Hello, everyone! Welcome back! I'm sorry if I made you wait a lot, but these last two months ended up being extremely arduous. Not to mention, I was able to finish this chapter by pure chance when I found out an exam I was supposed to have some time this week got postponed and I earned myself some free time. On top of that, this became the longest chapter of this story, as well as the second longest chapter I've ever written!

Seriously, I don't top myself on purpose...but I do tend to go into detail a little bit too much...

Thanks to everyone who reviewed the last chapter!

- In response to ZarcEternal's review:

"Tiamat in her dragon form, you ask? Hmm...that is worth consideration."

- In response to unknown's review:

"I'm delighted to know I was able to leave a mark."

- In response to XenoLucifer's review:

"Um, I never really cared about that, honestly... I only focused on the 'my turn' part to reveal the pronoun the character uses, so I didn't bother with translating 'draw' too. Sorry if it sounds weird."

- In response to 1st Guest's review:

"Sadly, since the Wicked Gods already play a major role in my Overdrive story, I won't use them in this story as well."

- In response to 2nd Guest's review:

"Nope, Vince won't have any counterparts."

[Using Anime/Manga Effects.]


[The seventh day of the Maiami Championship is off to a good start!]

As usual, the crowd erupted into cheers at the conclusion of another thrilling Action Duel, with a new Duelist securing themselves a place in the Top 16. The girl who won, Olga, if I recalled correctly, wasn't half bad, but I guess that was to be expected since she's an exchange student from LDS' Arctic campus and Synchro course. But it's time for today's true diva to take the stage!

[And up next in this Second Stadium, we have...] Nico continued from where he had left off, revealing who'll Duel next. [You Show Duel School's Hiiragi Yuzu versus Duel Girls Club's Naname Mikiyo!]

Yuzu was the first to walk into the center court, sporting a determined smile. Our shouts of encouragement went lost in the crowd's loud cheers, but she made sure to glance in our direction and wave at us when she stopped walking. That's when her expression turned to one of worry, and after a quick inspection, I found out why.

Yuya was quietly staring at Dark Rebellion Xyz Dragon, so absorbed by his thoughts that he didn't even notice Yuzu was about to start her Duel. Apparently, the others told me this also happened during my Duel with Hokuto; the way his Duel with Kachidoki ended has left him greatly crestfallen... But Yuzu reassured me she'll Duel to restore his smile today. If it's Yuzu, I'm sure she'll make it happen!

Naname Mikiyo soon entered the center court herself, putting on a short show for her fans that made them roar in excitement. Nico did mention she's an Idol Duelist during the first round...it's no surprise she makes getting her fans excited seem like child's play.

BUZZ

My Duel Disk suddenly vibrated while we were cheering for our friend, meaning I got a message. That's weird...we're all here, so who could the sender be? I don't think I shared my number with Yoko yet, which leaves...Reiji.

I made sure to take my Duel Disk out and read the message without the others noticing me, and as I expected, it was indeed from Reiji. He wants to meet with me at the entrance of LDS ASAP, huh... If he's asking for my help, that must mean something Academia-related came up.

I must hurry. I told myself while putting away my Duel Disk.

"Vince-oniichan?" Tatsuya asked in confusion when I stood up, prompting the others to look at me as well. "What's wrong?"

"I have to use the restroom..." I lied while scratching the back of my head sheepishly. "I thought I could hold it out, but I was wrong, heh heh... I'll make sure to hurry!"

"Don't worry, Vince!" Shuzo exclaimed. "We'll make sure to cheer in your stead while you're gone!"

Apart from Yuya who still looked lost, the others earnestly nodded to confirm his words.

"Thanks, guys!" I replied with a nod of my own before rushing off.

"At last, something interesting is about to take place."Demiurge sounded eager, a sentiment I didn't share.

Something dire will surely unfold if Academia is involved, so I personally hope we'll make it through this in one piece. Although, as long as I have my Mythorrors with me, I have nothing to fear. I also have Demiurge who can just cheat his way to victory by using his power if things get sticky, not to mention Reiji's support!


Turn 9:

Warriors of Academia


"Those presumptuous Different Dimension Daemons..." Balor abruptly hissed when I arrived at the rendezvous point. If he said that, Reiji should be somewhere around here...ah, there! He was wearing his large hooded sweatshirt, the one he also wore when we first met him at You Show, no wonder I didn't spot him immediately. Concealing his identity was a good choice since we're in a hurry, wouldn't want random people stopping him to ask questions. "Displaying their presence in such a casual manner before Demiurge-sama..."

"You're one to talk." Adaro sneered. "You lot never bother hiding your own scent."

"Watch your tongue, merman." Balor warned him. Adaro only giggled in response, clearly unmoved by his words, but I hoped this won't ensue into a fight...how would that even work? Would they brawl in my mind? I don't think the others would want that to happen, either, not even Demiurge because it would annoy him. "Demiurge-sama has no reason not to! Everybody should know they're graced to be near him."

"Graced, you say..." Adaro muttered defiantly, and in this case, I couldn't help but agree with him, unlike Balor and his comrades who were getting more and more annoyed. 'Graced' was an exaggeration...

"Now, now, cool down, you two." Seth thankfully interrupted them. That seemed to calm them down a little, and I started walking towards Reiji now that things were in the clear again. "As long as it doesn't mentally strain those around you, I don't see a reason why not to show off a little! However..." his voice then turned serious and perplexed, prompting me to suddenly stop in my tracks, "How come I can't sense it?"

"O-Only Demiurge-san and his followers can nya~..." Nekomata said, sounding glad for not having to feel the D/D/Ds' aura which would undeniably intimidate her, but to me and the others- sans the people she stated- it was weird.

My ability allowed me to see and hear Duel Spirits and sense their emotions, but unlike my Monsters, their auras were lost to me. I was thinking of asking them to teach me how to sense that, if it's possible to learn it of course. But me sensing them wasn't the problem; why couldn't my Monsters sense them? And should we be worried?

"Vince." Reiji snapped me out of my thoughts as he reached me. "Thank you for answering my abrupt summon. Something rather urgent came up. Oh, and sorry if you had trouble finding me; walking out in the open at a moment like this could lead to unwanted results."

"Don't worry, I figured that's why you're wearing this." I gestured at his hooded sweatshirt as I said that, smiling reassuringly. I discarded that smile before continuing. "How can I help you?"

"Follow me." was all he said as he walked past me, prompting me to do as I was told. I noticed he was walking at a fast pace, but not running, obviously to avoid a fuss. All this hurrying made me really think something Academia-related came up...

Instead of his limousine, a simple car was waiting for us outside for the same reason he had to wear his hooded sweatshirt. The driver wasted no time to turn on the ignition when we got in, and we left the Stadium and LDS.

"Nakajima?" I asked curiously when I noticed he wasn't the one behind the wheel.

"He'll support us from our headquarters," Reiji explained while replacing his hooded sweatshirt for his signature scarf. "I want additional assistance since this operation is a very important and crucial one."

"Let me take a guess: Academia."

"Yes." knew it! "Yesterday, three hours after your match with Shijima Hokuto, we detected a powerful Summoning energy within Maiami City. Essentially, when a Duelist performs a Summon during a Duel, their Duel Disk releases a wave of energy which my company can detect. Duel Disks from other Dimensions tend to release a stronger Summoning energy when it comes to their respective Summoning Method."

"So you picked up a Fusion Summon." I put two and two together. A device like that can come in handy. "Can you also detect where the Summoning took place?"

"Yes." Reiji nodded, and I didn't fail to notice his eyebrows furrowing. "Our cameras showed Shijima being presumably carded by an Academia Duelist."

I felt my stomach drop when I heard that. "Eh...?"

"Carded?" Willauk was confused. "What does that mean? Is it the same as killing...?"

Dear gods, I hope not! "This young man doesn't mince words." Baphomet pointed out. "He would've said 'killed' if that was the case."

"But it can't be something pleasant, either." Ereshkigal, don't ruin his words of encouragement!

"W-What do you mean by carded?" I asked the Duelist sitting next to me.

"I left this detail out the last time we talked, to avoid overwhelming you." thank you, I guess, but don't leave me hanging! "In order to subjugate the Xyz Dimension, Academia developed a special technology that allows them to seal a person into a card. The Duelists of the Xyz Dimension got their hands on it as well, more than likely by stealing an enemy Duel Disk and copying it as they did for the Solid Vision system."

So it's the Millennium Eye's ability, but as a program inside a Duel Disk? That's a cool reference to the original series, but that's going too far! What the Hell does Leo plan to achieve after carding all the citizens of the other Dimensions!? And sealing people into cards...why torture someone in such a way? Grant them a clean death instead of hurting them more!

"Akaba Leo." Demiurge's snort snapped me out of my thoughts. "I knew humans can also become irredeemable, but he managed to surprise even me."

"Your Majesty!" Sidonia gasped in surprise. "Does this mean he earned a painful death?"

"That was never a question." her creator scolded her. Wait, if he surprised you, shouldn't that mean he earned a painless death? Whatever. Unless Leo has an adequate reason for doing all of this, I will throw Demiurge on him.

And that won't end well for Leo.

My expression must have made it obvious I wasn't pleased by the news because Reiji's voice softened, as did his expression.

"We can agree that is a hideous method to finish off your opponent." he said. "I'm sorry about Shijima. I know you two developed something akin to a friendship."

"You could say that..." I nodded in agreement and would've laughed if it wasn't for the fact Hokuto became a card. Damn, just thinking about it makes me feel uneasy. "And thanks. That said...it would be too convenient for you to already know a way to undo it, right...?"

"I'm sorry." Reiji confirmed my words with an apology. "As of now, I don't have the ability to undo it. We already had other samples of carded Duelists, but my company still hasn't figured out a way to do that."

"Other samples?" I asked in concern. "Hokuto wasn't the only one?"

Reiji pushed up his spectacles, "Shijima's card is still in our target's possession. Our samples are people who've been carded by Kurosaki Shun before he aligned with me."

"By Shun?" my eyes widened a little.

"Yes. He thought I was working with Leo, so in order to lure me out and personally defeat me, he carded a couple of LDS members and sent them to me. We cleared things up since then, and as you can see, he's working with me now, even if he's not too fond of it himself."

"Oh." I could understand why Shun would use their foe's methods against them, but that's still too extreme. Even if it wins you the war, lowering yourself to Academia's level will make you as bad as them... "In that case, I'll make sure to get Shijima's card. Who knows what'll happen if he stays in the enemy's hands."

"Thank you, but don't do anything too reckless." Reiji warned me and I nodded in acknowledgment. "We've discovered the Academia agent inside the First Stadium; that's where we're currently headed to."

"Why is this agent at the Maiami Stadium?"

"It appears her targets are strong Xyz users." Reiji stated. "Either her mission requires liquidating potential threats that could pose a problem to Academia, or she thinks they're refugees from the Xyz Dimension, but I'm not sure."

"Well, we'll find out soon enough..." then I realized something. "You know they're a girl?"

"Yes. We managed to get a glimpse of her face." he made a short pause. "This might come as a shocker, but this mysterious girl shares Hiiragi Yuzu's face."

"Yuzu's? Like Ruri?" I gasped in shock. That means I'm about to meet the Fusion counterpart of Yuzu, who also works for Academia! Wait, does that mean I'm in danger? She's surely stronger than Yuzu since she's from Academia, and I lost to Yuzu that time we Dueled...but that was a long time ago, too, which means I'm stronger now. "That's...good?"

"Indeed." Reiji agreed with me, even if I said the first thing that came to my mind. "Maybe she can help us understand why these lookalikes exist or provide us valuable intel on Academia."

"As expected of our boss, he's on par with this intelligent human!" Willauk chuckled.

"...He wasn't sure of what he said, though..." oi, Howard, don't ruin my image!

"As I was saying, the mysterious girl has her eye on Sakuragi Yuu, an Xyz user and the previous year's winner of the Junior Youth league, who then qualified for the Youth league." the Yuzu-lookalike wants to fight the winner of a championship? She means business. "I'm going to write a message to Sakuragi now. I want this encounter to unfold in a private location like the Stadium's underground parking lot, and I should warn you I'll seal off the area when that happens."

"Got it." I said while taking hold of my Duel Disk. "I'll call You Show School in the meantime. I have a feeling this won't end in a flash."

"Please do." Reiji nodded and did the same thing.

Coming up with a lie wasn't difficult: it was enough to say I found a lost child and I was currently helping them find their parents. Top that with a worried tone and boom, I've got myself a believable story. But I had to reassure them I could accomplish this task on my own, or else they would've rushed to my aid. They're so good people...they don't deserve a liar like me, but it can't be helped.

Putting them in danger was out of question. If it means protecting them, I don't mind lying.

"There's another favor I'd like to ask of you." Reiji admitted when we each finished. "Sakuragi's said to be favored to win this year's Youth Championship. I personally find him very promising as well."

"Really?" my eyes widened a little. This Yuu guy must be a strong Duelist...especially if praised by the likes of Reiji. "If I remember correctly, Hokuto had a similar thing going on but for the Junior Youth Championship."

"That's right." Reiji nodded. "Sadly, Shijima's strength wasn't enough, but I'm very curious to see how Sakuragi would fare against this mysterious girl."

"He has high hopes for the brat." Demiurge noted with a snort. "But I learned to not expect too much from mere humans." would you mind not being so negative?

"But considering this will be Sakuragi's first time coming into contact with Academia, I don't want to leave him alone." Reiji continued after adjusting his spectacles. "That's why I want you to assist him in this fight. Losing another citizen is the last thing I want right now."

"Bah!" Demiurge immediately scoffed. "With you by that brat's side, how does he expect to see his strength in action?"

"He's being cautious." Reynardine observed, respecting Reiji's decision instead of laughing at it like the god. Hmm...both of them made good points.

"Vince?" Reiji raised an eyebrow when I didn't answer after a few seconds.

"Ah, sorry, I was thinking..." I told him. "Academia's Duel Soldiers aren't to laugh at, and I know that from personal experience. Moreover, Hokuto was strong...I don't want to sound mean, but the chances of Sakuragi losing to the mysterious girl are high... I don't want to leave him alone, either, so I would've interfered without being asked. But if I help him, we won't be able to see his true potential."

"I see. I won't lie you're correct." Reiji agreed with me. "But valuing a Duelist just for their winning capabilities is foolish, too. Even you wouldn't be suited to fight Academia if I were to use that logic, because luck played a big factor in your Duel against The Hitwoman and we should learn not to depend on that kind of power."

I blushed, "Right..." Reiji doesn't know about Demiurge's true power, but in a sense, he's right. I was lucky to have Demiurge come to my rescue, or else I would've lost and suffered the same fate as Hokuto.

"I want to see how Sakuragi will react to the situation; if he can handle the pressure; if he can hold his ground against Academia's Dueling," Reiji explained. "And no one ever said you have to fight on your own or shoulder your burdens alone. Working together has its charm as well. I will also help Sakuragi become stronger if he wishes to continue fighting Academia, don't worry."

"Of course..." I said slowly, not expecting him to say something like that. Demiurge and our Monsters were sharing their opinions of what they just heard, but no one actually agreed out loud with it, making me tighten my hold on my Duel Disk.

