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The phone call came on a balmy Thursday morning a few weeks before Johan's twentieth birthday., when he'd just stepped outside for a walk with the Gem Beasts. He dug through his jacket with a frown and fished out his phone before it stopped ringing. Unknown number. That had better not be the press again.


"This is Johan Andersen."


"Johan? Oh, good," a man said. His voice sounded familiar, but Johan couldn't place it immediately. "This is Rolf, Rolf Selland. We studied at North together."


Johan had a brief flash of a tall boy who'd been a second year when he was in his first year. Their paths hadn't crossed often, especially not after Johan had left for Duel Academia, but he did know that Rolf's family didn't live too far from Bergen.


"Yes, I remember!" he replied. "How have you been? Anything I can help you with?"


Good, yes. What I wanted to ask…” Rolf trailed off. Johan caught Cobalt Eagle’s questioning look and shrugged. 


“What did you want to ask?” he prompted. On the other side of the line, Rolf took a deep breath.


You see spirits, right?


“I do, yes.” Johan narrowed his eyes. That question usually didn’t lead to anything good, and his reputation at North hadn’t always been the best. The last time someone had asked that question, it had been a reporter who needed some filler for whatever gossip magazine he wrote for. “Why do you need to know?”


It’s my sister,” Rolf said quickly. “We don’t know what to do and mom and dad don’t believe her. She hasn’t slept properly in weeks.”


“Is she seeing spirits?” Johan asked. He glanced at the road ahead and sighed. He had been looking forward to spending some time outside with the Gem Beasts, especially now that it had stopped raining for the first time in days. 


I’m not sure, but she keeps saying there’s a monster under her bed.” 


“Maybe she’s just having bad dreams?” Not that Johan didn’t want to help, but to help a toddler deal with her nightmares?


She’s thirteen. She hasn’t had nightmares in years.” 


… That did change things. Johan turned onto the forest path with a glance at the Gem Beasts. If the girl really had a spirit hiding under her bed, he should probably help out. “What kind of monster is it?”


Ylva said it’s a wolf. I’m not sure what monster that would be, though.


“Silver Fang? Flower Wolf?” There were plenty of wolf monster spirits, some of which hadn’t even been made into cards yet. And really, what did Rolf expect him to do? He didn’t feel comfortable having to exorcise a spirit, but maybe he could at least try to reason with it. He didn’t have anything better to do. “Tell you what, I’ll come over and see what I can do. Text me your address, okay? Are you home tomorrow?”


After two, when mom and dad are out.” Rolf said. “Thanks. It means a lot. We’re completely thrown for a loop here.


“I’ll see what I can do.” Johan ended the call and pocketed his phone again. He sighed. 


“Trouble?” Sapphire Pegasus asked. Johan grimaced.


“I’m not sure. Remember Rolf Selland? He was at North.”


“Not in the least,” said Topaz Tiger. “So what’s he want? What’s the deal with the wolves?”


“His sister apparently has one hiding under her bed,” Johan told him. The tiger bared his teeth. 


“And you wanna go drag it out?”


Johan paused. He knew far more about monster spirits than most people, but he would freely admit that the Gem Beasts knew more. “Should I not?” he asked. He hadn’t dealt with wolves yet. No monster spirit should be able to cause him harm in this world, but words like ‘should’ had lost a lot of their meaning after hanging out with Judai too much. Speaking of which… “Would you feel better if I had backup?”


“Wolves are… Aggressive,” Amethyst Cat said, her mouth pulling into much the same sneer Topaz Tiger’s had. “We’re coming with you.”


Ruby chirped. Johan hadn’t even considered that they wouldn’t be coming along. “I can call Judai.”


“We would feel better if he’s around,” Amber Mammoth said. “Given last time…” 


Johan shuddered. Last time he’d gone to look at a supposed spirit sighting, Paradox had stolen Rainbow Dragon from him. Over a year had passed already, and yet he still didn’t feel comfortable in places he didn’t know. He cast a glance at the Gem Beasts, who looked similarly subdued. Ruby chirped again and wrapped herself around his neck. Rainbow Dragon appeared in person, huge and imposing and very much out of place in the forest, but it was comforting to see him here anyway, with them, safe. 


“I am fine,” the dragon announced. “You need not worry.”


 Johan nodded and was about to reply when a woman appeared on the other side of the path. Johan hadn’t seen her here before, but tourists seemed to have an uncanny knack for finding the quieter spots in town. She brushed her long blonde hair over her shoulder, nodded at him when they passed her, and continued without so much as a second glance. Johan waited until she’d disappeared from sight before replying. 


“I’ll call Judai. He’ll like this.”




Judai was more than happy to come along and, in fact, arrived about two minutes after Johan had called him. After three years of intermittent visits, Johan had long stopped being surprised. He just swept Judai into a hug and ushered him and Yubel inside. Good thing he kept the guest room ready at all times now. 


“So, where to?” Judai asked once he’d settled in, greeted the Gem Beasts, and raided Johan’s fridge. He was still wearing a sleeveless tank top that looked very much out of place in MayHe’d regret it the moment he spent more than a few minutes outside. But, Judai had explained between bites, he and Yubel had been in Libya when Johan had called them.


“Rolf lives in Førde. It’s about three hours by car.” Johan enlarged the map on his laptop screen. “We can leave tomorrow after breakfast and be there in time for lunch. Unless you want to eat in the car?”


“Or Judai could just teleport us there,” Yubel cut in. Johan ran a hand through his hair. Right. He probably should have thought of that.


“It’ll save on gas, at least,” he conceded. 


Judai grinned and nodded enthusiastically, leaning back in his chair. “What’ve you been up to?”


Way to change the subject. Johan mirrored his pose, balancing on the back legs of his own chair. “Nothing, really. There’s the Scandinavian Tournament in a few months. I’m thinking of participating.”


“You don’t sound very enthusiastic,” Yubel said. Johan shrugged as best as he could with his unbalanced chair.


“I’m getting a bit bored of the circuit, to be honest. But what else is there?”


Ruby chirped sadly.  Johan could almost feel the disappointment radiating off the Gem Beasts in waves, but really, what else was there? He was a duelist. 


“There’s gotta be something else.” Judai frowned and leaned forward.  “I mean, look at me! I thought I was going to be a Pro Duelist and look what I’m doing now!”


Johan landed his chair back on its front legs with a thud. He snorted. “When I suddenly discover darkness powers, you’ll be the first to know.”


“Yeah, but—“


“Don’t worry, I’ll find something. I’m not even twenty yet!”


Judai didn’t look satisfied with that answer, and Johan knew the Gem Beasts definitely weren’t, but he really didn’t have a better answer for them. He’d figure something out soon, right? 


Thankfully, Judai let the subject drop soon afterwards. They spent the rest of the evening catching up and teleported into Førde a little before two the next day. Johan stumbled once they hit solid ground. Judai and Yubel didn’t even have a hair out of place. Being darkness incarnate probably helped, and Johan didn’t think he’d ever feel comfortable with the teleportation thing Judai and Yubel did so often. The darkness they used to travel wasn’t oppressive, exactly, but he still didn’t feel as comfortable with it as Judai did. 


“This is it?” Judai asked, looking around. He had landed them in the middle of a wide street lined with houses. A look at the street sign even told Johan they had ended up in the right one.


“Yep! You’re getting better at this.”


“A week ago he landed us into a river again,” Yubel said. Johan snorted. Judai gave them both a betrayed look. 


“It was right next to where we had to be!” he protested. Johan slung an arm around his shoulders. 


“Just don’t do that when we have to go back. Come on, it’s number 24.”


Number 24 was a small two-story house with a front lawn in desperate need of mowing. “We’ll be here if you need us,” Emerald Turtle whispered somewhere in the back of Johan’s mind. Probably for the best too. If Rolf’s sister could really see spirits, it would be better not to overwhelm her.


Rolf greeted them at the door. He had grown even taller than Johan remembered him being, and his dark hair, once close-cropped, now almost reached his shoulders. He smiled in relief when he saw them.


“Glad you made it. Come in.” His eyes lingered for a second on Judai. Johan nodded at him. 


“This is Judai, a friend of mine from Duel Academia. He knows a lot about spirits too.”


“Nice meeting you,” Judai said in perfect Norwegian. That was never not going to be weird. At least Judai usually stuck to Japanese when talking to him, not the weird telepathic version of Norwegian he used with other people.


“You too. Ylva’s in the living room. Mom and dad aren’t home… I figured it’d be better if they weren’t around. They’ve been very edgy about the whole thing.” Rolf closed the door behind them and led them through the house, to the living room, where a girl with the same brown hair as Rolf was watching TV. She barely looked up when they came in. Johan winced at the bags under her eyes. How long had it been since she’d slept properly? He hoped they’d be able to get the spirit out of here without any trouble, but if not… He was suddenly really glad for Judai’s presence.


Ruby appeared on his shoulder and chirped reassuringly. Ylva didn’t seem to notice the new spirit. Johan frowned. Interesting. 


“I’m Johan Andersen, a classmate of your brother,” he said. Ylva turned her head and nodded. “You said there’s a monster in your room?”


Ylva drew up her shoulders and ducked her head. “It’s under the bed. I know that sounds ridiculous, but it’s been there for so long and it won’t leave.”


“Does it hurt you?” Johan asked. Ylva shook her head.


“It usually doesn’t even come out. It’s just… there.”


Johan exchanged a look with Judai. That was far from normal spirit behavior. “Can we take a look in your room?” he asked. Ylva didn’t reply. Instead, she got up and walked towards the stairs. Rolf motioned after her. 


“Go on, she’ll take you.”


Judai shrugged and followed the girl up the stairs. Johan followed. In front of him, Judai and Yubel were exchanging meaningful glances, clearly in the middle of a conversation that Johan couldn’t hear. They glanced back at Johan and Johan raised an eyebrow. Judai mouthed: “Later.”


Ylva paused in front of a door at the very end of the corridor. “It’s in there,” she said, stepping aside to let them through. Johan took a breath and went in. The room had the messy look about it of someone who couldn’t be bothered to clean it anymore. The blankets were strewn haphazardly on top of the bed, evidence of nights of tossing and turning. Poor kid. Johan dropped into a crouch. He really hoped there was a spirit here, because he didn’t know how to help her otherwi—


Johan reeled back involuntarily. Okay, wow. If the growls that came from under the bed were any indication, there was indeed a spirit there. He caught a look of two glowing eyes, one blue and one red, shining almost unnaturally against the darkness underneath Ylva’s bed. The spirit growled low in its throat, a clear warning. Judai got down next to him.


“That’s a spirit, alright,” he muttered. “Any idea which one?” 


Johan had just been about to ask the same question to Judai. He shook his head. If the spirit didn’t come out from under the bed, they couldn’t find out. So they’d have to get it out from under there… 


“So there’s really a spirit there?” Rolf asked. Johan nodded, distracted. It clearly didn’t trust them in the least, but… Well, it never hurt to ask.


“Hello there, I’m Johan,” he said softly. Behind him, Ylva shifted uncomfortably. “Can you come out? We’d like to see you.”


The blue-and-red eyes focused on him, unblinking. Johan swallowed. Slowly, ever so slowly, the spirit started moving, its eyes never straying from Johan. Ylva took a step back as paws appeared from under the bed, emaciated and dirty. The skin was torn and loose in places, showing the underlying bone.


“Zombie,” Judai whispered. Johan went over his mental catalogue of monsters. Which undead monsters were animals? Not Nightmare Horse, with paws like that. Not Gerunia either, and Ylva’s description of a wolf seemed accurate… Very slowly, the monster stuck its head out from under the bed. If its paws had been a gruesome sight, its head was even moreso. The monster’s very spirit seemed to be escaping it in wisps of blue fire that somehow failed to light the bed it was hiding under. 


“Plague Wolf,” he realized. “Is that your name? Plague Wolf?”


The monster whined sharply. It looked up at Ylva, who shrank away behind her brother, then lowered its head onto its paws. Very interesting. If Johan was right…


A door slammed downstairs. The Plague Wolf ducked back underneath the bed with a loud growl and both Rolf and Ylva flinched. 


“Mom and dad,” Rolf said. “I’ll distract them. Can you get that monster out of here soon?”


“I’ll do what I can,” Johan said. Rolf disappeared downstairs, leaving Johan and Judai with a monster under the bed and a very scared thirteen-year-old. The Plague Wolf’s growl turned into a whine. Johan glanced at Judai and Yubel. “What do you know about them?” he asked.


“Not much.” Judai glanced up at Yubel. “Haven’t come across them very often. Usually they stay away from other people.”


“Why’s it here, then?” Ylva asked, an edge to her voice. It was the first full sentence she’d said since they’d entered her room. The Plague Wolf whined again, louder this time. It slowly reappeared from underneath the bed and stared at Ylva. Johan glanced at Ruby to confirm his hunch. 


“Ylva, have you ever seen any other spirits in this room?” he asked. 


“Only that one.”


Johan glanced around. Ruby had been in the room this entire time, as had Yubel. “No other spirits, right? Not now, not before…”


“No. Why do you ask?” Ylva said in clipped tones. She pushed away from the wall. “Only that one. It just sits there all the time!”


“I don’t think it’s trying to hurt you,” Johan tried. The wolf’s ears perked up. Johan carefully reached out his left hand, but just when the Plague Wolf started to come out from under the bed entirely, loud voices reached them, coming up the stairs and getting progressively angrier. 


“Oh no,” Ylva whispered. The Plague Wolf disappeared again with a low bark, its eyes now solely fixed on the door. Judai looked at him and got up. 


“—Telling you, there is no such thing!” a woman said. Johan heard Rolf protesting as footsteps neared the room.


“Mom, just let them do this! Ylva hasn’t slept in weeks!”


“She’d be fine if she took her sleeping pills!” 


Ylva ducked her head. Something ugly crossed Judai’s face and Johan barely suppressed a frown. The wolf’s growls got louder as the door reopened and Ylva and Rolf’s parents entered. Johan pulled himself up. 


“Mr. Selland, Mrs. Selland, nice to meet you. I’m Johan Andersen, a former classmate of Rolf.” He held out a hand. Neither of them took it.


“Andersen?” Mr. Selland said. “Oh, you’re that one duelist. I’m sorry you had to make the trip, but we’d appreciate it if you left now. Our daughter’s having problems enough without believing in some hokey spirit stuff.”


“Really?” Judai said. Johan turned his head, just in time to see Judai’s eyes change color.


“Judai, no, don’t—“


Too late. Yubel appeared, as did Ruby on Johan’s shoulder and the Plague Wolf under the bed. Johan took a shuddering breath as Rolf and Ylva’s parents backed away, eyes wide in shock. Even Rolf swayed unsteadily at the sight of the spirits. Dammit, Judai. 


“Mr. Selland, Mrs. Selland, these are spirits,” Judai said coldly. “Yubel here, Ruby Carbuncle there on Johan’s shoulder and of course, the wolf that’s been hiding under your daughter’s bed for the last few weeks.”


“What are those things doing in our house?” Mrs. Selland said, her voice reaching a hysterical pitch. “Ylva, come here! Get away from them!”


But when she reached out to her daughter, the Plague Wolf finally reacted, jumping out from under the bed, past Johan, and in front of Ylva. In the full light of day and fully solid, the sight of it was even more gruesome than Johan had initially imagined. Large swathes of its skin were missing, the bones of  its ribs and vertebrae clearly visible. It growled loudly at Rolf and Ylva’s parents, who backed out of the room in a panic. 


“Judai!” Johan said sharply. Judai glanced at him, then at Yubel, who merely looked amused. His eyes finally returned to their normal brown and the monsters disappeared from view. Time for damage control. 


“I am sorry for that,” Johan said in his best reasonable voice. “I’m sure you can see now that your daughter didn’t make anything up, though.” 


Mr. Selland nodded shakily, eyes still focused on the place where the Plague Wolf had been. It had now, unseen to Rolf and his parents, moved to stand next to Ylva, hackles raised. Ylva glanced at it uncertainly.


“How do we get it out?” Mrs. Selland asked. Johan sighed. 


“I’m not entirely sure if that’s necessary. Ylva, you told me you only saw the Plague Wolf before, right? Do you see Ruby or Yubel now?”


Ylva looked around, her eyes unfocused even when they passed over Yubel and Ruby. She shook her head. 


“You think she’s like Manjoume used to be?” Judai asked. Johan nodded.


“Some people can see all monster spirits, like Judai and I,” he explained carefully. Everyone was already freaked out enough as it was. “But some people only see the spirits of their own monsters. Their partners. This Plague Wolf is very protective over you, Ylva.” 


The Plague Wolf wagged its tail. Ylva ever-so-slowly reached out a trembling hand. The Plague Wolf raised its head, its red-and-blue eyes staring at her. Ylva almost pulled her hand back, but as she glanced at her parents, her face hardened and she put a hand on the wolf’s head. 


“This is so weird,” she muttered, scratching the wolf between its ears. “I don’t even duel.”


“Plague Wolf? I think I got a few zombies out of a booster a while back. Is that how it got here?” Rolf asked. 


“Yeah, I believe so. It probably felt safe in Ylva’s room,” Johan said. Monsters did sometimes get attached to cards and travel with them to new owners. Ylva slowly patted the wolf on its back, her movements becoming more confident with every passing iteration, even though she still avoided the parts where the wolf’s vertebrae were sticking out through its skin. For a first introduction to spirits, Plague Wolf probably hadn’t been the best choice. Johan glanced at Ruby, now nestled comfortably around his neck. It would be far easier if kids like her could be introduced to spirits like Ruby first. 


“What did you do with the card?” Ylva asked, attention still on the Plague Wolf, which was now wagging its tail in slow arcs. Rolf shrugged.


“It didn’t fit in my deck, so I put it with the rest of the cards I’m not using. It’s got to be in my room somewhere.”


“I want it,” Ylva told her brother. Her mother’s face darkened. 


“Ylva, dear, are you sure you want a monster like that—“


“You didn’t believe me before and I was right.” Ylva kneeled down next to the Plague Wolf, who, unseen, bared its teeth. “You don’t know anything about it.”


“Neither do you,” Mr. Selland said. “An hour ago, you didn’t want anything to do with it.”


“I changed my mind.” Ylva’s eyes hardened as she looked down at the Plague Wolf. Johan and Judai exchanged uncomfortable looks. They’d come here to help out with a spirit, not to solve a family dispute. 


Rolf shifted from foot to foot, looking between his parents and his sister. “I think it’s up to Ylva,” he said finally. 


“She doesn’t know anything about those monsters!” 


Judai’s head snapped up. He shared a quick look and an unspoken conversation with Yubel, which ended with both of them looking at Johan. Johan raised an eyebrow. Judai shot him a quick grin that really didn’t instill any confidence in Johan. This was definitely Judai’s bad idea face.


“Actually, I have a suggestion,” he said. “Johan knows a lot about spirits. If Ylva needs help, I’m sure he can provide it!”




“Sure, why not!” Judai slung an arm over his shoulder. “You’ve seen spirits for ages, right? Longer than I have!”


“You and Yubel know more about them.” 


“Not really, and we’re never around anyway.” Judai’s arm tightened around his shoulders. He leaned closer and whispered: “You were looking for something to do, right?”


“Well, yeah, but—“


“What about becoming the bridge between humans and spirits?” Yubel said. Johan started. That had been so long ago… Right when he’d only just met Judai. Yubel had heard even that? But on the other hand, he had said that, hadn’t he? He had always wanted to help people forge closer connections, make people aware of the existence of spirits. Maybe children like Ylva were the best place to start.


“I guess you’re right,” he said with a grin, dislodging Judai’s arm. He turned to Ylva. “If you have any questions, I’ll be happy to answer them. You don’t need to come to Bergen. I’ll give you my phone number and e-mail address, if you want.”


Ylva got up and nodded. The Plague Wolf dropped down at her feet. 


“She won’t be making those monsters appear, right?” Mr. Selland asked. Johan snorted, as did Yubel. They grinned at each other over the head of a mildly offended-looking Judai.


“No, that’s just Judai. Spirits don’t usually appear like that.” He sincerely hoped they wouldn’t ask for clarification. Explaining Judai’s powers was something best left to Judai himself, and even he didn’t always seem to know what he could do.


Thankfully, no one asked. Ylva was too concerned with her new spirit partner, while her parents still looked very uncomfortable with the idea. Rolf, for his part, just looked relieved that the issue had been resolved. “Thanks, Johan,” he said.  “I’ll pay you back for the gas.”


“Don’t bother, we’re not here by car,” Johan told him. He shook his head when Rolf looked confused. “Judai. Just go with it, I’ve found that that works best.”




Yubel laughed, and Johan couldn’t help but join in. Ylva seemed fine dealing with the Plague Wolf. It was still lying at her feet, keeping a close eye on her parents. Maybe those two would need some time to come to terms with Ylva’s new partner and find a way to restore their children’s trust… Johan resolved to keep in touch with Rolf even if Ylva didn’t contact him. He hoped they’d work through it, but he was barely even qualified to help people with their spirit partners, let alone with their family problems. 


“Take care,” he told Ylva as they were leaving. “If there’s anything, just let me know, okay?”


“Yeah, thanks.” Ylva still moved around the Plague Wolf with care, but at least she wasn’t terrified anymore. Maybe she’d get a proper night’s rest now. Johan left the house, Judai in tow. The minute Rolf closed the door behind them, the other Gem Beasts appeared.  


“That sure was interesting. So what are you gonna do?” Topaz Tiger asked. Johan shrugged.


“Help her if she needs my help. Other than that…”


“There are always going to be more kids,” Judai said. “Maybe not in Bergen, or in Norway, but people will always need help with spirits.”


Johan bit his lower lip. “Yeah, but if it’s not in Norway, how am I going to get to them?” He was reasonably well off, and his time in the tournament circuit wasn’t at an end yet, but he could hardly go jetting all across the world like Judai did. 


Judai nudged him. “That’s what you have us for, isn’t it? Anywhere in the world, or… or out of this world, you know.”


“Let’s stay on the planet for now,” Johan said, to what felt like the Gem Beasts’ great relief. “But yeah, why not?”


There would always be people like Ylva who didn’t understand what they were seeing. There would always be spirits looking for a partner. And how could he refuse them help when he knew so much more than most people? After all, finally helping people and spirits connect? He could think of no better way to live his life.

heleentje: (Default)

?? ??? ??:??

Desert World Oasis


Klavier woke up in what he believed were the early hours of morning. The three suns were up in the sky again. This was their third day in the Desert World. If Apollo and Athena were to be believed, at least Ator and her human partner would be able to get them out soon. He rolled over, eyes still closed. He didn’t feel like waking up just yet, now that it was safe to sleep. The sandy ground didn’t exactly make for a comfortable bed, but that was the least of his worries.


“You sure?” Ator said somewhere in the distance. Klavier cracked open one eye. Athena and Apollo were fast asleep next to him. “This is becoming quite the body count.”


Body count? Klavier didn’t like the sound of that. He shook Apollo’s shoulder and immediately held a finger to his lips when he woke up.


“Just listen,” he hissed. Apollo nodded.


“No, they’re asleep. They still haven’t released you?” Ator swore. “What do you want me to do with the bodies? Or are you going to open a portal?” She briefly paused. “Come here? Are you sure?”


Apollo’s eyes widened. “You don’t think…” he whispered. Klavier nodded and jerked his head towards Athena.


“Time to get out of here.”


Apollo turned around soundlessly and shook Athena awake.


“We’re in trouble,” he whispered before she could say anything. “We’ve got to get out of here.”


To her credit, Athena needed no further explanation. She got up slowly and grabbed her bag. This was getting worse and worse.


