Author's Notes: Most of the cards in Misawa's deck are my own invention. Hopefully I didn't make any mistakes with the dueling bits. Enjoy the grand finale!
Juudai walked into the TV room carrying a tray. Everyone else had gone to the cafeteria to eat breakfast, but it was agreed by all that bringing Saioh into the dining hall of the Osiris Red dorm was probably not the wisest thing to do. Juudai had volunteered to bring him some food. Since Juudai was usually the first to finish eating anyway (and because he also had a habit of stealing food off other people's plates when he was done with his own share) no one had objected to him sneaking off early carrying an extra tray.
"Morning, Saioh!" he said cheerily. "I brought you breakfast!"
"Thank you, Juudai," Saioh answered politely. He was seated on one of the sofas, combing out his hair. He had spent the night there, and was looking unusually ruffled with his clothes wrinkled from being slept in and his hair in disarray. Nevertheless, his expression looked refreshed, perhaps because he no longer had the Light of Ruin burning inside him. When Juudai passed him the tray, a bemused expression crossed his face, but he accepted the food graciously. "That was thoughtful of you."
"It was no problem," said Juudai. He plopped down onto the sofa next to Saioh and made himself comfortable. "So, what do you plan on doing now?"
"My eventual plan is to return to Domino to see if my sister can be rescued," he answered gravely, "and then we will likely go back to our home. But I can't leave yet, not until I know that the Light of Ruin has left this world for good."
"So you're sure it's still on the island somewhere?" asked Juudai.
"I am quite certain," Saioh replied. "I'm afraid it will take more than an effort of will to defeat the Light."
"And you say you think it's attached itself to one of the other students?"
Saioh nodded gravely. "It took a risk. When your friend Misawa came to... us... expressing doubts about the Society, the Light persuaded him that he is powerless to escape. The Light is gambling that you will not be willing to battle directly against your friend and risk any injury coming to him, so it placed part of itself in Misawa's deck so it would be able to manipulate him during the battle. I believe it most likely that the Light has taken refuge with him now."
"That's not good," said Juudai.
"No, it isn't," Saioh agreed patiently. "However, you do have one advantage in this situation that you would not have if you were facing the Light of Ruin while it was still inhabiting my body."
"What's that?" Juudai asked.
"The Light seems to desire certain qualities in its host. It originally chose DD, but DD was too worldly and unable to contain it, so it moved on to me. I was a more spiritual creature, and already suited to containing unearthly powers, and the Light found me a good fit. Your friend Misawa, however, is a more pragmatic creature. If the Light has taken refuge with him, it is because it had no other choice, not because he was a good choice. I am sure that it will try to find its way back to me eventually. If we are reunited, you may not be able to banish it again, but as long as it is hiding within your friend..."
"I get it," said Juudai. "So there's a good chance we can knock that Light of Ruin thing out of Misawa and make it go away forever? I'm all over that."
"Don't underestimate the Light's power. You've only faced it while it was at a disadvantage; the next time, it will be much stronger," Saioh warned. "It will be watching for you next time, and planning what to do about you. You mustn't allow yourself to be careless."
"You don't have to worry," said Juudai. "I've handled some pretty hairy situations before this. I'm getting kinda used to dealing with this freaky stuff. Anyway, I'm not letting that Light of Ruin mess with my friend!"
"Then I wish you the best of luck," said Saioh. "For what it's worth, I think you have a chance."
"I know I have a chance," Juudai agreed.
The sound of footfalls made them both look up to see Manjoume come rushing in.
"Hey, Juudai, get off your butt and come have a look outside," he snapped. "We've got a problem here!"
"What kind of problem?" Juudai asked, getting up to follow Manjoume.
The two of them went outside and climbed up onto the second floor walkway. Kenzan was already waiting there, wearing an expression of concern.
"What's the problem?" asked Juudai. "I don't see anything."
"You've got to get higher up," Manjoume explained. "Unless you want to go out for a closer look, but you're probably safer on the roof. Come on - everyone else is already up there."
Baffled but agreeable as ever, Juudai allowed Kenzan to give him a boost up, and then paused to help Manjoume climb up after him. Kenzan pulled himself up, and all three of them walked carefully to the edge of the roof where Shou, Asuka, and Fubuki were already waiting. Fubuki was peering through a pair of binoculars.
"No change," he said, passing them to Manjoume.
"I didn't think there would be," Manjoume replied, "considering I was gone all of five minutes."
He handed the binoculars to Juudai, who obediently looked through them.
"I don't see anything," he said.
"Look towards the main school building," Asuka instructed him.
Juudai turned slightly and fiddled with the focus knob. A movement caught his attention, and he zoomed in on it. There was definitely a commotion going on in front of the school, and it appeared to be caused by a number of students wearing white coats.
"Okay, that looks bad," he said. "What the heck is it? A riot?"
"Looks that way," said Manjoume. "Guess the kids in white figured out that Saioh's gone missing."
"Yeah, I guess they would notice, after a while," said Juudai. "Well, I got some news, too. I was talking to Saioh just now, and he says he thinks the Light of Ruin is hiding with Misawa!"
"Well, that's just great," Manjoume muttered. "Now he'll be even more of a pain in the neck than he was before."
"Aw, c'mon, don't say that," said Juudai. "He's our friend and he's in trouble. If we can save him, everything can finally go back to normal."
"Shouldn't we do something about the riots first?" asked Shou uneasily. In the distance, the sounds of shouting could be heard, and there was a short sharp sound of breaking glass.
"Yeah, maybe somebody ought to look into that," Juudai agreed. "Okay. Let's plan this. If the Society people find Saioh, they're going to be in trouble. That Light of Ruin thing might even try to take him back, and Saioh says it'll be a lot harder to get rid of the thing if that happens. Somebody's got to stay here and make sure nobody finds out where he's hiding. Kenzan, Shou, can you guys keep an eye on him for us?"
"Yeah, I can do that," said Shou, looking glad he would not be called upon to face the mob.
"No problem!" Kenzan agreed. "I make a good bodyguard."
"Thought so," said Juudai. "Manjoume, you're always good at working a crowd - think you can get that mess out there under control?"
Manjoume preened a bit at this recognition of my talents. "I think I can handle it."
"Great," said Juudai. "Asuka, Fubuki, you're the only ones here allowed inside the Obelisk dorm, so I might need your help getting to Misawa. You up for it?"
"You can count on us!" said Fubuki, and Asuka nodded in agreement.
"Then we've got a game plan," said Juudai. "Let's do this, gang!"
The six students scampered down from the rooftop. They took off in various directions, and within moments, it was impossible to tell there had been anyone there at all.
Early that morning, there had been no indication in the Obelisk dorm that a riot was about to begin. The students had slept peacefully in their beds - a few with their blinds drawn to keep the morning sun out of their eyes, but the vast majority with their curtains flung wide and their night-lights shining on their faces, smiling as they dreamed of a perfect, clean white world. Then, one by one, alarm clocks began going off, and the drowsy students dragged themselves out of bed and prepared to face a new day. Hair was combed, showers were taken, teeth were brushed, and uniforms were put on. A few people hurried to finish last-minute homework. Some burrowed under the covers and tried to snatch a few more minutes of sleep. All was peaceful. Gradually, they began trickling into the dining hall for breakfast. That was where the trouble started. As of late, Saioh had taken to dining along with them, and no one could help but look towards his customary chair and wonder why he was not in it. While it was not unusual for him to take to hiding in his room for long periods of time, one student worked up the nerve to go up to his door after breakfast and investigate the situation. He knocked hesitantly.
"Master Saioh?" he called. "Is everything all right?... Hello? Master Saioh, are you there? Master Saioh!"
"He isn't going to answer," said a voice.
