Hello again, everyone! This chapter could've been finished much sooner, but unfortunately, I wasn't able to write in the entire month of August. That said, I'm extremely pleased with how it ended up being! There are some new things in it, as well as old ones but more fleshed out.

Thanks to everyone who reviewed the last chapter!

- In response to ZarcEternal's review:

"Thanks for pointing out that mistake!"

- In response to dragon rose 11's review:

"Glad to have you back! As for your question...I don't plan on making Vince and Serena an item because I already ship them with other characters ;) but I wouldn't mind using that as their friendshipping name."

[Using Anime/Manga Effects.]


Akaba Leo's POV

"You said you wanted to go to Standard again, correct?"

"Yes, sir!"

The young boy who acted as one of the undercover agents in the said Dimension replied humbly as he stared up at me, his determined expression and posture displaying how serious he was about his selfish request.

He proved to be an extremely useful asset, finding Ray's and the accursed Devil's Standard alter egos and befriending them, thus allowing me to keep a close eye on them. Because of his pride and big mouth, however, he spilled out his true motives to our foes and was forced to return to us, putting an end to his mission.

Not that it matters anymore. With Serena now in the Standard Dimension, as well as the unknown factor Sakushi Vincent, there's no need for a new spy. Instead, it's time to attack Standard and put my plan back on track. On top of that, this would be a great opportunity to gather new fuel for the ARC-V.

Shiunin, was it? His mission didn't end spectacularly, but that's of little importance since I can use this situation to my advantage. He also didn't reveal anything too crucial to the enemy, and for his good service, I decided to grant his wish. His strong desire to win will serve as a good drive to complete his new mission.

"There are Xyz Remnants in Standard." I sighed internally at Shiunin's words. Seriously, who started naming the Xyz Dimension's survivors as 'Xyz Remnants'? That was so uncalled for... All these disparities mean more problems once the Dimensions will be reunited.

I pushed those thoughts aside and focused on the matter at hand. "I will allow it."

"Thank you very much!" Shiunin thanked me with a small bow of his head and a smile. Hmm, we will have to make him new cards...he can't fail his mission, no matter what.

"However, you won't be going alone this time. I will have them go with you."

In response to my words, Academia's elite team of Duel Soldiers, the Obelisk Force walked out from behind the pillars of my throne room, aligning themselves behind Shiunin. Seconds later, Hashima Daphne also revealed herself, stopping beside Shiunin and bowing to me in respect.

"Hashima? The Obelisk Force, too...!?" Shiunin whispered in shock.

"I promise this time I won't let you down, Professor." Hashima vowed when she straightened up.

With those new cards I've made you, only a handful of people here in Academia can defeat you now- me included, of course- so you better not lose, girl. Yuri would be my safest bet in defeating the unknown factor, but something might happen if he comes into contact with the Mythorrors, which is why I fear assigning him your target. Yuri will still take part in the mission, but I have someone who'll make sure to stop him if he gets too close to Sakushi.

"Finding the Xyz Remnants is only a secondary objective," I explained to my soldiers. "Your primary objective is her." with a wave of my hand, a hologram materialized next to me.

"Yuzu!?" the boy gasped out. Sigh, why would you think this is the Standard counterpart? While their faces are identical, their eyes, hair, bracelet, and even clothes are completely different! Luckily, they have to capture both counterparts, so I won't have to fear a mix-up.

"No, she is Serena." a new voice corrected him playfully. The Obelisk Force parted in fear and respect to let the owner of that voice through, and stopping beside him and Hashima was none other than the Devil's Fusion counterpart, who flashed me a smirk as a salute.

I narrowed my eyes at him coldly. "Yuri will accompany you as well."

"Just make sure not to get in my way, dwarf." Yuri chuckled, earning a frown from Shiunin. That condescending attitude...ugh, how annoying. I hate sending him to capture Ray's counterparts, but Yuri's a powerful and obedient asset, and he's never failed before, not even once.

"With you, we're sure to get the job done, Yuri-sama." The Hitwoman smiled uncharacteristically at the said youth, who only smirked wider in response. I really hope that will be the case, girl.

"I hope you won't lose to a Defector again, Daphne-chan."

She immediately nodded to Yuri's words. "I won't. This time, I'll make sure to card him."

Shiunin just rolled his eyes at them. He then looked at the hologram again. "Serena, huh... But no matter how I look at her, she's Yuzu... Why?"

"You have no need to know that." I told him. "Your objective is to capture Serena and bring her back to this world. Hashima, you, on the other hand, must defeat that Defector. You are authorized to engage the local Duelists in combat in order to accomplish your missions."

"Yes, Professor!" all the soldiers before me shouted in unison. I glanced knowingly at Yuri, who replied by narrowing his eyes. Shiunin and the Obelisk Force are more than enough to capture Serena...hence why Yuri will also target Ray's Standard counterpart.

"You're all dismissed." I said with a wave of my hand.

"Glory on the Academia!"

When they finally left the throne room, I sighed before addressing the person that has been hiding in the shadows of a pillar to my right, whose presence went unnoticed by my soldiers, a praiseworthy feat when considering who were here just moments ago.

"You can come out now, Carta Philus."

"So many people hate mercenaries in this school..." the person said in exasperation as he showed himself, but chose to lean against the pillar with his arms crossed instead of standing where my students were. "It's starting to become annoying, don't you think, Prof?"

Philus was a slender, androgynous young man with fair skin, grayish light blue eyes, and long, gray hair that was cut irregularly and kept in a low ponytail. Bangs fell over his forehead, and on either side of his face, his hair was cut straight, the left side to one level and the right side to two. He wore a brown and sand colored militaristic outfit, a black cape with a green interior, and a pair of black boots with white laces and soles.

"As long as that hate is hot air, let them bark." I instructed him as I stood up and turned around to stare at the ARC-V that was in the room behind my throne. "They would never challenge a Duelist who's on equal footing with Yuri's strength."

"You say that, but we've never Dueled each other to test that theory." Philus pointed out. "But still, I'll take that as a compliment."

Hmm, true, you and Yuri never fought one another, but you made sure to show what you're capable of on your first day at this school. Not even twenty Obelisk Force soldiers were enough to make you Duel seriously. And that was before you requested a new deck, which is stronger than your old one.

I could understand why Academia hates mercenaries. They only Duel for money, and not the utopia we strive to achieve... Academia is the only 'Duel School' in the Fusion Dimension, there's no way a self-taught brat is stronger than our soldiers... Outsiders can't be trusted...

Idiots. is what I think whenever I recall my subordinates' words. It's true that Philus helps us only for money, that Academia creates the best Duel Soldiers, and that he didn't reveal much about himself during his introduction, but do they honestly think I'd ignore someone as strong as Yuri? A spawn of the Devil himself!?

Hah! As if. Philus's one of my strongest soldiers, not to mention a security measure against Yuri. I will pay him gold if I have to! And so far, he proved to be a loyal follower; all the more reasons to keep him around.

"I entrust you with Yuri." I finally turned to the young man.

"Hoh?" Philus tilted his head in confusion. "That's a first. Please, do elaborate."

"I told you beforehand he's not only after Serena, but Yuzu as well. If he successfully locates a target, make sure he doesn't do anything unnecessary."

"Concerned he'll bite them too hard?" I shot him a cold glare, prompting him to raise his hands in defense. "Haha, just joking! Don't worry, Prof. I'll make sure that won't happen."

"There's one more thing." I continued with my explanation. "Don't allow Yuri to Duel the Defector The Hitwoman's after, or else he might get sidetracked."

"That's another first." Philus noted, although this time in amusement. "You believe he'll develop an interest in the guy if they meet face-to-face and fight?"

"There's a chance he already did." I admitted with a vexed sigh. "The Hitwoman's never failed before. Who knows what he thought upon hearing those news..."

"You have a point there... I guess that Defector's in a similar spot to me." Philus shrugged and straightened up. Yes, I did prohibit you from engaging Yuri in a Duel if he challenges you. But the reasons behind that and this were different.

Yuri was incredibly intrigued after seeing you Duel, and went as far as following you around and requesting a fight, which was something I didn't expect. That made it clear he didn't care you were a mercenary, and that he only recognized those with strength. But I didn't want him to learn anything about you which he could then use to his advantage, especially Dueling-wise. When he realized you'll never grant his request, he stopped pestering you.

If Yuri engages Sakushi in combat, there's no telling what could happen. And I certainly do not plan on finding out.

"But...wouldn't it be more convenient to send me after those girls?" Philus placed a hand to his chin in thought while closing his eyes. "Y'know, to expedite things?"

"No." I replied, maybe too quickly, because he immediately opened his eyes. "There's something I would like to see, concerning Yuri."

That was a lie, but I had to divert his attention from my daughter's alter egos. A mercenary taking an interest in them and potentially ruining everything is the last thing I want to happen. While Yuri is...well, Yuri, he wouldn't dare to disobey me. He'll Duel Serena or Yuzu and inflict them damage, but he'll never go beyond that. And even if he would, I already have other countermeasures at hand, which were there even before Philus joined us.

"If that's the case, pardon my silly words." Philus said as he lowered his arm.

"That was all I wanted to tell you." I stated and turned at the ARC-V again. "Dismissed."

"Glory...to the strongest." were the young man's final words before he left me alone in the throne room.

"...Soon, Ray." I whispered longingly as I placed a hand on the glass that separated me from the large reactor. "Soon you will be by my side again..."


Turn 10:

Encroaching Despair


Sakushi Vincent's POV

"A Battle...Royal, you say?"

[Precisely.]

Reiji replied to the question I had made after he revealed his plan. As he assured me earlier today, he and LDS' top brass devised a strategy to counter Academia's invasion, and he just called me to fill me in on it.

I was standing on the balcony and making sure not to raise my voice too much, seeing as Shuzo and Yuzu already went to sleep. I could also feel Demiurge and some of the Mythorrors listening in on our conversation, clearly intrigued by how Reiji will tackle this problem, which would've made me smile, weren't for the dire situation.

[If we broadcast that invaders from another Dimension are going to arrive at any moment, the city could dissolve into panic.] the CEO of LDS went into detail. Yeah, revealing the truth to the citizens would throw Maiami into chaos, which is something we must absolutely avoid. [So instead, we'll release the Top 16 of the Junior Youth class into the city and have them take out the enemy in a Battle Royal.]

That way...since we'll be Dueling in the city, the roads must be closed off to the public to avoid them swarming us over...which means no pedestrians out in the open! We won't have to worry about helpless bystanders being caught in crossfire, unless our opponents enter the buildings...but that won't happen either since we'll be there to intercept them!

[That's not all.] Reiji informed me before I could speak up. [We'll envelop the entire city with an Action Field and hide various Pendulum Cards created by Leo Corporation throughout it, which you participants can gather and use in Duels.]

That means...everyone can use Action Cards and Pendulum Summon, giving us a massive advantage! While our opponents can learn what Action Cards are by watching us use them, we don't have to fear them collecting Pendulum Cards because they won't know they'll be scattered around the city.

[I'll also dispatch a special team of Duelists, prepared to intercept the invaders alongside you sixteen.] wait, there's even more!? Although, as I like to say, it's better to be safe than sorry. And there's no such thing as 'too much' when talking of the safety of your people. [The team is formed by the Top 8 of the Youth class, amongst which is Sakuragi, as well as Manek.]

"Yuu and Manek!?" while I was glad the Prophecy user met Reiji's expectations and we'll continue to fight together, I didn't expect to hear that other name. "He recovered!? How is he!?"

[He's back in good shape.] Reiji sounded relieved as he said that, a sentiment shared by yours truly. [I was worried because he seemed to be in some sort of trance, but he snapped out of it today at noon. I came to know of it during the meeting, which is why I wasn't able to share this with you any sooner.]

