Long time no see, everyone! I want to apologize for taking so long with this chapter, but it is the longest chapter I've ever written, so that should make up for it. I swear I'm not intentionally trying to top myself with every chapter...

Thanks to everyone who reviewed the last chapter!

- In response to ZarcEternal's review:

"Tormentor's ability doesn't make him unaffected by Almark's since he isn't a god. They may be "children" of gods, but that isn't enough to bypass Tormentor. Regarding Earth, in chapter 47, Aqua stated Crystal Heart contains a fraction of Earth's data, so naturally, when Bohman absorbed her, he also obtained Earth. For your last question, that will be a yes followed by my sinister chuckle (although, not specifically the Ignis we already know, King can't revive Earth or the others this way)."

- In response to SoulMatter's review:

"He is, isn't he? And I'm sorry to hear that, I will make sure season 3 will captivate you once more!"

- In response to HunterHQ's review:

"Eiqab doesn't weaken them physically, but only takes their ability; if they're exhausted after the fight, that's only because the Duel took a toll on them. Even the Trinitas are under the Evil Gods' control, also for how long the gods were around and how Ai knows some things about them will be revealed later on. I will make sure Queen works to make up for that, as for Kioku's words about Ai, yes, Almark was the one to tell them. Your hunch of how King will use Earth's data is correct, well done! As for your last question, in my story, there isn't a Pawn, so I didn't have to worry about that."

- In response to 1st Guest's review:

"That seems like a plausible explanation for Dark Angel's disappearance, and thanks for pointing out Fire Prison, that will indeed be a useful card against somebody like Ai."

- In response to Super Shadow 2018's review:

"I'll make sure to do that!"

- In response to 2nd Guest's review:

"VRAINS seems to like the number 6 as much as SEVENS does. Regarding your second point, maybe they were investigated but managed to hide everything. Frog and Pigeon were too far away to hear Revolver reveal his real identity, and since in my story all these factions team up, we won't have to worry about SOL going for them or such."

- In response to scififan599's review:

"Thanks for sharing your thoughts regarding Queen. While I concur with your points, I want to make sure she gets the same treatment as all the other characters since I gave her some depth in my story. As I said to HunterHQ, I will make sure she works to make up for what her anime counterpart did."

- In response to wolf354's review:

"I would gladly do that!"

- In response to Black Force Demon's review:

"I already wrote you a PM since I didn't want to keep you waiting too long."

- In response to Noobmaster's review:

"I'll see if I can touch upon those two things in season 4, as for Pendulums, in my story at least, they already existed even before Link Monsters came around. Since the anime knew they won't showcase them, they didn't even bother showing the Pendulum Zones at times like those imo. But I think VRAINS came before the Ignis, after all, Revolver already had his avatar."


(Season 3)

Turn 5:

Dawn


Yusaku was frowning as he walked down the road to Café Nagi.

He was also alone, although that wasn't the reason for his sour mood. Takeru, who he usually hangs out with after school, had to return to his hometown to help his grandparents with something. Kioku, on the other hand, was talking with Aoi when Yusaku left class, more than probably about the exams they just had or...about Ai.

Now that's what was troubling him: Ai. His mind was constantly trying to answer his own question regarding his Ignis and even Roboppy, but always ended up short. And due to that, he had trouble sleeping last night and staying focused on his exams, too. Luckily, today was the final day of their exams, so now he can concentrate on their new battle.

Our opponents are Ai and Roboppy... Yusaku glared at the ground as he thought that. But why would they...become our enemy...?

"You aren't going to cross?" a sudden voice inquired, snapping Yusaku out of his thoughts.

He raised his head in its direction, seeing Kioku there, who was looking at the road in front of them with a smile. Yusaku followed his gaze, seeing the pedestrian's traffic lights turned green.

"You were thinking about Ai, right?" Kioku added.

"Yeah." Yusaku nodded and the two resumed walking. That's when he realized Kioku was also alone. "Where's Zaizen?"

"She said she wants to spend the day with her brother," Kioku explained. His smile then turned into a thin line. "Understandable, there are clouds on the horizon after all...and Akira's pretty much on a timer. What about Takeru?"

"His grandparents needed him, so he went home."

"Considering Kaiba's agents who look out for us, we can move somewhat freely in the real world. For now, at least..." he whispered the last part so Yusaku wouldn't hear him. He didn't want to sound too pessimistic, especially now that his friend's mood wasn't at its best. He smiled again. "Erika-nee and Grandeen are waiting for us at Café Nagi. We thought it would be a good idea to celebrate the end of our exams with you guys."

[This will also be a good opportunity to relax and enjoy these last moments of peace.] Grangadez spoke up from his user's Duel Disk, which he was wearing.

"Yeah..." Yusaku nodded again. This could also help him clear his mind and come up with an actual plan instead of running in circles.

"Before I forget, Aoi asked me to relay a message to you." Kioku said. "She wants to talk with you. She didn't go into detail, but it's about Ai."

"I see." Yusaku narrowed his eyes. If they were news regarding Ai's whereabouts, she would've told them to Kioku as well. More than probably, she wants to express her concern for him or cheer him up. "Tell her I'll meet her."

Kioku nodded. "I'll arrange a meeting for you two in my private server."

"Thanks." Yusaku said back.

When they arrived to their destination, Erika was already there and waiting for them, her own Duel Disk equipped and with Grandeen in it. Kioku waved in their direction, but only Erika replied to it with a wave of her own as Shoichi was busy serving some customers. But then, an unexpected pair showed up as well.

"Fujiki-kun, Kioku!" Aoi called out, prompting them to stop and turn in her voice's direction, seeing her and Akira approaching them.

"Zaizen?" Yusaku asked in surprise.

"You're..." Akira seemed to recognize him.

"You came to eat here, too?" Aoi smiled.

"Yeah. Kusanagi's food is pretty good." Kioku pointed at the van with his head. "We're going to celebrate the end of our exams. Would you like to join us?"

"So this is what you were planning for today." Aoi realized. He did allude to it in their conversation at school. "I don't see why not. What do you say, onii-sama?"

"Of course." Akira nodded back with a smile. "Having some company would make this more enjoyable."

"Actually, I'd like to talk with you two. In private, if possible." Yusaku suddenly stated, surprising the others. "It's...pretty important. Do you know a place?"

Aoi looked at her brother. "Well...there's a park nearby." Akira suggested. "It should be empty at this hour."

Yusaku nodded, prompting Akira to lead the way. After the three left the area, Kioku joined his sister at one of Café Nagi's tables.

"Hey, Kioku." Shoichi greeted him, but turned confused when he noticed Yusaku walking off with the Zaizen siblings. "Where are they going...?"

"Yusaku wanted to talk to them in private, but I don't know why." Kioku admitted after he sat down. "The question was very sudden, though... I wonder what the topic will be."

[I can only think about one thing.] Grandeen pondered. [It must be something related to Ai, but that would imply telling them his VR identity. Or maybe he just wants to reveal them his secret?]

"I'm more inclined towards the second one." Erika said. "I, too, can't think of anything else he'd want to tell them where no prying ears reach. And it makes sense; we'll be working together from now on, not just to defeat Ai, but King as well, which means the day his secret would've been revealed is at dawn."

"Well said." Kioku agreed. He then turned to the man in the van. "What's your stance on the matter, Kusanagi?"

"I agree with Erika." Shoichi admitted. He then chuckled grimily. "And I guess it can't be helped. I'm not against it, anyway, and who knows, maybe Zaizen would figure out my VR identity if he saw me. That would be my fault, though, for not using an avatar with a big difference from my real appearance like you guys. In any case, we need allies to defeat our next opponents, so building trust with Zaizen Akira and Aoi is important."

[I concur.] Grangadez said while the twins nodded.

"Honestly..." Erika remarked uncertainly. "I'm still surprised SOL Technologies hasn't figured out Yusaku's real identity. And I'm not talking about the hacking aspect, you two have been doing a great job at it, Kusanagi."

"Thank you." he acknowledged her words with a chuckle. "You're referring to his appearance, right?"

"Yes." she nodded. "It's...very similar to his real one."

"I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who noticed that." Bloody Talker spoke up, clearly relieved somebody else shared his opinion.

The two decided to wait for their friend before ordering any food, and more than anything, they also planned to chat with Yusaku in private about their next battle, so eating can wait. The discussion didn't last for long, either, Akira being the first to leave; he was talking on the phone- more than probably work came up- and just waved in their direction before rushing off.

Not too long after that, Aoi left the park as well, but unlike her brother, she returned to the van—and blatantly flicked Kioku's forehead.

"Ite!" Kioku hissed in a low tone. He then rubbed the spot with a sigh, prompting Erika to chuckle at his reaction. "That's for lying, right?"

"Yes." Aoi placed a hand to her hip and pouted. "When I first introduced you to Ema-san, you told us you knew little of Playmaker, but it turns out you already knew he was Fujiki-kun."

"He also told you for how long I've known?" Bloody Talker grinned at that. "Or are you just assuming?"

"Assuming. Knowing you, I should be correct." Aoi let loose a smile. "But it's not like I'm mad: letting the cat out of the bag wasn't your job and it would've put Fujiki-kun and the others in danger. I guess I'm just annoyed at the fact you were spinning us around your finger, even if we imagined you knew something more."

She then turned to Shoichi. "So you're...Unnamed, correct?"

"That's right." Shoichi nodded with a smirk.

"I see." Aoi nodded back. She then turned to leave. "I'll be going now."

"You can join us, Aoi." Kioku pointed out.

"Ah...thanks." she muttered as she glanced at her right hand. "But I don't want to make things awkward for Fujiki-kun." she lowered her hand. "I'll be seeing you tomorrow."

"Sure thing." Kioku said.

"Have a good day, Aoi." Erika added, followed by their Overdrive Monsters' and Shoichi's goodbyes.

With the Zaizen siblings gone, it was the twins' turn to chat with their conflicted friend. Yusaku was staring at his hands when they reached the desolated park, and he chuckled upon seeing them, much to their surprise.

"Seeing you two together is still weird." he admitted. "You aren't twins for nothing... It feels like two Kiokus came to scold me."

"Make that three!" Bloody Talker spoke once more, grinning. "You didn't forget about me, right, Yusaku-chan?"

"How could I? Two in body, but three in mind." he chuckled again before looking back down. He paused after that, prompting the two to sit down on both sides of Yusaku on the bench. They let the birds' chirps fill the silence that had formed, and after a solid minute, Kioku spoke up.

"We know how you must feel." his words weren't referring only to himself, though.

He and Bloody Talker both experienced a dilemma similar to Yusaku's: Kioku after Erika's existence was revealed, and Bloody Talker when he started fighting Cyberse Monsters and lost Grim. To them, taking a step following those events seemed impossible, and they were going to surrender to fate's cruel schemes. But...in that moment of despair, the people around them spoke up, made them realize not all hope was lost, and that there was still a way to prevail. That's what Yusaku needs right now, a push.

"I know...Kioku, Bloody Talker, I know." Yusaku reassured them. "But that's not what's holding me back."

"No?" Kioku's eyes widened a little.

Yusaku shook his head. "I know what I must do," he explained. "Ai is my Ignis. Roboppy is my housemaid robot. I'm the one most involved in this battle. Zaizen Aoi told me I can leave it to you guys, but...like it or not, it's my responsibility to fight them."

"I see." so that's what she wanted to tell him, Kioku thought.

"The reason why I'm like this is...is that I didn't expect it at all." Yusaku admitted. "When I had to Duel Kusanagi-san, it still hurt, but...we prepared ourselves for it. We knew that, one day, if we kept working together, a foe would use our bond against us. But in Ai and Roboppy's case...I didn't prepare myself for it because I never thought they would become humanity's enemy."

"None of us did." Erika whispered earnestly. They spent a couple of seconds in silence after that, until Erika continued. "Let's say...Lily would come back to life, right now, right here, as Ai's comrade." that caused the other two, and their Overdrive Monsters of course, to gasp. She put her hands together and clenched them. "...I would fight her, because she's my Ignis, similarly to you, Yusaku. But."

She then extracted a card from her Extra Deck: Entermangel Lily Magician.

"Lily taught me an important lesson." a smile graced her face. "A battle connects people, living and dead alike; it speaks to their souls. Dueling Lily will hurt me...Dueling them will hurt you, Yusaku...but a Duel is our only way to confront each other and reach common grounds. Of course, if they're open to a discussion, we can sort it out without our cards, but if they aren't..."

"Then a Duel is the only way." Yusaku finished for her. And Ai made it pretty clear a discussion isn't an option.

"I don't want you to make the same mistake I made." Erika put her card away with a worried expression. "Lily died because of me, and at that time, I didn't even try to acknowledge her feelings and wishes. I don't know what will happen if you fight Ai and Roboppy, Yusaku, but..."

"We know you will understand one another." Kioku concluded. "Because you cherish each other."

"...You're right." Yusaku stated after a short silence. He narrowed his eyes at the ground. "If words won't solve the matter, then I'll understand them through Dueling. I don't know what they're planning, but..." he balled up his fists. "I care about them. I want to understand them. There must be a reason why they're fighting us. And I'm going to find out why."

Erika was smiling again. "That's how it should be." she nodded before standing up and walking away.

"Good." Kioku also stood up, offering a hand to his friend. He smiled at him. "Let's go back to Kusanagi."

Yusaku took his hand with a smile, "Let's."

[My Mistress,] Grandeen spoke up when they were out of earshot. [Those words of encouragement...they were truly beautiful. I'm very proud of you.]

"Thanks, Grandeen." Erika whispered back. Losing Lily was a great hit, one that shakes her to this very day. "I just...don't want anybody to experience that pain I've felt."

Time Skip: the next day, an hour before midnight - IRL: At KaibaCorp

"I know said Ai 'three days', but...do you really expect him to attack in the first minute of the day?"

Bloody Talker inquired from Almark through a yawn, which he tried to hide by placing a hand over his and Kioku's mouth. Currently, they, Erika, Nina, and their Duel Monsters- who stayed inside their cards instead of out in the open- were in Kaiba's limousine, heading to the aforementioned man's company, which was situated in a different city close to Den City.

"Never doubt a genius!" Almark laughed in reply. "But, jokes aside, I'm sure of it. If it escaped your notice, he was really excited when he said that in the message, and it's not like he's got better things to do. Moreover, striking right away is what I'd do myself."

"I guess you have a point." Bloody Talker reasoned.

[You and Erika-sama made sure to sleep in the afternoon to avoid fatigue.] Grangadez pointed out in concern. [You haven't slept well, Master?]

"Don't worry, Gran-chan, I did." his user reassured him. "I'm not used to working this late, that's all."

"Indeed." Kioku agreed with him. "However, I'm positive this minor inconvenience will be gone once the operation starts."

"Yes, a battle always gets one's blood going!" Almark chuckled. He then clapped his hands with a shocked face, confusing the others. "Oh, that reminds me!" he crawled on top of the seats to a small refrigerator that was on the other side of the limo.

Nina closed her eyes with a sigh, "You'll be disappointed." she said, not even bothering to ask what he was planning.

"Why's that?" Erika raised an eyebrow.

"I want to see what goodies Kaiba bought for me," Almark explained while patting the appliance. "While my expectations are low because it's Kaiba we're talking about, I want to prove myself wrong and see just how much he cares about me!"

[Makes sense why Nina-san would say that, then...] Grandeen whispered, her words lost to Almark who rubbed his hands together in excitement.

"Now, amaze me, Kaiba!" he shouted before opening the fridge—and gasping in shock. "What... What is this?" he asked no one as he extracted the contents one by one. "Pear-flavored energy bars...and one bottle of plain water!?"

"I warned you." Nina remarked and opened her eyes.

Bloody Talker was howling with laughter in his and Kioku's shared mind.

"He bought you something, at least." Kioku tried to reassure him, even if he was amused by the situation himself.

"No, this is worse!" Almark shouted in anger. "He's practically mocking me! He knows I hate pears! And with all the money he has, don't you think he could've bought something fancier!? He probably bought the cheapest things, too!"

"He expected you to open that refrigerator." Erika couldn't contain a smile of her own. "If this was a test, you just failed."

"Ha, I'll show him 'failed'!" Almark fumed while gathering all the energy bars and the bottle of water into his arms.

"...Honestly, I expected you to throw them out of the window." Nina admitted. "And I would've been impressed if it wasn't for the fact you'll take those with you to Kaiba's office. Am I correct to think you'll do that?"

"Bullseye!" Almark nodded. "If he thinks I'll stay quiet, he has another thing coming!"

[Y-You're being too childish, Almark-san...] Grangadez sheepishly pointed out.

"Hmph!" Almark looked to the side, childishly ignoring his words.