The boy spun around. Standing behind him was Misawa, or someone like Misawa. His hair and eyes were the wrong color, as if they had been bleached. The effect of those strange silvery eyes was particularly disturbing; looking at them from any direction but straight on made them appear to be simply blank white spaces where his eyes should be. They appeared to be glowing slightly, which had to be an optical illusion, but didn't make them any more comfortable to look at.
"What do you mean?" the boy asked, with a quaver in his voice.
"I mean what I said," Misawa replied. "He isn't there. They got him."
"Who is they?"
"Juudai and his friends. They came in the night, overpowered him, and took him away," Misawa answered.
"Oh, no..." the student whimpered, sinking to his knees. "What are we gonna do?"
"I'll tell you what we're going to do," Misawa replied. "We're going to get him back, and we're going to punish the people who took them from us."
"But... how will we able to fight them without Master Saioh to help us?"
"Don't worry. All is not lost. The power of the Light is still with us."
The student barely felt Misawa's hand on his shoulder. Such comforting gestures meant nothing with Saioh gone - losing him felt like losing the sun. How could anyone expect to face the world without him? Yet, even as he was thinking that, he felt a new strength ebbing into him, that warm feeling of being part of something wonderful and powerful, the feeling of completion that every member of the Society had been trained to crave like a drug. The boy looked up and met Misawa's strangely glowing eyes.
"Yes," said Misawa. "The power has passed on to me now. The Society will never be unprotected. I will guide you until Saioh is returned to his rightful place."
The student beamed, his momentary despair all but forgotten. Like any of his brothers and sisters in the Society, he wasn't attached to Saioh for his own sake so much as for what he could do, and would have gladly followed anyone who could give him that feeling of blissful harmony with the universe.
"What do you want us to do?" he asked.
"Come along, and I'll tell you," Misawa replied. "Is everyone still in the dining hall?"
"Almost everyone," the boy replied.
"Tell them they have orders from the top to stay where they are," Misawa replied. "Then send a few people to find any stragglers. I want all of them gathered so I can speak to them. Don't tell them what's going on yet - leave that to me!"
"Yes sir, Master Misawa!" the student said, and hurried off to obey orders.
Misawa stood there a moment, as if afflicted with some sudden indecision. Then he began walking, albeit a bit stiffly, towards the dining hall.
Do you hear that, Misawa? taunted the voice in his head. He called you master. That's what you wanted, isn't it?
Shut up, Misawa thought back. Not that there was anything he could do about it. The Light was in his very nerves, jerking his muscles and firing his synapses, and he had no doubt that it could stop his heart if it decided to. If he fought the thing too much, it could inflict agonizing pain on him as easily as it had elicited ecstacy before. He'd found that out quickly enough last night.
The only thing he had to be grateful for, and that was little enough, was that the thing controlling him didn't have complete control. It was as if his body was an ill-fitting suit that the Light was wearing, one that was a little too tight here and a little too loose there. Where it fit too closely, the Light's true self shone through, making it impossible to hide the fact that there was something not-quite-right about Misawa's appearance today. Where it fit too loosely, though... that was the lucky part, because Misawa could still keep a pice of himself separate. He could still think for himself, make observations, formulate plans, even make a few voluntary movements if the Light wasn't paying close attention. He was saving that, though. No point in wasting his energy on fruitless gestures of independence. For now, he was determined to wait, watch, and hope for a chance to disrupt a crucial moment.
You should be thanking me. I'm giving you an excuse. Now you can tell your old friends I made you do it all. You could do whatever you wanted to, now, and no one would ever blame you for it. Why not just relax and enjoy yourself?
Misawa considered letting the Light know exactly what he thought of that proposition, and then changed his mind. If he was going to have any success at all in fighting the Light, he was going to have to swallow his pride and pretend to play along. His only hope was that he could lull it into a sense of security. If he could convince it that he was willing to help it, perhaps its grip would slip just enough that he could do something that would make a difference. Yet, it wouldn't do to appear too eager.
What is it I should be enjoying, exactly? he asked it.
Why, anything. What is it you want?
Misawa thought quickly, trying to think of something that the Light would believe.
You were right. I have to admit, I wanted to be master of the Society all along. I know you need Saioh as your host, but I'm willing to go along with you if you'll let everyone keep seeing me as the real power.
Easily done. I can no longer trust Saioh. Now that he has had a taste of freedom, he will resist me all the more strongly. If you will give me your allegiance of your own free will, then you will naturally make a better leader.
And I want the GX Championship.
That is a matter of no consequence, but if it pleases you, help yourself. No one will stop you.
While I'm making requests, I'm not too thrilled with this habit of yours of picking out female companions for me. I want a choice from now on.
Fine. Select any or all of them, if you wish. They're yours for the taking.
If he'd actually been in control of is stomach at the moment, he probably would have felt sick to it, but at the moment all he could manage was a mental shudder that he hoped the Light wouldn't feel.
You have a deal, then, he told it.
And what of Yuki Juudai and the rest of your friends?
Oh, please, Misawa replied. You know I only bothered with them because they were the only ones who paid any attention to me. I don't need them anymore.
Mentally, he begged his friends to forgive him, and hoped the Light wouldn't notice.
I am not entirely convinced of your loyalty. I will handle things for the time being.
I can be patient, Misawa replied. That, at least, was true.
Then settle down and let me work.
A few minutes later, the entire Society of Light was assembled in the dining hall, awaiting word from their leader. They were expecting to see Saioh. What they actually saw was someone closely resembling Misawa, who stood at the front of the room and raised his hands to draw their attention.
"Members of the Society of Light!" he intoned. "I come before you today with dire news. Our beloved leader has been taken from us by the forces of Darkness!"
The announcement was met with gasps and wails. He waited a moment for the fuss to die down before gesturing that they be silent.
"I know it is hard to believe," he said gravely. "I have reason to believe that this act was performed by none other than Yuki Juudai, the chosen avatar of Darkness, and that he was assisted substantially by certain traitors to our organization who passed him the information he needed, and by one of those arrogant Obelisk Blue students who continue to resist the Light while still daring to dwell in our headquarters. Now you see what comes of permitting traitors in our midst! Had we been more diligent in rooting out these traitors, spies, and blasphemers, Saioh would still be here today!"
Groans and wails rose up from the audience as they contemplated their guilt.
"What can we do?" several voices asked.
"We must correct our mistakes," Misawa replied. "We must find Saioh and find our enemies, even if we have to turn the entire school upside-down to do it! We will stop at nothing to ensure a victory for the Light! Our first priority, of course, must be finding Saioh. He has spent the entire night in the hands of the Darkness, and there is no knowing what they may have done to him. He may even be confused enough to believe he doesn't want to return. If that is the case, he must be brought back here by whatever means necessary, for his own good. Anyone who gets in our way must be brought under our control. There will be no more choices offered! If they will not come to the Light voluntarily, they must be brought to it by force. The only exceptions will be the traitors, Manjoume Jun and Tenjoin Asuka. Their hearts have been blinded to the Light, and they can no longer be trusted. If you encounter them, do whatever seems necessary to ensure they will that they will not double-cross us again. Also, there are two others, Yuki Juudai and Ed Phoenix. These two are dangerous. They carry darkness like a plague and spread it to all those who come in contact with them. Do not attempt to subdue them. If you find them, report directly to me. Now go, and show our enemies the full power of the Light!"
There was a roar from the crowd that was composed of equal parts approval and bloodlust. The Society had been holding itself in check for a long time; the open invitation to unleash their full power on anyone within radius was not one they would pass up. They rose like a white tide and rushed toward the doors, ready to take on anyone who stood before them. Their self-appointed leader watched them go with an air of smug satisfaction.
"That ought to take care of things for the moment," he said.
Misawa simply fumed... and watched, and waited.
