day of Peace this is immaterial. The most important thing is that now my monsters can attack and destroy that little moe girl!"

Zane smirked, his expression downright crazed. "I've never liked anime, so I'm going to take particular pleasure in this. Cyberdarkness Dragon, attack and destroy his Bloom Diva!" Unleashing shockwaves of black energy, the beast successfully ran over my sole monster, leaving relatively defenseless. However, due to the One Day of Peace, Zane had no choice but to go to main phase two after clearing my field.

"Nice move, getting around my Diva. Gee, I sure hope nobody has a way of tributing over your big boss monster." I chuckled like a low-level villain.

"I haven't forgotten that you have that damn Kaiju in your hand, buddy. That's why I decided to play this card. I play the spell Exchange, allowing us to take a card from each other's hand. Let's see what you're working with, Jimmy boy." Zane said. We walked to the center of the arena and showed our hands. I chafed as I realized how much taller he was than me.

"I'm surprised you would be playing such a situational card." I commented.

"I main decked it specifically because I knew I would be facing you. See, it has a lopsided benefit for me. Since you play a bunch of general use cards with widespread applicability, the chances that I would be able to make use of any given card in your deck through Exchange was rather high. Meanwhile, all of my cards work within either the Cyber Dragon or Cyberdark archetypes, cards which you don't play. I suppose the base Cyber Dragon might be good for you, but I don't have it in my hand right now." Smiling further, he added, "I wouldn't really be able to use this spell against duelists who lock themselves into rigid archetypes. I'll be taking your Gameciel Kaiju now."

"I can see the logic...somewhat." The remaining cards in his hand were the trap Cybernetic Revolution and the monster Cyber Dragon Nachster. I decided to take Nachster and we went back to our spots. Zane then ended his turn.

"Good thing I'm about to draw another Kaiju." I baited before drawing my next card. It was not a Kaiju. Unfortunately, my only option was to try and work through his multiple negates. "I summon Aleister the Invoker to the field and activate his effect!" The sorcerer prepared to wave his wand before being unceremoniously zapped away by the Cyberdarkness Dragon.

"I'll use my monster's effect, sending an equip spell I control to the grave in order to negate and destroy Aleister. I'll send the Attachment Cybern equipped to my Cyberdark Keel. When Cybern is sent the graveyard, I can activate his other effect, summoning a Cyber Dragon (2100/1600) from my grave to the field!" The silvery serpent was a familiar sight.

I furrowed my brow. "Alright, so be it. Luckily, I didn't need to use Aleister's effect, because I already have another copy of Invocation in my hand! I'll use it to fuse together the Aleister in my graveyard with the Panzer Dragon in your grave to summon another Mechaba!" Blue runic circles began to inscribe upon the field, but just as quickly they were swatted away by another blast from the dragon.

"I'll send the Cyber End Dragon equipped to my Cyberdarkness Dragon to negate that card as well." Zane used up his final equip card on the field, meaning no more negations were available to him. "Is that the end of your turn?" He asked, hungry to finish the battle.

"I set a card face-down and pass it there." I had only one set card on the field to defend myself and one card in hand.

"It's over. Next turn, Zane can equip Attachment Cybern to another one of his monsters from the grave, which will be another negate to bypass Jamie's trap with." Syrus surmised, not quite rooting for his brother, but rather assessing the situation coolly.

"And Zane has more than enough damage on board to do it. Looks like this will be Jamie's second loss in a row." Jasmine added.

Alexis shot her a look. "At least he's pushing his limits and trying his best!" Although she worried internally as well. Although Jamie has taken losses to Zane many times in private practice games, to lose publicly like this would cause another uprising of Obelisk Force members eager to take the top spot. Since Jamie was going on an extended absence in the dark world, Alexis would be the new de facto number one ranked student in the school. Which meant that her inbox was going to be flooded day and night with challengers if Jamie lost! "Please don't lose Jamie...I can't take any more random DM's!" Alexis thought ignobly.

