Welcome, one and all, to my first DA fic! For those of you who may be unfamiliar with me, I am G.O.T. Nick, but since no one wants to use four capitals and three periods in a name (in case they care about getting it right, which they shouldn't), you can call me Nick. I started writing dueling stories about three and a half years ago, so I'm definitely not new to the field. My work is generally laden with humor, as I find it very difficult to write something serious for a long period of time and enjoy it. This story is meant to be a fun work for me, although I've put quite a bit of planning and preparation into it, so it should turn out to be a fun, easy read for everyone out there. This is a somewhat alternate universe fic. In other words, generally the original cast of GX will not appear or possibly even be mentioned.

In any case, I've written the story for my enjoyment, but I've posted it on this web site in the hopes that I can grant that to others as well. So I hope you enjoy reading the following story.

Parting the Clouds
Chapter One: Vows

Forty years ago, passersby had wondered why in the world a large sporting complex was required for teenagers to play a card game. Then again, forty years ago, those that heard the news of the opening of a school focused on teaching teenagers how to play a card game had thought that Seto Kaiba was crazy. The owners of the stadium had been hesitant when the tycoon had made the proposal to use their facility for such a purpose…until they saw his financial offering. They had agreed, and the rest was history: for forty years, they had hosted bi-annual entrance exams to Kaiba's Duelist Academy, which itself was located on a small tropical island quite a distance from the coast. The publicity these events created, and certainly the deal with Kaiba Corps. to allow for hosting the event every six months, had been highly beneficial to the arena's owners.

Nowadays, passersby would glance at the crowds of teenagers, some with Duel Disks strapped onto their left arms and every single one carrying a deck of Duel Monsters cards, and say to themselves, "Oh, I guess it's that time of year again," before walking off as if nothing had happened. Well, except for the one time an elderly man shouted, "You kids get off my lawn!" but that's beside the point.

In any case, at the present time, a fifteen-year-old boy with short, dark brown hair was standing in front of a table placed just outside the stadium, impatiently waiting to be allowed entrance. The woman at the table, dressed in an orange blazer in the model of those worn by all students and staff of the central Duelist Academy, was scribbling on a form in pen as she asked him questions.

"Do you have any special medical needs that the school should be informed of? Allergies, chronic diseases, diabetes…"

"No," he said, hoping to end the questions as quickly as he could.

"Are there any questions you have in regards to the academy's curriculum, housing, provision of food and-"


"Have you completed all three years of junior high school?"


"Have you ever kissed a girl?"

"…" he paused, staring at her calm, smiling face. "That has nothing to do with letting me in, does it?"

"No," she said, looking back down at the form on the table and signing it to prove it official. "You can go in now. A bunch of students are waiting in the first hall already. You should be allowed to take the written test within half an hour. You will have ninety minutes to complete all portions of the test, following which you will be ushered into the main area of the stadium. There you will have to wait until you are called for the dueling test. Your admission and ranking at the academy will be determined by-" she stopped when she realized he was gone, and the next person in line had already stepped up. She frowned, and muttered to herself as she placed the young man's form on a stack of several other forms while reaching for a blank one. "Those guys at the training course were right. Not a single one has stayed to hear all the details…I wonder how they knew..." She looked up at the next potential student, "Name please?"

Within the first room of the stadium, many teenagers were standing or sitting, and talking with each other. Meanwhile, the brown-haired teen was attempting to defy the physical limits of his body so that he could use his arms a certain way. His fingers scratched against the fabric of the green jacket along his back, attempting and failing to quell the source of the itch at the very middle of his back, right between the shoulder blades. "Damn it…" he muttered under his breath, "I'm just glad this doesn't happen too often. If I had to put up with this every day, I'd go insane…"

"Need some help?" He looked down towards the source of the voice, and saw a girl, about four inches shorter than himself with a raven-black ponytail looking up at him with bright brown eyes and a friendly smile.

"Help?" he questioned, slowly processing the somewhat obscure conversation starter. "With what?"

"Your itch," she replied, pointing up at his elbows, which were jutting out due to his efforts to bend his arms into a position where his fingers could reach the small of his back. "You look like you're having trouble getting at it."

There was a momentary silence as he simply stared at her. Eventually, he processed what he was going to say, and let it out, "Let me get this straight. You're…what, fifteen, right?" She nodded in affirmation, before he continued, "And you're asking me, a teenaged, hormonally-driven male, if you can rub my back?" She nodded again. "And you see nothing wrong in this?"

She quirked an eyebrow and grinned slightly in amusement at him. "Oh, I get it," she said, "you've got that whole 'personal space' thing going. Okay, I won't bother you about it."

"It's not a 'thing'," he countered, eyes narrowing, "a lot of people care about personal space. Particularly around people they've never met before. Particularly when those people ask to touch them before they even introduce themselves."

She blinked at him, then suddenly started laughing gleefully. Her laughter continued for several seconds, and all the while he and several people immediately surrounding them stared at her in confusion. By the time she stopped, said immediately surrounding people were attempting to not be immediately surrounding them. She grinned, and placed a hand on his shoulder, "You're funny! I like you!"

A bead of sweat appeared on his head as he glanced at the hand on his shoulder. "You apparently missed everything I just said."

Still grinning, she took a breath and removed the hand from his shoulder before extending it out to him, "Yeah, right, sorry. Guess I should pay more attention to stuff like that…anyways, my name's Izumi Yuusha, since you seem so intent on introductions being made."

"I never said I wanted to really know you, I just…" he sighed, cutting himself off, and accepted the handshake, "I give up. I'm Takashi Kasei." He was caught off guard when after the second jerk of their hands, she lunged towards him and grabbed him around his midsection in a powerful hug.

"Yay!" she squealed, squeezing him about the abdomen happily, "I made a new friend!"

"Izumi…" he gasped out, having trouble breathing, "those are my lungs…I kinda need them…"

Izumi sighed, and released her grip, allowing Takashi to breathe normally again. "Sheesh, some people and their personal space. The way you act around me, it makes me think you've never kissed a girl before or something."

Takashi's eye twitched in response. "Why is it that everybody wants to know that of me today?"

"So does that mean you haven't?"

"That's not the point!"

Professor Kamin Eishi, head of the Osiris Red dorm at Duelist Academy, smirked as a gray, metal cannon with various visible gears about its structure appeared in front of him. "Now that Ancient Gear Cannon (500/500) has been special summoned by Magnet Circle LV2's effect," he stated, "I can activate Reckless Summoning of Hell from my hand to summon the other two copies from my deck." An additional pair of cannons appeared flanking the initial one, all three now pointing at the professor's opponent. "Normally, my card lets you summon copies of a monster on your field from your deck. However, because this is the first turn of the duel, you don't get that benefit." He plucked two of the Cannon cards off his Duel Disk and slid them into his graveyard, before replacing them with a single card from his hand. "I sacrifice two Ancient Gear Cannons to summon Ancient Gear Golem (3000/3000)!" With this declaration, an immense humanoid machine appeared on the field, its immense form overshadowing the entire arena. "I then sacrifice the remaining Ancient Gear Cannon to deal you five hundred points of damage with its effect." The Cannon exploded, launching an orange orb of energy at the applicant that made him jerk slightly (Applicant LP: 3500).

At the moment, Kamin was staring down a potential male student to the academy, who looked thoroughly unimpressed by the large Golem. Once he had determined from Kamin's stance that the professor's turn was over, he smirked and drew from his deck. "You'll regret bringing such a disgraceful and ugly creature to face me. Such a straightforward, bulky strategy poses no threat to as elegant a duelist as myself. I'll smash down your machine in this turn!"

As the student executed his move, three men looked down at the area while making notes on the computers in front of them. The middle man was quite elderly, with a wrinkled forehead and gray hair that was only visible on the sides and back of his head save for the goatee that jutted from his chin. He was wearing a purple coat in the style of the Duelist Academy uniforms, and was flanked by the heads of Ra Yellow and Obelisk Blue dorms. On his right, the thirty-something Blue head had short black hair emphasized by the contrasting white of his eyes. On the other side, the Ra Yellow head, in his upper-middle twenties, had a friendly face, green eyes, and black hair that was pulled back in a bushy ponytail. He frowned as he watched the duel. "Leave it to Kamin to put so much pressure on a potential student in the first turn," he huffed.

The head of Obelisk Blue smirked. "You're being too lenient, Tsura," he said, "just as you were in your judgment of that last girl's performance."