Can I make them realize that's correct before this journey ends? At least to my Monsters...?

The First Stadium's underground parking lot was deserted when we arrived since everybody was in the arena watching the new match that has just started. Reiji and I hid behind a pillar and watched as Sakuragi Yuu entered the area, followed by two cloaked figures.

"That is..." Demiurge muttered, and I immediately felt that bizarre sentiment of familiarity accompanied by hatred rising in my chest. OK, that meant one of the two is surely the mysterious girl.

But... "They're two." Reiji thought out loud, keeping his voice low so they wouldn't hear us. By the looks of things, their cameras didn't catch a glimpse of her companion. "Vince, the plan doesn't change. If they become too much for you two to handle, I'll step in."

"Got it." I whispered back.

"Are you the ones who called me here?" the confused Yuu asked the two figures.

They obviously didn't reply, instead, one of the two grasped their cloak and threw it off, revealing none other than Yuzu's lookalike. She had fair skin, green eyes, and indigo hair tied into a ponytail with a large yellow ribbon, and similarly to Yuzu, she had two lighter bangs that fell to either side of her face. Her attire, on the other hand, reminded me of The Hitwoman's, although it was mainly red instead of yellow.

"This girl...she's strong." Succubus pointed out with a giggle after having felt her aura, something that I couldn't do. Yuzu's lookalike then threw out her arm in a challenge, confusing poor Yuu even more.

Alright: it's showtime!

"No, it wasn't them." I replied to his question as I stepped out of my hiding place.

"You...!" the Yuzu-lookalike's smirk vanished in an instant, and it was replaced by a scowl. It seems she didn't like me interrupting her hunt.

"You're...the other Pendulum user of You Show School." Yuu said, causing me to chuckle in embarrassment. The day after our Duel, my and Manek's Pendulum was the main topic of every Dueling channel in the news; no wonder Yuu already knew me. I still wasn't used to all this attention and fame. "Sakushi Vincent, right?"

"Just Vince is fine." I told him with a smile.

"You saved us the trouble of finding you!" the Yuzu-lookalike interjected. When our eyes met for a second time, she smirked. "I'll kill two birds with one stone... Get ready, Defector, Xyz Remnant! I won't let either of you escape!"

"...What is she talking about?" Yuu addressed me in a low tone, confused again.

I sighed in exasperation, "It's a long story, but in layman's terms, she thinks we're her enemy."

"Enemy?" Yuu's eyes widened a little. "I'm not following..."

"Don't play dumb!" the girl burst out. Oi, you've got it wrong, not us. She then aimed her right hand's forefinger at us, and I couldn't help but notice the bracelet she was wearing there. She also had one? I wonder...can it glow and 'replace' people like Yuzu's bracelet? "I don't care if you Duel me at the same time or not, just hurry up!"

"She's quite confident." you could say that again, Ereshkigal. Either she deduced she can defeat me and Yuu at the same time by watching our Duels beforehand- in my case against The Hitwoman and/or Hokuto, and in Yuu's case the match he had prior to this encounter- or she's reckless.

"I'm afraid I cannot allow that." the girl's companion spoke up and discarded his cloak in a similar fashion, revealing his scarred face. Now he looked like someone who took part in a war. And I guess he realized it's a folly to challenge me and Yuu in unison.

"Stay out of this, Barrett." the girl warned him with a glare.

"The duty given to me by the Professor is to protect you from any sparks that may fall upon you." Barrett calmly replied to her. So he's her bodyguard. "I have no objections letting you fight the Xyz Remnant, but fighting this Defector alone is out of question, especially if they gang up on you, Serena-sama."

So that's her name, huh...good to know, I was getting tired of calling her 'the mysterious girl'.

"...Fine." Serena scoffed after some seconds of consideration. Oh, it seems she wasn't too reckless after all. "We'll fight them together. But if the Professor asks, I defeated them on my own."

And she's very bold, too. Or maybe it's a matter of life and death? "I'll consider it." was all Barrett said back.

"This Professor you speak of is Leo, right?" I asked, wanting to amuse that thought. By the cold glares Barrett and Serena both shot me, I suppose I was correct. So Leo's called the 'Professor' by his subordinates, huh? "If so, why are you two after Sakuragi-kun? And why did you card Hokuto!?"

"Hokuto?" Serena quirked an eyebrow. "Ah, you must be talking about the guy from yesterday."

She extracted a card from one of her pockets before throwing it to me, and I clumsily caught it. When I saw what was depicted on it, I felt my blood run cold: Hokuto's horrified expression stared back at me, his hands raised in defense, begging for this awful experience to stop. So this...this is what happens when you lose to Academia.

I felt a sudden bout of nausea when I realized this would've happened to me, too, if I lost to The Hitwoman, but I quickly shoved those thoughts away so I could concentrate on the fact I was literally holding Hokuto in my hand, an innocent bystander that was turned into a victim of this war.

...I won't forgive them for doing this. For attacking the Xyz Dimension. For starting a war!

Demiurge whistled, "Your expression, your aura...interesting. This is the third time I see you so serious." what else did you expect? I, too, know when to drop my 'Mr. Nice Guy' attitude.

"Isn't that...Shijima Hokuto?" Yuu inquired, stepping closer to me so he could see the card himself. His face contorted into a grimace. "Why did she have a card of him...? What's going on!?"

"Why do you insist on feigning ignorance?" Serena remarked in annoyance, prompting Yuu to grit his teeth for the same reason. "It's useless! We won't let you escap—"

"I won't let you off scot free." I rudely cut her off, much to her surprise. I'm usually a very calm and selfless person, but when you cross a line you shouldn't have, even I get angry. And Academia already crossed too many of them for their own good. "I will avenge my rival—and everyone you've hurt so far!"

"Those eyes...you've cast aside all hesitation." Barrett smiled lightly upon seeing my determined expression. He and Serena equipped their Duel Disks and activated their energy blades in unison, and as I expected, their designs were identical to The Hitwoman's. "Those are your real eyes. Not bad, young warrior."

My...real eyes? Wait, now's not the time to let my opponent's words distract me!

"Sakuragi-kun, this will be your last chance to fall back." I told the lavender-haired youth while putting Hokuto's card away and equipping my own Duel Disk. His eyes traveled swiftly between us, confusion mixed with nervousness; he had no idea of what's going on, and that caused fear to seep into his mind, but he didn't want to leave me alone, either. "They will prove to be the strongest opponents you've Dueled so far. And if you lose...well, you saw what happened to Hokuto."

His eyes widened in shock and he opened his mouth to speak, but decided against it and closed it. He was clearly scared now, which was the reaction you would expect after telling someone "you're turned into a card (for the rest of your life?) if you lose to a children's card game." This was a matter of life and death, no wonder you'd reconsider it.

"What's the hold-up for?" please, Serena, read the air, don't be like Demiurge and his servants. "If you're afraid to Duel and decide to run with your tail between your legs, then so be it. However, I will find you and defeat you, Xyz Remnant!"

Yuu gasped, "...That's right." he whispered begrudgingly before narrowing his eyes at our foes in anger. He was still scared, mind you, but he steeled his resolve and stepped forward. "Even if I run away, you'll simply hunt me down again. Since running away won't solve anything..." he equipped his own Duel Disk. "I choose the option that leaves me with a clear conscience!"

"Hmmm, he's got guts." Adaro commented with a giggle. What's left to see is how he fares against these two.

"Thanks, Sakuragi-kun." I smiled at him.

"Just Yuu will do." he pointed out with a weak smile.

"Your bravery is also honorable." Barrett admitted. His expression then turned serious. "Since we're all set, let us begin our Tag Duel!"

"DUEL!" all four of us shouted together.

Serena & Barrett: LP 4000

VS

Vince & Yuu: LP 4000

"The first turn takes the advantage! I'm going first!" Barrett declared and played a card from his hand. "I activate the Continuous Spell Beastborg Fusioner! Through its effect, once per turn, I'm allowed to Fusion Summon one 'Beastborg' Fusion Monster by using Monsters from my hand or my field!"

As expected, he'll Fusion Summon. But...a Continuous Spell with a Polymerization-like effect...Reiji had a card like that as well, Dark Contract with the Swamp King.

"Which means he gets a free Fusion Summon during each of his turns." I thought out loud.

"How troublesome..." Yuu frowned.

"Using Beastborg Fusioner's effect, I fuse Panther Warrior and Dark Sentinel from my hand!" Barrett's Monsters turned into red and blue energy respectively, which then spiraled into a portal as he chanted. "Ferocious black panther, merge together with the watchman of the holy darkness, and raise a new war cry! Fusion Summon! Come forth, Beastborg Panther Predator!"

A Monster that resembled Panther Warrior but had half of its body converted into metal emerged from the portal with a roar and a swing of its sword.

Beastborg Panther Predator: Dark / Machine / Fusion / Effect / ATK: 1600 / DEF: 2000 / LV: 6

Panther Warrior...talk about nostalgia. But I guess 'modernizing' in this case translated to 'turn him into a machine to make him stronger'? Bummer...and also unfair. Demiurge explained to me Machine-Type Monsters possess no feelings or free will since they're...well, machines. In a sense, it's like dehumanizing them.

"Pansā Puredetā no kōka hatsudō!" Barrett stated. "Once per turn, it can inflict half of its Attack to my opponent as damage! Quasar Beam!"

His Fusion Monster bared its chest as it fired a crimson beam at us, striking the ground in front of us and engulfed the area in smoke for a couple of seconds.

Vince & Yuu: LP 4000 - 800 = 3200

"I felt the shock waves?" Yuu wondered in confusion, and his eyes widened when he saw the hole that was created by Panther Predator. "But this isn't an Action Duel...!"

"That's how they Duel." I informed him. "Their Duel Disks have a function which makes it so we can feel the shock waves despite the absence of an Action Field."

"No way..." Yuu's eyes widened again.

"My king, why didn't you specify this beforehand?" Seth inquired curiously.

I replied to him in a low tone, "Honestly, I feared he would run away after hearing that." by now, I was as interested as Reiji to see him fight these two. "It's fine. We and Reiji are here to back him up. We won't let him be carded."

"Barrett is already steadily wearing down his opponent's Life from the first turn...a by-the-books strategy." Serena commented. Now that I recall, Yuto said a similar thing during our Duel when I dealt him effect damage on my first turn...so Academia likes to do that, huh.

"I set two cards and end my turn." Barrett concluded.

I should give some time to Yuu to digest what I've told him, "I'm going next! Boku no turn!" I drew a card and started my turn. "I activate the Spell Card Folklore Fusion! With this card, I can Fusion Summon one Fusion Monster from my Extra Deck by using Mythorrors from my hand or field as Fusion Materials."

"A Fusion Summon from the get-go." Barrett noted.

"No surprise there." Serena scoffed. "Even if he's a Defector, he'll never forget how he got strong in the first place."

My right eyebrow twitched, "...It's not like Fusion is omnipotent." I deadpanned. "And please, stop looking down on people."

"That's not for you to decide, traitor." she growled back.

"Why are all residents of the Fusion Dimension so stubborn?" I wondered before moving on. "Using my card's effect, I fuse Mythorror Adaro and Old One Aylith from my hand!"

My Monsters briefly appeared on the field before turning into red and blue energy respectively, which then spiraled into a portal as I chanted and clasped my hands together.

"Spirit dwelling in the sea! Widow in the Woods! Let your desires awaken the canine deity of heavenly fire! Fusion Summon! Level 6! Mythorror God Xolotl!"

The Monster with a muscular human body, a canine head, empty eye-sockets, wearing a sleeveless ichcahuipilli that covered his torso down to his hips, golden bands on his neck, biceps, wrists, thighs and ankles, a necklace with a conch-like object strapped to it, and holding two broadswords of stone with flames and lightning bolts carved on them landed on my field.

Mythorror God Xolotl: ATK 2200 / DEF 1300 / LV: 6

"The effect of Aylith, who was sent to the Extra Deck, activates! Since she was used as material, I can Special Summon an Adult Mythorror Token to my field!"

Bursting out of the ground was the tall, humanoid Monster with a body that consisted of branches wrapped each other, a yellow eye in the center of his face, and a spear-shapped right arm.

Adult Mythorror Token: ATK 2000 / DEF 0 / LV: 7

"Monsters from the Main Deck that can be sent to the Extra Deck..." Serena observed. "If that wasn't enough, they can also be placed in special Zones and allow the player to perform a 'Pendulum Summon'. This never-before-seen Summoning Method must have played an important factor in The Hitwoman's defeat."

The Hitwoman didn't tell them how she lost? Why? Wasn't it common sense to gather information about your opponent before challenging them, especially in war?

...Could I use this to my advantage?

"Wouldn't you like to know?" I asked her with a mocking smile, causing her to narrow her eyes at yours truly. "Are you up for a deal? If you win, then I'll tell you how I got my hands on this deck and how I defeated your comrade."

"And if you win?" it seems Barrett knew where I was going with that.

"Then you tell me everything I want to know." they didn't say anything back, but they frowned.

"You expect them to agree to that?" Demiurge scoffed.

"No." I could feel that answer pleased him. Those were presumptuous demands, I know, and even if they agreed, none of us were forced to stay true to our words. But hey, there was no harm in trying. "Battle! Adult Mythorror Token, attack Beastborg Panther Predator!"

My plant monster dashed across the field and swung his spear-arm at the opposing Fusion Monster, which intercepted the attack with its sword, but ultimately lost the fight when its weapon shattered under the pressure and the Adult Token neatly bisected its body. Panther Predator exploded into particles, and our opponents grunted from the shock waves that hit them.

Serena & Barrett: LP 4000 - 400 = 3600

"At this moment, I activate Panther Predator's effect and the Trap Card Beastborg Medal of Survival!" a card, which depicted a medal with an intricate design that had a rhombus-shaped body and two spears crossed on top of it, appeared. "Since you destroyed my 'Beastborg' Monster, my Trap enables me to draw two cards and end the Battle Phase!"

I frowned, "So you had already planned for its destruction..." as expected from Academia's Duel Soldiers.

"Panther Predator's effect resolves," Barrett explained as a GY Portal opened in front of him. "Because it was destroyed by battle, I can Special Summon all of its Fusion Materials from our Graveyard!"

Following those words, his two Monsters emerged from the portal.

Panther Warrior: Earth / Beast-Warrior / Effect / ATK: 2000 / DEF: 1600 / LV: 4

Dark Sentinel: Dark / Machine / Effect / ATK: 1500 / DEF: 1800 / LV: 4

My frown turned into an annoyed stare. Thanks to its destruction, he increased the number of cards in his hand and revived its Fusion Materials. And since Beastborg Fusioner was still on the field, he'll just use his Monsters to Fusion Summon a second Panther Predator in his next turn, unless Serena also uses Beastborgs and she'll Summon her own Panther Predator next turn, but I highly doubt that.

"I set three cards and pass it over to you." I concluded my turn with that.

"Unafraid of the risks needed to be taken for victory...this man has an extensive amount of combat experience." surprisingly, Demiurge sounded pleased for once. "Not to mention guts. A human like this is a rare sight."

"Today's prey is worth our while." Camazotz giggled menacingly. Although that wasn't something soothing to hear, it's good to see them excited about my Dueling opponent for once.