"Don't worry about it." I reassured him with a low chuckle. Man, what a relief! It's true Demiurge told me he'll definitely recover, but a part of me was still worried for the actor/Duelist.

"Those are some great news." I nodded to Snow's words.

"I'm happy he's OK." I said addressing Reiji as well, who hummed in agreement.

"He and Manek...they aren't only brothers-in-arms, but friends as well." Xolotl commented. Yeah, I could see that myself now. Manek mentioned he helps Reiji out by Dueling him to test out his 'D/D' cards, didn't he? I guess their bond was born during that time.

"Humph! I personally admit that actor wasn't a weakling. Nothing too impressive, but still above the average." Demiurge chimed in with a snort. "It's no wonder a human would be scared if they lose a satisfactory asset."

Um...Reiji isn't such an insensitive person. I'm sure he was worried about Manek's health, not the fact he won't be able to fight for him.

"That said, he's really thought this out." Balor pointed out. "With more soldiers out there, it will be easier to keep the situation under control."

As expected of Reiji, we could say. But still... "We're putting many lives at risk here." I remarked in an anxious tone. Apart from Shun, who's well accustomed to Academia by now, I'm nervous something might happen to the others. I mean, c'mon, we're in an anime! Something's bound to go differently than we anticipate!

Yuya, Yuzu, Gongenzaka...Manek, Yuu...what if they get seriously injured? And if they lose? They'll get carded...! And if Yuzu gets mistaken for Serena? They'll capture her and bring her to Academia if we can't stop them! Not to mention, the others who're fighting alongside us...dammit, there's no way everyone will survive this invasion—

[Vince.] my thoughts were silenced as Reiji returned to his serious tone. [I, too, am worried about you guys' safety...but I believe in you all the more. We will hold off the enemy's invasion in this town. Definitely.]

"Reiji..." I whispered in surprise, not expecting that.

"Fufu, that man truly fits the role of a leader!" Seth commented with a short chuckle. Yeah, you could say that again. "He would've been a good example for the kings of the past to follow."

[Without a doubt, your friends believe in you as well, Vince.] Reiji continued. [That's why you should do the same, or else you'd be smearing dirt on their trust.]

"...Right." even if I knew he couldn't see me, I nodded and smiled at his words. What type of person would I be if I can't trust my own friends and comrades? There's nothing we can do to prevent an invasion...so the least we can do is believe in those around us and survive. Together. But to have someone remind me of this...it's kind of embarrassing, wasn't it?

"This talk about 'bonds' is starting to get old." aaand the moment was ruined. I deeply thank you for your opinion, Camazotz.

[That's all I wished to tell you.] Reiji proclaimed. [Go rest up, Vince. Tomorrow won't be an easy day.]

"It certainly won't." I agreed with a tired sigh, but then my smile returned. "Thanks for the call, Reiji. Have a good night!"

[You, too.] was all I heard before the call ended.

"...He didn't say anything about Serena...?" Howard spoke up in confusion.

"He'll continue keeping her under his custody then." by her tone, I could tell Sidonia just shrugged. "Not that you can blame him; she'll be the perfect bargaining chip if things go south."

While I agree to keep Serena on a tight leash- at least until the invasion's over- is a wise choice, a part of me didn't concur with her second point. Reiji isn't the type of person who sees others as disposable pawns, as proves the conversation we just had. He even tried to talk some sense into her during their Duel, which means he also wants to save Serena.

I'm sure he thought of that himself...but he refuses to consider it as an option. And I respect that, after all, I...would've done the same.

The next day...

Fireworks colored the sky and doves were released as we, the Top 16 of the Junior Youth class, lined up in the center court. I stared at the cheering and oblivious crowd, feeling a little sorry for them: they don't have the faintest idea their beloved city is about to become a warzone...

"In the end, Kurosaki didn't come." true to Yuzu's words, Shun was nowhere to be seen, a fact that seemed to greatly annoy the two Duelists from the Knight of Duels School, who were looking around for him and hoping to spot him hiding somewhere in the shadows.

"Where did he go?" Yuya wondered with an exasperated voice.

"Reiji probably allowed him to skip the occasion." I theorized with a shrug. That, or Reiji wanted to tell him something in private before the Battle Royal starts.

"Everyone, thank you for waiting!" Nico exclaimed as he danced his way into view, trusty microphone in hand and cameras pointed at him. "Right now, a Battle Royal between our dear competitors will take place!"

"Eh?" Yuya and Yuzu said together in surprise, a sentiment shared by the other Duelists and the crowd, except for me of course. Although, I had to fake a surprised expression as well to avoid blowing my cover.

After that brief moment of shock and confusion, the audience started cheering again, even more excited than before. "Now then, let's explain the rules!" Nico went on. "The match will begin promptly at noon! At that time, Action Cards will be spread out. I have no doubt our Duelists will be delighted to know that Action Traps have been disabled for this occasion!"

I couldn't help but smile at that news. That annoying fifty-fifty chance of picking up Action Trap instead of an Action Magic was gone! Phew, that's a relief.

"More assistance from Sir Reiji, I presume." I nodded to Reynardine's words. This will make it easier to survive the battle and defeat the invaders.

"And here's the important part!" Nico declared. "There are Pendulum Cards from Leo Corporation hidden in the city!"

"What!?" Yuya's eyes widened.

"The competitors must find at least two of them and then Duel!" Nico raised two fingers and turned around, almost as if directly addressing Yuya. By his face, I could tell he was excited, not only for the Battle Royal, but also for the opportunity to see Yuya go up against other fifteen Pendulum users.

Although, I doubt that will happen once Academia pays us a visit...

"Everyone has to collect Pendulum Cards..." Yuzu noted in surprise.

"The matches will be held under the Ante Rule with the Pendulum Cards included." Nico turned back around. "The winner then takes the amount of Pendulum Cards bet by the loser and acquires them as their own!"

"N-Nya~? Reiji-san didn't mention anything like this, right...?" Nekomata muttered.

"In the public's eyes, this is still a tournament." Snow explained to her. "Reiji must entertain the crowd without appearing suspicious."

"The time limit is twenty-four hours!" Nico informed us. "Also, the city will be split into four areas based on the fields in the Field Spell Quartet of Quandry. Competitors are free to battle in any of these areas!"

Intrigued by what we've just heard, I glanced up at one of the large screens in the arena, and my eyes widened when I saw the Action Field. "Wait...d-does one of the fields have an active volcano in it?" I asked weakly while pointing at the screen. "What if there's lava...?"

"Fear not, Vince." Gongenzaka calmed me down. "Real lava would be too dangerous, even for Action Field standards. Underneath the Solid Vision, it's probably just water." he eyed the screen for a second before adding, "Extremely hot water."

"Oh...y-yeah, thanks for clarifying that." phew, it wasn't lava! Thank the gods! But that didn't mean I won't mind falling into it! A high degree burn should be the least of my worries right now...

Demiurge sighed in disappointment. "Humans...so anticlimactic." excuse me!? Fighting next to real lava—do you have a death wish!?

"The starting time is almost upon us!" Nico shouted as each screen began a countdown. "All competitors, please prepare your Duel Disks!"

We did as we were told, and our Duel Disks stated [Battle Royal Mode] in unison, prompting the crowd to go wild. After a gate that leads to the outside was opened for us, Nico chanted.

"Duelists locked in battle! Kicking the earth and dancing in the air alongside their Monsters! They storm through this field! Behold! This is the newest and greatest evolution of Dueling! Action...!"

"DUEL!" we declared and Nico snapped his fingers, causing Action Cards to scatter all around the city as we ran out of the stadium.

The Knight of Duels, Ryozanpaku, and Fūma Duel School each had two Duelists among the Top 16 who chose to stay together in search of Pendulum Cards, while we others split up and went different ways...but in truth, I was following Yuzu, keeping a safe distance from her and being on the lookout for Pendulum Cards myself.

"...Yes, this is probably the best course of action for you." Demiurge admitted, sounding both annoyed by having to do that and impressed by my decision. Heh heh, that's what you get for your earlier comment.

"Wait, I don't get it..." Willauk remarked in confusion. "Why are we trailing the girl?"

"I won't doubt my friends' and comrades' strength," I explained to him in a low tone, Reiji's words still fresh in my mind. I hid behind a corner as Yuzu stopped to inspect a bush. "But Yuzu and Serena share the same face. Considering how—"

"Lower your voice!" Nattmara barked out in exasperation, shutting me up. "By the gods... I hope you never contemplated becoming a hunter because if that's what you call whispering, you'd make a horrible job at it."

I...didn't expect that. Actually, nobody did, evident by how she silenced us all. And it wasn't her anger that caught us by surprise; we grew accustomed to her personality by now. It was the fact she- a self-proclaimed lone wolf- was teaching me how to hunt properly.

Also, was I really doing so poorly!? "A-Ah...I, um..." wait, Yuzu's running off!

"Wait ten seconds." but before I could follow her, Nattmara scolded me again. "You were getting too close to her. She's jogging in the middle of an empty street, for the gods' sake! Unless you're a blind man, you won't lose sight of her."

I nodded weakly. "Y-Yes... Th-Thank you..."

"Aww, is Natty-chan worried about our sweetheart?" Succubus chirped in.

"Wha—" I could feel an intense embarrassment coming from Nattmara. "A-Are you deaf or blind, demon!? How do you expect me to stay silent at such a horrible sight!?" oi, I can still hear you!

"Stuttering?" Adaro giggled, making the lone wolf realize the fatal mistake she's just made. "You're good at hunting, but not at oppressing your inner tsundere."

"He's...got a point." Sidonia remarked, and I couldn't help but agree.

Adaro turned confused. "Why do you sound so shocked about that—"

"All of you, shut up, or I'll kill you in your sleep!" Nattmara's threat fell on deaf ears.

"A-As I was saying." I spoke up before a bigger quarrel could ensure. "Considering how it's a trend to mistake a counterpart for another, if Academia comes across Yuzu, they'll surely think she's Serena and they'll target her en masse. And I fear three- if not more- opponents at once would be too much for her to handle."

"Ooh, I see!" Willauk exclaimed happily. "Well thought, boss!"

BUZZZZZZ

A call? From Reiji? I wondered in surprise as my Duel Disk starting vibrating and his name popped up. Wait...did they see me following Yuzu!? But Nico didn't say a thing yet...

[Relax.] Reiji immediately said when I picked up. He probably saw my anxious expression from a nearby camera. [The broadcast didn't commence yet.] phew, that's a relief! [That bush on your left.]

I jumped behind the said bush without a delay. Was someone approaching us from the front? The back!?

[...There's a Pendulum Card in it.]

"Oh." my lips formed an 'O'. A great job at making this awkward, me. "Thanks."

[You and Hiiragi Yuzu will soon reach the pier,] Reiji explained while I extracted the card hiding in the bush. [When you do, you'll find another Pendulum Card glued to the first street pole you'll see on your right.]

"Got it." I nodded, and my eyebrows furrowed a second later. If Reiji was giving me the special treatment, that meant—"You know what I'm doing, right?"

[Yes, and I thank you for it.] Reiji confirmed my words. [Don't worry about the cameras, I'll make sure you won't appear on the screens. However, I hope you've readied an excuse in case Hiiragi realizes you're technically stalking her.]

"That..." why would I follow her, why would I follow her...oh! A revenge match! I haven't settled my score with Yuzu yet. "I do."

[Now then, let's prepare the stage for our competitors!] Nico's sudden announcement resounded in the entire city, just as Yuzu and I arrived at the pier. According to Reiji...aha! There's the other Pendulum Card. [Action Field...on! Field Spell, Quartet of Quandry, activate!]

