Chapter 1: Voice of the Numbers

Yuma's LP: 0

Tetsuo: WIN!

"Ah, crud!" Yuma groaned, but with a smile on his face, as he sat up. "I almost got you there, Tetsuo."

"Well, you did better then last time for sure." His opponent chuckled as he helped him up.

Yuma was a first year in Heartland School, being 14 years with a tanned complexion and very dramatic black hair with two prominent red spikes on front. Tetsuo, his friend, was a portly young man who always wore a backwards cap. Both were dressed in the standard school uniform, a white shirt, and since they were first years, a red tie.

"Heh. Little better each time sounds pretty good, right?" Yuma chuckled.

"Yeah, it's great. If you keep doing it every time and not once every ten Duels." Tetsuo sighed. "Seriously, how many times have you fallen for Magic Cylinder now?"

"Well, wanna go again? Might help?" Yuma coaxed.

"Class is starting soon. Won't have time for a good one." Tetsuo sighed.

"Hey there, you two." A new voice called as they turned to it.

"Hey, Kotori!" Yuma waved.

Kotori Mizuki was the third member of their friend group, with dark green hair all swept to one side and tied with a pink ribbon on the other, wearing the girls version of the uniform which traded the tie for a skirt, in this case pink.

"Looks like you two had fun." She beamed at them.

"Yuma has fun Dueling no matter the outcome." Tetsuo nodded.

"Of course!" He almost boasted. "Hey, Kotori, how'd your lessons go? You ready to Duel me yet?"

"Oh no, no." Kotori embarrassingly held her hands up. "I'm not that good yet at all."

"Hey, don't sell yourself short, Kotori." A new person approached them. "I reckon you might even be better then Yuma at this point."

"Noda!" Yuma waved, to which the young man waved back.

Noda Inaba is the odd one here. A pale young man with long, wavy dark pink hair and soft green eyes, as well as a constant lax aura about him. He was 15 and a second year, wearing the green version of the uniform to show so.

"Oh no, even now, I can't be better than Yuma." She waved off, to which he just gave a smile.

"You suuuure you wouldn't want to join Kotori, Yuma?" Noda offered, like he usually did, much to Kotori's embarrassment. "I reckon you'd like it."

"Thanks but, I like to practice through experience, you know?" Yuma smiled, which made Tetsuo snort to suppress a laugh.

"Your choice, I guess." He smiled.

"Here you are, Noda."

The group turned to see another second year approaching them. One with a more serious look hidden behind his eyes, and purple hair that looked like tentacles framing his face.

"Oh, hey there, Ryoga." Naoki greeted him happily. "You knew I was tutoring Kotori today, right?"

"Figured. Can you help me with my math? It's due in later today." He mumbled. Ryoga Kamishiro was the epitome of a shark in the water; seemingly calm but always having a fierce side to him.

"Hey, Shark! I heard you were once a Minor League Pro Duelist!" Yuma piped up.

'Shark' as all of his competitors (and a lot of his friends) called him, revealed that side of himself as he gave Yuma a nasty glare. "How'd you find that out?"

"I did some research!" Yuma puffed his chest up proudly at the fact.

"You did research, Yuma?" Noda chuckled. "The world is ending it seems."

"Hey! You're the one who told me to!" Yuma defended himself.

"Is that right?" Shark snarled and shot a venomous look which Noda turned away from, and the former cursed him in his head to look him in the eye at the accusation.

"So why do I never see you Duel at all?" Now that Yuma's interest, Dueling, had been piqued, he was not going to let this go at all. And Shark knew that Noda knew that.

"I gave up Dueling. That's it." Shark shot him down.

"You can't give up just like that." Yuma argued.

"And why not?" Shark's glare hardened.

"No, Yuma is right about that."

At the new voice, some peoples looks softened, and some became fearful, as another second year student joined them. This one had dark and light blue hair that swept out behind her back like waves, as her arms were sternly folded.

"Ryoga still lives in the world of Dueling. He's just too prideful to get back into it."

"Hi, Rio!" Tetsuo enthusiastically greeted her.

"H-Hey, Shark's sis." Yuma waved more nervously.

"It's RIO." She coldly insisted with a look that could freeze the hearts of the bravest of souls.

"Y-Yes ma'am, uh, Rio!" Yuma froze himself.

Now that Rio Kamishiro was present, the two groups of three friends were now all present. Even though Noda was the ambassador between the two friendships, it was quite rare to see them all together.

"Come to humiliate me, have you?" Shark sighed, though his tone was noticeably friendlier.

"Just saying how it is." Rio shrugged. "Ever since the finals incident, you haven't picked up your Deck." Now both Ryoga and Noda knew that wasn't the full story, but kept it secret from the other three.

"'Cause you cheated, right?" Yuma spoke up.

"Yuma!" Kotori gasped. "You've got to be a bit more delicate about that!"

"Doesn't have to be, it's true." Shark scowled. "I panicked and looked at my opponents Deck. That's it." Really he just wanted this conversation to be over.