"I still say she should have gone into Ra Yellow," Tsura stated, apparently upset over a recent argument that he had lost. "She used a strategy known to be very difficult in execution to great effect."

The older man chuckled at Tsura, and spoke up. "Yes, Professor Niya, but you forget that she made several poor decisions through the course of the duel. If in the end she had not made that lucky draw, she would have certainly lost in the next turn. Do not forget, new head of Ra Yellow, that we are not simply judging what dorm these young ones will be placed in. We are also judging whether they deserve entrance into the academy at all. Although the academy has opened its doors a little wider over the years, our maximum capacity still remains at a mere five hundred students across three full years. As Professor Jougo stated, you are far too lenient."

Tsura snorted, and turned to look back at the duel. "You've given me the lecture already, Principal Akai."

The principal blinked at this statement. "Oh, have I? How silly of me…I must be getting senile…"

"You know darn well you aren't senile," Professor Shin Jougo countered, "don't try to make him feel bad about it."

Principal Hiroshi Akai of Duelist Academy chuckled. "When sixty-nine years old you reach," he said, "attempt to garner the sympathy of others you shall." The two professors looked at him in confusion, and he sighed in frustration. "Kids today…" he muttered to himself, "too young to get the pop culture references…"

"So I assume you're here for the entrance exam too?" Izumi, now sitting beside Takashi, questioned.

Takashi sighed. "No," he stated, "I'm here to speak with girls who don't know when they need to stop asking questions."

Izumi blinked. "Really? What girls do you mean?" Takashi sighed again, and bowed his head in frustration. However, at that moment he noticed a commotion amongst the other students, who were now trying to crowd into the testing room.

"Well, guess they're letting us in," he said, a little too eagerly, and jumped up to head to the room.

"Wait a second!" Izumi exclaimed, scrambling to her feet. Takashi sighed, and stood still, hoping the girl would say her piece and just leave him alone. He turned to look at her, and was somewhat surprised at the suddenly determined look reflected in her brown eyes. "Takashi, I may not know you really well yet, but I know that to be a good duelist, it's always helpful to have friends to support you in achieving your goals, and I…" Izumi unexpectedly faltered momentarily, and had to pause before getting the next few words out. "…I don't know anyone who's going to the academy…so…" She shook her head slightly, and regained that determined look from before and thrust her hand out to him, "So let's make a promise right here! Let's promise that we'll both pass this exam and make it into the academy!"

Takashi stared in a mild form of bewilderment at the girl, and as he looked at her, it seemed that he was thinking about something. But eventually, he smiled slightly at her, and accepted the hand for the second time that day. This time, she didn't hug him immediately afterwards. "Okay," he agreed, "but just to let you know, I'll hold you to that promise." The smile that she returned to him was enough to know she wasn't too worried about that.

Kamin smirked over at Tsura, diverting his attention from where Jougo had just finished dueling a student. "An impressive finish," he commented, "but I believe even you have to agree that the student belongs under me, Tsura." The Ra Yellow head simply nodded. His first day as a grader for such tests was not going over abnormally well. He had butted heads with the other teachers and Principal Akai several times already, and they hadn't even finished grading half of the entrants. It had certainly been a learning experience.

Hiroshi cleared his throat and began to stand up as Jougo ascended the stairs to join the other graders. "Well then," the principal stated, "I suppose it's my turn-"

"Get back to your seat, Principal Akai," Jougo countered before the older man could finish. Hiroshi made as if to protest, but the head of Obelisk Blue silenced him with a look.

Hiroshi pouted as he sank back into his chair. "Hmph. They make it seem like old people don't like to have fun once in a while too."

Takashi had almost nodded off by the time the instructor told the gathered entrants to begin their written tests. He hated standardized testing instructions. They were always the same…use this pencil and not that pencil, open the packet this way and not that way, answer the questions in this format… But in any case, the test had begun, so he had something to focus on. Izumi had sat down several rows down from him, and he was currently surrounded on either side by some large, dull-looking guys. He opened the packet in front of him, and looked at the first question.

1) In the space below, list at least five of the sub-types a monster card can be.

Takashi blinked, and double-checked what the question read. 'No…' he thought to himself, 'do they actually expect someone to get that one wrong? Heck, most people could answer that by remembering some of the cards in their DECKS!' Nonetheless, he scribbled out: "Warriors, Machines, Dragons, Spellcasters, Demons, Angels." He ran out of room after that, but he figured that because the question said "at least," he might get some bonus points for putting more than five down. If he would need them… 'Really, what are they think-'

"Psst…" he heard one of the guys surrounding him hiss, then whisper, "What's the answer to number one?" Takashi sighed, and let his head hit the desk.

Tsura sighed sadly as he placed a card on his Duel Disk. "You put up a good effort, and nearly defeated me. However, with three Harpie Ladies (1300/1400) on the field, my Harpie's Pet Baby Dragon (2400/1200) has the ability to destroy one card on the field per turn. Therefore, your facedown monster and last defense are gone!" The childish, but still larger-than-man-size dragon in front of him squawked and then burped, sending out a blast of flame that destroyed the horizontal card. "The combined attack of my monsters (5300) is more than enough to bring your life points to zero, so this duel is over. Harpie's Pet Baby Dragon, attack directly!" He eyes softened after making the command, as his dragon let loose another flaming belch. It broke his heart to personally turn away a student, but it was his duty as one of the testers. Suddenly his eyes widened in shock as the entrant slammed a card from their hand into their Duel Disk, and the image of a familiar pink-bordered card appeared. "A trap? But how…?" His eyes widened in recognition when his opponent held up a card and showed it to him.

"The card you destroyed with your Baby Dragon's effect was Makyura the Destructor, and during the turn he's sent to the graveyard I can activate traps from my hand. That means my Magic Cylinder is going to reflect your attack right back at your life points. And last I checked, twenty-four hundred is greater than six hundred."

The blast of flame struck Tsura in his face, knocking him on his back. He sat up grinning, even as his life points trickled down to nothing, and said, "Congratulations on your victory. Welcome to Duelist Academy!"

Takashi sighed, finishing up the historical section of the test. 'Man, I guess they think that if you know more about successful duelists, you'll know more strategies and be more successful yourself. Still, that was annoying.' He turned the page of the test packet, and blinked. 'What the…"Theoretical Situation Section"…and the only instructions are "find a way to win the game in one turn in each of the following situations"…huh, I wonder who came up with this idea…?' A snore from the student next to him kept his thoughts from wandering too far, and, annoyed, he set himself back to the task at hand.

Ninety minutes after the test had begun, it ended, in an equally boring manner. The fifty-some-odd students were allowed entrance at last into the arena area of the stadium, where various students were still testing from the previous group. Takashi and Izumi met up in the bleachers, the latter looking and sounding very confident in herself. "Ha! That was easy!" she cheered, dancing on top of her chair, occasionally coming very close to falling but always managing to catch herself. "Man, can you believe some of the questions that were on that test? I bet I got a perfect score!" Suddenly, she paused, and sat down. "Although…that last section was hard. Way harder than the history section. I couldn't even figure out that one puzzle at all. There's just not enough stuff available to you to power up your monsters to beat something as powerful as a Master of Oz, even after you pick up Axe of Despair with Magic Shard Excavation."

"That's because you don't pick up Axe of Despair," Takashi said simply, leaning back in his chair.

Izumi blinked at him. "Say what?"

"You pick up Clash of the Titans," he continued, "which lets you add any level five or higher monster from your deck or graveyard to your hand if your opponent has such a monster on their field. Then you sacrifice all three of your monsters to summon Gilford the Lightning, whose effect destroys Master of Oz and lets you attack directly."

Izumi blinked again. "How do you know Gilford the Lightning's in your deck, though?"

"You obviously didn't pay attention to the monsters on the field," Takashi replied with a smirk.

Tsura sighed, preparing himself to run down the stairs and duel again. He, Kamin, and Jougo had been the only three to duel students thus far, which made the process of grading rather difficult. Each time a duel ended, the instructor who had dueled the entrant had to run up the stairs to discuss the student's placement with the other three judges, which had to be done quickly so that the next teacher could race down and duel the next potential student. Luckily for him this time, he would not have to rush downstairs, as he and the others had little to argue about after Kamin returned from his duel.

"It is my opinion," Hiroshi stated from his seat, "that that was the most impressive display of skill that we have seen today. I nominate the student to be placed in Ra Yellow."