Not too long after that, they arrived to the large building that was Kaiba Corporation, where Regalia, Hayami, Shin, Cyndy, Aya were already waiting in the lobby. This was the first time the twins and their Overdrive Monsters were the guests of the Blue-Eyes user's company, so naturally, their eyes were examining their surroundings the moment they set foot in it.

Obviously, they were the only ones present at this late hour, and their voices and steps echoed slightly around them. Shin was the first to notice them arriving, but when he noticed what Almark was carrying in his arms, he frowned and turned at Nina right away.

"What's he up to?"

"Scold Kaiba because he didn't fill the limo's fridge with expensive goods," she calmly explained, however, it was obvious by her tone she wasn't pleased with that.

"Why would you expect Kaiba-san to do that in the first place?" Cyndy shook her head with a sigh.

"Because we're best friends!" Almark cried out, saying the last two words in English.

"By the looks of things, you thought wrong." Shin deadpanned, prompting him to pout and Hayami to giggle. Regalia continued to work on her phone.

"Well, Kaiba never gives up on an opportunity to annoy someone." Aya reasoned as she took a bar from the Star Relic and inspected it. She then gave it back with a desperate stare. "But your reaction is also inappropriate."

"This is a serious matter!" Almark rebuked. "And—"

"That makes you two Bloody Talker and Eve." to Almark's irritation, Aya addressed the twins, prompting him to stick his tongue out at her.

"And you must be Queen." Kioku remarked nonchalantly. "After meeting you for the first time in VRAINS, I didn't expect we'd meet in real life so quickly."

"Me neither." Aya admitted. With how fast things have been moving lately, nobody did; not to mention, some of them are still shocked at the idea of meeting certain people in real life, Aya being one of them.

She never expected Bloody Talker, a hacker/Duelist that gave so much trouble to her company in the past months, to be a teenager... Her professional side was a little annoyed her company couldn't catch a kid- quite the skilled one at that, she would be lying to herself if she said she didn't consider at least once the idea of the bright future SOL Technologies would bask in if Bloody Talker, or even Playmaker, were a part of it- but her humane side was...thrown off balance.

Strong and talented they may be, but they're still kids. At this age, you aren't supposed to battle organizations like the Knights of Hanoi or SOL, or an A.I. with free will that wants to enslave humans, or supernatural beings called Star Relics. If that wasn't enough, these are victims of a terrible incident that involves her company, too.

And they can't tell these kids to leave the battle: without them, they will lose.

"By your choice of words and calm demeanor, I'm assuming I'm talking to Bloody Talker's other personality." following Kioku's nod, Aya extended a hand. "I'm Masayoshi Aya, but you may continue referring to me as Queen if it suits your tastes better."

"To make things easier for all of you, address me by my real name or surname while we're like this, and as Bloody Talker while in VR. That's the dominant personality of each reality," he explained as he shook hands with her. "Ketsueki Kioku."

Aya's eyes widened a little, and Erika shook hands with her next.

"Ketsueki Erika." that's when they noticed Aya's shocked stare. Finding out their true identities is without a doubt a shocker, but she looked at them...in a strange way now, too. "Are you alright?"

"...You two...you two are Kyoya and Suiko's children?" the eyes of everybody present, sans for Almark and Nina, were wide at those words. Regalia stopped paying attention to her phone and raised her eyes to look at Aya, although she wasn't shocked one bit.

"Mother?" Cyndy asked in shock. Did her mother just guess their parents' names?

"You knew our parents?" Erika asked.

"Knew? Past simple?" Aya was confused, but then realization hit her. "They died...!?"

"Wait." Kioku raised a hand to stop the conversation because it could get more confusing. "You said your name's Aya, right? That name..."

"Appears numerous times in Father's computer and Mother's journal..." Erika finished for him. "Are you...Aya-chan?"

Aya's right eyebrow twitched. "Even there they continued using that annoying nickname...?"

[This is...a surprise.] Grandeen observed awkwardly.

The twins looked at each other with contemplating looks before they nodded in unison. Aya already knows about the Lost Incident and Incident Genesis, so it won't take them long to explain what happened to their parents, and it's not like there's a reason to hold it a secret.

"Damn that King...!" Aya spat and glared at the ground. He crossed a line he shouldn't. "I'll personally make sure he pays for everything he's done, even if it costs my own head...!"

"Mother." Cyndy grasped her hand firmly in shock, snapping her out of her thoughts. They were staring at her, surprised to hear such words leave her mouth; Nina just narrowed her eyes, while Almark was failing to hide his amused smirk.

"I believe we all share that thought," Regalia took a picture of the situation. "But never lose your cool to such a degree."

The eyes of the CEO of SOL Technologies widened. "...I apologize. That was very unprofessional on my behalf."

"Jeez, don't say scary stuff so casually." her daughter scolded her and let go of her hand.

"I-I didn't expect that myself..." Hayami admitted with a gulp. The way she said was scary, too.

"But that reaction was intense." Shin crossed his arms over his chest. "They must have meant a lot to you."

"Well...we weren't friends," Aya explained through a dejected sigh. The memory of an excited Kyoya showing her his drafts of Duel Monsters and a smiling Suiko waving at her before heading off to enter LINK VRAINS flashed in her mind one after the other. "But...we were close colleagues. We lost all contacts after they left SOL Technologies and joined KaibaCorp...the fact I was promoted around that time didn't help us at all. With a new position came new responsibilities and a new working timetable, not to mention, I still had a daughter to look after. Now I wish we spent more time together...or that I wouldn't use my life as an excuse for forgetting them."

"Mother..." Cyndy whispered in shock.

I didn't expect the great queen to be so emotional. Bloody Talker commented.

We had many reasons to believe she was cold, but apparently, we made a rash consideration of her. Kioku remarked, to which his other self hummed in agreement. What she did won't be forgotten, but like Erika, she's not hopeless, either.

"Many things happened to our parents as well after they joined KaibaCorp." Erika reassured her. "But Queen...our parents wished for the same thing. They also regretted leaving you."

"They...did." Aya's lips formed a smile. "I see. Thank you for sharing this with me." a part of her was really glad those two enjoyed her company...and they also wanted more of it, as she wanted theirs. Sadly, that will never come to pass, but knowing was better than nothing.

"Sorry for ignoring you." Kioku told to Hayami. "The conversation took a sudden turn."

"Don't sweat it." she reassured him with a smile. They were thankfully acting like this was the first time they met; Aya shouldn't know about her true job yet. "I'm Hayami Risa, secretary of Executive Vice President Zaizen. It's a pleasure to make an acquaintance with all of you."

[I apologize in advance if my next words sound unkind,] Grangadez started. [But why were you also called here? This will turn into a very dangerous mission if Ai attacks KaibaCorp.]

"Thank you for worrying about me, but I'm fully aware of the danger that comes with being here. As Executive Vice President Zaizen's secretary, I'll make sure to help him in any way possible!" she declared with an excited tone, mostly to maintain her façade. She then raised her right arm, where a Duel Disk was equipped. "And for this occasion, Kaiba-san gifted me a Blessed Monster! Moreover, I have knowledge of martial arts, so I can hold my ground in case I'll have to fight."

Well, the first one is a lie, but the second one is true. Cyndy thought, recalling that time- way before she left SOL for Kaiba- during lunch break when Hayami told her she knew martial arts. "But it's still dangerous... What if he forces you into a Duel?"

"Ah, Almark-san thought of that." at the mention of his name, Almark chuckled and Hayami smiled wider. "He briefly taught me the basics and built me a particular deck so I can stall the Dark Ignis for as much time as possible."

"A deck?" Shin wondered.

"It's a great deck for beginners and easy to build!" the Star Relic couldn't contain himself from continuing. "Well, it's not that fun to Duel with, but it can stall your opponent no problemo!"

[I see, that makes sense.] Grangadez said.

"Does the same apply to you, Queen?" Shin asked her with a curious tone.

"Somewhat." Aya nodded while displaying her own Duel Disk. "While I was under King's control, he made me learn how to Duel and built me a deck, and in order to save me, my ace Monster had to be Blessed. I don't have any talent in hand-to-hand combat, but my Dueling skills are on par with my daughter's."

"Is that so? She's a tough one to beat, so that's a relief to hear." Kioku chuckled. "Although, your daughter doesn't look too happy about it."

"Of course I'm not." Cyndy sighed in frustration. "This is Mother we're talking about. I can't help but feel worried..."

"That's exactly how I feel about you, dear." Aya reassured her with a smile. "But it would be a shame not to put my skills into action, especially if it means winning this battle."

"I know that." Cyndy remarked. She then stared at her mother with half-lidded eyes. "But just because you know how to play this game, don't get too full of yourself. That's the first rule every Duelist must avoid."

"I promise I won't forget it, dear." Aya nodded firmly to calm her daughter down.

"You're all here." a female voice suddenly called out from the lobby's other side, putting an end to their conversation. A humanoid A.I.-like woman bowed at them when they looked in her direction. "Pardon my intrusion."

"A SOLtiS?" Erika wondered in a low tone upon noticing the diamond-shaped symbol at her throat, which was typical of the SOLtiS.

"That's a correct guess." the newly arrived female stated. "Nice to meet you. I'm Pandor, an anti-Ignis and Star Relic A.I. created by Revolver-sama."

By Rev? Bloody Talker couldn't contain a snicker.

Considering what Pandor has just said, Regalia glanced at Almark and Nina. "You knew of this?"

Nina shook her head, unlike Almark who grinned. "Yes, but considering you would've met her so early, I thought of keeping it a surprise. For me, it's the second time we see each other."

"Indeed." Pandor confirmed his words with a nod. "We can continue this discussion as we head to Kaiba's office."

To say the others were shocked at Pandor and at the fact the Knights of Hanoi will be lending them a hand was an understatement. They didn't expect them to agree to team up with SOL Technologies, but in the end, Ai's a common enemy, which makes it possible to reach a treaty. They were also amazed by Revolver's programming skills, who created a built-in program that limits free will, but for him to add an A.I. to his ranks...it seems that like Ai, he changed in a way, too.

"We're all here." Kaiba noted, pleased when everyone arrived to his office. Akira and Aoi were already there, standing beside his desk. Before he could say another word, Almark was in front of his desk, and he dropped all the energy bars and the bottle of water he was holding onto it.

An awkward silence filled the room. Kaiba stared at the supplies stoically, and then raised his eyes to look at the Star Relic.

"...Honestly, I expected you to throw them out of the window." he admitted, using Nina's exact words. "I'm impressed."

Almark blinked twice. "Oh...well," he grinned boastfully. "It was my pleasure surpassing your expecta—no, wait!" he shouted at himself and pointed a finger at the man. "Don't set me off course!"

"I'm afraid that's what I'll have to do, after all, we're running low on time." Almark pouted at Kaiba's words, but he didn't retort. "Zaizen."

"Yes." Akira nodded and stepped forward. "Thank you all for coming. As you may already know, we divided this operation into two parts, one that takes place here in the real world, and one in VRAINS. Without a shadow of a doubt, this part of the operation is the most dangerous one as it takes place IRL."

"But that said, are we so sure the Dark Ignis will attack us here as well?" Shin inquired with a frown. "Even if he doesn't know each one of us- except for Pandor- has a Blessed Monster, he knows for a fact the twins have their Overdrive Monsters."

[If he approaches us, we have the advantage.] Grangadez pointed out.

[On top of that, all of us dragons can manipulate our sizes.] Grandeen added. [Using our large sizes against us isn't an option.]

"Those are good observations." Almark agreed. "But Ai-kun doesn't plan on defeating us. All he comes here for," he gestured at Akira, who frowned at that. "Is the last Code Key."

"I see." Cyndy placed a finger to her chin as she realized what that meant. "All that matters is getting the Code Key, as long as he can do that, he's willing to sacrifice as many SOLtiS as he can."

"And how many SOLtiS does he have under his sleeve, exactly?" Aya narrowed her eyes, annoyed that her own product will be used against her.

"We can only guess." Pandor spoke up. "Hacking the SOLtiS is an easy feat for Ai. In order to carry out his and Almark's plan to dethrone King, he was able to hack three SOLtiS and go unnoticed."

"Since their release, the SOLtiS have been sold worldwide." Akira added. "All of those can turn out to be our enemies."

"Even at once?" Aya asked in surprise.

"There's a chance he can create copies of himself, albeit weaker in terms of Dueling strength," Kaiba explained as he extracted a tall file from a drawer of his desk. "And not just himself, but his companion as well." he threw the file onto his deck, which landed on the energy bars with a weak THUD. "These are all the scenarios that could play out during the attack. We based our plan on this data."

"U-Um..." Hayami started, intimidated by the file's size. "How many pages are there...?"

"Four hundred and sixty-seven!" Almark proudly declared. "Nina-chan and I thoroughly worked on it the other day! Well, I admit there would've been many more pages if somebody hadn't threatened to give me permafrost for including certain options."

"Using a bubble gun to distract us isn't an option." Nina rebuked in a dangerous tone, which caused Almark to yelp and immediately nod in agreement.

"Nina is correct. Ai may be unpredictable, but a bubble gun is too presumptuous." Pandor proclaimed.

"Should I cringe at Almark who thought that was a valid option, or Pandor who took it seriously...?" Kioku whispered to himself.

"Almark's." Regalia said while she continued to focus on the notes she was taking on her phone. "But we have to admit only a brilliant idiot can understand another one."

"...That was also an insult, but I'll only consider it as a compliment." Almark muttered.

"People, focus." Kaiba raised his voice to catch everyone's attention. He then snapped his fingers, prompting the TV in his office to turn on and display the outline of KaibaCorp.

"This building is composed of twenty floors, as well as two underground ones and the roof." Akira stated. "Considering our numbers and strength levels, you will be divided into eleven teams. Cyndy, you will be guarding the bottom floor."

The said floor lit up on the screen, and Cyndy nodded with a smirk. "Yes, Zaizen-san."

"Moving to the third floor, Hayami, you will be stationed there." Akira told as the said floor lit up.

"Understood, Executive Vice President Zaizen!" Hayami placed her right hand to the right side of her forehead with a smile.

"We're entrusting you with the fifth floor, Nina-chan." Almark chuckled.

"I won't let them get past me." she said.

"That's the spirit!" the other Star Relic chuckled again. "Moving on, the seventh floor will be mine. Then there's the ninth floor, which goes to Pandor-chan."

"Roger." she nodded back.

"The eleventh floor is where Aoi and I will be hiding." Akira declared. "And it will be under Kioku and Erika's protection."

"Hell yeah!" Bloody Talker laughed as he and Erika high-fived, glad to be on the same floor.

"Floor thirteen will be mine." Kaiba said. "Hagihara and Regalia, floor fifteen and seventeen will be yours respectively."

"Got it." Shin crossed his arms over his chest, while Regalia only nodded.

"That means floor nineteen will be under my care?" Akira nodded to Aya's question.

"And lastly, Grangadez, Grandeen, you two will stay on the roof," Akira explained. "This way, in case somebody on any floor needs backup, you can easily fly there."

[Leave it to us.] the two Overdrive Monsters said in unison.

"But...the twins on the same floor is a clear giveaway of your location." Shin complained.

"Yes, but if Ai gets past Almark, Kaiba, and Pandor, they're the most suited at safeguarding me." Akira reasoned. "Also, they're coming with me and Aoi to LINK VRAINS."

"That would leave our bodies vulnerable to any attack in the real world." Erika noted. "I see, that's why we must be on the same floor as you. We're going to act as defenders on both fronts."

"Being at the center also has its perks." Almark commented. "If Ai-kun plans to walk from one floor to the other, it will make it hard for him to reach it. And even if he plans to enter the building by flying or something like that, he'll have to take a gamble."

"You're saying he won't attack simultaneously both fronts?" Hayami inquired.

"He won't." Almark shook his head. "Copies aren't strong enough to defeat our defenders. He will start in VR, which is much easier for him to access, and when he sees Akira isn't there, he'll have no choice but to come here."

"Giving us opportunities on both fronts to defeat him with our ace defenders." Regalia hummed.

"If that's the case, this isn't a bad plan at all." Shin's lips formed a smirk.

"However, the SOLtiS are equipped with temperature sensors that can see through walls." Pandor narrowed her eyes. "If Ai or a copy can get to each floor and quickly look into each room, he will eventually find Akira and Aoi."

"We mustn't let that happen." Kaiba intoned. "However, even if we fail, we're prepared."

Pandor's eyes widened a little. "Your security programs," she realized. "They contain Star Relic codings, which Ai cannot hack. If all the doors are locked, he's unable to enter any room."

"Clever." Aya commented. "This way, we don't have to worry about the building being used against us, either."

"That's right, that's right!" Almark chuckled. "There are two more things we must tell you before we get into position." he raised his pinky finger. "Avoid contact with Ai-kun's body, especially his hands. When we were discussing our plan against King, he said he can force Queen into the network from the real world. Obviously, he didn't tell me how he's able to do that and asking about it was useless, but my guess is he has to touch his target in order to do it."

