Part Three: The Game

By: SilvorMoon

Manjoume studied his hand, feeling mildly irritated. Having completed his deck-building experiment, he had taken the faulty deck apart and put his favorite cards back into it, but it just wasn't the same. While he could duel without his Ojamas, he didn't particularly care to. It put a crimp in his style. If Juudai hadn't been pestering him intolerably, he never would have agreed to a duel.

"You gonna make your move any time this week?" Juudai teased.

"I'm getting to it! Some people actually think once in a while," snapped Manjoume, but he didn't really mean it. When he was playing with a handicap, he really didn't want Juudai to think too much. "Okay, I play V-Tiger Jet in attack mode and place one card-"

"Big Brother!" shouted a voice in his ear.

Manjoume jumped and nearly dropped his cards. "What?"

"I didn't say anything!" Juudai protested.

"Not you - him!" said Manjoume, jerking a thumb in Ojama Yellow's direction. He was a little annoyed; Juudai was one of the few people he could have reasonably expected to know who he was yelling at. He turned back to the Ojama standing on his shoulder. "What do you want? Can't you see I'm busy!"

"But Big Brother, it's reeeeeeeally important!" Ojama Yellow complained. "You gotta come quick! We saw that guy..." His voice trailed off, and he faded from view.

"Dammit, they're out of range," Manjoume snarled. He looked at Juudai. "Hey, I'm gonna have to call this duel off. But don't think it's 'cause I'm scared of losing to you or anything, because we both know I would have won this, but there's something I've got to do, so I'm out of here."

"What? But we just started!" Juudai whined, but it was too late. Manjoume had already shut off his Duel Disk and gone dashing out of the arena.

"This had better be good," he muttered as he ran. "You twits just cost me a duel!"

He made a beeline for the Obelisk Blue dorms, grumbling all the way. He had to sneak carefully onto the grounds - for one reason and another, he wasn't always very welcome near the Obelisk Blue dorm. He took a backwards route, looping widely around the building and coming toward it from the woods, avoiding the main trails where he might accidentally encounter any of his former dorm-mates who might try to hustle him back to Osiris Red. As it was, he made it safely to the back of the house and crouched in the bushes where he hoped his black clothing would help him stay out of sight.

"All right, guys," he said softly. "What have you got for me?"

Immediately, the transparent figures of his three spirits appeared around him.

"We saw him tear it up!" wailed Ojama Black. "It was awful!"

"Saw him tear what up?" asked Manjoume, instantly on alert.

"The card!" said Ojama Yellow. "He tore it up!"

"You mean he tore up that stupid serpent card he's always talking about? Why would he do that?"

"I don't know!" Yellow replied. "I just heard him say he'd got all the use out of it he could, and then he tore it all to pieces and threw it out the window!"

"Dammit! That was our evidence," Manjoume muttered. "Now what are we going to do? Never mind, I don't expect you to answer that. Just keep watching, okay, and tell me if he does anything else important! I've gotta go talk to Misawa."

The Ojamas vanished, and Manjoume crept out of the shrubbery and headed for safer territory, ducking back into the forest. Once he was safely out of the range where he could have expected to be seen or heard by his schoolmates, he took out his cell phone and placed a call. He waited until he heard Misawa's voice answering him.

"We've got a situation with Hatori," Manjoume said.

"Not to worry," answered Misawa calmly. "I've already, as they say, got the goods on him. I've placed a call to Hayato at Industrial Illusions. He's going to find out for us if that card is a fake or not."

"It's worse than a fake. It doesn't exist," said Manjoume.

Misawa skipped a beat. "Beg pardon?"

"I mean it's gone. It's destroyed. He tore it up."

Manjoume could almost hear Misawa's eyes snap open. "He did what? When? Why? How do you know?"

"I have reliable eyewitnesses. They just now told me they heard him say he'd gotten all the use he could out of the card, and then he tore it up!"

"But that makes no sense," Misawa said, "unless..."

"Aw, don't go all mysterious on me now. What's the deal?"

"Unless he's planning to make a break for it," Misawa finished. "He can't make any money without the card, so he wouldn't tear it up unless he were done here."


"Meaning somebody had better catch him before he leaves the island."

"I'm on it," said Manjoume. "Already on my way."

"So am I. He's probably heading for the docks. That's the only way off the island, so hurry that way and we'll see if we can cut him off before he gets there."

"Can do."