"It's my turn!" Zane's aura grew as he prepared for a final offensive. "First, I'll use the effect of Attachment Cybern in my graveyard, attaching itself as equipment to my Cyberdarkness Dragon!"

"In response, I activate the Skull Meister (1700/400) in my hand!" A black-haired barbarian sitting on a throne of skulls appeared, his long ponytail swaying in the wind. "I can discard this card to negate the effect of a card that activates in the graveyard!" Leaving behind a ghostly shade, the hand trap stopped Zane from accumulating more negates.

The navy-haired man worked his jaw, his next draw not particularly helpful. "I won't be scared of one set card. I don't have many life points left. If he draws something that can swing over my Cyberdark Keel and deal 500 points of damage, I'm screwed. Any monster wins him the game, I can't let him get one. I need to push for game now!" He decided internally.

"Cyber Dragon, attack his life points directly with strident blaze!" Zane cried desperately. As he called the attack, he felt the deep timbre of his voice falter slightly, his hands shaking a bit. "Exciting...it truly is exciting!"

"I activate my face-down card, Drowning Mirror Force!" Jamie deflated Zane's hopes with his usual sharpness. "When you declare a direct attack, this trap card sends all attack position monsters on your side of the field back to the deck!" In front of the brown-haired boy, a shimmering watery surface enveloped the bright blue laser and sent it back, the beam refracting into a shower of photons. The horizontal rain of light caused Zane's monsters to uncontrollably spin away, and for the man himself to fly across the dueling arena, skidding on his back for a time before tipping over the edge of the platform and tumbling across the grass. None dared to laugh at the mishap - this was the Kaiser after all - except for Kaiba, who snickered lowly.

Pulling out of my battle-induced haze for a moment, I grew concerned. "Hey, are you alright man?" I moved to help Zane, but he quickly clambered up to his usual standing position again. It appeared that he stood up a little too quickly. He was blinking rapidly and a little off-kilter.

"This is nothing compared to what we'll be fighting out there! Spare me no quarter, and press on until a victor is declared!" He barked, and I sharply retracted my hand, realizing my gesture may have unintentionally wounded his warrior's pride.

"Hmph, sure. Is this the end of your turn?" I asked, rubbing my sweaty palms on my pants.

"No. I set a monster, and that will end my turn." Zane huffed and puffed. "I'm not going down that easily. Even if you draw a monster, I'll last through the next turn, and then I'll end it. What can you do with only one card, Jamie?"

"It depends on the card." I moved to draw, but then paused for dramatic effect. "What do you think, is today my lucky day?"

"Just draw it!" Zane snapped playfully, and we both started cackling like goons once more. As I picked up the card, the sun broke through a patch of clouds, bathing us in island sunlight.

"I'll miss that island sunlight." I mused, partially because I wanted to tweak Zane a little more and partially because I really would miss it. Who knew how long we would be gone?

"Yes, so will I. But for now, our goals lie in the darkness." Zane reminded me in an edgy manner.

"Ah, but with every night comes the dawn." I smirked as he realized what I drew. "I banish the light-attribute Canon The Melodious Diva and the dark-attribute Skull Meister from my graveyard to open the gates of chaos!"

Like the morning sun itself his armor shone, sword glinting against the sun's rays. "Messenger of creation, sword of the morning, lead the charge towards a new day! I summon Black Luster Soldier - Envoy of the Beginning (3000/2500)!" The monster was only in my deck because of luck, and it was luck that saved me this time. That, or perhaps the "heart of the cards" was helping me out for some reason….

Kaiba started upon seeing the shade of Yugi's Black Luster Soldier. "Ugh, I don't like that card...how did Lancaster get his hands on one of those, anyways? Did he sell a kidney?"

"His father must have won that sweepstakes on the radio two years ago." Pegasus realized. "Not a very dramatic or exciting backstory, I must say. But then, that fits your boy's dueling style rather well."