"You don't have to give it up entirely though." Noda practically whispered, making Shark shoot him another look which he turned away from.

Yuma thought for a moment, clutching at a golden artefact known as the Emperor's Key around his neck he took with him everywhere. And with his usual recklessness, came to a decision.

"Shark! Duel me!"

"What!?" The other five gasped.

"You must be joking!" Shark half-laughed from his bafflement. "You're no better then a beginner, and you want to Duel me? Besides, I just told you I gave it up."

"Dueling is the best way to learn about and understand each other. I think at least." Yuma said. "So I wanna understand you better, Shark!"

"Yuma, Shark was a practically a Young Pro Duelist!" Tetsuo told him. "You can't-"

"Sure."

Now everyone looked at Shark in shock.

"You're not gonna give it up anyway, right? So I'll Duel you." Shark grinned. "But if I win, you have to give up Dueling too. How about it?"

"Sure!" Yuma agreed.

Noda found it immensely funny when Shark recoiled at that. No doubt Ryoga had tried to bluff Yuma, but he was a bit too optimistic for that.

"...Fine then." Shark relented. "Tomorrow is Saturday. Meet me in front of the school tomorrow at 12. We'll Duel then."

"You got it, Shark!" Yuma seemed like he couldn't be happier at the fact that he had agreed to it. Shark, having gotten himself into it, turned and walked away.

"I actually cannot believe it." Rio turned to him. "I've been trying to get him to Duel again for a year, and you do it in a minute."

"Yuma is just like that." Noda looked quite proud of himself saying that, which Rio immediately picked up on.

"In any case, class is starting soon. Come on, Noda." She added a bit of coldness onto his name.

"Mm-hm." He nodded, turning to the younger years. "You take care, guys. Good luck with your Duel with Ryoga, Yuma."

Thanks, Noda! I'm excited!" Yuma cheered.

"Honestly, Yuma, you just challenged one of the best Duelists in the school with such high stakes!" Tetsuo groaned.

"Well, I guess all we can do is cheer you on, now." Kotori figured.

"Get ready, Shark!" Yuma was already fired up. "Kattobingu!"


"I cannot believe you."

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

The trio of Noda, Ryoga and Rio were walking home after school.

"You coaxed Yuma into looking up my history so that he would Duel me." Shark accused Noda.

"And you accepted." He smirked back.

"Whatever. Just gonna knock some reality into him is all." Shark brushed it off.

"I think it'll do you good. Stop you moping at least." Rio interjected. "Besides, you haven't been the same since the fire."

The other two tensed up at that. The incident was not pleasant for any of them to remember, despite the fact none of them were hurt physically by it. Rio bringing it up so casually certainly shocked the other two, but then again, she was probably the one who could mask her fear the best.

"Thought that was obvious why." Shark muttered.

"Any luck finding Thomas Arclight?" Noda asked.

"No. It's like he vanished. Dropped out of Pro Dueling entirely." Rio mumbled. "Just because he did doesn't mean you had to as well."

"That's not-" Shark grit his teeth and took a deep breath. "Just taking a break, that's all."

"Hm, sure." Rio huffed.

"Which reminds me." Shark spun on his heel to look at them both. "I don't want you two being my cheering squad at the Duel tomorrow. I'd rather do it on my own."

"Oh?" Rio did not like that, but instantly countered. "That's fine. Me and Noda were Dueling tomorrow anyway, aren't we Noda?"

"We are?" He suddenly shivered. "We are! Yes, in the park."

"Good." The brother nodded.

"Fine." The sister said.

Noda just chuckled.

Eventually, the Kamishiro siblings reached their house, a rather normal looking place with cream walls and a small front garden, but it was grand given the fact that Ryoga and Rio were orphaned and had a hefty inheritance to live off of until job hunting.

"See you tomorrow then, Noda." Rio said to him.

"I guess so." He returned it.

"Better not see you tomorrow." Shark more passively bid farewell.

"Bye to you too, Ryoga." He waved as they separated.

The Inaba household was standout to say the least, being a card shop with big colourful advertisment and a literal pop-out sign saying 'Hearty Cards'. Noda walked in and past the counter into the house situated above and behind the shop, where the owner was waiting for him.

"Hey there my little sunshine!" The ever bubbly Freida Inaba greeted him. "How was school today?"

"Good, thank you, mum." He nodded.

His mum was a beautiful woman with wild, erratic silver hair, wearing a zip-up black jacket with green gem brooches and a black D-Pad on her wrist. She had an infectious positive outlook on life, which had arguably helped shape Naoki into the laid back and at peace person he was today. Ironically though the two now contrasted each other quite a bit.

"That's my boy!" She cheered.

"Just so you know, I'm going to meet Rio and probably Ryoga tomorrow."

"Oh, that's great! Those two are lovely, aren't they? I do so love having them around! Should I make some bento boxes for them? Are they eating enough?"

This was how evenings normally went, until Noda could crawl away into his room, and collapse onto his big fluffy bed and cuddle up with his assortment of Melffy plushies.

