Chapter 63: Every Little Card She Plays Is Magic

(Alexis Rhodes POV)

The morning came, and he was gone. Upon waking, Alexis took a moment to look at his side of the bed, still tousled as he had only left a few hours ago. Taking a moment, she thought of Jamie and prayed for his safety before rising to get ready for the day. It was a big day, for the emissaries from the Duel Academies of the East, West, and South were arriving for the tournament. Although initially Alexis felt that a grand spectacle bringing together all of the big schools was a pointless frivolity, she eventually surmised that concentrating so many duels on the island would probably serve to keep the dimensional gate powered. Although Alexis normally would have chafed at the idea of her life force being funneled towards some contraption, she would gladly do it if it meant safe passage for Jamie and the rest of their friends.

"At least Zane and Erin will be there with him." Alexis felt a twinge of irritation that she wouldn't be able to settle her (admittedly petty) rivalry with Erin at the tournament, as well as the fact that Erin was chosen for the mission instead of her. Knowing that Erin once had her eye on Jamie didn't sit well with Alexis either. "But Jamie wouldn't betray me like that...right?" Alexis wished she could feel more secure about it, but Jamie was a man of secrets. It drew Alexis to him, but only with the hope that she would become a trusted confidant over time. That hadn't happened yet - he never fully let his guard down around anyone. Had he lied to her before?

Banishing the ill thoughts from her mind, Alexis showered and dressed. Now that she was the de facto number one ranked student on the island, Crowler would expect her to represent the school in various media appearances, not to mention in the tournament fights themselves. It wasn't something she particularly enjoyed, but there was little choice to be had.

Going to breakfast, she ate with Bastion and Jasmine, who both planned on competing in the tourney as well. Atticus wasn't interested and had only just got out of the hospital besides. Otherwise, there would be a few other Obelisks trying their luck, but most wouldn't make it past the first round. Syrus, Kenzan, and even Mindy were also competing, but Alexis was fairly confident that Chazz would be her strongest opponent out of those duelists who she knew the capabilities of. Despite Aster handing the black-haired Northman a stinging defeat, it was a fairly even match and a single slip in Aster's defense would have meant a swift defeat for him. Alexis knew she couldn't afford to mess up either. She hoped to deal the smug bastard a few stings of her own, if the bracket saw fit to match them up.

Sure enough, she saw Chazz smoking a cigarette outside through the picture window in the dining hall. He was standing with Crowler of all people, and they appeared to be in the midst of a casual conversation, which Alexis wouldn't have expected. After a moment, she saw they were also joined by Professor Stein, a man so boring and forgettable that it took Alexis a moment to recall his name despite the fact that she took his elective course on spell speeds last semester. Even Bastion paid the teacher little respect, often referring to him as Stein the Soporific. She wondered what the three of them could possibly have to talk about, but she supposed it was just as likely they all were coincidentally taking a smoke break at the same time. The longer she went to school on this island, the more Alexis distrusted coincidences.

As a guest for the tournament, Chazz was still allowed to stay in Obelisk Blue, so she supposed he would have been around a lot of the teachers, all of whom lived in Obelisk Blue lodgings with the exceptions of Sartyr and Drummond, who resided in Ra and Slifer. He briefly glanced over to their table through the pane, catching her eye. Expressionlessly, he turned away and took another drag, the smoke lazily drifting upwards in the humid morning air.

Bastion and Jasmine hadn't seen him, engrossed in conversation before Alexis sat down. "Hey, you guys. Feeling good about your decks?"

Bastion smiled. "I think so. It was a tough call deciding which deck to go with, but I think this one will work with aplomb." He tapped the deck box on the side of his backpack, prudently refusing to tell what deck it actually was. "I'll have to go soon, I have an interview with ESPN 8: The Ocho at nine-thirty."

"Same. Mine's at ten." Alexis replied. "How are you, Jazz?"

"I'm good. I'm going to stick with Six Sams. I think I'm starting to get what Jaden was always saying, about the cards trusting you and you trusting them. I'm excited!" The redhead smiled. After her match with Erin during the invasion, Jasmine seemed to have cooled off some. Her abrasiveness seemed to come about as a result of what Alexis often heard Zane call "newbie gains". When a duelist rapidly improved in a short amount of time, they tended to have an overestimation of their abilities and a subsequent disrespect of their opponents. He said that Syrus went through the same phase, and Alexis imagined that Zane himself was like that once as well. Seeing Zane's manic, battle-crazed expression during his duels with Jamie made her question how well she really knew him. Nevertheless, once that duelist gets their ass whooped a few times, they invariably lose their ego. The same phenomenon happens in sports and other competitive endeavors.

"Nice. Well, no matter which of us wins, it's a win for the central academy." Alexis said cheerily even as she thought, "And it's all the same anyways. The gate gets powered when duels happen, who wins is of no consequence." She set the brief twinge of annoyance aside. "The competition is gonna be pretty stiff though."

"There's nothing wrong with a good fight. The duelist of tomorrow is forged by the battles of today. We've had experience fighting the supernatural multiple times now, I think we can handle some of our peers." said Jasmine.

Bastion sipped his tea. "And the real fights are far from over. We may as well enjoy this time to just play the game and have some fun, I say."

"I just can't relax...even with Kaiba and Pegasus on the island, it still feels vulnerable. Considering the luck we've had, I'd be willing to bet at least one duelist from the other academies is up to no good." Alexis fretted.

"Well, the headmaster of West Academy is named Thelonious Viper, and apparently his son Pierce is competing in the tournament. Viper was the one who developed the bio-bands. If that doesn't set off alarm bells, I don't know what does." Jasmine agreed. "Besides his name, that is. What kind of mother names her kid Thelonious Viper anyways?"