Numerous spheres that contained the Real Solid Vision generator emerged from the ships and warehouses around us, and together with the ones attached to the container cranes, began glowing, causing the area to become a snowing land of ice.

[Volcano! Iceberg! Jungle! Ancient ruins!] Nico exclaimed. [With all four fields set up, the preparations are complete! Just who will come out on top? Who will hold victory in their hands!?]

"Amazing..." I couldn't help but stare at the new scenery around me, completely forgetting my call with Reiji didn't end yet. "In an instant, everything was turned into ice...it's even snowing."

"The temperature dropped as well." Snow giggled, clearly impressed. "Real Solid Vision, was it? What an intriguing toy."

Yeah, no matter how many times I see it, this system will always manage to take my breath away...

"Ah, sorry." I apologized when I addressed the CEO again. Yuzu snapped out of her own state of bewilderment and moved on, with me on her tail of course. "I got distracted."

[Not a problem.] Reiji reassured me. [There's one more thing I'd like to tell you. I decided to let Serena wander around during the Battle Royal, with the carding function of her Duel Disk disabled.]

"Eh?" my eyes widened in shock. Why would he do that?

Ereshkigal scoffed. "That could compromise your shared plan, not to mention endanger the human girl." exactly!

[I believe this battle will help her realize the folly in Academia's ways, as well as her own feelings.] Reiji stated calmly. That...could actually work; hearing Shun's side of the story and being hunted by her own comrades might just do the trick. Not to mention, if she does things her way, she'll be more willing to accept the truth. [To avoid suspicion, I staged a fake chance of escape for her instead of simply allowing her to leave. I also hired the Duelists from Fūma Duel School to safeguard her.]

Leave it to Reiji to set the stage. Those two were Ninjitsu Duelists, making them perfect for the job. They'll watch over Serena from the shadows, and if she gets overwhelmed, they'll swoop in to rescue her.

"This human...what an ingenious architect he is." Balor couldn't believe what he was saying. "He thought it all out, to the very last detail."

"How nostalgic." Demiurge snorted, clearly not meaning what he's said. "Just like the Different Dimension Daemons used to do in the Great War."

I wasn't able to contain a smile. "Thanks, Reiji." he didn't reply, so I continued. "For giving Serena a chance instead of pushing her away."

[...You needn't thank me for that, Vince.] by his tone, I was sure he smiled too. [I only did what I believe was right. I'm sure you would've done the same.]

The two of us believe raising a child on the premise of war was wrong, and we want to save Serena; not for our own good, but for her own sake. We'll put an end to Leo's ambitions, and stop him from destroying the future of other innocent children.

We weren't so different at our cores, he and I.

[Good luck, Vince. I'm counting on you.]

"I won't let you down!" I assured him with a firm nod and ended the call.

Yuzu managed to find a Pendulum Card, and moments later, crossed paths with Halil, an exchange student from LDS' Anatolia campus and Fusion course. He badly wanted to Duel Yuzu, the one who beat Masumi, and kindly lent her one of the three Pendulum Cards he's found for that end.

Yuzu didn't have any reasons to turn him down, so she accepted. His energetic personality caught her by surprise however, and she returned his favor by helping him understand how to set his Pendulum Scales. Halil then gained the upper hand with his 'Lamp' deck that centered around La Jinn- yet another monster from Yu-Gi-Oh's old days- and sent Yuzu sliding away after striking her with a direct attack.

The pink-haired youth crashed into Olga, who was fighting Gongenzaka, and the two Duels overlapped into a Tag Duel where the teams shared only their fields. Olga attacked the defenseless Yuzu, but Gongenzaka protected her and then retaliated in his turn by Summoning a new 'Superheavy Samurai' Synchro Monster.

"That's...a machine that carries the fabled oni king's name?" Snow gasped in fascination. "I never met him personally, but I heard from other yōkais he was quite a big shot." Nekomata didn't add a word, so I guess that hearsay didn't reach her ears in the past.

"He was also my son." Yamatochi added rather bluntly, despite it being such a sensitive matter. After all, Shutendoji...was killed, his head severed from his body. I could feel the god's sadness as we stared at the monster, but he did a good job at not losing his composure.

"Your...son? Shutendoji was?" Snow muttered in shock and realized what that meant. "My deepest condolences."

"Thank you." Yamatochi said, tone unchanged. His attention returned to the Duel. "First Susanoo, and now my son..." he let out an impressed chuckle. "I'm beginning to take a liking to that friend of yours, master."

"Glad to hear that." I smiled at the improvement of his mood. Not bad, Gongenzaka; you've unconsciously became friends with a god.

Back to the Duel, a sudden comeback from Halil caught the burly youth by surprise, costing him his remaining LP. But Yuzu's turn was next, and she defeated both opponents with ease. Once they obtained the Pendulum Cards bet by their opponents, the four parted ways and I continued following Yuzu.

She ventured into the Volcano Area- as expected, the temperature went from freezing cold to scorching hot!- where she met Dennis Mackfield, an exchange student from LDS' Broadway campus and Xyz course, as well as a newly-made friend of Yuya.

The other Ryozanpaku bastards wanted to avenge Kachidoki, so they ganged up on Yuya... We're lucky Dennis helped our friend out, or else Yuya would've been in for it. Hmm, I think we'll get along nicely with Denn—wait, is he PINNING YUZU AGAINST A ROCK!?

"Oi! What do you think you're doing!?" I shouted without a second of a delay and stormed over in their direction.

Now, I'm positively sure he wouldn't have tried anything else, especially not when we're being recorded, but still, what sort of introduction was that!? You can't pin someone you've just met against a rock or a wall! That's common sense! And be glad it's me who's stopping you, Dennis, and not Shuzo, Yuya, Gongenzaka, or Yuzu herself! I'm not letting you off the hook, but at least I'm giving you a chance to explain yourself!

"Huh?" taking a step back in confusion, Dennis turned around and gasped. "Oh my god!" he exclaimed in English. "You're Sakushi Vincent! To think I would meet all three participants of the You Show School...haha, what luck!"

"Leave the excitement for later!" I scolded him, much to his surprise. "As I asked, explain to me what you were doing!"

"It's obvious!" Willauk declared proudly. "He was asserting his dominance!" what did you say!?

Camazotz scoffed. "I know better ways than that." what did YOU just say!?

"I'm done." by her tone, I'm sure Succubus just threw her hands up in the air.

Adaro hummed defiantly. "I think he should've used the 'T' pose." why is everybody forgetting this is supposed to be a kids' show!?

"Excuse me...what?" as a gentleman, Reynardine couldn't comprehend their gauche words.

"I simply wanted to Duel Yuzu and become her friend as well..." Dennis explained with an innocent expression. He then performed a magic trick with his hand, causing a rose to appear in it. "I harbor no ill intentions, I assure you." he concluded with a wink.

"Pinning her to a rock just for that...and then drawing out a rose..." I comically took a couple of steps back with a weirded-out face. "Creepy..."

"I agree with Vince on that one..." Yuzu did the same thing.

"E-Eh?" Dennis blanched, dropping the rose in shock. "I...I-I'm sorry...I promise it won't happen ever again."

"Good." we said in unison.

Dennis composed himself, and his smile returned to his face. "That said, do you accept, Yuzu? I'm also aspiring to be an Entertainment Duelist like Sakaki Yusho was. I would love to battle a fellow entertainer!"

"You're a fan of Uncle...?" Yuzu inquired in surprise. She then smiled in a challenging manner. "Sure, why not. As another aspiring Entertainment Duelist, I'm interested in seeing how you Duel."

"Great!" Dennis exclaimed in English. He then addressed yours truly. "I wouldn't mind Dueling you as well, Vince. Are you up for it after Yuzu and I finish?"

"Well...like Yuzu, I don't see a reason why I should turn you down." I shrugged with a smile and gave the two some space.

Both Duelists bet the two Pendulum Cards they each had and the Duel began. Yuzu quickly gained the upper hand by using Bloom Diva the Melodious Choir, but Dennis used that to his advantage and retaliated with 2000 effect damage! His 'Performage' deck revolved around effect damage and dealing large instances of damage at once...moreover, its theme was very similar to Yuya's Performapals, which suits him seeing how he's also an entertainer.

Although...I don't know what scarier, that coincidence, or the fact no one's questioning it? But as long as it remains a coincidence, I guess there's no reason to worry about it.

"This guy...his scent is strange." I suddenly felt a presence on my back, and sure enough, Adaro was resting his spirit-body onto it and crossing his arms over my head. "It smells like a mix of the tomato-haired guy's and the candy-loving boy's auras."

"Candy-loving—you mean Sora?" I whispered in disbelief, to which Adaro hummed in confirmation. This...could spell trouble for all of us. The last- and only, so far- person whose evil piqued Adaro's interest turned out to be an antagonist; did this mean Dennis was also an undercover agent hailing from the Fusion Dimension?

But this time's different. Dennis's evil reminded Adaro of Yuya, too...and he's a good guy! Argh, why did Adaro's ability have to be so confusing!? If it would smell only like Sora, things would be much easier to understand, but since it's a mix of him and Yuya...

I'll have to keep an eye on Dennis. Luckily for me, this Duel might help me figure out the type of person he is.

"We're being watched." Demiurge abruptly declared with a growl. "And I'm not talking about the crowd in the stadium or Reiji." he quickly clarified. "It's that impulsive girl."

"Oya? There she is." I looked in the direction Adaro pointed to, and I met eyes with Serena.

Adaro decided to vanish after that. She's here? I thought in surprise, while the indigo-haired youth frowned, probably annoyed her presence didn't go unnoticed. She then glanced at the two who were Dueling, and I immediately understood: she's here for Dennis, thinking he's the Xyz Remnant that beat Sora.

Wait...then Dennis is in danger! And this confirms he's not from Academia, or else how would you explain Serena targeting one of her own comrades? However, that only applies if she's here for Dennis and not Yuzu, the girl that shares her face, or yours truly.

The Duel continued, with Dennis performing a Pendulum-Xyz Summon. Hmm, if he uses Xyz...that should erase the possibility of him being from Fusion. Unless...that's what he wants us to think. Things are kinda depending on Serena's real target right now...if she's really after him, then we'll be able to tell for sure if he's either a spy or a friend.

I won't lie, when the Duel started, I thought this will be another victory in Yuzu's book, but it turns out I was wrong. Dennis's tricks managed to get the better of her and she lost... She was about to fall into the lava as well, but Dennis and his ace Monster, Performage Trapeze Magician, spared her from that fate.

Just from a glance I could tell those two shared a deep bond. They protected and believed in each other...on top of that, Dennis lived up to the title of Entertainment Duelist. So to think someone like him could be evil...how twisted could this world get?

"It's hard to admit, but it's my loss." Yuzu smiled nonetheless while handing Dennis her bet cards.

"With this, we're now friends." Dennis's smile widened as he addressed me. "Are you ready to Duel me as well, Vince?"

Looking past them, I could see a certain indigo-haired youth approaching us. "Ah, about that..." I chuckled with an awkward smile, confusing them. "I think we'll have to postpone that."

"Eh? Why?" he tilted his head to the side.

"The one you'll be Dueling next is me!" Serena cried out, prompting the two to turn in her direction.

Yuzu- logically- gasped at seeing one of her alter egos. "Huh!? Wha...twins?" Dennis asked in confusion. His reaction, and now knowing Serena's after him, were good indicators he wasn't from Fusion.

"She looks just like me... It can't be...!" Yuzu took a step forward. "Are you...Ruri!?"

"Ruri? Who is that?" Serena raised an eyebrow before glancing at me, waiting for an explanation.

"At this rate, it will be hard to keep things a secret from your friend." you could say that again, Sidonia.