'Dueling Rio tomorrow...I'd better get building.' He took out his Deck, as well as opened a drawer with several more cards in it, and began planning, so late into the night his mama would have lightly scolded him for it.


The next day Rio was already in Heartland Park, wearing what she called her casual wear despite its elaborate design of a formal looking white jacket and skirt. She hadn't even bothered to wish Ryoga a good Duel, he wanted to do it on his own, he could do it on his own...she was still going to see him afterwards though. Now however, she was waiting for Noda. She had texted him a time yesterday after realising in her haste she had forgotten to do so, though perhaps it was a bit too early in hindsight.

And there he was now, looking as far away as ever, in his own casual clothes. He wore a dark green thin jacket over a black and dark pink diamond patterned short sleeve, along with baggy yellow trousers, and a pair of white slippers of all things.

"There you are." Rio said as he made it over to her. "You're on time."

"Wouldn't miss it." He happily replied.

"Good news, seems to be a lazy day, so not many people around to disturb us."

"Yeah, I get the feeling. So, you ready to Duel?"

"I'm the one who should be asking you that question! Let's get straight to it!"

"Duel Disk, set!" Both of them cried as they equipped their Duel Disks. Noda's was a standard green model with foldable Zones as the blade, whilst Rio had a more elaborate diamond shaped screen and crystals for a blade.

"D-Gazer, set!" The eye piece that covered their left eyes were also different, Rio's was a teardrop shape and light pink whilst Naoki's was the standard model, only with a black body and a purple screen.

"AR Vision - Link Established." As the D-Gazers worked, green code suddenly flooded all of their surroundings, creating a perfect copy of their environment, as they both drew five cards.

"DUEL!"

Noda vs. Rio LP: 4000

"If I remember correctly, it was ladies first last time. So I'll be going first, this time."

"What a gentleman." Rio scoffed. "Alright then."

"Thanking you. Draw." Noda studied his hand, keeping a perfect poker face. Rio had come to learn it all too well. "I'll be setting a monster and two cards. Your move, Rio."

Rio frowned. Such a simple play meant that the set monster could only mean one thing. "My turn! Draw!" She studied her hand, but found no way to get rid of the waiting trap monster without attacking it. So she just had to go for it.

"I summon my Blizzard Falcon!" All of a sudden icicles erupted from the ground in front of her, creating a small spire on top of which a blue falcon covered in sharp edged ice flew down to perch atop of, screeching as a red screen appeared to the D-Gazer wearers showing its 1500 ATK and its Level of 4 stars.

The reasoning behind the D-Gazer was acceptable to everybody. The monsters, Spells and Traps were all Solid Vision, so everybody could see them, but all additional Dueling flairs, such as information screens for stats and LP, as well as summoning animations and environmental damage, was shown through the D-Gazer. This was to make the Dueling feel as impactful as possible, without causing thousands worth of property damage, such as the prior icicles bursting from the grass.

"Blizzard Falcon." Naoki nodded. "Going for effect damage, are you?"

"Naturally. I'm equipping Blizzard Falcon with Wings of Silence, which as you know, gives it 300 extra attack, as well as making it unaffected by your Spells and Traps." The falcon's wings of ice suddenly shattered, revealing black feathery wings that boosted its attack to 1800. "And you know what comes next. Since Blizzard Falcon's attack is higher then normal, you'll be taking 1500 damage!" Blizzard Falcon screeched as it flew off from its perch, causing four very sharp icicles to form, two under each wing, which it launched like missiles toward its opponent.

"Then I'll be activating my Trap card, Nature's Reflection, to bounce the damage back to you." Noda countered, causing a stone wall to rise out of the ground in front of him. The icicles were absorbed into the monolith, before being shot back out at Rio, exploding around her.

Rio's LP: 2500

"So you side decked in some effect damage negation, then?" Rio questioned.

"I have to when Dueling either of you two." He reasoned.

"Fair enough. Because I knew you would! I activate Guard Penguin's effect in my hand as I took effect damage, to Special Summon it, and gain Life Points!" Almost as if time was rewinding, the icicles reappeared and launched forward, only this time a penguin appeared, with its dress expanding out and spinning like a shield to block the assault.

Rio's LP: 4000

Noda smiled. Of course Rio would counter his counter.

"Now then. I'll take my Level 4 Blizzard Falcon, and my Level 4 Guard Penguin, and overlay them!" Both monsters suddenly turned into light blue and dark blue sparkling energy. The streams of energy now twisted into the sky together, as if dancing.

"With these monsters, I construct the overlay network!" A portal made out of two rings of red energy appeared on the ground, before the two monsters shot down and into it together.

"Xyz Summon! Appear! Abyss Dweller!"

As the red portal faded, there was an overwhelming cracking sound, as the ground split in two between them. Then a pair of black claws reached out, digging into the earth as a dragon covered in blue crystals pulled itself out of the abyss and onto the field, as two light blue orbs of light spun around above it like a halo. A stat box appeared to show it was a Rank 4 with 1700 ATK.