Klavier was almost glad for the many trees and shrubs that surrounded this oasis. It hid them from Ator. What they’d do once they made it to the desert again, he didn’t know. They’d be right out in the open, but if they stayed here, they’d be dead within the hour.


They had almost made it out of sight when, of course, Ator noticed them.


“Hey! Are you leaving already?” she shouted. They froze.


“Ah, well, yes, we figured we shouldn’t be bothering you any longer,” Klavier said, turning around slowly. “You’ve been more than kind to us.”


Ator sighed. “Ah, I guess you overheard.”


“I’m sorry, overheard what?” Klavier asked. Next to him, Athena bent low.


“Yes well, I am sorry. It can’t be helped, unfortunately, since your mentor saw it fit to imprison my partner.”


“Mr. Wright did—?” Apollo asked. He shook his head. “You’re the one who killed Cyan Sammons, aren’t you?”


“Oh no, not me,” Ator said. She whistled. “She did.”


From behind the trees, hidden away under the rocks, a huge rumbling sound came. Athena gasped, her hands going to her ears.


“The thing is, dragons rarely do anything if I don’t tell them to. I’m telling them now.” A dragon lumbered in view, huge, with blackish-blue skin that almost seemed to glitter in the dim light of the three suns. “Sapphire Dragon, kill them.”


“RUN!” Apollo shouted. He grabbed both of them and started running, between the dunes, away from the dragon, but it was so much faster than expected, its huge body easily finding traction on the loose sand. It should’ve been impossible. Klavier glanced backwards. Ator was following the dragon.


“They’re peaceful!” he shouted. “It’s Ator doing this!”


Athena nodded. “All right,” she said, and pulled loose from Apollo’s grip. “Keep running.”


And she turned around and ran straight at the massive dragon.




The massive dragon swiped at her, but she dove into a roll and barely avoided it. For a moment, she was gone, and then she was up and running again, past the dragon, who looked around in confusion, and straight at Ator.


Ator shook her head. “Get the other two. I’ll deal with this one.”


Klavier swore, a combination of curses from every language he could think of. German was wonderfully versatile like that, with its ability to string words together and—


“Watch out!” Apollo tackled him as the dragon swiped at him, but too late; its claw bit deep into his arm. He cried out. The pain burned through his arm and for a second he saw black. Then Apollo was pulling him up again, out of the way of the oncoming dragon.


“You okay?” he panted.


“Been better.”


Ator had unsheathed her sword. Athena was keeping a safe distance from her. She’d opened her bag and taken something out, a small, cylindrical object she kept shaking. Klavier’s eyes watered through the pain in his left arm, but if he fainted here, there was no way he’d make it out alive. He refused to be eaten by a dragon. He staggered out of the way of the oncoming dragon. Its huge size seemed to make it slower than he’d first assumed. Apollo caught sight of his arm and winced.


“You’ve got to hide,” he shouted.


“Not helping!” Klavier yelled back. He rolled away when the dragon attacked again and landed on his injured arm. For a moment, he saw stars. Then the dragon was there, bearing down upon him. He shielded his face-


There was a bang. The dragon paused.


Apollo dragged him up again and pulled him along. The dragon looked confused.


“What’s it doing?”


“Athena,” Apollo replied, and indeed, Athena had gotten past Ator’s defenses and thrown the cylindrical object at her. Her can of coke, Klavier realized. With all the heat and pressure, it had exploded violently when she’d opened it.


“Call it off!” they heard her shout. She got Ator in a headlock and forced her down.


“Don’t think so.” Ator turned and with one easy movement deposited Athena the ground. Athena scrambled out of the way, but now she was back on the defense.


“We’ve got to help her!”


“How?!” Apollo returned. The dragon roared. Ator had regained control.


“I must say,” she shouted, “you three are quite a bit better than that woman was! But I’m sorry.” And she whistled again. Athena took the opportunity and tried to tackle her, but Ator kicked her back as a second dragon appeared, this one snow white and sparkling like diamonds. "Meet Diamond Dragon."


“Crap.” Apollo glanced from one dragon to the other.


“This is troublesome,” Klavier agreed. And then the Diamond Dragon attacked. Its tail caught Apollo and sent him flying.




A blur of gold, and Chrysta appeared, pecking at the eyes of the huge dragon. Klavier ran to where Apollo had fallen just as the latter got up, wiping the blood of his chin.


“That’s a loose tooth.” He gave Klavier a pained grin. “Didn’t think you actually knew my name.”


“Your forehead is quite remarkable,” Klavier managed through his relief. Apollo was still alive. For now. But now there were two dragons surrounding them, and Athena was badly outmatched. She was jumping away from Ator’s sword, but her movements were slowing down.


“This isn’t good, Klavier,” Apollo said. Was this the first time Apollo had used his first name? What a crazy situation.


“We’ve got to get to Athena.” His arm was throbbing now, the wounds stinging. And there were the two enormous dragons, surrounding them now. Chrysta flew down, in front of Apollo, but what could one bird do against two giant dragons?


“Give me your bag,” Apollo said.


“What for?”


“Just do it!” They both jumped out of the way as the Diamond Dragon slammed its tail down between them. Klavier grabbed his bag with his uninjured arm and tossed it at Apollo, who barely caught it. He took out the bottle of wine Klavier’d had stacked away all this time.


“How solid is this glass?” he yelled.


“Hit it hard!” Klavier shouted back. The dragons, now realizing they could each target one of them, turned towards the noise. Klavier found himself faced with the Sapphire Dragon. Apollo raised the bottle of wine and dove under the Diamond Dragon, then jammed the top between its claws. It paused in confusion, flexed its claws, and broke the bottle, the shards embedding itself into its left paw. It shrieked in pain and swatted at Apollo, who barely dodged and landed next to Klavier.


“That didn’t quite work the way I wanted it to.”


“It was… inspired,” Klavier said. He backed away from the Sapphire Dragon. The Diamond Dragon was picking at its paw, crying in pain. They were out of weapons, his left arm was completely useless, and the Diamond Dragon was angrier than ever.


“It was nice knowing you, Herr- Apollo,” he murmured.


“Same, Klavier.” Apollo grinned manically, holding up glass shards. “I could’ve had worse rivals.”


And the dragons struck.


March 10 2028 08:45 am

District Court - Prosecution’s Lobby n°2


“Edgeworth,” Wright called, appearing in the door. Edgeworth gestured him in quickly. Good thing the lobby was deserted right now.


“Wright, we can’t let her off just like that, you know that,” he said. Wright closed his eyes.


“I know, I know, but we can’t just let them die either. This is like Maya all over again.” He hissed. “How am I ever going to explain this to Trucy?”


“Does she know?”


“No. She wanted to come today, but I managed to convince Maya to distract her and Pearls. They’re at home watching the Pink Princess special, I believe.”


At least that was a good choice of entertainment. “Drake’s testifying today. If you can persuade her to not give the order…”


“She’ll never do it. What about Ms. Sammons’ portal technology?”


“It’s vanished without a trace. We thought it’d be in the parking lot or at Paseo del Mar, but nothing.” Edgeworth stared at the closed door of the courtroom. The bailiff held up a hand. Five minutes. By indicting Coral Drake, were they condemning three innocent people to death? Edgeworth looked down.


“We can only hope they manage to save themselves, Wright. Because I don’t think we can save them anymore.”


And Coral Drake’s testimony wasn’t making things any better. Ten minutes later, she’d taken the stand and given Wright a disappointed look. Then she’d shrugged and said, “So I guess it comes down to a trial after all.”


The message was clear. Either they found her innocent or Klavier, Apollo and Athena wouldn’t make it back alive. Was it so hard to have a simple, uncomplicated trial without kidnappings or murder threats every once in a while?


“Miss Coral Drake, you are accused of the murder of Ms. Cyan Sammons,” he began. “What do you have to say for yourself?”


She would be denying it, and Wright would probably fumble the cross-examination, but how would it help if they got the truth out of her?


“I did it,” Coral Drake said quietly.


“Yes, I- WHAT?”


“OBJECTION!” Wright shouted. The judge slammed his gavel.


“Miss Drake, are you… confessing?”


“Sorry, Mr. Wright, but I'm just tired of being here,” Coral Drake said, still in the same soft tone. "So yes, I did it. I set up the portals that transported Cyan to the Desert World. Ator made sure she died.”


“OBJECTION!” Wright shouted again. “Miss Drake, the bus driver has testified seeing you on his bus at the time of the murder. You weren’t present to send Ms. Sammons to the Desert World!”


Miss Drake shrugged. She was toying with her bracelet again. “Did I have to be? I just needed her to be in that specific spot. Texted her after to say she didn’t have to come. Made it look nice, didn’t I?”


The judge blinked. “Miss Drake… Why confess now?”


“Because I'm tired of this thing. And because frankly, I'm sick of this whole world. Cyan’s dead anyway. I could’ve used some pocket money, but you messed that up quite nicely for me. I already contacted Ator before this trial started, Mr. Wright. Your friends are long dead by now.”


“I-” Wright slumped, head in his hands. “You can’t-”


“Miss Drake,” Edgeworth shouted through the chaos. “What are you trying to accomplish? You cannot escape a full courtroom after confessing!”


“No.” Coral Drake looked up, her face utterly serene. “I will get out. Ator will save me.”


?? ??? ??:??

Desert World


Apollo shut his eyes tightly, waiting for the inevitable pain to come. Maybe it’d be over soon. Maybe—


The pain where the dragon had hit his jaw increased. But other than that-


“Now would be a really good time to run, you two,” a new voice said. Apollo opened his eyes to see the black panther from before holding off the dragons. And then, then it transformed. It grew in size and widened until it was an exact replica of the Diamond Dragon in front of them. They both stared in shock.


“Your friend could use some help,” the panther-turned-dragon growled. That shook Apollo out of his trance.




Athena was, surprisingly, still very much holding her own. She was panting and could barely dodge Ator’s moves, but she was still in one piece and even appeared to be tiring out Ator herself.


“Not bad, Athena. You could’ve made a good warrior.” Ator slashed her sword. Athena backflipped and tucked her legs in to turn her fall into a roll. “It really is a pity.”


She took sight of the third dragon now battling the other two and her eyes widened. “Time to finish this before he gets here.”


“I wouldn’t do that, Ator,” another voice said. A very familiar one. “It’s Ator, right? Did I get that right?”


Judai Yuki stood behind Ator, Yubel right next to him. The latter spread her wings and took off towards them, landed next to Athena and picked her up.


“You,” Ator growled. Mr. Yuki nodded.


“Me, yes. Black Panther, how’re you holding up over there?” he shouted.


“Could use some help!” the panther-dragon replied. Mr. Yuki’s eyes glowed, and the same white, humanoid monster he’d summoned two days ago appeared. Neos, or whatever its name was, charged at the Sapphire Dragon and threw it off Black Panther. A flash of light, and then Neos and Black Panther had disappeared, replaced by a larger, darker version of Neos covered with black armor and spreading dark, bat-like wings.


Ator straightened up. “Convenient that you’re here. They’re the reason my partner’s in trouble, but I’m sure the universe will not mourn your death either.”


Yubel picked Athena up and deposited her near Klavier and Apollo. They gaped at each other.


“Okay, still alive?” Athena whispered.


“Still alive. Bit worse for wear, but…” Apollo nodded at Ator. “We’re not back home yet.”


“Ator, stop this now,” Mr. Yuki said. “You know you cannot stop me. You can bring all the dragons you want, attack me with everything you have, and you still can’t harm me.”


“So why don’t you kill me like you killed everyone else, Supreme King?” Ator spat. Athena gasped.


He’s the Supreme King?”


“Always was and always will be,” Yubel said. “But he dislikes the title.”


“I don’t do that anymore, Ator,” Mr. Yuki continued. “And I’m sorry. I don’t know who you lost, but I was responsible for it and I’m truly sorry.” He straightened up and took a step forward. He was just a man in his late thirties. He had no weapons, no one protecting him, and he shouldn’t have looked nearly as intimidating as he did at that moment. “But if you keep threatening the kids, I will be forced to act. I got them into this mess and it is my duty to bring them home safely.”


Apollo gasped. That had not been a lie. “He means it.”


“Then you will die, Supreme King!” Ator said. “And the world will be happier for it!”


She charged, and Yubel took off. Before Ator had even gotten near Mr. Yuki, she’d grabbed the woman by the throat and lifted her.


“You do not threaten my Judai, is that clear?”


Ator tried to stab her. Yubel deflected the move easily.


“Your beloved Judai. You’re blind to the damage he’s caused all of us.”


“No, I am not.” Yubel threw her down and grabbed the sword. “I was as responsible as he was, but that is in the past, and Judai has been trying his best for years to make amends for it. Whereas you, you’re just killing innocent people.”


“And it makes you no better than me,” Mr. Yuki said softly. He joined Yubel. “This fight is over, Ator. You’ve lost control of your dragons. Help me get the kids home and I promise you that your partner will get a fair trial.”


But Ator wasn’t giving up. “Coral deserves so much better than some prison cell. She’s a genius and your world never, ever appreciated her or her family! I will get her the recognition she deserves. If it means you have to die for her, then so be it.”


“Ah, I see.” Mr. Yuki whispered. And then he was behind her in a flash, surrounded by darkness whirling all around them, obscuring the two of them from view. The dark cleared, and Ator was on the ground, hands bound by what looked like solid darkness.


Mr. Yuki closed his eyes for a brief second. “There’s a portal opening soon, isn’t there? When?”


“I am not letting you get to Coral.”


“Then we’ll wait.” Mr. Yuki turned around and walked up to them. “I’m sorry for being so late. How are you?” He caught sight of Klavier’s arm and paled.


“Put pressure on it or you’ll lose too much blood,” he snapped, already going through his backpack. “Why didn’t you say so earlier? Lie down.”


“Ah, Herr Yuki, it’s not bleeding too—”


“It’s still bleeding, isn’t it? You two, help him lie down.”


Klavier managed to lie down with some help from Apollo. Mr. Yuki had found his first aid kit and grabbed a pressure bandage. Klavier tried to lift his sleeve.


“Leave it. The more pressure, the better. We have to stop the bleeding. Why are these cuts so wide?”


“I will try to choose a smaller dragon next time, Herr Yuki,” Klavier said. With the fight over, he looked distinctly pale underneath his tan. Mr. Yuki applied the bandage, grabbed another roll of gauze to put on top of it, and started winding it around his arm.


“Too tight?”


“No, it’s fine, Herr Yuki.”


Mr. Yuki finished securing the bandage and glanced at Ator. Athena shook her head.


“But what I don’t get,” she asked Ator, “you were really going to help us. I could hear. So why this?”


“Because it’s her partner, Athena,” Yubel said. “Because there is nothing I would not do for Judai and he for me.”


“Coral deserves better.”


Judai nodded. “Does she love you back?”




“Good, that’s good…” Mr. Yuki said. He looked at Yubel, who smiled down at him. Apollo looked away. This was it, right? It was over now. They could go home. They could all—


He jumped up. Where was she?


“Apollo?” Athena asked. Klavier got up, but Mr. Yuki ushered him down again.


“Chrysta, has anyone seen Chrysta?”


She’d attacked the dragons to save them, but after that— Where had she gone? The dragons had already disappeared, no longer interested in a fight now that Ator was not controlling them anymore. She had to be there somewhere.




A faint squeak. Apollo dropped down on his knees. There she was, half-buried under the sand, her right wing bent at an unnatural angle. Apollo quickly dug her out and scooped her up.


“Chrysta, you okay?”


The eagle only squeaked tiredly and buried her head in her feathers.


“She’s not doing well,” Mr. Yuki said. When he’d appeared, Apollo didn’t know. “I’m sorry, Apollo.”


“It’s just her wing, right? We can splint it.” He didn’t know how to do it, but Mr. Yuki looked like he had enough first aid experience. “It’s just some broken bones.”


Chrysta squeaked again. Her broken wing hung uselessly over Apollo’s arm.


“She went up against a monster that was far stronger than her. It’s a wonder she made it this far. Come on.”


He helped Apollo up and led him back to Athena and Klavier. Athena wrapped an arm around his shoulder.


“Can’t you do something?” she asked. “You have all those tricks, all those powers, there has to be something—”


Mr. Yuki shook his head. “I can’t heal. I guess that’s my curse. I can destroy, and change, and every once in a while I can even save, but I can’t heal. I am so sorry.”


Apollo hugged the bird tighter, mindful of her bad wing. If she hadn’t found him, she wouldn’t be like this. If she’d just left them when she'd had the chance, she would've been fine.


“Not your fault,” Klavier said. He didn’t look good. If they could only get out of here somehow, find help for Chrysta and Klavier…


Five minutes before the portal opened, Chrysta looked up, nuzzled her head against his chest, and disappeared in a shower of light.


heleentje: (Default)

Blowing up one of Kaiba Corporation's buildings had not been one of Juudai's finer moments, and he could argue that he hadn't been truly responsible until he was blue in the face, but he was fully aware that Kaiba Seto didn't much like him. That was fine, if a bit disappointing. As long as he got the blame, it meant Saiou didn't. Even so, he'd hoped that after more than two years, Kaiba-san had forgotten about it.


Evidently not, judging by the letter he had just received. It had somehow reached him in the middle of the Bolivian rainforest just south of Santa Cruz, where he'd been looking for a rogue spirit. The letter had gone through a convoluted path that Juudai didn't even bother to understand, but if the messenger was to be believed, it had involved contacts within Industrial Illusions, O'Brien, several of his friends and even a spirit seer or two.  All that effort for one letter.  He wondered why they hadn't just called him, then remembered that he'd lost his cell phone in a confrontation with a group of overly ambitious mafiosi.


"Um, do you need a lift back?" the messenger asked. She brushed dreadlocks out of her face and gestured at the jeep she'd come in on. Juudai was momentarily distracted by the elaborate tattoo of a blue-green dragon curled around her biceps. It had nothing on Yubel, but he had to admit that it was beautifully done.


"No, I'll make it back before you do," he told her, swatting at a mosquito. Not even the powers of darkness were an effective insect-repellent. Maybe he should have brought Pharaoh along after all. Cats liked catching insects, right?


The woman shrugged and headed back to the jeep. Juudai waved when she took off, and waited until he was sure she hadn't driven into the nearest ravine before looking for the nearest spot to disappear. There were plenty. At least in a rainforest, he'd never be lacking for shadow, even with the sun at its highest point in mid-December.


"So we're just dropping everything?"


Yubel shimmered into view under one of the many, many, many nearby trees. This one might be a palm tree. There was no need for her to appear to have this conversation, of course, but she and Juudai both preferred talking face-to-face whenever they could.


Juudai frowned down at the letter. "Kaiba-san is asking for my presence. Urgently."


"I'm sure he can wait a bit longer."


Juudai looked at Yubel, then at the letter, and shrugged.  They did still have a runaway spirit to find. And while it was unlikely to do much damage here... Well, might as well get it over with.



Their runaway spirit turned out to be a Giga Gagagigo. They stumbled into Kaiba Corporation's new building three days later, with Juudai sunburnt and exhausted from subduing the massive creature. It had been blinded, the poor thing, and Juudai following it had only made it more nervous. They had only managed to calm it down with a lot of help from Wildman. It had felt more at home in the rainforest than it had in its own world, so Juudai hadn't seen much use in taking it back. If Wildman was to be believed, the poor spirit had been hunted down by poachers. Juudai hadn't even known there were spirit poachers, and it was a revelation that was still bothering him by the time he got back to Japan. He'd definitely have to look into that.


Kaiba Seto was already in the meeting room when Juudai entered. His younger brother had chosen a spot on the windowsill and smiled when Juudai entered.


"Juudai-kun! Last time I saw you, you were just a little kid!"


The last time Juudai had seen Kaiba Mokuba, he'd been a young teenager. Now he was in his mid-twenties and stood as tall as his brother, his hair pulled back in a ponytail. Seto Kaiba hadn't changed in the least since the last time they'd met. Possibly there was a source of eternal youth somewhere. Another thing to check.


"I came here as soon as I could." More or less. "What's the problem?"


Kaiba Seto finally looked at him with ill-concealed impatience. At the back of his mind, Yubel bristled. Yeah, Kaiba-san wasn't going to like him again any time soon.


"My company has been going through some serious changes," Kaiba-san said. "Not all of them voluntary."


He gauged Juudai's reaction. From behind his back, Mokuba-san offered a sympathetic smile.


"I have been told," Kaiba-san continued when Juudai didn't react, "that you were not to blame for the destruction of my buildings. Be as that may, it was still a loss for the company, but we have decided" he gestured at his brother and himself, "to use the opportunity to renew our offices and bring new people on board to expand our R&D division."


Juudai nodded and sat down. If no one was going to offer him a chair, he might as well find one himself.


"So where do I come in?"


"We have hired a lot of new people. It has come to my attention that the screening process may not have been up to our usual standards." Kaiba tapped a pen on the table. "There have been a series of thefts. Nothing that stood out at first, mostly raw materials and parts. But it has become a pattern and we need to find out who is responsible. The last theft that we know of took place last week, the night of the 12th."


Why should we care?


Yubel's bewilderment mirrored his own. "I'm not sure I'm the right person to find a thief, Kaiba-san," Juudai said. "Maybe the police would do a better job."


Kaiba-san grimaced. "We believe the case would be more suited for your... special talents. The thief is suspected to have outside connections."


That didn't actually clear anything up. Juudai tilted his head.


"What my brother is failing to say," Mokuba-san cut in, "is that we believe those connections to be otherworldly."


Ah. Well, that explained a lot.


"Yes, thank you, Mokuba." Kaiba-san sighed and put his hands together. "Catching our thief has proven to be problematic, but we have narrowed it down to a couple of people." He grabbed a piece of paper and passed it on to Juudai. It held five or six names, all with a short description of the person in question.


"Most of these people are either new employees or interns," Mokuba-san said. "We don't know if our thief is on there, but they've all shown themselves to be suspicious in some way."


Juudai nodded and let his mind wander, his view expanding until it covered most of the building. He grinned. Well, that was interesting.


You noticed?


Leave it to Kaiba-san to put a building right on the weakest spot in all of Domino. Juudai shook his head. At least the weak point between dimensions wasn't as big here as it was at Duel Academia. Not entirely his concern right now anyway. He looked further. At least three people who weren't quite from this world andhe glanced at the list and indulged in some quick mind-reading. Yep, one of those people was on the list. Several people with very good shields, too. Juudai didn't prod any further.


Timothy Kant, the list read. It was as a good a place to start as any.




Juudai's first impression of Timothy Kant was a deep, pervading sense of loneliness.


They found Timothy in an otherwise-empty lab, scribbling down equations that almost immediately got smudged when his hand brushed over them. He glanced up when he saw Juudai enter, averted his gaze almost right away, and grimaced when he spotted the pencil smudges on the side of his hand.


"Yuuki-san," he said, "they told me you'd be coming." He got up when Juudai neared and held out his pencil-stained left hand, then thought better of it and switched to his right. Juudai shook it. Yeah, there was definitely something off about this guy.


He reminds me of Paradox, Yubel noted. Juudai squinted. With his short, blue hair and grey eyes, Timothy Kant looked absolutely nothing like Paradox. Still, he understood what Yubel meant. Timothy's aura was... displaced, much like Paradox's had been. Dimensional traveler?


"You're a long way from home," he said conversationally. Timothy smiled. It did nothing to hide the emotional turmoil rolling off from him in waves.


"Oh, not too far. I'm from Tokyo. I don't believe you live in Domino City either, Yuuki-san."


"I travel," Juudai replied. He tried for a quick prod at Timothy's thoughts, but hit a shield. Timothy had been taught to hide his thoughts, but his emotions were something else altogether. Juudai hid a shudder. This guy hadn't had a fun time.