Serena already demonstrated she doesn't intend to keep our acquaintanceship a secret from others, so Yuzu will find out what I've been doing in the shadows sooner or later. Even if the ninjas help me stop Serena from harming Dennis, that won't change the fact Serena looks and talks to me differently than to a stranger.

I released a defeated sigh; this is as far as our secret goes. "Ruri is somebody from Xyz who looks much like you." I told her.

"Vince?" Yuzu's eyes widened a little. "You know her?"

"Yes. We met yesterday for the first time," I explained to her. "She's Serena of the Fusion Dimension."

"From Fusion...!?" Yuzu gasped and eyed her counterpart again.

"Now, face me!" the said girl aimed a finger at the Xyz user beside us. "You won't leave this place unscathed, Xyz Remnant!"

"Xyz Remnant...? Me?" Dennis also pointed at himself. "W-What's that...?"

"Don't play dumb!" Serena snapped and raised her Duel Disk.

"Wait, Serena!" I quickly interrupted her, taking a defensive stance in front of Dennis and Yuzu. "He isn't the Xyz user you're after."

Serena scoffed. "And why should I believe you?"

I blinked twice. "Eh? W-Well...do you think little old me would lie to you?" she didn't even bat an eye to my words. I sighed again. "No, huh...? In your defense, I really have no ways to prove I'm telling the truth...in that case!"

I also revealed my Duel Disk, prompting her to narrow her eyes. "You'll have to defeat me first."

"Fine by me." Serena didn't beat a miss. In fact, she sounded happy. "You'll be the one to lose this time!"

"She wants to settle the score, huh?" Succubus giggled. "She's got a good drive."

"Makes you wonder if it's actually folly." Camazotz let out a giggle as well, albeit his sounded mocking. "Fighting us again so soon...what does she hope to achieve?"

That may be true, but she wasn't an ordinary Duelist. More than likely, she'll adapt her strategy based on the cards I've used in our last Du—

"That won't be happening!" a very familiar voice shouted, causing me to smile wide.

After all, its owner was—"Manek!" the said person was looking down at us from atop the rock Yuzu was pinned against earlier. He then jumped down, joining us on the ground between me and Serena.

"Oh. My. God. Manek Wierrd!?" Yuzu immediately turned into a fangirl, screaming with heart-shaped eyes. However, she soon remembered the situation we're in, and she shook her head to calm down. "No, wait, even you are here? Why?"

"I'm doing my job." the black-haired youth answered sternly, probably annoyed by her fangirling. He then pointed at the one in front of us. "Under Akaba Reiji's orders, I'm here to retrieve you, Serena!"

"Um, what happened to the two from the Fūma Duel School?" I inquired in a low tone. Weren't they supposed to safeguard her?

Manek shot me a silent glance before answering. "Nothing. But the situation's changed." it...changed? What did he mean by that? "So, what will it be?"

Serena gritted her teeth in frustration, but she didn't lower her Duel Disk. Manek was going to take out his own when a group of twelve landed meters behind Serena, interrupting us. They were wearing the same uniform, with the only noticeable difference being the color of the gem adorning their helmets, which was the same for four each: red, green, and yellow.

My eyes widened. These people...were they from...!?

Serena narrowed her eyes. "The Obelisk Force? Already!?" she growled in a low tone as the twelve soldiers started approaching us, grinning madly while doing so.

If she knows them, that confirmed it! "...Academia..." Howard noted impassively.

"The actor was dispatched to aid us." Demiurge remarked. "Because the invasion began."

Yeah, the dreaded moment finally began. "Dammit...!" I whispered and quickly counted. Twelve of them against...five of us. Seven if you count the ninjas, but we'd still be overnumbered. As things stand, maybe it's better if we hightail it out of here.

As if concurring with my thoughts, a device was thrown by someone behind us, which exploded into smoke upon touching the ground, bathing the entire bridge in smoke.

A smoke grenade! Great, now we can—"Woah!" I gasped in surprise when I was suddenly picked up by someone, who then leaped out of the smoke and ran off.

"What speed...while carrying someone, too." Ereshkigal mumbled.

I glanced at the one carrying me. They're ninjas for a reason... I thought, in awe myself. What was his name again? Something related to the sun...ah, Hikage!

And there was his brother, the one who OTKed Mieru in the tournament's first round, Tsukikage. He was holding Yuzu in his arms, running beside Hikage at the exact same speed. Behind us were Dennis and Manek, the latter carrying Serena, doing their best to keep up.

We fled to the Iceberg Area and made a stop there. The ninja brothers put me and Yuzu down once they made sure the coast was clear.

"Thanks." the two nodded in response to our words.

"Get your hands off me, Duelist of Standard!" Serena, on the other hand, didn't show any gratitude. "I didn't need your help! Why did you and your ninja friends interfere!?"

"Someone had to save your ass..." Manek rolled his eyes, prompting the Lunalight user slung on his shoulder to thrash her arms and legs. Sighing in exasperation, he let her go, and she immediately took a couple of steps back.

"Save my ass, you say!?" she snarled. "I can protect myself on my own!"

"Serena, one against twelve is a terrible match-up." I tried reasoning with the girl, and it seemed to work because she dropped her fighting stance, going from angry to annoyed.

"Tsukikage, Manek-dono, I'll leave them in your care." Hikage told the two. "There might be more of them nearby. I'm going to go check on the situation."

"Understood, brother." Tsukikage nodded, prompting him to run back from where we came.

"You recognized those people." Yuzu pointed out to her counterpart. "Who were they?"

"From what Reiji told us, they're Duel Soldiers from Academia." Manek stated, and I nodded in confirmation.

Yuzu gasped. "Academia!?" she looked back at her double in shock. "If you're from the same Dimension as them, why are they chasing you!?"

"It's obvious!" Serena scoffed. "They're obeying the Professor's orders!"

My fists clenched at the reminder of that man. "Professor?" Yuzu parroted.

"In Academia, the Professor's orders are absolute. We aren't allowed to disobey them," Serena explained to her the same thing she said to me yesterday, which, surprise surprise, irritated me even more. "But I disobeyed those rules in order to prove him my strength. If I eliminate the remnant of the Xyz Dimension that's hiding here in Standard..."

Serena raised a hand and formed a fist with it. "He'll regret not sending me out to the front lines!"

"That's why you wanted to Duel Dennis!?" Yuzu put two and two together.

"Yes." Serena glared at the said youth, causing him to sweatdrop.

"A-As I've already tried to tell you..." he raised his hands in defense. "I may be an Xyz user, but I'm not this 'Xyz Remnant' you're after. Vince told you the same thing."

"Then I'll repeat myself for a second time: I have no reason to believe you." hearing that, I'm sure I sweatdropped as well.

"What persistence..." Seth breathed out in shock. His tone, which was usually always so loud and cheerful, dropped. "Just like theirs." oh, he must be talking about Horus and the ones that sided with him...

"Foolish." we blinked in surprise at Manek's comment, except for Tsukikage who closed his eyes instead.

Unlike Serena, Yuzu, and Dennis, I wasn't surprised by his cold attitude- as I've already seen it a few times before- but by his decision to retort to Serena. That straightforwardness wasn't a bad thing per se, however, knowing you're talking to the irascible Serena, maybe you should consider your words more carefully...

"What...did you say?" Yuzu's Fusion alter ego narrowed her eyes, angry again.

"I said foolish!" Manek didn't mind repeating himself. "Calling people Xyz Remnants simply because they have Xyz Monsters in their Extra Decks is racist!" he had a point there.

"I'm not being racist!" Serena glared daggers at him. "Xyz Remnants are people of the Xyz Dimension who escaped Academia's attacks, and went as far as hiding here in Standard! Every Xyz user is a suspect!"

"You're putting the lives of innocent people in danger." I remarked, anger creeping into my voice.

"Fewer suspects to worry about." Serena said blatantly, much to our shock. Oi, were you listening!?

Manek sighed in exasperation. "This is a serious matter." exactly!

"Vince and Manek-san are right!" Yuzu took a step forward. "Do you even know what Academia did to the Xyz Dimension!?"

Serena didn't reply, allowing her to continue. "The Xyz Dimension, Ruri's homeland, was a peaceful place! Until that day came... I heard the people of Academia constantly attacked the inhabitants of the Xyz Dimension with smiles on their faces. As if they were taking part in a hunting game..."

The confused Dennis addressed me in a low tone. "Kurosaki Shun mentioned that while Dueling Shiunin Sora, right?" I nodded, to which he frowned. "Man, what situation have we gotten ourselves into...?"

"His expression looks genuine enough..." Adaro said out of nowhere. "But you shouldn't drop your guard around him just yet." I nodded again, which Dennis took as an agreement to his own words.

The sun began to set as we waited for Serena's response.

"Ridiculous." she suddenly scoffed, a sarcastic smile now on her face. "Laughing as if it were a game? The Duelists of Academia are warriors. They would never do something that foolish!" she shared a look with me, recalling yesterday's events. "We would never do that."

"Serena..." I also took a step forward. "Their smiles are different from yours. They underestimate their opponents and see them only as their prey. Your smile was genuine. You—"

"It doesn't matter that there's a difference." she cut me off with a glare, her smile gone. "Warriors have no reason to smile in a battle."

"Are you saying those from the Xyz Dimension are lying!?" Yuzu snapped as well.

"Academia has a noble objective." Serena raised up a finger. Important information, incoming! "The objective to make all the Dimensions one."

"To do what?" my eyes widened in surprise.

"Make them one...?" Yuzu shared my sentiment.

"We finally know their true goal." Xolotl remarked. Yeah...but...make them one? Like, fuse them? How ironic that it's the Fusion Dimension's doing this...

"The invasion of the Xyz Dimension was for that purpose," Serena explained. "Eventually, we will assimilate Synchro and Standard, and unite the four worlds. Academia's Duelists were trained to achieve this noble objective! Prideful warriors like that would never smile or treat battles like hunting games!"

"Poor child..." Snow commented. "She's completely oblivious to Academia's cruelty."

"And then?" Manek raised a hand. "After the worlds become one, what will happen?"

"Under the Professor's guidance, that new world will know true peace." Serena stated. "In other words, we strive for a utopia."

"Utopia my ass..." I grimaced in anger and disgust. Leo? The ruler of the world? After everything he's done!? As if we'd let that happen!

"What pride is there in bringing a ton of people grief!?" you tell her Yuzu!

"What do they have to grieve over?" Serena's sarcastic smile returned. "The Xyz Duelists should have their own pride as well. Even if they were to lose their lives, if they fought with their all, they should be able to accept the results and—"

Yuzu walked up to her, placing her hands on her shoulders to stop her.

"Are you telling them to shut up and accept it when they lose their families as well!?" Yuzu yelled, much to Serena's confusion. "Academia didn't bring grief just to the Xyz Duelists, but to their friends and families too!"

"Are their families not Duelists?" the indigo-haired youth inquired.

"And to others things, too." Snow deadpanned.

I couldn't help myself but nod in agreement. "That question answers itself, Serena..."

"You've been completely kept in the dark about the truth this whole time." Manek added.

"I was...?" Serena's eyes widened as she looked at the ground in shock.

"Kurosaki and Yuto are fighting to save Ruri, the former's little sister, from Academia." she raised her head when Yuzu resumed speaking. "Kurosaki Shun is the Xyz Remnant you're after!" she removed her hands from her shoulders and took a step back. "If you don't believe us, then go check with him yourself."

Serena opened her mouth, but she immediately closed it. She gave Yuzu a long stare, and then one at me as well, before frowning and showing her back to us.

"I...need a moment to think." she said slowly and walked away, leaning her back on a big chunk of ice and closing her eyes to focus on her thoughts.

"She seems...lost." Dennis muttered with a concerned expression.

"I don't know why, but...Academia fed her lies." Yuzu shared his sentiment, like yours truly. Manek and Tsukikage didn't drop their poker faces, but from their eyes, you could tell they agreed with us.