They broke off the connection. Misawa had started out the door as soon as he'd heard the news, and now he was racing out of the Ra dorm and running as quickly as he could down the paths to the docks. He skidded to a halt as he came closer to the waterside and stopped to take stock of the situation. There didn't appear to be any people around. That was good if it meant that Misawa had beaten Hatori to the docks, but what if it meant that his guess had been wrong? If Hatori had an alternate method of leaving the island, then they might end up waiting here for hours while their target slipped off in a different direction. If that was the case, there was no way the two of them could patrol the whole island, and there was not enough time to rally anyone else. No, Misawa would have to trust his instincts for this. He knew Hatori was guilty of something, and an attempt at escape was only a matter of time. Misawa picked out an out-of-the-way place where he would hopefully not be spotted while still being able to keep a good watch himself, and settled in to wait.

He didn't have to wait long, but it was still longer than he expected before he finally saw Hatori sauntering along the path. He didn't seem to be in any particular hurry, which made Misawa frown a little. Either the man was very sure of himself, or Misawa had made a miscalculation somewhere. He decided to take a risk. He stepped out of his hiding place.

"Hatori?" he called. "Are you looking for something?"

Hatori glanced over at Misawa, and his vague expression turned into something much more menacing.

"Yes," he said. In a swift movement, he crossed the space between them and seized on Misawa's collar. "You."

"What? What?" All Misawa could do was splutter as Hatori dragged him down the path in the direction of the main building.

"You'll see," Hatori replied with a smirk.

As they drew nearer to the school building, they encountered Manjoume, who looked surprised by this development.

"Misawa, what's going on?" he called.

"Things have not gone according to plan," said Misawa curtly.

He made an effort to free himself, but Hatori had a very good grip on him, and any attempt to pull away was met by a hand clenching with breathtaking force on his neck. He quickly realized that unless he wanted to be choked senseless, the only thing he could do was to keep walking and not make a fuss. Manjoume trailed behind, looking uncertain as to what he should be doing. As they came closer to the main building, several more curious students joined the procession. When they reached the front steps of the school, Hatori released him, thrusting him away so roughly that he stumbled and almost fell.

"What did you do that for?" Misawa demanded, rubbing his neck. "You can't treat me like this - you're not even a teacher!"

"I don't have to be a teacher to punish someone who wrongs me," Hatori replied.

"What are you talking about?" asked Misawa. "I haven't done anything to you!" Admittedly he had been planning to do something to him, but he hadn't had a chance to do it yet, so how could Hatori know about it?

"Don't lie to me!" Hatori replied. "You know exactly what you've done! You've stolen my card!"

Misawa felt a sinking feeling as he suddenly realized what was going on. In his hurry to trap Hatori, he had ended up being trapped himself! With the card destroyed, there was no way to prove he hadn't stolen it, and countering by saying that Hatori had torn it up himself would hardly be convincing, especially when he couldn't say how he knew it had happened. Still...

"How can you say that?" Misawa replied. "You have no proof! There is not the slightest shred of evidence that would indicate I've done such a thing. Where do you get the nerve to make such baseless accusations?"

"Don't you play innocent," said Hatori. "You've been just a little too interested in that card ever since I came to this island. Don't think I didn't see you eavesdropping on Principal Sameshima and me when I came here. You've been poking around asking nosy questions and trying to get your hands on that card. That's why you came to class early today, wasn't it? You were trying to get more information on it. I saw you copying everything about it into your notebook."

"That doesn't prove anything!" said Misawa, exasperated. This was ridiculous - if there was a thief here, it certainly wasn't him, and he resented having to stand trial in front of all these people. "Everyone in the school is interested in that card! I'm hardly the only one who has looked at it, so why am I the only suspect?"

"So you swear you're innocent?" asked Hatori.

"I swear I haven't stolen that card!" Misawa replied. "I haven't touched it or seen it since you showed it to me this morning, and I put it back in your hands so you can't claim I stole it then. You can search my pockets and my bookbag and my whole room if you want to, but I haven't got it!"

"Fine. I'll take you up on that," Hatori replied.

Misawa stared at him a moment, thinking, What is this character up to? Nevertheless, if what Manjoume said was true, then the card no longer existed, so it would be impossible to plant any incriminating evidence on him. He knew there was nothing in his room to be found, and denying the search now would only serve to make him look guilty. He really had no better choice than to go along with this crazy scheme and hope he could see a way out of it before whatever trap Hatori was laying closed around him. He nodded his agreement and began leading the way to his dorm room.

As he walked, Manjoume fell into step next to him.