After they finished eating, the trio walked by Chazz and Crowler while leaving the building. Crowler bid them good morning while Chazz leered at them silently. "On top of everything else, there's no telling what this guy's gonna do…" Alexis thought, trying not to let the ashy smell bother her. No words passed between them, but she could feel his stormy gaze on the back of her head.

XxXxXxXxXxXxXxXxX

(Jamie Lancaster POV)

"Looks like we made it all in one piece." I sat up, spitting out a mouthful of sand. "I don't think I broke anything on the landing. How about you guys?"

Well, you can't make an omelet without sending a few eggs through the disintegration of the boundary between dimensions, a loss of form and cohesion, a descent into a hellish and unforgiving alien crucible, a brutal and stark landscape leaving behind all that once was. At least I think that's how the old phrase goes." Aster rubbed his tushie, having landed on a boulder. "I'm fine."

"Feelin' fresh as a daisy!" Jesse piped up.

"Ready to roll!" Erin joined enthusiastically.

"...Let's party." said Zane. He was clearly trying so hard to be badass that we all burst out laughing for a moment before the sobering reality of the grey desert set in.

"Good, let's get moving...wait a minute, I just realized I have no clue where we are." Looking around, I saw no signs of anything resembling civilization. It was pretty much dunes and bluffs as far as the eye could see, although there was a patch of green on the horizon that could have denoted a forest of some kind.

"I see that too. We should definitely get to where the water is, and I bet those woods are close to a source. We don't want to burn through our supplies too fast." Jesse pointed east.

"We can always go back, but charging up that gate again and again is gonna take its toll, and we don't know what shape Jaden and Sartorius are in. We need to find a good base and move from there." Aster made to move forward. For some reason the guy still decided to wear his trademark silver suit even though we were going to be walking for god knows how long. I abandoned my Obelisk Blue uniform in lieu of a pine green t-shirt and jeans. Zane wore a similar get-up although his shirt was black, breathable nylon. Erin wore athleisure running gear, yoga pants and a dark blue quarter-zip up top. Her normally braided brown hair was up in a bun. Jesse wore a loose white long-sleeve shirt, boots and well-worn jeans that looked like they had actually seen some physical labor, unlike mine and Zane's. Not for the first time I wondered what his family actually did for a living. He seemed to be one of the few elite duelists our age who had actually worked a real job at one point.

Indeed, once we got to the forest, Jesse was remarkably discerning about what was safe to eat and what wasn't. He took the lead, slashing through brush with a serrated bowie knife as we formed a column behind him. By evening, we had a solid pantry built up and a fire pit to sit by.

"Wow, I didn't know the food here was going to be like our world's. Lucky us!" Erin smiled. We were all surprised to find that was the case, but it made things a lot easier.

"Thanks for gathering all that stuff, Jesse. We can take turns preparing it if you want." I offered.

He shrugged, setting down the bagfuls of fruits and vegetables. "Ain't no trouble. I can do it. Brings back memories of when I used to stay with my aunt in Georgia as a kid."

"In the states?" I assumed he wasn't talking about the country. If it was the state of Georgia, that would help explain where he got his accent from despite his supposed Scandinavian ancestry. Aren't we supposed to Japanese? Or not since this is the dub-verse? I still couldn't figure it out...

Jesse nodded. "Used to help her pick peaches, tomatoes, zucchini, okra….once I was old enough I spent a couple weeks every August helping my cousins bale hay. Don't worry, I ain't scared of work." He smiled kindly.

"Not everyone can do that. A lot of kids are scared to work with their hands. They think it's beneath them for some reason." I commented, helping him sort the food while Aster, Erin, and Zane went to bring back more.

"No offense, but I figured you were like that. You got any family that farms?" Jesse poked.

"...No." I had some back in my old life. Whether it was true for Jamie Lancaster, I didn't know. "No close family anyways. You can make way more money playing card games than driving a tractor though. I'm not saying that's right or wrong, but it's true..."

"I couldn't believe it either. My papa didn't want me to go to Duel Academy 'till momma showed him how much duelists make. But that was how we lived growing up. You can grow your food, you can stock supplies in a barn, you don't need anybody to do anything." He paused, recalling a fond memory. "My grandpa, he was a phenomenal shot. I seen him hit deer through thick treelines in a snowstorm where I could barely see nothin' till he pointed it out to me. We'd bring it home and I'd help momma with the stew."

"Thick snowstorms in Georgia?" I probed skeptically.

"We was up in Minnesota at that time." Jesse responded.

I nodded slowly. "I may have benefitted from more experiences like that." Experiences...that was the key to a good life.

"Don't worry about it, we can't help how we grow up." He shrugged. "The grass is always greener on the other side. You know, I've been working my tail off for as long as I could walk. I probably had just about this much fun growing up." Jesse held his thumb and index finger close together so there was only a sliver of space between them. "But then, if I was given everything I wanted, would I really be content? Or would I just want more? I don't know."

"The nature of man is to always want more. That's why there will always be wars." It was nice to have a semi-private conversation with Jesse, he was a warm and interesting personality. Once the others brought back the rest of the food, he continued, "The best thing we can do is to strive for some measure of inner peace for oneself."

"Maybe." Jesse mused as the other three returned with further provisions. "Now y'all gather round here and I'll show you the best way to prepare raw rhubarb."

XxXxXxXxXxXxXxXxX

Days came and went like that, the five of us wandering through the woods in hopes of finding some lead. If we had a map of the area...now that would be something. Luckily, wherever we were seemed to be far from Yubel's center of power. The forest was rich with resources, but we hadn't come across anyone, friend or foe. It had been a week until we found civilization - first a series of outposts built from brick, then a village centered around a large grey castle that nearly reached the treetops. On the outskirts of the village, our party was stopped by two guardsmen waving about wooden staves. They were clad in simple brown tunics and white headbands, their frames solid and muscular.