Smiling, I elected not to draw this fight out any longer. "Like I said earlier, I'm not one to assign too much symbolism to these trading cards. But I'd like to think this card represents a sense of hope, and determination that we will complete our mission. I'm very glad to have you by my side, Zane."

"Oh sure, you attach meaning to cool cards, but not your divas or hand traps, eh? I see how it is." Zane chuckled in resignation.

Hardening my gaze, I roared, "Black Luster Soldier, attack his monster!" In a flash of orange, the knight closed the field's distance and cleaved apart Zane's sole creature, a Cyber Kirin (300/800)."

"I'll activate Black Luster Soldier's effect! When he destroys a monster in battle, he can attack once again!" Pivoting, the swordsman delivered a swift finishing blow to Zane. To his credit, he stood tall and accepted it with a shade of his old honor. Although his expression was tight and pained, he nodded in acceptance all the same. It wasn't the first time I had beaten him, but it was the first time in front of an audience. After all of his effort to grow stronger, it must be frustrating. But gradually, it seemed he was gaining a healthier approach to being challenged, which is good because he's about to be challenged quite a bit in the dark world.

"I'll get ya next time. Until then." He said. Detaching the bio-bands, we crossed the field to shake hands. (Jamie 2150/Zane 0)

"Well done!" I hadn't realized that Professor Crowler had shown up, but he gamely led a round of applause from the small audience of our friends, as well as the various workers and scientists who had constructed the gate. "A splendid duel!"

We trekked up the hill to greet them. Alexis gave me a hug while Zane received handshakes and other well-wishes from his former classmates, especially the second and third years. "You did great. I feel a bit better knowing how amazing you all have become." Alexis murmured into my shoulder.

Smiling tightly, I stroked her hair a bit erratically as my hands were still twitching from the effects of the bio-bands. "Your support means the world to me." I said, and it was true. The other Obelisks would only support me as long as I remained the strongest. But I'd like to think that Alexis' loyalty was genuine. It helped to think that.

"Where'd Chazz go?" Zane asked.

"He sulked off after Aster beat him. Their duel didn't take as long as yours, Jamie, But I gotta hand it to him, he ended up charging the gate the most out of all of ya. So he's good for something, at least." Erin explained with a coarse laugh.

With Alexis in my arms, I looked over at Aster. "Congratulations on the win, bud. I think we have a solid team going on here. God willing, right?" I slapped my palms together and gave him a cheesy grin.

Aster's expression was guarded. "...Unfortunately, I wasn't able to catch much of your duel."

Good, that means he doesn't have a firsthand assessment of my abilities. "Well, there will be plenty of chances ahead, I'm sure."

"I'm sure." He echoed. "You've dueled Chazz in the past as well, right? Rumor has it you were the one who sent him into exile."

"I didn't send him anywhere, he ran away because he couldn't handle the thought of living in Ra Yellow. The guy's always been a bundle of neuroses, who knows why he does what he does? Personally I think having those Ojamas buzzing around his head has made him go crazy." I shrugged.

Aster's gaze was probing, picking apart my answer. "What? If you have something to say, just say it." I snapped.

"Hmm? Oh, it's nothing…" Aster turned away.

Mokuba cut the tension. "Well, it looks like the gate is holding the charge better than we expected. We'll have you five set out tomorrow morning. Best to get some rest and make sure your supplies are all in order. There will be enough power for some jumps back and forth, but we're better off spending our resources sparingly. Meet us at 8 AM sharp, ok?" He addressed me, Zane, Jesse, Aster, and Erin, getting a round of nods in response.

I turned to talk to my friends again, but Kaiba pulled me away from the convivial crowd as if waking me from a good dream. Pulling me aside, he offered me a swig from the flask, which I took gratefully. It was whiskey, what kind I couldn't know. "Well done, Jamie. You didn't gather much energy, but you won, which is more important. If people see my intern being weak they'll wonder about me."