Tsura grinned, and nodded enthusiastically in agreement, happy to have such a talented student placed under him. After assuring that Kamin and Jougo had no objections, he adjusted his Duel Disk and fitted it with a new test deck before he asked, "Who is the next student?"

"Izumi Yuusha," Hiroshi's voice rang over the speakers in the stadium, "please report to the arena to take the dueling portion of the test."

Izumi grinned from ear to ear, and jumped out of her seat. "Alright! Time for some action! Wish me luck Takashi!" She was half-way to the arena by the time the last words had left her mouth. She snatched up a Duel Disk from the side of the arena as soon as she reached it, strapped it onto her forearm, and slid her deck from its case on her belt into its respective slot. The equipment beeped in response just before she leapt enthusiastically onto the raised platform of the arena, where Tsura was waiting for her with his own Duel Disk in place.

"Hello, Izumi," the man greeted kindly, "I am Professor Tsura Niya, head of the Ra Yellow dorm of Duelist Academy, and I will be your opponent for this test."

"Okay!" Izumi shouted through her grin, her Disk clicking into place as she activated it, "So long as I get to go first!" (Izumi LP: 4000). A small bead of sweat formed on Tsura's brow, the only indication of a response to her lacking any formality whatsoever.

Takashi sighed at the antics of his new friend, even as Tsura activated his Duel Disk (Tsura LP: 4000) and both duelists drew opening hands. "That girl…" he muttered to himself, "she really needs to learn to show manners in public. What does she think this is, the twenties?"

"I'll start things off with the basics," Izumi declared, a pair of cards sliding into her Duel Disk and a corresponding pair of holographic images appearing on her field, one in front of the other, "one card facedown and a monster in defense mode. Your turn, Tsanya!"

Tsura blinked, processing the name she had just given to him. "It's Tsura, Niya. Two separate words."

"Yeah, but neither is really fun and easy to say," Izumi said simply, "so for right now, you're Tsanya!" She didn't seem to notice the collective sigh of slight exasperation that came up from the rest of building.

"In any case…" Tsura pressed on, drawing a card from his deck, "it's my turn now, regardless of what you decide to call me. And I'll start things off more aggressively, by summoning Enraged Battle Ox (1700/1000) in attack mode." The well-known minotaur stomped onto the field, brandishing its axe threateningly and already pawing the ground with its hoofs in preparation for a charge. "Enraged Battle Ox grants the ability to deal damage through defense to all Beasts and Beast-Warriors on my field," Tsura stated, pointing at Izumi's facedown monster which was, obviously, in defense mode. "Enraged Battle Ox now attacks the facedown monster!" The Beast-Warrior stomped quickly over to Izumi's facedown monster and brought its axe down on the card, cleaving it in half.

Izumi winced as she took the hit to her life points (Izumi LP: 2900), but did not hesitate in activating her facedown card. "I activate my trap card," she declared, as the card flipped up and cast a yellow spotlight on the ceiling above them, featuring a black "D" at its center. "Destiny Signal can be activated when a monster on my field is destroyed!"

Hiroshi leaned in, interested suddenly. "Destiny Signal? Well, I must say, I haven't seen a young duelist use them for some time now…"

Izumi smirked as a card ejected from her deck, before she caught it and placed it on her Duel Disk. "I summon D-Hero Diehard Guy (800/800) in defense mode!" she exclaimed, a bare-chested, muscular man with wild orange hair appearing on the field, his body from the waist down covered in dark blue metal. A pair of large, angular shields made of the same metal were strapped to his arms.

Tsura narrowed his eyes at the monster, trying to remember its effect. "Very well," he stated, sliding a pair of cards into the device on his arm, "I set two cards facedown and end my turn."

Izumi grinned as she drew, setting her hand back at five cards. Then she pointed at Diehard Guy, and said, "When Diehard Guy is on my field during my Standby Phase, I can summon a D-Hero that was destroyed in the previous turn. Therefore I summon the monster you destroyed." As she spoke, a new humanoid creature appeared on the field with a sweep of its red cape. It wore black armor, with gauntlets that ended in claws at each of the fingers, and its facial features were covered by a pale white mask. "I summon D-Hero Devil Guy (400/600) in defense mode and then activate his effect!" exclaimed Izumi, as Devil Guy swept across the field and slashed across Battle Ox's chest. The creature let out a roar of anger and pain before suddenly vanishing from sight. Izumi smirked as she explained, "Once per turn, Devil Guy can remove an opposing monster from play, though I can't attack during the turn I use this effect. So I'll just set one card facedown and end my turn."

Tsura frowned as he drew, and looked over his hand. "What's wrong? You've had two turns and haven't so much as touched my life points yet."

Izumi merely shrugged, and replied, "There's more to a duel than doing damage to your opponent as early as possible."

Tsura chuckled. "Yes, I know," he replied, pressing a button on his Duel Disk, "however, in this duel, I don't believe you can assume such a nonchalant outlook. I summon Gyaku-Gire Panda (800/1600) in attack mode!" An immense panda thundered onto the field with a roar, its blazing-red eyes emphasized by the surrounding black fur. "Gyaku-Gire Panda's attack is increased by five hundred points for each monster on my opponent's field. To take full advantage of this, I activate Ojama Trio, which summons three Ojama Tokens (0/1000) to your field in defense mode!"

Izumi's eyes widened as suddenly her two D-Heroes were surrounded by the three infamous midgets, which appeared in a flash of green, yellow, and black before proceeding to moon her through their ever-ridiculous-looking red briefs. However, it was not simply the tokens on her field that she was worried about, despite the knowledge that their destruction would deal her three hundred points of damage each. Instead, her focus was on the panda that had undergone a tremendous and rapid growth spurt, and was now glaring furiously down on her. 'Uh-oh…'

"I apologize, Miss Yuusha," Tsura stated, pointing towards Izumi's field, "but I'm going to have to defeat you now. Gyaku-Gire Panda (3300/1600), destroy Diehard Guy!" The large beast bounded forward, and reached for the bare-chested hero with one of its paws, intent on rending the man's flesh.

"Activate facedown trap!" Izumi's shout brought a look of pleasant surprise to Tsura's face, and he looked to the card that Izumi had activated. "D-Counter destroys a monster when it attacks a D-Hero on my field!" Izumi smirked triumphantly as Diehard Guy began emitting a bright golden aura, repelling Gyaku-Gire Panda. "Your bear is toast, Tsanya!"

Up in the stands, Takashi closed his eyes and shook his head. "Pay attention, Izumi," he muttered, "he said he was going to finish the duel this turn, and that attack would've left you with four hundred life points remaining. That means he has some method of getting at your life points left, and judging by the fact that he's running a Beast deck…"

"I'm sorry, Miss Yuusha," Tsura apologized, "but I activate my facedown trap in chain to yours." The facedown card flipped up, and Izumi gasped at the image-the corpse of a boar-like creature lying on the ground while a blue, transparent image of the animal floated from its mouth. "Beast Soul Swap lets me return a Beast from my field to my hand and then summon one of equal or lower level in its place!" The panda suddenly became blue and transparent, then disappeared. With nothing to target, the lethal aura surrounding Diehard Guy vanished. "The monster I choose to summon with Beast Soul Swap is the same Gyaku-Gire Panda (3300/1600), so now I continue my assault on Diehard Guy!" The immense bear reappeared, and lunged on top of the muscular hero, burying him beneath its girth and clawing at him for a few moments before the scuffle ended. Tsura briefly examined his hand, before crossing his arms over his chest. "End turn," (Izumi LP: 400).

Izumi swallowed the lump in her throat before she drew. Her opponent had only taken two turns, and already ninety percent of her life points were gone… 'I have to make a recovery…and fast! If things keep up at this rate, I'll never make the academy!' Her eyes drifted towards the crowd of untested students, where Takashi was watching the duel with unblinking eyes. 'And we made a promise that we'd both get in…' Her eyes narrowed, and she quickly played her newly drawn card. "I activate Destiny Draw!" she declared, sliding another card from her hand into her graveyard before snapping two new ones from the top of her deck, "This lets me discard a Destiny Hero from my hand to draw two cards. And now I'll take advantage of the monster I discarded by playing Over Destiny!" From her graveyard, a ghostly blue image of an immense and muscular man momentarily appeared, then flashed pure white and vanished. "This spell lets me choose a D-Hero in my graveyard. Then, I can summon a D-Hero from my deck whose level is no more than half of the chosen D-Hero's." A card popped out of her deck, and she immediately slammed it onto the one remaining open monster zone of her Duel Disk. The new D-Hero was a man with yellow-streaked white hair and large chunks of diamond jutting from various areas of his body, a somewhat battle-worn dark green cape cast across his shoulders. "I summon D-Hero Diamond Guy (1400/1600)," Izumi declared, and immediately several of the crystals on Diamond Guy's body began to glow. "Once per turn," she explained, "Diamond Guy lets me reveal the top card of my deck. If it's a spell, it's sent to my graveyard and I can activate it on my next turn. Otherwise, I put the card on the bottom of my deck." She snapped the top card off of her deck and looked at it before scowling. She flipped the card around and said, "D-Shield is a trap, so I place it at the bottom of my deck."