"What's going on?" Manjoume hissed.

"A trick," Misawa whispered back. "A maneuver to hide his trail. If he just vanished from the island, people might go looking for him. But if his card vanishes, he's got a logical reason to leave, and people will be too busy gossiping about a card thief in their midst to care that he's gone." He grimaced. "This one is slyer than I thought he'd be. I've underestimated him."

"So what does he want to search your room for?" Manjoume asked.

Misawa shrugged. "He's probably looking for the notebook I was writing in earlier. I knew I should have been more careful not to let him see it... Now he's going to try to use it to prove I've been plotting to rob him."

"That's what you get for snooping," said Manjoume philosophically.

"You did it too!"

"Yeah, but I didn't get caught, did I?"

It was hard to argue with logic like that. Misawa decided to quit complaining, and instead simply walked silently to the Ra Yellow dorm, where he led his train of curious followers up the stairs to his room. He flung open his door and gestured at his room, which was painfully neat except for his usual scribbling on the walls, which never disappeared for very long.

"Well, here it is! Have at it!" he said, standing back and waving his arm dramatically. He felt a bit like the villain in a play but wasn't sure what else to do. He stood back and watched, smoldering, as Hatori searched his room.

It was about that time that Misawa realized his second mistake. If it had been only the notes he'd made that morning that Hatori found, he might still have been able to talk his way out of the situation. Unfortunately, Misawa was betrayed by his own intellectual curiosity. He generally liked to keep his computer turned on during the day, and it was still on now. In fact, it was still on one of the pages he'd been using earlier when he'd been researching the mystery card. Hatori noticed it immediately and reached for the mouse.

"Here, stop that! I didn't give you permission to use that!" Misawa protested before he could stop himself. He was protective of his computer.

"You said I could search the room," Hatori replied. "This is part of your room. And it's interesting, too. You've been doing a lot of research lately, haven't you?" He gestured at the list of websites Misawa had visited in the last few days. "If you do your homework as thoroughly as you've researched me and my Jade Serpent card, you must have the best grades in the school. How long have you been planning this?"

Misawa stared into Hatori's eyes and thought, He really does think I was planning to steal it! That was just enough to push Misawa over the edge.

"All right, have it your way! I confess!" he said. "I did plot to steal your card, and I did steal it! I've got it hidden away right now, so there!"

There was a moment of shocked silence. Misawa was actually rather pleased with himself. He suspected that Hatori hadn't been counting on a confession - more likely he had been simply trying to stir up some trouble and draw attention away from himself, knowing full well that nothing could ever be proven. He could slip off silently, hanging his head in shame at having made such false accusations, and no one would be surprised at his leaving. Now it was a whole new ball game. There was no way Hatori could leave now without raising suspicion, not until the whole matter was settled.

"You're... confessing?" asked Hatori, obviously confused. "Okay, fine. If you've stolen it, where is it?"

"I'm not telling," Misawa replied. "That would be counterproductive to stealing it, since if I told you, you'd just take it back, correct? I've hidden it. You'd have to search the whole island to figure out where it is." Thinking quickly, Misawa realized that if he let the matter stand there, there was still a chance that Hatori might declare that he'd given up and leave the island anyway. Misawa would have to think of something else to make sure he stuck around. "The only way I'll tell you what I've done with it is... if you beat me in a duel!"

A murmur of appreciation went through the crowd. Hatori began to look mildly panicked, and Misawa had to suppress a smile.

"Yeah, that's the perfect way to solve this!" said one of his classmates. "Let's have a duel!"

"We've all heard so much about your great duels, Hatori," said one of the girls. "Now is your chance to show us what you can really do!"

There was a chorus of agreement. Hatori seemed to realize he was trapped and took a deep breath.

"All right, then. If that's the way it's got to be," he said.

Misawa nodded. "I will give you twenty-four hours to prepare your deck. I'll meet you in front of the school."

"Fine," said Hatori. He cast a look at the people watching him, not quite managing to not look nervous. "Twenty-four hours."

He slumped off, looking quite unlike his usual jaunty self. A number of people followed him, calling encouragement, questions, and advice, which he appeared to ignore. Misawa decided decided to close and lock the door before anything else peculiar could happen. No sooner had he done so, however, when someone knocked on it, and Misawa opened it to see that there were now a number of people standing in the hall, but they were the kind of people he didn't mind talking to.