"You know the drill. Abyss Dweller gains 500 ATK whilst its got a WATER monster as an overlay unit." The box's number increased to 2200. "And by detaching an overlay unit, you can't activate any effects in the Graveyard for the rest of the turn!" The beast opened up its maw and bit down on one of its comets like a gobstopper, causing the ground to freeze over.

"Let's battle! Abyss Dweller! Attack Noda's Set Monster! Underworld's Chill!" The dragon took a deep breath, before unleashing a blast of blue flames forth.

"I think you can guess what this is, Rio." Noda said. "It's my Sylvan Komushroomo." The monster rose up out of the now revealed card, being an orange mushroom literally burning with spiritual power, wielding a simple staff and little limbs with big eyes, that widened in surprise as the flames engulfed it, causing the monster to crackle like data before bursting into golden sparkles.

Rio just smirked. She knew it would be Komushroomo. More importantly, she could never figure out why a tactical and thoughtful Duelist like Noda played a Deck that seemed to rely so much on luck. Maybe it was just design-wise.

"You know Komushroomo's effect. Since it was flipped face up, I can excavate a maximum of five cards from my Deck." Noda did so, and winced. He got Sylvan Marshalleaf, Sylvan Snapdrassinagon, Sylvan Cherubsprout, Sylvan Princessprout, and Sylvan Peaskeeper. All really good under any circumstances, now powerless because of Abyss Dweller. He was hoping for something like Spore. He dejectedly slid them into the Graveyard all the same.

"Looking to fill up your Graveyard, huh? But it backfired." Rio confirmed. Despite the lucky nature, Noda's Deck could pull of some very impressive plays. The Sylvan's playstyle was unorthodox; excavate and then dump them for their effects, but that was only the half of it. Because of their secondary effects, it was practically random to the opponent, and even the player, what effects would be triggered. A good Duelist could figure out what a card was going to do and counter accordingly, but that was much more difficult when you didn't know what effect would spring up out from a mill. The best option, was to stop it entirely!

"I'll set a card and end." Was all she could do now.

"My turn, then. Draw." He studied his hand before making his move. "First I'll activate the Mystical Space Typhoon, to destroy your Set card." Rio's poker face was undisturbed as her Set Shrink shattered. "Then I activate the Spell, Foolish Burial. I send Staysailor Romarin from my Deck to the Graveyard."

"I'll chain with Abyss Dweller's effect." Rio commanded as the dragon bit its other unit and froze the ground. She couldn't let that troublesome monster use its effect.

"But now that it's lost its overlay units, Abyss Dweller's attack power drops." Noda noted as the dragon fell back down to 1700. He had Dueled against the Kamishiro's enough times in the past to learn a lot from them, and he was always thankful to them, but that didn't mean he would go easy, that would just be insulting. "I'll Normal Summon Sylvan Bladefender." The monster that appeared next was a man with wild brown hair dressed in leafy clothing with a reed in his mouth. At his waist were two katanas in their scabbards, as his stat box showed an impressive 1900 ATK.

"Now Bladefender will attack Abyss Dweller, with Cutting Grass!" The monster unsheathed its two weapons, revealing actual blades of grass that bended and weaved like whips, but still looked sharp, and were proven true to be when they lashed out and slashed the dragon, beheading it as it roared in pain and burst into sparkles. Thankfully the Solid Vision wasn't strong enough to actually cut Rio, just simulate a hit.

Rio's LP: 3800

"When Bladefender destroys a monster, his excavation effect triggers." Noda reminded her, as he drew a card and revealed it. "It's Sylvan Hermitree, so it's milled, but Abyss Dweller negates its effect. I end my turn."

"Heh, I admit you got me there Noda." Her eyes then set that icy glare he was familiar with onto him. "But if you think you're the only one whose changed their Deck up to counter the other, you can think again! My turn! I Normal Summon Blizzard Thunderbird!" The sound of cracking ice, or perhaps lightning, came out of the D-Gazers as a new monster rose up from the ground in a block of ice before emerging, being completely covered in blue spiky armour with several golden blades for wings behind it, and 1600 ATK.

"I activate Thunderbird's effect! By discarding a card, I can then Special Summon a WATER Winged Beast from both my Graveyard and my hand, then return Thunderbird to my hand! I'll discard Crystal Girl to revive Blizzard Falcon and Special Summon Aurora Wing from my hand!"

As Blizzard Falcon flew up out of the GY portal, everything seemed to darken for a moment as an aurora lit up the sky. When the sun returned, a new monster had appeared on Rio's field with cloth-like wings and a rainbow glow about it. Upon their arrival, Thunderbird vanished in a spark of light back to Rio's hand.

'Two Level 4's.' Noda thought. 'What is she going to summon?'

Rio smirked. "Hope you're ready. I use my Level 4 Blizzard Falcon and Aurora Wing to-!"