Kenzan stood guard outside the Osiris dorm. Of course, he had to make it look like he was simply hanging around, maybe hoping for someone to wander by so he could duel them. He didn't stay in the same place too long, but he never ventured so far away that he couldn't see the door to Manjoume's addition. Saioh was still hiding there, with Ed and Shou with him to provide both companionship and backup protection, but someone had to stand lookout and try to dissuade anyone from poking around where they didn't belong. In the distance, he could still hear the shouts of the White students as they demanded the return of their leader.
Then it became quiet. Kenzan began to tense up. As long as the Whites were in front of the school rioting, at least he knew where they were. He doubted the hush meant they had all been subdued. That silence was the silence of a predator hunting. His eyes glittered as he scanned his surroundings for signs of movement.
His caution was not unwarranted. Within moments, a crowd of about five Whites, male and female, came stalking up the road, looking for trouble. They looked at Kenzan with suspicion.
"Hey, you!" one of them barked; Kenzan remembered him vaguely as a boy who had once been part of his own little gang, what seemed like forever ago. "You're one of Juudai's friends, aren't you?"
"Yeah, that's me," Kenzan replied, folding his arms in a practiced movement that drew attention to his rippling muscles. "You got a problem with that, small-fry?"
"You better watch who you're calling a small-fry," the boy snapped back. "You don't scare us! The Light is more powerful than you could ever imagine!"
Kenzan faked a yawn. "Right. Tell me another one. Your buddy Saioh tried to use his magic or mind-powers or whatever it is to get me to join his little fan club, and he couldn't do diddley-squat to me. If he can't hurt me, what do you think you're going to do?"
That silenced the group for a moment.
"It's just like Misawa said," one of the girls piped up. She had been one of the first to be conscripted into Misawa's "fan club" and still harbored feelings of attachment to him. "Everything Juudai touches gets polluted. This one has been blinded to the Light."
The others nodded at this revelation. "You're right - he's polluted! We'll have to wipe him out."
"Oh, izzat so?" said Kenzan. He grinned, showing off very white teeth. His eyes glittered unnaturally. "You saying you wanna duel me, or should we thrash it out the old-fashioned way? I'll take you on either way or both, if you want."
He powered up his Duel Disk and stood waiting, still grinning his unnerving toothy smile, looking as casual as he knew how. The Whites took a few steps backwards, suddenly overcome by the feeling that this calm, smiling boy was about to leap on them and rip their throats out with his teeth.
"Look, we aren't looking for any trouble," said the boy who had first spoken. "We're just trying to find something we're missing, so just step aside and let us pass."
"I'm not blocking the road," said Kenzan. He leaned on the bannister of the front stairs and waved a hand, motioning that they could freely walk past them.
"We can see what's on the road," the boy snapped back. "We want into the dorm."
"What would you want in there?" Kenzan replied, feigning innocence. "I can tell you now, it's not much to see. Whatever you lost, it probably ain't there, anyway. Take it up the road."
"Why don't you let us decide where to look?" said the boy. "Or are you hiding something?"
"Not hiding anything. What have we got to hide?" said Kenzan. "We just don't like your kind around here. You want in, you'll have to get past me, first."
The Whites turned to each other and whispered, while Kenzan stood and waited. Then someone gave a shout, and the three boys broke away from the group and lunged at Kenzan, battering him with their fists and feet. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the two girls go racing up the stairs. There was nothing he could do about that, however, while he still had three people trying to pummel him.
Fortunately, dealing with that problem didn't take long. The Light may have been powerful, but it obviously didn't do anything for its followers' physiques. Within minutes, Kenzan had knocked all three boys senseless. Once he was free of them, he walked over to the window of the addition and tapped out a signal. A moment later, he heard the responding tap that meant Plan B was going into operation. Satisfied that Ed and Shou were on the job, he set about cleaning up the mess he'd made. His attackers were still out cold, and likely to stay that way a while, and he couldn't just leave them lying around where people would see them. He rolled up their unresisting bodies and stuffed them into some nearby trash cans, taking savage glee in getting their pristine white uniforms dirty.
Meanwhile, the two girls were scouring the dorm from top to bottom, searching under beds and peering in closets. They made a cursory inspection of the kitchen and dining hall, spent more time than they would have liked amid the dust and cobwebs that had taken over Daitokuji's old office, and even attempted an exploration of the catwalks on the ceiling that Pharaoh used to pass from room to room. Finding nothing, they moved on to the new wing of the building. They were pleased to find that it was much cleaner than the areas they had previously searched, but it appeared to be uninhabited.
Then they found a door. It was closed, but there were sounds of movement coming from behind it, too muffled for them to identify the source with any certainty. They pushed it open and found themselves standing in a small bathroom. There was another door beyond it. The sounds were louder there. They opened the second door.
There was a scream.
"Aagh! Girls! There are girls in the boys' bathroom!" Shou, splashing about in the bathtub, howled at the top of his lungs.
"Aagh! A boy!" the girls squealed.
"Get out! Get out!" Shou shouted. He had probably never made so much noise in his life. "Quit staring at me!"
He seized on a bar of soap and threw it at them. When they saw him reaching to throw the soap dish next, the girls decided it was wisest to make a hasty retreat. They turned to leave - and one girl stepped on the soap. She fell on her friend, causing both of them to fall on top of each other. Shou, meanwhile, continued to scream and throw anything that came to hand. The unfortunate girls scrambled wildly and managed to crawl out of the bathroom on all fours. Shou continued to howl until he was sure they were long gone. He took a long breath.
"Man," said Ed, stepping out from his hiding place behind the fountain. "Who knew a little guy like you had so much lung power?"
"I know I didn't," said Shou. He sounded a little hoarse.
The bathroom door opened again, but this time it was only Kenzan. He was grinning broadly.
"Mission accomplished," he said, giving Shou a thumbs-up. "Those girls made tracks in a hurry, lemme tell ya! I'll bet people could hear you on the other side of the island."
Shou paddled over to the side of the bathing pool and hauled himself out. Kenzan threw him a towel, which he quickly hitched around his waist.
"Next time," he said, "let's think of a plan that doesn't involve me being naked."
"Hey, it worked," said Ed, who had been primarily responsible for the plan. "Considering the amount of time and resources we had to work with, I think we did pretty well."
"It was somewhat unconventional," said Saioh, with his usual dignity. He had been hiding behind the fountain with Ed. "Nevertheless, I am grateful for your help, unconventional or not."
"I... guess you're welcome," said Shou, "but if nobody minds, I'm going to put my clothes back on now."
"Hey, you never know," Kenzan teased. "Those girls might come back! We ought to be prepared!"
"If they do, it's your turn to get in the tub," Shou replied.
Kenzan grinned. "If I did that, they wouldn't get scared. They might wanna get in with me!"
The two of them fell to bickering. Ed watched them with an expression that said he wasn't sure whether to be amused or concerned.
"I just don't know about these two," he said to Saioh. "I mean, these are the guys we're trusting the fate of the world to... and your fate."
"The fate of the world is the fate of the world," said Saioh philosophically.
"Yeah, I know - we can't change our fates," Ed replied. "I always trusted you about this Destiny business, but right now, I don't want to believe it. I want to believe we can control this situation. I lost you once, and I don't want to lose you again." His fists clenched. "You're all I've got left. I won't give you up."
"Nor will I," Saioh replied. His gaze turned distant for a moment. "The future is clouded to me. It all hinges on Juudai's actions, now, and those are beyond my power to predict. We must have faith."
Ed smiled wryly. "I'm not very good at faith."
"Nor am I," Saioh admitted, "but we have made it further than I thought we would. For the first time in my life, I am uncertain of what is coming next, but that gives me something I have never had before."
"What's that?" Ed asked.
Ed considered that a moment. Then he smiled. "Yeah, I guess so. I guess hoping is all we can do now."
Saioh set a hand on Ed's shoulder.