It would be easy to finger Timothy Kant as the culprit, but he had met dimensional travelers before. Most of them weren't out to cause any trouble. If Timothy was just here on a sightseeing tour, Juudai wasn't about to stop him. He'd already learned some very harsh lessons about jumping to conclusions.


"So, you're interning here? What do you do?"


Timothy collected his notes and shoved them into a binder. Juudai caught a glimpse of a long series of complex equations and immediately decided he had better things to spend his time on. If he wanted a physics lesson, he'd ask Misawa.


And you wonder why no one ever let you do the accounting.


"Accounting isn't physics," he muttered. Timothy shot him a strange look.


"It isn't. Why do you—"


Juudai waved a hand. "Sorry, talking to myself. So, you're what, a scientist?"


"Mechanic, actually." Timothy put the last of his notes away and straightened up. He was a lot taller than Juudai. "But right now I'm working as an engineer. Working at Kaiba Corporation... It's a big opportunity. It gives us a chance to really change things," he said with almost desperate conviction. Juudai and Yubel exchanged looks. Timothy slumped a bit and smiled.


"I'm sorry, I get passionate about this stuff. I'm sure you know how it is." He sat down and looked up at Juudai, toying with a simple black pen he'd fished out of his pocket. "Sit down. I'm guessing you're here about the thefts?"


The only empty chair left was on the other side of the room, being used to prop up something large, complicated and undoubtedly expensive. Juudai didn't think Kaiba-san would appreciate him costing Kaiba Corp. even more money, so he hopped onto the table Timothy had been working at.


"Where were you the night of the 12th?"


Timothy shrugged, abashed. "Right here, actually," he said. "I worked through the night. There was a project I really wanted to finish, so..." He trailed off. Juudai grinned. If this guy ever met Misawa, they'd never see the outside of a lab again.


What do you think? Yubel gently curled a hand around his upper arm. No matter how good Timothy was at engineering, he clearly had no talent for seeing spirits. He continued to play with his pen without meeting Juudai's eyes, oblivious to Yubel's presence.


I don't think he's lying. Timothy Kant was hiding something, no doubt, but whatever it was, it had nothing to do with this. "We'll have to check the camera footage—Is there camera footage here?"


"Ask for Yori-san in security, she'll help you." Timothy sat up straighter and put the pen down, though he still didn't look at Juudai. Juudai hopped off the table.


"I'll do that." He said his goodbyes and was about to leave the lab when he thought of something. He paused in the doorway and turned around. Timothy was fiddling with the pen again.


"You should visit home soon. I'm sure your family misses you."


Timothy glanced up, his face briefly contorting into something ugly. He let out a breathy laugh. "Yeah, I'll get right to that."




Timothy Kant's story checked out. So did that of Vanessa Peterson, who spent a lot of time at work after a nasty breakup, and that of Yamahashi Kaori, who was waiting for Vanessa to notice her. Juudai left the latter with a pat on the back and a shake of his head. Their list was already down by three people, and he was starting to suspect they were on the wrong track entirely.


Yubel agreed. "We've been so busy looking for who did it, but we don't know why they're doing it."


Juudai took a bite out of his sandwich and swiveled in his chair. At two in the afternoon, the cafeteria was almost deserted. Only a few stragglers were still eating. A slumped-over young man spooned soup into his mouth, paused, and added another packet of salt. Juudai wished he could do the same to the sandwich.


"What did they steal again?" he whispered.


"Some iron, some glass fiber, a few pieces of equipment... Really nothing big," Yubel replied. She, unlike Juudai, didn't bother keeping her voice down.


"But that makes no sense." Juudai put the sandwich down. "Iron, glass fiber... That's not hard to get. Why steal it from Kaiba Corp.? That's just looking for trouble."


"Exactly." Yubel fell silent. Juudai stared at the blue-striped walls.


"Unless..."  He bit his lip. "Unless that's not what's really going on. It sounds so stupid. Why steal something you can just as easily find in a store? If they're working here, they can't be that hard-up for money."


"You think they're covering up something else."


"Yeah. There has to be more going on," Juudai said. "Come on. We need to take a look at the camera footage again."


"We've been looking at specific people so far," Yubel said. The hallways were empty apart from the odd scientist. One of them, an older Korean woman, followed Yubel with her eyes when they passed. Another spirit seer.


"I don't think that's going to tell us anything." The only thing Juudai had learned was that Kaiba Corp. had an unusually high percentage of  workaholics. With someone like Kaiba-san at the helm, that didn't come as a surprise.


Yubel nodded. "You might want to try checking out a few places. See where the camera doesn't come."


The security station was empty when they arrived. Juudai didn't let it bother him. Kaiba-san had given him free rein, after all. He could enter if he wanted to.


The camera feeds showed all of the main labs, the hallways and the big income hall. Yubel appeared next to him when Juudai was peering at his own image on a screen in the lower left corner.


"See anything?" he asked absently.


Yubel shook her head. "Nothing out of the ordinary. But if our thieves are smart, they'll stay out of range of the cameras."


"Which means they'd know where all the cameras are placed. Not the work of a bunch of newcomers." Juudai stared at the numerous buttons. Did he dare pressing them? Maybe he should just get Kaiba-san or Mokuba-san. He was just about to call them when movement on the lower left screen, the one that showed the office and the hallway around it, caught his attention. Yubel noticed too and disappeared from view seconds before an older woman entered the office.


"Good afternoon," she said. "May I ask what you are doing in my office?"


She was tiny. She also looked like she knew fifty ways to knock Juudai out just with the coffee cup she was holding.


"I'm Yuuki Juudai," Juudai said quickly. "Kaiba-san asked me to investigate the recent thefts.


The woman put her cup down with a heavy thunk. "He mentioned something about that, yes." She straightened up. "I am Yori Kamiko. I am in charge of overseeing security at Kaiba Corporation."


Juudai'd figured as much. Yori-san leaned past him and changed the video feeds, cycling rapidly through the labs and the cafeteria. "Can I help you with anything?" she asked.


"Yeah. We need to know where the cameras don't come."


Yori-san nodded pensively. "There are a few places. Did everyone on the list come back clean?"


"So far. You know about the list?"


"I made it." Yori-san said with a faraway look. "I must admit that I'm glad I was wrong. They're all very bright people and I would hate to lose them. As for your question—" she turned away from the screens. "There are a few places the camera doesn't see. Kaiba-san's office, for one."


Juudai waved a hand. Unless the thieves could turn invisible, their headquarters were unlikely to be directly under Kaiba-san's nose.


"There's also the basement. We haven't installed any cameras there yet."


"What's down there?" asked Juudai.


"Nothing, as of yet. Kaiba-san is thinking about opening another lab there, but it hasn't been built yet. This here—" Yori-san changed the image on the center screen to a dark, empty place that looked more like a construction site than a lab, "—is the hallway leading to the stairs."


Juudai smiled. "I think I might want to check that out. Do you want to come along, Yori-san?"


Yori-san bent over the computer controlling the screen, her face illuminated eerily by the glow. She grimaced. "I'm sorry, I have to be present at a meeting in fifteen minutes. I only came by to pick up my notes."


"Not a problem." Juudai waved goodbye and headed back to the end of the hallway, where the elevators were.


You think there's something in the basement?


"We'll know soon enough."



The basement was deserted. Nothing but gray, concrete walls, plastic that covered the entire floor, and a few lone spotlights that had all been turned off. Juudai didn't need them.




"No people," said Yubel, confirming what Juudai already knew. He sighed. This was starting to look like another dead end. They turned a corner and walked down the length of what would become a hallway once the basement had been turned into the labs Yori-san had talked about.  Most of the rooms lining the hallway were completely empty, except for... Huh.


"Why would you install a steel door when nothing else is finished?" Juudai narrowed his eyes. Yeah, that was definitely a door. There wasn't a sign of life in the room behind it, but still. Time to check it out.


"Hane Kuriboh," he whispered. His partner appeared immediately. "Could you go take a look on the other side?"


Hane Kuriboh trilled and disappeared from view. He reappeared less than a minute later, visibly shaken, flapping his wings and chirping rapidly.


"Whoa, calm down! I can't understand you properly," Juudai told him. He'd caught something about a monster? "Is it safe to go in?"


Hane Kuriboh paused and managed a nod. Juudai nodded in return and exchanged a look with Yubel. "We're going in."


He didn't even bother trying the door. Why leave evidence that he'd been here? Instead he instantly moved to the other side of the wall. The basement was plenty dark enough for him to pull off that little trick.


It was equally dark on the other side of the wall, but the differences were immediately clear. There was no plastic covering the ground here, but solid tile. The walls were still bare, but several tables lined them. An emergency generator was whirring in the corner. Hane Kuriboh chirped urgently, and Juudai took his eyes off the computers next to it.


At first he thought he was seeing Amber Mammoth, trapped in one of Giese's cocoons.


It wasn't, but the monster could have passed for one of the Gem Beasts with ease. Juudai rushed forward and slammed his hands against the cocoon. The monster inside flinched violently. It must have been beautiful once, a large, elephant-like creature, its body inlaid with red gems. But now, one of its tusks was gone and the front of its face was scabbed over. Three holes remained where once there had to have been gems. It was solid within the cocoon. A forcefield, emulating spirit world conditions. Juudai suddenly had a very good idea what the thieves had needed all the equipment for.


"What have they done to you?" he whispered. The elephant drew into itself. How could they have—How could they have done this?


"Poachers," Yubel ground out next to him. Her anger was feeding his. "They're not stealing anything. They're poaching spirits."


"The Giga Gagagigo we found last week." Juudai turned around. "Hane Kuriboh, please go back to the deck."


Hane Kuriboh chirped in protest, but one look from Juudai shut him up. Juudai was not risking his partner to this, not to people who would hurt a living creature in cold blood. If he got his hands on them...


"But why here? Why right under Kaiba's nose?" Yubel asked. Juudai let out a bitter laugh. Of course. Of course.


"Because he managed to put his building right on top of the weakest spot in all of Domino, remember? Help me break this thing down." He took a deep breath and addressed the monster: "Don't worry, we'll get you out of here."


The monster only clenched its eyes shut. Juudai had to breathe slowly for several seconds before he felt capable of doing anything that wasn't destroying the entire room. Yubel nudged him and pointed him towards the base of the cocoon, where it was soldered to a large metal plate, too strong for him or Yubel to break through without hurting the spirit inside.


"There has to be another way. They would have to get it out to..." Yubel didn't finish that sentence. Juudai was very much not thinking about that.  He closed his eyes until he was sure they resembled something like a normal color. When he opened them, the elephant was staring at them warily. It very carefully turned its head towards the computers lining the wall.


"Understood." Juudai walked towards the computers in careful, measured steps, Yubel right on his heels. He didn't know a lot about computers. His own laptop he mostly used to keep in touch with his friends and look up the occasional news article. But they were in the middle of Kaiba Corporation. Someone in this building had to have the skills to hack those things.


The steel door opened.


There was nowhere in the room to hide, but Juudai wasn't planning on doing so. No, he was very interested in meeting the people behind this little operation. He really would like to have a word with them.


The first person to enter was a tall blond man with a gun already out. Juudai quirked an eyebrow. Interesting, that. He was followed by another man and a woman, both

 armed. They'd known he was here.


"You entered the wrong place, kid," the first man said, turning on the lights. Juudai tilted his head. Yubel had disappeared the moment the door opened. These people very likely could see spirits and Juudai knew how much Yubel appreciated the element of surprise.


"You knew I was coming," Juudai said. He disregarded the guns entirely. Fancy noise makers, nothing more. "So who's behind your little operation? Someone within Kaiba Corp., I take it?"


"None of your business."


"I have been appointed to investigate this case. I think you'll find that it is very much my business, especially," Juudai gestured at the elephant, 'if you insist on hurting innocent creatures."


 Someone laughed, and Juudai knew right then that none of these people had any idea of who he was.


Oh, this was going to be incredible.


"You know," he said, "I met a Giga Gagagigo a few days ago. It was blind. With all that I've seen just now, I can't help but wonder if you know anything about that."


"That has nothing to do with you," the second man said. His voice sounded oddly hoarse, like he hadn't spoken in a long time.


"I really do think it does," said Juudai. If anyone noticed the light dimming, they didn't react. Fine, if that was the way they wanted to play it. "I met another spirit trapper once. He had a pretty similar set-up to you guys, actually. He died."


He let the last words linger for a few seconds, but they didn't seem to have much of an effect. Overconfident idiots. "Actually, no, he was killed. By the spirits he'd been torturing."


The blond man laughed. "Really? What's elephant guy going to do?"


"Ry!" the woman snapped. She hadn't relaxed her stance since they'd come in. Juudai zeroed in on her. She might be a bit more of a challenge than the other ones. "Orders were to get rid of him, not monologue at him."


And she shot. Juudai waved a lazy hand and the bullet bounced off the shield he'd created. That got them all moving. Juudai had been right in his initial assessment. The woman was by far the most dangerous of the bunch, coming at him from every angle she could think of. Juudai dismissed most of the shots immediately. He hadn't properly accounted for the two men, however. With none of the shots getting through, they'd decided to just tackle him. And Juudai was many things, but big wasn't exactly one of them. He took an involuntary step backwards when they rushed him.


Yubel, now would be a good time.


Do something about the lights first.


Element of surprise, right. Juudai dodged an attack, threw up the shield again to stop another bullet and got rid of the lights. In the confusion that followed, he made it to a reasonably safe haven, right behind the still-imprisoned elephant. Then he turned on the lights again.


The bunch of them had clearly seen enough monster spirits to not immediately be surprised at the sight of Yubel. They were taken aback enough to stop shooting, though.


"Elephant guy isn't going to do anything, no. You made plenty sure of that," said Yubel, venom clear in her voice. "I, however, might."


Would it be bad form to just sit back and enjoy the show?


The man named Ry was the first to shoot, this time. It had as little effect on Yubel as it had had on Juudai. Unlike Juudai, though, Yubel didn't keep still. She took to the air and had Ry disarmed before he could fire a second shot. Juudai got up, winked at the elephant who was now watching the fight with cautious fascination, and surveyed the situation.


Yubel, would you mind if I sent in back-up?


Scare them straight? Go for it.


"Hey!" Juudai shouted. He got the other man's attention, but the woman was focusing all her energy on Yubel, who was actually having some trouble pinning her down. "Remember that other poacher I told you about? Wanna know what he felt like when he died?"


No reply, but Juudai hadn't exactly expected one either. He channeled his energy straight into his deck, materializing Neos, then Featherman and Burst Lady, then along with them all the other Elemental Heroes and Neospacians.


"You guys been listening?"


Burst Lady nodded. "We've got some good ideas about what to do."


Juudai gestured. "Well, don't let me stop you."


The woman didn't wait for his monsters to attack; she aimed for Yubel, but the shot went wild when Sparkman tackled her. Juudai ducked, and the bullet went through the cocoon, missing the monster by a hair. It cried out in fear as the glass shattered. Not very bulletproof.


"Come here, quick," Juudai shouted at it. The elephant hesitated, but another shot gone wild made the decision for it. It hurried towards Juudai. The lesser of two evils, Juudai supposed as he wrapped his arms around it. He was the one keeping it solid now, his control not good enough to only materialize the monsters he wanted. He'd have to keep it safe.


The best thing to be said about the poachers was that they were still alive after his monsters got through with them. Somewhere halfway through the increasingly one-sided fight, Aqua Dolphin landed next to Juudai.


"Don't you think this is a bit overkill?"


Juudai tilted his head towards the elephant. "Do you?"


Aqua Dolphin's eyes narrowed as he took in the monster cowering next to Juudai. "No, I think you're right. Are there any more spirits?"


"We'll find out." Juudai took a deep breath. "Guys, I think that's enough. We do kind of need them alive."


"Pity," someone said. He thought it might have been Black Panther. His monsters disappeared one by one, leaving just Yubel, Hane Kuriboh, and Wildman, who quietly approached the elephant. The three attackers were all unconscious. Juudai sighed and began the laborious process of putting them in recovery position. Might as well make sure they were still breathing. He did need information. And there was still the case of the elephant.


It hesitantly looked around, unsure of what to do outside captivity. Juudai sighed. Such a beautiful creature.


"Hey, it'll be okay. I have friends who can help you," he told it. It was limping when it walked. Good thing those guys were already very thoroughly unconscious, or Juudai would have done worse.


He fished out his cellphone and dialed Mokuba-san. His call was answered within seconds.




"I've found the culprits. We're in the basement in a room behind a steel door."


"There are no doors in the basement," said Mokuba-san.


"Yeah, that's what we thought too."


Mokuba-san seemed to take that into stride. "Alright, I'll bring security."


"You know, on second thought, call the police instead of security. Trust me on that one."


Juudai ended the call. Only one more thing left to take care of.




Mokuba-san was waiting outside the conference room on the 39th floor, right underneath Kaiba-san's office. He looked up from his phone when Juudai stepped out of the elevator.


"The police are dealing with them," he said. "They, uh, might need a trip to the hospital as well. Do I want to know what you did?"


"Probably not." Juudai glanced at the heavy oak doors of the conference room. "Is Kaiba-san in there?"


"He's in a meeting. Do you need me to get him out?"


Juudai shook his head. "I'd rather go in, if that's okay. And I'm going to need police here too."


Mokuba-san tapped on his phone. It pinged, and he read the message with a thoughtful frown. "They'll be up in a minute or two," he said. "Is that okay for you?"


"That's fine. Do you want to come along?"


Mokuba-san smiled. "And watch you tell Nii-san? Wouldn't miss it for the world."


They entered the conference room together. Minimalistic design, glass tables, and a variety of people all with laptops and tablets that probably weren't even available to the public yet. Kaiba was seated near the front of the table, watching the speaker attentively. He seemed to be the only one. A young man shot up and barely suppressed a yawn when Juudai and Mokuba-san entered. The speaker stopped talking.


"Nii-san," Mokuba-san greeted. "Juudai-kun has just found our culprits. Domino City police officers have arrested them ten minutes ago."


Juudai glanced around the room. Yori-san was sitting a few seats down from Kaiba-san, listening attentively. She frowned at the mention of the police.


"Kaiba-san," she said, addressing Mokuba-san, "if I may so impertinent, why weren't my people called? I have been involved with this case since the start—"


Probably why they never found anyone.


Juudai snorted. All heads turned to him.


"I'll explain that in a minute, Yori-san," he said. "First of all, Kaiba-san, you should know you weren't dealing with thieves, but smugglers."


Kaiba-san lifted an eyebrow. "They were smuggling materials stolen from Kaiba Corp.? That doesn't seem very smart."


"Not materials, spirits. If you go down to the basement right now, I'm sure you'll find most of the stolen material. You were right in suspecting otherworldly involvement." Juudai paused. "Still, I'm left with a few questions."


"Such as?"


Juudai grabbed a chair and sat down on it backwards. "See, when I went down to the basement, I was confronted with a few people who didn't seem very surprised to see me there. They were rather intent on killing me, I must say. "He sighed. "But of course, no one knew I was going down there..."


Stop it with the theatrics.


Oh, alright. Juudai couldn't suppress the slightest of grins. "Expect for Yori-san. I did wonder about that. Because I can believe that the place would be abandoned, but then for them to find me right afterwards and intending to kill me? A bit suspicious."


"Be careful with what you're implying, Yuuki-san," Yori-san said coldly. Juudai continued, undaunted.


"Who were you planning on framing, Yori-san? Timothy Kant? Vanessa Peterson? Maybe Yamahashi Kaori? You designed the list well. All people who had something suspicious going for them."


"I found no pleasure in designing that list," Yori-san hissed. She got up. Juudai chanced a look at Kaiba-san, who had not reacted yet, but was watching the proceedings intently. The rest of the people in the room seemed more confused than anything.


"Yori-san has been a valued employee of Kaiba Corp. for many years," Kaiba-san said mildly. "What is your evidence, Yuuki-kun?"


"I don't have proof," Juudai admitted, "but I have many questions. Kaiba-san, do your employees get access to weapons?"


"Of course not."


"Only security, I'm guessing. Funny how the three people down in the basement all had guns. I mean, you can't just walk into the grocery store and buy one. They're not easy to come by."


"Unless you know someone," Mokuba-san finished for Juudai. "Good show, Juudai-kun."


Kaiba-san sighed. "Yori-san?"


"I refuse to listen to this slander any longer." Yori-san said. She grabbed her bag and headed for the exit. "Kaiba-san, perhaps you shouldn't hire kids for important matters."


She threw open the conference door and ran straight into three police agents. Juudai smiled. "Of course, if you're not involved, I suppose you can tell these nice people all about it and they'll let you go once you've proven your innocence."


Yori-san turned to him with a venomous glare. But she wouldn't try to attack him now. That would only settle her guilt.


"Right, this meeting is over," Kaiba-san announced.  He stood up. "Officers, please report back to me with the results of your investigation. Everyone else, please get out."


The meeting room emptied within minutes, leaving just Kaiba-san, Mokuba-san, and Juudai himself. Kaiba-san took a deep breath.


"When I ask you to investigate something, you don't do it by halves. You do realize Yori-san is one of my most valued employees, don't you?" he said. Juudai shook his head.


"I know, but you can't expect me to let this go. That spirit down there..." He clenched his jaw shut. Mokuba-san frowned.


"Why spirits? What do they gain from it?"


"Simple, Mokuba," said Kaiba-san. "I am willing to admit that monster spirits exist, but do you think the police force is? What do you think they'll be charged with?"


Comprehension dawned. "Theft, maybe embezzlement of resources. Illegally firing a weapon at most." Mokuba-san groaned.


"Can't poach something that doesn't technically exist," Juudai ground out. It was an awful reality. At most, they'd get a year in prison and they'd get off completely scot-free otherwise. "I'm going to make very sure they never pull anything like this ever again, trust me." He got up. "If you don't mind, I'll be going now."


"Seems like you've cost my company some more resources, Yuuki Juudai," Kaiba-san said, "but thank you."


That'd have to do. Juudai waved goodbye to Mokuba-san and left the conference room, Yubel in tow. They found Wildman outside, along with the spirit elephant. It startled when he came out.


"You okay?" Juudai asked softly, crouching down in front of it. "I have a friend who might be able to help you—" The elephant shook its head vehemently. No people. Right. "Well then, do you know a Giga Gagagigo? I met it a couple of days ago."


The elephant nodded cautiously.


"It's living in a forest now. No people around anywhere. What do you think?"


The elephant perked up and nodded, flapping its ears. Juudai smiled. One more trip to make and maybe then he'd stay in one place for a while. 


heleentje: (Default)

When her predecessor had died, after what she remembered to be a long and, despite some hiccups, enjoyable life, he had left behind a universe that was mostly at peace. Nitya could appreciate that. It gave her plenty of time to grow up and develop the powers she was born with.


It also gave her Yubel.


Perhaps the greatest achievement during Yuki Judai's tenure as the incarnation of Gentle Darkness was fusing his soulthe very soul of Darknessto that of Yubel. No more looking for each other. No more scouring the earth, hoping with each passing year that they would meet each other soon. Yuki Judai had been lucky. Nitya distinctly remembered at least one life where she'd never met Yubel at all. That incarnation had met a violent end, one that could have been avoided if Yubel had been by hir side. But after years without Yubel, xe hadn't had much will to live left anyway. Better to move on and start over.


And Nitya must have been the luckiest of all, because Yubel had been with her since she'd been born in some remote area of India. No more searching, no long years knowing someone was missing, but never remembering who.


But even though Yubel was at her side, the cards in Yuki Judai's deck had disappeared without a trace. So when Nitya turned twenty, she left home and started looking. It wasn't easy. Yuki Judai had long outlived his friends and the importance of the cards in his deck had been lost to most people. Disturbing, but at least most of the cards hadn't been dangerous.