Suddenly, everything froze for a moment. An instance of sudden silence. Like the entire universe had just shuddered. Then, as quick as it came, it was gone.

'That was...something.' Noda thought. 'Must be one of those cosmic things. Hope Rio's okay.'

Rio meanwhile, was staring at a blank card that had somehow appeared in her Extra Deck. Something about it was...haunting.

"You wish to win, do you?" A voice? Where was it coming from? It was like it was whispering into her mind itself. "Do not fear. I am your ally. I am your desire to win taken form."

She looked at the card, only to see it turn into an Xyz Monster. She couldn't read it at first, but then the text became clear to her.

"Am I...dreaming?" She whispered in disbelief.

"You are not. I am a weapon to be wielded." The card spoke to her. "Your memories have given me a powerful self, and I feel there is still more beneath your ice that I have not tapped into. With me, you will have the power to win!"

Rio didn't understand what was happening, but the temptation of winning became very sweet to her ears. Throwing caution to the wind for the moment, she decided to forgo her previous plan and use this new card.

"I...I overlay the Level 4 Blizzard Falcon and Aurora Wing!" At that, the two monsters turned into orbs of light blue and dark blue energy, that suddenly spun around each other in a trailing dance.

"With these two monsters, I build the overlay network! Xyz Summon!" At her command, a swirling galactic portal of stars opened up beneath her, which the two streams of energy swirled into like a whirlpool, before it exploded in energy and light.

"Come forth! Number 37! Hope Woven Dragon Spider Shark!"

At that, a monster rose up out of the burst of light. It looked like a light blue spider with a red '37' on it, when suddenly the true monster emerged from its sealed form. Razer sharp fins unfurled from its body as the legs of the spider stretched back and became fins, whilst a long aquatic tail extended out behind it. The head of the spider suddenly morphed and changed into one of a shark that gave out a powerful roar as two blue comets, its overlay units, now orbited around it. The text box showed its 2600 ATK, as well as 4 black stars, indicating its Rank instead of Level.

"So Rio got a new Xyz Monster." Noda thought aloud, but truthfully as he stared at it, this monster seemed very different from any normal Xyz Monster. The Overlay Network for one thing was much more elaborate then a regular Xyz Summon.

Rio meanwhile felt ecstatic. Adrenaline was coursing through her at the summon of Number 37. The same number now glowed on the back of her hand in red as she felt unstoppable.

"Yes, Rio, your memories have given me a marvellous form and power." Number 37 praised her. "I in turn, give you the powers of a Number."

Noda's bafflement could not be hidden. 'Did that monster just talk!?' Monsters were only meant to be Solid Vision. There was no way they could form coherent sentences like an A.I.

"Oh, I hope you're ready, Noda!" Rio warned with a smile. "Number 37! Attack Sylvan Bladefender!"

"With pleasure!" The Number roared as it swam through the air.

"At this moment, I activate Number 37's effect!" She took the Aurora Wing out from under the card and slid it into the GY zone. "When a monster declares an attack, by detaching one of its overlay units, all monsters you control lose 1000 attack until the End Phase!" Number 37 spat a stream of threads from its jaws that wrapped around Bladefender and reduced its ATK to 900.

"Now finish the attack! Dragon Twister!" The monsters fins all extended out as it spun into a shredding twister that effortlessly tore through Bladefender, the impact enough to knock Noda onto his back.

Noda's LP: 2300

"I'll end my turn with that." Rio smirked as Number 37 returned to her side.

Noda stood back up and brushed himself down. "Wow, that monster certainly is powerful."

"Indeed he is."

At that moment he was suddenly aware of a new figure floating beside him. She was a humanoid, emerald green in colour wearing flowing robes that glowed with a strange dark pink energy, with no visible mouth but sharp dark green eyes with golden-framed glasses and emerald green hair tied into a ponytail. The left side of her hair was clipped back by a hairpiece that looked very familiar to the Emperor's Key, as she carried a book with her that glowed the same dark pink energy as her clothes, and had a green '78' on it.

"...Um, excuse me?" He didn't know what else to do, but surprisingly the woman turned away from her open book and looked at him. "Who are you?"

"My Number is 78." She told him. "The name of my card is Number Archive, but that is not really what I am...hm..." She actually seemed to be thinking for a moment. "I suppose you can just call me 78."

"Numbers...like that one?" He nodded towards Rio's field.

"Number 78!" 37 immediately picked up on her presence. "To think that you would be the first one I face!"

"Number 37. You've gotten yourself a good form there." 78 nodded.

"Yet you still stay the same." 37 muttered. "So then, why side with this human in particular?"

"Hm, I wonder indeed." 78 mused as she closed her book.

Noda was certainly confused by this. Since when could Duel Monsters talk? And have whole conversations like they were old friends? No, this seemed to go beyond the game, so just what was going on here? Rio meanwhile, was still ecstatic, and the appearance of a Number on her opponents field had spurned her competitive edge.

"So you have a Number as well, Noda?" She called to him.

"I...do I?" He asked her.