"Even if the Light wins in the end," he said, "I am glad to have had this chance to be with you again."
"Yeah, me too," Ed agreed.
I hate to admit it, Juudai, he thought, but I'm trusting you with the last person on earth I care about. The rest of the world doesn't matter to me, but you had better protect Saioh or I'll never forgive you!
There were a lot of people hanging around outside the Ra Yellow dorm. It seemed like a safe place to hang around, since hanging around outside the school building while the Whites were rioting didn't seem like a very clever idea. Hanging around outside the Obelisk dorm didn't strike anyone as being a wise choice, either, and of course even most of the Reds preferred not to hang around outside the Osiris dorm if they could help it. Ra Yellow made a nice middle ground, so most of the students who had been disqualified from the GX games had congregated there to pass the time. Manjoume smirked at them from his vantage point behind a handy tree.
They're not much, but I suppose they'll do.
He had agreed with Juudai when he'd said that he could stop the rioting. What he hadn't admitted, at least aloud, was that he probably couldn't do it alone. If he showed his face to the Society without adequate backup, he was going to be in big trouble. They probably wouldn't even leave any pieces of him to be remembered by if they got hold of him. So he was going to have to go for reinforcements.
"Hey, you clowns," he shouted, stepping into view. "What are you doing, sitting around on your butts when you could be out dueling?"
One of the students nearest to him gave him a glare. "We're disqualified."
"So?" said Manjoume. "Who says you can't be dueling just because you aren't gonna win the stupid contest? In case you haven't noticed, there's a riot going on out there."
"Yeah," said someone in the crowd. "That's why we're over here where it's safe!"
Manjoume looked at them as if they'd just told him the sky was green. He was very good at such looks; they said "What kind of idiot are you?" with a clarity that was only enhanced by the obvious fact that he was too aghast at their stupidity to actually speak.
"Let me get this straight," he said. "Here's the Society of Light. They've been screwing things up on this island ever since they got here, okay? They screwed with me, they screwed with my friends, they screwed with your friends. They walk all over anyone who gets in their way. And now that isn't enough. Now they're getting ready to pull our school - our school - to pieces, and you're just going to sit here and let them do it? Well, good for you! Glad to know you're all such big, brave duelists. Huh, you're tough enough when you're in class, but give you a real emergency and you're just fine with sitting around on your butts doing nothing. Well, later, losers. I'm off to go do something about it. Maybe I'll lose the championship, but at least I'll keep my self-respect, unlike a bunch of jokers I could mention who have nothing to lose but aren't even going to bother trying."
He turned and stalked off, radiating pride and righteous indignation.
"Hey, where do you think you're going?" someone shouted at him. He recognized the voice, though he didn't know the name - it was a student from Osiris Red, a year below him, who had lost all his medals the first day of the competition. "You can't challenge them - they'll tear you apart!"
"Humph. Shows what you know," said Manjoume. "You know why those freaks are rioting? Because they've lost their leader. Saioh cut out on them. He doesn't want anything more to do with them or the Society of Light, and they can't handle that. They're all running scared. That's why they're carrying on like that - they don't know what else to do. All it'll take now is somebody with some guts to stand up to them, and that'll be the end of the Society of Light. I think it's time we take back our school, but if you dweebs are too chicken to stand up to a bunch of cowards who are already scared half to death as it is, then I'm just going to do it myself."
He began walking away again. This time, a few people followed him.
"Hey, wait," said a boy in a blue jacket. "Maybe we can help."
"Yeah, let us come too!"
"I dunno," he said, raising an eyebrow. "You think you've got what it takes?"
"We can do anything better than they can!" said one boy boldly.
"Yeah, let us at 'em!" said another. "You can't take all the glory for yourself!"
"Right," said Manjoume. "Well, if you think you can handle it, I'm willing to take along a few volunteers. Who else is coming?"
There was a chorus of voices as several people - though not everyone - called out affirmatives. Manjoume let his dark gaze sweep over them.
"Anybody want to stay behind?" he asked. "If you're gonna stay behind, you'd better head for the hills right now, because we're not pulling any punches. Things are gonna get pretty ugly around here real soon, because as soon as we get our hands on that Society, there's gonna be some serious mayhem going on around here. We are taking this school back, and we're gonna do it any way we can. This is our place, and if they think we're all just going to sit back and let them do whatever they want, they've got another think coming! We are not going to let them rule this school or steal our friends, and we're definitely not going to let them win this tournament! Am I right?"
The response was an overwhelming cheer.
"All right, then! Who's with me?"
Another cheer. Manjoume smiled slightly, thinking to himself that if he ever wanted to get into politics, he could give his big brother a serious run for his money.
"Great," he said. "Let's go get 'em."
The road to the Obelisk dorm appeared to be paved with bodies. Most of them, Juudai was relieved to note, were still conscious, and even the ones that weren't didn't seem to have any long-term damage done to them. A few of them managed to glare balefully at him as he crept past them, and a few stirred painfully to pursue him, but they didn't seem to have much fight left in them.
"Looks like Manjoume is taking this seriously," Fubuki commented. He walked past one of the fallen students, stepping on the boy's hand as he went by.
"That wasn't nice," said Asuka, but without much real conviction behind it.
"He's one of the ones who beat me up," Fubuki replied. "Turnabout is fair play."
Juudai kept quiet. They were taking a roundabout route to the academy's most esteemed dormitory, trying to avoid being noticed by any of the Whites who might still be in fighting condition. It seemed that while they had been sneaking through the woods, trying to find a path that wouldn't get them spotted by someone, Manjoume and his followers had been busy stamping out rioters in a most effective manner. As they drew nearer to the Obelisk building, they were encountering more and more prone duelists in white jackets.
"Do you think he's in there?" Juudai asked.
"Do I think who's in where?" Fubuki replied.
"Misawa. Do you think he's going to be in the dorm? He might have gone, you know, somewhere," said Juudai vaguely. "He might be looking for Saioh, too. Or hiding. Or something."
"Well, there's one way to find out," said Asuka practically. She walked briskly up the path until she found one of Manjoume's victims, slumped against a nearby tree. She pressed a hand under his chin, forcing him to look into her eyes.
"Hello, there," she said sweetly. "We're looking for Misawa Daichi. Seen him lately?"
"This morning," answered the boy weakly. "At breakfast. Told us to look for Saioh."
"Is he still in the Obelisk dorm?"
"I think so..."
"He hasn't been acting a little weird today, has he?" asked Juudai. "Anything different about him?"
"Yeah," the boy replied, an expression of puzzlement crossing his face. "Now that you mention it, there was something. His hair changed color. It's white today."
Juudai and his friends exchanged looks.
"It's true, then," said Juudai. "Poor Misawa..."
The boy glared at him. "What do you mean, poor Misawa? Right now he's the most powerful person in the Society! He's achieved the highest stage of enlightenment!"
"Actually," said Fubuki seriously, "the way Saioh tells it, he's possessed by an evil space alien thing that's going to destroy the world. Burn it up so there's nothing but light."
"Huh?" said the student. "But..."
"Thanks for your help," said Juudai, "but we've gotta go now. Bye!"
They scooted off, leaving the boy lying baffled under his tree. He wondered if he ought to tell someone about this, and then realized that he really wasn't sure who he could tell. He slumped back against the tree and closed his eyes again. Maybe if he just went back to sleep, it would sort itself out.
Meanwhile, Juudai and his two companions were hurrying up the path to the Obelisk dorm. They weren't even bothering with the convoluted roads anymore they were hurrying as fast as they could, hoping to reach the building before Misawa left the premises. There was no need to be cautious anymore, anyway. Everyone seemed to have left the area, or else they had already been dueled into submission and lay exhausted in whatever shelters they had dragged themselves to. It was deathly quiet. They were all but tiptoeing by the time they reached the front door of the building.