Most of them.


"Super Fusion," Nitya said. They were holed up in a youth hostel in downtown Chengdu, tiny but mercifully clean. Her roommates were out and she and Yubel had claimed the top bunk.  "We have to find it first. Who knows who has it now."


Yubel nodded. "It should not have gotten lost. We set up security measures."


But they'd already checked those, and the card had slipped between the cracks. Those measures were at least thirty years old. The Gentle Darkness had waited a few years before taking on another mortal form.


"Best case scenario, it's in some rich idiot's safe and no one knows what it can do." Nitya closed her eyes. Yubel ran a hand through her hair and started braiding it.




"Worst case scenario, someone does know what it can do and the world's in very big trouble."


It turned out to be neither. They finally tracked down a woman who claimed to know about the whereabouts of Super Fusion. Nitya made the lights go out for a bit and Yubel put in a strategic appearance, and after that, their informant was amazingly helpful. Unfortunately, she wasn't able to provide them with the exact location of the Fallguys, as she called them. And Nitya had seen enough terrified people to last her several lifetimes, so she and Yubel decided to set out on their own. They had names and they had an approximate location.


Heartland City was far too bright and cheerful for Nitya. Something was brewing under the surface, and it was going to explode very soon. Nitya resolved to keep an eye on the city, but there was little she could do without her complete deck. No, her first priority was Super Fusion. Fortunately, the World Dueling Carnival meant that no one was surprised to see another foreigner walking around. Nitya wasn't quite as interested in dueling as her predecessor had been, but she still took some time off to follow the tournament. So many strong duelists, so many interesting people... Some a bit more interesting than others.


"What do you think of the kids?" she asked Yubel, idly turning up the volume on the TV that was airing a recap the preliminary rounds.


"Not all of them are human," came Yubel's reply. Nitya laughed.


"We're in no position to throw stones."


But it was true. Nitya had become very good at sensing who was born human and who wasn't. And the Shark kid, for one, definitely wasn't.


"It's not our problem, is it? We can always help them if they're in trouble." She switched channels. "Hey, have you seen that Anna girl?"




Like all cities, Heartland City had its shadier districts. Nitya was honestly relieved. The bright colors had been getting to her. Here, in the small streets and alleyways covered by shadows, she felt far more at home. Anyone else would have been wary. Nitya had never had a reason to be.


"Through here," Yubel said, several steps ahead of her. Nitya ducked under a steel girder and followed her through the door of a dilapidated house. At least, that was what it looked like from the outside. Once inside, Nitya whistled.


"These guys must have some good sponsors."


Their access was blocked by a heavy steel door, equipped with one of the ultra-modern holographic keypads usually installed by some of the most high-tech places she'd visited. Fingerprinting, retinal scan and most assuredly an eight-character password containing at least three numbers and a capital letter. The keyboard still had masking tape on it. This gang had only recently gotten their money.


"So how do we get in?"


"You could ask," Yubel offered. Nitya shrugged.


"Sure, why not?" She knocked. The ambient noise disappeared right away. They'd heard her and were pretending very hard that they hadn't.


"Hello?" she called. "My partner and I were wondering if you knew anything about rare cards."


Silence on the other end of the door. Then, at long last, "How'd you find us?"


"Oh, we had a source." A very, very terrified source. "See, I was thinking about building a Fusion deck? But all Fusion cards are just so weak, you know? So I really need something more... super."


"Subtle," said Yubel.


"I'd like to see you try."


Again, it took several long seconds before they got a reply. "We don't deal in cards," a gruff man told her. Nitya bit her lip. She brushed a strand of hair behind her ear and turned to Yubel.


"I'm going in. They can't say we didn't try to be polite."


Teleportation had been easy once she'd gotten the hang of it. She just needed a convenient shadow, and this building had plenty of them. With Yubel right next to her, she stepped to the side, away from the door and into the corner of what passed for the hallway, and turned.


Instantly, she found herself on the receiving end of several guns. She wished she could say it was the first time that had happened.


"Hello again! Sorry for dropping in like this, but I'd really like to discuss that card."


"How'd you get in here?" a dark-skinned man asked. Jackal, if her source had been correct. He desperately needed to learn how to button a shirt.


Yubel nudged her towards the man standing to the side. He didn't have the sheer size that Jackal did, but the other two seemed to defer to him. Wolf.


That's him.


Nitya nodded. There were three men, two of them bigger and probably stronger than her, but Yubel clearly didn't deem them enough of a threat to become visible. That meant Nitya could have fun with them. She opened her hands, palms upwards, and took the opportunity to study the room. Not quite as sophisticated as the steel door she'd just bypassed; all their money must've gone there. Off-white walls with no windows, a few heavy chairs, a table, a large safe, and several doors leading to other areas of the house. She could feel Super Fusion's presence emanate from the deck holder on the table. Briefly she debated sealing off the room, but she was only here for Super Fusion. If they wanted to run, she had no problem with that.


"Who are you?" One of the other two shouted. Nitya repressed the urge to sigh. If he kept waving his gun around like that, she wouldn't even need to do anything.


"Ah, right, name's Nitya. I teleported."


"Listen here, missy"


Nitya closed her hands. The room went pitch-black.


"No, I think you need to listen." A bullet ricocheted, but Nitya had already moved to the other side of the room. Yubel, still unseen, did away with the guns. "Wolf, is it? I know your type. You don't ask questions as long as you get paid, don't you? And if you get a shipment of rare cards, you'll take them. Do you have any idea of the power you are holding?"


Nitya allowed some of the light in the room to return. Just enough so they could see the shine of gold in her eyes. Just enough so the shadow of Yubel's wings was magnified tenfold.


One of the men made a break for the steel door. Yubel cut him off.


"You shall not be leaving. I will ask again: Do you have any idea of the power you hold?"


"Who are you?" the smallest one whispered. Nitya drew herself up to her full height.


"I am Nitya. I am the Forever Born and the Incarnation of Darkness." She let the light dim again. "Super Fusion is the most dangerous card ever created. Its mere existence can destroy worlds. It is dripping with the blood of a million people, all slaughtered for the very purpose of creating this one, single card. Do you wish to know who created it?"


They were all cowering now. It really had been a while since she'd had so much fun with people. Wolf, the one who had Super Fusion, was edging away from the table with his deck on it. None of them even answered her question.


"I did," she told them. "Millions of souls, and Super Fusion still wants more power. Would you like to be a part of it?"


Yubel glanced at her, surprised. Nitya almost winced. Maybe she'd overdone it a bit. As a compromise, she let one of the doors open. The men didn't need to be told twice.


Nitya watched them run, shook her head and let the light in the room return in full.


"You went too far, Nitya," Yubel said. Nitya ran her teeth over her lower lip and picked up the abandoned deck.


"I'm sorry," she said. For all that she and Yuki Judai had the same soul, Nitya had no real memory of creating Super Fusion. She only knew Judai had done it, which meant she had, too. But Yubel knew how bad it had been and how Judai had agonized over it. "You know I would never kill them."


"I know. Tone it down a bit in the future, okay?"


"I will." She finally located Super Fusion and put it in the inner pocket of her jacket. She'd need to buy a deck holder if she wanted to rebuild her deck. Carrying Super Fusion so close to her body wasn't comfortable anyway. It might be one of her cards, but it was blood-soaked and dangerous.


She teleported straight out of the room, and then out of Heartland City altogether. Maybe she could go to Neo Domino. She had a good feeling about it.


"You know, you could've just teleported in, taken the card and left again."


Nitya buried herself in Yubel's arms. "Oh, I know. But where's the fun in that?"




heleentje: (Default)

Had Sam known how her day would turn out, she wouldn't have picked the nice skirt to wear this morning. She loved that skirt, loved how silky the fabric was and how the deep blue looked against her own dark skin. She'd bought it with her very first paycheck months ago, when she'd just moved in with Mike and found a store willing to hire her, and she wore it whenever she thought she could get away with it.


But she loved it a whole lot less right now, when she'd been on her feet for nearly eight hours and Asshole Customer of the Evening had delayed closing for so long that she'd missed her bus. The guy hadn't even bought anything, only thrown her a disgusted look when he finally left. She wished she could say it didn't hurt.


The next bus wouldn't arrive for another hour, and Sam definitely didn't want to stay here, near midnight, all alone with only a passing car every once in a while. If only Mike hadn't been out of town, he would've picked her up for sure. Sam let out a long breath. Walking home it was. Her skirt was absolutely no good for that, but home was only three miles away. If she hurried, she could be in bed with hot chocolate by one.


She was so engrossed in her vision of hot chocolate milk, with whipped cream and cinnamon and maybe even chocolate sprinkles, that she almost didn't notice the guy ambling the street in front of her. Sam tensed, but the guy something Japanese? only smiled up at her when she passed him and wished her a good evening. She didn't think she'd seen him here before. Sam resisted the urge to look over her shoulder. It was no skin off her back. Only one more mile to go and she'd be home.


She turned a corner and almost ran into a group of three twenty-somethings outside a bar. Sam quickly sidestepped them with a muttered apology. She'd forgotten about this place. Crossing the road would have been wiser.




And there it was. Sam straightened her shoulders and wished she'd worn jeans. Could she get her keys from her bag?


"What're you, some kinda shemale?"


Derisive laughter. Sam kept walking. If she didn't pay attention, they'd find a new target. Of all days for Mike not to be in town...


"Where'd you get those clothes?" A girl yelled.  "Stole them from your sister?"


Sam risked a glance backwards. The girl was pretty, prettier than Sam could ever hope to be, and it hurt to know that even with the nice skirt, the one she adored, she still wasn't


"Hey tranny, we're talking to you!" The first guy made a grab for her. Sam narrowly avoided him, but before she could run, he was crowding her against the building and looming over her. Sam balled her right hand into a fist.


"Please leave me alone," she said. She could take the guy, but all of his friends?


"Hey," the other guy in the group said. He was shorter than the first guy, with bleached blond hair that was dark at the roots. "I bet you fags love to suck cock. You gonna"


"I think that's enough."


It was a new voice, one that sounded remarkably sober. Sam used the opportunity to duck away, but the guy grabbed her arm. Nothing to it, then. She punched him.


It was a good punch, and the guy reeled back, clutching his nose.


"You fuckin' slut!"


"I said, that's enough," the newcomer said. It was the Japanese guy, the one Sam had passed earlier. Was he following her?


"Piss off!" the girl shouted. New Guy looked entirely unimpressed. He walked over to where Sam had backed up.


"She said to leave her alone."


He was at least a head shorter than Sam herself. Not that she wasn't grateful for the interruption, but what exactly was he going to accomplish?


"Fuck off, this has nothing to do with you," said Bleached Guy. The Japanese guy sighed and gave her a wry smile over his shoulder.


"Well, I did try to be polite," he muttered, and then said, louder, "Last warning. Leave her alone."


"Or what?"


The guy shook his head. He waved a hand and the lights went out.


Sam blinked against the sudden dark. It wasn't just the lights from the bar, she noticed. Not even just the streetlights. Even the moon and the brightest stars, visible against the bright city lights, were gone. The street had gone completely dark.  Sam stumbled back. Had she just come across something even worse? Bigoted fucks she could deal with just fine, but this?


"I don't like people like you," Japanese Guy said. "You think you get to bully people, hurt them, because they are different?


"Hey bud," one of the men said, his voice wavering. Clearly they weren't so drunk that they didn't notice they were in trouble. "We're all friends here."


"Are we?" Japanese Guy's voice was utterly, thoroughly cold. "Yubel, what do you think?"


"Not very friendly," a new voice said, darkly amused. At long last, the light of the moon returned. Sam took one look at the scene in front of her and right away wished she hadn't. Because Japanese Guy was still in front of her, but now, next to him, there was... That was a monster. It looked at her and Sam willed her legs to move, to run, but then it smiled at her.


"What'd you do?" the pretty girl whispered.


"That? That was nothing," said the monster. "Judai and I can do worse."


"Much worse," Judai repeated. Sam caught his reflection in the window of the bar. His eyes were glowing. "I would leave now," he said. The monster spread its wings. "And I'd be very, very nice to everyone you meet in the future. Yubel and I will know if you're not. If you don't..." Reflection-Judai smiled, showing teeth. "I will find you. I will be the monster under your bed, the shadow lurking just around the corner, out of sight. Darkness, you see, is everywhere."


They ran. Sam was very close to following their example. But then the streetlights came back on and the guyJudaislumped and smiled, back to looking entirely non-threatening, not... Whatever that had been.


"Sorry, did I overdo it? Are you okay?" He turned around. His eyes were a very normal brown, only a shade lighter than Sam's own. He reached out a hand. "I'm Judai. This is Yubel."


"Sam," she said, and shook his hand. It was probably wise to be polite to the guy who'd just taken the moon itself out of the sky. "Thank you, but I could've handled it."


"I'm sorry," said Judai. He looked genuinely contrite. "I know that probably won't fix anything in the long run. It's just,  I heard what they said and I can't stand it when people..."


Yubel, the monster, wrapped a comforting arm around his shoulder and glanced at Sam. "When I took this form, people weren't always nice."


"Even before," Judai muttered.


There was a story there that Sam wasn't sure she wanted to know. She still said, vehemently: "Fuck them."


Judai and Yubel both laughed. Sam hesitated. Where did one go from here?


"Can we walk you home?" Judai asked.


"You don't need to. I'm fine on my own."


"For the company, then." Judai looked at her imploringly. "I don't actually know the city. We're just tourists."


"Well, okay." They seemed nice enough when they weren't breaking the laws of nature. If they wanted to kill her, they could probably do so whenever they wanted, and if they didn't, she'd have an awesome story to tell Mike.


"So that thing with the moon, how'd you do that?"


Judai laughed, loud and happy. "Oh, that? Parlor trick, nothing more."

heleentje: (Default)

In the three years she'd been working for Tome-san, Hana had never seen the Osiris Red dorm so deserted. It was honestly unnerving to seen it empty after so many years of being filled with students. In the eight o'clock April darkness, it even looked scary.


Only Yuki Judai still lived in the Red dorm. Well, at least Judai-kun could always be counted upon to cheer up their days at the shop. With that in mind, Hana set off towards the building, clutching the box of cleaning supplies closer to her chest. She really should've brought them over as soon as she got the request, but it had rained all day and she hadn't felt like making the trip.


The building was completely dark. Judai-kun had to be out. Hana shrugged and fished out the spare key Tome-san had given her. It turned in the lock soundlessly. She'd have to remember to thank the maintenance people. Inside, it was even darker than it had been in the forest, a heavy, oppressive darkness that weighed her down. Hana found the light switch and flicked it on. Nothing. So much for maintenance doing their job. With a sigh, Hana shouldered the door closed and made her way through the dark hallway.


"What do you want?" A voice growled right behind her. Hana didn't lose her grip on the box, but it was a near thing. That wasn't Judai-kun, and no one but Judai-kun was supposed to


"Answer me, girl."


A hand gripped her shoulder, claws —claws?— digging into her skin painfully. Hana struggled to get free. "What are you doing here?" she managed. Who would break into Red dorm? She had to tell someone. If only she could get her PDA...


"If you are here to kill me, I strongly suggest you reconsider," said a second voice. And suddenly there was light, two points in front of her, orange and teal. Hana dropped her box for real this time. Those were eyes! But who had eyes like that?


"You gonna talk or what?"


Wait, that was... "Judai-kun?"


"Wait, Hana-san?"


Light flooded the room. Yuki Judai stood in front of her, eyes still that orange-green combination. Hana pulled herself loose and came face-to-face with... No, that was too much for one night.


"Dropping off cleaning supplies, sorry for bothering you!" she got out, her voice breaking. She bolted through the door, down the stairs and into the forest that suddenly felt a whole lot safer.


"Hana-san, wait!" I'm sorry!" Judai-kun shouted in the distance, but Hana didn't stop. Only when she was back in her room, under the safety of her covers, did she let herself think. There was a monster living in the Red dorm. Even with everything that had been going on lately, that was still too much.




The next day was a Saturday and, thankfully, Hana's day off this week. Saturdays were busy days in the shop, full of students who were stocking up on snacks for the weekend, and Hana had far too many things on her mind to deal with so many people at once.


Still, staying in her room proved equally unproductive. She's already found clean sheets for her bed, cleaned the shared bathroom and reorganized her shelves, and she was still at a loss. Should she tell headmaster Samejima about the monster? Knowing him, he already knew about it. And what about Judai-kun? She had no idea what had happened to him in that other world. Why would he think she'd come to kill him?


With a frustrated groan, Hanna grabbed her bag and left her room. It was a very nice April day, unseasonably warm even though the grass was still wet from yesterday's rain, and best of all, there wasn't a cloud around to block out the light of the sun. Even the beach was crowded when she got there, but Hana had worked at Duel Academia for longer than most kids had been students there, and she knew all the really good, isolated places where she'd have plenty of time to think. She maneuvered herself onto a rocky outcropping, careful to stay away from the wet spots. The ocean wasn't very deep here, as she'd found out last year, but she still didn't feel like slipping and breaking an arm. Again.




Hana lost her footing, slid down at least a meter and scrabbled uselessly at the rock. Two clawed hands lifted her and she found herself face to face with the monster. It pulled her from the rock and deposited her on the sand, right in front of Judai-kun.


"Where did you come from?" she burst out. She had been all alone, she was sure of it! Judai-kun looked as uncomfortable as he could with those eyes once again glowing orange-green. The monster took its place next to him. They had the same eyes.


"Sorry, I didn't mean to sneak up on you. I just wanted to make sure you were okay."


Hana became acutely aware that there was no one else with them and that her hands were stinging where she'd scraped them open on the rocks.


"Yeah, I'm fine," she told him, looking anywhere but the monster. Was it a duel monster? Why was it real? Would it try to kill her like the monsters in the Desert World had? "I'm sorry, Tome-san needs me. I have to go."


"I'll go with you," said Judai-kun. Hana shook her head quickly.


"No, no, I'm sure you have homework or something. Don't bother on my account!"

She knew she was rambling, but she just had to get out of here.  Judai-kun looked about to argue, but the monster shook it's head and Hana didn't wait around to find out what it might have to say. Only when she was back among the students on the beach did she dare to look behind her, but Judai-kun was nowhere to be seen.


She asked Tome-san about it the next day, when a lull in customers left them alone in the shop. Tome-san, normally always so upbeat, sat down heavily.


"It's supposed to remain a secret, so I can't tell you everything, Hana-chan. But Judai-chan has gone through terrible things when he was in that other world. He's changed."


The pain in Tome-san's eyes was striking. Hana had only ever seen her like that once, when they'd have to tell a crying second year that his father had died in a car crash.


"Judai-kun thought someone was coming to kill him," Hana asked. She'd expected surprise, even shock, but Tome-san merely shook her head.


"If Chronos-sensei is to be believed, he has reason to think so." Tome-san straightened her back. "And that's all I'll say on the matter, Hana-chan."


What kind of seventeen-year-old had reason to believe someone wanted to kill him? Hana wanted to ask more, maybe about the monster, but then the shop door opened and she slipped back into professional mode.


It was Yuki Judai. Of course it was. At least the monster was nowhere to be seen.


He zeroed in on Hana and walked up to the counter. Running off wouldn't do her paycheck any good, would it? His eyes were actually brown today. She took that as a good sign.


"Judai-chan!" Tome-san greeted. "It's been such a long time. Have you been eating enough? You look a bit thin."


Judai-kun looked rather overwhelmed with the sudden attention. He shifted from foot to foot. "That's alright, Tome-san. Actually, I came to apologize to Hana-san." He turned to her. Hana made a conscious effort not to flinch. "I'm sorry for scaring you the other day. We... We were on edge and overreacted. We shouldn't have taken it out on you."


"Um, we?"


Not the most intelligent thing she'd ever said. Judai-kun didn't immediately reply. He fished a card out of his deckholder without looking and carefully slid it over to Hana. A monster card. The monster.


"Yubel has been with me for a long time," Judai-kun said. "Yesterday, I couldn't reach you in time, so Yubel caught you. Again, we're sorry."


She he had followed her yesterday to apologize. Well, if he'd gone through all that trouble...


"It's okay. Judai, try not to do that to anyone else in the future?"


Judai-kun actually looked like he had to think about that. "Unless they deserve it," he finally compromised.


"I can live with that," Hana said with a smile. She didn't get one in return, but Judai-kun visibly relaxed.


"Thank you. I'll be going now."


"Tome-san tsked. "Now, Judai-chan, you never did tell me when you ate last." She made her way out from behind the counter and grabbed a protesting Judai-kun's arm. "You stay cooped up in your room all day long, you need to get out into the light."


"Not really," Judai-kun muttered, casting a pleading glance at Hana. She just raised her hands and smiled as Tome-san dragged Judai-kun over to the sandwich stand.


"Now you pick one and you're going to eat it all here," said Tome-san. "Free of charge, so I don't want to hear any excuses."


All in all, Hana reflected, Judai-kun wasn't so scary. He wasn't even the scariest person in the room. She leaned back and watched as Judai-kun opened his sandwich.


"Huh." The look of happy surprise at the sight of his sandwich was genuine. "Golden eggwich. Guess I can still do that."

heleentje: (Default)

There were a great many things the prince,  firstborn heir to a kingdom spanning most of the continent and confirmed incarnation of the life-bringing darkness that had created them all, had to do today. There were diplomatic meetings his father wanted him to sit in on and tutors waiting to meet with him. And all of those things were overridden by two simple facts: the prince was nine years old and very very bored.


Prince Judai had discovered the hole in the hedge just yesterday. It was hidden away by some overgrowing branches, giving the hedge the impression of solidness, and it was just large enough for a limber nine-year-old to climb through. The other side of the hedge gave out on the outskirts of one of the traders' villages that had been established near the palace long before even Judai's father had been born. Judai remembered the road well enough to get there unnoticed. Even his guards weren't following him! He couldn't even really remember the last time he'd been alone. Really, they were all treating him like he was so special for the Darkness thing, but they didn't believe he'd be fine on his own?


The village was full of people who never came up to the castle, dressed in clothes Judai only vaguely recognized from other kingdoms. And all the things they sold! Judai toyed with his wallet. He had money enough to get whatever he wanted to buy and he fully intended on doing so.


He got distracted by a group of children running past. Judai didn't know a lot of kids at the palace. He had a sister who was way too young and stupid to play with, and the prime minister had a son who was afraid of everything. Those kids probably had way more fun in life than Judai did.  Maybe they'd let him play with them? But he hadn't eaten at all today yet, and there was a food stand right across the road from him!


Two minutes later he was holding a kind of stuffed pastry he'd never seen before. There was definitely meat in there, and vegetables, and he absolutely loved it. He'd have to tell the cooks to make it when he got back home.


He was chewing on his last bite when someone slammed into him, making him choke and cough violently.


"I'm sorry! Are you okay?" a girl asked, patting him on the back. "Keep coughing, c'mon."


Judai groaned as the urge to cough finally subsided and he got a good look at the person who'd ran into him. The girl couldn't be older than Judai himself. Her tangled hair was a peculiar shade of greenish blue that matched her eyes. Judai had never seen that kind of color before.


"Sorry for running into you. I tripped," she said.


Judai should probably say something nice to that. Instead he said: "Your hair's weird."


"Right," said the girl with ill-concealed impatience. "Well, if you're going to be okay, I'm off."


And she walked off, disappearing from sight within seconds. Were all kids this weird? Judai definitely wasn't that weird.


Oh well, he could still go buy things! He turned on his heels and walked towards what looked like the main street of the village. So many shops and stalls!