"Yes. I am already in your Extra Deck." She answered, making him open it up and take out the new card, which looked NOTHING like the person floating in front of him. But as he read its effect...

"Hey, sorry, but I can't use it...you?" He pointed out. "I don't have any other Number monsters...do I?"

"No. But you will once we win." 78 boasted. "When a Number Duelist defeats another Number Duelist, they can take any of their Numbers."

"Confident aren't you, 78?" 37 snarled. "But your partner has no other Numbers, and we can only be destroyed by each other!"

"What?" Noda used his D-Gazer to check the card text, and it was true, his opponent could only be destroyed in battle by another Number.

"We shall see." 78 said as she returned to her book. "Now then, Noda. Please win this so I don't look silly in front of 37."

"...If you say so." He wasn't about to argue with a spirit.

"So the winner gets the others Number?" Rio grinned as that cold look crossed her face. "Got it."

Noda flinched. It was clear this Duel had just gotten serious, in one way or another. Normally he was relaxed when Dueling, but for some reason, perhaps the presence of the intelligent monsters, but he felt like he had to win at any cost, so he had to think. The Number before him could only be destroyed in battle by another Number, but that was in battle only, so he could still destroy it via card effect. If he excavated another Marshalleaf he could destroy it. His only other option was dealing damage until Rio lost, but that was going to be difficult with its ATK reducing effect. Right now, all he could do was continue.

"My turn. Draw." He picked his card from the top of his Deck and looked at his hand. He couldn't deal with Number 37 like this. For now at least. He glanced at his Set card. But no, he couldn't rush into that against this opponent, unless he knew for certain it would help him win. In the face of the Number, he could only get lucky, as he usually had to. "I set a monster and a card. Turn end."

"Not much you can do against 37, is there?" Rio boasted. "My turn! And I'll be Normal Summoning the Blizzard Thunderbird I returned to my hand!" Once more the crystal avian appeared. "And I'll be activating the Spell, Blizzard Jet, to increase its attack by 1500 until the End Phase!" A howling blizzard whipped up around Thunderbird alone, boosting it to 3100 ATK.

"Now either of them can reduce your Life Points to 0." 78 stated. "Do you have a plan?"

"Of course." He nodded.

"Let's go! Blizzard Thunderbird! Attack his set monster! Instant Storm!" Both lightning and ice crackled around the monsters weapon as it lunged at the set card, which flipped up to reveal an odd mix between a gramophone and a plant before it was destroyed.

"This is it! Number 37! Attack Naoki directly with Dragon Twister!" Rio declared as her monster once again spun forth.

"Trap Card, Back to the Front! I revive a monster in Defence Position. I choose Sylvan Cherubsprout." The spinning GY portal reappeared, only this time a sprout bloomed out of it, quickly followed by the rest of the monster, a cute little angelic plant with 100 DEF.

"When Cherubsprout is Special Summoned, I excavate up to 2 cards." He drew 2 and showed them. "They're the Spell, Sylvan Charity, and the Trap, Xyz Reborn, so they're both sent to the bottom of my Deck."

"I'm sorry, your Deck is luck based?" 78 gasped. "What is the point of that? Surely having a sound strategy is more important!"

"It's having a little faith is all." He told her.

"Faith?" She shook her head. "Maybe I picked a bad choice."

"Say that after the Duel, please." He begged her.

Rio showed her usual annoyance at the Sylvan's penchant for saving themselves. "Then 37 will destroy Cherubsprout!" The monster once more shredded its opponent to pieces. "I end my turn. Thunderbird's attack returns to normal now."

78 sighed. "That was too close. But now you have no cards in your hand. What if you don't get the right card?"

"Then I'll have to play with what I get." He responded. "Don't worry, I believe in my monsters. Either that or I just manipulate it in my favour."

"Hmmm." He couldn't tell since she had no mouth, but he swore she smiled.

"Lucky shot and nothing more." 37 said. "You're still at a big disadvantage here, 78! I still have an overlay unit left in case you attack Thunderbird, and Rio still has plenty of Life!"

"Don't talk big until my turns over." Noda warned as he drew. He looked at the card, smiled, and moved. "I'm activating my Trap, Sylvan Blessing." He chose to ignore the Number. "By placing the card in my hand on the top or bottom of my Deck, in this case the top, I can Special Summon a Sylvan from my hand or Graveyard, and it becomes unaffected by other card effects this turn at the cost of being placed on the top or bottom of my Deck during the End Phase."

"Revive! The wise and powerful ancient of the forest! Sylvan Hermitree!" Out of the ground erupted a giant tree with red blooming flowers that practically blocked out the sun, as paper tassels of protection dangled from its branches, whilst still boasting an impressive 2700 ATK. "With Hermitree's excavation effect, I can do it once per turn, and if I do excavate a Plant, I can also draw a card."

78 came to a realisation. "The card in your hand, you placed it on the top of your Deck!"

"Right. So I know that I'm milling, another copy of Marshalleaf." He revealed it. "Which means, I can destroy you, Number 37."