"Want me to go ahead and make sure everything's okay?" asked Fubuki. His usually gentle eyes were serious.
"Wouldn't it be safer for us all to go together?" asked Juudai.
"Well, it would," said Fubuki, "but it's like this. You're the one who's gotta get the job done, right? So if there's a trap, it would be better if someone else found it first."
Without another word, he went bounding towards the front door and darted inside. Asuka sighed and shook her head.
"It's things like this that remind me that I love my brother," she said, "and also that he's a complete idiot."
The doors swung wide open again, and Fubuki went sailing out, landing hard on the pavement and rolling a short distance. Asuka hurried over to his side.
"Fubuki, are you all right?" she asked.
He looked up at her through vaguely unfocused eyes. "I found the trap!"
While Juudai and Asuka tried to pull Fubuki to his feet, two boys in white jackets marched out of the building and glared down at them all with peculiarly blank eyes. Juudai felt a pang of dread as he recognized that expression. It was the same vacant look he had seen in Asuka's eyes when she had challenged him to a duel for his key.
"We knew you would get here," said one boy.
The other nodded. "You're not taking another step. No one may disturb Master Misawa!"
"Master?" Juudai repeated. "Now, wait just a minute! When did that happen?"
The boys ignored him.
"If you want to get in, you have to go through us, first!" said one of them.
Juudai looked at Fubuki, who nodded. Both of them powered up their Duel Disks, and the boys in white did likewise. They all drew cards and prepared to begin a duel.
Asuka stood on the sidelines and watched for a while. Then she slowly and calmly walked over, stood behind the Society boys, reached out her hands, and forcibly knocked their heads together. They fell to the ground with grunts of pain and surprise, and lay stunned there for a while, swearing and clutching at their bruised heads.
"Why do you boys always have to solve everything by fighting?" she complained.
"You think that way's better?" Fubuki replied.
Juudai didn't waste any time arguing method. Reluctant as he was to abandon a duel, he knew it was more important to find Misawa, so he shut off his Duel Disk and went racing for the door, leaping over the prone figures of the two boys before hurrying inside. The guards stirred themselves and tried to stop him, but Asuka and Fubuki intervened.
"Don't worry, we'll hold 'em off!" Fubuki shouted as he attempted to wrestle one of the boys into submission.
Juudai waved quickly to his friends before darting through Obelisk's grand front doors and vanishing from sight.
Once inside the building, he chanced a quick pause to look around, making sure that there were no more guards or anything else nasty drifting around. He wasn't willing to put anything past the Light of Ruin. Fortunately, there didn't appear to be anyone nearby. He didn't have the imagination to be intimidated by the thought that there was something waiting for him that he couldn't see. Instead, he set off in the direction of the stairs. He was guessing that while the Light was in this compromised state, it probably wasn't going to wander very far away from its safe haven, and that meant that it was most likely hiding in the same room that Saioh had been in the first time Juudai had faced him.
"All right, buddy," said Juudai as he bounded up the stairs. "Hang in there. I'm coming."
He raced up the steps, his footfalls sounding far too loud in the empty building. He was panting a little by the time he reached the top floor and began heading in the direction he thought Saioh's room had to be. He hoped he could remember where it was. After all, he had only visited it once, in the dark, and a lot of what had happened once he got there was a little bit blurry in his mind. However, when he arrived on the right hallway, he was somewhat surprised to see that every door on it was closed, save for one. He walked over to it and had a peek inside.
The room was empty, but it was definitely the right one. Juudai could see the clear glass table where Saioh did all his readings; surely there could be only one such table in the school. No one was sitting at it, though, but there was evidence that someone had been recently. There were a few cards strewn across it, and Juudai wandered over to have a closer look. After all, he had never before sat down and looked at a deck of Tarot cards before. He picked up the ones that were set out and had a closer look at them, reading off their names: The Chariot, The Star, The Wheel of Fate. None of them meant anything to him, and he thought to himself that they ought to have a box at the bottom explaining what they were, the way Duel Monsters cards did. Bored, he got up to leave. Obviously wherever Misawa was, he wasn't here.
As he got up, Juudai spotted another door he hadn't noticed before. It was only a very narrow door, such as might have opened on a closet, and Juudai would have ignored it completely if it hadn't been standing open. There was a light shining inside, beaming on a flight of stairs leading downwards. It seemed like an odd place for a staircase, and it was just strange enough that Juudai thought it might be a good idea to investigate it more closely. He checked to make sure his Duel Disk was still safely affixed to his arm and that his deck was at the ready, and proceeded down the stairs.
He had vaguely expected that it would get darker the further down he went. It was a silly thing to think while he was in the headquarters of the Society of Light, but he had seen far too many movies with people walking down mysterious hidden staircases that were dark and full of cobwebs not to expect this one to be the same way. It wasn't dark, though. In fact, the further he went, the brighter the light got, until he had to hold up a hand to shield his eyes. He was nearly to the bottom before he got around to wondering where all of it was coming from.
At last, he reached the bottom, and stepped out into a large empty hall. Juudai gaped. It wasn't that the room was particularly large, though it was certainly large enough to hold the entire Osiris Red dorm with ease. It wasn't that the room was particularly magnificent, though it was - Juudai simply didn't have the aesthetic abilities to appreciate the statuary or the magnificent marble floor and painted ceiling. What stunned him was that the room was simply impossible. Juudai knew that the number of stairs he had gone down should have taken him below the Obelisk dorm, down to the basement or even below that, but this room had massive windows with light streaming through them. The view outside showed a view of a pure white sky over what appeared to be a desert - rolling hills of alabaster sand, studded here and there with clusters of pale rocks or the occasional leafless tree stripped bare of bark. It was a desolate scene, and Juudai felt a sinking sensation as he looked at it, and had to remind himself forcefully that he had left Duel Academia only minutes ago, and it had been as verdant as ever.
"Admiring the scenery?" said a voice. "It is beautiful. Clean and simple, pure and unstained... a perfect world."
"Looks boring to me," said Juudai.
He turned to face the speaker, and almost didn't recognize who he was seeing. It looked like Misawa, but only somewhat like him. His hair was faded to the palest shade of gray, and his eyes had an unnatural silvery tint. His skin was too pale, almost as white as his clothing. He looked like a marble statue of Misawa, something not quite real, and even the fact that he was moving didn't quite dispel the illusion.
"You would think that," he said. "After all, you are the champion of darkness. Of course you would prefer your own element."
"This isn't about preferring light or darkness," said Juudai. "Just look out there! Everything is dead. Anybody can see that's not good."
"I can see there is no arguing with you, so I will not attempt to press the point," said Misawa. "What have you come here for?"
Juudai him a glare. "I've come to get my friend back. I know you're not really Misawa. Let him go."
"Not unless you give my friend back," he replied. "I need Saioh. This Misawa of yours is not a fit host for me. You can see that my presence in his body is already affecting him dramatically. I think that if I stay with him too very much longer, he may die. That would benefit neither of us. However, there is no point in my leaving him until I have a proper host. Tell me where Saioh is and I will take him and spare your friend. I have the entire Society searching for him anyway; you must know that he will be found sooner or later. Whether they find him in time to save Misawa is up to you..."
"Duel me, then," said Juudai. "We'll settle it that way. If you win, I'll join your Society and I'll tell you where Saioh is and give up my key and everything. You can even use me as a host, if you want. But if I win, you have to leave and not come back."
The Light was quiet a moment.
"Very well," it said. "Since this is the only way either of us can get what we want, I will duel you."
It gestured, and Juudai had a peripheral vision of something moving towards him, giving him just enough time to duck before a Duel Disk went sailing over his head. It swooped over to settle on Misawa's arm like a trained bird. Juudai stared.
"When did you learn to do that?" he asked.