"Watashi no turn! Draw!" Serena declared. "First I activate Dark Sentinel's effect, targeting your set card on my left in order to destroy it!"

"Since we share fields, we can use our Tag partner's cards as if they were our own...!" Yuu pointed out, more than likely concerned how much benefit she can draw from using Barrett's cards. I, on the other hand, wasn't worried at all.

"Today isn't your lucky day! I chain the targeted card's activation to your effect!" I smirked while gesturing at my field. "Behold the Trap Card Reign of Terror! I target another card I control and destroy it. Adult Token..."

He turned to me and with no hesitation raised his spear-arm to his chest, signaling he was ready to leave the field.

I smiled, "Thank you. According to Reign of Terror's effect, Adult Token bids us farewell and I can draw a card since I destroyed a Monster this way."

"You dodged Dark Sentinel's effect." I gave a thumbs up to Yuu, causing him to smile upon seeing I had everything under control.

"You won't be smiling in a minute." Serena informed us. "I activate the Spell Card Polymerization from my hand! The ones I fuse are Lunalight Blue Cat and Lunalight Purple Butterfly!"

Her Monsters briefly appeared on the field before turning into red and blue energy respectively, which then spiraled into a portal as she chanted and clasped her hands together.

"Blue cat that prowls through the darkness! Butterfly with violet poison! Spiral into the moon's gravity and become a new power! Fusion Summon! Come forth, beautiful beast that dances in the moonlight! Lunalight Cat Dancer!"

Literally dancing her way out of the portal in a...extravagant manner was a woman with feline features and clad in a moon-themed dancing outfit. The majority of her face was covered by a crescent-shaped mask, but her mischievous smirk, the daggers she held, and the voluptuous giggle and "miao" she made upon taking the stage were more than enough signs to tell us she wasn't here to make things easier for us.

Lunalight Cat Dancer: Dark / Beast-Warrior / Fusion / Effect / ATK: 2400 / DEF: 2000 / LV: 7

I see, what ties these two together deck-wise is the fact they both use Beast-Warriors. But what ties her to Yuzu's deck? She uses music-themed Fairies, but Serena over here uses moon-themed dancers... Was it the fact they're both composed of female Monsters? Or the idea of 'dancing to music'...? Wait, I'm overthinking!

Some of my comrades were impressed by the feline dancer's movements, but only a few voiced their opinions.

"That was a fancy entrance." Snow commented, and seconds later, Nekomata hummed multiple times in agreement.

"You said it." Succubus concured. "What do you think of it, Natty-chan?"

The addressed Monster growled, "I didn't authorize you to call me Natty, nor to add...'chan' to it." Nattmara snapped, and to my surprise, she immediately returned her attention to the Duel. This was the first time I saw and felt her so...interested in something. In fact, her interest was on pair with Demiurge's. Was her wolf-side drawn to these servants of the moon, I wonder? I could ask her, but she would just dodge my question like she did to Succubus's...

"I activate the Spell Card Luna Light Perfume!" Serena snapped me out of my thoughts. "I target one 'Lunalight' Monster in our Graveyard and Special Summon it. I target Blue Cat!"

A female youth of the same age as my Nekomata with feline features and wearing a moon-themed bodysuit backflipped out of a GY Portal and landed on one knee in front of her user with an excited and childish battle cry.

Lunalight Blue Cat: Dark / Beast-Warrior / Effect / ATK: 1600 / DEF: 1200 / LV: 4

"Woah!" Nekomata breathed out. I couldn't help but chuckle: apparently, I found the favorite deck of some of my Monsters.

However, my chuckle didn't go unheard by the others, "Are you underestimating me?" Serena gritted her teeth in anger, and before I could explain myself, she shouted over me. "That will be the cause of your downfall, Defector! Burū Kyatto no kōka o hatsudō! If this card is Special Summoned, I can target one Lunalight I control and double its Attack for this turn! I target Cat Dancer!"

"Double?" my eyes shot open at that, while Yuu gasped in shock. True to her words, her Fusion Monster was enveloped by a blue aura and her smirk widened.

(Cat Dancer: 2400→4800 ATK)

"4800 Attack..." I muttered before glancing at the other Monsters on her field. "On top of that, she can declare three more attacks..." but I had Book of the Yamimakai set on our field. No matter how much she raises her Attack or how many times she attacks, we'll survive this turn. Moreover, Reign of Terror's GY-effect can also protect us.

"Next, I activate Cat Dancer's effect." please don't prove me wrong, please don't prove me wrong, please don't prove me wrong! "I release Blue Cat to allow Cat Dancer to attack all Monsters my opponent controls twice each!"

Blue Cat burst into particles, which then surrounded Cat Dancer and caused her sashes to light up.

Alright, we're safe—"Wait, twice?" I parroted in confusion.

"But if it attacks a Monster and destroys it, it's impossible to attack it again." Yuu pointed out.

"In fact, Cat Dancer's first attack won't destroy the attacked Monster!" the indigo-haired youth revealed, prompting us to gasp in unison. So essentially...the damage is doubled! "Battle! I attack Xolotl with Cat Dancer!"

"I activate the Trap Card Book of the Yamimakai!" I quickly exclaimed. "If my Mythorror is being attacked, I can choose to apply one of two options! I select the second one, making it so I take no battle damage involving my 'Mythorror' Monsters this turn! I'm sorry, Xolotl."

"I appreciate your concern." my god assumed a defensive stance as the opposing Monster ran towards us. "But as a master, you don't have to apologize for such decisions."

Once Cat Dancer got close enough, Xolotl thrust one of his broadswords in her direction, but she effortlessly dodged it by jumping upwards and gracefully landing on its blade. She had to immediately jump off of it though, in order to avoid Xolotl's other broadsword that went for her head.

"Once again, attack Xolotl!" Serena shouted.

"Because of Book of the Yamimakai's effect, we won't take the damage!" Yuu reminded her.

"But you still lose your Monster." Barrett remarked.

While midair, Cat Dancer threw her daggers at Xolotl, who used a broadsword to parry them. The feline dancer finally landed on the ground, and without a second of a delay, launched herself at my god while slowly leaning forward with her front.

Swinging down a broadsword, Xolotl hit the ground under Cat Dancer and caused it to crack, but she nimbly moved to the side at the last second and sprung forward, seizing his neck and his other arm with her legs in a triangle-like configuration.

"Wha—" was all Xolotl managed to say before Cat Dancer harshly leaned backwards, causing the god to lose balance and fall forward. The feline dancer's smirk morphed into a grin as she moved onto Xolotl's back, using all her force to ram him into the ground, causing it to crack even more before he exploded into particles.

"A TRIANGLE CHOKE!? WELL NOT REALLY BUT STILL!" Supay howled out, and by his tone, I could tell he was grinning. He was also part of those who were impressed by our opponent's moves, but just now, his excitement skyrocketed.

"Pardon him." Sidonia spoke up, giving the idea it wasn't the first time something like this had happened. "These kinds of things get him going, that's all."

"Uh...don't sweat it...?" I whispered. Unsure of what to add, I focused on the Duel. "I activate the destroyed Xolotl's effect. I return Aylith from my Extra Deck to my hand."

"Book of the Yamimakai only cancels the battle damage if a Mythorror is attacked..." Yuu muttered in dread. "Which means, if it's a direct attack...!"

"It's over for you two!" Serena threw an arm to the side. "Battle! Dark Sentinel attacks you directly!"

Considering Panther Warrior's effect, this would be the perfect moment to use my last safeguard, but what if it was a card unique to the Fusion Dimension? I can't risk exposing myself...

"Um, Yuu, do you know Panther Warrior's effect?" I inquired while faking a sheepish expression.

"Eh?" Yuu was dumbfounded for a second, but when Dark Sentinel's blasters started gathering energy in them, he quickly answered me. "She can't attack unless she releases another Monster!"

Oh, so he wasn't unique to the Fusion Dimension. I nodded, "Got it!" to make it believable I didn't know the effect beforehand, I used my safeguard a few seconds later. And instead of explaining its effect, I snapped my fingers, causing Dark Sentinel to explode and end its attack.

"What happened?" Barrett's eye widened a little.

"I performed a magic trick," I explained to him with a smile. "If a Monster Special Summoned from the Graveyard declares an attack, by banishing Reign of Terror from our Graveyard, I can destroy that Monster! Thanks to that, you only have Panther Warrior that can declare an attack, but for him to do so, you'd have to release Cat Dancer."

Serena gritted her teeth as she realized what that meant. "You'd lose the strongest Monster you currently control, making it easier for Yuu to turn things around in his next turn. But you can opt not to attack, at the cost of not touching our Life Points."

"Humph, not bad, my vessel." Demiurge commented. "You used his effect against her, and at the same time, you made sure not to reveal too much to those around you. I've taught you well."

I smirked at his praise. Revealing my counter like that felt great, too.

"Using our own card's effect against us..." Serena abruptly grinned, which made me furrow my eyebrows and Yuu mutter a confused 'Eh?'. Barrett also glanced at his Tag partner, although his stoic expression made it impossible to guess what he was feeling. That wasn't the expression of a cornered beast...but that of a Duelist who hasn't given up yet. "As I thought, unlike the guy from yesterday, you won't bore me. I haven't Dueled somebody strong in a long time."

The reminder of what happened to Hokuto made me flinch, so I quickly focused on her face. So far, I've only met four Duelists from Academia, namely Sora, The Hitwoman, and these two in front of me. The Hitwoman never smiled, smirked, or grinned while Dueling, Sora on the other hand, in his fight against Shun, sported the grin of a madman, of someone who underestimated his opponent and saw them only as his prey.

At first glance, you would think Serena is like The Hitwoman, someone who doesn't Duel to have fun, but to carry out an assigned mission, and someone who rarely smiles. But just now, she grinned, and her grin was nothing like Sora's. Her eyes were different, too. She's happy because she found a strong opponent to defeat, and much to her delight, I was also the target of her mission.

...That's my take on it, though. There's always the chance I'm completely mistaken.

"Battle!" Serena cried out. "Panther Warrior attacks you directly!"

"Are you serious!?" I gasped in surprise as Cat Dancer vanished from the field and the OG Monster ran towards us. If she's attacking...she must have a plan!

"I activate the Continuous Trap Beastborg Medal of the Blade!" as I expected, the indigo-haired youth played her comrade's set card right before Panther Warrior slashed his sword at us, prompting both of us to cry out in pain.

Vince & Yuu: LP 3200 - 2000 = 1200

"She's also unafraid of the risks needed to be taken for victory." Demiurge commented with an emotionless tone, as opposed to earlier when Barrett earned his praise. "But unlike the gorilla, she acts out of impulsive."

"You think...!?" I groaned out while placing my free hand on the spot where I got hurt.

"Beastborg Medal of the Blade's effect activates." Barrett declared. "Once per turn, when the opponent takes damage, for every 100 points of damage they took, this card gains one Medal Counter!" so that's why she attacked...

(Beastborg Medal of the Blade: 0→20 Medal Counters)

"Sir Barrett has quite a liking for war medals." Reynardine noted. Oh, yeah...all the Traps he used so far involved medals. I voiced my Monster's words and my thoughts, to which our opponent placed his fist to his chest.

"I am a warrior. The amount of medals I possess is proof of my honor." hmm, that made sense.

"I set a card and end my turn." Serena concluded her turn. The next one in line was...

"Vince." I blinked when Yuu called out my name, and I turned my head to look at him. He continued staring at our opponents for three seconds before meeting my gaze. "You know these people."

That wasn't a question, but a statement. "Not in the way you think." I admitted before he could get any wrong ideas. "This is the first time I met these two, but I'm acquainted with the organization they work for. That's why they keep calling me a Defector; they have the wrong idea of who I am, as they do with you."

"...I see." Yuu eventually nodded, although his expression didn't change.

"I'll tell you what's up after the Duel, I promise." I reassured him with a smile.

"...Thanks." he replied to my smile with one of his own. His expression turned serious again as he looked back at our foes. "Ore no turn! Draw! With no 'Spellbook' Spell Cards in our Graveyard, I'm allowed to activate the Spell Card Spellbook Library of the Crescent!"

"Spellbook?" I echoed in surprise. He's a Prophecy user?

"Ugh, here come those annoying sorcerers..." Demiurge intoned and I felt the bizarre sentiment of familiarity accompanied by hatred rising in my chest again for a couple of seconds. Wow, it's a small world.

"You know them?" I whispered in a low tone.

"To my displeasure, yes." he remarked. "On top of the Different Dimension Daemons, Ritual Beast tribe, and many others, I fought against them in the Great War, too. I already sensed them the moment we entered this place, but now that I'll have to see them with my own eyes, irksome memories began resurfacing."

"Oh." so I've met another person that uses an archetype involved with the Great War. Coincidence can sure be freaky...

"With this card, I reveal three 'Spellbook' Spell Cards with different names from my Deck and my opponent randomly adds one of them to my hand," Yuu explained as three cards ejected from his deck. He took hold of them and showed them to Serena. "I reveal Spellbook of Secrets, of the Master, and of Knowledge."

He shuffled the three cards and showed them to Serena again, this time with their backs facing her. "Please, pick one."

"There's not much to ponder about." she huffed. "Take the one in the center."

Yuu nodded and added the chosen card to his hand. "The rest are shuffled back into my Deck. Next, I summon Amores of Prophecy!"

The Monster that referenced the Lovers Tarot card appeared.

Amores of Prophecy: Earth / Spellcaster / Effect / ATK: 600 / DEF: 2000 / LV: 3

"Ramūru no kōka hatsudō!" Yuu stated. "Once per turn, by revealing a Spellbook in my hand, I can Special Summon one Level 4 or lower Spellcaster-Type Monster from my hand. I reveal Spellbook of the Master! Come, Strength of Prophecy!"

The Monster that referenced the Lovers Tarot card joined her brethren in battle.

Strength of Prophecy: Fire / Spellcaster / Effect / ATK: 1500 / DEF: 1400 / LV: 4

"Following that, I activate the Spell Card Spellbook of the Fool from my hand!" a card, which depicted an amazed Fool of Prophecy holding a Spellbook that glowed with dark yellow energy, appeared. "With this card, I can send one 'Spellbook' Normal Spell from my Deck to the Graveyard. I select Spellbook of Secrets! Forusu no kōka hatsudō!"

To her user's command, Strength tapped the ground with her axe, causing red, magical letters of an unknown language to envelop Amores. "Once per turn, by shuffling a Spellbook from our Graveyard into my Deck, I can target one Spellcaster-Type Monster under my control and raise its Attack by 500 and its Level by one. I return Spellbook of the Fool to my Deck and target Amores!"

(Amores: 600→1100 ATK, Level 3→4)

"Two Level 4 Monsters..." Serena narrowed her eyes. "Naturally, what comes next is..."

"I overlay the Level 4 Strength and Amores!" the two Monsters turned into a red and an orange beam respectively and entered a swirling galaxy, from which a pillar of light shot out. "Sun, lend your radiance to the sorcerer of the clear sky! Disperse the darkness with your blinding light! Xyz Summon! Come, Rank 4! Soleil of Prophecy!"