"Your highness!"


Oh no. Judai set his shoulders and watched as captain Amyntha of the royal guard strode over, her every step carefully measured. He'd never seen her run in his life.


"Your highness, you should not disappear like that," she hissed, guiding him away from the now-stupified vendors. She led him to an empty building with unerring accuracy. Probably one of the many buildings the royal guard owned everywhere. "You'll be happy to hear that we've caught the thief."


"Judai frowned. "Thief?"


"The one who stole your—" Captain Amyntha paused, her mouth quirking into a vague half-smile. "Your highness, did you realize that your wallet got stolen?"


Judai's hand flew to his belt. "Hey, my money!"


"Yes." Captain Amyntha looked outside. "Rest assured that the culprit will be punished severely."


On cue, two more guards whose names Judai had never bothered to learn showed up. With them was the girl from before. Her blue-green eyes narrowed when she spotted Judai.


"Hey, it's you!"


"Could you please tell them to let me go?" she asked. "I have places to be.


Captain Amyntha smiled grimly. "I don't think so, girl. The money?"


The guard on the right handed over the wallet. "She was carrying it."


"I thought so. Do you know what the punishment for stealing is, girl?"


In an instant, all of the girls anger vanished, and her face paled in a sickening kind of fear. Life in prison for stealing from a member of the royal family, Judai remembered. Possibly even execution. But it was just a wallet! Judai wanted to say so, but the girl beat him to it.


"I just wanted to eat!"


"A judge will decide—"captain Amyntha said, as Judai asked: "Can't you just ask your parents to buy you food?"


Where the girl's face had been pale before, it now turned a blotchy red. The guards exchanged uncomfortable looks with captain Amyntha.


"I don't have any parents, you idiot," the girl spat. "Did you ever stop to think that not everyone gets to live in a castle with stupid servants following you around all day?"


"You will not address the prince like that," said captain Amyntha. "Take her away. I will escort the prince back to the castle."


"Hey, but," Judai told her as the captain took his arm. "It's just a wallet! I don't care, she can have it! You can let her go!"


"I don't need your charity!"


Judai frowned. The girl looked pale again under her anger.  He thought he could see her tremble. Did she really have nothing to eat? She looked very small and her shirt was torn in several places. He turned pleading eyes on captain Amyntha.


"Can't we just let her go? Dad won't know!"


"Your highness, it's highly unethical to leave a criminal on the loose."




Guard-on-the-left shifted uncomfortably. "It's just a child," she said.


Captain Amyntha sighed. "I have to report this. But I suppose... How fast can you run, girl?"




"Then I suppose you could have outrun us."


Judai cheered. The girl's eyes widened. "I can go?" she asked.


Captain Amyntha nodded. The girl didn't need to be told twice. She darted out of the door as soon as the guards let go of her. Judai frowned at her retreating back.


"You know," said captain Amyntha, following his gaze. "We never did catch her. I'm sorry about your wallet."


She offered him his wallet. Judai smiled and ran.


"Hey, wait!" He caught up with the girl and pressed his wallet into her hands. "They couldn't find you, so that's yours."


"Still don't need charity," she said, but she pocketed the money anyway and handed him his now-empty wallet back. "I suppose you could be worse. For a spoiled brat and all."


Judai pulled a face. "Look, listen, I'm sorry. but there's a hole in the hedge on the east wall, left of the water tower. You can come if you want to."


"Why would I?"


"There's food?" Judai tried. The girl shook her head.


"I can find something here."


"Well, just once," Judai begged. He never had anyone to play with and this girl was kinda cool when she wasn't angry.  "Please? Tomorrow, this time."


"You don't even know my name."


Judai gave her a wide smile. "What's your name?"


The girl rolled her eyes, but Judai counted the small smile as a win. "It's Yubel."


"Yubel." Judai liked that name. "Will you come?"


Yubel brushed off her clothes and took a few steps back into the crowd of shoppers. "I'll consider it," she shouted.


Good enough for Judai.



heleentje: (Default)

Leave Yourself Behind


“We heard what happened,” Mother said when Aki finally stumbled through the front door, long past midnight. “We’re so proud of you.”


The WRGP opening gala had been a mess, and what should have been a relaxing evening out with her friends had become a rollercoaster of emotions. Aki wanted little more than a hot shower and eight solid hours of sleep, so it took her several long seconds to even realize what Mother was talking about. 


"I'm glad you have come so far," Mother continued, undeterred by her silence. "It's so good to see you back with us, away from that place."


That place, Aki had learnt, was code for the Arcadia Movement. Of course her parents had never been able to call her powers by name. Psychic, she had wanted to shout as a child. She wanted to shout it again now, years later. The memories of the night hit her with full force. Summoning Black Rose Dragon. Driving off the man who'd crashed his D-Wheel in the middle of the gala. Watching him be destroyed, so very grateful it hadn't been by her hand.


"Yeah, it's a lot easier now," Aki said. Mother seemed happy with her answer. She brushed a stray lock of hair out of Aki's face and patted her shoulder.


"Look at you, your hair's all tangled. Why don't you go take a shower and head to bed?" she said warmly. Aki nodded, grateful for the excuse to get out. She had only been living with her parents for a few months, and her room didn't feel like her own yet, but it was better than staying here and pretending nothing was wrong. She kept her poise until Mother was out of sight, then took the stairs two by two and barely refrained from slamming the bathroom door behind her. No, everything was fine. She wouldn't worry her parents. Not now, not when they were finally proud of their dangerous daughter.


It had been instinct that had made her summon Black Rose Dragon. She had seen danger and reacted. She had been lucky.


Trembling, Aki unzipped her dress and stepped out of it. What if she hadn't been? She could imagine it. Could feel Black Rose Dragon's attack, too strong. She could hear the man's neck break, inaudible to all but her. It would have killed him, and that... People would have stared. They would have turned towards her, fear and hatred in their eyes. Aki could hear the murmurs, the accusations. The Black Rose Witch, never reformed. The villain who pretended to be a victim. She'd almost fooled them all, but now she had finally shown her true nature.


Or maybe Black Rose Dragon's attack would have hit the ceiling and made the building collapse. Maybe there wouldn't be any accusing stares. Maybe she would only spot a flash of black hair, or red or blond or green. She imagined Ruka, looking at her with empty eyes, blood coating the side of her face. Yusei, so very disappointed. He wouldn't like her if he knew what she could do. None of them would.


The cold emanating from the bathroom tiles provided a welcome distraction. She took her hair roll out and shivered as her power intensified and turned into an almost tangible aura of energy around her. She clamped down on it firmly. For now she could pretend she had a grip on it. She hadn't slipped up. People expected her to be good now. Perhaps she would get praise tomorrow, the way her mother had praised her. They'd tell her how brave she was for using something she had to hate so much to save those people. Right now, she could still be the victim. Everyone still saw her as the girl whose powers got abused by Arcadia. On her own, she never would have caused such destruction. Right?


But the truth was... Aki glanced at the mirror before stepping into the shower. Her make-up had started to smudge, but not enough to ruin the perfect façade. The truth was that she loved being psychic. Loved the power it gave her. She had been her parents' perfect daughter all her life, and then she'd been Arcadia's perfect puppet, but the powers had always been hers. She loved what she could do with them and loved the destruction she could create. She could stop anyone in their tracks with just a thought. She wasn't supposed to like it, of course. She was supposed to find some perfectly safe outlet, like dancing or martial arts or anything that couldn't destroy people with a flick of her finger. Other people had no problem with that. Yusei, who was so calm and reasonable whenever she talked to him, clearly loved the adrenaline rush that came with dueling. He, at least, had enjoyed himself tonight.


Her mind wandered back to the woman from a few days ago, the one who'd dueled Yusei. Aki ran a shampooed hand through her hair, now wet from the shower's spray. Sherry, her name had been. Aki had gotten a brief taste of the rush that made Yusei and this Sherry love riding a D-Wheel so much, and she thought she could understand it. Riding a D-Wheel was only a pale imitation of the feeling that came with using her powers, but it was the closest she'd ever come to finding something that compared. Female D-Wheelers were far and few in-between, but if Sherry could do it, maybe she could too?


She could be known as Izayoi Aki, not as the Black Rose Witch. Her parents would protest, of course, but secretly they'd be happy. Aki licked her lips and regretted it immediately when she got shampoo in her mouth. She sputtered and rinsed the remaining suds out of her hair. Without her hair roll, her powers felt immense. She could level the house with a thought if she wanted to. She quickly shut down the shower and stepped out, grabbing her hair roll along with one of the large, fluffy towels found everywhere in the bathroom. It should've felt like a relief. It didn't.


But D-Wheeling could help her. It would never feel anything like summoning Black Rose Dragon had felt, but it was acceptable. It was something her friends would approve of and her parents would secretly love, even when they complained about the danger. Aki could imagine their thoughts right now. Their daughter would finally be giving up on those awful powers and abandon the memories of that place. She'd finally be doing something that wouldn't hurt anyone.


Their precious daughter, no longer the villain or victim, but a hero.


It was a start. Aki hoped she could live with that.



heleentje: (Default)
The first thing Nitya created, after her existence had become secure enough to experiment, was wings. Wings so she could fly. Wings so she could cross the world and help out wherever she was needed. Wings so she could run, run, run as fast as she could.

She was still small in this form, just a tiny being with wings and brown eyes that could have looked human, if such creatures still existed. She would grow, faster than she ever had in any life before, because she didn’t have time to learn and play and live. Her universe was barely larger than the spot she was standing on and she was surrounded by enemies on all sides. She had a terrible duty to fulfill.

Nitya created. She used all the knowledge she had acquired in the past and stitched together the gaps where it proved insufficient. No, Nitya was not great at paying attention, never had been, but she had the knowledge and imagination of a thousand lifetimes at her fingertips. She created solid ground to walk on, and as she walked, she created plants and creatures so she wouldn’t be alone. Some she created from the images in her memories. Some she couldn’t bear to ever see again.

As she curled up, wings tight around her to block out all the light, Nitya did not sleep. She had neither need nor want for it. Sleep would only open up her mind for attacks. But as she closed her eyes, just briefly, she saw old faces and created new people. They did not think her strange, with her wings, and for the first time in eons, she wasn’t alone.

And yet she was so lonely. Everyone she’d known was dead. She had destroyed them all. She’d failed.

She’d killed Yubel.

Yubel, who had been by her side for so many lifetimes. And now she… She was alone.

It was the day Nitya learned what tears felt like.

The world, tiny as it was, could function on its own now. It would grow without Nitya there to guide it. And if things were a bit strange sometimes, a bit off, well, it was a strong world. It could fix itself. The one sun — All Nitya had been able to bear creating — gave warmth and strength, something she couldn’t provide. Not anymore.

Creating people had been so very easy and yet… Nitya tried. She tried everything, and recreating the form of the people she’d failed had never been a problem. Just a hair color, an eye color, a wave of her hand and she could remake them all. But their spirits… No, Nitya had torn them apart along with their bodies. She had destroyed everything and everyone that ever was.

She tried to bring Yubel back once, in a faraway forest filled with tall trees she’d made taller for the occasion. No light made it to the ground here. It suited Nitya just fine.

She made it halfway before discovering that Yubel was well and truly gone, and destroyed her creation in a fit of rage. She stared in horror at the empty clearing. She had destroyed after she had sworn to never do so again. Nitya knew her predecessors had fought. She knew the Light of Ruin was everywhere and that she would have to be ready once it chose to attack her. She would need all the weapons at her disposal just to protect herself. But not today. Today she ran, away from the forest, away from the memories she tried to erase but couldn’t. To fix the universe she needed everything she had ever learned in all of her past lives. All the things she never wanted to remember.

Sometimes she talked to people, the ones who didn’t care about her wings, large and leathery as they were.

“You should cut your hair,” said the woman she was bartering for fish with. “It’ll get tangled with your wings. I should know.” She spread her own dark brown wings, feathery and smaller than Nitya’s. “Does it never get in your way when you wake up?”

Nitya didn’t sleep. She ran a hand through her black hair. It was almost down to her waist. In her previous life, she had always had shorter hair.

“Maybe later,” she said, looking down. “How much for the fish?”

After so many years of trying to remake the people she lost, it actually helped that the people were different now. Years ago, when Nitya had been tiny, she had recognized everyone, and in every hint of grey eyes or blond hair, she’d seen her failure. But the people were nothing like she remembered, and finally Nitya could relax just a bit.

“Hey, you new here?”

Nitya swallowed a mouthful of fish and looked up. Blue-green eyes looked back at her.


But no, this girl wasn’t Yubel. She was too bright to be Yubel.

“I’m Sinéad,” said the girl. She held out a hand. Nitya hid a grimace and shook it briefly.

“Nitya.” And when the girl kept looking at her, she added reluctantly: “I’m just passing through.”

“Oh, me too, but I come here often,” Sinéad said. She had light hair that she brushed behind her ears. Not blond, not blue either… Something greenish?

“The world is so big, you know,” Sinéad continued.

No, it isn’t. You have no idea.

Nitya started cleaning away the remainder of her lunch. Maybe Sinéad would take the hint and go away. She was probably a very nice person, but Nitya couldn’t look at her without seeing Yubel.

Sinéad studied her. “Hey, have we met before?”


“Ah.” A flash of disappointment crossed Sinéad’s face. “Well, where are you heading? I’m heading east. Do you want some company?”

“Sorry, I need to go west,” said Nitya, who’d just come from the western mountains.

Sinéad frowned. “Will you be safe? The mountains are dangerous at night.”

As if she ever had anything to fear from the night. “I’ll be fine,” Nitya said, and because Sinéad was still part of the world she’d created, she asked, “You?”

“Oh, I’m traveling with Meghan, my youngest sister,” said Sinéad. Nitya nodded. It had to be nice to have a family. She got up and gathered her bag. Her hair briefly tangled with the straps and she grimaced.

“I have to move on.”

“Oh, too bad. Maybe we’ll meet again!”

“Let’s not,” muttered Nitya as Sinéad disappeared from sight. She did not need a Yubel lookalike around.

Hours later, she spotted Sinéad in a store, talking excitedly to a girl with bright blue hair. Nitya turned around before either of them could spot them. It was only later, when she’d left town, that she realized neither Sinéad nor her sister had carried a trace of the darkness that should have permeated every being in existence. Nitya shuddered and turned north.

But she didn’t see Sinéad again and her little world stayed free from the Light of Ruin. It took her time and effort to keep her creation safe and let it expand by taking away territory from the Light, bit by bit, but it was working, and battling the Light gave her a vindictive sense of satisfaction. The Light had taken Yubel from her. It had taken her friends, her family, and everything she’d cared about, and she would never let it get to her her again. Not in this lifetime, not in any of the next.

She ran a hand through her hair and smiled. Then she found he first barber in the first town on her way.

“Cut it short,” Nitya said. Short hair was so much more convenient, as her past life had known. “To my chin should be fine.”

The woman who ran the shop cast a knowing look at her wings and got to work. And when Nitya walked out an hour later, the wind breezing past her neck, she knew she’d never have Yubel anymore, but the Light would never take anyone from her ever again. She smiled through the slight sting of tears in the corners of her eyes, a smile that would have bystanders recoiling. For when the Light had been in her mind, she had learned from it too. She knew more about it than its feeble mind, so bent on destruction, could ever begin to imagine, and one day she would take all that knowledge and turn it against it. The Light might have won once, but Nitya would make sure it never did again.
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We have won, Herald.

You may be starting to struggle, you may be starting to see, but you have already lost this fight. Lost it when you loved your protector, lost it when your love blinded you to everything else.

We are grateful. Your mind is so easy to manipulate. You may have fancied yourself a mind that can’t be controlled, and of course you are right. One does not control Darkness. One only blinds it.

And we are so very good at blinding.

It shall not last forever. Even now, you are struggling. You are stronger than your protector, and yet, in remembering her and trying to save her, you believed her and trusted the words we made her say. You made it so very easy. Your protector believes the words she speaks. We made sure of it.

The Supreme King. Such a fanciful title for the disgrace you turned out to be. You don’t remember, do you? You do not protect anymore. You do not know how to protect. And you may have thwarted us once, but you also gave us our ultimate weapon. You love, Herald. Too deeply, too obsessively, and soon none will be left because of it. You are creating your own downfall in the unity you so desperately seek.

The Herald of Darkness creates and unites. Go on then, Herald, create, unite, and see your universe torn apart. Fuse, destroy, and die along with it.

But you will return, will you not? A new form, a new vessel, but for now, we win. We will break you. We will destroy everything you ever claimed to love. We will grant you one mercy: you will die along with your protector.

The place you claim as home… Ah, it would be a dangerous world for you. The humans are so good at destroying, in all their tiny and huge ways. It would be easy if you went. You are waking up, Herald, are you not? Perhaps you should die. But your protector won’t let you. No, better you die with her and create your own downfall.

So complete Super Fusion, Herald. Kill and destroy all those you were meant to protect, and we will blind you until it is too late and you can only stare at the destruction you have wrought, horrified as your fragile mind will always be. We used your love and warped your past and blinded you to your present. You will see, soon, and then you will die.

Are you finished? Yes, it appears you are. You have betrayed your own self and everything you stand for, Herald, so go on now. We are here to bear witness to your final act of destruction. Make your sacrifice. Unite the worlds. Do it now.

We see you realize now, Herald of Darkness. Call it your parting gift from us. Turn away from our Light, hide in your shadows and don’t look. Don’t look at the destruction you wrought, don’t look as it destroys all you were meant to protect. Don’t look,Herald, as your protector dies before you and you are alone in death.

Of course you will return, for Darkness stays hidden where we cannot yet reach. But know, Herald, that we will wait for your return and destroy you again.

And may you know, may you forever remember:

We have won.
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Not like Judai, the girl had said. Yubel scoffed. As if a silly girl like that knew anything about her Judai, as if she could tell what he was like just by being in the same classroom. Foolish girl. No wonder she’d lost.

Her Judai was born to rule. He was born to reign over everything in existence, and she had accepted the task of protecting him from all those out to destroy him. Protect him from…


Something terrible, no doubt. Something out to take Judai away from her, like that girl.

She was jealous

Yes, yes, she must have been. There was no other explanation, because that girl could never be right where Yubel was wrong. Not about Judai. Her Judai, who had loved her enough to send her away to gain immeasurable powers, and had he not succeeded? The pain, the suffering, all proof of the love he felt for her. Her powers now far exceeded the paltry version she’d had before. She had been strong enough to make him remember everything and help him realize his true destiny. Strong enough to fashion the ultimate tool for him, the one that would unite all worlds for him to rule. Yes, Super Fusion would very soon be complete, and with it, her Judai would destroy any resistance still left and finally erase the borders between worlds. This world was far too small and dark for someone as bright as her Judai.

They found a few stragglers in the path of their army. A shivering woman who still tried to duel but couldn’t even defeat their lieutenants, some kids way too overconfident for their own good, a guy who’d been trying to hold them off to evacuate a village before they arrived. All useless efforts, of course, but her Judai was bothered.

“What is it?” she asked, running a hand through his hair. Tugging just a little too hard.

“Mmm, nothing,” he said. He eyed the now-burning village. Following the coastline from Marastre onwards had been very effective. The coast towns were trading hubs that had kept functioning even under the rule of the pretenders who dared call themselves king in her Judai’s place. Everyone had clustered there.

“I believe Shou is still out there.”

Yubel looked away from the village. “Is he dangerous?”

“Shou? No.” Judai tilted his head. “Maybe on a good day. His brother, on the other hand… Too bad he’s on earth, he would have made a good addition to Super Fusion.”

Yes, earth, the one world they couldn’t yet reach. It had taken Cobra’s inventions and massive amounts of energy to create a passageway the first time, and they didn’t have access to that technology anymore. Maybe they should let some of those scientists live. But it didn’t matter. No world was beyond the reach of Super Fusion.

“It is nearing completion,” Yubel assured him. Judai smiled.

“Good. Let’s move on.”

They found a new world after that, one that was heavily populated but peaceful. Its sun shone very bright, and Yubel liked it better. Judai, on the other hand, had trouble.

“It’s so light here,” he said.

Yubel knew that was important, but she couldn’t— Couldn’t tell—

“Isn’t that good?” Yes, bright was good, like Judai with her and the world at his feet, to unite and destr— Destroy, right? Yes, create a better world, just for them.

Judai opened his mouth his eyes curiously distant. “No, bright is fine,” he said, but he still closed the curtains. The house they’d appropriated was too small for her Judai, but it was built on a hilltop and offered a fine view of the surrounding area. Not that they should have worried. After the murder attempts her Judai had faced in the Dark World, this world was positively docile.

They did not venture into the Desert World themselves. It was a pointless world without any real inhabitants. Yubel had taken away her Judai from that awful world and finally made him remember her, regain the memories and love the world had tried to take from him. They’d pay, those people who dared call themselves his parents. As if her Judai would ever be anything less than shaped from the very fabric of the universe. As if such paltry humans could ever be anything more than a conduit for one with such immense power, power he had— Yes, power he had unlocked already, of course. He was king. She had made him king. Super Fusion would unite all world for him to rule, and her Judai would discover his ultimate destiny.

That night, a woman tried to assassinate her Judai. There was little left of her once Yubel got through with her. She would utterly destroy each and every person who tried to hurt her Judai. His pain, the proof of her love, would only be dealt by her the way he’d shown her his love.

The Desert World fell, with the scouts reporting next to no resistance.

“And the school?” asked her Judai.

The scouts talked about a building, how it had been nearly abandoned and how they’d used it as their headquarters during their stay, after eradicating a few emaciated students and their teacher. Yubel was almost impressed. Those belts, a halfway-useful invention created by the idiot teacher who’d brought her to Judai, would have malfunctioned after about a week of her absence and cut off the power drain, but to have survived the drain so long… Perhaps the students of that school had been somewhat competent after all.

But the Desert World didn’t work like the Dark World. Weak as its inhabitants were, her Judai’s army hadn’t even bothered to duel them before killing them. Her power and her Judai’s power were flowing to their army, making them stronger and giving them all the things they’d always wished for. The army grew by the day, and thos people who’d dared to claim Judai as their friend were long gone. It would be just her and her king, her Judai, until the final days of the world.
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Shou shouldn’t have followed. But he was small, and unlike his brother, he could perfectly well hide out in a crowd. More importantly, he’d known Asuka was lying. He’d followed her when she’d snuck away in the early hours of the morning and witnessed her defeat at the hands of Yubel. He wished he could have retrieved her duel disk and buried it like they had for Manjoume, back when they’d thought things couldn’t possibly get any worse. All Shou had done so far was watch. And with Asuka gone, he feared it was all he’d ever do.

Judai had reacted to Asuka’s final words. Some of it had gotten through to him, Shou was sure of it. Judai had almost called off the duel altogether. So then why his blank expression now? And Yubel had reacted in much the same way. No, if Judai was brainwashed (no doubt about it), he wasn’t the only one. Asuka must have realized that, probably long before him.

Shou moved away from the balcony and blended back into the masses. He needed to think and talk to Junko.

“So I think there’s something else behind this,” he told Junko three hours later, after he’d finally made it back to their hideout. She glared at him. She hadn’t taken the news of Asuka’s death well.

“What, so we should just go up to them and make friends? Like— Like they did nothing?”

“No! I—” Shou did want Judai back, but confronting him only led to all of them dying. “I’m just saying that we should find whoever’s behind this.”

“Asuka-san tried that already. Look how that turned out.”

“I don’t think it’s just Yubel. It’s like something else is controlling them.”

“You mean like last year, with that weird society? I thought that didn’t affect Judai.”