"As always, your words warm my heart, sir." I replied blithely. Glancing behind me, I saw Jesse having a similar conversation with Pegasus while the others mingled amongst themselves.

He smirked. "It was a good fight. Watching you two reminded me of my younger days. That Zane kid is a real talent. Do you trust him?"

"Yes, sir." I responded without hesitation, but then added on, "He only wants to fight strong opponents. The guy's not a schemer."

"Good. I've known many like him. Gladiator types. Keep feeding him fresh meat and he'll be satisfied. Then there's only one teammate to worry about."

I silently bid him to explain further. "Think, Lancaster, think! That Erin chick is into you and Anderson is in Pegasus' pocket, not to mention he's got a vested interest in seeing Jaden come back in one piece."

"I understand, sir."

"Who the fuck knows what these religious types are thinking. Aster hears some prophecy in a dream or sees the Lord of Light in a piece of toast and just like that he'll jeopardize the mission. Plus he knows I'm not exactly inclined to be merciful to his buddy Sartorius. I don't like it."

"Nah, I think Aster's ok -" I put up a token defense, knowing where the train of thought was going.

"I don't like it." Kaiba emphasized in a hushed whisper. "The minute any type of situation comes up with him, you handle it."

"But-"

"No buts. If he doesn't fall in line, you handle it. This in-between shit isn't cutting it. They all need to follow your lead or step aside. Or they can get handled the hard way. It doesn't matter to me. What does matter is that you're the one calling the shots while acting as my representative. Do you understand?"

I didn't like what he was suggesting, but his words did plant a seed of doubt in my head. Aster was certainly much different than he was in canon. The fact that he could utilize Light energy in a duel enhanced his destructive capacity, and he did seem much more inclined towards supernatural affairs, which I tended not to blend well with. Since I haven't dueled him yet, I don't know how his abilities will affect me in battle. There is some reason to be cautious around him. We walked idly for some time. "I will do it sir, if it is necessary."

Kaiba nodded, staring at me intently. Stopping, he put his hands on my shoulders and leveled with me. "You're a good kid, ok? If you pull this off, you'll be rich beyond your dreams. I wouldn't ask this of you if you couldn't take it. These are the flames that will forge your strength, my lion. Survive, so that you can attempt to surpass me one day if you have the stones for it. The summit lies far beyond this."

Lion...it was an empty moniker. Right now I was a domesticated housecat. But not forever...I will be my own man someday. "That it does." That summit...I couldn't conceive of its image in my mind's eye, but I knew what it was, and I knew that I wanted it, because maybe it would give my life some direction. "Until the morning then, sir."

I made for a shit hero at the end of the day. I gave it my best effort, but it just wasn't my thing. After Jaden is rescued and the rest of the people after me are defeated, after I prove myself to Kaiba...then I'll need to find my own direction in life. But for now, the approaching darkness blotted out all of the future's horizons.

XxXxXxXxXxXxXxXxXxXxXxXx

The following morning was calm and quiet. Alexis and I said our goodbyes in private, and I let her sleep as I got ready. "How long will it be until I see you again?" I thought, ashamed that I lacked the courage to tell her who I really was. She would judge me, for certain, but how harshly?

Her complexion was always pale like snow. She never could get a tan despite living on an island...it always amused me. The truth would either stoke the fires of rage or drive her to sadness like rain. Either way the snow would melt. It would be dirtied by the truth, and in her reflection I would be forced to face the naked fact of what sort of person I really am. "When I return...perhaps…" Could I really keep it from her forever? If we stayed together, could I keep it a secret as we grew old and gray? The thought had never occurred to me before, and I didn't know the answer.

Her normally stern expression was soft in sleep. "Let the dream last a little longer…reality will always be there." I was out the door.