Serena's in a delicate state right now, for we revealed the truth to her. Essentially, her world has been turned upside down. She might come to accept this reality, or might not. But I'm sure this won't stop her...if else, it will give her a new path to follow.

She won't lie down and stay quiet about this. No, she'll want answers. From Leo. Of course, she'll want to confirm we weren't lying to her as well, which means she won't stop her pursuit of Shun. However, knowing she's in search of the truth instead of hunting a person was...a great relief.

Uncountable stars and a beautiful aurora borealis appeared on the night sky as we waited for Serena's judgment.

"While we wait, I'll fill you in on the situation, Dennis." Yuzu broke the silence that formed between us while dragging the said youth away with her.

"H-Huh?" he blinked twice. "Why not here...?"

"Tsukikage," ignoring his question, she addressed the ninja. "Mind helping me out?"

"By all means." Tsukikage nodded and followed them without a fuss.

I agree with explaining to Dennis what's going on around us, but he had a point. Why did she leave me alone with Manek...oh...I see. She's giving me a moment of peace with him so I can apologize for what happened at the end of our Duel in the first round. Heh, that girl...thank you, Yuzu!

Here goes nothing. "Ahem." I coughed into his fist to collect myself before addressing the black-haired youth. "I'm overjoyed to see you again, Manek. I heard from Reiji you recovered only yesterday, but despite that, you're already on the battlefield..."

Sidonia giggled at my choice of words. "Oh my, you appear to be nervous." of course I was! His Monsters surely told him what had transpired back then, and he could be angry at me himself. I need to choose my words carefully.

Manek crossed his arms, eyeing me with an annoyed gaze. "If you're going to apologize or something, I reject that."

Oof. "You're off to a bad start, my lord." Reynardine pointed out in concern. Y-Yeah...

"Rejected even before I started..." I looked sideways in shame. "But...I guess that makes sense? I can't imagine what you went through, but it must have been horrible."

Manek remained silent for a moment before he snorted loudly. "I reject it because you made my life a bit more difficult!" my eyes widened at his sudden outburst.

"I..." why did he say 'life'? Don't tell me...some sort of repercussion!? Demiurge didn't mention anything of the sort! I opened my mouth, but immediately stopped myself from talking: no, asking what's wrong would anger him even further. I must avoid that. "I know apologizing won't be enough...but I promise to be at your side if you ever need help. Also, I promise this type of accident won't repeat itself."

"Oh please. I'm lucky it's just a small adjustment." he punctuated the word 'lucky' by rolling his eyes. "Have you heard of the writer Robert Louis Stevenson?"

"Stevenson?" think, think, think...aah, it's no use. I don't know him.

"Howard, mind helping us out?" ooh, good thinking, Adaro!

"...Just because I'm a writer, it doesn't mean I know others..." mission failed. Maybe next time.

I shook my head in response to Manek's question. "Why?"

"He's the author of the story infamously known as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde," he explained. "What most people get wrong, however, is that Hyde is merely Jekyll without his morality filter. You've effectively made my 'Hyde' bond more to me, and made it easy for it to let loose."

So...wait...that...eh? "He's saying you've obliterated his filter." seeing my perplexed stare, Baphomet spoke up. But that means...the actor's been acting this entire time? Manek was never being himself the entire time?

I voiced my thoughts, to which Manek gestured at our surroundings.

"Reality is a stage, and we're acting however we want our audience to see us act. What you did was effectively destroy all of my 'masks' and made it harder for me to fit in. Do you think it's easy to pretend that everything is alright? That even when things go wrong, we can just smile and continue as if it didn't affect us in any way whatsoever?"

What's...happening? was all I could think of by listening to his rant. Masks? In my state of bewilderment, I barely noticed the anger or sadness my Mythorrors felt by hearing that word.

I knew Manek wore a mask. He himself revealed it to me when he said he disliked how the world treats him. But...that was supposed to be it. The problem...his pain...it was this intense? He wasn't wearing a mask, but masks...!?

"Your tomato-haired friend certainly has more self-control than I do." Manek admitted with a grieved expression. "I'm surprised he hasn't broken down from the negative thoughts about screwing up whatever his father built up to this very day, along with having his dreams crushed from all the jeers and negative opinions from the public!"

I knew that, too. I saw people looking differently at Yuya. I read the media's expectations of him. I heard the mean comments they blatantly whisper when he isn't around. And I've only been in this universe for what, three weeks? Yuya endured it for three years.

How many times did he cry himself to sleep? How many times did he think of giving up? How many times did he have to defend himself?

Not just him, but Manek and my Mythorrors as well. And many more unknown people and monsters out there...

"So that's what you meant when you said 'life' earlier." I'm a really compassionate person. I prepared myself for rejection, for an insult, even for a punch. But...this still made me feel like crap. I placed a hand over my Duel Disk and went on. "You may or may not believe what I'll tell you next, but I want you to know: I understand that kind of pain."

Thanks to the Visions, after all, I experienced it thoroughly. "You must really like acting... Despite being in pain, you continue following your passion. But I made it harder for you to do that."

Manek chuckled bitterly. "My passion isn't acting. It only pays bills, and it's all I can do."

"All you can do...?" I inquired in shock. "What...do you mean?"

"Here's a question for you, instead: why are you here? Why are you talking with me? Is it required for you to do so? Heck, why keep on Dueling? There are other ways to have fun." Manek raised his eyes to the sky. "I act because it's the only thing I know I can do well. I wear a mask because I don't even know who I am anymore. Like I said..."

He looked at me again. "You destroyed all of my masks. Acting gives me the sensation of actually living in the present instead of drowning in the past. So, what would you do in my situation, huh? You're in debt from your biological parent being gone, your education is incomplete and you cannot pursue your passion without going into further debt, and you have no reputation to your name."

He turned his back to me. "But then you find something that could allow you to get out of debt. Something to help you keep a place to return to. Something that only costs abandoning your dreams in order to survive, and there's no other alternative that wouldn't compromise your morals. What will you do, then? Cling on to your dreams, or do your best to survive?"

You didn't do anything wrong, Manek. You wanted to live, and you did what you had to. But that's exactly my problem. Why...? Why? Why did the world force you to discard your own dreams? Your own happiness...!? Because it thought it was funny!? Or because it wanted to test you!? Or was it because it wanted to break you!?

I gripped my left arm with my right hand in an attempt to steady my breathing and calm down. Demiurge and his followers were unperturbed or straight up annoyed by what they'd call 'tedious talk', but my Mythorrors and I were the complete opposite.

It's like seeing a person get hurt right in front of your eyes, and you feel their pain because that same thing happened to you as well. Or you just pity them. We could resonate with the youth in front of us, hence why I was so schmaltzy about all this.

I...accept his rejection. I'm in the wrong here, anyway. He and his Monsters might never forgive me. Or even if they will, that will take time. After all, forgiveness isn't instant all the time.

"But Manek," I spoke up after a short silence. "Even if we're on bad terms...I don't want this to get in the way of Reiji's plans or the safety of those around us."

"...Who said it would?" he asked rhetorically before putting some distance between us, likely wanting to be alone for a little to collect himself.

His answer caused me to smile weakly. "Thanks." I whispered back.

"Vince!" I turned towards the concerned call, seeing Yuzu running in my direction, followed by Tsukikage and Dennis. She frowned upon reading the situation, but I spoke up before she could.

"That didn't go splendidly." I admitted with a long sigh. "That said...I think it's only fair I tell you the truth."

"Vince, you don't have to. At least, not now." she reassured me, to which I shook my head.

"Don't say that. Your kindness is noted, but I insist." she stayed silent, so I told her everything. All the things I've been keeping a secret from them, starting from The Hitwoman's attack to following her at the beginning of the Battle Royal. Obviously, I didn't mention anything about Demiurge and my Monsters; this wasn't the right time for that.

Yuzu...I could tell she wasn't mad. More like confused. "Why didn't you tell us sooner?" she asked. "Or...this may sound selfish, but at least to me?"

"Well...at first, I didn't want to keep you guys worrying about me," I explained. "Then came the Maiami Championship, and I didn't want to add pressure to the already tight situation. Lastly came the Battle Royal, but Reiji had the entire thing under control, so I decided not to scare you."

I suddenly realized something. "Or...maybe I was scared. Unconsciously, I mean. I lied to you guys for so long, and yet, I continued calling myself your friend."

"Vince," Yuzu took one of my hands into hers and smiled. "I understand. But, exactly because we're friends, you should tell us things like that. We're in this together. We believe in you, so please, do the same for us."

"Yes...of course." I chuckled at her sudden scolding. "I will."

"Why?" the one to ask that was Serena, who came closer to us and was scrutinizing me. For how long has she been listening to our conversation...? I didn't even hear her approaching us...

"What do you mean?"

"Why do you keep doing your best to help us in this war, even on an emotional level?" Serena answered my question. "I understand Yuzu, as she's your friend. But me? We only met yesterday, and I'm not even your comrade."

Yeah...why indeed. For someone dear to me- if I had to guess- it's because I don't want to lose or fail them. I already experienced those kinds of pain through my Visions, hence why I don't want to relive them in real life as well. For someone like Serena, well, I've already stated that, didn't I?

"For your first question, it's because war changes people. Life may continue, but the scars will never fade. I don't want a senseless war to hunt you for the rest of your lives." her eyes dilated a little, but she said nothing. "For your second question...your future is yours to decide."

This time, her eyes fully widened in surprise. "After all, you were influenced to believe in certain things which forced you into this battle. Your decision to take part in it wasn't really yours." I added as my smile returned.

"...And what if," she started, her voice uncharacteristically nervous. "I don't know what to decide?"

"Then you simply have to figure it out." Yuzu continued for me. "By living and doing what you like. Your friends can also help you out along the way!"

Dennis smiled wide and gave a thumbs-up, while Tsukikage nodded in agreement. It was hard to tell because of the dark, but...I believe Serena blushed and avoided our eyes by looking off to the side.

"Heeeh, another tsundere~?" Adaro giggled, prompting Nattmara to growl.

"That face of hers is adorable." Succubus purred at Serena's behavior. "Yours too, Natty-chan~." oh, I guess at hers, too.

"Give it a rest already!" Nattmara howled in exasperation, but once again, her words fell on deaf ears.

"What will you do, Serena?" Manek inquired as he rejoined us as well.

"I..." her expression reverted back to its usual one as she spoke. "Will meet this Kurosaki person and check if what you said is true." as expected, heh heh.

"Oh, I know!" Yuzu raised a finger. "Let's swap clothes!"

"Clothes?" Serena raised an eyebrow. "What for?"

"It'd be a hassle if you were found by Academia before you got to Kurosaki, right?" well, she had a point there...but either way, swapped clothes or not, I still think people would mistake them for one another.

"I see..." Serena placed a hand to her chin. "So you're willing to be my double and draw their attention away from me?"

"Exactly!" Yuzu confirmed her words with a nod.

"Alright." as soon as those words left her mouth, Serena started stripping off her jacket.

"W-W-Wait a second!" Yuzu, Dennis, and I immediately and vehemently stopped her.

"This girl has been seriously living under a rock all this time." Ereshkigal commented, shocked by her actions.

Serena scowled. "Why?" you're even asking why!?

"Don't give me that." Yuzu took one of her hands and lead her behind a big chunk of ice. "Now we can change."

"Fine..." she didn't understand why they had to go there, but she didn't question it.

Yuzu glanced at us. "Guys, did you hear that? We're changing!"

"Understood." we said in unison and turned our heads in the other direction.

"...By the way," the pink-haired youth started. "How come you're here, Manek-san?"

Adding '-san' to his name was a clear giveaway she's a fan of his. "Are you talking about the actor or the person?" which won't draw a pleased reaction from him.