Prophecy got a new Xyz Monster, one that referenced the Sun Tarot card!? About time! A dark-skinned man wearing a white, orange, and red robe and an ornate, sun-shaped headdress that covered the upper part of his face emerged from the portal, banging the large shield he carried on the ground to announce his arrival. Magical letters of an unknown language were engraved on the shield, along with several orange gems aligned in a circular formation.

Soleil of Prophecy: Fire / Spellcaster / Xyz / Effect / ATK: 1800 / DEF: 1000 / RK: 4

"I activate Soleil's effect!" Yuu stated and one of the lights orbiting his Xyz Monster was sucked into his shield. "By using an Overlay Unit and by targeting a 'Spellbook' Normal Spell in our Graveyard, I can add a card with that same name from my Deck to my hand. I target Spellbook of Secrets and add a new one to my hand!"

"You used similar plays in your Duel before coming here." Barrett abruptly pointed out while stroking his chin in thought. "A deck that focuses on Spells...a fitting theme for Spellcasters."

"So you did watch that Duel..." Yuu muttered in chagrin.

"Step up your game." Serena sternly said. "If that's the extent of your strength, then you aren't an Xyz Remnant, and subsequently not worth our while."

Instead of being disheartened by their words, Yuu stepped forward with determination.

"I'm not an Xyz Remnant, but if you want a beating, get ready! I activate Spellbook of Secrets, using its effect to add a different Spellbook from my Deck to my hand. I add Spellbook of Fate to my hand! And since the effect of a Spell Card I control just resolved, Soleil's other effect activates, and it gains 100 Attack!"

The gems on his Xyz Monster's shield lit up.

(Soleil: 1800→1900 ATK)

"Now I activate Spellbook of the Master from my hand!" Yuu declared. "By revealing a Spellbook in my hand and by targeting a 'Spellbook' Normal Spell in our Graveyard, this card copies the targeted card's effect. I reveal Fate and target Secrets, therefore I add Spellbook of Power to my hand! Soleil's effect activates again!"

(Soleil: 1900→2000 ATK)

"The young sorcerer's on a roll." Sidonia giggled fervently, impressed by Yuu's continuous usage of Spells.

"I activate Spellbook of Power!" Yuu went on. "By targeting a Spellcaster-Type Monster under my control, I can raise its Attack by 1000 points until the end of this turn. Of course, I target Soleil! Its own effect activates after Power resolves!"

(Soleil: 2000→3000→3100 ATK)

"3100 Attack." although his voice didn't waver, Barrett's eye narrowed.

"To finish it off, I activate Spellbook of Decree!" a card, which depicted Soleil fighting Crusader of Endymion inside the Spellbook Library of the Heliosphere, appeared. "For each Spellcaster I control, my opponent takes 400 damage! Soleil gains 100 Attack once again!"

His Spell fired two crimson beams at our foes, causing them to grit their teeth when they got hit by one each.

Serena & Barrett: LP 3600 - 400 = 3200

(Soleil: 3100→3200 ATK)

"Battle! Soleil of Prophecy attacks Panther Warrior!" Yuu aimed a finger at the said Monster. "Searing Light!"

Accompanied by a loud battle cry, the Xyz Monster ran up to his target and swung his shield at Panther Warrior, who blocked the assault with his sword. Light magic suddenly enveloped the shield's front, giving Soleil the chance to overwhelm the other Monster and crush it under his weapon, causing it to explode and make our opponents take a few steps back.

Serena & Barrett: LP 3200 - 1200 = 2000

"He didn't use Fate...?" I mumbled in confusion. If he used its effect to banish Panther Warrior, he could've attacked them directly for game.

"While I don't know that Spellbook's effect," Demiurge explained. "I'm sure the Prophecy boy wanted to play it safe and decided not to use it, or simply waited for a suitable moment to use it, which in this case didn't come."

"Yeah..." he was wary of Serena's set card. Considering what happens if we lose and that this wasn't an Action Duel where Action Cards were present, it made sense to use a more logical approach instead of going all in and potentially fall into a trap.

"I set two cards face-down and end my turn!" Yuu concluded. "Spellbook of Power's effect ends, too."

(Soleil: 3200→2200 ATK)

Barrett gripped the top card of his deck, "Watashi no turn!" he yelled and drew. "I activate the Spell Card Monster Reborn! I target and Special Summon Panther Predator from the Graveyard!"

His Fusion Monster emerged from a GY Portal with a menacing growl, ready to take revenge.

"You remember its effect, don't you?" Barrett asked, causing us to grit our teeth in unison. Yuu, when will you use Fate!? "Once per turn, it can inflict half of its Attack to my opponent as damage! Quasar Beam!"

His Fusion Monster bared its chest again and fired a crimson beam at us, striking the ground in front of us and destroying it even further. This will be a pain for Reiji to fix later.

Vince & Yuu: LP 1200 - 800 = 400

"Medal of the Blade's effect activates!" wait, what purpose did those Counters serve? "Since you took damage, it gains one Medal Counter for every 100 points of damage!"

(Beastborg Medal of the Blade: 20→28 Medal Counters)

"Once again, I activate Beastborg Fusioner's effect, fusing another Panther Warrior and Carrier Sentinel from my hand!" Barrett shouted. "Come forth, Beastborg Panther Predator!"

He had another one!? His aim's to end us with effect damage!?

"I activate the Quick-Play Spell Spellbook of Fate!" Yuu abruptly exclaimed. "Because I control a Spellcaster-Type Monster, I can banish three 'Spellbook' Spell Cards from our Graveyard to banish one card you control. I banish Spellbook Library of the Crescent, of Decree, and a copy of Secrets to banish the newly Summoned Panther Predator!"

A magic circle formed under the stated Monster's feet, prompting it to howl in pain as its body disintegrated into particles.

(Soleil: 2200→2300 ATK)

"Since it wasn't destroyed by battle, I can't activate Panther Predator's effect..." Barrett scowled.

That's why Yuu patiently held onto Fate, in order to eliminate any threat Barrett would Summon and make it so he 'wasted' a Fusion Summon. He mastered his deck and demonstrated great forethought... As expected of someone favored to win this year's Youth Championship. He surely met your expectations, right, Reiji?

"However, that's not enough to stop me." Barrett remarked with a dismissive tone. "I activate Medal of the Blade's other effect, sending itself to the Graveyard to raise the Attack of a 'Beastborg' Monster I control by 100 for every Medal Counter it had!"

"That's why he was gathering all those Counters!" my eyes widened in surprise.

The Continuous Trap burst into particles, which then enveloped his Fusion Monster.

(Panther Predator: 1600→4400 ATK)

"Battle!" Barrett pointed at us. "I attack Soleil of Prophecy with Panther Predator! Industrial Savage!"

"Torappu hatsudō: Outré Insight!" a card, which depicted a wooden table seen from above inside a dark room dimly lit with candlelight, appeared. At the table sat a hooded figure who had just turned over the Tower Tarot card, which was glowing ominously with dark energy. "By releasing the attacked Soleil, the Battle Phase ends!"

His Xyz Monster left the field in a shower of particles, which then took the shape of a wall in front of us, putting an end to Panther Predator's advance.

"Phew, that was close..." you could say that again, Willauk.

"My card's effect isn't over yet." Yuu grinned for the first time during the Duel. "For each Spellbook in our Graveyard, we gain 100 Life! There are currently four such cards in our Graveyard!"

Following those words, green particles rained down on us.

Vince & Yuu: LP 400 + 400 = 800

"And lastly, you take damage equal to the released 'Prophecy' Monster's Attack, in this case 2300!" Yuu declared and a red beam shot out of his Trap, heading straight for our opponents.

"He planned to obtain victory during the opponent's turn." Seth said in amazement, a sentiment shared by yours truly. "A shrewd young sorcerer indeed!"

"That won't happen!" Barrett interjected and played his comrade's card. "Torappu hatsudō: Faithful Instinct!"

A card, which depicted Gene-Warped Warwolf dodging the ambush of Flower Wolf in a forest at nighttime, appeared.

"By banishing a Beast-Warrior-Type Monster from our Graveyard, the damage we would take is reduced by that Monster's Attack or Defense!" Serena stated.

"I banish Lunalight Cat Dancer that has 2400 Attack, thus canceling out the damage!" Barrett proclaimed as a transparent barrier formed around them, deflecting the energy beam.

"Dammit...!" Yuu frowned.

"It seems they had a counter of their own ready." Ereshkigal noted.

"I end my turn." Barrett's eye shifted from Yuu to me and he smiled. "This will be your last chance, young warrior. If you can't win in your next turn, then Serena-sama will defeat you both in her next turn. If that were to happen, I might consider your request after all, Serena-sama."

"That wasn't a request, Barrett." she glared at him.

"Of course." he met her gaze only for a few seconds, after which they looked back at us.

Barrett...he was different, too. His smile wasn't condescending or mocking, but the type of smile you make when you eagerly wait for your interlocutor's answer. At first glance, I thought Barrett was also like The Hitwoman, but I was wrong (again). He honored his opponent; to him, Dueling was a way to prove your strength and victory was proof of royalty. This was easy to deduce from his actions and words.

But there was another side to Barrett, that of a protector. Even if he was ordered to be Serena's bodyguard, it's obvious he cares and respects her all the same.

Dammit, I'm sympathizing with the enemy! Why do things have to be so complicated?

"What's wrong?" Barrett's words snapped me out of my thoughts. "Getting cold feet?"

"No." I answered him honestly. "I simply realized Serena's important to you."

Everyone went silent at that. Yuu looked at me in confusion, Barrett's expression turned serious, and Serena's eyebrows furrowed before she looked at her Tag partner. What expression was Reiji making, I wonder...?

"And?" Demiurge inquired impatiently.

"That's all." I replied, loudly enough so everyone could hear me. That's really all I wanted to say.

"What are you implying?" Serena glared at me, looking somewhat angry on top of confused.

I shrugged, "Nothing." that completely threw her off guard. "I was just making a statement. For some reason, that's the first thing I thought by staring at him."

"...Do you know it takes one to know one?" Barrett's question took me by surprise. Serena didn't expect to hear my assumption was correct, either. "My duty is to protect her, not only because I was ordered to do so by the Professor. That said, you have something important to protect as well, right?"

I instinctively tightened the grip on my card and placed a hand over my Duel Disk.

The Mythorrors I've seen in my Visions. You Show School. All the friends and comrades I've made so far.

"Yes." I replied with a smile. "Yes, I certainly do. In the end...you and I aren't so different."

"By the looks of things, no." Barrett's lips formed a smile again. He then placed a fist to his chest. "You have my respect, young warrior. You deserve a medal of honor as well."

"Thank you." I nodded and resumed the Duel. "Boku no turn! Draw! I activate the Spell Card Eternal Ouroboros!"

A card, which depicted the silhouette of Schwarzschild Limit Dragon illuminated from behind by a swirl of sacred and eerie glow while biting their own tail, appeared.

"With the power of eternity residing in an ouroboros, I will revive my fallen comrade!" I stated. "I Special Summon a Mythorror from our Graveyard by paying Life Points equal to their Level or Rank times 100! Come back from the land of the dead, Xolotl!"

A swirl of energy like the one that's on my card appeared in front of me, and my god emerged from it. At the same time, a crimson aura surrounded me, causing me to hiss in pain as I felt my skin burn for a second.

Vince & Yuu: LP 800 - 600 = 200

"However, the revived Monster's Attack and Defense become 0 and their effects are negated."

(Xolotl: 2200→0 ATK, 1300→0 DEF)

"What good will that do to you?" Serena suddenly demanded. "With its Attack at 0 and its effects negated, it's no match for Panther Predator!"

"Hmm, I wouldn't be so sure about that." I remarked, prompting Serena's eyes to widen a little. "But first, since I Special Summoned a god to my field, I can activate Adaro's effect in my Graveyard and add him back to my hand."

As I recovered the said Monster, he immediately addressed me with a mischievous tone, "Hey, hey, is it true Xolotl was hurled face-first into the floor?"

"Curse the moment I told you that..." Xolotl sighed loudly.

"Hoooh, is that your face I see impressed on the ground~?" Adaro giggled.

"No." the god sternly barked out, prompting the merman to giggle some more and me to chuckle.

"Now, it's time to reveal this Duel's finisher! By targeting Xolotl, I activate the Continuous Trap Elysian Fields!" a card, which depicted a never-ending expanse of greenery in a dream-like world, appeared. "This card is equipped to my target, reverting his Attack back to normal."

Following those words, grass that glowed with ephemeral light followed by flowers sprouted from under Xolotl's feet, encompassing him in a circle of divine and comforting nature.

(Xolotl: 0→2200 ATK)

"This is..." the god whispered in shock and despite the fact he had no eyes, he lowered his head to 'stare' at the strange phenomenon. "This sensation is familiar. Is this a part of the underworld?"

"Yes." I snapped my fingers. "The Elysian Fields, also known as Elysium or the Isles of the Blessed, is where heroes or mortals related to or chosen by the gods would go to after their death. What you're standing on...is a part of that world!"

"To bring a part of that to the realm of the living..." Xolotl didn't finish the sentence, but he smiled, and I could feel he was impressed.

"Knowing what that is won't help you, traitor!" Serena snarled. "Panther Predator has double the amount of Attack your Fusion Monster has!"

"Didn't I tell you? My god will surpass your Monster! Battle!" I threw an arm to the side, before thrusting it back forward. "Xolotl, attack Panther Predator!"

"What?" Barrett was confused.

"You're still attacking!?" Yuu inquired in shock.

"At this moment, Elysian Fields' other effect activates!" I revealed to them my plan. "If the equipped Monster attacks an opponent's Attack Position Monster, that Monster's Attack becomes equal to the Attack the equipped Monster had before this card's activation, during damage calculation only!"

"Impossible!" Barrett blanched.

"Xolotl had 0 Attack..." Yuu couldn't contain a wide smile. "Therefore, their Monster's Attack becomes 0!"

The same circle that was under my god formed at Panther Predator's feet, causing it to gain a yellow glow as its strength vanished.

(Panther Predator: 4400→0 ATK)

"Fire that burns in the Heavens. Lightning bright like Venus." Xolotl chanted as flames and electricity enveloped each of his broadswords. "Repel all that would harm the passers-by of Mictlan!" with a single leap, the Aztec god closed the distance between himself and his foe. "Scorching Lightning!"

"Serena-sama!" Barrett gasped in concern, pushing the girl to the side and making her fall off her feet due to the unexpected action.

Xolotl brought down his broadswords in unison, neatly cutting Panther Predator into pieces and ensuing an explosion. It washed over Barrett- and would've done the same to Serena if she wasn't pushed out of the way- causing him to cry out in pain, and he was blasted across the ground.

"Barrett!" Serena gasped as well when the man came to a stop on his stomach, unconscious.

Serena & Barrett: LP 2000 - 2200 = 0

Winner: Vince & Yuu!

"Due to his interference, you missed." Balor pointed out with a displeased tone, but I couldn't agree with him. Not anymore, at least.

Sure, before the Duel began, I was very angry and I would've thrown a fit if my main target left the fight without some serious scratches. But the Duel had an unexpected effect on me, namely, it helped me cool down and learn more about my opponents. My personality downright helped that happen! I was still mad at them, but coming to an understanding with them now became an option.