My indulgence meant I was the last to arrive. Zane paced like a hungry wolf, Aster read his odd religious text beneath a tree, Jesse spoke idly to his spirits and Erin gazed upon the ocean. Mokuba, Seto, and Pegasus were there to see us off, as well as the gate operators.

"If you are prepared...step forward. In an emergency, use the transmitters on your duel disk to signal distress and we will get you out of there." Mokuba explained.

We said nothing, only nodding once again. The time was now. Jaden, Sartorius, Yubel...at the heart of the seemingly simple rescue mission lay the secrets of the universe, possibly the cause for why I was here. The five of us had our own separate reasons, but for now we were comrades, each cast into the deep night. Whether dawn would come depended on our skills, our wits, our strength. The gate flashed rainbow colors in front of us.

Each taking a step forward, the five of us went through, the kaleidoscope giving way to the dark. Falling again...falling into the world below.

XxXxXxXxXxXxXxXxXxXxxx

(Jaden Yuki POV)

The days blended together, a haze of indigo and gray. Jaden rode half-asleep in the saddle by day, and only got a few fitful hours at night after setting up camp for the rest of the army. Even his normally boundless energy was beginning to feel strained by the long journey. The Hero duelist could tell Sartorius was in the same state he was, but luckily they were only a few more days from the castle.

A harsh cacophony of yelping noises roused Jaden from his half-slumber, startling his Dark Gray. Gaining control of his mount quickly, Jaden found that the column had stopped moving, the flying monsters soaring forward to determine the cause of the delay. The rest of the war demons took a momentary rest, not seeming to care very much as long as they got moving again soon.

Jaden had always been restless and easily bored ever since he was a young boy. "I'm gonna go check it out. You wanna come with?" He asked Sartorius. The blue-haired former cult leader had lost a few pounds, and seemed to be taking things harder than Jaden was. He shook his head silently. Shrugging, Jaden snapped the reins and galloped forward to the front, where he saw a party of what seemed to be human warriors blocking the road. Hank and Jinzo had dismounted, and had duel disks at the ready. The men appeared to be only a dozen strong, and each of them wore red headbands on their brows along with armor in various states of rust and overuse. Although most were on horseback, one was riding some sort of Flintstones-esque primitive motorcycle.

Jaden grinned - could it be that a duel was about to break out? "Is everything good up here, you guys?" He asked Hank and Jinzo.

"Another human?" One of the men queried. "Two humans leading an army of duel spirits? What exactly is Yubel promising you? Why have you sided with these usurpers of the throne?" The questions came rapid-fire. The man in charge wore a skull-shaped helmet and blue body armor.

Jaden didn't know what the guy was talking about. But there was that Yubel name again...why did that sound so familiar? "Listen buddy, I'm not really a leader, I'm kinda just along for the ride. We're going to some castle or something, hopefully for some good food."

Hank gave Jaden a side-eye. "Relax. I'll handle this." Turning to the blond warrior, his voice rose in pitch. "We are war spirits in the direct service of Master Yubel. I am the Vagabond and this is Jinzo. We are two lieutenants under Yubel's command returning from a scouting mission. State your business, for we are in a hurry."

"Our business is to take whatever food and supplies you have with you! Hand them over or die defending them, it makes no difference to us!" The skull rider declared.

"Bandits, eh? They've grown bolder since Yubel took out Brron. Perhaps they think the army's discipline has faltered because it's under new leadership?" Jinzo guessed, his tone casual..

"That could be. Well, l suppose we ought to deal with them before they hold us up any longer." Hank did not seem particularly worried either. Both he and Jinzo withdrew Duel Disks from their traveling packs. Jaden's keen senses perceived an old, yet somewhat familiar presence with Hank's cards. "It feels the same as what I felt from the spirit keys...does he have one of the Sacred Beasts?" Jaden wondered. It must be either Raviel or Uria.

"Hmph. Cut off the head of the group and the weaklings will scatter! Let's kill them!" The skull-helmed spirit revved up his motorcycle. "Which of you will face me, the great turbo duelist Dukurorider!"