"Did you really steal a card?" asked Juudai, wide-eyed. Behind him, Shou and Kenzan were looking equally baffled. Fubuki, as usual, looked as if he had rather been enjoying the show, while Asuka looked as if she didn't know what to make of it all but wasn't sure she approved. Manjoume, being the only one who knew what was going on, simply followed quietly and made a game attempt to look sympathetic.

"No, I didn't steal any cards," Misawa answered tiredly. "It's all very long and complicated. The short version is, there never was a card to steal. It was a fake."

There was a predictable series of outbursts, best summed up by Kenzan exclaiming, "Why didn't you say something, then?"

"Because everyone in the school was wrapped around his fingers," Misawa answered, "so no one would take my word over his, and I had no solid proof until a short while ago. Obviously I proved it a bit too late."

"So let me get this straight," said Shou. "I gave him an entire month's allowance to see a forgery?"

"I called Hayato about it, and he sent me an e-mail about it not long ago. He says he asked Pegasus, and Pegasus says he's never heard of such a card. I don't think you can get a better source than that, when it comes to Duel Monsters," Misawa replied.

"What a creep," said Kenzan, his eyes flashing. "If I could get my hands on him, I'd..." He didn't finish the sentence, but bared his teeth in a fashion that suggested he'd be more than willing to eat Hatori alive with a dash of soy sauce.

"That might not be such a good idea," said Juudai, attempting to settle his friend.

"Why not?" Shou muttered. He still seemed to be fuming over the loss of his spending money. "He can't taste any worse than the stuff they serve for lunch."

"Well, it looks like they're going to settle it with a duel, now!" said Fubuki cheerfully.

"I doubt that will settle the issue on its own," said Misawa thoughtfully, "though I suppose if I manage an easy win, it might cast some doubt on him. He's been painting himself as a championship duelist."

"You mean he's not that either?" asked Shou.

"You want to see what he did to my deck?" Manjoume retorted, holding out the stack of cards as evidence. "I asked him to help me tune it up, and he turned it into something the lamest goof in this school wouldn't use!"

Asuka looked distinctly uncomfortable. Her cheeks reddened a bit, and she looked determinedly off in any direction she could find that didn't require making eye-contact with anyone.

Shou looked at the cards Manjoume handed him and made a face. "Misawa, you're going to win this duel easy."

"I hate to make assumptions of that nature," Misawa replied. "I don't want to find out he'd been holding back. He's surprised me more than once already." He made a face. "Unfortunately, even if I win the duel, it won't help my predicament much. What I really want to do is bring the truth to light, and we can't do that without proof. Unfortunately, unless we can persuade Pegasus to fly out here tomorrow and explain things for us, I don't know where we're going to get that proof before Hatori leaves the island."

"Too bad we can't get him to confess," said Fubuki. "That would probably work."

"Oh, come on," said Juudai. "How are we supposed to make him do that? Nobody would own up to something like that."

"Maybe," said Misawa thoughtfully, "but there is more than one way to get a confession out of someone..."

Misawa stood on the walk in front of the school, resisting the urge to pace. He was also resisting the urge to yawn - he'd spent most of the night pulling together a new deck that would serve his purpose. It was an unusual deck for him. He usually designed a deck to win, but for this duel, it didn't matter whether he won or lost, so long as he managed to get that one card on the field...

"Don't worry!" Juudai told him cheerfully. "Everything is going to work out just fine! Your cards won't let you down, and neither will we."

Misawa looked up at his assembled friends. No matter how things turned out, it still meant a lot to him that they were here to support him. This would have been a much more difficult feat if he was alone, but with some backup, he might just stand a chance. The results should be interesting, anyway.

Of course, his friends weren't the only ones there watching him. Hatori had plenty of fans here, too - more than his share, Misawa thought, watching the people staring at him suspiciously. He stifled a sigh. Maybe he had been a bit hasty, owning up to the card theft that way. Oh, well, no help for it now. He did his best to pretend he didn't see them.

"It's about time for him to get here," said Shou, looking at his watch.

"Maybe he chickened out," Kenzan suggested.

"He couldn't even if he wanted to," said Manjoume smugly. "We took turns watching him all night. He didn't go anywhere." Misawa wasn't entirely sure of who Manjoume meant by "we", but judging by the smug expression, he guessed Fubuki was also involved somewhere. He suffered a vision of Fubuki sitting on top of the Obelisk dorm dressed as a ninja, keeping watch from the shadows. He shook it off.