Following the humans' nods, he raised his ring finger. "Once we get into position, the elevator will be out of service. You're going to have to use the fire escape to get from one floor to the other." he clapped his hands. "Any questions~?"

"We've been focusing on Ai all this time, but..." Aoi started with a frown. "What about King? Isn't this the perfect opportunity to strike us?"

"It would be." Kaiba admitted before glancing at Almark, who continued.

"But he won't. We made sure to walk in the shadows, which means King didn't notice we've gathered here. And Ai-kun has no reason to tell King about his attack."

"Because it would become a race." Nina said. "If King gets the Code Key first, Ai can't complete his plan."

"And as we've stated, the Dark Ignis' objective is the Code Key, not defeating us." Regalia reminded her. "If he causes too much chaos, it will only backfire him."

"Yes...that makes sense..." Aoi nodded.

"Aren't we missing someone?" Aya suddenly narrowed her eyes at Kaiba. "Where's Bast?"

"Occupied with a different mission." was all he said as he stood up and walked out of the office.

"You and your secrets..." Aya rolled her eyes in exasperation and left as well.

The others went after them, with Regalia for second-last, followed by Pandor who was curiously and silently observing the young woman.

She rarely takes her eyes off of her phone. the A.I. thought as she glanced at the said device. But that model...according to my analysis, that's an outdated model. However, judging by its condition, she bought it recently, maybe...one or two months ago. She deliberately bought an older model?

She looked at Regalia's stoic expression. That model must mean something to her. More than likely, it's related to her background...her name did appear in the Knights of Hanoi's data regarding Incident Genesis

"What's wrong?" Pandor was snapped out of her thoughts when Regalia addressed her. She met her gaze on her phone's reflection.

"Sorry, I was staring." Pandor apologized. Humans don't like it when you stare at them. "I was simply wondering about your phone. It's new, but it's also an outdated model. May I know why?"

Regalia's expression turned sorrowful. "...A person once gifted me a phone." she confessed. She then lowered the hand which held the said device, and looked at the twins. "That person left this world a long time ago...and ever since, whenever I must replace my phone, I buy the same model she bought me."

So her earlier speculation was correct. "...I understand. I'm sorry for your loss." Pandor said in a lower tone. "And thank you for sharing this with me. It must be hard to say that out loud, especially to someone you just met."

"...I don't mind." Regalia admitted with a low sigh. "That same person told me to express my feelings with those I trust in order to forge stronger bonds. You may be new, but I don't sense any ill intentions from you."

"Thank you for trusting me, Regalia." Pandor concluded their conversation with a small bow of her head. She's detached from humanity, and not just because of her introverted personality; it's true her reason for sharing was a nice and correct one, but it's also your typical, by-the-book reasoning. Regalia's a human, but...acts more like a machine. But considering her past, that makes sense...

Some minutes later - VR: special server

"Did Almark make this place?" Bloody Talker inquired after he, Eve, Akira, Blue Maiden, Playmaker, Soulburner, Go, Ghost Girl, and Blood Shepherd had logged in. This server was quite impressive, putting it together in such a short amount of time would be impossible for many.

"Yes, with the aid of Unnamed." Akira confirmed his words. "However, it wasn't made with a Star Relic algorithm, but a Human one."

"Or else Ai couldn't hack into it." Playmaker pointed out.

"Yes." Akira showed an embarrassed smile after that. "I'm glad you came, Playmaker."

"This is my battle, too." he replied and shortly glanced at the twins, who smiled back encouragingly. Playmaker gave a ghost of a smile. "This will be a difficult fight for me, but as Ai's partner, it's my duty to stop him from committing more crimes."

"Playmaker...!" Soulburner smiled at his determination, followed by Blue Maiden.

"Thanks for coming. Not just you, but everyone." Akira said.

"This is everyone?" Go asked.

"No. There are others." following Akira's words, six new people logged in.

"Revolver!?" Soulburner gasped.

"And Spectre and the four Knights?" Ghost Girl's eyes widened.

"That's right. I'm having them help us in this battle." Akira proclaimed.

"I see. If we're hunting Ignis, everyone has the same goal." Blood Shepherd remarked.

"But isn't your goal to get revenge on SOL Technologies?" Ghost Girl narrowed her eyes.

"Since the Light Ignis' scheme was revealed, we no longer desire revenge against SOL," Revolver explained.

"But, Onii-sama," Blue Maiden started reluctantly. "It doesn't change the fact they committed crimes. Teaming with them is..."

"As you said, our crimes don't just vanish." Revolver interrupted her. "We're prepared to take responsibility."

"And how?" Soulburner glared at him. "You'll all get arrested?"

Revolver smiled, "Exactly." Soulburner and Blue Maiden gasped.

"What did you say?" Playmaker's eyes widened in shock.

"Oi, oi, oi, oi! You can't be serious!" Bloody Talker scolded him. His rival? In jail? He must be joking.

"The Knights of Hanoi's goal is to kill the Ignis and get revenge on King." Revolver said. "When that's done, we won't have any reason to exist. After accomplishing our goal, we'll reveal everything to the public and atone for our crimes."

Soulburner gritted his teeth, "You're right, but it doesn't feel right..." he muttered in anger.

"But if that happens, SOL Technologies won't get off scot-free." Ghost Girl pointed out in concern.

"You're right." Akira agreed with her. "But it can't be helped. Trust built upon lies will eventually be exposed."

"Does Queen know of this?" Eve's eyebrows furrowed. "Since she's currently the top executive, she'll take the fall. She was acting too calmly for somebody who'll supposedly take responsibility for what she didn't do."

"...It's true she didn't accept yet, but that's fine." Akira looked at the Knights of Hanoi. "If Ai's defeated, we still have to worry about the Star Relics. We'll figure it out by then."

"We don't need your company's approval, Zaizen." Revolver reminded him rather coldly. "Don't forget that."

"I know." Akira nodded stiffly. Upon noticing his sister's and Ghost Girl's worried expressions and the distracted faces of Soulburner, Playmaker, and Bloody Talker, he continued. "I know this is an important matter, but at the moment, it isn't our main concern. For now, we have to worry about Ai."

"...Fine." Bloody Talker said begrudgingly, while Playmaker and Soulburner nodded silently.

"...What's the plan?" Ghost Girl eventually asked.

Akira looked upwards, causing several screens to pop up around them.

"The battle will take place here," he explained. "We don't know from where they'll come, but that's of little importance. We're currently at the center." the biggest screen revealed the interior of the octahedron they were in. "We're in the circle courtyard at the center. Only two routes connect to the outside. Blue Maiden and I will stay here. You'll situate yourselves at the two routes' gateways. Ghost Girl, Blood Shepherd, Dr. Genome, and Andal on the east."

Spectre's eyes widened a little, and he failed to notice Revolver glancing in his direction.

"Go Onizuka, Spectre, Baira, and Faust on the west route." Akira continued. "Bloody Talker and Eve, you'll be at the outside gateways, west and east respectively. That leaves Playmaker, Soulburner, and Revolver; you three will be our vanguard. If you see any signs of the enemy, go there. Lastly, Unnamed will support us from the real world."

He then turned around, "Revolver, provide Blue Maiden, Ghost Girl, and Go Onizuka with that special something."

The said youth nodded and pressed a couple of buttons on his Duel Disk. "Look at your Duel Disks." he instructed the three. "I sent you Pandor, an anti-Ignis and Star Relic A.I."

To their surprise, a miniature version of Pandor emerged from each Duel Disk, and they bowed to their current users.

"You can even enter a Duel Disk...?" Blue Maiden wondered out loud.

"Now, everyone, get into positions!" Akira ordered, earning a nod from the others.

(...In the west route...)

"Oi, Rev." upon hearing his name, Revolver slightly turned his head to look at Bloody Talker. They were on their D-Boards, flying towards the octahedron's outside gateway. The youth with heterochromia was glad his friends left them alone and chose the east route, he wanted to have a private talk with Hanoi's leader.

Revolver realized this when he saw his expression. "I thought your morale was stronger."

"You damn tease." Bloody Talker growled through a grin. "Do you actually want to go to jail? I heard they don't go easy on pretty faces like you."

"Hoh? I have a pretty face?" Revolver immediately shot back. "Confessing your feelings to me, are you?" he dodged the scythe that came his way with a backflip of his D-Board.

"Idiot." Bloody Talker muttered with a blush. His expression then turned serious. "We went over this already, Rev. The Lost Incident—"

"That isn't our only crime." Revolver intoned, prompting his rival to stop talking. "You have a good heart, Bloody Talker, that's why you can't digest our decision." his expression softened a little. "I'm grateful for your concern, but understand you aren't the only one who makes up this world. Even if you and Playmaker and a couple of others forgive us, that doesn't mean the world will, either."

"...You're such an old man when you talk like that." Bloody Talker avoided his gaze in chagrin. "I know this is your decision to make, but...you and the others in jail...leaves a foul taste in my mouth."

Because you care about them. Kioku told him softly.

"Yeah..." he whispered before looking in front of him again.

[Master...] Grangadez spoke up in concern.

"I'm putting this discussion on hold." he reassured his ace Monster with a smirk. "I won't let this distract me!"

"Good." Revolver looked ahead as well.

"But Rev, you're quite the underhanded man." Bloody Talker chuckled. "Not that I hate that about you."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean Spectre." ah, that. "You asked Akira to put him and Go in the same team, didn't you? I saw where your eyes went when it was revealed."

"...I did." Revolver admitted. "The Star Relics and the Evil Gods aren't like any opponents we've faced so far. I was able to defeat King in a Duel, but the more time passes since that day, I realize how fortunate I was to escape alive. Moreover, Almark, who was designed to defeat his own kin, wasn't able to win against him."

His eyes narrowed in preoccupation, "In such a short amount of time, he was able to evolve, and now we don't know where he and his group are. As it stands, we're at a disadvantage."

"Ah, I see." Bloody Talker understood where he was going. "You're saying Spectre has to come to terms with Go and SOL Technologies because we have no choice but to join hands."

"Exactly." Revolver confirmed his words. Go captured the EARTH Ignis and SOL Technologies put an end to his life; it's obvious Spectre abhors them, but that cannot continue. As his leader, it's Revolver's duty to help his Second-in-command come to terms with their ex-enemies and soon-to-be allies.

"And? Do you think it'll work?"

"Only time can well." was all Revolver said before he sped up.

(...At the west route's gateway...)

For the love of god, Zaizen...what did you think when you decided to put me and Spectre on the same team!? was Go's annoyed thought as he stared at the backs of his teammates after they've taken position in front of the gateway, with him timidly staying in the far back.

Spectre hates his guts, and he wasn't even trying to hide it! The worst thing is, Go knows exactly why the Plant-Type user harbored such hatred towards him... It's Go who defeated Earth, and brutally at that; it's him who captured Earth; it's because of him SOL was able to dissect Earth. He and his lame pride killed the EARTH Ignis, Spectre's "partner", no wonder the kid wants him dead, too.

...Should he apologize? Or would that anger Spectre even further? Should he ask what he thought about the flowers he left at Earth's headstone? Wait, what did he think about his flowers? Go wrote his name on the bouquet, so Spectre surely saw it—

Aaah, dammit! Go shook his head to calm down. This is really important and he doesn't know what to do! This may be his last chance, too; who knows what will happen once Ai attacks them. Wait... Did Zaizen purposely put them in the same team...? So Go would have the chance to talk with Spectre?

OK, now's a good time to stop overthinking. At this rate, he'll waste this "chance". What he has to do is listen to his instincts. Lowering his voice so Spectre won't hear him, he sheepishly addressed Baira and Faust.

"Excuse me." dammit, did Zaizen even consider he'll feel uneasy in this team? What if Spectre's comrades hate him as well...? The two Lieutenant looked at him with stoic faces, which made it hard to answer his earlier question, but it didn't discourage him, either. "I want to apologize to Spectre."

Baira looked at Faust, unsure of what to say, while the young man scrutinized him. He eventually nodded to Baira, and the young woman looked back at him.

"Go ahead." Go nodded at her words, but before he could fly away, he heard Baira add quietly, "Thank you, for caring."

"...I promised myself I'll change." Go replied with the same tone and left the two, reaching Spectre up ahead.

"What do you want?" the youth immediately asked. He said it with such a polite, yet cold tone that it made Go frown.

Here goes nothing. "...I'm sorry, Spectre." Go said softly. His interlocutor didn't give a response, and he took that as a sign to continue. "About Earth... I—"

"Is that so?" Spectre cut him off, and grinned down at him. "But I don't see Earth anywhere." he was obviously taunting him, so Go didn't reply, but he knew what Spectre meant with those words. The Plant-Type user faked a surprised expression. "Ah, I'm sorry. Since you were apologizing, I also assumed you brought the Earth Ignis back to life. How stupid of me."

He expected a taunt or two, so this wasn't enough to stop Go. But...Earth mattered to Spectre, maybe not like Grim mattered to Bloody Talker, but he still mattered.

"...Look, Spectre," the young man started. "I'm very sorry for your loss...and for what I did. I let my pride hurt many people, not to mention kill Earth, and I haven't stopped feeling ashamed by that. But I want to change! I want to make things right, to help you guys defeat our opponents with all my strength, even if it isn't enough to actually defeat someone."

"Make things right, eh? With me, too?" Spectre inquired with a giggle. "Nobody's ever told you you're presumptuous? Well, if you weren't able to notice your own pride was killing you, I guess you didn't notice that, either."

"Spectre, I'm serious." Go intoned to get the message through. "To forgive me or not is your choice, but I want you to know my feelings are genuine. In order to atone for my past actions, I'll change, and protect the world together with you guys."

"Is that so?" Spectre scoffed, now bored. "Well, I don't care about your feelings, Go Onizuka, but we can both agree to forgive you or not is indeed my decision to make. Forgive my bluntness, but," he showed a cruel smirk, prompting Go's eyes to widen a little. "At the moment, forgiving you isn't an option."

With that said, he flew away, putting a large amount of distance between himself and Go.

"...That could've ended better." Go thought out loud with a sigh.

"Don't let it discourage you." Faust appeared beside him, staring in Spectre's direction. "He hasn't figured out yet what the Earth Ignis means to him; he still needs time to understand his own feelings. Only after that he'll consider forgiving you, Go Onizuka."

"He doesn't have to forgive me..." Go muttered. "If he continues to hate me, that's fine. He has every reason to, after all. I'm just...glad I was able to talk with him...and that he was willing to listen."

"...I see." Faust simply said.

At midnight...

Just as Almark predicted, the battle has started.

Playmaker, Soulburner, and Revolver intercepted the first wave, which turned out to be three Ais approaching them in unison. Unlike Bohman's Projections, these copies were much more refined and it made it impossible to discern whether the Ai in front of you was the real or a fake one, therefore the three had no choice but to start a Duel with them to find out.

In each Duel, each Ai went first, increased the number of cards in their hands with an effect, and summoned the same Monsters, in the same order and at the same time, and revealed they were using a lockdown deck. That was a clear giveaway these Ais were fake, and their goal was to stall their opponents, and true enough, the real Ai and Roboppy showed up seconds later.

We expected decoys, but it's still annoying Ai caught us... Soulburner gritted his teeth. By the looks of things, these guys aren't planning on attacking or damaging us, which makes Playmaker's and Revolver's Skills impossible to activate...not that it matters since Ai has Skill Prevention. My Burning Draw is useless as well.

He then quickly analyzed Ai's field. The cards on his field are Fire Phoenix AtIgnister, A.I. A.I. Wall, and Ignister A.I. Land... When an effect destroys Fire Phoenix and sends it to the Graveyard, Ai can destroy one of my Monsters. And when it uses that effect, he can Special Summon it from the Graveyard during the next Standby Phase. Since he won't be attacking, I don't have to worry about its other effect.

He then glanced at the most problematic card. As long as A.I. A.I. Wall has counters, neither player can attack... He couldn't suppress a glare. It's true it loses a counter at the end of each of our turns, but once per turn, if I Link Summon, it gains a counter...! He's going to use my Link Summon against me! I have to waste my time here while my comrades may very well be losing!

"What's wrong? You're pale, Soulburner!" Ai taunted him. "While you're here daydreaming of how to break free from my lock, the real me is fighting your comrades. The consciousness of those who lose to us will become ours!" Soulburner gasped at that, causing Ai's grin to widen. "I end my turn!"

(A.I. A.I. Wall: 3→2 counters)

He's toying with me...! the youth clenched his free hand. I really want to learn what Ai's thinking, but I can't waste my time here! I have to defeat this fake as quickly as possible, without letting his words get to my head! "Ore no turn!"