Tsura looked on as she did so. "Even if you had drawn a spell, it wouldn't have helped you much. After all, you haven't set anything up to stop me from defeating you before your next turn even comes around."

Izumi responded by scowling back. "I was just getting to that," she said, removing a card from her Duel Disk to replace it with another. Immediately Devil Guy faded away, and was replaced by a larger monster, wrapped in black, armored plates, with a head that resembled the body of a shark. "I sacrifice Devil Guy to summon D-Hero Dash Guy (2100/1500) in his place!" Izumi declared.

Tsura blinked, then sighed. "Really, Miss Yuusha, please try to think your moves through before executing them. Dash Guy is much too weak to defeat Gyaku-Gire Panda."

Izumi snickered, and suddenly pointed at one of the Ojamas on her field. "That might be the case right now, but I can activate Dash Guy's effect to completely change that. Once per turn, I can sacrifice a monster on my field to increase his attack by one thousand for the duration of the turn." The indicated token suddenly vanished, and Dash Guy was surrounded by a purple aura, his power increasing (3100/1500).

"One thousand extra attack isn't enough," Tsura stated, "Gyaku-Gire Panda is still too powerful to be defeated."

Izumi let one eyebrow quirk up in amusement, "Are you sure about that, Tsanya? I hope you're not being serious, because that would mean that you've forgotten your own monster's effect." Dash Guy suddenly lowered his upper body so that his arms touched the ground, adapting the position of a sprinter preparing to take off. "Dash Guy, go get that big panda now!" Izumi ordered, and suddenly her monster shot forward like a bullet, the wheels attached to his armored feet screeching as he bulldozed headfirst into Gyaku-Gire Panda, knocking the beast off its feet and causing it to shatter into pixels.

Tsura gasped as his life points began to drop (Tsura LP: 3700), and he came to a realization. "No! Of course! By sacrificing the Ojama token, you reduced the number of monsters on your field to four…meaning my Panda was reduced to twenty-eight hundred attack points!"

Izumi grinned broadly, and cast out a hand, "That's right, and now you'll pay for underestimating my actions during this turn. Diamond Guy, attack directly!" The more humanoid-looking of her two heroes thrust his arm out in a slashing motion, several shards of diamond shooting from the arm and slamming into Tsura, chest (Tsura LP: 2300). Izumi took a breath, and looked at Dash Guy, who was now crouching with his arms over his chest, "When Dash Guy attacks, he shifts to defense mode afterwards. Now, I'll end my turn by setting one card facedown."

Tsura shook his head to knock himself out of the dazed state he had entered when the holographic projectiles had smashed into him. Although not fully real, Seto Kaiba's Duel Disk system had a way of adding a physical element to the card game. Tsura drew, and carefully considered his next move before choosing a card from his hand. "I summon Exarion Universe (1800/1500)," he announced, a centaur with its upper torso covered in gleaming blue armor appearing before him, hefting a lance in one arm. "Time to finish this," Tsura declared, casting an arm out as the centaur prepared to attack, "Exarion Universe attacks Diamond Guy!"

Time seemed to slow down as the armored centaur roared and lunged forward, polearm held at the ready. In the midst of this action, Izumi glanced to the crowd, and made eye contact with Takashi, who was watching the duel intently. As she initiated the eye contact, Takashi closed his eyes briefly, for so short a period of time that it was almost a blink, and he focused his thoughts on Izumi. 'Izumi Yuusha…I hardly know you, and so far I just think you're a crazy, overly enthusiastic, and above all very silly girl. But…' His eyes drifted open again, the image of the events below reflecting in blank black pools surrounded by rings of ocean blue. 'I'm still holding you to that promise.'

There was a clang of metal, and suddenly an extra figure was on the dueling field, standing between Tsura's Exarian Universe and the targeted Destiny Hero. The newcomer's entire body save the head was covered in futuristic grey armor, whose most prominent features were the blades extending from its forearms, which were currently grinding against the centaur's lance, blocking the strike. "I activate the effect of D-Hero Dagger Guy (300/600)!" Izumi declared, slipping a card from her hand into the graveyard, "By discarding him from my hand, all Destiny Heroes gain eight hundred attack points for the duration of the turn (Diamond Guy: 2200/1600, Dash Guy: 2900/1000), which means Diamond Guy can now counter-attack!" The named Hero leapt nimbly to the side, flanking the occupied mythical creature that was now locked in combat with Dagger Guy. The green-caped hero lifted his hand, and a spray of diamonds pelted the centaur, before its holographic image shattered (Tsura LP: 1900).

Tsura blinked, surprised but glad that the applicant had staved off another assault, and in the process knocked his life points below the midpoint. "A good move, Miss Yuusha," he complimented, although he was currently slipping a new card into one of the back slots of his Duel Disk, "however, Dagger Guy's effect does not bolster defense…which means Dash Guy is still vulnerable." Suddenly, a large elephant with twin massive tusks protruding from its mouth appeared, and it let out a deafening trumpet. "By activating the spell card Unstoppable Stampede when a Beast or Beast-Warrior is destroyed in battle," Tsura explained the sudden appearance of the new beast, "I can immediately summon another from my hand that is up to two levels higher than the destroyed monster. So now, Rampaging Elephant (2400/1500), with its ability to deal damage through defense, will finish up this duel by attacking Dash Guy!" The ground shook slightly as the large beast rumbled forward, lowering its head to pierce through Dash Guy's armored body.

Izumi reacted only with a smirk and a twitch of her finger over her Duel Disk. "That's a pretty cool move, Tsanya," she complimented, as her lone set card flipped up, "but it's not gonna be enough. I made a promise that I'd get into this school, and I have every intention of keeping that promise. Activate trap card, Destiny Renewal!" A whirring noise emitted from her Duel Disk for a moment, and then five cards spat out of its graveyard slot, into her waiting hand, where she fanned them out, briefly looked them over, and held them out to Tsura. "This card shuffles my graveyard, after which I pick up the top five cards and shuffle them into my deck. For each monster amongst the five cards I gain one thousand life points, so I now have the life points to survive the attack!" Tsura peered at the cards she held from across the field, and saw that she was right: his attack would deal 1400 damage, but in her hand she now gripped Diehard Guy, Dagger Guy, Destiny Draw, Over Destiny, and Destiny Signal, which would grant her 2000 life points for a net gain of six hundred after the Battle Damage had been applied. That said, his Elephant's tusks had run Dash Guy clean through, and the shark-headed hero exploded violently, leaving only Diamond Guy on Izumi's field (Izumi's LP: 1000).

Tsura took a short breath, and emptied his remaining hand into his Duel Disk to prepare for Izumi's coming turn. "Two cards facedown, and that ends my turn."

Izumi nodded, a light smirk playing over her features, and she placed her fingers on the top card of her deck. "Alright, Tsanya, let's finish this duel up! I draw!" Her eyes lit up at the sight of the card, which she suddenly slapped on top of her Duel Disk. Tsura saw that the monster she had placed on her Duel Disk had six level stars: it required a sacrifice to be summoned.

"Now just hold on a moment there, Miss Yuusha!" he said sternly, authority suddenly blossoming in his voice and stance as opposed to the lenient and friendly one that had been present until now, "I know you think this is an important duel, but you must follow the rules no matter how much you want to win. I can see from here that the monster you wish to summon requires a tribute, so-"

Izumi rolled her eyes, "Sheesh, you sure can jump to conclusions real fast, Tsanya. Can't you just let me explain my move?" Tsura blinked, and was quiet. Izumi removed a card from her Duel Disk and held it out for Tsura to see, revealing it to be Dash Guy. "Dash Guy has an additional effect besides his sacrifice ability: once during the duel while he's in the graveyard, if I draw a monster during my Draw Phase, I can immediately Special Summon it." The monster that she had played shimmered into view, revealing itself as a demonic and muscular humanoid with orange skin fringed with black fur, with two immense leathery wings and three horns protruding from its head. "This is D-Hero Diabolic Guy (800/800)," introduced Izumi, "and although he's a lot weaker than he looks, he definitely has his uses."