"Huh?" Yuzu was obviously confused by that. "Isn't that...the same thing?"

"Not quite." Manek sighed. "After all, when the camera is rolling, I'm merely a face on the screen."

"Despite talking about your job, you don't sound happy..." Dennis whispered in a worried tone, which went unheard by him. If only you would know why that's the case... He raised his voice and asked, "If we may know, what made you become an actor?"

Manek shrugged. "My Duel Monsters recommended it." oh, he didn't mention that earlier.

"Your Monsters?" Yuzu echoed. "What do you mean by that?"

"There's an old legend." Manek stated. "According to it, Duel Monsters have souls. There are some people on this Earth who possess the rare ability to communicate with the spirits of the very cards we use in Duels."

"Hmph, nonsense." Serena rebuked. "That's just a fairy tale."

"Actually...I can do that, too." I admitted with a chuckle.

"Wow! Really!?" Dennis exclaimed in English. "You two can talk to Duel Monsters!? Can I learn how to do that?"

His sudden fervor made me blink in surprise. "...Potentially, yes." I think, was left unsaid. I didn't learn how to talk to my Monsters, after all, I just gained the ability thanks to Demiurge.

"Those are great news!" Dennis grinned wide. "I'd love to talk to Trapeze Magician."

"So you two can talk to Duel Monsters..." Yuzu recapped in awe. "Well, I kinda expected it from Vince, but it's a shocker even Manek-san can do it."

My head started turning around on autopilot. "What do you mean 'expected'—"

"DON'T TURN AROUND!" Yuzu abruptly roared, prompting me to stop.

"What you said was really shocking! And I didn't see anything, calm down!" I shouted in defense.

"You care a lot about your Monsters. That much is obvious from the way you talk about them, and how you Duel," she explained with a huff. "I've noticed you whispering to yourself while Dueling a couple of times before."

"I've noticed that too." Serena added out of nowhere. "Even chuckling."

"O-Oi, why didn't say anything!?" who knows how creepy I looked while doing those things!

"I thought you were always trying to calm yourself or preparing a strategy out loud." Yuzu remarked. "That said, can you also talk with the Monsters of other Duelists?"

Manek, who's been seemingly staring off into space following his earlier words, was the one reply. "Yes. In fact, your Mozarta just reached out to me and said you have a crush on Yuya." there was a yelp behind us. "Hmm, so it's true."

"I expected that, honestly." I said mischievously.

"I-I absolutely don't love that idiot!" I couldn't see her face, but I'm sure she turned beet red. "You just made that up! And Vince's backing you up!"

Yeah, yeah, keep deluding yourself. That said, why wasn't I able to see Mozarta just now?

"We Duel Spirits can choose to be only seen and heard by specific individuals." seeing my perplexed state, Yamatochi spoke up. "This Mozarta you speak of chose to show herself only to that young man. We're doing the same thing, letting you alone hear us." ooh, I see!

"Serena," Manek resumed speaking. "You should calm your dancers, you know?"

"I don't believe in fairy tales." she scoffed. "And why should I do that anyway?"

"Your Monsters keep on gossiping and saying things about getting you a mate."

"I'm not going to answer that." Serena spat. Oi, why were they only talking with Manek!? I want to hear these kinds of things as well!

"Aaand we're done! You can now turn around, boys." we did as we were told, seeing Yuzu and Serena with switched clothes. However, they kept their respective hairstyles, ribbons, bracelets, and Duel Disks.

"You know..." a mischievous smile came across Manek's face. "There are LDS cameras everywhere around the city. There might be a slight chance Reiji saw you two undress."

"N-N-NAANIII!?" Yuzu roared in shock, her face changing color once more. "Why didn't you tell us sooner!?"

"Forgot." Manek said simply.

"C'mon Yuzu, there's no way Reiji would do that!" I pointed out with a laugh.

"Where's Kurosaki?" ignoring her counterpart's outburst, Serena cut right to the chase.

"H-He wasn't in the Volcano or the Jungle Area." Yuzu told.

"All that's left is the Ancient ruins." Serena concluded.

"In that case, I'll go with you, Yuzu." I offered, to which she nodded.

"Tsukikage, can I leave Serena in your and Hikage's care?" Manek addressed the silent ninja. "I'm going back to the Volcano Area to help the Youth team."

"Very well." Tsukikage nodded.

"I'm going to search for the remaining competitors and fill them in on the situation." Dennis said.

"We can't contact them via calls?" I inquired in confusion.

"Some time after the Action Field was activated, communications were disabled," Tsukikage explained. "This does not apply only to us, but Academia as well."

"Ah, got it." now that he mentioned it, Reiji contacted me before Quartet of Quandry was deployed, and we ended the call minutes after that.

"Good luck, everyone." after nodding to Dennis's words, we parted ways.


Third-person POV

"What the heck is wrong with this world? First the Ice Age, and now a blazing Hell..."

Yugo wondered out loud as he stared at the lava flowing through the street and the volcano in the distance, which polluted the sky with smoke. Clear Wing ought to stop warping him to random places with its light...but that's what only a part of him wanted.

The other half was glad he's here because his dragon always sent him to random, yet important places. Like that warzone where defenseless people or those who lose in a Duel get carded by grinning bastards, or that park where he met his look-alike that captured Rin.

Yugo snapped out of his thoughts when he noticed a person running on the other side of the street, way up ahead.

"Let's hope this guy won't snap on me like the two from earlier did..." he muttered to himself before starting the engine of his D-Wheel, and then drove off.

"Is that a bike engine?" Manek halted upon hearing the said sound. His question was soon answered when Yugo drove up to him and stopped in front of him. He blinked twice after seeing the driver's face. "Yuya?"

"Yuya? Who's that?" the Synchro user scowled. Well, at least he didn't call him Fusion. "I'm Yugo!"

"Ah, sorry. You look just like someone I know." Manek took out his Duel Disk and searched for an image of the mentioned youth. He then showed it to Yugo. "See?"

"Wait a second..." he removed his visor to make sure he was seeing it right. "I know that guy! He was there at the park that night I fought the bastard who took Rin away! Maybe I could ask him what happened after I blacked out..."

"By the way, how do you pronounce your name?" Manek asked. "You see, your name itself almost sounds like this Spell and type of Monster Card we have in our Extra Deck in this Dimension: Fusion."

"There it is again! This 'Fusion'!" Yugo sighed in exasperation. "You can't imagine how many people get it wrong, and they even attack me for it! It's Yūgo, and not Yūgō which means Fusion!"

"Got it, just wanted to clarify." Manek nodded. "To be fair...apparently, a different Dimension literally wagged war against the Dimension whose inhabitants attacked you for that reason. They were attacked by Duelists who use Fusion Monsters."

"So that's why they attacked me after hearing my name..." Yugo realized. They assumed he was an invader, too, huh? So the warzone from back then was a battle between Dimensions? What the Hell...

"Just a quick question." Manek showed him another picture. "Is she a familiar face?"

"Rin!?" Yugo exclaimed in shock, which then morphed into anger. "Oi, why do you have a photo of my Rin!?" noticing Manek's weirded-out stare and realizing what he's said, Yugo blushed and raised his hands in defense. "I-I mean, she's not mine! We're just childhood friends, but she's someone very dear to me! It's not like we're dating or something, though I would lov—uh, no, I wanted to say don't get the wrong idea!"

Manek put a stop to his gabbling by bonking the top of his head with a fist.

"That's not Rin, idiot." he scolded him. "Look again. However, you just confirmed a theory of mine."

Yugo raised an eyebrow and did as he was told. "This is Rin. After all, she has amber eyes...green hair...and light green sidetails...huh?" his eyes widened. "This isn't Rin at all!"

"Thank you for finally noticing." the black-haired youth chuckled and equipped his Duel Disk. "The name's Manek Wierrd, a famous actor of this Standard Dimension. We're holding a Battle Royal right now, hence the unusual scenery."

"So that's why..." Yugo glanced at their surroundings again.

"The two I've shown you pictures of are contestants in it," Manek explained. He then frowned. "You arrived at a bad time...but we can talk along the time. Can I hop on your bike?"

"This isn't a bike! It's a D-Wheel!" Yugo corrected him. He then smirked. "But yeah, jump on!"

Once Manek was seated on the back of his D-Wheel, Yugo drove off.

"Have you noticed certain cards have counterparts of each other?" Manek asked out of the blue.

"Counterparts?" Yugo parroted. "Like sharing similar patterns? Hmm...now that I think about it, there's another guy who shares my face and has a dragon called Dark Rebellion Xyz Dragon, the same name as the Summoning Method he uses. Mine is called Clear Wing Synchro Dragon."

"Yuya has a dragon too: Odd-Eyes Pendulum Dragon, named after Pendulum Summoning." Manek pointed out. "If each dragon has a different version of you, and since there are four Dimensions, I think it's safe to say there's a version of you and your dragon from the Fusion Dimension."

"Yeah, that doesn't sound far-fetched." Yugo agreed with a nod.

"But why's that the case?" Manek frowned. "There are too many things missing from the image..."

"Beats me." Yugo remarked, annoyed like the other youth. "You said I arrived at a bad time, right? Why's that?"

"Soldiers from the Fusion Dimension are here." Manek narrowed his eyes. "I'm on my way to aid my comrades. Yugo, make a right here!"

After doing so, "So those bastards attacked this world too, huh?" Yugo muttered. "That means my homeworld is the only one safe for now."

Manek raised an eyebrow. "Who says they haven't been there already?" the driver's eyes dilated a little at that. "There are numerous methods to attack, each effective in its own way. There's the typical fight, where it's like an all-out brawl. However, there's also a war on the mental level, which is like a huge game of chess. Is there anyone you know that seemingly appeared out of thin air in your Dimension?"

"Out of thin air?" Yugo pondered about this, and his eyes suddenly widened. He even stopped his D-Wheel to look backwards at the other male. "Now that you mention it, there is this one guy. One day, he appeared in our city and rose to Chief of Security out of nowhere. Rumor has it that he gave the Executive Council some technology we didn't have in our world before...true enough, the Real Solid Vision was introduced days later. Are you saying he's a spy from the Fusion Dimension?"

"Not sure." Manek shook his head. "If he was truly a loyal agent, then the invasion of the Synchro Dimension would've already started... Gah! So many questions, so little answers! Let's focus on helping my comrades for now, and think about this later."

"Fine by me." Yugo concurred, and the two were off again.

Quite coincidentally, they heard a distant scream in the distance seconds later.

"If we join a Duel, we'll take 2000 damage as Intrusion Penalty." Manek informed him.

"You people play by weird rules..." Yugo commented.

Manek merely smirked in return. "Ready to screw them up?"

"Hell yeah!" Yugo replied with a smirk of his own and sped up.

"This is the end!" an Obelisk Force member shouted. "I attack Hierophant of Prophecy!"

"Hold it right there!" Yugo cried out as he drove up an outcrop, launching his D-Wheel into the air and landing on the bridge. The Obelisk Force and the sole survivor of the Youth Team, Yuu, gasped at the sudden interference.