He has to find a way to destroy A.I. A.I. Wall and attack. Easier said than done... While it has counters, he can't target or destroy it with card effects. That severely limits his options...but he has a way to overcome it!

"Draw!" Soulburner finally declared. "I summon Salamangreat Pavo!"

The mechanical peafowl made of red metal with some blue patches here and there appeared on his field with a loud cry, opening its tail as the circuits on it started glowing a fierce crimson.

Salamangreat Pavo: ATK 1300 / DEF 1500 / LV: 4

"Oh, I didn't see that one in a long time." Ai interrupted him. "Mind jogging my memory a little?"

"If Pavo is Normal Summoned, by discarding a 'Salamangreat' card, I can Special Summon one Level 4 or lower non-Pavo 'Salamangreat' Monster from my Deck." Soulburner reminded him.

"Oh, right, right!" Ai nodded enthusiastically. "You used this Monster against Toxin, right? In your first Duel."

Th-This guy...! He's saying whatever he can think of to waste my time! Soulburner gritted his teeth in anger. "Don't comment on anything! Using Pavo's effect, I discard Ocelotty to Special Summon Gazelle!"

Pavo's tail suddenly burst into flames, conjuring a flaming portal beside it from which a mechanical gazelle with flames shooting out of its back emerged.

Salamangreat Gazelle: Fire / Cyberse / Effect / ATK: 1500 / DEF: 1000 / LV: 3

"Gazeru no kōka o hatsudō!" Soulburner shouted. "If this card is Normal or Special Summoned successfully, I can send one non-Gazelle 'Salamangreat' card from my Deck to the Graveyard! I send Fusion of Fire, which can be treated as 'Salamangreat' card, to the Graveyard!"

Fusion of Fire? Ai raised an eyebrow. Why would he send that card to the Graveyard...?

"Appear! The circuit that changes the future!" a stream of fire erupted from Soulburner's hand, conjuring a Link Portal above him. "I set the Level 3 Gazelle! Link Summon! Appear, Link 1! Salamangreat Balelynx!"

The mechanical lynx that had flames bursting from the igniters attached to its back and tail emerged from the portal, and followed its user in the Extra Monster Zone on his right.

Salamangreat Balelynx: ATK 500 / Link 1: Bottom

"Balelynx's effect activates on Link Summon, letting me add Salamangreat Sanctuary from my Deck to my hand." Soulburner stated.

"Did you forget about A.I. A.I. Wall's effect, Soulburner!?" Ai's smirk turned into a grin. "Since you Link Summoned, it gains a counter!"

(A.I. A.I. Wall: 2→3 counters)

"Gain all the counters you want." the Ignis' opponent scoffed. "Either way, you won't survive this turn, Ai!"

"Hoh, is that so?" he taunted back. "And what if I do?"

Soulburner ignored him and continued, "Appear again, the circuit that changes the future! I set Balelynx and Pavo in the Link Markers! Link Summon! Appear, Link 2! Salamangreat Sunlight Wolf!"

The anthropomorphic wolf covered in armor appeared next.

Salamangreat Sunlight Wolf: ATK 1800 / Link 2: Top, Bottom

"Since I have at least three 'Salamangreat' Monsters in my Graveyard, I can Special Summon this card from my hand in defense mode! Appear, Salamangreat Beat Bison!"

Following Soulburner's words, a mechanical bison with flames adorning its horns appeared behind his Link 2 Monster.

Salamangreat Beat Bison: Fire / Cyberse / Effect / ATK: 2800 / DEF: 1000 / LV: 8

"Beat Bison?" Ai's eyes widened. He then smirked. "I see, so that's your plan."

"Sanraito Urufu no kōka o hatsudō!" Soulburner exclaimed. "Since a Monster was Special Summoned to a zone it points to, I can add one Fire-Attribute Monster from my Graveyard to my hand. I return Gazelle to my hand! Then I activate the Field Spell Salamangreat Sanctuary!"

The large portal with pink trims materialized above them, bathing the field in white light and flame sparks.

"Get ready, Ai! Saramangureito Sankuchuari no kōka! I'll use Sunlight Wolf as the only material to call forth a new one! Reincarnation Link Summon! Be reborn, Salamangreat Sunlight Wolf!"

With a loud howl, a new Sunlight Wolf whose gauntlets were surrounded by flames emerged from the portal.

"You reincarnated that Monster?" Ai said in surprise.

"That's right! Sunlight Wolf's reincarnation-effect!" Soulburner declared. "When it uses itself to be Link Summoned, I can add one 'Salamangreat' Spell or Trap Card from my Graveyard to my hand. I return Fusion of Fire to my hand!"

"Wha—Since when did it have that effect!?" Ai inquired in shock.

"Next, I activate the Spell Card Fusion of Fire! Using its effect, I use Monsters from my hand or either player's field as materials to Fusion Summon a Salamangreat! This time, I will be the one to use your Link Monster to my advantage!"

As Sunlight Wolf and Fire Phoenix turned into red and blue flames respectively and swirled together, Soulburner chanted.

"The origin of a crazy soul! The magical beast whose flesh gathers the weapons of evil beasts! Show yourself! Salamangreat Violet Chimera!"

The two flames clashed into one, creating a large explosion of purple flames from which his Fusion Monster emerged with a menacing roar, and followed its user in the Extra Monster Zone on his right.

Salamangreat Violet Chimera: ATK 2800 / DEF 2000 / LV: 8

"If Violet Chimera is successfully Fusion Summoned, its effect activates!" Soulburner stated. "Until the end of this turn, it gains Attack equal to half the Attack of the materials used for its summon!"

(Violet Chimera: ATK 2800→4850)

"4850 Attack!" Ai cheered, much to his opponent's confusion. "You're being uncharacteristically brutal, Soulburner. Do you want to end this Duel this early? You hurt my feelings."

"Don't talk like you aren't attacking us!" Soulburner rebuked. "I activate Beat Bison's effect! Because you control two face-up cards, I can return two Fire Link Monsters from my Graveyard to the Extra Deck in order to negate your cards' effects until the end of this turn! I return two Sunlight Wolves to my Extra Deck!"

Following those words, A.I. A.I. Wall and Ignister A.I. Land were surrounded by flames and grayed out.

"Now I can attack!" Soulburner's eyes widened as he pointed forward. "Battle! Go, Violet Chimera! Direct attack!"

"Um, Soulburner? I think you gravely underestimated my lockdown deck." the mentioned youth gasped at that, causing Ai to grin. "From my hand, I activate the Trap Card A.I. Pranked You!"

A card, which depicted a chuckling Ai in his Ignis-form hiding behind a bush and watching a confused Linkuriboh staring at a lifesize cardboard cutout of himself, appeared.

"I can activate this card from my hand by paying half of my Life," Ai explained as Violet Chimera lunged at him. "Since I would take 2300 or more battle damage, that damage becomes 0 and the Battle Phase ends!"

Ai: LP 40002000

The DARK Ignis moved to the side, leaving behind an actual lifesize cardboard cutout of himself, which Violet Chimera then bisected and caused to explode.

"A-Ara~... That was close..." Ai sweated as he stared at the spot where his cutout was just seconds ago. "Oi, are you actually planning on killing me? Well, not that it really matters."

"Dammit...!" Soulburner gritted his teeth in frustration. He was so close!

"Aw, don't sound so miserable~! It's not like you have anywhere else to be, right?" Ai teased him through a chuckle. "My Trap's effect ain't over yet! I can now Special Summon one AtIgnister from my Graveyard in defense mode. Resurrect, Doyon!"

The chubby, purple blob with the 'AtIgnister' logo situated on its tail jumped out of the smoke.

Doyon AtIgnister: ATK 400 / DEF 1600 / LV: 4

"As it was Special Summoned, Doyon's effect activates," Ai explained. "I add Achichi from my Graveyard to my hand."

He even used my attack to his advantage! Soulburner thought. "Turn End...! Violet Chimera's effect expires and its Attack returns to normal."

(Violet Chimera: ATK 4850→2800)

"And my cards regain their effects." true to Ai's words, his two Spells regained their colors. "In the end, you couldn't win. But you must already have a Plan B ready, right?"

"Just get over with your turn." Soulburner growled back.

"You're no fun~." Ai shook his head in disappointment. "Ore no turn, draw! Appear, the circuit that guides the dark! The summoning condition is one non-Link 'AtIgnister' Monster! I set Doyon! Link Summon! Link 1! Dark Infant AtIgnister!"

A mechanical Monster that resembled Ai in his Ignis-form appeared next.

Dark Infant AtIgnister: Dark / Cyberse / Effect / ATK: 500 / Link 1: Left

"If this card is Link Summoned, I can add one Ignister A.I. Land from my Deck to my hand." Ai stated as he did just that. "But it won't stay in my hand for long because I activate the Spell Card A.I. Contact! I target the Ignister A.I. Land that's already active on my field and shuffle the one that's in my hand into my Deck to draw three new cards!"

He grinned wide upon seeing his new cards, "I hope you don't mind, but you'll be keeping me company for a little longer, Soulburner." his opponent frowned. "I guess that's asking too much, considering you hate Ai for erasing Flame. I may be a fake, but all my data will be inherited by him after this is over, so in the end, I am Ai in a sense."

"I already told you that isn't the case." Soulburner's expression turned sympathetic. "I don't know why you're doing any of this, Ai, but I'm sure you have your reasons. Explain them to us! Make us understand you! I want to understand you!"

"That's easy for you to say!" Ai laughed. "You want humans and A.I.s to coexist. But what about those who don't, like the Knights of Hanoi? SOL Technologies? Last time I checked, they intend to cut us into pieces and turn us into cash cows!"

"I'm sure we can find common grounds!" Soulburner pressed. "Look at us now! We're fighting together to defeat a common enemy! And don't take this personally, Ai. We still have to defeat King and his comrades! If you stop before it's too late—"

"It's already too late, Soulburner!" Ai cut him off, this time with a pained expression. "And you're being too optimistic. 'Working together' doesn't mean 'accepting each other'. Surely there are inner disputes in this new group you've formed."

"Even if that's true, time will help us bond!"

"'Only time will tell if we bond' would've been much more appropriate." Ai smirked once more, and then pointed at himself with his thumb. "But this bad boy isn't too patient at the moment, so I'll stick with my original plan to defeat you guys! Well, in your case, stall." Soulburner gritted his teeth. "Let's resume the Duel! From my Graveyard, I activate Linguriboh's effect! By releasing Dark Infant that was Special Summoned from my Extra Deck, it can Special Summon itself!"

Dark Infant burst into particles, which took the form of a GY Portal from which Linguriboh jumped out.

"I summon Sarasara AtIgnister!"

The puffy, green blob that resembled a cloud appeared at those words. Its body was decorated with curly, white, dark green, and lavender markings and the 'AtIgnister' logo was situated on its forehead, and it had two little hands attached to its back by an invisible link.

Sarasara AtIgnister: Tuner / ATK 1000 / DEF 600 / LV: 3

That Monster is a Tuner. Soulburner thought as he looked at its info on his Duel Disk. So he can use different Summoning Methods...

"Sarasara's effect activates!" Ai announced. "If this card is Normal or Special Summoned, I can Special Summon one Level 4 or lower AtIgnister from my hand, Graveyard, or face-up in my Extra Deck. Come, Achichi!"

A red blob with the 'AtIgnister' logo situated on one of the spikes that jutted from its 'head' joined its brethren.

Achichi AtIgnister: Fire / Cyberse / Effect / ATK: 800 / DEF: 800 / LV: 2

Face-up in the Extra Deck...don't tell me he also has Pendulum? Soulburner thought in shock.

"Appear again, the circuit that guides the dark!" Ai raised an arm to the sky. "The summoning condition is one Fire 'AtIgnister' Monster! I set Achichi! Link Summon! Come, Link 1! Fire Salamander AtIgnister!"

A mechanical Monster that had a similar design and color scheme to Fire Phoenix but was a salamander with a flaming mane around its neck emerged from the portal with a loud hiss.

Fire Salamander AtIgnister: Fire / Cyberse / Effect / ATK: 800 / Link 1: Bottom-Right

"I discard a card from my hand to activate Fire Salamander's effect on-Link Summon!" Ai cried out as he slid a card into his GY slot. "I can now add one 'AtIgnister' Monster or 'A.I.' Spell or Trap Card from my Deck to my hand. And the lucky winner is...this card!"

A card jutted out of his deck, which he then showed to Soulburner: A.I. Pranked You!

"Wha—" he gasped with widened eyes. "Another one!?"

"Fufu, it's your favorite, am I right?" Ai teased as he added it to his hand. "Appear for the third time, the circuit that guides the dark! Linguriboh, Sarasara, and Fire Salamander, set! Link Summon! Here it comes for an encore! Fire Phoenix AtIgnister!"

A second Fire Phoenix flew out of the portal with a screech, following its user in the Extra Monster Zone on his right.

Fire Phoenix AtIgnister: Fire / Cyberse / Effect / ATK: 2300 / Link 3: Left, Bottom, Right

"I set a card and end my turn!" Ai concluded. "During the End Phase, A.I. A.I. Wall loses a counter."

(A.I. A.I. Wall: 3→2 counters)

With another 'A.I. Pranked You!' in his hand, I have to look out for how much battle damage I will deal him, otherwise, he'll use my attack to his advantage again... Soulburner narrowed his eyes. "Ore no turn! Draw! I—"

"Torappu hatsudō: New A.I.-bou!" a card, which depicted Almark, Ai, and Roboppy in their human-forms and wearing casual, summer wear while taking a selfie at a water park, appeared. "I target your Beat Bison and equip it with this card!"

The 'AtIgnister' logo appeared on the said Monster's forehead.

"If I control no 'AtIgnister' Monsters, this card is destroyed." Ai said. "But as long as I control it, I can take control of the equipped Monster!"

"What did you say!?" Soulburner gasped as Beat Bison flew over to Ai's field, following him in his Middle Main Monster Zone.

"Now you can't use its effect to negate A.I. A.I. Wall's effect." Ai pointed out playfully. "And since its effect only requires its user to return Fire Link Monsters into the Extra Deck, even I can use it! Thank you for your cooperation, Beat Bison-dono!"

I...only have one Beat Bison in my deck...which is now under Ai's control. Soulburner thought in panic. He then glared at his opponent. Dammit, I don't have the time to waste here...!

[Hurry, everyone!] Shoichi's worried shout snapped him out of his thoughts. [Bloody Talker and Eve are also fighting decoys, and the real Ai broke through our formation!]

"Already!?" Soulburner complained.

"Frustrating, isn't it?" Ai sneered. "If you don't hurry, you'll be too late! But you can't break my lock that easily."

Soulburner clenched his free hand, Calm down, don't let the situation cloud your judgment! That's exactly what your opponent wants! I have many ways to remove Beat Bison from the field and then retrieve it, so there's no reason to panic. Not to mention, if I get rid of New A.I.-bou or Fire Phoenix, that will set free Beat Bison...

He raised his eyes to stare at Ai, Or...there's a completely different strategy I can go for. Now that his Life Points are 2000, he reached the threshold where Pyro Phoenix's effect can end him! But if he can disrupt its summon or effect, then all the time I spend on it would come to bite back at me.

Ai chuckled upon noticing Soulburner's thoughtful expression, prompting the youth to grit his teeth.

I have no other choice... I have to go with that strategy! But first I must make sure it will work! He took a card from his hand and played it. "By targeting Violet Chimera, I activate the Continuous Spell Cage of Link Fire! The targeted Monster is banished!"

His Fusion Monster burst into yellow particles at that, "Next, I summon Gazelle and activate its effect upon Normal Summon! I send Salamangreat Spinny from my Deck to my Graveyard!"

"Not going to explain its entire effect this time?" Ai faked a hurt expression. "You want this to end so quickly!? You're so mean!"

"Because I control a 'Salamangreat' Monster other than Spinny, I can Special Summon Spinny from my Graveyard!" Soulburner ignored his opponent. "And by Special Summoning a 'Salamangreat' Monster to my field with its own effect, I can also Special Summon Pavo from my Graveyard!"

A GY Portal opened in front of him, from which Pavo and a mechanical armadillo with a flaming tail emerged.

Salamangreat Spinny: Fire / Cyberse / Effect / ATK: 1000 / DEF: 1500 / LV: 3

"Now you control two Level 3 Monsters..." Ai noted. "As expected, you'll go for that Xyz Monster."

"I overlay the Level 3 Gazelle and Spinny!" after summoning the X-shaped portal and opening a swirling galaxy portal, he shouted, "Xyz Summon!"

The galaxy exploded, and a stream of DNA appeared before breaking apart and taking the form of his Xyz Monster.

"The flaming wild horse that cuts through illusions! Rank 3! Salamangreat Miragestallio!"