Tsura was suddenly surprised when his Enraged Battle Ox reappeared on his field, now flanking his Rampaging Elephant. Izumi offered an explanation, "Although Devil Guy can remove an opposing monster from play once each turn, there are limits to his ability. Two turns after Devil Guy activates his effect, the affected monster is summoned from out of play, which means Enraged Battle Ox (1700/1000) is back just in time to see me finish you off!" She slid a card from her hand into her Duel Disk, a highly recognizable image appearing before her. "I activate The Warrior Returning Alive, which lets me pick up a Warrior from my graveyard and add it to my hand." A single card slid from her graveyard, and she fidgeted with it for a few moments after retrieving it.

Tsura blinked, "So you wanted to recover Dash Guy? But that doesn't make any sense…although you'll be able to deal some damage, Dash Guy will be forced into defense mode afterwards, making him vulnerable to the tramplng effects of whatever monster remains on my field."

Her response made him blink again. "Silly Tsanya…stop underestimating my strategy like that. I'm picking up the D-Hero that I discarded to activate Destiny Draw!" Tsura thought back to that play, going over it once again in his mind.

"I activate Destiny Draw!" she declared, sliding another card from her hand into her graveyard before snapping two new ones from the top of her deck, "This lets me discard a Destiny Hero from my hand to draw two cards. And now I'll take advantage of the monster I discarded by playing Over Destiny!" From her graveyard, a ghostly blue image of an immense and muscular man momentarily appeared, then flashed pure white and vanished. "This spell lets me choose a D-Hero in my graveyard. Then, I can summon a D-Hero from my deck whose level is no more than half of the chosen D-Hero's." A card popped out of her deck, and she immediately slammed it onto the one remaining open monster zone of her Duel Disk. The new D-Hero was a man with yellow-streaked white hair and large chunks of diamond jutting from various areas of his body, a somewhat battle-worn dark green cape cast across his shoulders. "I summon D-Hero Diamond Guy (1400/1600)," Izumi declared.

"Diamond Guy is a level four monster…" Tsura said, mostly to himself, "which means the D-Hero she discarded had to be at least a level eight warrior…" His eyes widened, "Which means-!"

"I can see you've figured it out," Izumi said with a grin, her two monsters vanishing into twin pillars of light, as she offered them as tributes, "and that's good. Although the Destiny Heroes aren't as well-known as they used to be, everyone should remember this monster- the driving force behind the strategy…" What appeared in the two monsters' place was a behemoth of a man with dark skin, garbed only in torn purple pants. Manacles connected to broken lengths of chain were locked to his wrists, and an iron mask was clasp over his head, below which a third chain hung from his neck, much like a necklace. A mass of black hair hung from his scalp, and large red scars interrupted the otherwise constant expanse of tanned muscular flesh that made up his body.

Tsura took an involuntary step back as the immense man let out an intense battle cry, while Izumi calmly spoke, "Introducing the one, the only, D-Hero Dread Guy (?/?)!" As she said this, two cards slid out of her graveyard, and both Diamond Guy (1400/1600) and Dash Guy (2100/1000) reappeared on either side of Dread Guy. "Dread Guy has a number of effects," Izumi stated, "for one thing, as you should have already noticed, when he's summoned, I can then summon up to two Destiny Heroes from my graveyard. Dread Guy then draws strength from those Destiny Heroes- his base attack and defense are the combined attack and defense of all Destiny Heroes on the field (3500/2600)!"

Tsura grinned, and clapped his hands a few times in applause. "An impressive move with so few cards, Miss Yuusha," he complimented, before ceasing his clapping, "with that force, you could finish off my life points in this turn." However, he pushed a pair of buttons on his Duel Disk, causing both of his set cards to activate. "However, I have a few cards to activate before simply letting you gain victory. First, Call of the Haunted to revive Gyaku-Gire Panda!" The black and white bear tore out of the ground at his words, eyes blazing red as it took to the field (3300/1600). "My other card will then allow me to prevent me from losing my monster: The Big March of Animals increases the attack and defense of all my Beasts and Beast-Warriors by two hundred for each such monster on my field. That's a total of six hundred points for all three of my monsters (Gyaku-Gire Panda: 3900/2200, Enraged Battle Ox: 2300/1600, Rampaging Elephant: 3000/2100)!" The three gathered beasts roared and trumpeted in unison as their individual strength rose, assuring that one would not fall and that Tsura would survive the deaths of the other two.

Izumi let out a small giggle, and gave a short round of applause of her own. "That's pretty cool, Tsanya, it's been awhile since I've seen someone get so many strong monsters on their field like that. Of course, it really doesn't matter, since now I basically know you've got nothing to stop me."

"What are you talking about, Miss Yuusha?" Tsura frowned, wondering what the applicant was trying to say, "I clearly now have a set of monsters that you cannot defeat in this turn. Gyaku-Gire Panda will survive, and maintain its high level of power as well as its trample ability. In my next turn, I'll simply have to finish this duel."

"Silly Tsanya," Izumi said with a dismissive wave of her hand, "have you forgotten Dash Guy's effect already? And I still have a couple of tributes ready for him…" Tsura's eyes widened in realization, and he did some quick mental math. The results didn't add up to a good ending for him. "I tribute an Ojama token to increase Dash Guy's attack (3100/1000), and as a result that increases Dread Guy's power (4500/2600)!" Her two monsters glowed with a purple aura as another Ojama token disappeared from her field, while Gyaku-Gire Panda's power dropped (3400/2200). "Now, time for me to finish this!" Izumi exclaimed, casting an arm forward enthusiastically, "Dash Guy, Dread Guy, attack! Destiny Assault!" The two Destiny Heroes rushed forward, Dash Guy meeting his target first and decking Enraged Battle Ox with an armored arm. Then the immense Dread Guy met Gyaku-Gire Panda with an open-handed palm strike that knocked the bear's head back, before it tipped over completely and crashed to the ground.

Tsura could only look on with some degree of astonishment as his life point counter trickled downwards, emptying with a buzz (Tsura LP: 0). As the holograms faded, he looked down and across at an ecstatic Izumi and only spoke three words: "Wow…good work…"

Izumi responded with a wave, before galloping off the arena and up into the stands. Takashi rose to meet her, and she immediately tackled him in another enthusiastic hug. "I did it!"

Takashi's face began to turn blue. "Izumi…" he gasped out, with some effort, "lungs…air…breathe…"

"Oh, right," Izumi released the taller boy, then stood and helped him up. She then put a hand behind her head in a gesture of embarrassment, "Sorry about that…"

Takashi sighed and brushed himself off, "Don't worry about it. Sheesh, who taught you manners, a pack of wolves?"

"Hey, wolves are cool!" objected Izumi, "I wanted to get one, but my parents said no…" Takashi, quite simply, had nothing to say in response.

Shin Jougo adjusted his blue coat and stood as the young head of Ra Yellow reached the summit of the stairs and resumed his station. "Alright then," the more experienced professor stated, glancing down at the seated Hiroshi, "I'm up. Who's the next applicant?"

Takashi's head jerked as he heard his name called. "Takashi Kasei," the academy principal's voice rang out, "please report to the dueling arena for testing."

"Alright!" yelled Izumi enthusiastically, "We're getting tested back to back, how cool!" She emphasized the last word by slapping Takashi on the back. Unfortunately, she was too slow to realize her mistake, as Takashi was sent tumbling down the stairs, leaving Izumi looking more flustered than ever, standing alone on the steps. Once again she resumed her embarrassed pose, one hand behind her neck, a small grimace on her face, "Um…oops…"

"…" Takashi felt frustrated. Humiliated, yes. Pain, definitely. But mostly he just felt frustrated. "…Ouch," he muttered, getting to his feet and throwing a glare over his shoulder at Izumi, who chuckled weakly and hid behind one of the seats in the bleachers. He sighed, "It can't be helped…" and, checking that his injuries were all very minor, jumped onto the arena, grabbing a Duel Disk along the way.