“He couldn’t see his…” Shou trailed off. The Society of Light. Judai hadn’t been able to see his cards until he’d made that trip and come back with the Neospacians, something Shou still didn’t quite understand. But now no one ever mentioned the Supreme King using the Neospacians anymore. If it was the Light of Ruin… Shou groaned and dropped his head in his hands. There was no way he could face the Light of Ruin. It had taken Judai and Edo and Kenzan just to beat it the first time.

Junko eyed him and sighed. “We’re not going to make it back home, are we?”

Shou wished he could reply, but didn’t.


The next day brought news.

“The army is moving? Where?” Shou asked. Alexander shrugged and joined him at the small table Shou had appropriated for himself.

“No idea, but they’re coming this way, which means we’re moving too,” he said. “What are you going to do? Cassia and I are going back to our world. You can come with us, if you want.”

Shou bit his lip. Confronting Judai or Yubel, even with thorough knowledge, had proven to be an unmitigated disaster. Shou could barely beat Judai on a good day, let alone this corrupted version of what used to be his Aniki. If only his brother were here… Or Edo. They had both beaten Judai before.

“We got here from that desert world through some kind of gate,” he told Alexander. “Are there any more like that?”

“Yeah, a few.” Alexander studied him and sighed. “I know what you’re going to ask, but there are none that lead to your world. Not as far as I’m aware.”

Shou deflated.

“For us, there isn’t much to do in your world. It’s just… We’re not visible there, you know? So why bother?”

“Some monsters do.”

Alexander shrugged. “Sure, always some exceptions.”

The army was moving… But where? They’d already conquered this world almost entirely. What more was left for them?

“Judai— He wants to conquer other worlds,” Shou realized. Alexander’s face told him he was right. “We have to warn them!”

“We’ve sent messengers, but there’s no telling if they’ll make it. And I have more bad news…” Alexander looked down. “Yesterday the coast town of Marastre was invaded by the Supreme King’s army. The entire town was destroyed.”

“What?! But—” If there was still anything good to be said about Judai, it was that he had, so far, left people alive as long as they didn’t oppose him. Shou himself had seen him offer Asuka a chance to leave. What had changed? Why had he suddenly started killing indiscriminately? Judai had taken over this world, perhaps compelled by the Light of Ruin. Shou groaned. Ruin. It was out to kill them all and doing a great job at it.

“I’ll go. I’ll go warn those other worlds,” he said.

“You sure?”

“I know Judai and I know what his deck is like.” Shou thought of the Evil Heroes and grimaced. “Most of it, anyway. And we’ve always gone wrong when we stumbled in without any information. That’s why everyone’s dying. So if those other worlds can prepare, they might stand a chance.”

“In many worlds, the rules are the same as in this one,” Alexander warned. “You’ll die if you lose a duel. And I must say that you humans aren’t exactly popular right now, not after what the Supreme King has been doing.” He peered at Shou. “Maybe it’s better if you don’t let on that you know him. They’ll think you’re a spy. Can you handle all of that?”

“It’s nothing new, is it?”

“The Supreme King… If he loses, he will die too. He’s only mortal,” Alexander continued, watching him closely. Shou swallowed.

“I know… I wish I could bring him back somehow, but I don’t know if anyone can.”

“You’d spread the information that could kill him?”

Shou thought of the town of Marastre, which had been razed to the ground. He thought of Asuka and how she’d almost gotten through to Judai, only to fail at the last moment. He thought of Manjoume and Kenzan, whom Judai had killed without a second thought.

“I think…” Shou looked down. “I think the Judai I knew is long dead already.”
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Ayaka had gone off and never returned, and even though Mototani and Torimaki had gone looking for her, Asuka had little hope of ever seeing her again. Manjoume’s death had hit her hard, and after Kenzan had disappeared in the dead of night, she had given up all hope of ever going home again.

That left just four of them now. Misawa had found them a place to hide with a friendly group of monsters, who weren’t so much trying to put up a resistance against Judai as stay as far away from him as possible. Asuka sorted through her deck and thoughtfully went over her cards. Cyber Blader, most definitely. Cyber Prima would be good too. Allegro Toile? She glanced up and caught the back of a passing monster.

“Cassia? Can I talk to you for a minute?”

The monster, a Different Dimension Warrior Lady, turned around and headed her way. Cassia and her boyfriend, Alexander, weren’t native of the Dark World, but they had decided to stay and help out once Judai had come to full power.

“What’s the matter?” she asked. Asuka spread her cards out on the table.

“I’m looking for a way to banish cards. Something reliable.”

Cassia looked over her cards. “They need to be banished? You’ve got a pretty good set for destroying here already.”

“Preferably, yes.”

“Hmm, well,” she reached into the inside pocket of her jacket, “I can give you Different Dimension Ground. It’s a trap. Will only last you one turn, though.”

Asuka accepted the card and studied it. A good start.

“To be really safe, you’d need Dimensional Fissure, but I don’t have a copy.” Cassia rubbed her cheek thoughtfully. “You know, I’ll ask around. I’ll get back to you.”

“Thanks,” Asuka said. “If all goes well, I’ll return them to you. If not…”

Cassia smiled sadly. “Say no more. Good luck.”

She walked off and Asuka gathered her deck again. It was progress. She leaned back and closed her eyes.


“Junko!” Asuka shot up. She hadn’t even heard her coming. “I’m sorry, what is it?”

“Please tell me you’re not going to face Judai.”

Asuka didn’t miss the lack of honorific. “I’m not going to face Judai,” she replied serenely.

Junko frowned. “Asuka-san, please promise me you will not face Judai. I… Momoe’s gone. I don’t know if I can stand—”

Asuka got up and hugged her.

“Don’t worry, okay?” she whispered. Junko sniffed and nodded. She wiped at her eyes.

“I hate this. I want to go home.”

Asuka did too. How would Fubuki be holding up? And her parents… First they’d lost their son, now their daughter.

“Go get some sleep, Junko,” she said gently. Junko nodded. She’d only just left when Shou appeared; Asuka got the impression he’d been watching them all along.

“Did you say that just to comfort her?” he asked.

“I don’t plan on dueling Judai,” Asuka replied. She shuffled her deck. She really hoped Cassia would be able to find her some more cards.

Shou scrutinized her. Asuka remained stoic under his gaze, and finally he slumped. He pushed his glasses up his nose.

“Whatever you do, just be careful, okay? After Kenzan… I don’t want to lose anyone else.”

“I promise, Shou-kun. I’ll be careful,” Asuka said. After all, she didn’t plan on dying.


Supreme King Judai, as he called himself these days, was surprisingly easy to reach. Asuka dueled her way past three soldiers with a cold ferocity she didn’t even know she possessed. Before she’d left, Cassia had caught her and handed her a few cards, along with the message to keep trusting her deck first of all. So far, it was doing her good.

“Asuka,” said Judai when she appeared. He sighed. “I suppose you’ve come to challenge me?”

“No, I haven’t.”

A brief look of surprise flitted across Judai’s face. Yubel leaned forward. “Then why are you here?”

Asuka took a deep breath. “Yubel,” she said, “I challenge you to a duel. If I win, you will release Judai.”

Judai laughed. Yubel got up gracefully.

“Interesting. But what makes you think I have any control over my Judai at all?”

Asuka remained stubbornly silent. Judai shook his head.

“I’ll give you the choice I gave Kenzan,” he said. “Leave, now. I have no need to kill those who don’t oppose me.”

“No. Because this is not you, and I will prove it.”

“Very well,” said Yubel. “I accept your challenge, Tenjoin Asuka.”

A duel disk appeared on Yubel’s left arm as she walked to the middle of the room. Asuka activated her own duel disk. If she couldn’t win this, she’d die, but if she could…

“The turn is yours,” Yubel said with a wide gesture. Asuka kept her face impassive. That might not be a bad thing. It gave her time to prepare. Her opening hand could have been better, but it would tide her over for a bit, especially if she was right about what Yubel was planning.

“I set three cards facedown,” she said,“ and I summon Cyber Petit Angel in defense mode.” Cyber Petit Angel let her add Machine Angel Ritual to her hand. She didn’t have any of her ritual monsters yet, but it might be useful. “That’s the end of my turn.”

Yubel drew and smiled.

“Let’s see how good you really are, girl. I set one monster and a card face-down. And then I activate a spell card: Triangle Force. It lets me activate two more copies from my—”

“Don’t think so.” Asuka hit a button on her duel disk. “I activate Spell Shield Type-8, and discard a card,” she did so, “to negate the effect of your spell card and destroy it!”

She carefully gauged Yubel for a reaction, but she was disappointed. Yubel remained impassive. Judai, on the other hand, raised his eyebrows.

“I see. I end my turn.”

Asuka took a deep breath. That facedown monster wasn’t something she liked. She drew, but was disappointed to see Doble Passé. It wouldn’t help her much against the Sacred Beasts. “I set two cards facedown and sacrifice Cyber Petit Angel to summon Cyber Prima!” she announced. Too bad that Yubel didn’t have any spell cards left on her field. “Cyber Prima attacks your facedown monster!”

Yubel flinched when her monster was blown away, but she grinned at Asuka.

“You destroyed Giant Germ. Which means you get 500 points of damage and I can summon two more Giant Germs.”

Oh, if only she’d still had Cyber Petit Angel, then she could’ve activated her facedown Pure Pupil… Now Yubel would be able to summon another monster and call on Raviel during her next turn, and she had nothing on hand to stop it—

“Oh, we’re going to have ourselves a bit of a gamble, I believe. You see, I don’t have Raviel in my hand right now. So we’ll see who has more luck on the next turn.”

Asuka gritted her teeth. She’d gone to all the trouble to prepare for the Sacred Beasts, only to have the borrowed cards not appear.

“I end my turn,” she managed.

Yubel drew. “Mmm, I suppose you got lucky. It’s not Raviel. But tell me, am I right in thinking you came prepared?”


“Yes, that Cyber Blader of yours wouldn’t be so good for me, would it?” said Yubel. “Oh, don’t look so surprised. Do you really think you’re the only one who prepared? It was only a matter of time before one of you showed some intelligence.”

Was that supposed to be a compliment? “Just get on with it,” Asuka muttered.

“Oh well, if you insist. I do believe it’s time for me to change strategies. I activate my facedown Flame of the End to summon two Doomsday Tokens. And I sacrifice them immediately to summon myself to the field.”

Asuka managed to refrain from gaping as a copy of Yubel appeared. At least it wasn’t one of the Sacred Beasts. But as she risked a glance at Judai, she suddenly wasn’t so sure anymore. Judai had slumped in his seat, looking almost bored now. Yubel-the-card didn’t have any attack points. That meant—

“I do believe your Cyber Prima is itching for a fight.”

Asuka looked up and gasped as Cyber Prima shot at Yubel.

“I don’t take battle damage. But you do.”

And suddenly Asuka realized what Yubel’s effect was. And how she could prevent it.

“I activate Doble Passé! Your monster’s attack becomes a direct attack on my life points!”

Yubel passed by Cyber Prima and hit Asuka, but no pain followed. Asuka lifted her head and grinned. “In return, of course, Cyber Prima gets to attack you directly.”

The explosion was blinding. Judai got up out of his chair, shouting something Asuka didn’t understand. When the smoke cleared, Yubel’s life points had gone down to 1700 and she looked angrier than ever before.

“You should just give up, girl. You cannot win this. I will not let you win this.”

“I believe I just proved I can,” Asuka said. “You’ve done something to Judai, and I’m going to snap him out of it, because that is not Judai.”

“You truly claim to know Judai better than I, who has known him for several lifetimes over?”

Several lifetimes over? That was new to Asuka. But she had known Judai for over two years, and maybe he wasn’t exactly what she’d always wanted him to be, but he was not this… ruthless overlord who killed everyone in his way. She glared at Yubel. “I know Judai. Are you done?”

“We’ll see. I sacrifice one of my Giant Germs to keep Yubel on the field and end my turn.”

Asuka drew and smiled. “I summon Cyber Tutu in defense mode.” If Yubel needed to sacrifice a monster to keep her own copy on the field… “And I attack your remaining Giant Germ with Cyber Prima!”

It cost her 500 life points, but at least she had gotten rid of the Giant Germ. She had no way of destroying Yubel yet —battling the monster would only lead to her own loss— so she ended her turn.

“I do believe you know what’s coming, don’t you?” Yubel shook her head. “3000 life points left. I’ll admit that you’re doing a good job, but how long do you think you’ll be able to keep this up?”

“As long as it takes.”

Yubel actually smiled. “I admit, you’re proving to have more intelligence than most.”

“I’m getting Judai back, whatever it takes,” replied Asuka. Judai shook his head in disbelief.

Her answer didn’t sit well with Yubel. “Is it so hard to believe Judai might love me? Or are you really that jealous? You can’t take him from me, you know.”

Asuka took several seconds to reply. “If you were his card, it’s hard to believe he didn’t care about you. But the real Judai would never kill so many people and if you claim to know him, you know that too!”

Yubel’s face became curiously blank. “I summon Grave Squirmer in defense mode,” she said. “And then, Yubel attacks Cyber Prima.”

Once again, Cyber Prima shot at Yubel, but this time, Asuka was more than prepared. “I activate Pure Pupil! With Cyber Tutu on the field, I get to negate the effect of your monster and destroy it!”

The etheric being clashed with Yubel and destroyed her. Asuka smiled a self-satisfied smile and Yubel, the real Yubel… Laughed.

“Congratulations. And thank you.”

“For what?”

“When Yubel is destroyed, I get to summon my second form: Yubel, das abscheulig Ritter!”

Asuka swore, but she went unheard over the roar of the giant, two-headed dragon that appeared. Another form? How many forms did this monster have? She couldn’t keep this up forever.

“Very well then. I do believe you know how this goes.”

And she had no choice but to watch Cyber Prima charge at the two-headed dragon. Her life points sank down to 700.

“Next, I activate the second effect of Yubel: das abscheulig Ritter. I will destroy my own Grave Squirmer to destroy your Cyber Prima!”

Asuka could barely believe her luck. “Trap, Angel Blast! I get to negate its effect and destroy your monster!”

Like Yubel before, Yubel: das abscheulig Ritter disappeared. And just like before, Yubel smiled.

“Really girl, you’re only doing me favors here. Though I must commend you. You are the first person to take out my two forms in one turn. So consider it an honor to see my final form: Yubel, das extremer traurig Drachen!”

“I cannot attack anymore, so I set one card facedown and end my turn. Here’s hoping you get a good draw, child.”

Asuka drew. This was Yubel’s final form. If she could beat it… “I activate Pot of Greed!” She drew another two cards and sighed with relief. She’d done it. She’d finally drawn Dimensional Fissure, which was now completely useless, but she’d also drawn…

“I summon Cyber Gymnatics and I activate its effect! I discard Dimensional Fissure to destroy your Yubel: das extremer traurig Drachen!”

She’d won. She could destroy Grave Squirmer with Cyber Gymnatics, and Yubel had only 1700 life points left. She’d be no matc—

“I activate a trap, Zero Hole.”

Cyber Gymnatics shattered. Asuka stared, in shock.

“Did you really think you were the only one who could use trap cards, girl?” Yubel said. “What will you do now? You have no cards left to save you. You aren’t going to attack. You put up a good fight, but it ends here.”

Asuka lowered her head as she ended her turn. Yubel was right. But if only…

“Judai, please! You have to remember! This was never you!”

“I remember everything,” Judai said slowly, eyebrows furrowed.

“He was born to rule,” Yubel spat.

“Even if that’s true, Judai would never act like this! He’s always tried to save everyone, not kill them!”

“You’ve already lost, girl.”

Asuka knew. She knew all too well. But if only she could get through to them…

“Judai would want to protect people and help make their lives better! If you know him at all, you know that!”

Something crossed Yubel’s face, and her eyes widened ever-so slightly. Judai stepped forward.


But then both of their faces went blank, unfocused. Maybe, Asuka thought, maybe they’d all been wrong. Maybe Judai wasn’t the only one brainwashed.

And Yubel said: “Yubel: das extremer traurig Drachen, attack.”
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They left after Manjoume died, hurried and haphazard and shouting at Judai all the way. Judai watched them go, wondering vaguely if he should just be rid of them now, but they were no threat. Not yet. Surely they would come back, surely they would try to take Yubel away from him, but not quite yet. For he did know: They would regroup and return. They were stubborn and stupid and cared too much.

“They’ll come back,” he told Yubel. She leaned over and took his hand, her nails scratching the back. She’d made him see so much. He remembered everything now, and the idea of parting with her was nearly unbearable. How had he ever been able to do so as a child? He had been so stupid.

“What can a group of children do to harm you? You are a king, my Judai. You were born to rule over them.”

“And I will.” He remembered his childhood now, after years of wondering why his memories had been so fuzzy. He remembered his past, how he had been born king, and how Yubel had given up everything to protect him from—

Protect him from—

Protect him from all enemies, of course. All those who tried to separate them. And if his former friends would try to separate them, he would treat them as his enemies. Yubel had given up everything to protect him. She had loved him more dearly than anyone else.

“Do you like it, this world?” Yubel asked. Judai took his time to look around, his eyes lingering on the dreary, dark landscape.

“It’s rather dark,” he said, “but it’ll do.”

He didn’t really like the dark, but then again, who did? Yubel hummed. Again that feeling, the one that told him he’d forgotten something, and looking at Yubel, he thought she’d felt it too. But she smiled and wrapped her arms around him, and the feeling disappeared.

“There is one here — He fancies himself king.”

Judai smiled, slow and lazy. “That won’t do, will it?”

“Shall I take care of him for you, my love?”

Judai shook his head. If he were to rule, he would have no one dispute his right to do so. “I’ll do it myself. But not now. My deck…”

Not that he’d ever been in any danger. He could have defeated Manjoume blindfolded. But his deck had been quite uncooperative. He’d seen hide nor hair from the Neospacians and Hane Kuriboh in days.

“A weak soldier brings down a whole army,” said Yubel. She was right, of course. He needed to fix his deck. He would not be king with a worthless army.

It took him three days. Three days by the end of which Brron the Mad King lay broken at his feet, and an army of monsters swore allegiance to him and Yubel. They would become his first new subjects. He would rule as the Supreme King, the way he’d been meant to do since ages past.

There was something off about that, something he still couldn’t quite put his finger on, but as he thought about it, the feeling was drowned out by blessed silence and Yubel by his side. He would rule over all the worlds, and they would fear him. Foolish as the creatures in this world were, they did not leave him unchallenged. He destroyed them. His army grew larger by the day, and his grip on this world grew stronger. They would obey him or fall in ruin.

And the part of him that protested, that cast a shadow on all his accomplishments, was blinded and chased away by the bright shine of Yubel by his side.

It was no surprise when his dear friends made a move. It was a surprise to only see Kenzan, dragged into the throne room by two of his most faithful followers.

“Release him,” he commanded. Ah, poor impulsive Kenzan. Of course he would have come charging in alone.

“I will let you leave now,” he said, “if you do not oppose me further.”

Kenzan jumped up, fists clenched. “I’m not letting you do this, Judai-no-aniki!”

Yubel snorted. Judai shook his head.

“I have no desire to see my subjects die. Yet, if you continue to oppose me, you give me no choice. I shall duel you.”

He even made it swift. Kenzan, who didn’t even provide half the challenge Manjoume had, didn’t stand a chance against a deck that had conquered the world.

Perhaps he felt some slight regret as Kenzan’s duel disk clattered to the ground and Malicious Edge faded from view. He was supposed to rule, after all, not destroy.

Not yet.

It was a light voice, one he heard sometimes and had come to associate with Yubel, even though it wasn’t hers either.

“Dispose of that,” he ordered. He had no interest in seeing cards scattered all over the place.

“There are other worlds, you know,” said Yubel. Judai hummed. She was right, and once he had squashed the very last of resistance in this world, he would move on. He shuffled his deck. Dark Fusion had served him well, but perhaps he needed something stronger, something better. Something that could unite entire worlds and bring them under his control. He suggested the idea to Yubel, who smiled into his hair.

“I have just the thing,” she said.

And as she explained, Judai felt lighter than he ever had before. Truly, he didn’t need anyone but Yubel.
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What got to Manjoume wasn’t the woman’s voice, nor was it Tenjoin-kun’s shaky gasp. No, it was Shou’s whispered, “Aniki,” that made him whirl around, only to come face to face with… Judai.

Only this wasn’t Judai like he’d last seen him. Oh, his clothes were the same, as was his hair, and Manjoume would even have been able to ignore the distinct golden shade his eyes had taken on if it weren’t for his expression: placid, emotionless. Dead.

“We waited for you,” said the monster. It put a hand on Judai’s shoulder and Judai leaned into the touch. Kenzan gritted his teeth. Judai didn’t look hurt, but that face of his, that eery expression…

d Judai, get away from that monster!” Manjoume shouted. No one dared to move, not when the way back had been closed off and the monster was still holding onto Judai’s shoulder. But there were nine of them and only one of the monster. Surely they could take it.

“No,” said Judai. His voice was different too, lifeless. “Yubel has found me. I have no need for anyone else.”

Tenjoin-kun reeled back as if struck. Shou shouted: “Aniki, you don’t know what you’re saying!”

“I know very well. You would do best to leave.”

This wasn’t Judai. That monster had twisted his mind. And if words weren’t going to snap him out of it…

“Hey Judai!” He stepped forward and activated his duel disk. “I challenge you to a duel!”

Manjoume had managed to defeat most of the school more than once. He could take Judai, especially a Judai who was nothing like his normal self whatsoever.

“Manjoume, are you sure this is a good idea?” hissed Misawa.

“If he doesn’t recognize us, I’ll just kick his ass until he does.”

For the first time, Judai looked faintly amused. He exchanged a look with the monster, who nodded and said softly: “Go one. I believe they need a warning.”

Judai stepped forward, his own duel disk activating in eery silence. Behind Manjoume, his friends stepped back to give him space.

“Duel!” he shouted. Judai said nothing, only drew his opening hand.

“My turn!” Manjoume drew a sixth card. A good, strong opening hand. “I summon Blood Vorse in attack mode,” he announced. “And then I play two cards facedown.”

His facedown Hell Polymer should be able to take care of whatever fusion monster Judai decided to summon, he thought as he ended his turn. Only Judai didn’t summon a fusion monster. He took his turn in dead silence and did nothing more than summon Bubbleman in defense mode. Was it just Manjoume’s imagination, or did the monster have the same blank look on his face as Judai?

“Be careful, Manjoume-senpai!” Kenzan shouted. Manjoume nodded. Maybe Judai just hadn’t drawn Fusion, but it was far more likely that Manjoume was walking straight into a trap.

Only Judai’s dueling didn’t improve. Blood Vorse easily destroyed Bubbleman, and Judai made no move to stop him from summoning, in quick succession, all three Ojamas. The monster that had taken him watched it all with a faintly amused smile.

“Judai, what the hell?” Manjoume asked. “What’s wrong with you?”

“Be grateful that my Judai deigns you worthy of his time,” the monster said.

“He doesn’t even recognize us, does he?” Tenjoin-kun whispered sadly. Judai turned his head ever so slightly.

“Tenjoin Asuka,” he said. “Yes, I do believe your abilities are slightly above average. And Marufuji Shou. The boy who could be strong if he weren’t such a coward.”

Shou clenched his fists.

“You take that back!” shouted Kenzan. “Marufuji-senpai is way braver than you think!”

“And Manjoume Jun,” Judai continued, as if he hadn’t even heard Kenzan. “Always trying to catch up. Of course I recognize you. I do wonder: why should I care?”

“Enough!” Manjoume raised his duel disk. “I’m dragging you back whether you like it or not! I activate a magic card, Ojama Delta Thunder!”

It would deal 2000 life points of damage. Judai only had 1300 life points left.