To reveal itself was a mechanical stallion with a flaming mane and tail and two wing-like appendages extending out of its back. It followed its user in the Extra Monster Zone on his right, two Overlay Units circling behind it.

Salamangreat Miragestallio: Fire / Cyberse / Xyz / Effect / ATK: 2000 / DEF: 900 / RK: 3

"Mirājusutario no kōka!" Soulburner declared as his Xyz Monster absorbed one of the lights orbiting its body. "By detaching an Overlay Unit, I can Special Summon a Salamangreat from my Deck in defense mode! Appear, Jack Jaguar!"

A mechanical jaguar with flaming blades attached to its back joined his field at those words.

Salamangreat Jack Jaguar: Fire / Cyberse / Effect / ATK: 1800 / DEF: 1200 / LV: 4

"Using Pavo and Miragestallio, I Link Summon!" the stated Monsters turned into twisters of fire and shot into two Link Markers of a Link Portal that opened above Soulburner. "Appear, Salamangreat Sunlight Wolf!"

A new Sunlight Wolf leaped out of the portal with a howl.

"C'mon, you're even skipping your chants?" Ai whined through a pout. "You're hopeless~. Since you Link Summoned, A.I. A.I. Wall gains a counter."

(A.I. A.I. Wall: 2→3 counters)

"Pavo, which was Special Summoned by its own effect, is banished when it leaves the field," Soulburner explained. "Miragestallio's effect also activates as it was sent to the Graveyard as Link Material for the summon of a 'Salamangreat' Link Monster, letting me target one Monster on the field and return it to the hand! Of course, I target Beat Bison!"

"I knew you were aiming for that, baka!" Ai proclaimed. "Since I control an 'AtIgnister' Link Monster, I banish the Counter Trap 'Oh MA.I. God!' from my Graveyard to activate its effect! During your turn, I can do that to negate the activation of a card or effect that targets a card, and this turn, I get to choose the targets of your attacks! It seems your plan went up in smoke, Soulburner!"

"On the contrary, now I know for sure it'll work!" he stated with a smirk, much to Ai's confusion. "By sending Cage of Link Fire to the Graveyard, I can Special Summon the Monster that was banished with its effect!"

Violet Chimera reappeared behind his Link 2 Monster with a howl.

"Since a Monster was Special Summoned to a zone it points to, I can activate Sunlight Wolf's effect to return Gazelle from my Graveyard to my hand. And now, using Jack Jaguar, Violet Chimera, and the Link 2 Sunlight Wolf, I Link Summon! Appear, Link 4! Salamangreat Pyro Phoenix!"

Soulburner's ace in the hole flew out of the Link Portal with a loud battle cry, following its user in the Extra Monster Zone on his right.

Salamangreat Pyro Phoenix: Fire / Cyberse / Effect / ATK: 2800 / Link 4: Left, Bottom, Right, Top

"You intend to end me with effect damage?" Ai's eyes widened in surprise.

"That's right!" Soulburner thrust an arm forward. "I activate Pyro Phoenix's effect, targeting the Fire Phoenix in your Graveyard, Ai! My target is Special Summoned to your field with its Attack changed to 0!"

Ai's own phoenix joined the one already on his field and Beat Bison.

(Fire Phoenix: 2300→0 ATK)

"An effect that targets... Miragestallio's effect was just a decoy...!?" Ai realized in shock.

"At this moment, Pyro Phoenix's other effect activates!" Soulburner stated. "I target the Link Monster that was Special Summoned to your field so you take damage equal to its original Attack!" his expression suddenly softened. "Ai... I hope the next time we see each other, you'll be willing to tell us why you're doing this."

"Soulburner...! You...!" Ai lowered his head and his shoulders started shaking as if he was going to cry. He then raised his head—to reveal a massive grin. "Fell for it."

"What?" Soulburner gasped.

"When a card or effect is activated that would inflict damage and I control an AtIgnister, I can banish Fire Salamander from my Graveyard to activate its effect!" Ai revealed as Pyro Phoenix unleashed a wave of blue fire from its hands, which then took the form of Fire Phoenix. "The damage becomes 0!"

A transparent barrier formed around him, deflecting the fire with ease.

"Too bad!" Ai sneered. "You think I didn't expect you to try that strategy? It's obvious you'd opt for effect damage when you can't attack! This Duel isn't over yet, Soulburner!"

"No, it is." the youth calmly rebuked. "Now that Pyro Phoenix is on my field, your defeat is guaranteed! Saramangureito Sankuchuari no kōka! I'll use Pyro Phoenix as the only material and Reincarnation Link Summon! Be reborn, Link 4! Salamangreat Pyro Phoenix!"

A new Pyro Phoenix flew out of the portal, spreading its large wings that were now burning with blue flames with a loud battle cry.

"I activate its reincarnation-effect!" Soulburner declared. "All cards you control are destroyed!"

"Have you lost it!?" Ai inquired as all his cards sans A.I. A.I. Wall burst into flames. "Because it was destroyed by a card effect and sent to the Graveyard, Fire Phoenix's effect activates! Say goodbye to your only Monster!"

"I chain Balelynx's effect from my Graveyard to it!" Soulburner interjected. "Since Pyro Phoenix would be destroyed, I can instead banish Balelynx!"

"Dammit, you got me this time..." Ai cursed in a low tone.

"Next, I activate Salamangreat Ocelotty's effect in my Graveyard, banishing it to return Beat Bison to my hand, which I then Special Summon with its own effect!" Soulburner explained as he did just that. "Then I activate its other effect, returning Sunlight Wolf to my Extra Deck to negate A.I. A.I. Wall's effect until the end of this turn!"

"Congratulations, now you can attack." Ai clapped his hands before playfully waving the card in his hand. "But did you forget what card I'm holding? Or do you just want to force me into using it?"

"Correct." he confirmed his foe's words. "But you will take some damage! I activate Jack Jaguar's effect in my Graveyard, returning Violet Chimera from my Graveyard into my Extra Deck to Special Summon itself to Pyro Phoenix's Link Marker!"

The jaguar reappeared behind the Link 4 through a GY Portal.

"Oh..." Ai blinked twice. "This is gonna hurt..."

"Battle!" Soulburner shouted. "Jack Jaguar, attack Ai directly!"

His Monster ran across the field and slashed their opponent across the chest, causing him to grunt in pain.

Ai: LP 2000 - 1800 = 200

"Next, Pyro Phoenix attacks you directly!"

"From my hand, I activate A.I. Pranked You!" Ai quickly stated. "The battle damage becomes 0 and the Battle Phase ends!"

Ai: LP 200100

Like last time, he moved to the side, leaving behind a lifesize cardboard cutout of himself, which Pyro Phoenix then incinerated with its flames.

"Then I can Special Summon one AtIgnister from my Graveyard in defense mode! Resurrect, Sarasara!" the said Monster returned to his field. "And with its effect, I also revive Doyon!"

Another blob returned to his field, "As it was Special Summoned, Doyon's effect activates. I add Achichi from my Graveyard to my hand."

"I end my turn!" Soulburner concluded. "Now that your Life is 100, if you Special Summon a Link Monster with 100 or more Attack, Pyro Phoenix's effect will end you! It's over."

"Did you really have to rub it in...?" Ai protested with an unhappy tone. "Ore no turn...draw..."

However, upon seeing his new card, Ai's face suddenly broke into a malicious smile.

"You said this was over, right? Well...I beg to differ!" Soulburner's eyes widened. "Behold the true terror of my lockdown deck! By destroying all cards I control and then banishing the two Fire Phoenixes from my Graveyard, I can activate this card! The Continuous Spell FA.I.-rewall!"

All the cards on Ai's field burst into crimson particles, which then swirled the two Duelists before uniting to form two boxes that encased each of them. Crimson silhouettes of Ai in his Ignis-form connected with each other through their arms and feet formed these boxes, which was also what the card itself depicted.

"What is this...!?" Soulburner had a presumption, but he won't jinx it.

"Maaan, I'm really glad I was able to topdeck this of all things." Ai chuckled. "If A.I. A.I. Wall, as its name suggests, is a wall, then this FA.I.-rewall is an ultimate wall. Allow me to demonstrate. First things first, FA.I.-rewall gains an equal number of counters as A.I. A.I. Wall had before it left the field."

(FA.I.-rewall: 0→3 counters)

"And here's where it gets interesting! As long as this card has counters, both players cannot attack or inflict effect damage. That means Pyro Phoenix's effect damage has been rendered useless." Ai pointed out. "And don't worry, I didn't forget about Beat Bison-dono! Unlike A.I. A.I. Wall, this card is unaffected by the effects of all other cards!"

"You can't be serious...!" Soulburner gritted his teeth. He has no way of breaking this lock.

"Moreover, once per turn, only during my End Phase, I must remove a counter from this card, and if you Link Summon, I can place a counter on it. Hoho, but that's not all." Ai's smile turned into a full-blown grin. "Once per turn, I can Special Summon one Monster that was banished by this card's effect. Be reborn, Fire Phoenix AtIgnister!"

The side of Ai's box which faced his opponent turned into a swirling portal of fire, from which his Link 3 Monster flew out.

"Then I activate FA.I.-rewall's last effect! Once per turn, I can destroy one Monster I control, in this case my dear phoenix." this time, a twister of fire erupted from his box's top, which then swallowed his newly revived Link Monster. "You know what this means, right? Fire Phoenix's effect activates, and I destroy one of your Monsters! Show him which phoenix is the strongest!"

The twister swallowed Pyro Phoenix as well, causing it to cry out in pain before exploding.

"Pyro Phoenix!" its user gasped.

"I end my turn~!" Ai told. "During my End Phase, FA.I.-rewall loses a counter."

(FA.I.-rewall: 3→2 counters)

"Ore no turn! Draw!"

"During your Standby Phase, Fire Phoenix's effect activates and it's Special Summoned to my field!" Ai reminded him and his Link 3 Monster reappeared by his side with a screech.

Soulburner looked at the four cards in his hand with a thoughtful gaze. As things stand, my hands are tied... I have to endure three more turns so FA.I.-rewall loses all of its counters. Please, everyone...hang in there! "Turn End!"

"Eh? That's all?" Ai sounded disappointed. "Boo! You really are no fun, Soulburner. Ore no turn, draw! It seems I will have to make up for the fact you did nothing in the last turn by being extra flashy! I activate FA.I.-rewall's effect, Special Summoning the other Fire Phoenix that was banished by its effect."

Following Ai's words, a second phoenix joined the first.

"Now I activate FA.I.-rewall's other effect, destroying the newly summoned Fire Phoenix, in turn letting its own effect activate and destroy Jack Jaguar!"

Jack Jaguar was swallowed by a twister of fire and met its end like Pyro Phoenix.

Each time the phoenix revives, he uses it as a sacrifice to destroy one of my Monsters. Soulburner thought. And at the start of my next turn, the phoenix revives again. It's an endless cycle created by taking advantage of the phoenix's immortality. His expression softened a little. An endless...and vicious cycle; so unlike you, Ai...

"I'm really confused by that look you're giving me...are you amazed? Disgusted? Or maybe sad?" Ai scratched the back of his head in confusion. "In any case, it doesn't matter. It's enough if I know the combo I created is perfect! I end my turn, causing FA.I.-rewall to lose a counter."

(FA.I.-rewall: 2→1 counter)

"Ore no turn! Draw!" the Salamangreat user said on cue, followed by Fire Phoenix's screech as it reappeared on Ai's field. "Turn End!"

Ai exhaled loudly, not even trying to hide his disappointment. "It started out good, but you had to ruin it at the end... Well, whatever. Considering you're fighting a lockdown deck, it's inevitable you would get bored of yours truly sooner or later. Ore no turn, draw! Using FA.I.-rewall's effect, I destroy one of my phoenixes, and then use its own effect to destroy your remaining Monster!"

Beat Bison also vanished in a twister of fire. "I end my turn. But rejoice! FA.I.-rewall loses its last counter."

(FA.I.-rewall: 1→0 counters)

"Finally!" Soulburner cheered as the boxes entrapping them faded away. "Ore no turn! Draw!"

The Fire Phoenix that was destroyed in Ai's last turn returned to its owner's field.

[Playmaker, Soulburner, Revolver!] Shoichi interrupted them. [Ai and Roboppy are heading towards Zaizen!]

"I'll be right there!" the youth nodded. "I activate the Spell Card Link Fire's Return, which allows me to Special Summon Pyro Phoenix from my Graveyard and inflict 200 damage to you for each of its Link Markers!"

A GY Portal opened in front of him, and Pyro Phoenix flew out of it. It then put its hands together, releasing a stream of fire at Ai, who used his cape as a makeshift shield to avoid getting burnt.

Ai: LP 100 - 800 = 0

Winner: Soulburner!

"You're strong..." Ai admitted as his body slowly disintegrated into purple particles. "Copies can't defeat you...but we've stalled you enough."

And he was gone. Soulburner remained silent for a couple of seconds before he turned his D-Board around and flew towards the octahedron.

(...Before Soulburner's first turn...)

Before Ai became their active enemy, Revolver thought it would be easy to defeat him, in case he ever decided to fight them head-on. He rarely displayed any brainpower, and he was only adept in fleeing. But, as a leader, Revolver couldn't think like that; that would put himself and his entire team in danger.

Underestimating your opponent is the first step towards defeat, after all. That's why he lost to Lightning, didn't he?

And it seems expecting the worse was the right call. Now he, Playmaker, and Soulburner were stuck fighting some decoys, while the real Ai and Roboppy were engaging their other comrades in Duel. Stalling your opponents' best fighters is a very tactical move, and showed Ai knows what he's doing.

I wish you luck, Spectre, my Knights, Pandor. Revolver thought and concentrated on the Duel. Since this copy's only goal is to stall us, he won't attack, nor inflict effect damage, but he will disrupt my plays whenever he can to prolong the stalling. That's going to be rather annoying... this would've been a great chance to get a new Monster with my Skill, but he has Skill Prevention so that won't be possible.

He then quickly analyzed Ai's field. "That's a troublesome formation." he commented after having read all the effects of Ai's cards. "But it has its flaws."

"It does?" Ai's eyes widened in shock, although Revolver guessed he was faking it. "Hmm, no, you must be bluffing. I took everything into account when I created this strategy! Don't lie to me, Revolver-sensei, or else you'll hurt my feelings~!"

"Then I'll make sure to prove my words aren't a lie." Revolver vowed menacingly.

"Oho, be my guest." Ai chuckled. "I set a card and end my turn!"

(A.I. A.I. Wall: 3→2 counters)

"Watashi no turn!" Revolver shouted. "Draw! I Special Summon Gateway Dragon from my hand!"

The serpentine dragon that had a golden gate floating behind its back appeared.

Gateway Dragon: ATK 1600 / DEF 1400 / LV: 4

"If my opponent controls a Link Monster, I can Special Summon Gateway Dragon from my hand," Revolver explained. "Next, I activate Gateway's other effect! Once per turn, I can Special Summon one Level 4 or lower Dark Dragon Monster from my hand. Appear, Omni Dragon Brotaur!"

Gateway opened its gate, revealing a portal from which a small, bipedal dragon clad in silver armor emerged.

Omni Dragon Brotaur: Dark / Dragon / Effect / ATK: 0 / DEF: 0 / LV: 1

"By targeting Gateway Dragon, I activate Brotaur's effect!" Revolver stated. "I discard a card from my hand to add a Monster with the same Type and Attribute as the targeted Gateway, but with a different name, from my Deck to my hand. I add the Dark-Attribute Dragon-Type Triggering Wurm to my hand, which I then Normal Summon!"

The dragon that seemed a cross between a worm and a gun's trigger occupied his remaining Main Monster Zone.

Triggering Wurm: ATK 600 / DEF 600 / LV: 2

"Three Monsters just like that." Ai mused while rubbing his chin. "A Link 3 Monster? Which ones did you have again...?"

"One like this." Revolver gestured at the sky. "Appear, the future circuit that lights up my path! The summoning conditions are two or more Effect Monsters! I set Gateway, Brotaur, and Triggering Wurm! Link Summon! Appear, Link 3! Topologic Trisbaena!"

To materialize in the Extra Monster Zone on his right was the one-eyed mechanical dragon with an intricate body, which gave a resounding roar upon taking the field.

Topologic Trisbaena: Dark / Cyberse / Effect / ATK: 2500 / Link 3: Bottom-Left, Bottom-Right, Top

(A.I. A.I. Wall: 2→3 counters)

"Trisbaena, you say!?" Ai exclaimed in shock. He then made the time-out sign with his hands. "Wait, wait! Stop, stop! I-It seems I forgot about that guy, haha. Would you mind if we call it a draw and redo this tomorrow—"

"I activate Triggering Wurm's effect in my Graveyard!" Revolver cut him off, causing him to shriek. "If this card is sent to the Graveyard for the summon of a Dark Link Monster, I can Special Summon it in attack mode to a zone Trisbaena points to!"