"Turbo duelist? Don't tell me you duel while riding that motorcycle?" Jaden chuckled, finding the idea a bit silly.

"That's right! No mount can keep up with it!" Dokurorider boasted. "Have at me if you doubt my powers, human!"

"Well, I don't think my goat can keep up with that, so you got me there. But I'll never turn down a challenge!" Jaden eagerly turned to Hank and Jinzo. "Are you guys cool if I take him on?"

Hank's expression was droll. "It makes no difference to me." Something in Hank's tone suggested that it made no difference if Jaden lived or died, not if he dueled the leader of the bandits or not. "We'll clean out the rabble. Let's go, Jinzo." The two of them went to take on the other eleven raiders. If they could really take on eleven opponents, Jaden would be impressed, but he could tell that Dokurorider was the strongest of them by a mile.

"No riding duel, eh...how disappointing. But what can you do?" Dokurorider bemoaned, stepping off of his motorcycle and looking rather less than intimidating for it. His duel disk was a custom build, blue with bony structures making up the card zones. "I'll go first! I'll start by activating the field spell Zombie World!"

The already bleak landscape took on a thick purple mist, obscuring the others from Jaden's vision. It was just as well - now he could focus solely on his opponent. "This field spell turns all monsters on the field and in the graveyard to zombies. Furthermore, only zombie monsters can be tribute summoned!" Dokurorider explained. "Then, I'll activate Pre-Preparation of Rites! This spell allows me to add a ritual monster and its corresponding ritual spell from the deck to the hand!"

Jaden was totally unsurprised by the cards Dokurorider grabbed from his deck. "Now, I'll activate the ritual spell Revival of Dokurorider!" Lightning portentously pierced through the violet fog for a moment. "By sacrificing the level eight Doomking Balerdroch from my hand, I can summon forth the incarnation of my very spirit, Dokurorider (1900/1850)!" A replica of the skeletal rider appeared on the field, sitting idle on his not-quite-a-motorcycle.

"Well, don't take this the wrong way, but you guys tend to be pretty straightforward, you know?" Jaden chuckled good-naturedly, but Dokurorider didn't find much humor in the situation.

"Let's see if you find this funny! I'll equip Dokurorider with Ritual Weapon, boosting its attack and defense values by 1500!" The rider now wielded a white and gold crossbow, a quiver of bolts on his back. "A set card ends my turn! Let's see how you deal with 3400 attack points, human. Soon your food and money will be ours!"

At the mention of food, Jaden felt his stomach growl sharply. "Aw man, I'm really hungry...I hear they've got plenty of food at that castle we're going to." He mused. "Sorry, but I'm gonna end this fast with my full power! I just gotta get going!"

Clenching his fists, Jaden let loose an eruption of dark energy from his body, ensconcing himself in a black aura. It felt so much easier to tap into this power here, more natural. Now that he was back at full strength, he His eyes burned bright gold. Negative feelings sprung up from beneath, but he ignored them with only a modicum of effort. The darkness was cool and soothing, smooth like a riverbank worn down by the water's ministrations.

"Alright, here I come!" Jaden refocused on his opponent to find him utterly aghast. Or least it seemed that way - it was remarkably difficult to read the expression of a skeleton. The rider's words made his true feelings apparent, however.

"No...it's not possible! You're the Supreme King of Darkness!" He declared with utter certainty, as if something in his blood was pointing him to the conclusion.

"Yeah, some people say that to me. I don't really know what it means. I'm not sure if I really like that title though, it sounds scary. Just between you and me, I'm the type of guy who runs to bed after turning the lights off, ya know?" Jaden laughed.

"I cannot believe it! The one destined to lead both the monster spirits and the humans! The harbinger of a new dark age! Your existence was just supposed to be a legend, and yet that aura…" Dokurorider muttered, half-mad.