Me and my bleeding heart... I sighed internally before I focused my attention on Serena, who was on one knee beside her comrade, inspecting him, to make sure he wasn't severely injured. After asserting that wasn't the case, she stood up, took a step away from him, and stared at us.

An awkward silence formed for a few seconds.

"Um—"

"I guess it can't be helped." Serena immediately interrupted Yuu's timid start. She then sighed in frustration. "So be it, Defector. Out with it. What do you want to know?"

...Eh?

What is she talking about?

Wait...it can't be!

"You accepted the offer!?" a handful of my comrades and I shouted in unison and exasperation, but Serena- and Yuu and Reiji, too- only heard mine. This girl...seriously!? Barrett frowned at my request, probably thinking "Hell no", but you mean to tell me this girl, at that very moment, when she frowned as well, thought "I begrudgingly accept"!?

Serena raised an eyebrow and slightly tilted her head to the side, "Why are you shouting and making that face?" what did you say!? "You won, which means I have to answer your questions."

"Yes...I mean, no...or...I don't know, but!" I didn't know how to voice my thoughts. "Are you serious? You will answer me truthfully, too?"

"Why shouldn't I?" that answer made me blanch, even Yuu was shocked by it. Demiurge and his servants weren't holding back their amusement, while my Monsters were either impressed, entertained, or at a loss of words by Yuzu-lookalike's words. I wasn't sure what reaction Reiji had, though. "I have my own pride, just like any sane person. Or are you implying—"

"No no!" I quickly cut her off before she could get mad. For such a crude and strong woman, she sure was innocent... That first part was how Yuya described Yuzu, wasn't it? Whatever. It turns out I was able to use the situation to my advantage after all. "I'll start with the questions, then."

"I'm interested in your answers myself."

"Whoop-de-doo..." Demiurge groaned as Reiji finally stepped out of his hiding place and joined us.

"President-san?" Yuu gasped. His eyes shifted from him to me, and then back. "Were you the one who called me here...?"

"Yes." Reiji nodded, although he kept his eyes on Serena, who gladly replied to him with a glare. "I apologize, but you should leave now."

Yuu blinked twice, "Huh?" but to let him go after everything that happened...he deserves to know what's going on as well.

"Your Duel was splendid." Reiji praised us, thus revealing them he was spying on us. "I will personally explain the situation to you in detail after I've finished things here. For now, you should leave and rest. I expect more from you in the future, Sakuragi."

"Th-Thank you..." Yuu nodded.

"I promised I'll explain things to you after the Duel, but it seems Reiji will do it for me later." I smiled regretfully. "Sorry..."

"Don't worry about it." Yuu reassured me with a smile, and I replied to it with a thumbs up, prompting him to leave the parking lot.

Reiji didn't want to confuse him further by letting him listen on to our soon-to-be conversation, which I had to admit, was a good move; too much information at once could have a bad effect on someone. In addition to that, there's the risk of Serena revealing something too important to us, something even Yuu shouldn't hear yet.

"Your current boss?" Serena motioned at the newly arrived person with her head.

I confirmed her words with a nod. "Ah, Reiji."

I took out Hokuto's card and handed it to the said person, who took it with a nod and put it away. Keeping that card with me won't do me any good, but Reiji could use it to find faster a way to undo the carding process. That is, unless Serena knows how to do that.

"Serena." he addressed her. "Tell me, for how long have you two been in this Dimension?"

She narrowed her eyes warily, but answered nonetheless, "Counting today, three."

"That means you haven't seen Hiiragi Yuzu's Duel four days ago." Reiji remarked impassively. Eh? What did that have to do with anything right now?

"Hiiragi...Yuzu..." Serena shook her head. "No, I've never heard that name before. Who is she?"

"Someone of this Dimension who looks much like you," Reiji explained, causing Serena's eyes to narrow. "Do you know why you have similar appearances?" oh, so that's where this is going!

"Beats me." she said sternly. Oh, she didn't know... "I'm not sure if the answer to that can be found in Academia or not, but even if that was the case, that information could be strictly confidential. Only the Professor and his aides would have access to it."

Dammit, that means we still have a long way before finding out the truth! "I see." unlike me, Reiji was completely unbothered by that, or he simply expected it. "But yesterday, apart from Vince and Shijima Hokuto's Duel, Sakaki Yuya's Duel took place. Did he remind you of someone from the Fusion Dimension?"

Serena's fists abruptly clenched. Bingo! She knows the Pawn of Fusion!

"Why don't you ask him?" she barked out and pointed a finger at yours truly. "He's from Academia, too! Everyone there knows about that monster!"

There she goes again, accusing me to be someone I'm not...but, "Monster?" I parroted in confusion. "Yugo is?"

Serena blinked twice and lowered her arm, "Fusion...? You're not making any sense."

"No, not Fusion." I waved my hands in defense. "Yugo, as in the person."

"..." Serena silently tilted her head to the side, causing me to sweatdrop.

"The Monster's name is Yugo, yes?" I rephrased my question.

"What? No!" Serena yelled in exasperation, although I should be the one to feel that way. "His name is Yuri!"

"Wait, Yuri?" my eyes widened in shock. But...that didn't add up with what Yuya said!

Reiji shared my sentiment, "A misunderstanding?" and a very big one! That means Yugo wasn't evil and didn't capture Ruri! That means the Synchro Dimension wasn't aligned with Academia! Or wasn't 'yet'...? Also, Yuya's evil lookalike is called Yuri!

"...All these doppelgängers started making things complicated..." Howard sighed in a low tone.

"Yuri, huh..." Demiurge whispered to himself.

"Since you don't know why you or they look alike and this Yuri isn't the Pawn of Fusion, we can leave these matters aside for now." Reiji pushed up his spectacles. "Serena, regarding what you said earlier...Vince isn't from Academia."

"Don't start with that." Serena growled. "According to a rumor in Academia, the traitor uses 'Mythorror' Monsters! And if he really isn't a Defector, why did the Professor task The Hitwoman with eliminating him in the first place!?"

"That's what we would like to know, too." she glared at me, but after noticing my genuine expression and figuring out I wasn't lying, she furrowed her eyebrows. We stayed like that for a couple of seconds before she turned to Reiji, who nodded back.

"We're telling the truth." he said.

"...Figures." she sighed loudly. "The more I look at you, the less I'm certain you're from Academia. You're nothing like a Duel Soldier."

Ah. That's, um... "A compliment? Duel Soldiers are out enemies after all." Willauk voiced my thoughts.

"To us, maybe. To her, it can be a way of saying Sakushi-kun's weak." Sidonia finished them.

"The reason behind The Hitwoman's attack is also confidential." Serena went on. "I doubt even she herself is aware of it."

What!? "Y...You mean to tell me she attacked me without a reason? Just because she was ordered to!?" she's that blindly royal to Leo!?

"I would've done the same." Serena bluntly stated, making me gasp in shock. "In Academia, the Professor's orders are absolute. We must obey them and we mustn't question them."

My mouth hung open in disbelief, while Reiji narrowed his eyes in anger at his father. Leo is out of his mind. The amount of damage he did to this girl alone was immeasurable. Then there were The Hitwoman, Sora, maybe Yuri and the other students of Academia, too.

Leo trapped them all in the palm of his hand. In their mind, the only reality that exists is "must obey the Professor." No wonder they're carding people just because they're ordered to. Even if you tell people like them that's an incorrect way of living or that Leo's neglecting their free will—no, them as actual living beings, they won't understand you. You'd be denying their very existence because that's the only way of living they know.

So many innocent...brainwashed.

"Vince." Reiji placed a hand on my shoulder for moral support.

My voice was brittle when I found the strength to speak up, "I'm..." I'm not OK. I'm everything but OK right now. But we can't stop just because I figured out how messed up things really are. "Let's continue."

Reiji nodded and removed his hand. "Do you remember me, Serena?"

"No." she admitted. "Who are you?"

"Akaba Reiji. Akaba Leo's...son." no wonder he didn't like saying he was the son of that horrible man. "Don't you remember? We've already met in the past, at Academia."

My eyes shot open, "He knew the girl all along?" Succubus muttered.

"You were the Duelist Akaba Leo had his eyes on the most there. And now you've appeared in our Dimension, but for what purpose? Did you improve your skills under Akaba Leo's guidance and got sent here as the vanguard for an invasion?"

"This has nothing to do with Akaba Leo!" Serena burst out, making it very clear that wasn't the case. "I came to this Dimension of my own will! Not under anyone's orders."

Wait a minute. She ran away from Academia!? But then...why's she still royal to Leo?

"I remember you now." Serena narrowed her eyes at the D/D user. "Three years ago, you crossed Dimensions and came to Academia. As I saw many of my comrades getting their chance on the front lines, I was left to live a suffocating life trapped in that strict castle...! Ever since you appeared three years ago!"

Trapped in a strict castle...no wonder she acts so strangely in a couple of instances. Take my request as an example: Barrett, who lived a different life from Serena, would never agree to something like that, but she did because she lived with a weird principle like "obey those stronger than me" for her entire life. To her, it was even normal, hence why she's confused when our actions go against them. That didn't mean she's stupid, not at all; she's just...different.

But that said, three years ago, huh...some pieces of the puzzle are finally connecting. Three years ago, Reiji traveled to the Fusion Dimension and met his father, but he sent him back. Apparently, he also met Serena there.

"These last three years, I've been making preparations to crush Akaba Leo's ambitions. That's also why I became the president of Leo Corporation." Reiji said. "I have worked towards finding and training Duelists with potential, like Vince and Sakuragi. All of it is to protect this city, this land we live in."

"So that's how it is." Serena muttered and immediately glanced at me for a few seconds. Revealing your plan to the opponent...this must be a part of Reiji's plan.

"Do you not wish to join me?" ah, there it is. That's why he said all that.

"Join you? Don't be ridiculous." Serena declined his offer. "I only came here because I heard there were remnants of the Xyz forces and a traitor. By the looks of things, I found the falsely claimed traitor," thank you for adding 'falsely claimed'. "But the Xyz Remnant is still on the loose. They must be quite skilled if they managed to defeat an agent from Academia."

She's looking for a specific Xyz Remnant...one that defeated an agent...?

Wait!

If she came to Standard two days ago, that means she didn't see Sora and Shun's Duel either! We know who's she looking for, as well as who the agent is! I side glanced at Reiji in surprise, but he continued to stare at the girl in front of us—

"You idiot!" Demiurge suddenly roared, causing me to look back at Serena and meet her gaze. "Your expression clearly gave it away you know her target!"

Crap...he's right. Ugh, I must train my poker face for instances like these...!

"If I can at least defeat the Xyz Remnant, I can make Akaba Leo acknowledge my abilities!" Serena went on. "But my first target was a complete disappointment. He...and the one from today aren't the ones I'm looking for."

"Sakuragi isn't?" Reiji raised an eyebrow. That's why she let him leave so easily!

"He was weak." ah, of course. How wasn't I able to figure that out. "We attacked them with the belief they were holding back during those official Duels, but it turns out we were wrong both times."

"Yes." Reiji confirmed her words. "Neither of them was the person you're after."

"Well then, where are they!?" Serena demanded. "Even if you don't know, this guy—"

"Um, you can call me Vince—"

"Vince should know!" Serena didn't have any problems using my name right away. "Another rumor has been going around in Academia that the traitor has information about Xyz Remnants! So, is that true!?"

Aaah, double crap... I thought in alarm. I did ask The Hitwoman if she knew Yuto, Shun, or Ruri, so those rumors are certainly true.

"Serena...sama...!"

We gasped at the unexpected voice and looked down to see Barrett, who just regained his senses, pressing the screen of his Duel Disk, causing it to flash in and out with red light. We quickly stepped away from him; who knows what'll happen if we're too close to him.

"With this...I have told Academia...exactly where we are." he grunted out. He then raised his head at Serena, sporting a regretful expression. "I apologize...Serena-sama—"

His body was enveloped in light, and he completely vanished in an instant.

"Forced return, huh...?" Serena muttered blankly, although her face looked worried. Not for herself, but for Barrett. But she didn't admit it out loud. "Eventually, pursuers from Academia will come to bring me back," she gritted her teeth. "Dammit..."

"Pursuers?" I breathed out. That's—

"Bad." Reiji finished my thought with one, simple word. He frowned and adjusted his spectacles. "If that happens, it will cause more than just a disturbance... We'll have to prepare a counterstrategy as quickly as possible."

"A war is about to break out." Demiurge remarked calmly. A war here in Standard...that's beyond 'bad'! The people of this Dimension aren't ready for war! The Duelists aren't ready to fight Duel Soldiers!

"Wait, Serena." Reiji called out, stopping the girl who turned to leave like nothing had happened. "In a situation like this, where do you plan on going?"

"I don't know." Serena said while turning back around. "But what I do know is that I won't let the pursuers catch me. Once I defeat them and the Xyz Remnant, Akaba Leo will have no choice but to acknowledge my abilities. I'll worry about Vince later."

Which means I'm still on her radar...sigh, I guess that's to be expected. After all, since I'm not a Defector, but I was still able to catch Leo's notice, means I'm special. And defeating someone special is the best way to prove your strength.

"I'm afraid I must interfere with that plan." Reiji declared, earning a glare from Serena. Huh, true...if Leo's sending pursuers for one, single girl, that must mean she plays an important role in his plans. Letting her leave just like that would be a horrible decision. "Why don't we do it like this? You and I will Duel."

Serena narrowed her eyes at that, while mine did the opposite. To think I'll get to see her Duel again and against Reiji from all people...what luck! I wonder if he'll use new "D/D" Monster and I'll manage to figure out what they reference on my own by solely relying on my knowledge of myths and history.

With that out of the way, I had to admit this was a good plan. Serena, who made it pretty obvious she'll keep her word if she accepts our conditions, will have no choice but to do as Reiji says in case she loses. And I honestly doubted the fact Yuya's main rival would lose at this stage.

"If you win, then I'll let you go and I won't interfere with you for as long as you stay here, in Standard." Reiji revealed his demands. "But if I win...then you'll have to stay under my care until I say so. Are these terms alright with you?"

"...You probably have complete control over this place, so walking off isn't an option." Serena grimaced as she said that. "But the benefit that comes with winning makes the Duel worth my while. Fine, I accept."

"I'm pleased to hear that." Reiji took out his Duel Disk. "However, before we start, I hope you can excuse me for a minute. I must make an urgent call."

"Then what are you waiting for?" Serena coldly asked, but Reiji didn't reply to it. Instead he took a couple of steps back and called someone, more than likely Nakajima to give him a new order since we know pursuers will soon pay us a visit.

"For someone who said he won't let me off scot free," Serena snapped me out of my thoughts. She crossed her arms over her chest with an annoyed expression. "You're being awfully nice to me at the moment. You're all bark and no bite."

"Well, she does have a point." Demiurge chuckled. Don't you start, mister!

"I understand why you're saying that," I calmly explained to her. "But now that I Dueled you and heard your story, I realized...I can't stay mad at your motives, only at what you did."

"What?" Serena lowered her arms and clenched her fists. Ugh, I swear, it's so easy to ruffle the Fusion Dimension's Duelists' feathers! "Are you pitying me?"