Triggering Wurm reappeared in his Middle Main Monster Zone through a GY Portal.

"At this moment, Trisbaena's effect activates!" Revolver said as he raised a hand and clenched it. "If a Monster is Special Summoned to a zone it points to, that Monster and all Spell and Trap Cards both players control are banished, and for each of your cards that was banished by this effect, you take 500 damage!"

Ai shrieked again in fear—but seconds later, his expression morphed into a sneer.

"Too bad, Revolver-sensei, but it's all going according to my plan!" he winked at him. "I activate the Continuous Trap Imperial A.I.-ron Wall!"

A card, which depicted a similar scenario to Imperial Iron Wall but with Ai in his Ignis-form as the king and the Cyberse World as his kingdom, appeared.

"Because I control an 'A.I.' Continuous Spell, this card is unaffected by other cards' effects, and as long as it's face-up on my field, you can't banish cards! Therefore, Trisbaena's effect resolves with no banishes!"

Revolver frowned. "So my earlier guess was correct..." he whispered to himself.

"I knew all along you'll try to banish my cards with Trisbaena's effect." Ai proudly proclaimed. "You practically wasted this turn and gave my A.I. A.I. Wall a free counter! And because of its effect, Triggering Wurm that was Special Summoned by its own effect can't be used as Link Material, so you can't summon a new Link Monster."

"Why are you stating the obvious?" Revolver inquired. "I knew this would happen all along as well."

"What?" Ai raised an eyebrow. A bluff? Well, knowing Revolver, he must already have a counter ready, so it can't be a bluff... He's trying to intimidate me, eh? "That's not enough to make me crap my pants, Revolver-sensei."

"We'll find out soon enough." Revolver said. "I activate the Spell Card Cross Linkage Hack! Since I control a non-Link Monster that's linked to a Link Monster, I can draw two cards! Next, I Special Summon Vulnerability Dragon from my hand!"

A mechanical, stout dragon appeared on his field.

Vulnerability Dragon: Dark / Dragon / Effect / ATK: 100 / DEF: 100 / LV: 1

"You're still going?" Ai asked in surprise.

"I don't have the time to play with you, Dark Ignis." Revolver replied coldly. "And you're expecting the wrong person to go easy on you! Vulnerability Dragon's effect continues! For each Monster you control, I have to target one of my own and destroy it. You control one Monster, therefore I destroy Triggering Wurm!"

"I see." Ai's smile returned as the said Monster burst into particles. "You exchanged a useless Monster for a useful one. Now you can Link Summon a Link 1, Link 2, or Link 4 Monster...but you have none that can help you break free from my lock."

"As expected from an Ignis, you have a lame imagination." Ai's eyes widened at that. "A mere copy is no match for me! Appear, the future circuit that lights up my path! The summoning conditions are two Effect Monsters! I set Vulnerability Dragon and Topologic Trisbaena! Link Summon! Appear, Link 2! Topologic Kelshedra!"

To materialize in the Extra Monster Zone on his right was a mechanical, ash gray serpentine dragon with a row of neatly arranged, black-tipped spikes jutting out of its back all the way to its tail, where the last spike curled inwards and almost touched the tip of its tail, thus resembling a Klein bottle. There was a hole in the middle of its body, and what held the two parts together was a dark red circle, and the spike that went over it was slightly curved inwards. Lastly, its head was a fanged mouth that was constantly open and had a red orb glowing inside of it, which acted as its eye, and had four dark red horns, two of which curled forward and the other two backwards.

Topologic Kelshedra: Dark / Cyberse / Effect / ATK: 2000 / Link 2: Left, Bottom-Left

"A Link 2...Topologic...!?" Ai breathed out in shock. "When did you obtain it...? No, scrap that, how did you obtain it!? You created it? No, that doesn't sound right... You got it with your Skill, didn't you!"

"I'm not obligated to answer that question." was all Revolver said, prompting Ai to throw a fit that he ignored.

Truthfully, Ai got it right: it's thanks to Storm Access that he obtained this Monster, and not only it but many others, the majority of which aren't even in his deck but in Pandor's. In the last week, whenever he Dueled his subordinates as means to train themselves, or in Pandor's case to develop a better understanding of Duel Monsters, he made sure to let his LP fall to 1000 or less so he could use his Skill. Not all 'Topologic' Monsters he got this way proved to be useful in his deck, which is when they had the idea of giving them to Pandor, creating her 'Topologic' deck.

"If a Monster is Special Summoned to a zone it points to, Kelshedra's effect activates," Revolver explained. "That Monster is banished, also I must select one column on the field, and all cards in that column have their effects negated, then I gain 500 Life Points for each of my cards whose effects were negated by this effect."

"An effect that neither targets or destroys." Ai gritted his teeth, clearly annoyed. "What a pain..."

"I set a card and end my turn." Revolver concluded. "During my End Phase, A.I. A.I. Wall loses a counter."

(A.I. A.I. Wall: 3→2 counters)

He told me its effect so I would panic. Ai frowned. Now I have to make sure to neutralize that ugly thing or else he'll break free from my lock...in the end, I'll have to break a sweat to stall him. Leave it to Revolver to become a strain. "Ore no turn, draw!"

"At this moment, I activate the Continuous Trap Link Backfire!" a card, which depicted a Duelist between Vorticular Drumgon and Duelittle Chimera, appeared. Each Monster was releasing an aura that washed over the Duelist, who was kneeling on the ground in pain. "I target one Link Monster on both of our fields, and for every 1000 Attack Points they have in total, I place one counter on this card. I target my Kelshedra and your Fire Phoenix!"

"Their combined Attack is 4300, which means it gains four counters." Ai did the math. "And what does your card do with those counters, I wonder?"

"Mark your defeat." Revolver replied. "If Link Backfire is destroyed or banished, you take 1000 damage for every counter that was on it!"

"4000 damage in one-go?" Ai whistled. "Not bad, Revolver-sensei!" was what he said, but inside, he was very annoyed. Either Kelshedra breaks my lock and he can defeat me with battle damage, or Link Backfire's effect damage ends mehe's practically letting me choose how to lose!

He narrowed his eyes, I have no choice, I must use FA.I.-rewall. I didn't want to reveal it this early, but he leaves me no choice. "If you're going all out, allow me to respond in kind! Appear, the circuit that guides the dark! The summoning condition is one Fire 'AtIgnister' Monster! I set Fire Phoenix! Link Summon! Come, Link 1! Fire Salamander AtIgnister!"

Fire Salamander emerged from the portal with a loud hiss.

Fire Salamander AtIgnister: ATK 800 / Link 1: Bottom-Right

"I discard a card from my hand to activate its effect on-Link Summon!" Ai declared. "I can now add one 'AtIgnister' Monster or 'A.I.' Spell or Trap Card from my Deck to my hand. I add FA.I.-rewall to my hand. Next, I activate the discarded Zabun's effect! By banishing it from my Graveyard, I can Special Summon one Level 4 or lower non-Zabun 'AtIgnister' Monster from your Deck. Appear, Sarasara!"

The said Monster appeared behind his Link Monster.

Sarasara AtIgnister: Tuner / ATK 1000 / DEF 600 / LV: 3

A Tuner Monster. Revolver noted as he looked at its info on his Duel Disk. As expected, his Extra Deck wasn't only limited to Link Monsters.

"Sarasara's effect activates!" Ai announced. "If this card is Normal or Special Summoned, I can Special Summon one Level 4 or lower AtIgnister from my hand, Graveyard, or face-up in my Extra Deck. Resurrect, Doyon!"

A GY Portal opened beside Sarasara, from which Doyon jumped out.

Doyon AtIgnister: ATK 400 / DEF 1600 / LV: 4

Pendulum, too... Revolver's eyes narrowed.

"As it was Special Summoned, Doyon's effect activates," Ai explained. "I add Achichi from my Graveyard to my hand. Appear again, the circuit that guides the dark! The summoning conditions are two or more AtIgnisters, including a Fire Monster! Doyon, Sarasara, and Fire Salamander, set! Link Summon! Here it comes for an encore! Fire Phoenix AtIgnister!"

A second Fire Phoenix flew out of the portal with a screech.

Fire Phoenix AtIgnister: ATK 2300 / Link 3: Left, Bottom, Right

"Now, behold the true terror of my lockdown deck! By destroying all cards I control and then banishing the two Fire Phoenixes from my Graveyard, I can activate the Continuous Spell FA.I.-rewall!"

All the cards on Ai's field sans Imperial A.I.-ron Wall burst into crimson particles, which then took the forms of the two boxes that encased each Duelist.

"This is..." Revolver frowned as he stared at his 'cage'. I thought he was trying to buy time by making all those plays, but he actually had a clear goal in mind.

"Do you like it?" Ai chuckled. "This is my ultimate wall! But before I get to what it does, Imperial A.I.-ron Wall is destroyed by its own effect because I control no 'AtIgnister' Monsters. Now then, FA.I.-rewall gains an equal number of counters as A.I. A.I. Wall had before it left the field."

(FA.I.-rewall: 0→2 counters)

"And you're gonna love this next part! As long as this card has counters, both players cannot attack or inflict effect damage. That means Link Backfire will sit there and do nothing to little ol' me." Ai stated. "The same goes for that ugly Link Monster of yours! Unlike A.I. A.I. Wall, this card is unaffected by the effects of all other cards!"

"A strengthened defense, huh." Revolver scowled. Not something he wanted to hear right now...

[Hurry, everyone!] Shoichi's worried interrupted them. [Bloody Talker and Eve are also fighting decoys, and the real Ai broke through our formation!]

"Tch." Revolver glared at his opponent. "All of our best fighters are being stalled...crafty Ignis."

"Frustrating, isn't it?" Ai sneered. "If you don't hurry, you'll be too late! But you can't break my lock that easily."

"But it can be broken." Revolver rebuked. "That's all I need to know."

"Hmm, is that so? But are you sure that's all you need to know?"

"Don't waste my time with your silver tongue as well." Revolver closed his eyes in exasperation.

"Oi, oi, I'm serious." Ai insisted with a wave of his hand. "I know you love the idioms 'fight poison with poison' and 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend', but I find it pretty crazy you became SOL Technologies' lapdog. Not to mention, you must be working with KaibaCorp as well, right? Oh, that reminds me, how's Almark-kun!?"

"What are you getting at?" Revolver ignored his question and opened his eyes. "You know SOL isn't our enemy anymore now that the Light Ignis' scheme was revealed, and if it means defeating our real enemies faster, I'm willing to close an eye and work with a Star Relic."

"Like when we teamed up to defeat Lightning, eh?" Ai chuckled. "But are you really comfortable working with the child of two gods that started this entire mess? After all, if King wasn't a thing, your father wouldn't have been forced to start the Lost Incident."

"...I see, that's how you wish to make me falter." Revolver scoffed after a short silence. "My thoughts are clear, Dark Ignis. That's all you need to know. Now, resume the Duel."

"At least make this enjoyable for me..." Ai sighed in disappointment. "Well, whatever. It's not like I expected you from all people to answer me, anyway. FA.I.-rewall's effect! Once per turn, I can Special Summon one Monster that was banished by this card's effect. Be reborn, Fire Phoenix AtIgnister!"

The side of Ai's box which faced his opponent turned into a swirling portal of fire, from which his Link 3 Monster flew out.

"Then I activate FA.I.-rewall's other effect! Once per turn, I can destroy one Monster I control, in this case my dear phoenix." this time, a twister of fire erupted from his box's top, which then swallowed his newly revived Link Monster. "You know what this means, right? Fire Phoenix's effect activates, and I destroy one of your Monsters! Vanish, you ugly thing!"

The twister swallowed Kelshedra as well, causing it to roar in pain before exploding.

"It takes advantage of its effect as well..." Revolver narrowed his eyes.

"I end my turn!" Ai grinned wide. "Once per turn, only during my End Phase, FA.I.-rewall loses a counter. But, once per turn, if you Link Summon, I can place a counter on it. I won't get mad at you if you forget it, though~!"

(FA.I.-rewall: 2→1 counter)

"Don't be too hopeful." Revolver admonished him. "Watashi no turn! Draw!"

"During your Standby Phase, Fire Phoenix's effect activates and it's Special Summoned to my field!" Ai's Link 3 Monster reappeared by his side with a screech.

"I activate the Spell Card Dragon's Inheritance!" a card, which depicted Bloody Talker's and Revolver's hands exchanging Black Dragon Collapserpent and two cards respectively, appeared. "Its effect allows me to draw two cards by discarding one Dark Dragon Monster. I discard Background Dragon and draw."

After doing so, Revolver stared at one of the cards he drew, namely Link Burst. With this, I have everything I need to win the Duel. But I have to wait for FA.I.-rewall to lose its last counter... "I end my turn."

"Eh? That's all?" Ai sounded disappointed. "Even the fearsome Revolver-sensei can't do anything but grovel before this incredible lock?"

"This must be the first time shamelessly boasting has come in handy for you." Revolver scoffed. "Enjoy it while it lasts, because it won't be of any help when I'll Duel the real you."

Ai couldn't suppress a giggle, "Scary, scary! Ore no turn, draw! I activate FA.I.-rewall's effect, Special Summoning the other Fire Phoenix that was banished by its effect!"

A second phoenix joined the first. "And now, appear, the circuit that guides the dark! I set Fire Phoenix! Link Summon! Come, Fire Salamander AtIgnister!"

A new Fire Salamander emerged from the portal with a loud hiss, following its user beside his other Link Monster.

"I discard a card from my hand to activate its effect on-Link Summon!" Ai sent Achichi to the GY. "I add 'A.I. Pranked You!' from my Deck to my hand. Hmm, since you control no Monsters, there's no reason to destroy Fire Phoenix with FA.I.-rewall's effect, so I'm ending my turn here. Luckily for you, that also means FA.I.-rewall loses its last counter."

"Sadly for you, that also means this Duel's over." Revolver proclaimed. "Watashi no turn! Draw! From my Graveyard, I activate Background Dragon's effect! Because I control no Monsters, it Special Summon itself and one Level 4 or lower Dragon from my hand! Come forth, Background Dragon, Sniffer Dragon!"

The dragon covered in bulky orange armor and the bipedal dragon with red and vanilla scales and wearing armor across its body appeared on his field.

Background Dragon: ATK 1600 / DEF 1800 / LV: 5

Sniffer Dragon: ATK 800 / DEF 400 / LV: 2

"Background Dragon, which was Special Summoned by its own effect, is banished when it leaves the field," Revolver explained. "Sniffer Dragon's effect activates, letting me add another Sniffer Dragon from my Deck to my hand. Next, I banish Link Restore from my Graveyard to activate its effect. I target Kelshedra in my Graveyard and Special Summon it!"

The serpentine dragon returned to the field through a GY Portal.

"Link Restore...that's the card you discarded with Brotaur's effect..." Ai muttered.

"Appear, the future circuit that lights up my path! The summoning conditions are three or more Effect Monsters. I set Background, Sniffer, and the Link 2 Kelshedra! Link Summon! Appear, Link 4! Varrelguard Dragon!"

To materialize in the Extra Monster Zone on his right was the additional form of his ace Monster that had orange wings and a Triceratops-like head, which gave a resounding roar upon taking the field.

Varrelguard Dragon: Dark / Dragon / Effect / ATK: 3000 / Link 4: Bottom, Bottom-Right, Right, Top

"Eh? That dragon?" Ai's eyebrows furrowed. "Haven't seen it in a long time..."

"Then allow me to jog your memory, Dark Ignis." Revolver gestured at his field. "I activate the Spell Card Link Burst! I target my own Link Monster and your Fire Phoenix to destroy them and draw one card. However! Due to its effect, Varrelguard can't be destroyed by card effects!"

"Kuh, so only my Monster will be destroyed..." Ai complained as his Link 3 burst into particles and his opponent drew a card. "And since it can't be destroyed by card effects, Fire Phoenix's effect is useless on it...!"

"That's right! Now I activate Varrelguard's effect!" Revolver stated. "Once per turn, I can send one card from my Spell & Trap Zone to the Graveyard in order to Special Summon to my field one Monster from a Graveyard that was destroyed and sent there this turn, but with its effects negated. I send Link Backfire to the Graveyard and revive Fire Phoenix! Rewind Phase!"

Varrelguard let loose of another roar, causing Link Backfire to explode into particles that formed a GY Portal from which Fire Phoenix flew out.

"3000 and 2300 Attack..." Ai gulped. "If both of their attacks hit their mark, then my Life will—"

"Run out." Revolver finished for his opponent, prompting him to yelp in fear. "Battle! Varrelguard Dragon attacks Fire Salamander AtIgnister!"