"Hey man, it's no big deal. Let's just keep this thing going, ok? Like I said, I'm really getting a case of the munchies." Jaden shrugged off the odd change in tone from his enemy.

Collecting himself, Dokurorider remembered he had a card effect to use. "I may not have a chance...but it's too late to back out! During the standby phase, I can resurrect Doomking Balerdroch (2800/2000) from the graveyard as long as there is a field spell out. Return to the field, doomking!" From the earth, a skeletal hydra burst forth, its spine slithering on the ground like a serpent's.

"In addition, I'll flip over my continuous trap card Soul Levy. Now, each time you special summon a monster, I can send the top three cards of your deck to the graveyard." Dokurorider said.

"That card is pretty strong. I better be careful." Jaden commented casually. "Alright, first thing is I'm gonna activate E - Emergency Call, adding an Elemental Hero from deck to hand." The old reliable spell came in handy once again. "Next, I'll play the spell A Hero Lives, summoning a hero from my deck to the field as long as I pay half of my life points! Come out, Elemental Hero Stratos (1800/300)!" The warrior of the wind turbines was a standard starter for Jaden's new strategy. Only under Zombie World, it's appearance changed, becoming more sinister and decayed as it became a zombie-type monster. Since Jaden special summoned, three of his cards were milled off the top of his deck. (Jaden 2000/Dokurorider 4000)

"I'll use Stratos' effect to add a hero from my deck to the hand!" Jaden attempted another search, only to find his monster pierced by a sharpened bone thrown by Doomking Balerdroch.

"When a zombie monster activates its effects, Doomking Balerdroch can negate the activation once per turn!" Dokurorider explained.

"Alright, no problem! My next card is the quick-play spell Mask Change, allowing me to swap out Stratos for a wind-attribute masked hero from my extra deck! Blow him away, Masked Hero Blast (2200/1800)!" A red scarf trailed behind the slim superhero, his green armor tight and aerodynamic. Three more cards were milled due to Soul Levy.

"When this Masked Hero is summoned, I can cut the attack strength of one of your monsters in half! I know he's your card form and all, but I'm gonna cut Dokurorider's attack in half, ok?" Jaden asked with a grin.

"Not ok! I use Balerdroch's second effect! In response to the effect activation of a zombie monster, I can banish one monster on the field or graveyard. I'll banish that Masked Hero Blast!" Doomking Balerdroch launched forward, its maw threatening to swallow up Jaden's newly summoned hero.

"Well, there's not much I can do about that. But I can do this! In response to your Doomking's effect, I'll chain Masked Hero Blast's second ability! By paying 500 life points, I can bounce a spell or trap card on the field back to its owner's hand. I'm sending you back that Soul Levy!" Jaden responded. Before Blast was snapped up by Balerdroch, it shot a quick gust of wind that eliminated Soul Levy from the playing field. (Jaden 1500/Dokurorider 4000)

"Masked Hero Blast may be banished now, but his effect wasn't negated. That means your Dokurorider's attack value is cut to 1700!" As Jaden explained it, it seemed that the Dokurorider card was beset by heavy, localized winds.

"Hmph, so your Stratos will be able to defeat my ritual monster now. But it is still no match for Doomking Balerdroch." Dokurorider explained. "I have to admit, I didn't expect the Supreme King of Darkness would be such a lackwit.

"Hey, didn't you see I still have a card in my hand?" Jaden turned it over and showed it to him. "I'll show ya who's the lackwit! I play Miracle Fusion!"

Clasping his gloved hands together, multicolored energy began swirling around Jaden's slim frame. "Your trap card sent six of my cards to the graveyard, two of which were Elemental Hero Bubbleman and Elemental Hero Wildheart! Using Miracle Fusion, I banish them to summon Elemental Hero Sunrise (2500/1200) to the field!"