I made it pretty obvious, so there's no need to lie. Not like a lie would change much. "Yes." I admitted in a low tone, earning me a glare from her. "It's my turn to make a question. Did you...have fun in our Duel?"

"Fun?" Serena snorted and equipped a mocking smile. "I don't Duel to have fun, but because I'm a Duel Soldier. This isn't a game, but a battle."

"I kinda expected that answer..." I sighed in a low tone. "Serena, you say that, but during the Duel, you were clearly enjoying yourself. When you found out I was strong, you grinned."

"I—" she was about to deny when her eyes widened a little and she fell silently. It seems my earlier thoughts were correct.

"May we start?" Reiji walked up to us, ending our discussion. Serena shot me one last glance before she nodded and the two got into position. I stepped to the side and leaned on one of the guard-rails to get comfortable.

"DUEL!" they shouted in unison.

Serena: LP 4000

VS

Reiji: LP 4000

"We're starting from me!" Serena proclaimed. "Watashi no turn! I summon Lunalight Crimson Fox!"

A young woman with crimson fox features and wearing a moon-themed bodysuit appeared on her field with a charming battle cry.

Lunalight Crimson Fox: Dark / Beast-Warrior / Effect / ATK: 1800 / DEF: 600 / LV: 4

"I set a card and end my turn!" Serena concluded her turn as quickly as she started it. "Now, show me the strength of the Professor's son and Vince's boss."

Reiji simply acknowledged her words by pushing up his spectacles, "Watashi no turn. Draw! I summon D/D Proud Daredevil!"

An imposing Monster covered from head to toe in armor black as night that had turquoise circuits pulsing on it with energy appeared. Two demonic wings and a tail sprouted from his back and waist and darkness itself adorned the demon's claws, giving the impression they were sharp like blades and could easily slash anything in two. Instead of toes, he had claws attached to his feet, two horns jutted from the sides of his head, and turquoise flames burned where his eyes and mouth should be.

D/D Proud Daredevil: Dark / Fiend / Pendulum / Effect / ATK: 800 / DEF: 1500 / LV: 3 / SC: 2

"I can't sense the aura of the Daemons' followers, either..." Seth thought out loud. "Say, Demiurge, do you have any idea why's that?"

"Of course I do." Demiurge sneered. "That's just how they operate. The D/D lot keep their auras hidden at all times, from friend and foe alike. They only reveal it when you confront them in a battle. That way, not only can they keep their identities a secret from espionage, but they can also efficiently ambush their opponents."

"Aah..." the group's leaders are kings, who're well-versed in military tactics. No wonder they would act cautiously all the time, especially when around so many unknown people and Duel Monsters.

"So they let you and your servants feel their auras because you already fought them in the past?" Ereshkigal inquired curiously. "Because you're acquainted with them?"

"Exactly." although Sidonia confirmed her words, irritation was present in her tone.

"Proud Daredevil's effect activates as it was Normal Summoned." Reiji unconsciously interrupted us. "I can Special Summon one Level 4 or lower 'D/D' Monster from my Deck. Appear, D/D Cerberus!"

The hound of Hades under Reiji's control emerged from a portal of swirling darkness that was conjured by Daredevil. My own Kerberos didn't react to the appearance of a doppelgänger, but Orthrus barked once with each of his heads, greeting his brother. However, Cerberus didn't pay it any mind and continued to stare at his user's opponent, but that didn't offend him. After all, duty comes first for both guard dogs.

D/D Cerberus: Dark / Fiend / Pendulum / Effect / ATK: 1800 / DEF: 600 / LV: 4 / SC: 6

"It's the Monster from that time..." Serena narrowed her eyes at the hound, but I was distracted again when Howard spoke up.

"...That's their way of humiliating us..." he said with the same tone as the witch.

Yeah, that would explain why they don't bother hiding their auras from Demiurge and his group. To remind them of their loss, to rub salt in the wound, to provoke them into making a rash move. C'mon, riling Demiurge and his group was as easy as breathing! They can't just fight each other in the Real World- unless I Duel Reiji- so it's understandable they would opt for that instead of concealing themselves.

When I first talked with him, Demiurge also mentioned the D/D/Ds were a prideful bunch. They obviously take pleasure from reminding themselves they've defeated someone like Demiurge and don't have to act on the tip of their toes around him. Again, things would be different if we were in the Duel Spirits World.

"Next, I activate the Continuous Spell Dark Contract with the Swamp King! During my Standby Phase, this card inflicts 1000 points of damage to me."

"Damaging yourself?" Serena didn't expect such a tactic, not that you could blame her.

It was a very unorthodox strategy, deemed risky by everyone I saw watching the gray-haired youth Duel. I personally disliked it, you never know when you'd lose due to your own card's effect. But it fits perfectly in Reiji's hands; taking into account his strength and personality, it was the best strategy his deck could offer him.

"But in exchange for that, once per turn, I can Fusion Summon a Fiend-Type Fusion Monster by using Monsters from my hand or my field," Reiji explained. "The Monsters I fuse are D/D Cerberus and D/D Proud Daredevil!"

His Monsters turned into red and blue energy respectively, which then spiraled into a portal as he chanted.

"Hellhound that bares its fangs. Fiendish beast wrapped in shadows. In a whirlpool of light from the realm of the dead, become one and give birth to a new king! Fusion Summon! Be born! D/D/D Flame King Genghis!"

The D/D/D that bore Genghis Khan's honorary title and had an affinity for fire emerged from the portal with a battle cry.

D/D/D Flame King Genghis: Fire / Fiend / Fusion / Effect / ATK: 2000 / DEF: 1500 / LV: 6

"Battle!" Reiji pointed forward. "Flame King Genghis attacks Crimson Fox! Fire Stroke!"

"Not on my watch." Serena scoffed. "I activate Lunalight Brown Squirrel's effect from my hand! Since my Lunalight is under attack, I can Special Summon this card from my hand in order to negate that attack!"

A young woman with brown squirrel features and wearing a moon-themed bodysuit stepped out from Crimson Fox's shadow, as if she's been there for this entire time. With a front flip, she landed on her hands and proceeded to make a spin, using her feet to knock back Genghis's sword which he swung at her like it was nothing.

I bet money Brown Squirrel's a breakdancer, was the first thing I thought after seeing that.

Lunalight Brown Squirrel: Dark / Beast-Warrior / Effect / ATK: 1000 / DEF: 1800 / LV: 4

"As I expected, my attack didn't land." Reiji noted impassively. "I set a card and end my turn."

"How disappointing." Serena remarked with a scowl. "I thought you'd prove to be a challenge since you're the Professor's son and Vince's boss, but that turn was complete lackluster."

She...had a point there, but going all out in this turn would be a bad idea. The more Monsters Reiji gathers, the more damage he'll take from Cat Dancer's brutal and graceful assault, and there's always the chance Serena could survive his attacks, as she did just now. She still had a face-down at ready, which could turn out to be anything. Or maybe Reiji had a bad starting hand and that's all he could do.

"Watashi no turn!" Serena began her turn by drawing. "I summon Lunalight White Rabbit!"

A female youth with white rabbit features and wearing a moon-themed bodysuit joined her friend, joyfully swinging the hammer she held in her hands with a giggle.

Lunalight White Rabbit: Dark / Beast-Warrior / Effect / ATK: 800 / DEF: 800 / LV: 2

"By targeting your set card, I activate White Rabbit's effect!" Serena stated as her Monster hit the ground with her hammer, causing the said card to glow yellow. "I return that card to your hand!"

"In that case, I activate it before that could happen. By targeting Genghis, I activate the Trap Card Dimension Dowsing!" a card, which depicted a demonic pendulum swinging between two alternative realities, appeared. "This turn, any battle damage I would take involving my target is halved."

"So he has a high chance of survival." Camazotz sounded displeased.

"Makes no difference." Serena said. "I activate Brown Squirrel's effect. By using Monsters I control and Brown Squirrel as materials, I Fusion Summon one "Lunalight" Fusion Monster from my Extra Deck!"

The fox and the squirrel turned into red and blue energy respectively, which then spiraled into a portal as she chanted and clasped her hands together.

"Fox tinted with blood! Shadow of the brown trees! Spiral into the moon's gravity and become a new power! Fusion Summon! Come forth, beautiful beast that dances in the moonlight! Lunalight Cat Dancer!"

The said Monster danced her way out of the portal again, ready to fight the opposing king.

Lunalight Cat Dancer: ATK 2400 / DEF 2000 / LV: 7

"I wonder what show they'll put up for us this time." Snow commented.

"Kurimuzon Fokkusu no kōka o hatsudō!" Serena threw an arm forward. "If this card is sent to the Graveyard by a card effect, I can target one face-up Monster you control and change its Attack to 0 for the rest of this turn! Obviously, I target your Fusion Monster!"

Genghis grunted as his fiery aura suddenly turned crimson and he stabbed the ground with his sword to sustain himself.

(Genghis: 2000→0 ATK)

"Next, I activate Cat Dancer's effect. By releasing White Rabbit, Cat Dancer can attack all Monsters my opponent controls twice each this turn, and they won't be destroyed by the first attack!"

White Rabbit burst into particles, which then surrounded Cat Dancer and caused her sashes to light up.

"Lady Serena has a fierce fighting soul." Reynardine pointed out and I immediately agreed. She'll attack the same 0-Attack Monster twice and would've dealt 4800 damage in total if it wasn't for Dimension Dowsing. If she wants you on the floor with 0 LP, she won't stop until it's done. Her deck paired well with her nature.

"Battle!" Serena pointed forward. "I attack the weakened Genghis with Cat Dancer!"

Her Fusion Monster threw her daggers at the king, who groaned in pain as they pierced his chest and his left leg and caused him to fall onto his knee. The shock wave that ensued from that made Reiji grunt.

Reiji: LP 4000 - 1200 = 2800

"Once again, attack Genghis!" Serena ordered. "Full Moon Cresta!"

Cat Dancer drew a circle with her hands in front of herself, which was then filled with the glow of her sashes. An energy pulse was released from the circle and struck Genghis, making him explode with a cry of pain. Reiji shielded his face with an arm from the shock waves.

Reiji: LP 2800 - 1200 = 1600

I sweatdropped when Camazotz giggled uncontrollably, "Hah! Serves him right!" man, they really hate each other...

"Because Genghis that was targeted with Dimension Dowsing was destroyed, my Trap's other effect activates." Reiji stated while pushing up his spectacles. "I add one 'D/D' Monster from my Deck to my hand."

"I end my turn with this. Since you got a second chance, you better show me what you can really do, Akaba Reiji." Serena demanded.

"As it is his turn again, Akaba Reiji must pay the cost of Dark Contract with the Swamp King." Baphomet spoke up. Crap, he's correct!

"Watashi no turn." although he knew he'll take damage by his own card's effect, Reiji's unshaken gaze didn't vanish ever for a second. In fact, it seemed even more prominent than before. "Draw! Due to Dark Contract with the Swamp King's effect, I take 1000 damage during my Standby Phase!"

A black miasma surrounded his Continuous Spell at those words, and seconds later, the same substance oozed from Reiji on the spot where his heart would be. The CEO of LDS gritted his teeth to prevent himself from shouting in pain and placed a hand over the spot.

Reiji: LP 1600 - 1000 = 600

"Reiji!" I gasped in concern, not expecting such a strong reaction.

Demiurge whistled, "Impressive for a human. I'm starting to see why those bastard Different Dimension Daemons took a liking to Reiji."

"What do you mean?" I whispered in confusion.

"The costs of those Dark Contracts aren't to be laughed at," Demiurge explained as Reiji collected himself. "The Daemons only strike contracts with strong entities, like in this case with a king. But that makes sense: if you strike a deal with a weak person, you don't get much in return, but if you do it with someone strong...then you profit from it. However, that doesn't only apply to the Daemons, but to both parties. The Daemons are strong, which means they have to give something as strong in return."

Wait...if you must pay LP in return, that means—"You pay with life? Life energy?"

"Exactly." Demiurge chuckled, pleased that I've figured it out on my own. "Life energy can be very strong, especially that of those bastards. If this wasn't a Duel, Reiji would've paid with his actual lifeand more than probably, he would've died, too. The Daemons make deals with some greedy filth."

No wonder the damage looked so severe. Still, to die from a contract...thank the gods this was a Duel and not an actual battle.

"You only have 600 Life Points remaining." Serena noted. "At this rate, you'll lose by your own card's effect."

"Fear not, that won't happen." Reiji remarked. "After all, the Duel ends here. Unless you can defend yourself, Serena, this damage has sealed your fate."

"What did you say?" Serena's eyes narrowed.

"He purposely damaged himself?" Adaro inquired in surprise. "Looks like I found someone as crazy as me."

Reiji took a loud step forward and revealed two cards from his hand, "I, using the Scale 1 D/D Savant Galilei and the Scale 10 D/D Savant Kepler, set the Pendulum Scales!"

He placed his cards on his energy blade, causing the word [PENDULUM] to flash between them and the two pillars to appear around him, containing his mechanical Monsters named after the famous astronomers.

"You also have Pendulum Monsters?" Serena gasped in surprise.

"Of course. And I have much more up my sleeve." Reiji gestured at his Monsters. "I can now simultaneously Summon Monsters from Levels 2 to 9. Grand power that shakes my very soul! Arise within me and become a new light that rends the darkness! Pendulum Summon! Come before me, my Monsters!"

A portal opened between the two pillars, and two beams shot out of it before landing on the field.

"Prideful knight, D/D Proud Chevalier!"

A humanoid Monster covered from head to toe in silver armor and with a blade attached to his right wrist instead of a hand was revealed.

D/D Proud Chevalier: Dark / Fiend / Pendulum / Effect / ATK: 2000 / DEF: 700 / LV: 5 / SC: 6

"Vessel of disaster, D/D Pandora!"

Pandora, the first human created by the Greek god Hephaestus under Zeus's orders, whose D/D form had her body fused to a large jar known as "Pandora's box", was revealed next.

D/D Pandora: Dark / Fiend / Effect / ATK: 1700 / DEF: 2100 / LV: 5

"Two Level 5 Monsters...!" Serena's eyes widened.

"It's as you guessed. I overlay the Level 5 Proud Chevalier and Pandora!" the two Monsters turned into purple beams and entered a swirling galaxy, from which a pillar of light shot out. "Hero of legends, with your profound justice, pierce through all things! Xyz Summon! Descend, Rank 5! D/D/D Marksman King Tell!"

To emerge from the portal was a D/D/D that bore William Tell's name, the folk hero of Switzerland. He aimed his crossbow at their opponent and split his face into a crazy grin, one that reminded me of Adaro's.

D/D/D Marksman King Tell: Dark / Fiend / Xyz / Effect / ATK: 2300 / DEF: 2000 / RK: 5

"A Pendulum-Xyz...and Marksman King?" I placed a hand to my chin in thought. If I remember correctly, Tell wasn't a king...however, he became famous for the story where he successfully shot an apple from a child's head. So this legend made him become the "Marksman King"...