"Please, show mercy!" Ai held an arm out in panic—and he then snapped his fingers, grinning mischievously. "Just kidding~! By paying half of my Life Points, from my hand, I activate the Trap Card A.I. Pranked You! Since I would take 2300 or more battle damage, that damage becomes 0 and the Battle Phase ends!"

Ai: LP 40002000

"I see. You expected this would happen, hence why you searched that card in your last turn." Revolver noted nonchalantly. "But it won't save you. I also pay half of my Life to activate the Counter Trap Card, Red Reboot from my hand!"

Revolver: LP 40002000

"Wha—! You're copying me!?" Ai's eyes widened. "Have you got no shame!?"

"The activation of your Trap Card is negated, and set face-down." Revolver ignored him. "Then you can set one other Trap Card from your Deck, but for the rest of this turn, you cannot activate Trap Cards!"

"Tch, how annoying!" Ai gritted his teeth. "It doesn't matter what I set, so I'll go with another 'A.I. Pranked You!'..."

"I planned to end you with your own Monster, but it seems that won't come to pass." the Hanoi leader resigned himself.

[Playmaker, Soulburner, Revolver!] Shoichi interrupted them again. [Ai and Roboppy are heading towards Zaizen!]

"I can't waste any more time here." Revolver pointed forward. "Go, my Monster! Varrel Fire of Thunderflash!"

Varrelguard opened its mouth wide as a cannon emerged from it, and it fired a bullet of orange energy at the opposing Link Monster, causing it to explode and almost throw the fake Ai off his D-Board.

Ai: LP 2000 - 2200 = 0

Winner: Revolver!

"You're strong..." Ai grunted as his body slowly disintegrated into purple particles. "Copies can't defeat you...but we've stalled you enough."

After his body completely vanished, Revolver immediately turned his D-Board around and flew towards the octahedron.

(...Before Soulburner's and Revolver's first turns...)

"Ai, you said you decided to carry on Lightning's wishes. Tell me, what do you mean!?"

"And ruin the surprise for when it's revealed? As your Ignis, you should know me better than that, Playmaker!" Ai mocked his opponent with a wide grin.

"Do you intend to enslave humanity?" Playmaker pressed on. "Or absorb the consciousness of people and unite with them like Bohman tried to do?"

"Ew, I don't want random people inside my head, thank you very much." Ai shivered in disgust. He then narrowed his eyes and looked away. "Although...even I can't tell what'll happen."

"What?" Playmaker asked in confusion.

"Unexpectedly, it's hard to know my own self." Ai waved a hand and met his ex-partner's eyes once more. "Did it ever happen to you before? That you can't control or predict yourself?"

"...Are you being forced into this?" Playmaker's expression turned to one of worry.

"Of course not!" Ai reassured him with a laugh. "Don't bother, Playmaker. Unless I tell you my plan, you'll never understand what I'm saying."

"Then tell me!" Playmaker pleaded.

"I told you I won't!" Ai shouted back. "I end my turn! Now, show it to me. Show me your unbeatable Dueling! Let's see how effective it is against my lockdown deck!"

(A.I. A.I. Wall: 3→2 counters)

"Ai..." Playmaker whispered in exasperation. It's no use...he won't open up. But this wasn't the real Ai, but a copy; would the real one explain things to him? The only way to find out is to beat this copy and confront the real one. "Ore no turn! Draw!"

But that's easier said than done... he thought as he quickly analyzed Ai's field. As long as A.I. A.I. Wall has counters on it, I can't attack, nor target or destroy it with my card effects. But I won't have to parry his attacks, and I doubt he'll try to hit me with effect damage. His Skill is Skill Prevention, which means using Neo Storm Access is out of question.

He then looked at the cards in his hand, But with these cards...there isn't much I can do. I have to wait for my next turn to make a move. "...I end my turn, Ai. It's your turn."

(A.I. A.I. Wall: 2→1 counter)

"Oi, oi, I can make all the jokes I want, but the same doesn't apply to you!" the DARK Ignis whined. "The great Playmaker skips his turn because he's in a pickle—can't you realize that hurts my image as well? Not only that, where's the excitement in skipping your turn? If your plan is to kill me with boredom, you're doing a good job at it so far!"

"Is that why you're doing any of this?" Playmaker suddenly inquired. "Because you're bored?"

"Don't underestimate me, Playmaker." Ai warned him with a smile. "If I was bored, I would just go to Almark-kun. Sadly for all of us involved, that isn't the case. I really don't mind all these questions, but are you sure it's OK to chat with me? Your comrades are in danger after all!"

Playmaker scowled but said nothing, prompting Ai to chuckle.

"Did I touch a sore spot? I guess that's what you get for skipping your turn like that. Now then, let's resume the Duel, shall we? One of us has to do something to waste time after all! Ore no turn, draw! Appear, the circuit that guides the dark! The summoning condition is one Fire 'AtIgnister' Monster! I set Fire Phoenix! Link Summon! Come, Link 1! Fire Salamander AtIgnister!"

Fire Salamander emerged from the portal with a loud hiss.

Fire Salamander AtIgnister: ATK 800 / Link 1: Bottom-Right

"I discard a card from my hand to activate its effect on-Link Summon!" Ai declared. "I can now add one 'AtIgnister' Monster or 'A.I.' Spell or Trap Card from my Deck to my hand. I add CA.I.-clone to my hand. Next, I activate the discarded Zabun's effect! By banishing it from my Graveyard, I can Special Summon one Level 4 or lower non-Zabun 'AtIgnister' Monster from your Deck. Appear, Sarasara!"

The said Monster appeared behind his Link Monster.

Sarasara AtIgnister: Tuner / ATK 1000 / DEF 600 / LV: 3

"A Tuner Monster..." Playmaker muttered as he looked at its info on his Duel Disk.

"I need multiple ways to steal the spotlight, and using different Summoning Methods is one of them." Ai pointed out. "Sarasara's effect activates! If this card is Normal or Special Summoned, I can Special Summon one Level 4 or lower AtIgnister from my hand, Graveyard, or face-up in my Extra Deck. Resurrect, Doyon!"

A GY Portal opened beside Sarasara, from which Doyon jumped out.

Doyon AtIgnister: ATK 400 / DEF 1600 / LV: 4

"Even Pendulum?" Playmaker's expression didn't change, but he sounded surprised.

"See? It works." Ai proclaimed. "As it was Special Summoned, Doyon's effect activates. I add Achichi from my Graveyard to my hand. Appear again, the circuit that guides the dark! The summoning conditions are two or more AtIgnisters, including a Fire Monster! Doyon, Sarasara, and Fire Salamander, set! Link Summon! Are you ready for an encore? Fire Phoenix AtIgnister!"

A second Fire Phoenix flew out of the portal with a screech.

Fire Phoenix AtIgnister: ATK 2300 / Link 3: Left, Bottom, Right

"Time for the big move: I activate the Spell Card CA.I.-clone!" a card, which depicted Playmaker's Duel Disk with Ai in his eye-form in it and releasing Data Storm, appeared. "I can use this card because I control a Cyberse Monster with 2300 original Attack. I target one other Spell or Trap Card I control and return it to my hand!"

"What?" Playmaker gasped.

"The lucky winner is...A.I. A.I. Wall!" the stated card turned into a flow of purple data, which reassembled in the form of a card in Ai's hand. "You know what this means, right? I activate A.I. A.I. Wall again, targeting Fire Phoenix for it!"

His Continuous Spell reappeared on his field with three counters.

"Not a bad combo, right?" he taunted. "I'll have you stay with me for a little longer, Playmaker. I end my turn, causing A.I. A.I. Wall to lose one of its counters!"

Now I'm locked for another turn... Playmaker narrowed his eyes, obviously unpleased by this turn of events. And in his next turn, he can redo this entire combo...

[Hurry, everyone!] Kusanagi's worried shout snapped him out of his thoughts. [Bloody Talker and Eve are also fighting decoys, and the real Ai broke through our formation!]

"I know, but..." the youth gritted his teeth.

"What's wrong?" Ai sneered. "If you don't hurry, you'll be too late! But you can't break my lock that easily."

"Ai...is this really necessary?" Playmaker's expression softened. "You aren't unreasonable, I'm sure we can find common grounds."

"...That's nice to hear." Ai admitted in a low and dejected tone. "But I assure you, this is absolutely necessary."

Just now... Playmaker's eyes widened a little. He's...sad. But why? He said he isn't forced to do any of this, so why would he feel that way? Or maybe...he had no other choice but to become our enemy? His eyes narrowed. That must be it. I can't think of another reason why Ai would choose this path.

"Thinking about me?" Ai interrupted his thoughts. He then placed a hand to his cheek with a pleased smile. "Hmm, it's nice to be at the center of attention. Honestly, I could get used to this."

"...You're trying to distract me." Playmaker deadpanned, surprising his opponent. "All these random comments and taunts...you don't want me to know how you truly feel. Or, at least, for the time being."

"...Maybe, maybe not." Ai shrugged.

"Then I'll march up to the real Ai and have him explain himself." Playmaker's eyes finally turned serious. "Ore no turn! Draw!"

"So you're finally Dueling seriously." Ai grinned wide.

With this card, I can do it! Playmaker thought after seeing what he drew. He added it to his hand and played a different card. "I summon Clock Wyvern!"

A bipedal dragon with crystalline wings appeared on his field.

Clock Wyvern: Wind / Cyberse / Effect / ATK: 1800 / DEF: 1000 / LV: 4

"Kurokku Waibān no kōka!" Playmaker gestured forward. "As it was Normal Summoned, I can halve its Attack to Special Summon a Clock Token!"

Following the dragon's roar, a crystalline Monster materialized beside it.

(Clock Wyvern: 1800→900 ATK)

Clock Token: Wind / Cyberse / ATK: 0 / DEF: 0 / LV: 1

"Since I control a Cyberse Monster, I can Special Summon Backup Secretary from my hand!"

Following Playmaker's words, the woman dressed in a futuristic attire and holding a tablet appeared on his field.

Backup Secretary: ATK 1200 / DEF 800 / LV: 4

"Three Monsters right out of the gate." Ai noted with a pleased tone. "But have you forgotten A.I. A.I. Wall's effect? If you Link Summon, it will gain a counter, prolonging our Duel. Even if you go for Cyberse Clock Dragon, you can't attack, which means you can't defeat me."

"I know." Playmaker played the card he drew earlier. "I activate the Spell Card Effect Cowl! Since I control a Cyberse, I take no effect damage this turn!"

"Eh? Effect Cowl?" Ai raised an eyebrow. "Why would you use that situational card now?" his eyes immediately shot open. "No, wait... I just answered my own question, didn't I?"

"Yes." Playmaker confirmed his words. "I activate the Spell Card Cyberse Death!"

A card, which depicted a disintegrating Cynet Universe with panicked Cyberse Monsters in it, appeared.

"All Cyberse Monsters that are face-up on the field are destroyed, then each player takes 1000 damage for each monster destroyed this way," Playmaker explained. "Due to Effect Cowl, I won't take damage. However, Ai, you will!"

"Whoopty doo..." Ai cheered with a frown. "So that's why you included Effect Cowl into your deck. But an anti-Cyberse card? That's too brutal, even for you."

"We know you use Cyberse Cards." Playmaker pointed out. "I just calculated that into my strategy."

"Petty excuses!" Ai fumed as Cyberse Death unleased four lightning bolts. "When a card or effect is activated that would inflict damage and I control an AtIgnister, I can banish Fire Salamander from my Graveyard to activate its effect! The damage becomes 0!"

Each lightning bolt struck a Monster, causing them to explode in unison.

"Too bad, Playmaker!" Ai chuckled. "An anti-Cyberse card took me by surprise, but I expected effect damage."

"So it seems. But my goal wasn't to defeat you with effect damage." Ai's eyes widened at those words. "I activate the Trap Card Virus Diffusion!"

A card, which depicted Detonate Deleter and Link Disciple crawling on a wasteland as their bodies corroded away, appeared.

"Since three of my Cyberse Monsters were destroyed by my own effect, I can activate this card from my hand." Playmaker stated. "I declare a card name, and for each Monster that was destroyed, my opponent has to banish one card with that original name from their hand, field, Graveyard, Deck, or Extra Deck! Obviously, I declare A.I. A.I. Wall!"

"You can't be serious..." Ai mumbled out. "You destroyed three Monsters, which means...I have to banish the A.I. A.I. Wall I control, along with the other two that are still in my deck."

"The wall that protected you is now gone." Playmaker told him. "I end my turn!"

I have no effects that allow me to retrieve banished cards. Ai thought as he glanced at the cards in his hand, which were Achichi and 'A.I. Pranked You!'. He then scowled. If I knew he had such a card, I would've added three copies of Imperial A.I.-ron Wall to this deck!

"...Heh, I can't believe it." even in this situation, the DARK Ignis couldn't help but sneer. "My lock has been completely shattered. In one turn. Fufu, hahahahaha!" he burst out laughing. "Nice, nice, Playmaker! Leave it to you to push me this far with such speed!"

Upon seeing Ai's malicious smile, Playmaker mentally prepared himself for the worse.

"You forced my hand." he informed his opponent. "Normally, this deck is supposed to stall you with a bunch of annoying cards, but because you removed its core, namely A.I. A.I. Wall, I'll have to resort to a different strategy. Let me show you what happens when I play rough! Ore no turn! Draw!"

The card he drew was Imperial A.I.-ron Wall. Ai stared at it with a blank expression.

"...I hate you." he hissed at the card before moving on. "During the Standby Phase, Fire Phoenix's effect activates and it's Special Summoned to my field!"

His Link 3 Monster reappeared by his side with a screech.

"Now, appear, the circuit that guides the dark! I set Fire Phoenix into the Link Marker! Link Summon! Fire Salamander AtIgnister!"

A new Fire Salamander emerged from the portal.

"I discard a card from my hand to activate its effect on-Link Summon!" Ai sent Achichi to the GY. "I add A.I.-dle Reborn from my Deck to my hand, which I now activate. Thanks to this Quick-Play Spell Card's effect, I target one AtIgnister in my Graveyard and Special Summon it. Resurrect, Sarasara!"

The said Monster jumped out of a GY Portal that opened in front of its user.

"I activate Sarasara's effect to resurrect Doyon as well!" Ai stated as the other colorful blob joined its friends. "However, I won't activate its effect."

"You want to keep Achichi in the Graveyard for its effect." Playmaker narrowed his eyes as he realized his foe's plan.

"Correct~!" Ai sang and snapped his fingers. "Sharp like the edges of your hair. Now I use my three Monsters to Link Summon my third and final Fire Phoenix!"

He has a Fire Salamander in his Graveyard again. Playmaker thought. Fire Phoenix has 2300 Attack, but my Life Points are 4000. If he attacks now, he won't deplete them. Although, he surely knows that.

"I set a card and head to the Battle Phase." Ai raised a hand. "This is the perfect moment for me to explain Fire Phoenix's other effect. If this card attacks, instead of dealing battle damage, you take damage equal to its Attack!"

"An effect that changes battle damage into effect damage?" Playmaker wondered. "But even then, I'll still have Life Points remaining."

"Not if I activate Fire Salamander on top of it." Ai's smile morphed into a grin. "When a card or effect is activated that would inflict damage and I control an AtIgnister, by banishing it from my Graveyard—the damage is doubled!"

"What?" Playmaker's eyes widened. "It can double the damage as well?"

"Unlike you, I'm not fond of situational cards!" Ai aimed a finger at his opponent. "Battle! Fire Phoenix attacks you directly!"

"I activate NDB Submarine's effect from my hand!" Playmaker suddenly stated. "I Special Summon it and negate your attack!"

The Monster that was a dark blue submarine appeared on his field, and it then transformed into a bipedal humanoid robot, blocking Fire Phoenix's advance on its user.

NDB Submarine: ATK 500 / DEF 1300 / LV: 3

"I see, that's the reason why you left yourself wide open." Ai commented. "Quite the nostalgic Monster you summoned there. You didn't use that card in a very long time... But enough of the past. I end my turn!"

"Ore no turn! Draw!"

"I activate the Continuous Trap Imperial A.I.-ron Wall!" Ai immediately interrupted him. "As long as this card is face-up on my field, you can't banish cards! A new obstacle appeared in front of you, Playmaker. I wonder if you can now turn this around and go save your little friends."

"I can." was all he got for a reply. "By targeting your Fire Phoenix, I activate the Spell Card Attribute Processor!" a card, which depicted the silhouettes of Sea Archiver and Shootingcode Talker with blue outlines and connected to each other by a blue bar that had the WATER Attribute symbol over it, appeared. "I turn over the top five cards of my Deck, and if among those cards there's a Cyberse Monster with the same Attribute as the targeted Monster, the revealed cards are shuffled into my Deck and I draw until I hold five cards!"