Current Duel status:

Obelisk Force Red #1 - LP: 2500

Hand: 0 cards

Field: controls 1 Double Ancient Gear Hunting Hound and 1 Triple Ancient Gear Hunting Hound

Double Ancient Gear Hunting Hound: Earth / Machine / Fusion / Effect / ATK: 1400 / DEF: 1000 / LV: 5

Triple Ancient Gear Hunting Hound: Earth / Machine / Fusion / Effect / ATK: 1800 / DEF: 1000 / LV: 7

Obelisk Force Red #2 - LP: 3800

Hand: 0 cards

Field: controls 1 Double Hunting Hound and 1 Triple Hunting Hound

Double Hunting Hound: ATK 1400 / DEF 1000 / LV: 5

Triple Hunting Hound: ATK 1800 / DEF 1000 / LV: 7

Obelisk Force Green #1 - LP: 2800

Hand: 0 cards

Field: controls 1 Double Hunting Hound and 1 Triple Hunting Hound

Double Hunting Hound: ATK 1400 / DEF 1000 / LV: 5

Triple Hunting Hound: ATK 1800 / DEF 1000 / LV: 7

Obelisk Force Green #2 - LP: 3300

Hand: 0 cards

Field: controls 1 Triple Hunting Hound and 1 Set card

Triple Hunting Hound: ATK 1800 / DEF 1000 / LV: 7

Obelisk Force Yellow #1 - LP: 3200

Hand: 0 cards

Field: controls 1 Triple Hunting Hound and 1 Ancient Armageddon Gear

Triple Hunting Hound: ATK 1800 / DEF 1000 / LV: 7

Obelisk Force Yellow #2 - LP: 2100

Hand: 0 cards

Field: controls 1 Ultimate Ancient Gear Hunting Hound and 1 Set card

Ultimate Ancient Gear Hunting Hound: Earth / Machine / Fusion / Effect / ATK: 2800 / DEF: 2000 / LV: 9

Yuu - LP: 1700

Hand: 0 cards

Field: controls 1 Hierophant of Prophecy

Hierophant of Prophecy: Dark / Spellcaster / Xyz / Effect / ATK: 2800 / DEF: 2600 / RK: 7

Yugo revealed a card to Yellow #1. "When an opponent's Monster declares an attack, I can Special Summon Speedroid Menko from my hand!"

Following his words, a square-shaped mechanical Monster appeared on his field.

Speedroid Menko: Wind / Machine / Effect / ATK: 100 / DEF: 2000 / LV: 4

"Then, all Monsters my opponent controls are changed to defense mode!" Menko blasted steam from its four corners, which enveloped all other Monsters and forced them to assume defensive stances.

[Intrusion Penalty: 2000 Points.] the newcomers' Duel Disks declared in unison, releasing a short shock wave that caused the two to grimace.

Yugo: LP 4000 - 2000 = 2000

Manek: LP 4000 - 2000 = 2000

"Y-You two are...!" Yuu said through a trembling voice.

"Leave the rest to us!" Manek reassured him as he got off the D-Wheel.

"Dammit, I can't attack anymore..." Yellow #1 gritted his teeth in frustration. "I end my turn!"

"Who are you two!?" Green #2 demanded.

"I'm Yugo, and this over here is Manek." the Synchro user answered.

"Fusion?" Red #1 asked in confusion.

"I said Yugo, dammit!" he snapped. "Ore no turn! Draw!"

"Yugo, I need a hand advantage stat!" Manek informed him. "From my hand, I activate the effect of Maxx "C", sending it to the Graveyard! Now, until the current turn ends, each time my opponents Special Summon a Monster, I must draw a card!"

"You got it!" Yugo nodded as his smirk returned. Because of the rules, he's treated as one of his opponents as well, which means they can use that effect to their advantage. "I Special Summon Speedroid CarTurbo from my hand!"

A mechanical Monster that seemed to be a mix between a card and a car's engine appeared.

Speedroid CarTurbo: Wind / Machine / Tuner / Effect / ATK: 800 / DEF: 1200 / LV: 3

"I'm allowed to do that because I control a Wind Attribute Monster," Yugo explained while Manek drew a card. He then revved his D-Wheel's engine and drove up an outcrop, speeding into the air. "I tune the Level 3 CarTurbo with the Level 4 Menko!"

As CarTurbo's body morphed into three green rings that surrounded Menko and turned it into four stars, Yugo landed on the side of a building and drove downwards on it while chanting.

"Spread those wondrous and beautiful wings, and strike down your enemies at the speed of light! Synchro Summon! Appear now, Level 7! Clear Wing Synchro Dragon!"

A bright beam shot through the rings, from which a white and blue armored dragon adorned with green crystalline wings emerged with a resounding roar. At the same time, Yugo jumped off the building and landed on the bridge again, and Manek drew per the effect of Maxx "C".

Clear Wing Synchro Dragon: Wind / Dragon / Synchro / Effect / ATK: 2500 / DEF: 2000 / LV: 7

"A Synchro Summon?" Green #1 parroted.

"Clear Wing...Synchro Dragon...?" Yuu whispered in awe. "He said his name's Yugo, but his face... Is he a twin of Sakaki Yuya...?"

"Next, since a Monster was Special Summoned to my field, I can Special Summon Speedroid Rubberband Plane from my hand!"

Following Yugo's words, a Monster that appeared to be a rubber band powered airplane shot down from the sky and stopped beside his dragon.

Speedroid Rubberband Plane: Wind / Machine / Effect / ATK: 1800 / DEF: 0 / LV: 5

"With another Special Summon, I can draw another card." Manek reminded everyone.

"But, once per turn, if a Monster is Normal or Special Summoned to the opponent's field, Double Hunting Hound's effect activates!" Red #2 stated. "I can place one Gear Counter on that Monster!"

"I activate the same effect!" Green #1 added.

"Now your dragon and your toy will share the same fate as those weaklings' Monsters!" Yellow #1 grinned.

"I wonder about that." Yugo smirked, causing them to gasp. "If a Level 5 or higher Monster on the field activates its effect, by targeting that Monster, Clear Wing negates the activation of that effect and then destroys that Monster! Dichroic Mirror!"

Clear Wing roared as it unleashed a wave of light from its wings, which then enveloped the two Double Hunting Hounds and caused them to explode into particles.

"After that, Clear Wing gains the destroyed Monsters' Attack Points until the end of this turn!" Yugo concluded.

(Clear Wing: 2500→5300 ATK)

"What power...!" Green #2 frowned. "And it isn't a one-per-turn effect! This guy can't be from Standard...!"

"B-Because a Monster on the field was destroyed, Ancient Armageddon Gear's effect." Yellow #1 stated begrudgingly. "The destroyed Monster's controller takes damage equal to the Attack it had on the field..."

A barrage of energy projectiles was fired from the Continuous Spell, striking Yellow #1's own allies and making them cry out in pain.

Obelisk Force Red #2: LP 3800 - 1400 = 2400

Obelisk Force Green #1: LP 2800 - 1400 = 1400

"Our own card's effect was used against us...!?" Red #1 took a step back in shock.

"Rubberband Plane's effect follows up!" Yugo declared. "As it was Special Summoned, I can target one Monster on the field and lower its Attack by 600 points. However! If a Level 5 or higher Monster on the field is targeted by a Monster Effect, I can activate Clear Wing's Dichroic Mirror!"

"Destroying your own Monster for more Attack!?" Yuu gasped as Rubberband Plane left the field in a shower of particles once Clear Wing's light touched it.

(Clear Wing: 5300→7100 ATK)

"7100 Attack!?" Green #2 grasped his head in horror.

"But, at this moment, Ancient Armageddon Gear's effect activates!" Yellow #1 reminded him. "You take damage equal to your toy's Atta—"

"I activate the effect of Dopant of Smilodon in my hand, Special Summoning him to negate the activation of a card effect that would inflict damage!" Manek interrupted the Obelisk Force member.

The said Monster materialized above Yugo and absorbed the energy projectiles into his left hand.

Dopant of Smilodon: ATK 2400 / DEF 2000 / LV: 7

"Why you!" Yellow #1 snarled.

"Nice assist, Manek!" Yugo thanked his ally with a thumbs up. "To complete my preparations, I activate the Spell Card Wild Turbulence!" a card, which depicted Junk Berserker with his eyes glowing brightly as violent winds enveloped his body, appeared. "By cutting in half my dragon's Attack, this turn, it can attack up to three times and its attacks inflict piercing damage!"

(Clear Wing: 7100→3550 ATK)

"Th-Three attacks!?" Green #1 cried out in shock.

"GO!" Yugo ordered his dragon, which took off into the sky. "Strike them down, Clear Wing! Helldive Slasher of Whirlwind!"

Its wings radiated light again as Clear Wing dive-bombed three Triple Hunting Hounds, shredding them into pieces and setting off a series of explosions. The mechanical hounds' users screamed in pain as the shock waves knocked them to the ground, and they fell unconscious.

Obelisk Force Red #1: LP 2500 - 2550 = 0

Obelisk Force Red #2: LP 2400 - 2550 = 0

Obelisk Force Green #1: LP 1400 - 2550 = 0

Their Duel Disks' screens suddenly emitted a strong flash, enveloping their bodies in light, and they vanished in an instant.

Forced return, huh... Manek frowned.

"Unbelievable..." Yuu's legs suddenly gave away, and he fell to the ground with wide eyes. "The people that tormented us, the Youth team, and we couldn't defeat...he took out three of them so easily and so quickly...!"

"As we're in the Battle Phase, I can activate Smilodon's effect, returning him to my hand." Manek stated as his Monster fazed out of existence.

"I can't do anything else, so I end my turn. Clear Wing's Attack returns to normal." Yugo glanced at his ally. "I'm leaving the rest up to you, Manek!"

The Dopant user nodded. "Don't worry, I got this. My turn! I draw! Yugo, I need to borrow your dragon for a while, okay?"

"Go ahead!"

"I play the Spell Card Monster Bargain, targeting Clear Wing with it." a card, which depicted Goblin of Greed holding up a Pot of Greed at a farmer's market, haggling with Skull Servant who had Behemoth the King of All Animals leashed, appeared. "Since Yugo agreed to lend me his dragon, I gain control of the targeted Monster!"

The said Monster flew over to his side of the field. "Next, I pay half of my Life to activate the Spell Card Extra-Foolish Burial, sending Masked Warrior - Accel from my Extra Deck to the Graveyard!"

Manek: LP 20001000

"From the Extra Deck?" Yellow #2 echoed.

"It's all part of my plan." Manek smiled. "With a Monster Special Summoned from the Extra Deck on the field, I can Special Summon this card from my hand! I know this is a serious situation and all that, but listen to this musical number!"

Followed by a valiant cry, a humanoid silhouette, whose only distinct feature was a futuristic belt, crashed into the ground in front of Manek. "Henshin!" he shouted before sliding a card into his belt, which then added [Kamen Rider: De-De-Decade!] and played epic music as armor and a mask appeared on the silhouette.

Masked Warrior - Decade: Dark / Warrior / Effect / ATK: 2500 / DEF: 2000 / LV: 8

"I use Decade's effect!" Manek continued. "Only once during a turn, he can take on the name and the effects of a 'Masked Warrior' Monster that's in my Graveyard or Banish Zone, and that Monster is then shuffled into my Deck. Decade now becomes Accel!"

Decade brought out a new card and slid it into his belt, which shouted [Kamen Rider: A-A-Accel!] as he became Accel in all but his belt.

"So that's why he used Extra-Foolish Burial." Yugo noted in a low tone.

"Your stupid music show isn't going to help you win, Standard trash!" Green #2 sneered defiantly.

Manek merely raised an eyebrow. "Then how about a magic trick? By discarding a Spell Card from my hand and using Decade that's now Accel as the only material, I build the Overlay Network!"

"What did you say!?" Yellow #1 gasped. "This one uses Xyz!?"

Decade turned into a purple beam and entered a swirling galaxy, from which a pillar of light shot out.

"From red to yellow, prepare to hit it with everything you got!" Manek chanted. "Time to upgrade this memory! Xyz Summon! Rank 8! Masked Warrior - Accel Upgrade: Booster!"

An upgraded Accel covered in yellow armor instead of the original red launched out of the portal, landing before his user before striking a pose.