"Halt! Travelers, ye have now broached the domain of the Witchcrafters. State your business!" One of the burly men boomed.

"Uh...Witchcrafters?" Erin questioned, and I realized the others probably wouldn't know about these cards since they were a relatively recent archetype introduced in my timeline.

Aster stepped forward. "We come in peace, seeking two of our missing friends. One is a boy my age with ginger-brown hair and the other is a taller man with long blue hair. Have you seen anyone by that description? If not, we will be on our way."

"...You're human, aren't you?" The other man ventured curiously. "It has been some time since we've seen your kind. In fact, I don't believe a human has ever successfully found our village."

"So you haven't seen who we're looking for then." I frowned. "Oh well, in that case we'll be going, thanks anyway." I gestured for us to leave.

"Hold on, travelers. We are a people of science and discovery, and I'm certain our master would relish the opportunity to study your kind, if you would accommodate us. In return, you'll find a safe place to rest, and perhaps some help in your quest." The cleverer-than-usual sentry postulated.

I glanced at my friends. "Stay on guard." I silently bid, hoping they could understand me. Everyone seemed to pick up on it except for Zane, who looked bored. "Very well. Take us to your leader." I secretly enjoyed the chance to say the cliched line.

XxXxXxXxXxXxXxXx

(Jamie Lancaster POV)

We stood in a grand throne room, crystalline surfaces filling the chamber with a translucent, silvery light, doubtless aided by some sort of magic. Soft pillows and cushions floated in the air without any obvious suspension mechanism, and the vaulted ceiling was replete with a starry view that should have been impossible considering the thick foliage outside. On the walls hung white banners with the sigil of their guild - a crossed purple scissors and hammer against a spade. It should have been a dazzling display, but I was distrustful of magic.

On the cushions sat a gaggle of girls, none seeming older than us in terms of appearance at least. On one cloud was a red-haired girl with grease stains on her arms, as if she had been pulled straight from the workshop. Another girl sat with closed posture, with mousy, tangled ash-blonde hair and big round spectacles. In the center was a decidedly smug little girl wearing an opal dress and idly twirling her tousled azure hair about. Although she appeared to be around ten years old, her eyes betrayed centuries of lived experiences. "Why are the lolis in anime always secretly 500 years old?" I wondered, and although I think I knew why, it was a line of reasoning I didn't want to ponder further.

"They don't seem to be warrior-type spirits. These must be humans." The blue-haired girl mused.

"Oh we're warriors, I assure you. Come and try me if you doubt it." Zane prodded, to my frustration. Didn't he have any sense of diplomacy?

"I did not realize humans had discovered means to travel the realms freely. Forgive me if I doubt your goodwill. In my experience, humans are only interested in subjugating us in the form of those cards. We do not take kindly to being used as playthings by which you settle your own feuds." One of the girls nearly accused.

"We don't care about that. We were wondering if you had seen two other humans pass through here. One of them was an excitable kid with ginger-brown hair, kinda gives off puppy dog vibes. The other was an older fellow with long blue hair and a creepy face. Sound familiar?" I asked.

"Why are you looking for these men?" The blue-haired girl responded with her own question. "Are they outlaws?"

"Nah, we're friendly. We want to escort them back safely to the human world. They just got lost and we're trying to help them home. Frankly, all we need is a pointer in the right direction and a place to stay the night, ma'am." Jesse laid on the charm, leaning forward and tipping his cowboy hat to them.

"Ooh, he's cute." A red-haired girl commented. "Too bad he probably plays for the other team." Like everyone in the human world, she was able to discern this fact accurately with only a glance.

"Is it really that easy to tell?!" Jesse laughed weakly.

"Yes!" Everyone in the room echoed simultaneously.

"Well, we do have some spare rooms. And Genni here," Verre gestured to a white-robed girls with messy blonde hair and round spectacles. "Has been looking for new test subjects for her potions. Why don't you work for us? You'll be compensated well enough. We'd like to see how well our spells work on humans. And on the weekends, you can look for your missing friends."

I shared a glance with the rest of the group and they seemed uneasy. "No thanks. We don't need work. Just a place to stay for the night." I said firmly.

"That is unfortunate, because we really do need some humans. Tell you what, why don't we settle it with a duel? If you win, you'll receive free room and board for the evening, and a nice hot meal to boot. While if you fail...well, you'll be under new management." The little girl laughed, a high-toned tinkling sound of pure arrogance.

"I believe there's already a word for being put to work against your will, it's called slavery. I don't know about you guys, but I'm getting kinda pissed." Erin, despite being a water duelist, was always quick to get fired up.

"I don't trust spellcasters. These girls may look innocent, but they practice fell arts. I will gladly deliver the Lord's judgment upon them." Aster made to step forward, but I had already moved ahead of him.

Giving me the side eye, Aster said, "Don't worry about it, Lancaster. I am the most skilled duelist here, so it stands to reason I'll be able to crush them the fastest."

"I'm sure this caliber of opponent is beneath your ability." I leaned in so the Witchcrafters couldn't hear. Stoking Aster's ego seemed to be the best way of handling the situation. "Save your strength for the real enemy."

Squinting at me, Aster finally backed down. "Very well." He turned to the council of witches. "We will have Lancaster serve as our group's representative." I suspected Aster backed down so he could further assess my dueling abilities firsthand, in the event he would face me himself someday.

"Man, Jamie can't wait to get into the action, huh? Well, have fun! But if you lose, we're gonna kill you!" Zane bid cheerily.

"We'll be cheering you on!" Erin gave me a thumbs up, as did Jesse. "You got his, bro!" He echoed.

The girls all studied me intently. Genni turned to the blue-haired girl. "What do you think, Master Verre?"

Verre turned slightly to regard her. "Although I can sense the energies of the other four clearly, I am having difficulty with this one for some reason. I can't sense anything at all from him…"

"I can handle him, Lady Verre!" The red-haired girl mouthed off, only for her master to raise a hand to halt her.