"Teru no kōka hatsudō." Reiji raised a hand and Tell's crossbow absorbed one of the lights orbiting him. "If I have taken damage by the effect of a Dark Contract this turn, by using an Overlay Unit and targeting a Monster my opponent controls, its Attack is lowered by 1000 points and my opponent takes 1000 damage!"

"So this is why he took that damage...!?" Serena gritted her teeth.

"To think he would use the cost of Dark Contract to his advantage." Demiurge sounded...hungry. Of course, he wasn't hungry for food, but to Duel Reiji, defeat him, and savor the taste of victory not only over him but his D/D/Ds as well. This was the first time he displayed such a need, and it didn't particularly calm me.

"I target Cat Dancer! Piercing Arrow!" Reiji declared and Tell fired an energy arrow, which then split into two and headed for the girls.

"I won't let you! I activate Crimson Fox's effect!" Serena interjected. "When a card effect that targets my Lunalight is activated, by banishing this card from my Graveyard, the activation of that card effect is negated and we each gain 1000 Life!"

The spectral image of Crimson Fox materialized in front of them and used her own body as a shield, which exploded in green particles when the arrows struck her.

Serena: LP 4000 + 1000 = 5000

Reiji: LP 600 + 1000 = 1600

"I see you're good at dodging, too." Reiji commented. "But for how long can you keep dodging? By using Tell's remaining Overlay Unit, I activate its effect and target Cat Dancer once more! Piercing Arrow!"

Using the second light orbiting its body as ammunition, Tell fired a second arrow and successfully struck Cat Dancer's left shoulder, causing her to gasp in pain. At the same time, the arrow struck the ground in front of Serena and exploded, forcing her to jump back.

(Cat Dancer: 2400→1400 ATK)

Serena: LP 5000 - 1000 = 4000

"I'm not finished yet!" Reiji stated. "Dark Contract with the Swamp King's other effect! If I would Summon a 'D/D' Fusion Monster with this card's effect, I can also banish Monsters from my Graveyard and use them as materials!"

Serena frowned. "It had an effect like that!?" I asked no one in surprise.

"I banish D/D Proud Chevalier and D/D Pandora from my Graveyard and fuse them!" his Monsters briefly appeared on the field before turning into red and blue energy respectively, which then spiraled into a portal as he chanted. "Prideful knight, be absorbed into the vessel of disaster, and be reborn into a new king! Fusion Summon! Come forth, ruler who carries the glory of God! D/D/D Oracle King d'Arc!"

A D/D/D that bore Joan of Arc's name flew out of the portal with a beat of her demonic wings and pointed her sword at Cat Dancer, as if signaling the beginning of Reiji's onslaught on their opponent.

D/D/D Oracle King d'Arc: Dark / Fiend / Fusion / Effect / ATK: 2800 / DEF: 2000 / LV: 7

Another D/D/D that wasn't a king... I thought as I inspected the new Monster. Moreover, king? Wasn't d'Arc a female? I guess whoever designed her card had to name her that to fit in with the naming scheme of the 'D/D/D' Monsters. Although, d'Arc had to disguise herself as a male in the past, so in a way, the title "King" wasn't far-fetched.

"She's sizing you up herself." Sidonia snapped me out of my thoughts, allowing me to notice d'Arc and I were staring at each other. I hastily looked away in embarrassment and I felt my cheeks heat up a little; great, now she and Adaro had something new to tease me with...and who knows what d'Arc thought, too. When I looked back, her deep pink gaze was set on Cat Dancer again, making me sigh internally. "She's wary of us. As a fellow witch burned at stake, I can say she learned from her past mistakes."

"Don't speak of serious stuff so casually..." I scolded her in a low tone, but a giggle made it obvious she won't do that any time soon.

"Battle!" Reiji shouted. "I attack Lunalight Cat Dancer with Oracle King d'Arc!"

"You fell for it." Serena let loose of an impish smirk. "Torappu hatsudō: Moon Gravity Prison!"

A card, which depicted Pitch-Black Warwolf trapped inside a glowing, moon-designed circle in a forest at nighttime, appeared.

"I can activate it when my Lunalight is attacked, and it changes all Attack Position Monsters you control to Defense Position!" following Serena's words, the two kings assumed defensive stances. "And for each Monster whose Battle Position was changed this way, you take 800 damage!"

"A turnabout." Nattmara remarked when the Trap Card fired a yellow beam at Reiji. With two Monsters, the damage he would take is 1600, the exact amount of his LP!

"I beg to differ." the CEO adjusted his spectacles. "I activate d'Arc's effect! It reduces the effect damage I would take to 0, and in turn, restores my Life Points by that same amount! Life Elation!"

The Oracle King outstretched her free hand, absorbing the yellow beam into a sphere which she then raised to the ceiling. The energy suddenly turned purple and showered Reiji in particles.

Reiji: LP 1600 + 1600 = 3200

"You avoided that, too...!?" Serena gritted her teeth in frustration.

"With my Monsters now in defense mode, there's no reason to stay in the Battle Phase. I enter my Main Phase 2 and activate the Spell Card Zero Contract." a card, which depicted an old sheet of paper with ominous letters of an unknown language written on it being torn in half as a "0" glowed brightly behind it, appeared. "By destroying a Dark Contract I control, I can add a different '00' or 'Zero' card from my Deck to my hand."

Dark Contract with the Swamp King burst into particles after those words, "I add the Trap Card Zero Sacrifice to my hand and set it. Turn End."

"Watashi no turn!" Serena cried out with sudden fervor. Uh-oh, she's about to go all out. "This turn I'll make sure to defeat you, Akaba Reiji. Draw! First I Special Summon Lunalight Parakeet Chameleon from my hand!"

A young woman with patches of parakeet scales on her body and a chameleon tail of the same color and wearing a light green butler's suit instead of the usual moon-themed bodysuit appeared, tapping the ground with her umbrella to announce her arrival.

Lunalight Parakeet Chameleon: Dark / Beast-Warrior / Effect / ATK: 1900 / DEF: 2100 / LV: 6

"I can Special Summon this card if I control a Level 5 or higher Lunalight," Serena explained. "Now I activate its other effect! If Parakeet Chameleon is Normal or Special Summoned, I can Special Summon one 'Lunalight' Monster from my hand or Deck! Come from my Deck, Lunalight Yellow Marten!"

A young woman with yellow marten features and wearing a moon-themed bodysuit appeared beside Parakeet Chameleon and idly rested an arm on the latter's shoulder.

Lunalight Yellow Marten: Dark / Beast-Warrior / Effect / ATK: 800 / DEF: 2000 / LV: 4

"I activate the Spell Card Polymerization!" Serena declared. "I fuse my three Monsters!"

Her Monsters turned into red, blue, and yellow energy, which then spiraled into a portal as she chanted and clasped her hands together.

"Beautiful beast that dances in the moonlight! Ephemeral green lurking in the darkness! Spirited marten draped in yellow! Spiral into the moon's gravity and become a new power! Fusion Summon! Come forth, the gorgeous beast whose fangs are blessed by moonlight! Lunalight Sabre Dancer!"

A woman with feline features and clad in a moon-themed exotic dress leaped out of the portal and made a graceful landing in front of her user in a crouching position. She then straightened out and raised her hands to the ceiling before swiftly bringing them back down, cutting the saber-toothed tiger mask she wore with the swords she held in a reverse grip and revealing her gorgeous face to us. The remainings of the mask glowed as they morphed into new accessories and got equipped to her head.

Lunalight Sabre Dancer: Dark / Beast-Warrior / Fusion / Effect / ATK: 3000 / DEF: 2600 / LV: 9

"A Level 9 Fusion Monster with 3000 Attack..." I breathed out in concern. She also had to use three Monsters to Summon her, so her effects must be strong!

"This servant is different from the others." a string of agreements followed Supay's words. "The human wasn't lying when she said her fangs are blessed. I can definitely feel a divine presence behind this dancer."

"The effect of Yellow Marten, which was sent to the Graveyard by a card effect, activates," Serena explained as a card ejected from her deck. "I can add a 'Lunalight' Spell or Trap to my hand. I choose Chandra Unguis, which is always treated as a 'Lunalight' card. Then Sabre Dancer's effect comes into play. For each Beast-Warrior Monster that is banished or is in a Graveyard, this card gains 200 Attack! Counting the five I have in my Graveyard and the one I have banished, it gains 1200 Attack!"

(Sabre Dancer: 3000→4200 ATK)

"4200 Attack?" Reiji inquired with an impressed tone.

"Next, I equip Sabre Dancer with the Equip Spell Chandra Unguis!" the said Monster discarded her swords as oversized silver gauntlets adorned with sapphire gems and equally large golden claws appeared over her hands. "Due to its effect, the equipped Monster can inflict piercing damage!"

"So she has a strategy in case Moon Gravity Prison fails..." no surprises there.

"That's not all!" Serena informed us. "If the equipped Monster attacks an opponent's Monster, I can negate that Monster's effects until the end of that battle, as well as change its Defense to 0!"

Reiji narrowed his eyes. "4200 piercing damage at once!?" I gasped out.

"It's over for you!" Serena punched the air in front of her. "Battle! Go, Sabre Dancer! Attack Oracle King d'Arc! Twofold Gash!"

Sabre Dancer licked her lips in a predatory manner and leaped forward, closing the distance between herself and her prey in a second. d'Arc gritted her teeth and raised her sword in a vain attempt to block the attack, but her blade- and almost her hand- were sliced to pieces by a swing of the dancer's claws.

(d'Arc: 2000→0 DEF)

Sabre Dancer then brought down her other hand, slashing d'Arc and causing her to explode with a pained cry, filling the parking lot with smoke.

"The attack made it through?" Willauk asked no one in particular. It sure seemed so, but...

"That was a splendid attack." as if to confirm my thoughts, the smoke parted to reveal an uninjured Reiji and a Trap Card glowing beside him, which depicted D/D/D Doom King Armageddon crumbling to pieces as a "0" glowed brightly behind it. "But...not enough to reach my throat."

I exhaled in relief. "What did you do!?" Serena demanded with a glare.

"By releasing a 'D/D/D' Monster under my control, Zero Sacrifice makes all damage I would take for the rest of this turn to 0." Reiji stated while adjusting his spectacles. "I released Tell for it."

"...I end my turn here." Serena's lips slowly but surely curved upwards and formed the grin she made during our Tag Duel. "You're finally proving to be a strong opponent. Now it's easy to believe you're the Professor's son and Vince's boss. If I defeat you as well, my strength will surely be acknowledged."

"I take it you're glad you accepted my challenge, then." Reiji commented. "And I can see you're also enjoying yourself."

Serena's grin vanished in an instant, "I'm what?" her eyes widened in confusion, and raised a hand to her lips, shocked by the revelation she grinned again during a Duel. She clenched her fist and gnashed her teeth together in frustration.

"Any Duelist is delighted when they face an opponent who can push them to their limit." Reiji said to calm her down and perhaps make her realize those things Academia drilled into her weren't an undeniable truth. "I personally felt that before. Vince and Sakuragi, too."

"Enough with the lecture!" Serena burst out. "A Duel based on enjoyment is nothing more than a game! I won't treat a Duel like a game! I'm not interested in your opinion, Akaba Reiji! Continue the Duel or surrender!"

"Goes to show you can't change someone's fate once it's set in stone." I clenched my fists in response to Demiurge's scoff.

No...no, that's just wrong. Raising a child on the premise of war and a mindset that believed no one could be saved from a tragic fate were unacceptable. Serena can be spared from a horrible future like that, and Reiji believed the same thing, hence why he pointed that out. She'll need time to come to terms with it, but it's achievable. And who knows how many others could be saved.

"As you wish, let's resume the Duel." Reiji resigned for the time being. "Watashi no turn. Draw! During my Standby Phase, Galilei's and Kepler's Pendulum Effects activate, increasing and reducing their Pendulum Scales by 2 respectively."

(Galilei: SC 1→3; Kepler: SC 10→8)

"I summon the Tuner Monster, D/D Nighthowl!"

A fiendish Monster whose body only consisted of a fanged mouth and two eyes appeared.

D/D Nighthowl: Dark / Fiend / Tuner / Effect / ATK: 300 / DEF: 600 / LV: 3

"Even Synchro...!?" Serena's eyes widened in shock. Yep, he controlled all Summoning Methods.

Although...I haven't seen him Ritual Summon yet.

"When this card is Normal Summoned, its effect activates." Reiji stated. "I Special Summon one 'D/D' Monster from my Graveyard by lowering its Attack and Defense to 0. Be reborn, D/D/D Flame King Genghis!"

The said king returned to his field through a GY Portal.

(Genghis: 2000→0 ATK, 1500→0 DEF)

"I tune the Level 6 Genghis with the Level 3 Nighthowl!" as Nighthowl's body morphed into three green rings that surrounded Genghis and turned them into six stars, Reiji chanted. "Prestigious mage, with your great wisdom, subjugate even the supernatural! Synchro Summon! Be born, Level 9! D/D/D Mage King Solomon!"

A bright beam shot through the rings from which a new king emerged. It was a toned man with cornflower blue skin, messy black hair that went all the way down to his bare feet, and piercing purple eyes that had black sclera. His nails were all pointy and black, dark blue tattoos covered his skin, and golden jewelry adorned his body, with the most notable ones being rings he wore on each finger. Dark blue and black armor covered his shoulders and his torso, while a gray waist cloak extended from his armor. Similarly to Tell, he also sported a crazy grin filled with sharp teeth, which could intimidate anyone staring at him.

D/D/D Mage King Solomon: Light / Fiend / Synchro / Effect / ATK: 2200 / DEF: 3000 / LV: 9

Serena and I both straightened up the moment he took the stage. A Level 9 'D/D/D' Synchro Monster... Serena was obviously wary of him only from a Dueling perspective, but I couldn't help but think about his reference to the actual king.

Solomon, a wealthy and wise king who was gifted by God the "great wisdom" Reiji mentioned in his chant and the powers to command demons, spirits, and even animals. The ten rings on his fingers were the proof he was recognized by God. There was so much more that could be said...

And that Solomon was now standing before us.

"Hmm, the Solomon Islands were named after this fellow?" the name caused Adaro to feel reminiscent of his myth's birthplace. "How interesting."

"The Hell...?" Demiurge was confused for some reason. "Since when was this guy a Different Dimension Daemon?"

"A new addition to their ranks, maybe?" Balor offered an explanation. "Or he was with them all along but he never took part in direct combat because he's too weak. In which case, his strength relays in his wits."

"But this game has the tendency to toy with our strength." Ereshkigal remarked. "He could very well be stronger than any of us."

She had a point there. "I activate Mage King Solomon's effect." and we'll soon find out if it's true or not. "By targeting and destroying up two other cards I control, I can Special Summon one 'D/D' Monster from my hand or Deck. I target the two cards in my Pendulum Zones! Seal of Solomon!"

The Mage King's grin widened and gleefully did as he was ordered. He raised his hands towards Galilei and Kepler and slowly closed them, causing the two D/D Savants to shake violently and spark with electricity before suddenly- and mercilessly- being crushed into a purple orb of energy.