However, it appeared that Manjoume was right about Hatori's whereabouts, because he arrived a moment later, in the company of his entourage and looking more certain of himself than he had the last time Misawa had seen him. Either he had something up his sleeve (which Misawa wasn't willing to rule out) or he had convinced himself that this duel wasn't likely to lead to any problems for him.

We'll see about that, Misawa thought.

"Well, Misawa," said Hatori, "I don't know what you think to gain by doing this, since you've already admitted your guilt. Everyone is still going to know the truth, whether you beat me or not."

"Let's just say I have something I want to prove," said Misawa. "So here are the stakes I propose: If I win, we'll forget you ever accused me of stealing your card, and you can turn around and go back to wherever you came from. If you win... I'll let you decide."

"Fair enough," Hatori replied. Misawa resisted the urge to smile. Of course Hatori would accept the terms! Either way, he'd get what he wanted: a clean getaway.

"Excellent," said Misawa. "Then I'll let you have the first move. Duel!"

The two of them fired up their Duel Disks and made their draws. Misawa had to admit that at least Hatori handled his disk like he knew what he was doing. If nothing else, he had learned how to look like a real duelist. Hatori studied his cards for a moment.

"I'll summon the Mad Dog of Darkness in attack mode!" he declared. "Turn end."

"That's all?" Misawa said, surprised in spite of himself.

"What else do I need?" Hatori replied. "You can't get past a monster this strong on the first move! There's no point in filling my deck with unnecessary spells and traps when everyone knows the game is truly won with monsters."

"Is that a fact," Misawa murmured. "Well, then, you won't mind if I use a few myself. I'll start by summoning Big Shield Guardna in defense mode. Then I'll play... Graceful Charity!" As Hatori watched in puzzlement, Misawa drew three cards and sent two to the graveyard.

Not what I needed, he thought, disappointed, but this will do for now.

"I place one card face-down and end my turn," he finished.

"So, you're planning to hide behind that shield, are you?" Hatori said. "No one ever won a duel by just defending, you know. No wonder you're just a mediocre Ra Yellow student."

Misawa gritted his teeth to avoid saying something that would have been unsportsmanlike.

"Make your move," he said.

"Fine. I summon Luster Dragon in attack mode. Now there are two powerful monsters facing you down. How long do you think it's going to take before your shield cracks?"

"A fairly long time, since neither of your monsters has the attack power to get past my Big Shield Guardna," Misawa replied. "Are you done?"

"For now, yes. Turn end."

"Good." Misawa made his draw and sighed a little. Still not what he was looking for! He really wasn't used to this business of relying on luck and intuition, yet, no matter how good it sounded in theory. "I summon Ebon Magician Curran in attack mode!"

A cute if slightly sullen-looking little girl in a black dress and bunny ears appeared on the field. Hatori stared.

"You're going to face me down with that?" he exclaimed. "She only has twelve hundred attack points!"

"She's good enough," said Misawa. "For every standby phase of mine that passes, you lose three hundred life points for every monster of yours on the field."

"Fine," said Hatori. "She isn't going to stay on the field long enough to make a difference. For my move-"

"I'm not done yet," said Misawa. "I play the magic card Pot of Greed! I draw two cards from my deck and add them to my hand... and one of those cards, as it turns out, is Reload. That allows me to put my hand back into my deck, shuffle my deck, and draw the same number of cards as I put in the deck. Then I'll place one card face-down and end my turn."

"You continue to show your lack of skill," said Hatori, gently, as a teacher might scold an arrogant young student. "A good deck should be constructed so that you always have useable cards in your hand."

"Thank you for telling me that. I'll keep it in mind," said Misawa evenly. "Oddly enough, I seem to be winning at this point, despite my lack of skill."

"Not for long," said Hatori. "You may think you're going to cost me some points with your magician, but she's about to cost you a lot more! Mad Dog of Darkness, attack that rabbit!"

The dog moved to obey, lunging for the frightened Ebon Magician.

"Trap card, activate! Attack Guidance Armor!" Misawa declared. "This trap allows me to redirect your attack in any direction I please - and I say your dog attacks Big Shield Guardna!"

Hatori cringed as his life points dropped by five hundred.

"Care to try that again?" asked Misawa cheerfully.

Hatori snarled. "You can't possibly have two of those traps! You're just trying to bluff me into not attacking again! Well you can forget that idea! Luster Dragon, attack Ebon Magician Curran!"

The dragon attacked. Misawa almost swore that it looked reluctant, as if even it realized that this was a bad move.