"It may be best if I handle this one myself. I won't let any of my precious friends risk their lives so recklessly." Verre at least seemed to care about the witches in her employ. Even still, she did not move from her cushioned seat, using a spell of some kind to manifest a duel disk on her slender arm. "It is possible his unimpressive appearance is a mask used to bait opponents into underestimating him."

"Sure, let's go with that." I chafed at her aspersions towards my nondescript features. I had to crane my neck to see her from so low. "Hey, do you mind lowering yourself or something? I'm worried you'll be able to see my hand from up there." I asked.

"No, I think not. Do not worry, I can't see your hand. But I see no reason to exert myself when this game won't last long." Verre declared to the laughter of her coven. I glanced around to make sure none of them would be in a position where they could see my hand either, moving so my back was against a wall.

Unbidden, I felt the familiar bubbling of excitement that occurred whenever a fight was at hand. "Then I'll bring you down the hard way!"

"Take the first turn when you are ready, Jamie Lancaster." Verre sighed, seeming bored.

I was about to take off my backpack and withdraw my duel disk when suddenly, an idea occurred to me. "Actually, before we officially start the game, do you mind if I use the restroom? I'll just be a minute." I asked with a hint of sheepishness.

Verre sighed, not seeming to suspect anything untoward. "Very well. Schmitta will escort you. However, you'll find we have no urinals for obvious reasons. Don't take too long." As she spoke, her red-haired weapons smith descended to the floor and started walking to the back wall, causing me to run to catch up with her. Behind me, I could hear my friends snickering.

As we entered the hallway, she gestured, "It's to your right. I'll be outside the door." Pausing a moment, she sneered. "I hope we catch you trying something funny, human. I wouldn't mind testing out one of my magical weapons on your highly-punchable face."

"Thanks for showing me the way. I have no doubt the game will end quickly." I remarked before closing the door to the bathroom. Although I actually did have to take a leak, there was another reason for the delay. I quietly took my cards out from my backpack along with a second deck box of cards I was considering playing for certain matchups, but hadn't put in the main deck. I quickly swapped out some handtraps for copies of Anti-Spell Fragrance and Imperial Order before quietly zipping up the backpack again. I then did my business, washed my hands and left.

"Damn enchiladas." I muttered, for no other reason than to troll her, and indeed I did enjoy the disgusted look on the anime girl's face as she guided me back to the atrium.

"Are you expecting any more delays?" Verre asked with a bit of impatience.

"No, let's get started." We drew our opening hands, and I could hear some banter occurring between my group and the Witchcrafters on the sidelines. "I'll set a monster and a face-down card to end my turn."

Regarding me with caution, Verre drew. "I'll start by casting the spell Pot of Extravagance, allowing me to banish six random cards from my extra deck in order to draw two cards from my deck." As I expected, her strategy did not rely on the extra deck.

"Next, I summon Witchcrafter Genni (300/500) in attack mode!" The bespectacled blonde girl did not appear in a flash of light as most Kaibacorp holograms in our realm did. Rather, the spirit herself, who was lounging on one of the floating couches before, rose to action and took the field herself, much like how Bastion described the Dark Scorpions doing during their duel. "By discarding a spell and sacrificing Genni, I can use her effect to summon a Witchcrafter directly from my deck!"

"Come out, Witchcrafter Schmitta (1800/600)!" The spunky girl who had escorted me to the toilet earlier was now staring me down, wielding some bizarre red bludgeon with ease despite her slim build. She seemed excited to attack me. "Attack the set monster!" Verre commanded with a drawl.

Schmitta brought down the blunt weapon upon my set Witch of the Black Forest (1100/1200), smashing the raven-haired spellcaster to a pulp with a smile. "As it happens, I have spellcasters in my employ as well. Witch of the Black Forest's effect will allow me to search for a monster with 1500 or less defense points from my deck." I commented, quickly finding my chosen monster.

"Fewer." Aster corrected. "1500 or fewer defense points, not less."

"Huh? Is that right?." I chuckled, but internally I knew I needed to draw something that would slow down Verre's strategy. If she got any momentum, I was finished.

"During my main phase two, I'll activate Schmitta's effect, discarding a spell and sacrificing her in order to call on another Witchcrafter from the deck. And who better than myself, Witchcrafter Madam Verre (1000/2800)?" Not leaving her seat, the smug girl floated onto the field. "In defense mode, of course. I'll also set one card face-down."

"Only one card left in hand...is that really worth it?" Zane noticed, then questioned.

"During the end phase, any Witchcrafter spells that have been sent to the graveyard, but not activated, can return to my hand." Verre explained. "I sent two of them in order to use Genni and Schmitta's effects. I now add back Witchcrafter Holiday to my hand. And from there, I can also activate the continuous spell Witchcrafter Bystreet. While this spell is out, the first a Witchcrafter would be destroyed, it isn't."

"I see." The artwork of the card depicted a narrow cobblestone path and some old-style townhouses, but wasn't a field spell. "In that case, my move."

"These Witchcrafter cards don't seem too difficult to deal with at first, but they clearly are meant to build up momentum over time. Jamie excels at the grind game, but I probably would have been better for dealing with cards like this." Zane commented.

"I don't know, I think Jamie has a plan." Erin replied with a half-smile.

"Alright, let's kick this up a notch! I play Twin Twisters, discarding a card to destroy both your Witchcrafter Bystreet and your set card!" Gales ripped through the hall, vanquishing both her continuous spell and her face-down Rivalry of Warlords trap.

"Now, I summon Opera the Melodious Diva (2300/1000) in attack mode." The powerful level four monster was a little pixie with light pink hair and a flowing, layered purple dress.