"What!? NO! Nooooo-!" Marshalleaf reappeared and shot the Number with its pressurized water, destroying it.

"Number 37!" Rio gasped.

"Rio! Use my second effect!" The Numbers spirit now floated beside her.

"Right! When Number 37 is destroyed, I can revive a monster other then itself! I bring back Aurora Wing!" Once more the rainbow trailing bird flew onto the field with 1600 DEF.

"When Aurora Wing is destroyed by battle, you can revive it." He noted.

"It seems you won't be able to finish her off this turn." 78 said.

"Let's see, shall we?" He countered, which made Rio flinch. "With Hermitree's effect, I draw. And now, I activate the effect of Amarylease in my Graveyard." At that, a plant blooming out a a record player emerged from the portal, and began playing a lullaby. "By banishing it, I can Normal Summon one monster with one less Tribute then necessary this turn. So I can Normal Summon the Level 6 Sylvan Guardioak." The new monster that appeared in the place of Amarylease was a light green troll with limbs covered in bark and leafy hair with a necklace of giant acorns, wielding a large wooden hammer. Despite its appearance, it looked rather blissful with its 2400 ATK.

"With Guardioak's effect, I can excavate up to 3 cards once per turn." He did just that, revealing them. "I got One for One, which goes to the bottom of my Deck. But I also got Sylvan Flowerknight and another Sylvan Peaskeeper, which are milled. When Flowerknight is milled, I can place a Sylvan from my Deck on top of my Deck. I choose another Cherubsprout. And when Peaskeeper is milled, I can revive a Level 4 or lower Plant. I bring back Cherubsprout again!" Once more the little angel sprout rose up out of the Graveyard.

"With Cherubsprout's effect, I excavate twice again." He drew again. "Mark of the Rose goes to the bottom of my Deck, but Cherubsprout is sent to my Graveyard, triggering its mill effect to Special Summon a Level 1 Plant from my Deck. I choose Spore." In a puff of fluff appeared a puff of fluff with big, sparkling eyes and 400 ATK.

37 was frowning. "Oi, oi...isn't he done yet?"

"No." Despite being possessed, Rio still smiled. "When his monsters get moving like this, there's no stopping him."

"Now, with my Level 1 Sylvan Cherubsprout and Spore, I create the overlay network!" The two tiny plants became two streams of energy; one emerald green and one gold, that spun into the sky together.

"With these 2 monsters, I build the overlay network!" The two red rings appeared, as the transformed monsters became a whirlpool of colour that created a burst of light.

"Xyz Summon! Bloom! The benevolent princess, Sylvan Princessprite!"

From the red portal appeared not a plant, but a woman dressed in flowing green robes and braided emerald hair, with pink petals swirling around her and 1800 ATK. The 2 stronger Sylvans bowing in her presence.

"By detaching an overlay unit from Princessprite, I excavate again, only if it's a Spell or Trap, I can add it to my hand." The Xyz Monster clasped her hands together over a yellow orb in prayer, emitting a golden light as Noda drew. "It's Copy Plant, who is milled. Now, I banish Snapdrassinagon to revive Spore who I detached, and I activate Princessprite's other effect, to send the revived Spore back to the Graveyard, and revive Bladefender!" Spore returned briefly, only to be replaced by a grass swordsman.

Noda now had 4 monsters on his field, all facing down Number 37's 2, from the beginning of his turn with 1 card in hand and on field.

"This...what the hell!?" 37 yelled. "You had 1 monster and no hand! How did you set all this up!?"

'Astounding.' 78 thought to herself. 'Despite the Decks luck based nature, he bends it to his will so naturally.'

"Now, let's battle, Rio." He challenged her. "Bladefender attacks Aurora Wing with Cutting Grass!" The vegetable monster dropkicked the monster, destroying it. In an aurora glow, the monster returned with 1200 ATK. "Bladefender's effect makes me excavate again. I got Monster Reborn, so it goes to the bottom of my Deck. Sylvan Guardioak attacks Aurora Wing with Heavy Timber." The monster lazily walked forward before giving out a surprising roar, raising its weapon high and crushing the opposing monster beneath its hammer.

Rio's LP: 2600

"Sylvan Hermitree attacks Blizzard Thunderbird. Vow of Sylvan!" The tree did not move, instead, a powerful whirlwind of red petals swirled around it, turning into a crimson inferno of flowers that danced with flames, as it completely enveloped Aurora Wing, and threw Rio back.

Rio's LP: 1400

Noda pointed forward. "You're going to let my friend go. Sylvan Princessprite! Attack directly!" Princessprite prayed, causing golden vines to bloom around her and lash forward, but instead of hitting Rio, they struck the spirit of 37.

Rio's LP: 0

Noda: WIN!

As the Duel ended, Noda took off his D-Gazer, only to find the spirit of 78 still next to him.

"It would appear Noda is the victor, 37." She spoke as she held out her open book. "You know the rules."