"Not a very good way to impress your opponents or judges," Shin commented, already standing in his respective position, deck and Duel Disk ready (Shin LP: 4000). Takashi said nothing in response, instead choosing to strap on his Duel Disk and set his personal deck in place (Takashi LP: 4000). Shin plunged onward, "I believe introductions are in order. I am Shin Jougo, professor of several science-based classes at Duelist Academy and head of the Obelisk Blue dorm."

Takashi adopted a polite tone, "Hello, Professor Jougo. I am Takashi Kasei." He bowed respectively, "It is a pleasure to meet you."

"My, my," Shin said with a pleased smirk, and he bowed in response, though not so low as Takashi, "it's nice to see someone show respect around here. Unlike your strange friend over there."

Takashi came up from his bow and glanced back at the stands, where Izumi was shouting and holding up a sign that had appeared from nowhere. On the sign she had scrawled the words "Go Takashi!" and was currently shouting something that sounded very much like those two words. Takashi sighed, and his head fell into his palm. "Could we please just get on with the duel, sir?"

"Of course, my boy," Shin replied, both duelists drawing their opening hands, "naturally, this means that a card from my deck now activates."

Takashi's eyes widened marginally, "A card that activates from the deck at the very beginning of the duel? There aren't very many of those…"

"That's quite true, Takashi Kasei," Shin responded, "but nonetheless, this test deck contains one. Activate Field of Battle, a card which allows both of us to immediately place a field spell card on top of our decks, and allows field cards to co-exist in order to account for the chance that both of us immediately play them." Shin removed his deck from its slot, and fanned it out to seek out his field card. Meanwhile, Takashi took no such action.

"My deck contains no Field cards," he stated, "so it seems you're the only one to receive the benefit of your spell."

"That's usually the way things work out," Shin replied, finding the proper card and shuffling his deck before placing the card on top of the stack. "And now I believe I'll take the first turn," he announced, drawing the top card of his deck- the one he had just placed there. "I'll now take us to a location well-known in various fantasies, using the field card A Legendary Ocean!" The arena changed as the field card took effect, stone structures and aqueducts erecting themselves all about them. The entire network of buildings was surrounded by the clear blue water of the sea. "My field card has various useful effects," Shin stated, "but before we get to them, the activation of a field spell card activates the effect of The Undying Zone from my deck, which will prevent A Legendary Ocean from ever being destroyed!"

Takashi's lips curled into a frown as he took all this in. 'He used two cards to immediately get A Legendary Ocean into play and make sure it stayed there,' he thought to himself, 'that means that the test deck he's using is a Sea deck of some sort. And he'll probably try to exploit the Legendary Ocean's effect to get out a powerful attacker first thing…'

Takashi gave himself a small mental pat on the back for his prediction when Shin announced his next move. "A Legendary Ocean lowers the level of all Water monsters in our hands and fields by one, which means I can now summon Giga Gagagigo (2450/1500) without sacrifice!" The large reptile shimmered into view with a roar. The muscular humanoid lizard's green flesh was interspersed with cold silver metallic parts, giving him the look of a reptilian cyborg. "My field card also increases the attack and defense of all Water monsters by two hundred points, making Giga Gagagigo even stronger (2650/1700)," Shin declared. He then concluded his move with a single motion, "One card facedown, and I pass the turn to you."

As Takashi drew, Hiroshi turned his attention to the computer in front of him. He and his dorm heads had managed to come to a consensus on Izumi relatively quickly, and now he was taking a moment to look over Takashi's written exam score. He skimmed through the first few sections- so many of the applicants had received perfect scores on the rules and general card knowledge portions of the test that the sections really only acted as a method of filtering out the absolutely least experienced of duelists. True separation amongst the applicants showed up in the historical portion, as well as the newer "Theoretical Situation Section." Hiroshi had made a mental note to personally thank the person who had come up with the section, as it had been crafted to be the perfect difficulty level- most duelists could only solve half of the situations, and less than five of the two hundred or so applicants had solved all ten. Which was why Hiroshi was pleasantly surprised to see that Takashi had done so, though this accomplishment was hindered somewhat by the fact that he had definitely struggled on the historical section. Izumi, the duelist who had been tested last, had been almost perfect on this section, though she had not performed as aptly on the final section. Hiroshi turned his thoughts away from the screen, and back to the dueling field.

"I summon Soul of Timidity (700/500) in defense mode," Takashi declared. As the card hit his Duel Disk, a small and petite girl appeared in front of him, crouching. Her appearance was rather ethereal, and she was garbed in a lightly glowing yellow dress tinged with white and black, her yellow hair framing her small, pale-skinned face. "And that will be all."

"WHAT!?" Izumi exclaimed, and face-fell out of shock, and Shin and the other instructors blinked at the simplicity of the move.

"Well, that's somewhat surprising," Hiroshi remarked. He had been expecting a much more complex move from this duelist who had managed to solve ten different dueling puzzles of significant difficulty.

Shin reacted far less than the other observers, and calmly drew. "If you expect to get into the academy after such a simple move, you had best be prepared to encounter a good degree of disappointment, Takashi Kasei," he stated, placing another card onto his Duel Disk, "I summon Mermaid Knight (1500/700), who immediately receives a boost in strength from A Legendary Ocean (1700/900)." At his words, a red-haired mermaid with a blue-scaled fish tail and gripping a silver sword appeared, hovering in the water. "A Legendary Ocean is treated as being named 'Umi' while in play," Shin declared, "and Mermaid Knight gains the ability to attack twice in one Battle Phase while Umi is in play. All in all, that means this duel is over! Mermaid Knight, use your first attack to destroy his Soul of Timidity!" The mermaid swept forward swiftly and gracefully, gliding through the water with ease with her sword raised. She reached the Soul and struck, but before her attack could make contact, the target covered her face with her arms and cried out in terror, before suddenly vanishing in a flash of yellow light. Shin blinked, "What happened?"

Takashi smirked, and held up his hand, which now gripped six cards instead of five. "As her name suggests, Soul of Timidity isn't the type to stand and fight," he explained, "when she is declared the target of an attack while face-up, I can return her to my hand to negate the attack and end the Battle Phase immediately. However, I am not allowed to normal summon or set her in my next turn after this effect resolves."

Shin scowled at having been denied so casually. "Very well then," he allowed, "I set one more card facedown, and end my turn."

"I draw," Takashi declared, and did so, giving him a good seven cards in hand to start his turn. His eyes lit up at the sight of his newest card, which he added to his hand before playing another card. "I activate Heavy Storm, destroying all spells and traps on the field," he announced, and the tornado known well by many duelists sprung into existence in the middle of the field. Its fierce winds ripped away both of Shin's set cards, although the Legendary Ocean remained in place when the storm had vanished, protected by The Undying Zone's effect.

'Nonetheless,' Shin mentally remarked to himself, 'he successfully eliminated two defensive traps that could have been very useful to me- Tornado Wall and Torrential Tribute. He's performing rather admirably thus far.'

After assuring that his previous action was a success, Takashi slapped the card he had drawn at the start of his turn onto his Duel Disk without hesitation, "I summon Soul of Courage (1400/1200) to the field." His next monster was a tall, broad-shouldered, and handsome man wearing red and silver armor. Long red tresses flowed like a mane from beneath his silver helmet, which was crafted in the image of a lion's head. He held a red-hilted sword, and a gleaming red badge adorned his breastplate, decorating the area over his heart. "And now, Soul of Courage will attack Mermaid Knight!"

Both duelists heard a shriek of "WHAT!?" from Izumi's position, but paid it no mind. Shin's eyes narrowed as he spoke, "You do realize that your Soul of Courage is three hundred points weaker than my Mermaid Knight, correct?" He awaited the explanation for the action, anticipating a combo or effect of some sort.

Takashi smirked very slightly, and responded, "Yes, I do, and that's the whole point. When Soul of Courage battles a monster with a higher attack than his own, I am allowed to activate his effect- Blade of Fortitude." With the final three words spoken, Takashi slid three cards from the top of his deck, then shoved them lightly into his graveyard. "I can discard up to three cards from the top of my deck in order to increase Courage's attack and defense by three hundred points each; this effect lasts until the end of the turn but can only be activated once per turn. My discarding three cards thus gives him a boost of nine hundred points (2300/2100)." The Soul's sword glowed with a blazing red aura, and he struck mightily, cleaving through the Mermaid Knight's raised sword and then the sea creature's torso with ease (Shin LP: 3400). "First blood is mine, Professor Jougo," Takashi declared, "I set two cards facedown, and end my turn."