Playmaker drew five cards from his deck and revealed them.

"I revealed the Fire-Attribute Flame Bufferlo, therefore, I shuffle these cards back into my Deck and draw!" after doing so, "First I activate the Quick-Play Spell Mystical Space Typhoon, targeting and destroying your Imperial A.I.-ron Wall. Then, I summon Dotscaper!"

The small Monster that was composed of even smaller cubes appeared.

Dotscaper: ATK 0 / DEF 2100 / LV: 1

"Appear, the circuit that leads to the future!" Playmaker raised a hand to the sky, conjuring a Link Portal. "The summoning conditions are two Cyberse! I set NDB Submarine and Dotscaper! Link Summon! Link 2! Splash Mage!"

A young man clad in white robes with blue highlights and holding a staff emerged from the portal.

Splash Mage: Water / Cyberse / Effect / ATK: 1100 / Link 2: Bottom-Right, Top-Right

"I target Dotscaper in my Graveyard to activate Splash Mage's effect!" Playmaker stated. "My target is Special Summoned in defense mode with its effects negated!"

Splash Mage raised its staff as its orb glowed, conjuring a GY Portal from which the small Monster jumped out.

"Appear again, the circuit that leads to the future!" Playmaker shouted. "The summoning conditions are two or more Effect Monsters! I set Dotscaper and the Link 2 Splash Mage! Link Summon! Appear, Link 3! Transcode Talker!"

The EARTH variant of his infamous ace Monster leaped out of the portal with a battle cry, and followed its user in the Extra Monster Zone on his right.

Transcode Talker: ATK 2300 / Link 3: Bottom, Right, Top

"This time, I choose to activate Dotscaper's effect!" Playmaker said. "As it was sent to the Graveyard, I can Special Summon it!"

The small Monster returned to his field for the second time.

"I also activate Transcode's effect! I target Splash Mage in my Graveyard and Special Summon it! Trans Fault!"

The Link 3 Monster gained an orange aura as a GY Portal opened behind it, from which the Link 2 Monster emerged.

"Now I set Dotscaper and the Link 2 Splash Mage into the Link Markers again! Link Summon! Appear, Link 3! Decode Talker!"

Speaking of the devil, the first 'Code Talker' Playmaker ever obtained joined his field behind its EARTH counterpart.

Decode Talker: ATK 2300 / Link 3: Bottom-Left, Bottom-Right, Top

"Look at you go!" Ai interjected. "Not bad, Playmaker. Now that Transcode and Decode are co-linked with each other, due to the former's effect, they both gain 500 Attack and I can't target them with card effects."

"On top of that, Decode gains 500 Attack for each Monster it points to." Playmaker added. "Power Integration!"

(Transcode: 2300→2800 ATK; Decode: 2300→3300 ATK)

"I activate the Equip Spell Code-Sword and equip it to Decode Talker." the said monster's sword lengthened and glowed brighter. "When this card is equipped, I can change the location one of the equipped Cyberse Link Monster's Link Marker points to. I change Decode's Bottom-Right Marker to a Left Marker! I banish NDB Submarine and Backup Secretary from my Graveyard to Special Summon Degrenade Buster from my hand!"

The man clad in bulky red and black armor appeared on Decode Talker's left.

Degrenade Buster: ATK 2500 / DEF 2500 / LV: 7

"With a new Monster next to its Link Marker, Decode gains 500 Attack," Playmaker explained. "Code-Sword's effect increases the equipped Monster's Attack by an additional 500 points for each Monster it points to! Lastly, I discard Code Charger from my hand to activate its effect, raising Decode Talker's Attack by another 1000 points!"

His DARK Link Monster gave a loud shout as a dense aura surrounded its body.

(Decode: 3300→3800→4800→5800 ATK)

"5800 Attack..." Ai muttered. "With that much Attack, your aim is to end me with that Monster, right?" he abruptly chuckled and put a hand over his mouth. "See what I did there? End, Decode End?"

"..."

"Oi! What's that judgmental look on your face supposed to mean!? That was a good one!"

"...Battle!" Playmaker ignored his words, much to Ai's frustration. "Decode Talker, attack Fire Phoenix AtIgnister!"

"Don't get too ahead of yourself!" Ai warned him. "By paying half of my Life, from my hand, I activate the Trap Card A.I. Pranked You! Since I would take 2300 or more battle damage, that damage becomes 0 and the Battle Phase ends!"

Ai: LP 40002000

"No, that won't happen." Playmaker calmly proclaimed. "Because I activated Code Charger's effect this turn and you activated a Trap Card or its effect, I can banish Code Charger and Clock Wyvern from my Graveyard to negate that Trap's activation and destroy it!"

Ai gritted his teeth. "So this is as far as a copy goes..." he muttered begrudgingly.

[Playmaker, Soulburner, Revolver!] Shoichi spoke up. [Ai and Roboppy are heading towards Zaizen!]

"I'll be there soon! Code-Sword's other effect activates!" Playmaker exclaimed. "If the equipped Monster attacks, it gains 1000 Attack for each monster linked with it during damage calculation only! Go! Decode End!"

(Decode: 5800→7800 ATK)

Decode Talker leaped forward and swung its sword down, unleashing a wave of energy at Fire Phoenix and bisecting it in half, which ensued an explosion and almost threw the fake Ai off his D-Board.

Ai: LP 2000 - 5500 = 0

Winner: Playmaker!

"You're strong..." Ai grunted as his body slowly disintegrated into purple particles. "Copies can't defeat you...but we've stalled you enough."

After his body completely vanished, Playmaker stared at the spot where he was just seconds ago.

"Ai..." he whispered softly before he turned his D-Board around and flew towards the octahedron. "I'll stop you...and save you."


Fan-made Cards:

Soulburner:

(REVISED) Salamangreat Pavo (Fire/Cyberse/Effect/ATK: 1300/DEF: 1500/LV: 4)

If this card is Normal Summoned: You can discard 1 "Salamangreat" card; Special Summon 1 Level 4 or lower "Salamangreat" monster from your Deck, except "Salamangreat Pavo". If a "Salamangreat" monster is Special Summoned to your field by its own effect and this card is in your GY (except during the Damage Step): You can Special Summon this card, but banish it when it leaves the field. You can only use each effect of "Salamangreat Pavo" once per turn.

(REVISED) Salamangreat Ocelotty (Fire/Cyberse/Effect/ATK: 100/DEF: 100/LV: 1)

If you control a "Salamangreat" monster, you can Special Summon this card (from your hand). You can banish this card from your GY, then target 1 "Salamangreat" monster in your GY, except "Salamangreat Ocelotty"; add that target to your hand. You can only use 1 "Salamangreat Ocelotty" effect per turn, and only once that turn.

(REVISED) Cage of Link Fire

Continuous Spell

(This card is always treated as a "Salamangreat" card.)

Activate this card by targeting 1 "Salamangreat" monster you control; banish it. During your Main Phase: You can send this face-up card to the GY; Special Summon that banished monster. During your Main Phase (Quick Effect): You can banish this card from your GY, then target 1 "Salamangreat" monster you control; this turn, it is unaffected by card effects, except this card or its own. You can only use this effect of "Cage of Link Fire" once per turn.

Ai:

A.I. Pranked You!

Normal Trap

You can activate this card from your hand by paying half your LP. If you would take 2300 or more battle damage: That damage becomes 0, and if you do, end the Battle Phase, then Special Summon 1 "AtIgnister" monster from your GY in Defense Position. You can only activate 1 "A.I. Pranked You!" per turn.

Fire Salamander AtIgnister (Fire/Cyberse/Effect/ATK: 800/Link 1: Bottom-Right)

1 FIRE " Ignister" monster

If this card is Link Summoned: You can discard 1 card; add 1 "AtIgnister" monster or "A.I." Spell/Trap from your Deck to your hand. When a card or effect is activated that would inflict damage, while you control an "AtIgnister" monster (Quick Effect): You can banish this card from your GY, then activate 1 of these effects;

- The damage inflicted by that effect becomes 0.

- The damage inflicted by that effect is doubled, but it cannot exceed 4600.

You can only use 1 "Fire Salamander AtIgnister" effect per turn, and only once that turn.

New A.I.-bou

Normal Trap

Target 1 monster your opponent controls; equip this card to it. Take control of the equipped monster. If you control no "AtIgnister" monsters, destroy this card. You can only control 1 "New A.I.-bou".

[Trivia: original concept created by HunterHQ.]

FA.I.-rewall

Continuous Spell

If you control 1 "A.I. A.I. Wall" with counters on it: Activate this card by destroying all cards you control, then by banishing 2 FIRE Link Monsters from your GY; place counters on this card equal to the number of counters "A.I. A.I. Wall" had on it before it left the field. While this card has a counter, it gains these effects.

- Once per turn: You can Special Summon 1 monster that was banished by this card's effect.

- Once per turn: You destroy 1 monster you control.

- Unaffected by other cards' effects, also neither player can declare attacks or inflict effect damage.

- Once per turn, if your opponent Link Summons: Place 1 counter on this card.

- Once per turn, during your End Phase: Remove 1 counter from this card.

Imperial A.I.-ron Wall

Continuous Trap

Your opponent cannot banish cards. If you control an "A.I." Continuous Spell, this card is unaffected by other cards' effects. If you control no "AtIgnister" monsters, destroy this card.

CA.I.-clone

Normal Spell

If you control a Cyberse monster with 2300 original ATK: Apply 1 of these effects, or both (your choice).

- Destroy 1 Spell/Trap your opponent controls.

- Return 1 other Spell/Trap you control to the hand.

You can only activate 1 "CA.I.-clone" per turn.

Revolver:

Topologic Kelshedra (Dark/Cyberse/Effect/ATK: 2000/Link 2: Left, Bottom-Left)

2 Effect Monsters

If a monster is Special Summoned to a zone this card points to: Banish that monster, also select 1 column; negate the effects of as many cards in that column as possible, and if you do, gain 500 LP for each of your cards whose effects were negated by this effect. Once per turn, if a card(s) is banished: This card gains 500 ATK until the End Phase.

[Trivia: this card's name is a portmanteau of Kelihos and Kulshedra. The former is a botnet mainly involved in spamming and the theft of coins, while the latter is a chthonic demon in Albanian mythology, usually depicted as a female, serpentine dragon. A Klein bottle and an unknot also appear in its design.]

Link Backfire

Continuous Trap

When this card is activated: Target 1 Link Monster on each field; place 1 counter on this card for every 1000 ATK those targets have in total. During your End Phase: Destroy 1 monster you control. If this card is destroyed or banished: You can inflict 1000 damage to your opponent for every counter that was on this card. You can only use this effect of "Link Backfire" once per turn.

(REVISED) Dragon's Inheritance

Normal Spell

Discard 1 DARK Dragon monster; draw 2 cards. You can only activate 1 "Dragon's Inheritance" per turn.

Playmaker:

Cyberse Death

Normal Spell

Destroy all Cyberse monsters face-up on the field, then each player takes 1000 damage for each monster destroyed this way. You can only activate 1 "Cyberse Death" per turn.

[Trivia: concept made by UNHOLY LIGHT.]

Virus Diffusion

Normal Trap

When a Cyberse monster(s) you control is destroyed by a card effect: Declare 1 card name; for each monster that was destroyed, your opponent banishes 1 card with that original name from their hand, field, GY, Deck, and/or Extra Deck. If 3 or more Cyberse monster(s) were destroyed, you can activate this card from your hand. You can only activate 1 "Virus Diffusion" per turn.

(REVISED) NDB Submarine (Water/Cyberse/Effect/ATK: 500/DEF: 1300/LV: 3)

When an opponent's monster declares an attack: You can Special Summon this card from your hand, and if you do, negate that attack. Any battle damage you would take involving Cyberse monsters you control is halved. (Quick Effect): You can banish this card from your GY, then target 1 Cyberse monster you control; this turn, any battle damage you would take involving it is halved. You can only use this effect of "NDB Submarine" once per turn.

Attribute Processor

Normal Spell

Target 1 face-up monster your opponent controls; excavate the top 5 cards of your Deck, and if you excavated a Cyberse monster with the same Attribute as that target, shuffle the excavated cards into your Deck, then you can draw until you have 5 cards in your hand. You cannot Special Summon monsters with that Attribute during the turn you activate this card, except "Code Talker" and "Firewall" monsters. You can only activate 1 "Attribute Processor" per turn.

(REVISED) Code-Sword

Equip Spell

Equip only to a Cyberse Link Monster. It gains 500 ATK for each monster it points to, and if it attacks, during damage calculation only, it gains 1000 ATK for each monster linked with it. When this card is equipped: You can change the location 1 of the equipped monster's Link Markers points to. When the equipped monster destroys an opponent's Link Monster by battle: You can inflict damage to your opponent equal to that Link Monster's Link Rating x 300. You can only control 1 "Code-Sword".

(REVISED) Code Charger (Fire/Cyberse/Effect/ATK: 1200/DEF: 1000/LV: 4)

(Quick Effect): You can discard this card, then target 1 "Code Talker" monster you control; it gains 1000 ATK until the End Phase. You can only use this effect of "Code Charger" once per turn. If your opponent activates a Trap or its effect and this effect was activated this turn (and was not negated): You can banish this card and 1 Cyberse monster from your GY; negate that activation, and if you do, destroy it.

[Trivia: this card's previous name was "Power Charger".]


Phew, it's finally finished!

This chapter was quite fun to write, especially because it featured Takeru and Yusaku Dueling! Now, that might sound stupid at first, but I didn't write Takeru Dueling in almost two years, while Yusaku...almost three! And that's a lot!

Regarding these REVISED cards you can see in the "Fan-made Cards" corner: they're simply cards which I created a long time ago and decided to revise them, mainly because I was a beginner when I made them and realized their effects needed some adjustments. These changes aren't perceived by the characters, but only by us, hence why they don't say things like "hey, that wasn't your card's effect back then!"

Now let's head to our Duels. These were skipped in the anime of course, and I have to say, the writers didn't give them much thought because of that. Like, seriously... Ai has no cards when he ends his turn in the anime, leaving him completely vulnerable! For convenience sake, I had to state Ai used an effect to draw an extra card so he could survive against Soulburner and Revolver, or else he would've lost to both of them in their first turns! Playmaker could defeat him as well, although he would've had to wait a turn to draw Effect Cowl.

Just because you don't have to show us the Duels doesn't mean you can just gloss over them! With my rant out of the way... as you can see, I mixed things up a little for the next chapters, which I hope will make this fight against Ai unique and enjoyable for you readers!

Reviews really make my day and it's a great way to communicate with you readers, and maybe find out errors I can avoid making. Please review, and with that said, here's the chapter's last scene!


Two cards appeared on the screen before turning around, revealing Varrelguard Dragon and Salamangreat Pyro Phoenix. They suddenly glowed, and Ryoken and Takeru emerged from them respectively.

"A lockdown deck...I haven't fought one in a long time." Ryoken said, his voice tinted with nostalgia. "I was...maybe eight or nine years old the last time I did."

"That much time ago...?" Takeru's eyes widened a little. He then frowned and looked off to the side. "This was my first time Dueling one..."

"No wonder, it's rare to see one nowadays." Ryoken crossed his arms and tilted his head to the side by a fraction. "That said, I'm surprised you're this calm around me. Do you merely enjoy growling at me when others are around us?"

"Of course not!" Takeru huffed. "When I saw you'll be on today's extra segment, I wanted to avoid it at any cost, but then I heard the Secret of the Chapter involves me as well so I begrudgingly accepted."

"Ah, that makes sense." Ryoken smirked. "If that's the case, let's not keep you or the viewers waiting. Here's the Secret: in our story's original plans, the Three Phantasms weren't Evil Gods, but instead, they were supposed to aid the main characters as their servants."

"E-Eeeh!?" Takeru cried out. "D-Does that mean...in the original plans, we were supposed to use them as our Monsters!?"

"That's right." Ryoken confirmed his words. "SakushiRyu scrapped the idea saying King's faction was severely outnumbered by the heroes, and he made them into actual characters. He had several candidates in mind for the Three Phantasms, among which were you, for Uria."

"Me...? For the Lord of Searing Flames...!?" Takeru whispered in excitement, his eyes literally sparkling at the idea of having a God Card in his deck.

"Thinking of how having a God Card could help you defeat me?" Ryoken's voice snapped him out of his thoughts. "For your information, that isn't nearly enough to put me in check."

"Ha! I don't need a Deus ex Machina to wipe the floor with you!" Takeru proclaimed with a smirk. "My Salamangreats are more than enough!"

"We'll see about that." Ryoken said before the screen faded into black, followed by the words [To Be Continued...].