The orbs flew into Solomon's hands, who merged them together and slammed the now-united orb into the ground, conjuring a magic circle that glowed with purple energy on the ground. That was the Seal of Solomon to be precise, the very thing that allowed Solomon to control fiends—and the 'D/D' Monsters (according to the game) are just that, which means Solomon could destroy and convoke them at will.

"I destroyed two cards, therefore, I can Special Summon a Level 6 or higher Monster from my Deck," Reiji explained as a black miasma oozed out of the Seal and slowly took the shape of his new servant. "A paradigm lurks in the darkness of time, and an inexorable power awakens the demon of causality! Manifest! D/D/D Destiny King Zero Laplace!"

Yet another D/D/D that didn't bear the name of a king was revealed, and it let loose of an ominous and long groan that sent a shiver down my spine.

D/D/D Destiny King Zero Laplace: Dark / Fiend / Pendulum / Effect / ATK: ? / DEF: 0 / LV: 10 / SC: 1

"The Daemon that can bend destiny to his will, Zero Laplace." Demiurge commented sarcastically. "He was a real pain in the butt during the Great War. That said, his body's shape reminds me of something, yet I can't put my finger on it..."

"Me." Baphomet calmly pointed out, and I blinked twice. Huh...true, Zero Laplace's body looked similar to his head. While I admit it looked cool, I wonder why that's the case...?

"Unknown Attack?" Serena frowned.

"This Monster stores incredible power. Currently, it's the strongest Monster I have at my disposal." our eyes widened at those words. "I commend you, Serena. I didn't expect I would be forced to Summon it when I challenged you. If Zero Laplace battles an opponent's monster, before damage calculation, I can make its Attack become double the opposing Monster's original Attack until the end of that battle."

"What!?" Serena gasped.

"Double!?" I added. No wonder he said he's currently his strongest Monster!

"Battle!" Reiji pointed forward. "Using Zero Laplace, I attack Sabre Dancer! The End of Destiny!"

(Zero Laplace: ?→6000 ATK)

"I won't fall so easily!" Serena yelled in defiance as energy started gathering in the orb Zero Laplace cradled in his hands. "I activate Chandra Unguis's other effect! I destroy this card to avoid the equipped Monster's destruction by battle and halve the battle damage I would take!"

Sabre Dancer placed her hands together to block the destructive beam Zero Laplace unleashed from his orb. Chandra Unguis shattered into particles as they took the hit, and the ensuing shock waves threw her and Serena back a little.

Serena: LP 4000 - 900 = 3100

(Zero Laplace: 6000→? ATK)

"The Mage King can't defeat Sabre Dancer." Succubus observed.

"Then Serena survives the turn." Snow remarked.

"I activate Solomon's other effect!" or maybe not. "Because you activated a Spell or Trap Card or its effect during this turn while I controlled this card, I can target one D/D I control and allow it to make a second attack during the Battle Phase!"

"No way!" Serena's eyes widened in dread.

"I target Zero Laplace!" Reiji stated as his Monster began charging its next attack. "Do it! The End of Destiny!"

(Zero Laplace: ?→6000 ATK)

Sabre Dancer had nothing to defend herself with, thus she was incinerated by the second beam.

Serena: LP 3100 - 1800 = 1300

(Zero Laplace: 6000→? ATK)

"This will finish it!" Reiji declared. "Solomon attacks Serena directly! Holy Sagacity!"

The rings on Solomon's fingers glowed as he fired a miniature black hole that glowed with white energy from his hands, striking their opponent and sending her tumbling to the ground.

Serena: LP 1300 - 2200 = 0

Winner: Reiji!

Serena punched the ground in frustration as the Duel ended in her loss.

"The second time I suffer defeat today..." she whispered, angry at herself for letting that happen. She then sighed to calm down, and she stood up just as Reiji and I walked up to her. "But I can't go back on my word, which means it can't be helped."

She then glared at him, "What are we waiting for? Let's get going."

"Before that, I'd like to have a word with Vince in private." after Serena waved her hand to express she was OK with that- or maybe that she didn't care- Reiji and I moved behind a pillar to talk.

"What will we do...?" I inquired in worry, remembering the conversation before the Duel. "If a war breaks out here in Standard, there will be a large number of victims...!"

"I know." Reiji calmly nodded. "I've already asked Nakajima to gather the top brass. By tonight, we'll have a counter-strategy ready to intercept the invaders, and I'll inform you about it once it's done."

"Please do." while I won't be able to reveal it to my friends, at least I'll get an idea of how things should play out and how I should proceed. Considering my experience with Academia and my- and Demiurge's- strength, it's a wise choice to count me as an interceptor. That said... "What about Serena?"

"For now, she'll stay at LDS." Reiji made a short glance at the said youth, who was waiting for us with her eyes closed and her arms crossed over her chest. "I'm glad she accepted my terms and the outcome of our Duel, but we still have to evaluate what to do with her. Bearing in mind her importance to my father, she might play a big role in the invasion."

"Yeah..." I agreed and glanced at her myself. As if feeling we're looking at her, Serena opened her eyes and meet our gaze.

"Are you done?" she inquired impatiently.

"Yes." Reiji replied to her and stepped out from behind the pillar. "Follow me. Vince, you, too. I'll take you back to the Second Stadium."

Crap, I totally forgot about the others! I hope they weren't worried too much about me...again.

"Thanks!" I smiled wide, to which he began leading the way to the car. I was about to follow him when I noticed Serena was surveying me, but before I could question it, she silently went after Reiji.

Demiurge said...you can't change someone's fate once it's set in stone. Frankly, I can't say what will happen to Academia once this war is over, but...I won't let a bastard like Leo continue to destroy the future of innocent children of an entire Dimension. And I'll prove Demiurge wrong, too!

Wait, children? I thought in shock. Why...did I phrase it in such a weird way? 'Lives' or 'people' would've been more appropriate, no...? I sounded just like an ancient god for a couple of seconds. Sigh, it seems all these gods around me are starting to rub off on me...


Fan-made Cards:

Barrett:

Beastborg Medal of Survival

Normal Trap

If your "Beastborg" monster(s) is destroyed by your opponent's card: Draw 2 cards, and if this card was activated during the Battle Phase, end it. You can only activate 1 "Beastborg Medal of Survival" per turn.

Yuu:

Spellbook of the Fool

Normal Spell

Send 1 "Spellbook" Normal Spell from your Deck to the GY. You can only activate 1 "Spellbook of the Fool" per turn.

[Trivia: "In order to tame the holy magic inside him, Mat left his carefree days behind and begun studying under Hieron and Trice's supervision. He even got his own personal magical terminal..."]

Soleil of Prophecy (Fire/Spellcaster/Xyz/Effect/ATK: 1800/DEF: 1000/RK: 4)

2 Level 4 Spellcaster monsters

This card gains 100 ATK each time the effect of a Spell you control resolves. You can detach 1 material from this card, then target 1 "Spellbook" Normal Spell in your GY; add 1 card with the same name as that target from your Deck to your hand. You can only use this effect of "Soleil of Prophecy" once per turn.

[Trivia: "Guardian of the Solein library. He possesses a strong affinity for Light magic, hence why he was handpicked by Hieron and Trice to guard the aforementioned library. In battle, he uses his magic to strengthen his shield by wrapping it in light, to the point of turning its front hot. But if Soleil lets go of his shield, then the magic is forcefully cut off..."]

Spellbook of Decree

Normal Spell

Inflict 400 damage to your opponent for each Spellcaster monster you control. You can only activate 1 "Spellbook of Decree" per turn.

[Trivia: "In order to protect the Solein library, Soleil intercepts the advancing Crusader, notoriously known to be one of the two bodyguards of the Master Magician..."]

Outré Insight

Normal Trap

When your "Prophecy" monster is attacked: Apply these effects, in sequence.

- Tribute that monster, and if you do, end the Battle Phase.

- Gain 100 LP for each "Spellbook" card in your GY.

- Your opponent takes damage equal to that monster's ATK.

You can only activate 1 "Outré Insight" per turn.

Serena:

Faithful Instinct

Normal Trap

If you would take damage: Banish 1 Beast-Warrior monster from your GY; lower that damage equal to the banished monster's ATK or DEF, whichever is higher (your choice, if tied). You can only activate 1 "Faithful Instinct" per turn. During your next Standby Phase, if you control no monsters and your LP is 2000 or less: You can Special Summon that banished monster, but negate its effects.

Lunalight Brown Squirrel (Dark/Beast-Warrior/Effect/ATK: 1000/DEF: 1800/LV: 4)

If your "Lunalight" monster is being attacked (Quick Effect): You can Special Summon this card from your hand, and if you do, negate that attack. During your Main Phase: You can Fusion Summon 1 "Lunalight" Fusion Monster from your Extra Deck, using monsters from your field as Fusion Material, including this card. You can only use each effect of "Lunalight Brown Squirrel" once per turn.

Moon Gravity Prison

Normal Trap

When your "Lunalight" monster is attacked: Change all Attack Position monsters your opponent controls to Defense Position, and if you do, inflict 800 damage to your opponent for each monster whose Battle Position was changed this way.

Lunalight Parakeet Chameleon (Dark/Beast-Warrior/Effect/ATK: 1900/DEF: 2100/LV: 6)

If you control a Level 5 or higher "Lunalight" monster, you can Special Summon this card (from your hand). If this card is Normal or Special Summoned: You can Special Summon 1 "Lunalight" monster from your hand or Deck. If you would use this card as a Fusion Material for the Fusion Summon of a "Lunalight" monster, you can treat it as a Fusion Monster. You can only use each effect of "Lunalight Parakeet Chameleon" once per turn.

Chandra Unguis

Equip Spell

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

Equip only to a "Lunalight" monster. If it attacks a Defense Position monster, inflict piercing damage to your opponent. If it would be destroyed by battle, you can destroy this card instead, and if you do, reduce the battle damage you take from that battle is halved. If it attacks an opponent's monster: You can negate that monster's effects (until the end of the Damage Step), also change its DEF to 0. You can only use this effect of "Chandra Unguis" once per turn.

[Trivia: Chandra is the Hindu god of the moon.]

Vince:

Eternal Ouroboros

Normal Spell

Special Summon 1 "Mythorror" monster from your GY by paying 100 LP x its Level/Rank, but its ATK/DEF become 0 and its effects are negated. You can only activate 1 "Eternal Ouroboros" per turn.

[Trivia: this card's a reference to the ouroboros.]

Elysian Fields

Continuous Trap

You can only control 1 "Elysian Fields". Activate by targeting 1 "Mythorror" monster you control with ATK different from its original ATK; equip this card to it, and if you do, its ATK becomes its original value. If it attacks a Defense Position monster, inflict piercing damage to your opponent. If it attacks an opponent's Attack Position monster: You can change that monster's ATK to the ATK the equipped monster had before this card's activation, during damage calculation only.

[Trivia: this card's a reference to the Elysian Fields.]

Reiji:

D/D Proud Daredevil (Dark/Fiend/Pendulum/Effect/ATK: 800/DEF: 1500/LV: 3/SC: 2)

Pendulum Effect: If you Pendulum Summon a "D/D" monster and you control only "D/D" monsters: You can draw 1 card and gain 500 LP. Unless you have a "D/D" card in your other Pendulum Zone, this card's Pendulum Scale becomes 5.

Monster Effect: When this card is Normal Summoned: You can Special Summon 1 Level 4 or lower "D/D" monster from your Deck, also you cannot Special Summon monsters for the rest of this turn, except "D/D" monsters. You can only use this effect of "D/D Proud Daredevil" once per turn.

Dimension Dowsing

Normal Trap

Target 1 "D/D/D" monster you control; this turn, all battle damage you would take involving that target is halved. If that target is destroyed and this card was activated this turn (and was not negated): You can add 1 "D/D" monster from your Deck to your hand. You can only activate 1 "Dimension Dowsing" per turn.

Zero Contract

Normal Spell

Destroy 1 "Dark Contract" card you control; add from your Deck to your hand, 1 "00" or "Zero" card, except "Zero Contract". You can only activate 1 "Zero Contract" per turn.

Zero Sacrifice

Normal Trap

Tribute 1 "D/D/D" monster you control; all damage you would take for the rest of this turn becomes 0. If this Set card is destroyed by your opponent's card effect: You can add 1 "D/D" monster or 1 "Dark Contract" card from your Deck to your hand. You can only activate 1 "Zero Sacrifice" per turn.

D/D/D Mage King Solomon (Light/Fiend/Synchro/Effect/ATK: 2200/DEF: 3000/LV: 9)

1 DARK Fiend Tuner + 1 non-Tuner "D/D/D" monster

If your opponent activated a Spell/Trap or its effect during this turn while you controlled this card (Quick Effect): You can target 1 "D/D" monster you control; it can make a second attack during each Battle Phase this turn. You can target up to 2 other cards you control; destroy that target(s), and if you do, Special Summon 1 Level 5 or lower "D/D" monster from your hand or Deck, or Level 6 or higher if you destroyed 2 cards. You can only use each effect of "D/D/D Mage King Solomon" once per turn.


Phew, and it's done! This chapter was really fun to write, especially because both Serena and Reiji Dueled in it, and they just happened to Duel each other! I was really angry with myself when I reread the previous version of their Duel, I mean, Reiji was practically flexing on poor Serena, so I decided to change things a little and have him have a hard time defeating her, resorting to using Zero Laplace, his strongest Monster at the time.

That said, I've used Zero Laplace's actual effect for convenience sake (and will continue doing so) and the Reiji of this story uses a mix of his anime and manga decks, hence why has "Zero" cards on top of "D/D" and "Dark Contract" cards. Considering my story uses many elements from the manga, that shouldn't come as a surprise.

On a different note, the first Duel of this chapter went through a LOT of changes before ending up like this. Leaving Barrett alone to Duel Vince and Yuu wouldn't make sense from his and Serena's perspective; if The Hitwoman couldn't defeat Vince, what chances does Barrett have? Moreover, Yuu, who they thought was an Xyz Remnant, was fighting alongside him!

So that's why I had Serena tag along. The reasoning for the second Duel speaks for itself. Well, there's one more reason why I wanted those two to Duel, but you readers will find it out once we reach the final arc of the story, so make sure to stay with me until then!

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 Elysian Fields and D/D/D Mage King Solomon. They suddenly glowed, and Vince and Reiji emerged from them respectively.

"That was a cool Duel, Reiji!" Vince praised his leader with a smile. "And I'm thankful you showed us new 'D/D' Monsters. After my Mythorrors, your Monsters are the ones that intrigue me the most."

"Yes, I couldn't help but notice how attentively you examined the Monsters I've Summoned in the Duel." Reiji pointed out with a joking tone, prompting Vince to scratch the back of his neck with an embarrassed chuckle. "But lore plays a fundamental part in your Entertainment Dueling, so I'm not surprised."

"Hm-hmm! Speaking of my Mythorrors, today's Secret of the Chapter is about one of them." Vince turned to the viewers. "Supay to be exact! As Sidonia stated in this chapter, Supay is a giant fan of combat sports and dance! Not only that, but he also practices them in his spare time!"

"Ah, that explains the suplex he performed during your Duel against Shijima." Reiji noted and turned to the viewers. "With that said, we'll see you in the next chapter. Until then, stay safe, dear readers."

The screen faded into black, followed by the words [To Be Continued...].