Shin decided a higher level of play was necessary to test this applicant than what he had encountered previously. The professor was getting the feeling that he would have to employ every ounce of the test deck's power in order to put Takashi's skills to an adequately difficult test. "I play Graceful Charity," Shin declared, foregoing the process of explaining the popular card's effect as he drew three cards and pondered on what two to discard. After some thought, a combo formed in his mind, and he met the cost of the spell. "Next, Giga Gagagigo will attack Soul of Courage. Even with its effect, your monster will be destroyed!"

"We'll see," Takashi replied calmly, a smile attempting to pull at his lips, "but in any case, I activate the Blade of Fortitude and discard three cards from my deck!" A quick repositioning of cards later, and Takashi's Soul of Courage (2300/2100) was charging forth to meet the reptile with his glowing blade. Before the two could clash, however, Takashi had made another motion. "Activate facedown card," he declared, a quickplay spell flipping up in front of him, "Raw Emotion-Cool Tranquility negates a battle involving a Soul monster. Afterwards, all face-up monsters may immediately attack the opposing duelist's life points directly!" Shin's eyes widened as suddenly the Soul of Courage was surrounded by a cold blue aura, and sidestepped around Giga Gagagigo. Then both monsters charged right past each other, and each assumed a new target.

The sword of the Soul of Courage slashed through Shin's body, dealing a crushing blow to his life points (Shin LP: 1100), and the professor was not completely surprised to see a barrier of light spring up around his opponent, protecting Takashi from Giga Gagagigo's blows. "The trap card Hallowed Life Barrier prevents all damage to me this turn," Takashi explained, as the barrier faded and both duelists' monsters returned to their respective positions on the field, "although it does cost a card from my hand to activate." That said, he slid one card from his hand into the graveyard, leaving him with two remaining. He shook his head and rolled his eyes when he heard Izumi's cheers coming from the bleachers, although a look of slight amusement played across his face.

Shin's expression was somewhat sour as he set two cards facedown and awaited Takashi's next move. The boy was quite impressive- he had guarded his life points from all damage so far and chipped away Shin's own to just over a quarter their original amount. Still, the professor was confident that his next move would manage to knock the younger duelist for a loop. He turned his attention to Takashi as the teenager placed another card on his Duel Disk, another person appearing next to the Soul of Courage. "I summon Soul of Depression (800/1200) in defense mode," he announced the new Soul's appearance. This Soul was a pale-skinned man wearing clothes of somber black and shades of dark blue and purple, including a dark purple cloak that hung over his shoulders. He was sitting cross-legged on the ground, dark blue hair hanging over his face, as he stared at his own open-palmed and empty hands.

As soon as the Soul of Depression hit the field, a black aura appeared around him, and soon extended to encapsulate Shin's Giga Gagagigo, which sighed and slumped. "What's going on?" Shin demanded, "What's your monster doing to my Giga Gagagigo?"

"Depression's ability extends his own sadness to each of your monsters," Takashi explained, "this decreases their attack and defense by four hundred points each (Giga Gagagigo: 2250/1300). So now that he can defeat your monster, Soul of Courage will attack Giga Gagagigo with Blade of Fortitude (2300/2100)!"

Shin noticed that as he declared the assault, Takashi's eyes twitched to look at the pair of set cards positioned behind Giga Gagagigo. 'He has a possible counter in his hand should I activate something to stop him,' Shin discerned from this motion, 'a good duelist and strategist, prepared for my own actions…though he could work a little on his poker face. Still, I can't stop him.' The large reptile was beheaded by the Soul's blazing sword, chipping away at Shin's life points even further (Shin LP: 1050).

"I set one card facedown," Takashi concluded, sliding one of his two remaining cards into his Duel Disk, "and end my turn."

Shin smirked. 'Time to go to work,' he thought to himself, drawing the top card of his deck, and then pressing two buttons on his Duel Disk. "I activate both of my set cards in sequence," he declared, "first, Call of the Haunted to revive a monster from my graveyard." The trap took effect, and a red-skinned frog rose up from the ground, its long tongue flicking out a few times experimentally. "This is Poison Draw Frog (100/100-0/0). Next, my quickplay spell card activates, School of Fish," Shin continued, and he removed his deck from his Duel Disk for the second time in the duel and fanned it out in front of his face. As he sifted through it, he explained his card's effect. "This is a less costly but more restricted version of Reckless Summoning of Hell. When a Water monster with under fifteen hundred attack points is special summoned to my field, I can immediately summon the other copies from my deck at no cost." He found both the copies from his deck and slapped them on his Duel Disk, calling forth two more Poison Draw Frogs (100/100-0/0 x2) before replacing his deck.

Takashi crossed his arms across his chest and looked seriously at three gathered amphibians. "Alright, you got three monsters out with just two cards," he conceded, "but they're all pretty weak, and you've left your life points vulnerable."

"Patience, Takashi Kasei," Shin assured, a card from his hand sliding into his Duel Disk, "I play Pot of Greed, and draw two new cards." The resulting benefits of the oft-played spell pleased him a great deal, and he wasted no time in activating another card from his hand. "Salvage lets me pick up two level four or lower Water monsters from my graveyard and add them to my hand." A pair of cards slid out of the respective slot of his Duel Disk, and he plucked them from the metal trey and added them to his hand. "And now I'll put those monsters to good use: I play Big Wave Small Wave!" Takashi was surprised when suddenly an immense wave of lava rose up from nowhere, and crashed over Shin's field, engulfing his three Poison Draw Frogs.

"What's he doing?" Izumi questioned openly, obviously confused, "What's the point of destroying his monsters when he went to such trouble to get all of them out?"

"Big Wave Small Wave destroys all face-up Water monsters on my field," Shin declared, "however, I am then allowed to summon Water monsters from my hand equal to the number destroyed." He flipped his three-card hand around, revealing all of the cards to be Water monsters, and placed them one by one onto his Duel Disk. The sea of lava dispersed, revealing the Mermaid Knight from before, a strange orange, submarine-like vehicle with stocky legs, and most prominently a blue- and white-scaled serpentine creature with a long red fin running along its spine and a mouth rimmed with sharp, needle-like teeth. "Behold," Shin announced, "Mermaid Knight (1500/700-1300/500), Amphibious Bugroth MK-3 (1500/1300-1300/1100), and Levia-Dragon - Daedalus (2600/1500-2400/1300)!"

Takashi cast a glance at his set card for reassurance. Shin had definitely taken control of the field, but he could survive the coming assault without too much trouble. The problem would be dealing with the Levia-Dragon later. However, his hopeful thoughts were disrupted when three long, pink tongues snaked out of Shin's graveyard and snagged a card each from the top of the professor's deck. "When Poison Draw Frog is destroyed while face-up," the teacher explained, "I draw one card." He accepted the offered cards from the three tongues, and smirked as he looked them over. "Perfect," he announced, and suddenly Daedalus was surrounded by a column of blue and white light, "I sacrifice Daedalus in order to summon his evolved, more powerful form: Ocean Dragon Lord – Neo-Daedalus (2900/1600-2700/1400)!" The column of light dispersed, and in the serpentine dragon's placed now hovered a larger, fiercer-looking version of the original. Its head was relatively unchanged, but its spinal fin was larger and sharper, and as its tail snaked through the water, Takashi could see a second, worm-like head crowning the tail.

"And now for a change of scenery," Shin declared, as suddenly the water began to drain from the field. Takashi caught sight of the second head of the sea serpent, which was currently doing the impossible: it was sucking in the entire body of water currently engulfing the field of battle. "I activate Neo-Daedalus's effect by sacrificing Umi, or in this case A Legendary Ocean, to destroy everything! Our hands, the field, everything will go to the graveyard except for the Ocean Dragon Lord!" As Shin finished speaking, the serpentine beast finished draining the field of water, and its primary head opened its maw, the entire sea flooding out and carrying away everything in its path.

Takashi braced his feet against the ground, and responded by slamming his finger onto a button on his Duel Disk. "Activate set card!" he shouted, before the water roared over him, blocking his field from view. When the water faded, both duelists' hands were empty, gone along with Shin's Mermaid Knight and Amphibious Bugroth, and Takashi's set card and Soul of Depression (Ocean Dragon Lord – Neo-Daedalus: 2900/1600). However, the Soul of Courage remained, basked in a brilliant red aura and standing stoutly before Takashi. "My set card was Raw Emotion-Unheeding Valor," the teen declared, "which negates the destruction of a Soul monster and increases its attack by five hundred for the turn (Soul of Courage: 1900/1200)."