"You're right," said Misawa. "I don't have another Attack Guidance Armor. I do, however, have a Magic Cylinder."

"What?" A flash of amazement crossed Hatori's face. Then a flash of flame crossed it instead, as the dragon fired into the cylinder, and a burst of flame spurted out the other end, directly at Hatori. His life went down to 1600 points. The dragon slunk back to its place, looking slightly ashamed of itself.

"Anything else?" Misawa asked.

Hatori looked thoughtful, but apparently he didn't want to risk the possibility that Misawa might have something else destructive up his sleeve.

"Fine," he said. "I summon Command Knight in defense mode. Your turn."

There was some muttering in the crowd. Obviously this was not the duel the students had been expecting.

"What's wrong with you, Hatori?" someone called.

"Yeah, you're not playing right! You're letting him mop the floor with you!" said someone else.

"Come on! You should be able to do a lot better than this! What about all those stories you told us?"

"Yeah, you're supposed to be a championship duelist! Pull it together!"

A boy in a red jacket began to laugh. "Man, he's dueling worse than I do! I want a go at him next! It'd be nice to win a duel, for a change!"

The audience broke out in jeers. Hatori flushed and glared daggers at Misawa.

"Make a fool out of me, will you?" he hissed. "Don't think you've got the upper hand just because you're winning a stupid game."

"That remains to be seen," said Misawa mildly. He placed his hand on his deck, wished as hard as he could for a miracle, and drew. He looked down. He smiled.

Maybe there is something to this lucky draw business, after all!

"All right, now it's time to really get down to business," said Misawa. "First, Ebon Magician Curran's effect activates. You lose nine hundred points."

Hatori grimaced as his life counter dropped to a mere seven hundred points.

"Next, I'll sacrifice Ebon Magician Curran and Big Shield Guardna to summon... The Jade Serpent of Shangri-La!"

"What?" Hatori yelped. "But that's impossible! You can't have that card! I already..."

"Oh, really?" said Misawa. "I thought you were very convinced yesterday that I did have that card."

Hatori flushed as he realized he might have just made a fatal slip of the tongue. He hurried to cover his tracks. "That's not what I meant! I was just surprised to see you had the gall to use it against me."

"That isn't what you said," Misawa replied. "What you said was, 'You can't have that card!' Now, I think that's a funny thing to say. It still sounds very much to me like you're more surprised by me having it than you do by me using it."

"You haven't used it yet," Hatori pointed out. "You're bluffing. Let's see you use it."

"All right, then, I will."

Misawa's two monsters vanished, and were replaced by an enormous serpentine beast, all scales and claws and wings and horns. It coiled its scaly body and looked malevolently down on Hatori.

"That..." said Hatori slowly. "That doesn't look a thing like the Jade Serpent of Shangri- La."

"That's what you think," Misawa replied. "Actually, it was your card that doesn't look a thing like the Jade Serpent of Shangri-La. You see, unlike your card, mine isn't a forgery."

There was a murmur in the crowds. Hatori went slightly pale.

"You're crazy - that's crazy talk," he said.

"What an eloquent rebuttal," said Misawa. "You may have thought you were fooling us all with your fake card, but you underestimated us, Hatori - if that's even your real name. You see, a friend of ours, Hatao Maeda, works for Industrial Illusions, and he's friendly with Pegasus."

"We're all pretty friendly with Pegasus," Juudai chipped in. "He's a great guy. Real agreeable."

Hatori looked at Juudai and his friends, who all nodded their confirmation. Several of the other students chimed in with their agreement as well. Most of them had heard of Hayato's stroke of luck in landing a job working for the founder of Duel Monsters, and it was hard to miss all of Pegasus's recent comings and goings.

"So what of it?" said Hatori warily.

"So," Misawa replied, "as soon as I began to suspect what you were up to, I put in a call to my friend and asked him to check with Pegasus to verify that your card was real. And as it turns out, it was not. I say again, your card was a fraud. This, however, is real - the genuine Jade Serpent of Shangri-La, sent to me by Pegasus himself to put an end to your scam! That is why I agreed to this duel - so I could show everyone what you really are. You're not a championship duelist, and you never owned a rare card you didn't scam someone out of, and you definitely never owned The Jade Serpent of Shangri-La. You're nothing but a common con-man."

His little speech prompted a burst of chatter from the onlookers, a grand-scale version of what Juudai and the gang had done when Misawa had first told them what was going on. No one, it seemed, was very happy to hear that they had given up their pocket-money or prized cards to look at a fake. Nor did they seem very inclined to believe Misawa might not be telling the truth now that he had dueled a "championship duelist" to a standstill without even trying very hard.