Aster raised an eyebrow. "Lancaster really uses cards like these?" Although he had overheard some of Jamie's duels with Kaiba and Zane, he hadn't observed his monsters firsthand. "I never would have guessed….he seems like a kid who would use dragons or something."

"You know, I thought the exact same thing!" Erin laughed. "But Jamie didn't really start using these cards until after the blast, the one that happened when you and Jaden dueled. Say, what was the deal with that anyways?"

"Pegasus suspected it may have been two causes - the first being the weakening borders between dimensions as a result of the wars between Duel Spirits and humans, as well as the actions of people such as Kagemaru, Hank Ishtar, the American Duel Academy...and Sartorius." Aster answered uncomfortably. "The second reason was the clash between Jaden's darkness and my light energies. I won't go into it now, but there were cosmic forces at work there which are far beyond the scope of human comprehension. The eyes of God watch us all." His tone grew grim.

"Uh...ok…" Erin scratched her head.

"These were the cards Jamie must have gotten from the blast. They're silly and don't fit him at all though...usually duelists play cards that are more attuned to their spirit. Unless Jamie secretly has a passion for musical theater, I don't see it." Jesse commented, inadvertently drawing attention to a quality they all were aware of on some level - Jamie was a secretive person who kept a lot close to the chest.

I didn't hear much of their talk as I was busy going over my strategy. "Since I control a Melodious monster, I'll now special summon Canon the Melodious Diva (1400/2000) from my hand to the field." The masquerade ball dancer smoothly landed in defense mode. "Hmm...I set a card and end my turn."

"That's it? Come on! You're playing scared!" Verre goaded.

"So, he is a cautious duelist…and rather dull in terms of playstyle. The life of a pro would not suit him." Aster mentally decided. Being a pro duelist was not only about skillful play, but about entertaining the audience as well.

"You're not the first person to mock my way of playing the game, and you won't be the last." I said calmly. "People judge you no matter what you do, so you might as well do what you want."

Sensing a deeper meaning behind my words, she momentarily sobered before the bravado returned. "Then I will do what I want. Draw!" Verre appeared more confident now it seemed like I had nothing that could challenge her in battle.

"During the draw phase, I'll play my continuous trap card, Anti-Spell Fragrance!" A black cauldron emerged in front of me, a demonic grinning clown face on its side. "While this card is active, both players must set spells before activating them, and cannot activate them on the same turn they are set." From the pot wafted a silvery mist that vaguely smelled of maple syrup.

"You play what?!" Verre's lofty attitude instantaneously dissipated, and sheer shock replaced it as if I had just sprouted wings or a third eye.

"Well, what do you think? Smells good, right?" In truth, standing so close to the cauldron made the scent overpowering, and I could feel the beginnings of a headache set in. "And since you have at least two normal spells in your hand, this card makes them useless."

"That's an odd card to play in the main deck…" Verre and Schmitta seemed to come to a realization at the same time. "Wait! You took your backpack into the bathroom with you…" The blue-haired girl said.

Schmitta added, "He must have switched out some of his regular cards with cards that counter spells! Let me guess, you have Imperial Order in there too!"

You bet your ass. "Maybe. And you don't know that I switched my cards out, you're just assuming that. For all you know, I play these cards in every matchup." They were right on the money of course, but why confirm it?

"Ha! Classic Jamie. He's good with the side deck cards. I wouldn't do things that way, but there's pretty much no way he can lose now!" Erin grinned.

"Dishonorable! Sneaky, conniving punk!" Verre growled at me, and I started cackling, slowly at first until it blew up into a full-blown gale of hilarity. To my surprise, she joined me in laughter as well, causing me to halt in confusion.

"Clever, boy. Most of the humans I have faced would never resort to such a tactic, as obvious as it is. Most of them consider relying on cards like that to be a mark of great shame. Tell me, are you some sort of outlaw or pariah in your world?" Verre went on with genuine curiosity.

"Uh…" Her mind definitely went to some interesting places. "I'll tell you more about it after I win and you treat us to a nice hot meal."

"Bah! This is nothing to write home about. I've seen beer league players do more interesting plays than this." Aster looked at Zane. "And you call this guy a rival? Come on, you have to admit this is a bit lame."

Zane regarded Aster placidly. "I don't think that at all. I'm proud of Jamie, and I'm glad to have him as a friend." Pausing, Zane added, "Sure, his dueling is lame, but he's an interesting opponent anyways."

Erin facepalmed. "You should have quit while you were ahead, Zane…that was almost heartwarming, by your standards."

"What? It's true, you know it as well as I do." Zane lightly chuckled.

"Well, as long as he can win games, it ain't no matter to me." Jesse added while Aster turned back to the match, dissatisfied with Zane's lackadaisical response.

"Although I can't activate my spells, I can still use them in my hand to boost my Verre's attack and defense points. And for the time being, you have no way of overcoming my monster's defense, not to mention I can use Madame Verre's other effect to negate your monster effects at will. I'll set a card and end my turn."

"Getting around that card will be tricky. My turn, draw. By bouncing one of my own monsters back to my hand, I can special summon the level three tuner monster Genex Ally Birdman (1400/400) to the field." I returned Canon the Melodious Diva to the hand to summon out a mechanical parrot-like bird with bulky yellow boots to match its large beak. Then, I used Canon's effect to special summon her out to the field again, since I controlled Opera the Melodious Diva on the field. "Now, I'll tune Birdman and Canon together for a level seven synchro summon!"

Verre raised an eyebrow as my monsters disappeared, Birdman forming three green rings through which the concentrated duel energy produced by Canon the Melodious Diva was channeled. "Ah yes, we had heard that humans had finally mastered the white summoning art. Of course, there are additional methods you remain unaware of, but good on you for making it this far at least!" Verre patronized.