"Damnit." The Number cursed, as suddenly a card flew from Rio's GY slot into 78's book, causing the spirit to now appear next to her. "Though losing in my first Duel is embarrassing, at least it was to a powerful Duelist, one that you chose, 78."

Whilst the two Numbers were talking, Noda instead went to check up on his friend. "Rio? Are you alright?"

"Ugh...yeah." She groaned as she stood up and brushed herself down. "I can't believe what just happened. I felt all...something." She then stared at the two spirits. "Aaaaand they're still there. Great."

"My apologies, Rio." The two floated over to them as 37 bowed. "It appears we lost."

Rio's iciness came back with a vengeance. "Well, I would've been in a much better position if I didn't summon you at all."

"Y-Yes...s-sorry..." 37 was suddenly much meeker then he had been a couple of minutes ago.

"...So..." Noda spoke up. "What exactly...are you?"

"We are Numbers." 78 answered. "There are 100 of us in total. And when you gather us all...you get to make a wish."

"A wish?" Rio wasn't buying it. "Just, anything?"

"The equivalent of it, yes. We have only just been released from our imprisonment. Now us Numbers have all scattered, looking for hosts. And so, we will battle each other to accumulate our opponents, until eventually only one will be left with all of us."

"Naturally, if someone particularly nasty gets his hands on us, it isn't good." 37 added. "It's all a matter of who ends up with them in the end."

78 looked at the pair. "Noda, as the victor of this Duel, you are now embroiled in the Number Hunt. We are now yours to command in the fight against all other Numbers. We are, in your care."

A silence descended. One of thought.

"Mmmmm..." He hummed.

"Are you seriously considering this?" Rio questioned with folded arms.

"Well a wish is really appealing." He figured.

"You're gonna trust these guys?"

"Why not? The Number collecting part is true at least."

"37 told me he was a weapon. 100 weapons doesn't sound good."

"I think they're a bit more then just that. They're intelligent."

"Which can also mean they're deceptive and plotting."

"I trust them."

"You just met them."

"Reminds me of when I met you two."

Rio glared at him in silence for a moment, then just sighed. "Well, if this isn't all a crazy fever dream, I guess I've just got to go along with it."

"If you wish, Rio, you can still take part in the Numbers Hunt." 37 persisted. "You just need to obtain another Number."

She set another cold look at him, then spoke. "Using you was certainly a rush, but it also threw me off my game considerably." She paused for a moment before facing Noda. "I'll think about it. You just watch 37, alright?"

"Right-o." He nodded. "So, you guys just here now or-?"

"I could actually use a break after that. I'm returning to my card." 37 grumbled as he vanished.

"That answer your question? And do not worry, those who have not wielded Numbers cannot see us."

"Oh good, we'll just look crazy instead of sane." Rio huffed.

"I look forward to working with you, Noda." 78 closed her book as she also vanished.

"They seem nice." He smiled.

"You think that way about everything." Rio said as she began walking, and he had to follow. "Come on, let's go check on Shark. Maybe he's also got this Number game going on."

"The Number Hunt, hm?" Noda thought aloud as he stared listlessly at the sky.

"Imagining you in any kind of battle is a joke."

"Ouch. Cold. Still, you have to admit, it's interesting, right?"

"More like crazy. You actually gonna do it?"

"Why not?"

"What would someone like you even wish for?"

"Iunno. Some Melffy plushies?"

"Honestly..."

This rambling continued for some time, as the serious nature of the Number Hunt was not yet known to them, or how it would end for everyone involved.


"78."

"Hm?"

"The boy, Noda. Do you think...?"

"Why else do you think I chose him? He is truly what us Numbers shall gather towards."


Numbers Count

Yuma: 17, 39

Noda: 37, 78


Hello everyone, it's certainly been a while, huh?

Allow me to explain. After Cross-VRAINS crashed with no survivors, I had to step back and seriously think about my approach to writing. I stuck around, wrote a Hat in Time story, a one-shot, but all the while, I've been working on this.

I've been juggling ideas of a VRAINS rewrite, a Rush Duel series, a GX series, things like that, but my biggest weakness always seems to be losing steam halfway through. I decided I needed to actually get something substantial before releasing it out into the world, and I decided this would be the test of sorts for that philosophy.

ZEXAL is one of my favourite YuGiOh spinoffs, because of the energy it always exuded in its animation, plus its interesting premise of the Numbers, and the later Barians, so I've always wanted to write a series on it. However, I've come to understand that burnout is real and a killer. So, I decided to not post anything about this story, until it was at the end of the first half, where it could have a lot of hooks, but also still feel like an 'ending' if I didn't finish it all in the end.

So yes, this story already has over 20 chapters written, which I will be uploading on a regular basis, spanning to the end of the World Duel Carnival. This has been in the works for years now, and I decided to upload it now after some deliberation, and the fact I feel these chapters have been polished up.

I hope you will enjoy what I have written of ZEXAL: Self, and hopefully I may be able to finish it. Let me know what you think, or check this out on AO3 if you want to.