Shin's lips quirked up in a smirk, and he motioned towards Neo-Daedalus. "Very well, you've survived this turn," he stated, "but that doesn't mean you won't be taking immense amounts of damage this turn. One of the cards I discarded was Levia-Dragon's Rage, which when sent to the graveyard by the effect of Daedalus or Neo-Daedalus deals my opponent three hundred points of damage for each card sent to the graveyard. That's seven cards at three hundred damage each, for a total of 2100!" Neo-Daedalus's second head suddenly darted forward, striking Takashi in the chest and knocking him onto his back (Takashi LP: 1900).

"Neo-Daedalus, strike down Soul of Courage!" Shin followed up this large blow to Takashi's Life Points by immediately calling up another, and his serpentine monster responded immediately. The beast's second head snapped forward, clamping down on the armored warrior's waist and hefting him off the ground with ease.

"I won't let Soul of Courage go down without a fight!" Takashi exclaimed, sliding three cards from his deck into his graveyard, "Activate Blade of Fortitude!" Immediately, the swordsman began fighting back against the more powerful beast vigorously, bringing his sword down repeatedly on the head. Still, the Soul of Courage (2800/2100) could not fight back the Ocean Dragon Lord, who responded to his struggling by bringing its other head into the battle, and ripping the Soul's body in half.

"A rather useless gesture, powering up your Soul of Courage when it played no role in deciding the battle," Shin commented smugly, crossing his arms over his chest. In the back of his mind, he knew he was only supposed to be testing the teen, but he was getting caught up in the moment, and understandably so.

"Are you sure about that?" Takashi questioned, "Because there's one thing you have to consider when your opponent discards large numbers of cards from their deck."

"Oh?" Shin prompted, "And what exactly would that be?"

"The possibility that they'll discard a certain popularly-played card," Takashi answered, holding up one of the cards he had discarded to activate the effect of his Soul of Courage the last time, "Repayment of Losses, when sent to the graveyard, lets me draw one card." He drew the card confidently, then paused to assure that Shin's turn was truly over. After receiving this confirmation, he paused for a moment, and rubbed at his sternum under his shirt. Following this, he drew a card to start his turn. Upon seeing it, he smirked confidently. "And that one draw gives me all I need."

"I highly doubt that," Shin stated calmly, though he was not ignorant of the fact that with a single monster and no set cards on his field, Takashi's statement could very well ring true. Such were the limitations of a test deck.

"I play Soul Revival," declared Takashi, "this summons a Soul monster from one of two locations to my field, and I choose my graveyard." What emerged as a result of his play was a monster that had not been played so far. Instead, Shin deduced that it must have been another of the cards Takashi had discarded throughout the course of the duel to feed the effect of his Soul of Courage. The Soul was no doubt the strangest Takashi had summoned so far- initially it was a strange configuration of vibrant green vines decorated by pink roses, surrounding a pale human face whose eyes were closed serenely. However, within moments, the vines had turned to a rotten green-brown shade, and the petals of the roses became pure black. The eyes of the creature snapped open, revealing demonic slits of red. The thing hissed, revealing razor-sharp teeth, and rose up with its vines waving about in the air. "I summon the Soul of Hatred (1900/1800)!" Takashi declared.

"Hm…" Shin murmured, "a fearsome-looking creature, doubtless. But it cannot stand against the Ocean Dragon Lord."

"Not yet," Takashi acknowledged, "but I'll take care of that problem right now. Activate Souls of the Departed!" Instantly, more than a dozen orbs of light flooded out of the graveyard slot of his Duel Disk, surrounding the Soul of Hatred and infusing it with power. "The effect of my spell is a bit more complex than the explanation I'm about to give, but for now all you need to know is that in the current situation it'll increase Hatred's attack power by one hundred for each card in my graveyard, which is currently twenty!" The Soul of Hatred roared a screeching battle cry, rising up on its vines as the black roses about its form grew from the influx of power (3900/1800).

"Unbelievable…" was the only word Tsura could use to describe the sight of the ferocious plant-thing preparing to strike down Shin's now relatively weak sea dragon.

"Quite impressive," included Kamin, albeit a great deal more neutrally, "his strategy flows quite well- a good number of his cards rely upon his graveyard containing many cards, and his use of Soul of Courage assures that will happen. It's just a shame that he's going to fall a little short…"

"Hmph," spoke up Hiroshi from his seat, "don't be so sure of that. That Soul of Hatred, I'll have you know, is a level five monster. What kind of effect do you think it has to merit such a weak attack score at that level?"

"Soul of Hatred, attack Neo-Daedalus!" Takashi commanded, and almost before the order came, the demonic plant was shuffling forward. A series of vines darted out, striking the serpentine creature's body and drawing blood in the form of numerous shallow cuts. Eventually, the ocean creature was overrun by vines, and it fell to the assault, screeching in agony (Shin LP: 50).

Shin was panting now, the intensity of the duel beginning to have a physical effect on him. Takashi was breathing a little heavily as well, but as he had not been on the receiving end of so many blows, he was far less affected. "A good shot," complimented Shin, grinning, "but now you've made the same mistake you were reprimanding me for earlier. Souls of the Departed will wear off when you end your turn, and then you'll be left with a monster with 1900 attack points and no spells or traps to defend it."

Takashi smirked in response, "Actually…Souls of the Departed did far more than I needed it to. This move would've been the finisher if Soul of Hatred had only beaten Neo-Daedalus by as few as fifty points." He raised an arm, and pointed a finger at Shin's feet. "Or hadn't you noticed the delivery Hatred made while she was over there?"

Shin looked down to where Takashi was gesturing, and was surprised to find that a pair of black-petaled roses were planted in the ground at his feet. "Hatred's effect," Takashi offered as explanation, "whenever she deals battle damage to my opponent's life points, or destroys a monster as a result of battle, she leaves a little present for them- a single rose from her body." Takashi's smirk grew wider, as suddenly a noxious gas emanating from the two roses filled Shin's nostrils, "For each rose she leaves you, you take five hundred points of damage, and that's far more than enough to end this duel!" The effect of the odor caused Shin to stumble, and he unceremoniously toppled backwards, his back hitting the ground as his life point counter bottomed out (Shin LP: 0).

"YEAH!" Izumi's cheer hit Takashi with semi-deafening force despite the distance between them, and he sighed as he glanced over at her. She was now somehow turning cartwheels in the bleachers without colliding into anything.

'How is it possible for someone so short to have so much energy?' Takashi wondered to himself, as the holograms on the field faded. He walked across the arena, and stood over Shin, who had only just started to recover from his wooziness. Takashi offered a hand to assist the professor, who gladly accepted it with a smile, and pulled himself to his feet.

"Polite to the end I see, Takashi Kasei," Shin commented, smiling down at the teenager. "It seems you were given a proper upbringing."

"Thank you, Professor," Takashi replied, with a bow of his head. Shin returned the gesture, and headed back up the steps to the board of judges. Takashi watched him go for a few moments, realizing that in all likelihood this Shin Jougo would be one of his teachers in the years to come. Hopefully the experience would be as good as the one the two had just had together. Then he turned, and departed the arena, paying half-attention to the name that the principal was currently calling for. He met Izumi half-way up the steps, she having descended to congratulate him. She was grinning openly, and Takashi couldn't find it in him to prevent a small smile from pulling up the corners of his lips. "Well, looks like we did it," Takashi stated factually. He instinctively raised an arm and pressed a finger against her forehead when she lunged to try and hug him again. "Okay okay, that's enough of that for one day. Or one month. Or one lifetime."

Izumi's eyes twinkled as she responded wittily, "You really have never kissed a girl before, have you?" Then she broke out into laughter when his right eyebrow began twitching uncontrollably. Takashi let out a sigh as his new friend laughed her heart out. It was, at the very least, going to be very interesting at Duelist Academy…

So there you have it, the story has begun! I hope you guys liked this chapter…It's seriously the longest single chapter I've ever written- quite a way to open up a fic. Leave a review if you liked it, and I hope you stay with me as the story progresses.

Takashi and Izumi enter Duelist Academy together, just as they promised each other. The first thing to address? Meeting their roommates, of course! And does Takashi have a strange couple of new companions… Although Takashi and one of his roommates seem to be rubbing each other the wrong way, there's always a tried and true method of settling disputes at Duelist Academy!

Next Time: Strange New Companions - Clash of Sleeping Privileges!