"I synchro summon the level seven Black Rose Moonlight Dragon (2400/1800)!"This card wasn't really mine. Well, it was, I bought it at the card shop, but it felt weird using it since it originally belonged to Aki Izayoi's character in the 5D's manga. In this timeline, much like the number monsters, it was an ordinary card with no particular significance. The dragon's hide was black, and it was ensconced in scales the color and texture of rose petals. It was slightly darker in hue than the other Black Rose Dragon. "When this monster is summoned, I can return one special summoned monster to the hand! Black Rose Moonlight Dragon, clear the field of Madam Verre!"

With a howl, the dragon flapped its wings and sent a hurricane of sharp rose petals towards the little witch. "I use my own effect, discarding a spell from my hand to negate your dragon's effect." Verre said lazily, dispelling the harsh winds with a wave of her staff. Luckily, with her negation effect out of the way, I was now free to dispatch Verre another way.

"That's fine! I activate my other face-down card, Call of the Haunted, to summon Canon the Melodious Diva to the field. Then, I'll overlay the level four Canon and the level four Opera the Melodious Diva for a rank four exceed summon!" I threw a hand up, calling forth more of my energy to perform the invocation.

"Oh, and not only the white, but the black summoning arts as well? That is quite a surprise! Let's see what else you've got in store, human!" Demanded Verre, and although they were looking down on me before, the rest of the Witchcrafter girls now appeared rather drawn in by the game.

"With pleasure!" I bared my teeth, partially grimacing with effort. "I summon Number 50: Blackship of Corn (2100/1500)!" Suddenly, vaulted ceilings of the atrium were filled by the hovering ebony pirate ship, its red sails hanging still in the lack of wind. This was a useful card, but it brought back the stinging memory of the fight against Kaiba.

"I was this close to beating him….so close!" It should have been a glorious day. The Light was pushed back and humanity was saved. I had a major part in it. I led the Obelisk Blues into battle, and for once they were finally able to put aside their petty selfishness and envy, and we were able to accomplish something of merit. I was even able to break Kaiba of Sartorius' mind control, albeit with Mokuba's help. Alexis kissed me in front of everyone, affirming our relationship at last.

But I just couldn't stand losing to him. I couldn't stand him looking down to me. Anyone else, maybe...but I didn't want to dwell on it any longer when there was a fight to win. "I activate Blackship of Corn's effect, detaching a material to blow up your Madam Verre and burn you for a thousand!" The ship turned sideways and fired a round of cannonballs at my opponent. They slammed the crystalline chair she was sitting into the wall. Despite the force, Verre was able to keep from falling by hanging onto the sides. Still, she had fallen from her lofty position and we were now on more equal planes as opposed to her looking down on me. My satisfaction at landing a solid hit was marred by the sight of my ship suddenly vanishing in an aurora of magic energy. "What?!" I barked. (Jamie 4000/Verre 3000).

"Ergh...from my hand, I activate the effect of Witchcrafter Golem Aruru (2800/0). Whenever you target a Witchcrafter for an effect or attack, I can summon this monster from my hand or graveyard. Then, I can bounce one of your monsters back to the hand, or the extra deck in the case of your blackship." As Verre spoke, an iron grey statue depicting a buxom witch arose behind her, a large hat sitting atop teased, curled tresses. In one of the statue's hands was a pair of scissors, in the other an enormous hammer. "Our sisterhood built this statue to help protect our village. When we heard about the war between the Mad King and that Yubel spirit, we knew that our defenses needed to be as fortified as possible."

"Yubel?" I latched onto the name. "What do you know of Yubel?"

"Not much. We're not interested in kingdoms and thrones, we just want the freedom to conduct our experiments in peace. Why else would we hide out in this forest? We're hundreds of miles from the Mad King's castle. Well, it's Yubel's now, I guess that faction won the war. I hear she's crazier than a bagful of cats, and keeps going on about "the return of the true king" and stuff like that. We don't want anything to do with that nonsense." Regarding me with some suspicion, Verre asked, "Why, are you guys on Yubel's side or something?"

"Hell no! We're trying to find our friends before Yubel can." Well, she could have Sartorius, but I was certainly worried about Jaden.

"Well, that's a relief. I wondered if your group were loyalists to the old regime, or perhaps emissaries of the new one. We are glad to see you humans are remaining neutral."

Neutral...we weren't going to stay that way. If we came across Yubel I knew there was going to be blood. She really had it out for me for some reason...and I was curious to see if she could be killed. Even if I were to avoid fighting Yubel, Zane or Aster would probably try something crazy and draw us into a big battle anyways. There was much to think on...if we were really hundreds of miles from Yubel's castle, there would be plenty of time to think about a plan of action. "I set a card and end my turn."

"Alright, let's continue. You'll see I don't need spells to win! Come forth, Witchcrafter Schmitta (1800/600)." The red-haired girl leapt down from her seat to the floor. Clearly Verre was playing multiple copies of each Witchcrafter monster in the deck. I personally wasn't sure what the exact ratios were. "Now, I'll attack your Black Rose Dragon with Aruru!" The statue brought its hammer down, scattering the rose petals across the room as the dragon was vanquished. (Jamie 3600/Verre 3000)

Before I could recover, Schmitta was upon me, clearly relishing the chance to do some hard-hitting damage to me from my stunt earlier. With strength belying her size, she struck me in the side with that weird red weapon, causing me to hiss in pain. (Jamie 1800/Verre 3000)

"With that, I'll set a card and end my turn." I wasn't sure whether that was a spell she wanted to use next turn or an actual trap card. I didn't think a Witchcrafter deck would run many traps…

"Urgh...draw!" I grunted.

"Come on Jamie, you got this!" Zane cheered, with Erin echoing, "Keep it up man!"

I turned to give them a quick smile and thumbs up, and when I turned around again that statue was gone. "Hmm? What happened to Aruru?"

"During each of my opponent's standby phases, Aruru returns to my hand." Verre explained.