"All your games are over," said Misawa, "including this one. I play the spell card Lightning Vortex. By discarding one card from my hand, I can destroy all face-up monsters on the field... leaving you totally helpless when my serpent attacks you directly!"

It was all over in a flash of lightning. Hatori slumped to the ground as his life points dropped to zero. Misawa went to stand over him. He smiled sweetly.

"By the way," he said. "That card I just used? That wasn't The Jade Serpent of Shangri- La. I made that bit up. That was the Serpent Night Dragon. And if that doesn't prove you don't know enough about dueling, I don't know what will."

Hatori straightened up. Surprisingly, he started to laugh - a tired laugh, but a laugh nonetheless. He gave Misawa a strained smile.

"Well, done," he said. "Very well done indeed, Misawa. You've done your homework much more thoroughly than I expected. You truly are a clever young man. I admit, I did not play my cards well enough in any respect. Clearly I have a lot to learn."

"That's good to hear you say," Misawa replied, "because I have a feeling you've got a long stretch of free time coming up."

Hatori looked around. He was hemmed in on all sides by students, who did not look particularly pleased with him at the moment. He sighed.

"It certainly looks that way," he said. "Well, perhaps I'll learn how to play Duel Monsters a little better, so maybe next time I won't be caught so easily."

"You've gotta be kidding," said Juudai. "You mean you're going to start over again as soon as they let you go?"

"Of course," Hatori replied. "Do you stop playing cards just because you lose a duel? No, I'll be back. I love the game too much to quit."

Misawa just shook his head. "Kenzan, a hand?"

"Right!" Kenzan agreed. He seized on Hatori and flashed one of his too-sharp smiles, the kind that made him look as if he was considering how you'd taste with a little salt and pepper. "Come on, march!"

Hatori gave his onlookers a final salute and allowed himself to be hustled off toward the main building to have a chat with campus security. A number of people trailed after him, making good and sure he didn't think of a way to weasel out of his confession. Misawa slumped against one of the stones lining the walkway and gave a sigh of relief.

"I'm glad that's all done with," he said.

"I didn't know you had a card like that!" said Juudai. "It's seriously cool! How come you don't use it more often?"

"What, the Serpent Night Dragon? Well, it's a bit on the rare side," Misawa replied, "and it hasn't got a lot in the way of abilities, so I've never seen fit to build a deck around it. It's really more of a showpiece card than a functional one, so I mostly just keep it in a box."

"Well, it put on a good show today!" said Fubuki cheerfully. "I wouldn't mind having one of those. It rocks!"

"I just want to get my Ojamas back," said Manjoume. "Think it's okay to raid his room?"

"Probably," said Fubuki. "Come on, let's go."

The two of them drifted off in the direction of the Blue dorm. Asuka scampered after them.

"Manjoume, wait," she called.

He stopped in his tracks. "Yes?"

"I... I guess I ought to apologize," she said. "I mean, for being so harsh about you not liking him. I shouldn't have given you such a hard time."

"Oh," he said. "Well... that's okay. I mean, you didn't know..."

Asuka blushed slightly. "Well, actually, I had a feeling something was up after he, um, helped me improve my deck."

"Let me guess - he didn't do yours any favors, either," Manjoume said archly.

"Not really," she admitted. "It took me three hours to get it all back the way I wanted it. I was too embarrassed to admit I'd been fooled, so I just... tried to brush it off."

"Oh, well... I guess it's okay," said Manjoume. "I'll tell you what - you still owe me a duel sometime. You can pay me with that and we'll call it even. Deal?"

Asuka thought it over. "I'd say that's the fairest offer I've heard in a long time. Deal."

There was a moment of silence as they smiled shyly at each other, until Fubuki piped up, "Why don't you get her to take you to get your cards back?"

"I'll deal with this myself, thanks!" Manjoume snapped back. He looked back at Asuka. "Though I guess you could come along, if you want. I mean, it doesn't make much difference either way."

She shrugged. "I guess I could tag along. I have nothing better to do today, anyway." She paused. "Why do you have to get your cards back? What did you do with them?"

"It's a long story," said Manjoume.

As the three of them walked off, Juudai wandered over to where Misawa was sitting and sat down next to him. Shou and Kenzan, never too far behind him, went to lean on either side of the stone.

"You know," said Juudai, "even after everything he did, I just can't hate the guy."