The Light smiled coldly. "This is my space, child of darkness. There is very little I cannot do here."
"Then let's see if dueling is one of them," Juudai replied, powering up his Disk. "Let's go!"
"As the challenged party, I take the first move," the Light replied. "I'll play White Meteoroid in defense mode! Then I'll place one card face-down and end my turn."
Juudai sized up the orb of white fire that had appeared on the field. It only had 1000 attack points, an easy mark.
"All right, then! I'll start by playing E-Hero Sparkman in attack mode!" Juudai declared. "Attack his White Meteoroid!"
The Light watched impassively as its monster was destroyed, and its life points ticked down to thirty-four hundred.
"I activate my monster's special effect! When White Meteoroid is destroyed, I can search my deck and summon as many White Meteor cards as I have, and it appears I have three of them!"
"Okay, you do that!" said Juudai, watching the three white sparks appear. "I guess I'll just place two cards face-down and then it's back to you."
"Very well. Then permit me to show you what these tokens are for," the Light replied. "They may have only 500 attack points each, but if you have only attack position monsters on your side of the field, my White Meteors can strike you directly!"
"Uh-oh," said Juudai. He flinched as the three sparks hurtled towards him, and for a moment he could feel his skin burning as he was pelted with flaming rocks. His life points dropped to twenty-five hundred.
"I'm not finished yet," the Light continued. "I play my trap card, White Aggregation!"
"Aren't you aggravating enough already?" Juudai muttered.
The Light gave him a long cold look.
"Aggregation," it repeated. "It means things coming together. In this case, it means that when I play this card when I have more than one White Meteor or White Meteoroid on the field, I must send all of them directly to the graveyard. However, once I've done that, I can special summon White Comet!"
A much larger flaming white stone appeared on the field, casting eerie lights over Misawa's face. Juudai sighed.
"Your monsters are really boring, you know that?" he said. "They all look the same!"
"Yes, but this one is different from the others in that it has 1800 attack points - more than enough to destroy your Sparkman!"
On that cue, the White Comet rushed across the field to smash into Sparkman, shattering him into a thousand pieces. Juudai's life dropped another two hundred points.
"Not doing very well, are you?" the Light jeered. "Almost half your life points are gone already, and you haven't even seen any of my truly powerful monsters."
"I'm just getting warmed up!" Juudai declared. "I activate my trap card, A Hero Emerges! Now you have to choose a monster from my hand, and if it's a monster, I get to summon it!"
The Light smirked. "I choose the card second from the left - which, if I am not badly mistaken, is Polymerization."
"What? How did you know?" Juudai blurted.
"The Light sees all, Juudai. I know every card in your hand. I know what your face-down cards are, as well. You can't hide anything from me."
Juudai scowled as he sent his Polymerization to the graveyard.
"Are you done?" he asked.
"For the moment. Your move."
"Right! Time to get serious!" Juudai drew and studied his hand. "All right, I summon Dandelion in defense mode, and place one card face-down. Your move."
"That was serious?" the Light said. "How pathetic. I sacrifice my White Comet to summon White Asteroid!"
The White Comet burst in an explosion of sparks, and Juudai flinched away from the blinding light. When he looked again, a new flaming rock had appeared, one so large it wouldn't have fit inside Juudai's dorm. It shone so brilliantly that the rest of the room looked dark in comparison. Juudai rubbed his eyes and looked again. It wasn't just the contrast; the room really was getting darker. The white walls of the room were overlaid with a haze of charcoal grey, studded with paler shapes that might have been stars...
"Do you see what's happening, Juudai?" the Light asked. "We're getting closer to my place, my birthplace, the source of my power. I am taking you there, and that is where I will destroy you. But first things first. You obviously want me to attack your Dandelion to give you two Fluff Tokens, so you can sacrifice them for E-Hero Neos on your next move. Am I anywhere close to right?"
"Yeah, I guess so," Juudai admitted.
"Well, that isn't going to happen. I activate White Asteroid's special ability. When you have only defense position monsters on your side of the field, I can cut White Asteroid's attack in half so that it can attack you directly. And since White Asteroid has 2200 attack points..."
Whatever else he said was drowned out by a rushing noise, and Juudai could only stare as the massive asteroid hurtled across the field. As it reached his line of defense, the asteroid shattered into fragments, and Juuai screamed as he felt himself pelted by debris. His life points dropped to fourteen hundred.
"I will place one card face-down, and I think that will do for now," the Light commented. "Face it, Juudai, you are powerless to stop me. Why don't you just surrender now? All this dueling is a terrible strain on your friend's body. You don't want to push him too hard, do you?"
"No, I don't," Juudai replied, "so I'll just have to finish this up fast! My move!" He placed a hand on his deck and murmured, "Don't let me down now! Misawa's counting on us!"
With that, he drew, studied his new card, and smiled.
"All right! I knew my cards wouldn't let me down. I'll play the magic card Quick Summon, which lets me normal summon any monster in my hand, and I choose E-Hero Neos! He's got 2500 attack points, and that's more than enough to deal with your monster. Neos, get out there and kick some asteroid!"
Neos flashed across the playing field and pounded his fists into the asteroid, shattering it into dust. The room became darker than ever as the asteroid's light vanished, and Juudai was surprised to see that he could no longer make out the ceiling, and the windows were becoming almost invisible.
"Trap card, open!" the Light declared. "This card is called Fragmentation. When one of my monsters is destroyed, I can summon monsters from my graveyard with level stars totaling those of the destroyed monster. White Asteroid was a level six monster, so I will summon three level two White Meteoroids."
"Oh, geez," Juudai muttered. "Don't your monsters ever die?"
"Can light be destroyed?" the Light countered. "Of course not. Even the deepest darkness cannot destroy a single ray of light. No matter how hard you try, Juudai, you cannot extinguish me."
"We'll see about that," said Juudai grimly. "I set a face-down card. Turn end."
"Very well," the Light replied. "My turn! I sacrifice my White Meteors to summon White Supernova!"
A wave of heat rolled across the playing field, and Juudai flinched as a blazing star burst into existence before him. The Light of Ruin laughed maniacally as the playing field became washed in shimmering white lights.
"You're finished, Juudai," it said. "Do you know what this is? It's an exploding star, one of the most powerful forces in the universe. It's going to burn through your line of defense, starting now. White Supernova, destroy E-Hero Neos!"
"No biggie," said Juudai casually. "That thing only has 2600 attack points. I can handle it!"
"No, you can't. Didn't I tell you? White Supernova has an effect: when it destroys one of your monsters, the force of its burning heat will do damage to you equal to half its attack points! You only have fourteen hundred life points left. One hundred points of battle damage plus thirteen hundred points of direct damage will bring you to exactly zero life points. This is your last turn!"
"And I told you, I can handle it," said Juudai. "I play a trap card, Negate Attack!"
"What?" An expression of shock passed over Misawa's face. "When did that get there? Why didn't I see it before?"
Juudai shrugged. "How should I know? Most people don't know what kind of trap cards the opponent is laying down. You're the one going on about how the Light reveals all. Not that there's a lot of that out here."
"Hmm... yes," the Light hissed. "How foolish of me. We are drawing closer to the source of the Light, but also closer to the source of the Darkness. Your powers will be growing stronger as well... but I know how to use mine, and you barely have the first inkling." He sighed. "Very well. You can't pull off a miracle like that every turn. I place two cards face-down and end my turn."
"Fine. Now you're going to see what I can really do!" said Juudai. First, I summon Neo- Spacian Flare Scarab to the field! Then I play the spell card Neospace! That lets me fuse my Neo- Spacian cards without having to send them back to my hand at the end of the turn, so go ahead, guys! Contact fusion!"
In a whirl of fire and light, Neos and Flare Scarab merged together to form Flare Neos. Juudai grinned as he watched his new friend appear.