"Ah, so you can use it again when I try to attack Raggedy Ann over there." For some reason, I really enjoyed jabbing at this Schmitta girl. One of those hate at first sight relationships I suppose. I definitely didn't want to take her crap lying down. "Good thing I don't plan on attacking a Witchcrafter monster this turn."

"I agree, that is good. No powerful monsters to work with, huh? I suppose this game will be done quite soon then. Tell you what, since you put up a good fight I'm willing to cut you a break. When you start working for us, I'll put you on low-risk experiments. Your pals will work for the high-risk ones." Verre laughed haughtily.

"I don't think so. All I said is I won't be attacking a Witchcrafter monster, because there won't be any on the field! I flip over the smell, I mean spell I set last turn! Interrupted Kaiju Slumber!" That Anti-Spell Fragrance was making me feel weird.

An invisible force pushed Schmitta back and into the air, plopping her neatly on her original seat. "This spell lets me destroy all monsters on the field, and from there I can summon two Kaiju monsters from the deck. One to my field and one to yours. You can have Gameciel, the Sea Turtle Kaiju (2200/3000), while I'll take Radian, the Multidimensional Kaiju (2800/2500)!"

On both sides of the battlefield arose titanic monsters, although their true size was curtailed so they could fit inside the building. On her side, Gameciel stood proudly, the light glinting off its grey shell. My Kaiju was a black mass of shadow, its head vaguely batlike but otherwise not resembling any animal in particular. Most importantly, I gave her the weakest of the Kaijus while giving myself one that was not only stronger, but was a dark-attribute monster for chaos synergy.

"Radian, attack with an afterimage strike!" Shimmering, Radian moved so quickly it seemed as if there were multiple clones of the same creature on the field. They surrounded Gameciel, befuddling the aquatic Kaju before the real Radian lunged in for the kill. Verre briefly skid backwards from the damage but recovered quickly. (Jamie 1800/Verre 2400)

"That was interesting. I've never seen those Kaiju monsters before." Jesse noted. "Both of them are on a cusp of a breakthrough. The next time one of their defenses is broken, it's game over. Hopefully that Anti-Spell Fragrance keeps suppressing Verre long enough for Jamie to win."

"Now, I'll set a card and end my turn…" I ended with that.

Luckily, Verre didn't seem to have such a great draw. "I set a monster and another face-down card. Now go!"

"Heh, good!" I drew. "Let's end this! I banish Genex Ally Birdman and Black Rose Moonlight Dragon from my graveyard. At the crossroads of light and darkness, the knight of the dawn guides the way! Arise, Black Luster Soldier - Envoy of the Beginning (3000/2500)!" In an orange glow my ace monster appeared with a speed and grace that its heavy plate armor belied. The morning light that emanated from his frame appeared warm and soft to my allies, searing and harsh to the foe.

"What?! That's a powerful spirit, how could an ordinary human obtain it?" Verre gawked.

"Would you believe me if I said my dad won it in a radio sweepstakes drawing? Black Luster Soldier, attack!" Wasting no more time, I commanded the knight to lunge towards the set monster, slashing through the set Witchcrafter Genni. "And since he's destroyed a monster, Black Luster Soldier can attack once again! Strike directly!"

"I won't go down like this! I flip over my set card, Mirror Force, destroying both you Soldier and your Kaiju!" A wall of reflective glass materialized between Verre and my advancing knight. That damn card had caused me plenty of losses, in this life and the past one...but not today.

"I counter with Trap Jammer!" Keeping one copy of this card in the deck was a tough choice, but I figured that since the Witchcrafter archetype has some traps in it, it might pay off, and by fortune's favor, it did. The pane of glass shattered apart, and my monster was able to deliver the finishing blow, cracking and finally shattering Verre's seat and sending her falling to the ground. (Jamie 1800/Verre 0)

"Madam! Are you alright?" The girls ran towards their master, taking great care to help her up. I tried not to put much force in the attack - it wasn't necessary since we were just trying to go on our merry way. For what it was worth, I walked over to my fallen opponent before speaking to my friends.

"Nice, I knew he could do it." Zane said serenely.

"A Black Luster Soldier...no way he really got it from a sweepstakes!" Aster declared skeptically. "Well, it was good to see him duel firsthand, anyways."

"Hey, are you alright? It was a good game." I said diplomatically, to the displeasure of many of the Witchcrafter girls.

"It's alright, ladies." Verre rose slowly, the minor wounds sustained from the battle disappearing with a wandless healing spell. With another wave of the hand, she fixed the broken chair. With a sigh, she took her seat again and it began to float into the air.

I had to chuckle a bit. "You know, it's not good for your health to sit all the time." I leaned over to help her up, only for my hand to be swatted away by a reproachful Genni.

"Relax, Genni. Well, it was a technically fair game, I suppose...I can't fault you for using cards that would affect my strategy so acutely. Humans have become craftier since that shockwave hit a year ago." Verre said diplomatically, a far cry from her attitude before.

"I'd be glad to discuss strategy over dinner if you'd like." I said.

She chuckled a bit. "Very well, a deal's a deal. I'll have the girls work on a feast for us, if you're still amenable?"

"Of course." Eating rations and wild vegetables was getting old. I paused, then added, "If you'd like help, my friend Zane likes to cook in his spare time. He hasn't had access to a proper kitchen for some time." Seeing my companions approach, I asked him, "What do you say? They're whipping up some supper for us. Wanna help?"

Raising a brow, Zane scratched his navy hair before answering, "Sure, why not. If they'll have me, it might be fun."

"If you don't trust us, you're all welcome to prepare your own food in the kitchen. It may prove fascinating to see how humans cook without magic. We can always conjure up tools for you." Scmitta extended an olive branch, to my surprise.

I smiled. "Sure, I don't mind. What do you guys think?"