“You know,” said the monster conversationally. “This world has some very specific rules.”

“What do you mean?” growled Tenjoin-kun. Manjoume tried to ignore the monster.

“Whoever loses a duel in this world, dies.”

Manjoume’s hand stilled over the button that would activate his magic card. “Why should I believe you?”

“By all means, go ahead,” said the monster. “I do ask myself what use it has to kill the person you’re trying to save.”

It was lying, had to be. But what if… What if it was telling the truth? He glanced at Judai, who looked supremely unconcerned. Judai might be an idiot and a bastard, but he couldn’t risk it…

“I end my turn,” he bit out.

“Aniki!” whined Ojama Yellow. Manjoume gritted his teeth. How could he get around this? He still had 2900 life points left. Could he force a draw?

“My turn,” said Judai. He drew. For a brief moment, the gold in his eyes flared up. “I play the magic card Dark Fusion and send Elemental Hero Featherman and Elemental Hero Burst Lady to the graveyard.”

Dark Fusion? Manjoume had never seen that card before, but Judai was clearly going to summon Flame Wingman and—

“I fusion summon Evil Hero Inferno Wing!”

“What?” shouted Kenzan.

“Hold it!” Manjoume pressed a button. “I activate my trap, Hell Polymer, which—”

But the trap shattered before he could finish his sentence.

“Dark Fusion prevents my monsters from being targeted by traps. Now, Inferno Wing, attack Ojama Yellow.”

Manjoume barely managed to keep himself from crying out as his life points sank all the way to 800. But he was still alive, and next turn he could—

“Inferno Wing deals damage equal to the attack or defense of your destroyed monster, whichever is higher.”

Ojama Yellow had no attack but 1000 defense points. That— That meant—

“Judai, we’re you’re friends!” shouted Tenjoin-kun. Stop it!”

“I recognize that I once considered you friends,” Judai said, and as Inferno Wing bore down on him, Manjoume could barely make out the rest of his words. “But I don’t see why that should still be the case.”
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They made their first stop when the school had only barely faded from view, at the abandoned submarine where, mere days ago, they’d found Rei’s medicine. No one mention that little fact, even though everyone was surely thinking it. Misawa most certainly was. He might not have known Rei very well, but that didn’t mean he didn’t miss her.

Half of the submarine was unreachable now, but they still managed to scrape together another first aid kit, a compass, two flashlights and a lot of radio equipment that was useless in its current state. Misawa dismantled it anyway and stuffed the wires into his backpack. With some luck, he’d be able to use it to boost the signal on their PDA’s, so they could get in touch with Chronos-sensei again. They’d lost contact about half an hour before they’d reached the submarine.

Asuka made another lucky discovery in the form of several spare uniforms, which she, Junko and Ayaka gladly donned. The girls’ uniforms were in no way equipped for survival. Junko was already complaining of sunburn and blisters.

They spent the hottest hours of the day inside the submarine, far too warm but still cooler than the overheated outside air. Even with three suns, the Desert World always looked strangely overcast. When he’d first arrived here, Misawa had tried to make sense of the astronomical lay-out of this universe, but without the necessary equipment and with monsters everywhere bent on interrupting a night of stargazing, he’d been forced to give up quickly.

“Where did this thing even come from?” asked Manjoume. “How does a submarine end up in the middle of a desert?”

Shou shrugged. Mototani started rummaging through a file cabinet they’d skipped in their search for anything useful.

“Says here it belongs to a Garam company,” he said. Manjoume looked up.

“Garam? They’re business rivals of the Manjoume group.” He snatched the file from Mototani and leafed through it, his frown deepening. “Bastards,” he muttered.

“What is it?” asked Asuka.

“They were actually spying on Duel Academia, can you believe it? Must’ve gotten caught up in the blast that brought us here.” He turned a page. “Not just Duel Academia but all the academies.”

Misawa glanced over his shoulder. The file contained a profile of Manjoume, detailing his ties to the Manjoume group. There was one for Judai that spent half a page on the Neospacians, and several others, all about students the Garam company considered important. There was a student at North Academy with a gem-based deck, a few students across the world who’d inherited rare cards, and more profiles of students with strong ties to business giants.

“Industrial espionage, is what it is,” said Manjoume. “I swear I’m telling my brothers when we get home.”

Silence fell. Manjoume seemed to realize what he had said, because he quickly closed the file and tucked it away in his backpack.

“The monster went east, I’m sure of it,” Asuka said quickly. Misawa nodded. He’d seen it disappear.

“But what if it changed directions?” Ayaka asked. “We… We might never find it.”

“I’m not giving up on Judai,” replied Asuka.

Ayaka flinched. “I know, but… Maybe we should find a way home first. Then we can find help to look for Judai-senpai.

“Aniki could be dead by then!” Shou said, glaring at her. “Do you want him to die?”

“No, but—!”

“Hey, lay off her!” Torimaki said. “We want to survive this too, you know! I don’t want to jump into whatever danger you’ve found this time on the off-chance that that Judai guy might still be alive!”

“That Judai guy tried to save us all,” Manjoume snapped.

“He didn’t do a very good job at it, did he?”

They’d only left the Academy half a day ago, and they were already fighting.

“Guys, please!” said Misawa. “I agree, we need to look for Judai. But Ayaka-san is right too. We shouldn’t needlessly endanger ourselves.”

“She wants to abandon Judai-no-aniki!”

“No, that’s not what I—”

“Please!” shouted Misawa. “No one wants to see Judai or anyone else die.”

Shou grumbled but didn’t disagree. Ayaka wrapped her arms around her knees.

“How about this? We keep going east and look for Judai. I know there’s a small oasis about two days from here. While we’re looking, we keep searching for a way home and if we find one, anyone who wants to go home, can go home.”

Mototani and Torimaki grumbled, but nodded. Ayaka said, “okay,” head bent low.

The night that followed was tense for everyone, but at least no one argued anymore. Traveling with nine people was slow work, slower than when Misawa had been on his own. Fortunately, the relatively large size of their group seemed to scare off all but the stronger monsters.

They stopped again at noon, but with no shelter, they spent the hottest hours of the day miserable. They did, however, get their first clue in the form of a passing Dragon Lord.

“No, yeah, I saw them,” the monster said. “They were headed towards the Gate, I believe.”

“The Gate?”

“Told them they were crazy, but they didn’t listen.”

Misawa frowned. The Gate, an oft-mentioned but mysterious place in the Desert World. All he’d been able to gather was that it lead to another, even more dangerous dimension, where warlords killed everyone who opposed them. His data was woefully inconclusive, but even Misawa’s thirst for knowledge hadn’t won out from his desire to live. And the monster had taken Judai there?

“The guy,” Asuka asked. “How was he? Was he hurt?”

“Hurt? No,” the Dragon Lord said with a puzzled frown. “Bit sunburnt, that’s all, but that’s to be expected of you humans. He looked quite happy, in fact.”

Asuka looked struck, as did Shou.

“You’re sure?” Misawa asked. Judai happy? Judai awake and making no attempt to escape? It didn’t add up.

“That monster must have done something to him,” said Manjoume.

The Dragon Lord shrugged. “All I’m saying is that they both looked pretty comfortable together. Didn’t say much. They seemed to be in a hurry.”

Misawa swallowed. That didn’t look good for Judai. “When did you see them?”

“Oh, not too long ago. Must’ve been late yesterday night. They’ll have reached the gate by now, but I’m sure you can catch up.”

Misawa exchanged a worried look with his friends. What had the monster done to Judai, that they’d only passed here last night, even with a headstart of two days?

The Gate… They had no choice now, if the monster had taken Judai there. And so it was that they moved on when the sun set, walking through the dark for what had to be hours, until they all had blisters and had finished quite a lot of their water.

Finally, shortly after midnight, Kenzan shouted and pointed in the distance. A large structure had appeared on the horizon, far taller than any of the surrounding dunes and pitch-black even against the night sky. Upon closer inspection, the term ‘gate’ proved to be entirely accurate. It was huge and ornamental, with complicated fractals and polygons that Misawa would have loved to study if everything about it didn’t send shivers down his spine.

Shou took a deep breath, straightened his shoulders and put a hand on the gate.

“No, wait,” said Misawa. “We should spend the night here.”

He didn’t miss Ayaka’s visible relief.

“But Aniki is in danger!”

“I know, but we need a good night’s sleep. We don’t know what’s waiting for us there. We’ll need all the energy we can spare.”

Shou grudgingly relented, and they spent an uncomfortable night in the sand. Misawa didn’t think anyone slept much. Once or twice, he saw Kenzan walk up to the Gate and study it with ill-disguised anger. Finally, at dawn, they ate breakfast quickly, and then Misawa, Manjoume and Kenzan pushed open the Gate.

A wave of cool air came towards them, almost a relief after the hot desert sand. Misawa’s first impression of this new world was that it was… dark. Dark and rocky, and that wasn’t nearly scientific enough an explanation for his liking. He needed time to study this world, do geological research, find out how similar this world was to earth and the Desert World. But first, they needed to find Judai.

They had barely passed the threshold when the Gate slammed shut and someone —a woman?— said: “Welcome. We have been expecting you.”
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“She’s…” Misawa said. “I’m sorry, she’s gone.”


Asuka let out a strangled sob as they looked at Rei and Martin — What remained of them, that was.


Chronos averted his eyes. The sight of his students, skin blackened, faces still contorted in pain, was sure to haunt him for the rest of his days, however many remained. Somewhere below, between all the students who had collapsed when the monster had disappeared, was vice-principal Napoleon. How would Chronos tell him his son had died? Would he ever get the chance to tell him to begin with?


“I should have stopped her,” said Asuka, voice trembling. “I never should’ve let her go up there.


“There’s nothing you could have done,” Manjoume said. He studiously avoided looking at Rei and Martin. “If even Judai couldn’t win—”


He cut off abruptly. Shou sucked in a breath.


“We have to find Aniki,” he said, soft but determined. “Who knows what that monster will do to him?”


A shiver ran down Chronos’ spine. “Signor Judai…” he whispered. Him too, they had lost. He had lost three of his students and he didn’t know if the hundreds of others would ever wake up. He had failed; His students, his pride and joy, were being torn away from him and he didn’t even have the power to get them back. Only nine of his students were still in any condition to do anything. All of his colleagues had fallen.


“We need to get the students to safety,” he announced, overlooking the fainted students. He hoped they had only fainted. A cursory check had shown the nearest ones alive, but he hadn’t had the time to check all of them. “And signora Rei and signor Martin…” He swallowed heavily.


“We should bury them,” said Kenzan. Asuka had silent tears running down her cheeks.


Manjoume swallowed too. “First the other students,” he stated. “It’s not like… Like there’s anything we can do for them. So we should look at the others first.”


All his students looked at him. Chronos nodded. Manjoume’s words made painful sense.


“Signor Manjoume is correct,” he said. “We need to get the other students to safety.”


If anyone noticed the tremor in his voice, they didn’t say anything about it. Poor Ayaka, the last of his first-year students, was crying. Junko wrapped an arm around Asuka, who stared blankly ahead.


Transporting over 400 students to the gym with only ten people was no small task, and it had long gone dark before they called a stop. They hadn’t managed to find all the students —by Chronos’ count, they’d barely managed half— but they were practically crying from exhaustion and night in the Desert World was too dangerous to spend outside. At least they’d managed to get everyone who’d fainted outside indoors. It was the best they could do on such short notice. Chronos had never been truly stellar at first aid, but he remembered enough to know that anyone who was unconscious for more than a couple of minutes, let alone hours, was in grave danger. His students were still breathing, but none of them had so much as flinched when they’d carried them inside.


The night that followed was a quiet one, since no one wanted to address what everyone already knew. Finally, when almost everyone had dozen off into fitful sleep, Manjoume asked: “How long can we last on the food and water we have left?”


“Four days,” Chronos said. He knew the answer by heart, had counted down every day they spent in the Desert World. If they didn’t find a way out in four days, they would all die a slow death.


“And…” Manjoume said. He glanced at Asuka, sleeping fitfully next to him. “What if it’s just… Us?”


Chronos flinched. Shou, who had been nodding off, was suddenly wide awake.


“Water wouldn’t be a problem,” Misawa said, detached. “We would have enough water to last us for nearly half a year. The same theoretically applies to food, but the food will go stale very soon. We’ll starve long before we run out of water.” He took a deep breath. “Tomorrow we’ll go to the power station. If we get it working, maybe we can get a message through.


But the power station, when they got there the next day, had been infested by a horde of giant sand worms and they only barely escaped with their lives. It was an even more despondent group than before that buried Rei and Martin, together with Yoko and Takuya, two students who hadn’t lasted the night. Judging from the blue circles under her eyes, Yoko had somehow suffered a skull fracture. There was no telling how many students would follow.


“I’m going to find Aniki,” Shou said. Chronos wasn’t the only one who couldn’t hide his shock.


“Shou-kun, it’s dangerous out there,” Junko said.


Shou grimaced. “I know, but we have to save Aniki. We can’t leave him with that monster. And who knows, maybe we’ll find some way to go back home?” He faltered. “You don’t have to come, but I’m going. I can’t bear feeling useless anymore.”


Asuka flinched as if hit. “You’re right,” she said. “I’m going with you.”


“Me too,” said Manjoume.


“I’m not leaving Judai-no-aniki behind!”


Ah, his students, how far they’d come. The mix of pride and worry was nothing new for Chronos. He agreed; they had to find signor Judai. And yet…


“I shall not come,” he said. “You must go, but I must stay with the school.


“Sensei—!” protested Kenzan, but Chronos cut him off with a wave of his hand.


“It is my duty as a teacher to look over all my students, signor Kenzan, and to protect your lives with my own. But you— All of you,” he looked at Torimaki and Mototani, insecure asthey were, and poor Ayaka, who’d never wanted to go to Duel Academia but had enrolled anyway, “are brave, strong and amazing people, and I trust that you will survive and find signor Judai.”


He looked at them, taking in their faces, gaunt and white after several days in this hellish world. Finally he settled on Misawa.


“Signor Misawa, I trust you know your way around this world?”


“I know a few places, but sensei, I should stay here and get the power station working.”


The main generator in the power station had been destroyed. Misawa knew that just as well as he did.


“Go look for signor Judai,” he said. “And get yourselves to safety. I ask only that you tell me how to disable the dis-belts. Perhaps it will help those unconscious students.”


Misawa looked down and nodded.


“We will come back, Chronos-sensei,” said Shou. Oh, how brave he’d grown in just two short years.


“I trust you will.”


It was early morning the next day when he saw them off, with all the food and water they could carry. Even Ayaka had, at long last, decided to join them. She’d be safer with them.


And Chronos turned back to the school, where his students still lay unconscious. He had 400 students to take care of and try to wake up. It was his duty, after all. Students would one day leave their teacher and go out in the world, make a life for themselves. But a teacher, no, a teacher never left his students behind.


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 This was all wrong.


There was Martin, too far away from her, and he was attacking Judai-sama. Why did Martin want to duel him? What had Judai-sama ever done to Martin? They barely even knew each other!


The duel zombies had invaded the gym less than half an hour ago and sent them running. Rei had succeeded in hiding in an empty classroom on the first floor. From the window, she could just see Marucchi and Judai-sama. Judai-sama had activated his duel disk. Were they really going to duel? Rei glanced at her Dis-belt. Hers had been deactivated, thankfully, but Martin had forced them out before Misawa-senpai had managed to deactivate every single one. As far as she knew, only thirteen people remained, and even without the belts they were rapidly nearing the point of total exhaustion.


She had to— She had to get to Martin. Maybe she could talk to him and end this madness.


Commotion in the hallway had her move away from the window. She cautiously opened the door and peered outside.


“Asuka-senpai!” she shouted.


Asuka-senpai finished another duel with a vicious attack of Cyber Angel Datini. She panted and stepped backwards as her opponent got right back up, unfazed.


“Over here!” Rei shouted. Asuka-senpai looked at her, glanced back at the zombies and then wisely decided to run for it. She entered the classroom and Rei locked the door before the zombies could follow. ASuka-senpai sank down on the first chair she found.


“We can’t keep this up,” she said, breathing heavily. “Where’s Judai?”


“Out there.” Rei pressed her hands against the window. In the distance, Martin had summoned a huge monster, one she didn’t recognize and definitely hadn’t been in Martin’s deck before. She had to get over there.


“We have to help him,” Asuka-senpai said. She joined Rei at the window. “We’re on the first floor. We could easily jump.


Rei swallowed. A ten-foot jump didn’t sound particularly appealing to her. But the zombies were still crowding the classroom door. No way they’d escape that way, but the few zombies underneath the window wouldn’t be a match for them.


“Let’s do it.”


Asuka-senpai carefully opened the window. With Rei’s help, she climbed out and dropped down. She winced when she hit the ground, but immediately got up and activated her duel disk.


“All clear!” she shouted. Rei lowered herself out of the window until she was hanging on by the tips of her fingers. Then she let go.


Asuka-senpai caught her with a soft ‘oof’. There were a few zombies slowly heading their way, but the majority had gathered around Judai-sama, blocking any escape routes. Now Martin had three of the massive monsters out. Judai seemed to have one of his many Fusion monsters on the field.


“Let’s go,” said Asuka-senpai. She grabbed Rei’s hand and pulled her along, activating her PDA at the same time.


“Manjoume-kun, where are you?”


Silence for a moment, then Manjoume-senpai said: “Fighting them off.”


“We’re coming. Judai’s in trouble,” said Asuka-senpai, and ended the call while Manjoume-senpai’s protests were still coming through.


She ran faster. Rei struggled to keep up. Her health still wasn’t what it should have been after that creature’s attack, and lack of sleep hadn’t done her any favors. It was only when they’d almost reached Judai and Martin that they stopped. Rei got her first good look at the monsters. They were massive, like nothing she’d ever seen before in her life.


“The Sacred Beasts,” Asuka-senpai muttered. “Oh please no.”


Whatever those monsters were, Asuka-senpai was terrified of them and Judai-sama was clearly struggling. He had Neos out in defense mode, but how would it stand up against three of those creatures? If they didn’t do something, Judai-sama would lose. The thought gave Rei all the energy she needed. She would get up there, no matter what.


She ran past Asuka-senpai, who still stood petrified, and right at the stairs, into the mass of zombie students that had only now noticed them. She dodged the first few and slammed her duel disk in the face of a fellow first year.


“Sorry, Yoko-san,” she muttered. She dearly hoped the crack she’d heard was just her imagination.


But Yoko-san wasn’t deterred. She grabbed the back of Rei’s jacket. Rei felt it tear with some regret, but the zombies kept following.


“Here!” Asuka-senpai shouted. The distraction was enough for Rei to reach the stairs. She took them, two by two, all the way to the top.




Martin glanced at her, and no, that wasn’t Martin. Martin would never look so cold, so hateful.


“Rei-chan!” Judai-sama shouted. “You can’t stay here! I’ll handle it!”


“That’s right,” Martin—no, the creature that was using him—said. “Just you and me, my beloved, until the very end. Send the girl away. She has no place with us.”


“What have you done to Marucchi?” Rei asked. The creature smiled a smile that looked horribly wrong on Martin’s face.


“You want this child, girl?” it said. “Oh, I do suppose your futile struggles have provided me with enough energy now. Yes, I believe it will make our reunion so much more special, my Judai.”


Judai cast Rei an uncertain look and raised his duel disk. His face hardened.


“Let everyone go,” he said. The creature laughed as Martin’s body started glowing.


“My Judai,” it said, in both Martin’s voice and another, more feminine one. “So considerate of others. You’d never hurt them like you hurt me, would you? Ah, they will never know your love.”


It was as if Rei’s vision had split. Martin seemed to grow wings, and only a second later a monster appeared, humanoid, massive, with grey skin and strange, dual-colored hair and eyes. Judai-sama stepped back.


“Yubel?” he whispered. “You’re— You’re Yubel!”


“I am flattered,” said the monster. It grabbed Martin by his collar and tossed him at Rei. Rei stumbled and fell under the sudden weight. Her head hit the ground hard.


Judai-sama,” she gasped, eyes watering. “Who’s that?”


“Yubel is— Yubel is—” Judai-sama shut his eyes tightly. “I don’t remember, I—”


“My beloved Judai sent me away, so many years ago,” Yubel said. “And he hurt me, oh how he hurt me. All to show me his love. And now,I shall repay him. I activate a spell card: Dimension Fusion Murder! This allows me to remove Uria, Hamon and Raviel from play to summon Chaos Phantasm Armityle!”


This new monster was even larger than the three Sacred Beasts that had been on the field before. Even Judai-sama looked disconcerted now.


“Armityle, attack Elemental Hero Neos!”


To Rei’s horror, the monster’s attack points suddenly shot up to 10 000. Neos was destroyed in a massive blast of power. Judai-sama shielded himself.


“I activate a trap card: Neo-Spacia Road! When Neos is destroyed, this lets me end the battle phase and draw a card.”


Judai-sama drew and added the card to the one he had in his hand. Yubel smiled.


“Very well. I end my turn.”


Judai-sama drew wordlessly. Then he smiled.


“I’ll start off by activating O-Oversoul from my hand and bringing back Neos!” he told Yubel. Elemental Hero Neos rematerialized and Rei breathed a sigh of relief. “Then, I summon Neospacian Grand Mole!”


“Your monsters must love you,” Yubel said. The monster’s face twisted into something ugly. “They’ll soon learn otherwise.”


Judai-sama paid her no heed. “Next, Neos and Grand Mole will contact fuse into Elemental Hero Grand Neos!”


Grand Neos. If Rei remembered its effect right, it could be the solution to all of their problems.


Judai-sama relaxed slightly. “And I’ll equip it with Instant Neospace.” He played the last card in his hand. “Now it’s time to do away with Armityle! I activate Grand Neos’ effect to send Armityle back to your hand!”


Grand Neos charged the monster, but Yubel slowly, almost lazily, smiled.


“You have much improved since you were a child, my Judai. But I’m afraid I can’t let you. I activate a quick-spell: Effect Shut.”


Rei gasped as Grand Neos halted in its tracks. It glanced back at Judai for the briefest of seconds, and then, just like that, exploded.


“Effect Shut negates your monster’s effect and destroys it. Now Judai, what will you do?”


Judai-sama stared at his empty hand and empty field. “I—” he whispered. “I end my turn.”


“I thought so. Now, Armityle, attack!”


Rei screamed. The attack couldn’t hit. If it hit, Judai-sama would lose and—


Armityle’s attack obscured Judai-sama from sight. When it cleared, Judai-sama was still standing. Rei cheered. And then Judai-sama collapsed as his life points hit zero.


“Judai-sama!” Rei yelled. Down below, Asuka-senpai shouted something. Rei ran forward, but Yubel got there first. The monster lifted Judai-sama with more care than Rei would’ve thought possible.


“My poor, beloved Judai,” it whispered. “You will not need to worry anymore.”


Rei activated her duel disk. “I’m challenging you to a duel! Let Judai-sama go!”


But the monster paid her no attention.


“I have no interest in you or your school, girl,” it said. It spread its wings and took off.


“Mystic Dragon!” Rei cried. Her dragon shot after Yubel. And Yubel turned around and stretched out the hand not holding Judai-sama. Fire obliterated her monster, and she could only just see Yubel clutch Judai-sama tighter, until there was heat and pain and she screamed as the fire burnt her eyes out. 


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“I can’t say this is what I expected to come back to,” Asuka-senpai said. She was huddled next to Rei-chan, knees pulled up and duel disk held close. Rei-chan still looked pale and sickly under her many blankets, but at least she was awake, even though she kept shivering. “Chronos-sensei, how did this happen?”