"What do you look so proud about?" the Light snarled. "He still has fewer attack points than my White Supernova."
"Yeah, but he also has a wicked special effect. He gains four hundred attack points for every trap and spell card on the field, and it looks like you have two of them over there, and I have one over here," Juudai replied. "Not only that, but he gains another five hundred attack points from the effect of Neospace. That brings him up to a whopping forty-two hundred attack points! So, Flare Neos, burn up his Supernova!"
Flare Neos swooped in a wide arc around Juudai, building up speed, before ramming into the heart of the star in a colossal burst of fire. There was a deafening roar as everything went up in flames. Juudai had to shield his face from the intense heat. For a moment, smoke drifted across the battlefield. All was silent. Then a hoarse laugh broke the stillness.
"I commend you, Juudai," said the Light. "You've done well to make it this far, but you won't make it any further. You've only sealed your own doom."
"Yeah, yeah, heard it all before," said Juudai. "I'll set a card face-down."
"It won't help you," the Light replied. "My move! I play the spell card White Wormhole! I have to pay half my life points to use it, but it allows me to remove from play one White Meteor, White Meteoroid, White Asteroid, and White Supernova in my graveyard to summon my ultimate monster, White Hole!"
The universe twisted, and Juudai felt a shudder run through him as every nerve in his body screamed that something was going very, very wrong. He could hear the Light laughing wildly, but the sound seemed warped and strangely far away. In the center of the field, there appeared a pulsating blob of white light, casting a sickly radiation over everything.
"How do you like it, Juudai?" the Light taunted. "It's my ultimate monster! You'll never be able to defeat it. It has forty-five hundred attack points, and it can't be destroyed by traps or spells. Even if you should somehow manage to destroy it, it will automatically be re-summoned back to the field! It is indestructible as Light itself! Of course, I can't attack on the turn it's summoned, but I can afford to wait. Your move."
"Fine," said Juudai. "I play my trap card, Soul Union! For this one turn, I can add the attack points of one monster in my graveyard with 'E-Hero' in its name to the attack points of one of the monsters on my field, and I choose E-Hero Sparkman! That gives my Flare Neos an added sixteen hundred attack points!"
The Light said nothing, but inwardly, it was rejoicing. So much for bravado! He had known all along that Juudai would not be able to resist the challenge of a powerful monster, and had laid a trap for just that occasion. As a matter of fact, he had laid two trap cards, just to be prepared for all eventualities, but the only one he needed now was Magic Cylinder. Once he set that off the duel would be over completely, so he simply watched the attack blazing towards him with a smug smile.
"Trap card open!" it said. And then, in a completely different voice: "The Emperor's Holiday!"
Juudai and the Light looked equally startled by this pronouncement, but only the Light of Ruin heard a small voice on the borders of its mind say, "That's what you get for manipulating me, you sodding bastard."
And that was the last thing the Light of Ruin knew or heard before it was destroyed entirely in a wash of flames.
Smoke drifted across the battlefield. Slowly, the darkness faded, leaving the a more mundane view of the inside of the white room. Juudai coughed a few times, feeling weakness wash over him as the effects of the strenuous duel hit him. He looked across the room and saw Misawa lying there in a disheveled heap. He wasn't moving.
Breathing heavily, Juudai staggered across the floor and dropped to his knees by his friend's side, trying to pull him into a sitting position. Misawa moaned a little.
"C'mon, buddy, don't die on me now," said Juudai.
Misawa twitched again and slowly opened his eyes.
"Is it over?" he asked.
"It sure is," Juudai assured him. "The Light of Ruin is gone for good. Everything is going to be okay now."
"Good," said Misawa. "Juudai... listen, I'm sorry. I'm sorry for everything..."
There was an ominous rumble. Cracks began snaking across the floor, and little chips of plaster dropped from the ceiling. A pane of glass fell from one of the nearby windows and shattered on the floor.
"Hey, that's great," said Juudai, "but I don't think now is the time to tell me about it. Can you walk?"
"No, I don't think so."
"Me either. Let's give it a whirl anyway."
He hauled Misawa to his feet, and together, the two of them staggered across the crumbling floor, leaning on each other for support. Bits of the ceiling came crashing down all around them, in disturbingly large chunks. It was sheer good luck that they were smashed by a falling stone. The room filled with dust, making it hard to see or breathe, and both of them were coughing as they finally reached the stairs. They had climbed only a few steps before a deafening crash and a rush of air alerted them to the fact that the entire room had caved in. Neither of them looked back, but lurched up the stairs as fast as they could until they were far away from the noise and commotion. As a matter of fact, they didn't stop at all until they had reached the top of the stairs and collapsed onto the carpet. They lay there a moment, gasping for breath and trying to expel the last of the dust from their lungs. Eventually Juudai pulled himself to his feet and went to shut the door. He stared a moment.
"How long has this door led to a closet?"
"I'm sure I have no idea," Misawa replied, "and I really don't want to know."
Juudai thought a moment. "You're probably right. I don't want to know, either."
"I just want to forget the whole thing ever happened," said Misawa. Then he shook his head. "No, that's not true. I can't forget it. It's too important to forget."
"Hey, it's okay," said Juudai. "It's all over now. The Light's gone, and it can't jerk you around anymore."
"But it wasn't just the Light," Misawa insisted. "It was me. I chose to do those things. Saioh was right about that - he offered them to me and I accepted, because it was what I wanted... what I thought I wanted. Nobody forced me to do any of it. I went along with everything willingly. I've been such an idiot..."
Juudai came and knelt next to him.
"Hey," he said. "It's all right. We all screw up sometimes. Besides, it was partly my fault, too. If I had been there for you..."
"It wouldn't have helped," Misawa replied. "Ever since I came to this school, I've had it fixed in my mind that I was going to be the best of the best. That was what was most important to me, and when I couldn't get it - when I saw you and Manjoume and the others doing the things I wished I could do - it ate me up. The more I couldn't have it, the more I wanted it, and the more willing I was to do ridiculous things to get it. I was jealous of you, Juudai, and for that I am extremely sorry."
"It's okay," said Juudai. "I understand. I really do. But Misawa, it doesn't have to stay that way. We can still be friends, if you want."
Misawa met his eyes. "You really... you still want us to be friends after all this?"
"Of course I do," Juudai said. "I mean, maybe someday I'll be the next King of Games, and then again, maybe I won't. But one thing I know I can do is be the best friend I can be, and that's what I aim to do. Any time you need me, you let me know. No more keeping it to yourself if you've got a problem, okay?"
Misawa gave him a watery smile. "I promise."
"That's the spirit," Juudai replied. "So what do you say we get out of this place, huh? I'm ready to get back out there and see how that tournament is going!"
"Good idea. Let's do that," Misawa agreed. "I've seen quite enough of this place for one lifetime."
He pulled himself back to his feet, and he and Juudai headed for the door. As they were leaving, Juudai said, "Hey, Misawa?"
"What was up with that last trap card? I mean, it didn't do anything..."
"Oh, that. The Light had Magic Cylinder set, and it was planning on triggering it so you'd be hit by your own attack and lose the duel. I just sort of nudged things in a different direction."
"Ah," said Juudai. "So I didn't really win?"
"Well, you must have won, since it got rid of the Light."
"Yeah, but it wasn't an honest win."
"Call it a draw?" Misawa suggested.
Juudai shrugged. "Fair enough!"
They left the building and stepped out into the sunlight. They were greeted by a good many students in uniforms of various colors, all of them sounding excited. The ones in the white coats didn't seem to quite understand what was going on; the rest of them were as jubilant as if there was a festival going on. While Juudai was sizing up all this chaos, a small person detached herself from the crowd, flung her arms around him, and began to cry.