"Sure, I'll help!" Jesse agreed with his trademark positivity.

"Yeah, let's do it!" Erin smiled as well, but seemed a bit more competitive than Jesse, probably wanting to prove that humans can cook as well as witches or something like that.

Aster remained silent until everyone started to turn their attention to him, awaiting a response. "Fine! I don't want to sit around while everyone else works anyways." He uncrossed his arms and began to roll up his suit sleeves.

"Heh, alright then! We can't agree on a team name but at least we can all come together on this." I joked. The Witchcrafters proved true to their word, and didn't poison us or anything untoward. Indeed, the whole affair turned into a big party after the dinner was done, with music and booze flowing. It was heartening to know that despite everything that had happened, some measure of peace between humans and duel spirits was possible.

XxXxXXxXxXxXxXxxx

(The Human World)

The boat was soon to make landfall, and Jim Cook was excited at the prospect of a new land, new people, and a new adventure in this Genex Tournament. Most of all, he was ready to have some good conversation. His only other companions on the boat besides the crew were Axel Brodie of West Academy and Adrian Gecko of the East. Axel was a silent soldier who spent all of his time either in his room or exercising in the lower decks of the ferry, while Adrian was a polite, but cool personality who always seemed engrossed in a book. Well, those were his only human companions, anyways - Jim always had the friendship of his pet crocodile Shirley to count on. Luckily, the boat was large enough to accommodate her, although she'd do better on solid ground.

Jim cocked his good eye at the book Adrian was reading, a scarlet tome with no title on the front or spine. His other eye had been lost in an archeology accident years ago and was tightly bandaged over. "Whatcha reading, mate? Must be pretty good, you haven't been able to put it down since we got on the boat." He walked over to the prone Easterner, a russet-haired boy in a plain brown button-up shirt and slacks. He reclined easily on a white deck chair, his pale grey eyes flitting between his book and the clouds above.

"Oh, just a silly fantasy novel. It's ridiculous, but it's good entertainment." Adrian drawled.

"Crikey, you never know what's fantasy and what's real these days, what with all this talk of duel spirits running around, those daft light cultists, the new cards that have been popping up everywhere. It's like the legends we heard about when we were kids have come to life. Bloody fascinating, innit?" Although Jim's words were portentous, he spoke them with a breezy cadence, as if these notions didn't really bother him. When Adrian only nodded noncommittally in response, Jim took the hint and remarked, "Well, I'll leave ya to it." before walking on by, his messy black hair rustling beneath his Stetson hat.

Turning the page, Adrian's clear grey eyes absorbed the next paragraph of his Egyptian mythology book greedily.

"AND THUS THE PRIEST SOLOMON LED HIS CAVALRY TEN THOUSAND STRONG BEYOND THE CITY WALLS INTO THE DESERT, AND THERE HE DID DO BATTLE WITH THE DEMON HORDES OF ZORC NECROPHADES, MAY HIS NAME BE FOREVER ACCURSED. AND THEN SOLOMON AND HIS TEN THOUSAND DID SUMMON FORTH THE FIVE FRAGMENTS OF THE OBLITERATOR, SACRIFICING PRECIOUS LIFE FORCE TO BREAK THOSE CHAINS WHICH BOUND HIM. AND THE WRATH OF THE DREAD GOD EXODIA, ERASER OF WORLDS, WAS GREAT AND TERRIBLE INDEED, COMPARABLE TO THE DIVINE TRINITY OF OBELISK, SLIFER, AND THE SUN DRAGON RA."

"And the five pieces are sealed on Central Academy Island...there is ultimate power laying dormant beneath their noses. I must have the five pieces of Exodia!" Adrian thought with all-encompassing desire.

AN

Hope you all enjoyed.

Hello frens. I apologize for the delay, and although I could feed you some BS about being too busy to write, I really just wasn't interested and wanted to take a break. That said, I think some of the writing bug is coming back because I not only have this chapter, but two more one-shot stories soon to come out, one of which is for OG Yugioh and the other is Dragon Ball Z. Both are nearing completion. If you guys are interested in OG Yugioh dueling stories, I wrote a one-shot back in July called Honorable Vow which is my take on the unseen duel between Yugi and Joey at the end of the battle city arc. However, it does include modern cards so it's not exactly canon compliant (obv I didn't include synchros/xyz/pend/links, but other modern cards are there). I hope you check that out and enjoy! And if you don't want to check it out that's ok! Don't feel like you have to, it's your choice! Really, no pressure! I'll try to update this story again soon. The conflicts between humans and duel spirits have been very bitter so far, but now we see that some measure of accord can be reached between them.

We are finally meeting the other exchange students! I like all of their characters actually. Adrian in particular is a unique sort of character for Yugioh, clearly influenced to some degree by Griffith from Berserk. Although his actual narrative relevance in canon GX is fairly superfluous I thought his role as an enigmatic semi-villain added an interesting layer of complexity to the narrative. And yes, Viper's son Pierce is alive in this story! We'll meet him soon, although I guess he is technically an OC. Viper will be a bit different as well. Since Yubel already has physical form in this story, there was no need to influence Viper, and at any rate there was nothing to promise Viper since his son is alive in this timeline. Now that's not to say that Viper is a nice guy. This may be an easy detail to forget since it happened a long time ago in the story but he currently holds Uria, Lord of Searing Flames, and has entrusted the card to Axel.

I originally planned to have Jamie and company ally with the Naturia cards as the Witchcrafters weren't actually invented yet when this story began. However, I think the Witchcrafters have more potential with Jamie's status as a "harem protagonist", lol. Although having the human characters fight animate fruits and vegetables would add a surreal layer of humor. Speaking of duel spirits, next time we will also see Jaden come face to face with Yubel for the first time.

Thank you for reading and I'll catch you next time, hopefully soon!