"I know what you mean," Misawa replied. "I understand where he's coming from, at least." Maybe, he thought, that was how he'd have ended up if he hadn't had good influences like dueling and his friends to fall back on. It was easy to slip into the temptation of thinking he was so much cleverer than anyone else that he could do whatever he wished...

"I hope he does take up dueling," said Juudai. "I mean, for real. That's totally a better game than what he's been playing."

"You're right," Misawa agreed. "I hope he does, too."

With so many witnesses to his confession, Hatori had no choice but to spill everything to the campus police, who were swift enough in contacting the proper authorities. They confirmed that the man they had in custody, who had been passing under the pseudonym of Hatori Uono for the past few months, was wanted on a number of charges involving parting trusting people from their money. He was hustled off to the mainland to have a long chat with the good people of law enforcement.

There had been some excitement regarding returning the money and cards that Hatori had taken back to its rightful owners; a number of people were attempting to claim that they had paid more than they actually had. Most of the cards had made it safely back to their owners, but as for the money, the school gave up and used it to throw an ice cream party for the whole school instead. Most everyone had been satisfied with that.

Now Misawa, who had been staring moodily out his window, went and fell back on his bed with a sigh. On the one hand, he was relieved that all the hullabaloo was over, that his good name was restored, and that everything had gone back to normal. Normal, on Academy Island, was almost disappointing. Misawa found he rather missed having a mission. It seemed like now that he had completed his heroic stand against the villain of the day, everyone had forgotten how much of a role he had played in it. Somehow it was easier to remember how the charming Hatori had swindled most of the island, and harder to remember how all-around nice guy Misawa had made life go back to being relatively uninteresting. It was hard to believe anyone appreciated his efforts.

He was brought out of his thoughts by a knock on the door.

"Yes?" he called. "Who is it?"

"Package to sign for, sir," said a voice from the hallway.

Misawa got up and opened his door, and was met by a neatly uniformed deliveryman holding a clipboard fat manilla envelope.

"Sign here, please," said the deliveryman, thrusting the clipboard forward.

Misawa bemusedly signed his name on the dotted line. "What brought this on?"

"Don't ask me. I just deliver them," the man replied. He glanced at his clipboard briefly before passing the package to Misawa. It was lighter than it looked like it would be. "Here you go. Enjoy. Have a nice day, sir."

The man walked off, leaving Misawa to inspect the mysterious package. He was both pleased and surprised to find it bore the address of Hayato's apartment in America. He ripped it open and pulled out a letter, a vast quantity of tissues, and a smaller envelope. He read the letter first. It read:

Dear Misawa,

We heard what happened with you and the con-man. Wish I could have been there to see it! Anyway, this is just kind of a thank-you for what you did. Hope everything's going great down there!

Your old chum,

Hayato Maeda

That was pleasant but not very informative, so Misawa set the letter aside so he could write back later, and then turned his attention to the envelope. It had his name written on it in an unfamiliar curly handrwriting that aroused his curiosity. He very carefully tore it open. A card fell out. He picked it up and stared at it, blinking in surprise. Though the details were slightly different, the overall image was the same, and the title was identical: The Jade Serpent of Shangri-La. The biggest difference was that in the box where the card's effects would have gone, there was an added line: With gratitude, P.J. Crawford. Misawa stared for a moment. Then he smiled slowly. Tucking the card safely in his pocket, he got up and went looking for the others.

He found his friends in the Osiris Red dorm, as usual, sitting around Manjoume's big screen TV and watching a recording of the KC Grand Prix finals. Misawa leaned casually in the doorway and flashed a cat-who-stole-the-cream smile.

"Hello, everyone," he said. "I'll bet you can't guess what I've got."

"Homework?" Shou quipped.

"A headache?" suggested Kenzan.

"An attitude problem?" said Manjoume.

"Very funny," Misawa answered loftily. "What I've got is a reward for services rendered in the area of preventing card forgery. Specifically, I've just received in the mail a one-of-a-kind card from Pegasus himself."

"Ooh, let us see!" said Juudai.

"Yeah, let me see, let me see!" Shou chimed in.

"Oh, I don't know," said Misawa. "What will you give me for the privilege?"

Instantly, Misawa found himself being pelted with popcorn, empty soda cans, and sofa pillows.

"It was a joke! A joke!" he protested, trying to shield himself from the rain of objects. He was laughing, anyway, even if they weren't. He realized he'd had no need to feel down: things would never get too boring on Academy Island.

The End