"Juudai-sama!" she wailed. "Juudai-sama, he beat me! You'll pay him back for me, won't you?"
"Rei?" he exclaimed. "Saotome Rei, is that you? What are you doing here?"
"Getting her butt kicked, that's what," said a smug voice, and Manjoume sauntered up to the front of the crowd, followed closely by Principal Sameshima and various other teachers.
"Juudai, Misawa, there you are!" said Sameshima. "We've been wondering where you two were. You almost missed the end of the tournament!"
"We did?" asked Juudai. In all the commotion, he'd almost forgotten about the Genex World Championship.
"Yes indeed," said Sameshima. "You two are the only ones left on the island whose medals are still unaccounted for. What have you been doing?"
"Dueling each other, of course!" Juudai replied.
"Well, who won?" Sameshima replied.
"You won, didn't you, Juudai?" asked Rei. "Go on - pay him back for beating me!"
"Well, uh..." said Juudai, rubbing the back of his head and grinning sheepishly. "We kinda beat each other. So I guess we're both disqualified!"
"Hmm," said Sameshima, stroking his beard. "Well, according to the rules, if you lose a duel, you're out of the game, and if neither of you won, then it would mean that both of you are out of the tournament. Which means that... ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner!"
"Huh?" said Manjoume. He looked around in confusion as everyone else began to cheer. "What? Wait a minute... does that mean... I won?"
Juudai laughed. "Sure looks that way!"
"Indeed it does," Misawa agreed. "Congratulations, Manjoume."
Sameshima beamed. "I hereby proclaim the winner of the Genex World Championship to be Manjoume Jun!"
A fresh round of cheering broke out, and Juudai flashed a grin at Misawa as they both joined in the cheering.
"Doesn't bother me that he won. How 'bout you?" he said.
"No," said Misawa, "it doesn't bother me at all."
The sun set over a quiet island. Mostly quiet, anyway - somewhere in the background, Juudai could still hear the voices of Rei and Manjoume as they bickered with each other over ownership of Osiris annex. He suspected it was going to end with Manjoume bunking with him again, and that was all right. It was the way things were supposed to be. Juudai kicked his feet as they dangled over the edge of the cliff, listening to the soft sound of the surf against the rocks, and watching the dark speck that marked a helicopter in the distance. The chopper had arrived not long after the end of the GX tournament, and Saioh's sister had been in it. It had been nice, seeing the three of them so happy together. Juudai had managed to gather that they were planning on going back to Ed's home in California for a while to figure out what they were going to do next. Whatever it was, he hoped it would all work out well. He'd discovered that he liked them. Then again, Juudai usually liked people.
He was still sitting there thinking these things when someone sat down next to him. Juudai turned slightly to see that Misawa was now sitting and staring out at the ocean as well.
"Hey," he said. "What's up?"
"Oh, you know," said Misawa with a shrug. "Same old, same old."
"Ahh," said Juudai. "Gotcha."
They both sat in silence for a while. At length, Misawa said, "I'm leaving the school."
"What?" Juudai yelped. "Why? I mean... I thought everything was okay."
"It's getting better," Misawa replied. "But there are still a lot of things I need to think through. I've learned some things about myself I don't like, and it may take a while to figure out how to change them." He shook his head ruefully. "I'm better at solving math equations than I am at understanding feelings."
"Just trust your instincts," said Juudai. "You'll be all right."
"Thank you," Misawa replied. "You're probably right. If I had listened to my instincts, I wouldn't have gone as far wrong as I did. But I still feel like I need to get away for a while. I've made a real fool of myself, Juudai, and I don't know if I can face trying to go on like nothing has happened. I need to distance myself from things for a while so I can think about everything more clearly."
"So you're dropping out?"
"Not exactly. I talked it all over with Principal Sameshima, and he's arranging an internship for me. There's a famous scientist, Dr. Zweinstein, who studies duel physics, and he's agreed to take me on as an intern," Misawa explained. "There, I'll just be another lab assistant, at the bottom of the pecking order. It will be a good experience for me in a lot of ways, I think."
"Well, if that's what will make you happy," Juudai replied, "then I wish you the best of luck! But you're coming back, right?"
"I hope so," said Misawa. "I really do. It's not that I don't love this place, but the things I need to learn aren't the things you learn in a classroom. But even if I never make it back, I will still find a way to see you all again. You have my word on that."
"Shake on it?" Juudai suggested with a grin.
Misawa took the proffered hand and shook it.
You're right, Juudai, he thought. I don't need to win a tournament to be proud of myself. I don't need to win duels or be popular or get good grades. All I really need is...
"So, when are you leaving?" Juudai asked, cutting into his thoughts.
"Tomorrow morning," answered Misawa. "They're sending a boat to pick me up."
"Well, you want to come have dinner with us tonight? We're gonna have a big party down at the dorm, to celebrate Manjoume's big win. Everybody's gonna be there - Shou and Fubuki and Asuka and her girl friends and... well, everybody!"
"Um... I'm not sure if that would be..."
"We're having fried shrimp," said Juudai encouragingly.
Misawa laughed, the first real laugh he'd enjoyed since the day he'd challenged Saioh.
"And I certainly wouldn't want to miss that," he replied. "Very well. I'll come to your party."
"All right! C'mon, we'd better get going before all the good places are taken!"
Juudai bounced to his feet and grabbed Misawa by the arm, pulling him along to the Osiris dorm. There was already a good deal of commotion going on inside, judging by the sounds that could be heard - laughter, clapping, and cheering, punctuated by occasional repetitions of Manjoume's famous catchphrase. Juudai pushed the door open and made his way through the busy crowd, with Misawa following closely behind him.
"Hey, come sit over here!" Shou called, waving to them.
He and the others were sitting at a an already crowded table, which was actually two tables pushed together to make room for everyone. Manjoume was in the place of honor, with Asuka and Fubuki at either hand, with Shou and Kenzan sitting together on Asuka's side and Momoe, Junko, and Rei on the other. There were two places left, so Juudai went to grab one and pointed Misawa to the other.
"Sit," he said, and Misawa did.
"It's about time you two got here," said Manjoume. "You've been holding up the works."
"We were?" asked Juudai. "Geez, sorry about that!"
"It's not fun winning if you aren't here to see it," said Manjoume. "I will not put up with you ignoring me just because I won and you didn't."
"Hey, I'm not ignoring you! Look, see, I'm here watching, paying attention and everything," Juudai, stifling a laugh.
"We're rapt with admiration," Misawa agreed.
"Yeah, well, you'd better be!" said Manjoume.
"Okay, kids!" called a voice from the kitchen. "Food's ready!"
Ms. Tome came in, pushing a meal cart, passing out trays of fried shrimp and other delights. Juudai made a pounce and snatched two trays off of it, earning a glare from Manjoume, who didn't appreciate someone getting the first pick of his victory dinner. Juudai plopped one of the trays down in front of Misawa.
"Dig in," he said. "It's your last dinner at school, so make it a good one!"
Misawa nodded his acquiescence and sampled the food. It wasn't half-bad, he decided. He settled back to watch the dinner entertainment - the endless rounds of flirting, bickering, boasting, and laughing that filled up every day with this crowd. He was going to miss it, and he treasured it now, storing the memory away carefully in his mind to bring back when he was far away and alone. He felt he would need such memories to see him through whatever was coming next, until he was ready to come back.
"Look, you!" he called out. "You're hogging the rolls! Share!"
Fubuki laughed and held the bread-basket out of Misawa's reach, and Misawa made a purposefully off-target grab for it. A few of the others joined in the game, laughing and grabbing and getting in each other's way. It was silly and undignified and slightly messy, but Misawa didn't mind a bit.
Someday I'll make it happen, he promised silently. To be a true friend to all of you would be the greatest achievement of my life. When I can say I have done that, then I will truly have done something I can be proud of.