Masked Warrior - Accel Upgrade: Booster: Light / Warrior / Xyz / Effect / ATK: 3000 / DEF: 2500 / RK: 8

"Xyz...it's the same as the one that Dark Rebellion guy uses." Yugo eyed the newly Summoned warrior with narrowed eyes.

Yellow #2 gritted his teeth. "Standard's Duelists weren't supposed to be this strong...!"

Manek smiled wider at hearing that. He then turned to Clear Wing and whistled. "Ready!?" the dragon roared affirmatively, prompting Manek to declare, "I banish Memory Transfer from my grave to activate its effect! Until the end of this turn, Clear Wing's Attack is transferred to Booster!"

The spectral image of a Spell Card, which depicted Aromage Bergamot standing between Fairy Archer Ingunar and Cyber End Dragon, with Ingunar's hand on Bergamot's back as aura flowed from her into him, appeared before turning into golden energy that enveloped his Monsters.

(Clear Wing: 2500→0 ATK; Booster: 3000→5500 ATK)

"Hang on, there's more!" Manek clicked his fingers. Booster jumped onto Clear Wing's back, and the two soared up high into the sky. "I activate Booster's effect. By using one Overlay Unit, this turn, he can attack all enemy Monsters once each! Moreover, his attacks inflict piercing damage!"

The light orbiting the Xyz Monster was sucked into his chest, releasing a strong light that bounced off the windows of the nearby buildings, wrapping the battlefield with an entertaining and utopian atmosphere.

"Amazing..." Yuu breathed out as he stared at his saviors. "It's like they're in perfect sync..."

Attack and see what happens, Standard trash. Green #2 and Yellow #2 were unconsciously thinking about the same thing. The card I've set is Ancient Gear Reflector... When you attack my 'Ancient Gear' Fusion Monster, this Trap will destroy your Monster and inflict you damage equal to half the Attack it had on the field. Your own power will be your downfall!

"For the finishing touches, I activate Twin Twisters." Manek declared. "I discard a card from my hand to destroy your two set cards!"

"No!" Green #2 and Yellow #2 gasped in unison as their last chance of survival vanished.

"Battle!" Manek shouted. "Go Booster! With the aid of Clear Wing, strike them all down! Boosted Skydiving Wind!"

The two Monsters dive-bombed their foes, ensuing another set of explosions and pained cries, knocking the remaining Obelisk Force members out cold and causing them to vanish in a flash of light.

Obelisk Force Green #2: LP 3300 - 4500 = 0

Obelisk Force Yellow #1: LP 3200 - 4500 = 0

Obelisk Force Yellow #2: LP 2100 - 3500 = 0

Winner: Yugo / Manek / Yuu!

"Whew." Manek sighed as the Duel ended and their Monsters vanished.

"Well done, Manek!" Yugo cheered with a wide grin. He then glanced at the youth still sitting on the ground. "Are you OK?"

Yuu nodded weakly. "Y-Yes, I am... Thank you for...saving me." the Dopant user helped him stand up, and he was going to fall back down were it not for his support.

"Yuu..." Manek's eyes narrowed in concern. This guy...he was shaking so much; he looked to be on the verge of a breakdown. "What happened? There were twelve of those bastards. Did your team manage to defeat six of them?"

The lavender-haired youth shook his head. "M-Manek...they...how could they do that...?" he mumbled, staring at the ground in horror. "That...that wasn't Dueling. They were...playing with us. Torturing us. Mid-Duel, six of them said this wasn't fun at all...and just walked away."

Dammit, they scattered off. Manek thought with a grimace. Not only that: they defeated the Youth team, and its sole survivor was drowning in despair. Unforgivable. "Yuu, you must calm down."

"Fun? That was fun?" unfortunately, Yuu wasn't able to hear his words. He started hyperventilating, and tears formed in his eyes. "They carded us. Treated it like a game! Kurosaki wasn't exaggerating anything!"

Yugo's eyes widened in concern. "O-Oi!" he ran up to them and placed a hand over his shoulder, but that didn't draw a reaction either. "Calm down!"

"At least Serena and Barrett fought seriously! Those guys...deliberately making misplays to give us hope...and then crushing it seconds later!" Yuu fell to his knees as he screamed and cried. "Those aren't soldiers! They are monsters! All my friends were—"

"SAKURAGI YUU!" Manek yelled at the top of his lungs, snapping the said youth out of his trance. He slowly raised his head, looking into the actor's steadfast eyes. "I know you're distraught right now. But, don't lose yourself to despair yet. There are still people out there who need our help, who can be saved!"

Yuu's eyes opened wide. He...he's right. He can't give up, not when his duty wasn't over yet. He can still see the scared faces of his friends, hear their screams, seconds before a purple light blinded them. It's on constant replay. But...he can wail later. Now, he must protect the people of Maiami City.

He doesn't want another person to be carded! "M-Manek, I...sorry." Yuu got back up and wiped the tears from his eyes.

"Don't apologize for being a victim." Manek scolded him softly. "Yugo, I want you to go to the Iceberg Area. You'll find Yuzu and a Duelist called Vince there. Academia's forces are currently searching for Serena, another look-alike of your Rin, but she switched clothes with Yuzu."

"Which means they'll target Yuzu for sure!" Yugo put two and two together. "While I'm surprised there's another girl who shares Rin's face, I'll have to put that aside for now. I'll go find the two you mentioned and help them!"

Manek expressed his gratitude with a nod, and together with Yuu, began running towards the LDS headquarters. Yugo got on his D-Wheel and drove off, speeding to the Iceberg Area...


Fan-made Cards:

Yugo:

Wild Turbulence

Normal Spell

Target 1 WIND Synchro Monster you control; halve its ATK (until the end of this turn), and if you do, this turn, it can inflict piercing battle damage to your opponent, and it can make up to 3 attacks during each Battle Phase, but it cannot attack your opponent directly.

Manek:

Monster Bargain

Normal Spell

Target 1 monster your opponent controls; your opponent selects 1 of these effects to apply.

- You take control of that target.

- You draw 2 cards.

You can only activate 1 "Monster Bargain" per turn.

Masked Warrior - Decade (Dark/Warrior/Effect/ATK: 2500/DEF: 2000/LV: 8)

If you control no cards, or a monster that was Special Summoned from the Extra Deck is on the field, and this card is in your hand or GY: You can Special Summon this card, but banish it when it leaves the field if it was Special Summoned from the GY. You can target 1 "Masked Warrior" monster in your GY or Banish Zone; until the End Phase, this card's name becomes that monster's original name, and replace this effect with that monster's original effects, also shuffle that monster into the Deck. You can only use each effect of "Masked Warrior - Decade" once per turn.

Masked Warrior - Accel Upgrade: Booster (Light/Warrior/Xyz/Effect/ATK: 3000/DEF: 2500/RK: 8)

4 Level 8 monsters

You can also Xyz Summon this card by discarding 1 Spell and using 1 "Masked Warrior - Accel" you control as the Xyz Material. (Xyz Materials attached to that monster also become Xyz Materials on this card.) This card can inflict piercing battle damage to your opponent. Once per turn: You can detach 1 material from this card; during each Battle Phase this turn, this card can attack all monsters your opponent controls, once each.

Memory Transfer

Normal Spell

Target 2 monsters you control; lower the first target's ATK to 0, and if you do, the second target gains ATK equal to that lost amount. These changes last until the End Phase. You can banish this card from your GY, then target 2 monsters you control; lower the first target's ATK to 0, and if you do, the second target gains ATK equal to that lost amount. These changes last until the End Phase. You can only use 1 "Memory Transfer" effect per turn, and only once that turn.

Obelisk Force:

Ancient Gear Reflector

Normal Trap

When your "Ancient Gear" Fusion Monster is attacked: Target the attacking monster; destroy it, and if you do, your opponent takes damage equal to half the ATK it had on the field. You can only activate 1 "Ancient Gear Reflector" per turn.


As always, a big thank you for ghost83, the creator of Manek's fan-made cards and who helped me write the scenes that have his OC in them.

Let's start from the beginning, shall we?

The first scene was supposed to appear in the last chapter, but I decided to squeeze it into here and write it from Leo's perspective! I took this chance to explain some things I think the show overshadowed, like why sending YURI FROM ALL PEOPLE to capture the Bracelet Girls is a good idea.

Then a new OC makes his debut, namely Philus, known as Noroi Philius in the older version. In a future Secret of the Chapter, I'll reveal why I changed his name and surname, though I think a couple of you might have already noticed. He plays an important role in this story, so make sure not to forget him!

We return to Vince's POV after that, who's discussing with Reiji about the Battle Royal. Our MC is concerned about the other competitors', Manek's, and the Youth team's safety, but Reiji reassures him they'll hold off Academia's invasion, making him accept this change of plans.

The Battle Royal starts the next day, and we already have a change. Instead of three Knights of Duels, we only have two; I had to discard one to make the number of competitors correct, and what a better character to throw out than a useless one to the plot?

Reiji helps Vince find two Pendulum Cards and reveals he let Serena loose. Unlike in the anime where she escaped on her own (I think that's the case because Reiji didn't know her whereabouts, hence why he hired the ninja brothers to locate and protect her) in my story Reiji has everything under control.

I decided to leave the Dennis vs. Yuzu Duel untouched this time around. Why? "I have plans for Dennis" is all I can say, heh heh. And I also want to make his secret tie with Academia as unnoticeable as possible, mainly because Adaro is a thing.

Now, if there's one thing ARC-V taught us, it's that people can be forgiven very easily. You took control of an entire Dimension and attacked three others, carding an uncountable amount of innocent people? Pfff, don't worry. Let's egao together and we'll pretend that never happened!

LIKE WHAT THE HELL!? THAT ISN'T HOW THINGS WORK! People need time to recover from war or a tragic past, and scars never fade! They can steel themselves and stand up, but they'll never be the same as before. I hope this chapter did a good job of relaying this message. I want to keep things realistic so that people can relate to our characters and make the story all the more memorable. This should explain why the discussion between Vince and Manek went downhill, or why Yuu had that reaction instead of the anime's humoristic one.

Last but not least, Manek and Yugo defeated some Obelisk Force buffons and spared Yuu from being carded. That Duel was fun to write, I hope you readers liked it as well.

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 Clear Wing Synchro Dragon and Masked Warrior - Accel Upgrade: Booster. They suddenly glowed, and Yugo and Manek emerged from them respectively.

"Man, we sent those creeps packing!" Yugo grinned proudly and punched his palm with his other hand. "It was my first Dueling with you, but we were in perfect sync!"

"Indeed. I would be lying to myself if I said it wasn't cool to use your dragon." Manek admitted with a grin of his own. "Is your girlfriend the only person you've teamed up with in a Duel so far?"

"G-Girlfriend!? Y-You mean Rin!?" Yugo started waving his hands frantically. "Nononono, Manek, you got it all wrong! Rin isn't my girlfriend! I mean, I would love for that to be—oi, what are you making me say!? Listen here, you! She's extremely dear to me, but we're just childhood friends! I still remember the day we first met, like it was yesterday! You see, I was..."

Yugo began narrating his childhood, occasionally throwing in comments like "she was very cute" or "her hair smelled nice" and then immediately reminding Manek he and Rin weren't an item.

Manek simply sighed in exasperation before turning to the viewers. Yugo was so engrossed in his story that he didn't notice his interlocutor wasn't paying him attention anymore. "Here's the Secret of the Chapter, everyone: my music theme is Wish in the dark, Kamen Rider Genm's theme for his Level X form. But that's for when I'm not Dueling. Humanity Extinction Suite, Kamen Rider Ark-Zero's theme, plays when I snap during a Duel."

"ARE YOU EVEN LISTENING!?" Yugo yelled when he finally noticed no one was listening to him, but seconds later, the screen faded into black, followed by the words [To Be Continued...].