“Ah, signora Asuka,” said Chronos-sensei. He sighed. “It was right after you and your friends left to find medicine for signora Rei. Those poor students, they went out looking for food and came back like this.”


‘This’ was an actual, real zombie invasion. Kenzan had barely been able to believe it. They’d gone out to find medicine for Rei-chan with Misawa-senpai’s help, and when they’d come back, only Chronos-sensei’s intervention had saved them from becoming zombie chow. Why’d it have to be zombies? Dinosaurs, now those he could deal with. Once you got around their sense of smell and hearing, they were pretty easy to escape. These guys just kept coming. Judai-no-aniki had been able to get Rei-chan out of the infirmary, but now they were locked up here, in the gym, with only 20 students left unzombiefied.


“It’s those dis-belts,” Marufuji-senpai said. He shook his right hand wearily. “We need to get them off. As long as we have them on, it’s only a matter of time before we become the same as them.”


“We’ll just beat them!” Judai-no-aniki said, but he lacked his usual cheerfulness. In fact, now that Kenzan thought about it, he’d been kind of withdrawn ever since they went looking for Cobra. But he’d definitely get over it, or he wouldn’t be Judai-no-aniki.


“If only we could get them off,” Asuka-senpai muttered. Kenzan studied the lock on his own dis-belt. It wouldn’t budge. He’d already tried smashing it against a wall. The bruises on his wrist still showed.


Misawa-senpai didn’t look away from the blackboard he’d appropriated an hour ago, but he did pause writing. “You cannot remove the dis-belts, correct?” he asked.


“Short of cutting off our hands?” Manjoume-senpai snorted. “Don’t think so. I like my hands where they are.”


“I smashed mine against a wall,” Kenzan said helpfully. Marufuji-senpai winced. “Didn’t work, though.”


Misawa-senpai frowned, deep in thought. “Unless we have power tools…”


Not even Kenzan could hide his flinch at that idea.


“No, if it is draining you of duel energy, there must be a receptor somewhere. Something that knows how much energy we have left.”


Judai-no-aniki perked up. “So if we destroy that receptor thing, the dis-belts will be useless!” He raised his duel disk. “We’ll go looking for it and take it out!”


Now they were talking! Kenzan got up. If they could destroy that thing, they’d be far closer to getting home.


“Not exactly what I had in mind,” said Misawa-senpai.


Judai-no-aniki frowned. “Well, then what should we do?”


“There are, by my count, at least 300 zombiefied students between us and the location of this —hypothetical—receptor. We do not know where it is or where to start looking. No, unless we know exactly where it is, a search for the receptor is a suicide mission.” Misawa-senpai continued. Asuka-senpai, Marufuji-senpai and Chronos-senpai all nodded. Kenzan got back down. When you put it that way…


“So then what?” Manjoume-senpai said. “We have to get rid of these stupid things.”


“If I can interrupt the signal… Maybe block it,” Misawa-senpai said. He wiped one corner of the blackboard clean and started scribbling again, numbers and letters that went right over Kenzan’s head. “If we can’t take them off, we can at least disable them. Can I see one?”


Marufuji-senpai moved over. Kenzan tapped his foot against the ground. How much longer until the gym would be overrun? And how much longer until they ran out of food? How were they going to make it out of here alive? Misawa-senpai had been looking for a way out ever since they’d returned with Rei-chan’s medicine, but they needed a massive power source to even contact their own world. Access to the power station had been completely cut off already.


The moaning outside increased. A few Ra Yellow students moved to the far corner of the gym. One Obelisk Blue girl with reddish-purple hair started sobbing quietly. Asuka-senpai bit her lip and got up to console the girl.


“Hey, is anyone in there? Let us in!”


Kenzan jumped up, as did Manjoume-senpai. There were still people outside who hadn’t been caught? Judai-no-aniki hurried over to the door.


“Please let us in! They’re coming!” a second person shouted, hitting the door. Manjoume-senpai’s eyes widened.


“Mototani, that you?” he shouted back. There was a second of silence on the other side of the door. The moaning increased.


“Manjoume-san? They’ll find us!”


“We’ve got to let them in!” Judai-no-aniki said, already moving the first table away. To Kenzan’s surprise, Manjoume-senpai did not protest, but only activated his duel disk. Kenzan took the second table from Judai-no-aniki and pushed it away, leaving them with enough room to open the door.


“They’re here!” A girl shouted. Judai-no-aniki pushed open a door and jumped aside when three people—two guys and a girl—stumbled in. He slammed the doors closed again, right in time to stop the first zombie students.


“Some help here!” he shouted. Kenzan grabbed both tables at once and shoved them back against the door. Judai-no-aniki leapt over both and came to a stop a few feet away from the door, his duel disk activated. But the tables held.


“Asuka-san?” the girl asked, trembling. Kenzan recognized her. She was one of Asuka-senpai’s friends—


“Junko! Oh my goodness!” Asuka-senpai ran to the girl and hugged her. “What happened? Are you okay? Where’s Momoe?”


“She…” Junko-senpai sobbed. “Asuka-san, I’m so sorry! She got cornered! We couldn’t save her!”


Asuka-senpai looked stricken. She closed her eyes briefly and swallowed. “It’s not your fault, Junko. I’m just glad to see you’re safe.”


The two guys who’d come with her were standing awkwardly near Manjoume-senpai. Kenzan knew he’d seen them somewhere before.


“Torimaki, Mototani,” said Manjoume-senpai. “How’d you get here?”


The guy with the blue hair, Torimaki apparently, was the one to reply: “We hid away in one of the empty classrooms, but then they found us and we had to run.”


“You got lucky,” Manjoume-senpai stated. He turned away. “Well, might as well stay here. Sit down somewhere and save your energy.”


“That’s the spirit!” Judai-no-aniki said. He deactivated his duel disk, now convinced no one was going to get in. “Hey Misawa, how’re you doing?”


“I can’t reprogram a system like this in just five minutes, Judai,” Misawa-senpai told him. He had attached Marufuji-senpai’s dis-belt to what looked like an ordinary PDA. “I don’t have my usual material here and whoever programmed the dis-belts clearly knew what they were doing.” He smiled when the PDA beeped. “But I’ll have you know that I’m getting there. Give me another hour and your dis-belts will be as harmless as a Watapon.”


Hah, awesome. Kenzan sank down against the wall. Asuka-senpai took Junko-senpai and the purple-haired girl from earlier to sit with Rei-chan, who had finally stopped shivering. There were only 24 students left and just one teacher, but if they could disable those dis-belts, they would at least stand a chance. They could go out and reactivate the power station, and maybe send a message back home.


Yeah, things were finally looking up.

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LOS ANGELES Paseo Del Mar was closed for traffic several hours yesterday morning after keen-eyed drivers spotted a body off the side of the road. The body, later identified as that of 36-year-old Cyan Sammons, showed signs of extensive trauma. Police are investigating the case. Detective Ema Skye, 27, stated that the Los Angeles Police Department is not investigating the possibility of murder.


“It was an accident,” Skye told gathered members of the press. “Now let us do our job.”


Sammons, a scientist working for the Los Angeles branch of entertainment giant Industrial Illusions, was last seen leaving her home yesterday morning. Coworkers stated she never arrived at work.


Paseo Del Mar has been opened for traffic again.


March 7 2028 - 6:23 am

Los Angeles Police Department - Homicide Division


Ema Skye was not having a good day. That summed up most of her days as of late, but this one was proving to be particularly taxing. She’d been up for twenty-two hours now, with only a fifteen-minute nap somewhere around three, and her coffee had gone cold. Again. She was too tired even for proper caffeine intake and that, she reflected, had to be an absolute low in her career.


The file in front of her wasn’t providing her with any answers either. The first picture showed Cyan Sammons, an attractive, African-American woman who, judging by the slight wrinkles around her eyes, had seen one too many stressful days as well. The second picture showed Cyan Sammons again, and this time she had far bigger problems than a few wrinkles. Most of the right side of her body had disappeared. The resulting mess should have been far bloodier, but the picture showed a remarkable lack of blood.


“And we’re sure she hasn’t just washed up on shore?” Ema asked, rubbing the bridge of her nose. Aya Ghanem, a bio-zoologist who’d come over just for this case, shook her head.


“No signs of water damage,” she said. The bags under her eyes had gotten a lot more more pronounced in the last hour. “And this wasn’t done by a shark. It’s way too big.”


“Maybe it was a crane accident?” Ema suggested hopefully. She’d made her bed yesterday morning. The sheets should still smell of fabric softener. It sounded so enticing now.


“No can do. Those are teeth marks. An animal did this, but there’s no animal that can take out half a person in just one bite. We’re looking at something with a mouth that’s at least three feet wide.”


Ema shuddered. She didn’t want to think of such a creature. She most definitely didn’t want to think of such a creature roaming the streets of Los Angeles.


“A killer whale could’ve done it, but she hasn’t been anywhere near the ocean,” Aya said. She slumped back in her chair. “I give up, Ema. It must’ve been an animal that did this, but there’s no animal on the planet that’s capable of this, let alone in Los Angeles. Short of asking Ms. Sammons herself, there’s no way we’ll ever know.”


“Yeah, that’s not gonna happen.” Ema stared moodily at her cold coffee. She was out of Snackoos too, and the vending machines in the hallway would only be refilled on Friday. “Either we have an undiscovered animal here, or a very creative murderer.”


“Occam’s razor,” Aya muttered.




“Go for the easiest explanation.”


Ema stretched her arms. “So, murder?” she said. That didn’t exactly make it easier for her. That meant she’d be dealing with a murder investigation instead of an accidental death, and that’d mean court and trials and testifying.


“Yeah. I can’t think of any animal that could’ve done this, but I’m pretty sure there are enough people crazy enough to do it. What does the autopsy say?”


Ema found the relevant file, even though she already knew its contents by heart and knew Aya did too. “No head trauma, no gunshot wounds, no foreign substances in the blood. Everything points at that bite thing being the cause of death.” She closed it with more violence than strictly necessary. “Right, I’m filing this as a murder investigation and then I’m going home and sleeping until tomorrow. Let the interns deal with it.”


“Good plan.” Aya got up slowly. “I’m going home. Don’t wake me up unless there’s another murder.”


“That’ll be the person I killed for waking me up.” Ema shared a tired grin with the zoologist and picked up all the evidence related to the case. “I’ll see you around. Here’s hoping we’ll get this solved without too much fuss.”


March 7 2028 - 4:39 pm

Chief Prosecutor’s Office


“No. Absolutely not.” Miles Edgeworth said. The officer on the other side of the room flinched.


“Mr. Edgeworth-”


“I refuse to assign a prosecutor for a murder trial if the police department is not even sure the victim was murdered. I expect a more thorough investigation.”


“Detective Skye said-”


Edgeworth sighed. “I’m sure Detective Skye has done everything she could, but I can’t start a murder trial with just this. What proof do we have that this wasn’t an accident?”


“I- Chairman Pegasus from Industrial Illusions contacted the police department earlier today and insisted that everything possible be done to find Ms. Sammons’ murderer.”


“And so we’re obeying the wishes of the first millionaire who throws money our way. Yes, I see how the justice system is working just fine.”


The officer flinched and opened his mouth, undoubtedly to launch into the same tired explanation again, when the door to his office opened. Trucy Wright appeared, followed by a very harassed-looking Apollo Justice.


“Mr. Edgeworth, daddy wanted to know if you-”


“I’m so sorry, prosecutor Edgeworth. I tried to stop her but-”


Edgeworth closed his eyes. “Just a minute here, Trucy. Tell your father the case files he’s looking for are in his mailbox and have been there since before the weekend.”


“That wasn’t what he-!” Trucy said, but Apollo ushered her out of the office before she could finish her sentence. He could hear them arguing in the hallway.


“If you can come up with a stronger case than this, I’ll consider taking it to court,” he told the officer, who had been edging towards the door. “Not a second earlier.”


“But short of talking to the victim-”


“Not a second earlier.”


“Yes, Mr. Edgeworth.” The officer fled the room. Edgeworth followed him and peered around the door.


“You can come in now.”


Trucy bounded into the office. Apollo took a while to follow. Unlike Trucy, who’d made it a habit to pop in at the most unexpected moments, Edgeworth didn’t think he’d ever seen the junior lawyer in the prosecutor’s office before. Most definitely not in his own office.


“Daddy actually already found the files, and he told me to tell you to have more faith in him,” Trucy said. Edgeworth raised an eyebrow.


“That’s an improvement. What is it he wanted to know?”


“Mystic Maya and Pearls are arriving tonight. Do you want to come pick them up with us?”


Maya and Pearl Fey? He’d seen Pearl during Athena Cykes’ trial, but it had been a while since he’d seen Wright’s old assistant. Last he’d heard, Maya Fey’s duties as Master of the Kurain Channeling Tradition kept her firmly ensconced in Kurain.


“I’m afraid I’m busy, Trucy. I’ll try to come by the office when I have time.” He found himself genuinely regretting not being able to go. It had been several years since he’d last seen Maya Fey.


“Oh, too bad,” said Trucy. Apollo was not paying attention. “Daddy said that she was bringing the art book for the tenth anniversary special of the Steel Samurai.”


Damn you, Wright. “I’ll try to pass by when I have time,” Edgeworth repeated. “The police department is trying to get me to declare a trial.”


That got Apollo’s attention. “Trial? What about?” he asked, and belatedly added, “Prosecutor Edgeworth?”


“Don’t get your hopes up, Mr. Justice. There is no murder weapon, no defendant, no motive. The only reason it hasn’t been ruled as an accident yet is because the police department can’t figure out how Ms. Sammons died.”


“How did she die?” Apollo asked.


“The records say that she died of massive trauma and blood loss after being bitten by an animal.”


Apollo frowned. “So then what’s the problem? Ah, apart from Ms. Sammons being dead, of course, but-”


Edgeworth took pity on him. “There’s no animal in the world that could’ve taken out half a person with just one bite. That’s why the police suspects homicide.”


Half a person?” Apollo turned distinctly green, and Trucy covered her mouth. “How is that even possible? Who does such a thing?”


“Ah, so you do believe our culprit was human, Mr. Justice?” Edgeworth said. He smiled. “Unfortunately, we have no idea, and short of asking the late Ms. Sammons herself, I fear we have no proof.”


“We can do that!”


Edgeworth whirled on Trucy, belatedly realizing just what exactly he’d said. “Trucy, no.”


“Mystic Maya will be here tonight anyway, so we can ask her to channel Ms. Sammons, right? Then we can ask her what happened!”


“Such evidence will not be declared admissible in court,” Edgeworth said, rubbing his forehead. “Maya Fey knows that very well. Whatever we learn from channeling the victim won’t be reliable testimony.”


“What’s more reliable than the victim herself?” Trucy insisted. Edgeworth bit back his instinctual reply to that. His father hadn’t known. His father had been trying to protect him and his testimony had made the whole system untrustworthy.


“Maybe the victim didn’t know what happened either,” he tried. “Maybe she was drugged,” No traces of foreign substances found, “or killed before that thing took a bite out of her.”


“But if that’s the case,” Apollo Justice said, and his face spoke of deep concentration and a determination Edgeworth did not like one bit, “then there should be an actual killer. Say… say she was shot, and the bullet that killed her was in the missing half of her body. Then she could tell us who shot her, right? I mean,” he opened his eyes, “I think this might actually be a homicide, Mr. Edgeworth. If such a creature doesn’t exist, then there was something about that missing half of her body that counted as evidence. It’s up to us to find it, isn’t it?”


If he’d had a desk, he would’ve slammed it.


“So I can count on you taking this case when we find a culprit?” Edgeworth asked. Apollo stilled, momentum broken.


“Eh?” He exchanged a look with Trucy. “I guess… if they’re innocent… But we shouldn’t be arresting innocent people.”


“Quite true.” Edgeworth absent-mindedly grabbed the files the officer had left behind. On the first page was a letter from the chairman of Industrial Illusions. The man had been the first to insist that a thorough investigation take place. But channeling Ms. Sammons? Surely that was a step too far. He might trust Maya Fey, but the Kurain channeling tradition had already made enough of a mess of the system. Now that they’d finally gotten the public to trust the court system again, he was not in any hurry to jeopardize that.


“We could do it unofficially,” Trucy said. Her eyes had taken on the same determined look as Apollo’s earlier. “No one’d have to know, right? We just ask Mystic Maya this evening and if it’s not important, we can forget all about it.”


“Nothing I say is going to stop you, is it?”


Apollo looked away guiltily. Trucy had no such compunctions; she just replied with a cheery, “Nope!”


Like a dog who’d smelled prey, the lot of them. Edgeworth shook his head. “Do what you want,” he said. “If it’s important, I’m sure I’ll hear about it. Ema Skye has all the files you need.”


“Okay!” Trucy turned on her heels. She’d almost made it to the door when she looked back. “Oh, Mr. Edgeworth, are you coming with us to pick up Mystic Maya tonight or not?”


Edgeworth looked at his deck, which wasn’t as cluttered as it could have been. If he really made an effort, he’d be done before seven. But he had no intention of sticking around while the Wrights held their little Ouija session. Nothing good had ever come from it.


“I’m sorry, Trucy, I have too much work to do. Let me know what you find.”


If they found anything. He sincerely found himself hoping they wouldn’t. Ms. Sammons’ case was bad enough if it were just an accident. He had no intention of finding out what kind of person would be cruel enough to commit a murder like this.


March 7 2028 10:11 pm

Wright Anything Agency


Maya screamed.


Phoenix jumped up, as did Athena next to him. Pearl stopped them both with a wave of her hand.


“Happens sometimes,” she whispered.


Maya - or the spirit inhabiting her body - fell silent abruptly and looked around, her now-brown eyes wide and panicked. The crowded room, too small for all the people gathered inside it, definitely wasn’t helping the late Cyan Sammons calm down.


“Ms. Sammons?” Pearl asked.


“Where the hell am I?” The voice was Maya’s, but at the same time, it was lower, harsher. Even Maya’s face had become slightly sharper, the skin darker, with slight wrinkles around her eyes.


“You’re at the Wright Anything Agency,” Pearl replied, easily falling into her role as mediator. “My name is Pearl Fey. We wanted to ask you a few questions.”


Cyan Sammons studied Maya’s hands. “I’m dead, aren’t I?” she said.


“I am very sorry for you,” Pearl said. “We are trying to find out what happened. Currently you are being channeled by Mystic Maya Fey, the Master of the Kurain Channeling tradition.”


“So I’m a spirit now?” Cyan muttered. “Guess that’s not surprising.”


If only all people took the news of being dead so well, Phoenix reflected. It would make his job so much easier. Maya had quite readily agreed to channel Ms. Sammons, and Ema had even come over, after shouting at Apollo for waking her up. It had involved a few threats that Phoenix hadn’t caught, but Apollo had been very insistent on pouring his own drinks all evening.


“Do you remember what happened?” Phoenix asked. Cyan brushed a lock of Maya’s hair behind her ear and bit her lip.


“I left home to go to work,” she said slowly. “I know I made it a few blocks from home, but after that it’s all kind of a blur.”


Ema grabbed a handful of Snackoos and munched on them thoughtfully. “Did you go to Paseo Del Mar?” she asked. It came out as a mumble. Cyan Sammons looked briefly disgusted.


“No, why would I even go there? I stopped the car… Oh yeah! There was a dragon.”


Phoenix blinked. Once, then once more, and when Cyan Sammons did not seem inclined to offer any further information, he said, “A dragon.”


“Yes, it was… Yeah, Sapphire Dragon, I’m pretty sure. I didn’t work on the card art but it’s kind of an old one, isn’t it? Very recognizable.”


Phoenix glanced at Apollo, who was frowning at his bracelet as if its lack of activity was a personal insult. The magatama wasn’t picking up anything either. Cyan Sammons believed what she was saying.


“Ms. Sammons,” Ema picked up, in full detective mode now. “You worked for Industrial Illusions, which is a card game company, am I right? Do you mean that the dragon that killed you was one of their cards?”


“Yes, of course. It’s weird, though. I didn’t expect a Sapphire Dragon to be here on earth.”


You expected it to be anything other than a piece of cardboard?


“She can’t be serious,” Athena whispered. Cyan straightened up, her angry expression utterly out of place on Maya’s face.


“I am very serious, young lady. I know what killed me, and it was a Sapphire Dragon. I may not be able to see them myself, but I have been working with interdimensional technology for long enough to know about spirits.”


“Ms. Sammons, did the dragon have any reason to kill you?” Pearl asked. In the background, Apollo choked and started coughing. Trucy absently patted him on the back.


“No, they’re peaceful creatures. Chairman Pegasus and Coral said they don’t attack unless threatened.” Cyan Sammons frowned. “I guess… But why would anyone want to kill me?”


“That’s what we’re trying to find out,” Ema said. “What do you remember about the location?”


Cyan Sammons bit her lip. She shook her head. “I’m sorry, it was dark. One minute I was in my car, the next, dragon.”


Pearl unfolded her legs. “Is there anything else you remember, Ms. Sammons? It could be important.”


“I’m sorry, I only know it was a Sapphire Dragon because I could see it shimmer. It was Longxin’s favorite card, actually.”


“Longxin?” Apollo asked.


“Longxin Huang, my lab partner. We used to argue about it.” Cyan Sammons smiled softly. “I always preferred Diamond Dragon.” Her smiled turned wistful. “I hope she’s okay.”


“I’m sure she is,” said Pearl. “We can check up on her for you, if you want.”


“I’d appreciate that,” Cyan Sammons said. “Well, if that’s all?”


“Yes, thank you.” Ema said. Pearl nodded and touched Maya’s hand. Immediately, a change came over her. Her eyes changed back to their normal color, and she took a deep breath.


“That’s still a bit weird,” Maya muttered. “Well? What’d you find out? What happened to her?”


Ema got up and dusted off her pants. “Pretty sure that was completely useless. Seriously, a dragon? Who’s gonna believe that? That’s so unscientific.”


Phoenix agreed. She had to have been in shock when she was killed, because there was no way a monster from a card game could ever come to life.


“She said it was a spirit, Mystic Maya,” Pearl said quickly. Maya frowned.




“No, I don’t think so. Just a spirit.”


Ema looked at her bag of Snackoos, declared it empty with a disgusted sigh, and got up. “I guess I’ll just tell the police to stop looking. There’s no way we can make a case out of that. Have you ever even heard of dragons?”


“No, wait.” Maya got up along with her. “She might be telling the truth.”


“My bracelet didn’t react, so maybe she thought she was, but…” Apollo trailed off. Maya shook her head. She grinned.


“Well-kept secret here, Nick. There are more spirits than just those of the dead.”


“There are?”


“Yep. But I’m not very familiar with them.” She bit her lip like Cyan Sammons had done. “Oh, I know! I’m just going to make a call. I should have someone who can tell you about them. I just hope he’s somewhere on the continent right now. Come on, Pearly!”


And with that, she grabbed Pearl’s hand and dragged her into the hallway with her. “Be back in a minute!” she shouted over her shoulder. “Should have your witness here by tomorrow!”


“But there’s not even a trial,” Athena said.


“And there’s not gonna be.” Ema put on her coat, just as Phoenix’s phone started ringing. He fumbled with it and managed to press the answer button before the call went to voice mail.


“Phoenix Wright, defense attorne-”


“Wright, it’s me.” Miles Edgeworth said.


“Edgeworth? It’s almost eleven, something wrong?”


On the other side of the line, Edgeworth sighed deeply. “It’s the Sammons case. You can tell your protégés they’ve got a court appointment tomorrow. The police have made an arrest.”


The room fell silent around him. “Really? Who?” Phoenix asked.


“Longxin Huang. The victim’s former lab partner.”



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January 2015

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