Golden rays of light dappled the field, piercing the purple fog of Zombie World. The gold gave way to orange, then changed shades again as the fusion monster appeared, its armor a bright, shiny red - Jaden's favorite color.

"When this guy is summoned, I can add another copy of Miracle Fusion from deck to hand." Upon searching the second fusion spell, Jaden immediately played it. "I'll now banish Elemental Heroes Avian and Burstinatrix -" They were also milled by the Soul Levy trap card - "to fusion summon my favorite hero, the Elemental Hero Flame Wingman (2100/1200) in attack mode!" The old reliable monster appeared in a burst of flame, unfurling its single white wing.

Dokurorider could only gape in shock, his seemingly solid opening board quickly overwhelmed in a torrent of red. Jaden grinned. "Now I have everything I need to finish this! Flame Wingman, attack Dokurorider with infernal rage!"

Flame Wingman soared high into the air, bathing the other side of the field in waves of fire that enveloped both the Dokurorider manifestation on the field as well as Doomking Balerdroch. "When a fusion monster attacks while Elemental Hero Sunrise is on the field, I can destroy another card on the field as well!" Balerdroch was destroyed by this effect while Dokurorider was destroyed by the attack of Flame Wingman.

Dokurorider was flung backwards, slamming into a nearby boulder a second before a fireball engulfed him, burning him for the attack value of Dokurorider as well as the battle damage itself. (Jaden 4000/Dokurorider 1700)

Now that the field was clear, Jaden's victory was assured. "I'll attack directly with Sunrise!" The rays were not as harsh as they could have been - Jaden was gentle in swift victory. (Jaden 4000/Dokurorider 0)

"And that's game! GG, bro!" Jaden performed his requisite two-fingered salute as the defeated Dokurorider struggled to his feet. "Anyways, you and your guys should skedaddle. We got places to be. You weren't bad, but I guess my cards wanted to finish it fast too, you feel me?"

"It only stands to reason I wouldn't have a chance against the lord and master of Duel Monsters." Unexpectedly, the very same bandit who was trying to rob Jaden blind just a minute now bowed to him, the horns on his skull helmet nearly touching the ground.. "Fate has delivered me to you, my king. I pledge to you my strength, my spirit, my very soul."

Jinzo and Hank had just finished taking down their share of the lesser bandits, keeping them alive so that they might be conscripted into the army. Starving for entertainment amidst the delay, many of the soldier spirits made way to watch the brief battles. Once Jaden unleashed the black aura and his eyes turned to gold, something instinctual awoke within them. Something truer than true.

The spirits all bowed before Jaden at once, as though compelled by some invisible hand of God. "He stood among us, blending in to judge if we were worthy! Forgive us for any wrongdoing, blessed king of Darkness!" They intoned hellishly.

"Huh? What are you guys talking about?" Jaden's black aura faded, his golden eyes returning to their usual brown shade. Looking over, he saw Jinzo and Hank returning unharmed, the pair beating down their share of the enemies with ease. Jinzo immediately knelt as well, only Hank remaining in a standing position. Beneath his red cap, the rogue's eyes were wide with shock.

"Jaden...you're Jaden Yuki…" He said, comprehension dawning.

"Our demon king has come! Hail the promised one, the supreme lord of darkness, Jaden Yuki!" The spirits cried high to the heavens.

A/N

Hope you all enjoyed. Thank for your patience. I'd like to dedicate this chapter to Kentaro Miura, may he rest in peace. He was one of the greatest storytellers of his era and Berserk actually has a great deal of influence over Yugioh GX, believe it or not. His manga is one of the few to scale the heights of great literature in my opinion, I cannot recommend Berserk highly enough. Like I was saying in the last chapter, I'm not around as much for the time being but the DMs are always open.

JustM33 has recently created a discord channel called Royal Magical Library for Yugioh fanfiction and fan stuff in general. If you're interested in joining send him or me a PM with your discord ID and you'll get an invite!

Thanks and I'll catch you next time!