Next Generation: Opening Tournament of Shadows
By Cere

Chapter 14: The End of the Beginning

James stepped back from the situation, cleared his mind, and reassessed everything. Metal Reflect Slime face-up on the field. Call of the Haunted set from the previous turn. Hand consists of Sinister Serpent, Big Wave Small Wave, Salvage, and Nightmare Penguin, two of which need to be discarded.

He had to admit, he was disappointed by what he had drawn. There was no destruction effect to use on the Ancient Gear Golem standing opposite him. Sure, Nightmare Penguin would bounce it, but he would lose the rest of his Life Points in the process. Salvage gave him a numerous amount of monsters to choose from, but none of them had destruction effects. Plus, without any access to A Legendary Ocean, there were no fancy tricks he could pull, like attacking directly.

His previous duel came to his mind, and he tried to calm himself again. He can win without A Legendary Ocean; he just needed to figure out how.

Cliff watched him warily, nervously fingering the Millennium Dagger in his vest jacket pocket. Why won't you surrender?

"Stop it," James said, fighting back a fresh wave of fear. "I won't give in to your influence."

"Why not?" Cliff shouted back. "I have to win."

"I have to win, too," James replied, locking gazes with him. "There are people depending on me."

He looked at his hand again, trying to find that angle he wasn't seeing. He let out a trembling breath and assessed the situation again. It was pretty much established that he had to destroy Ancient Gear Golem or he would be defeated in the next turn. There was nothing in his hand to prevent that situation from happening. However, he had no effects that would remove Ancient Gear Golem from the field. But...was there another way of destroying the Golem?

Suddenly, the solution hit him. He did some quick math and then realized that this was the outlet. He had found the solution.

"I discard Sinister Serpent and Nightmare Penguin," he said, shakily putting those cards into his Graveyard slot. "Then I play Salvage, returning two Nightmare Penguins to my hand." He grabbed the two cards as they floated from his duel gauntlet and then showed Cliff the last card in his hand. "Next, I play Big Wave Small Wave, destroying my Metal Reflect Slime to summon one Nightmare Penguin from my hand, and then I'll Normal Summon the other."

Cliff looked warily as the ferocious tide crossed the field, leaving two dressed-up penguins (1300/1800) in its wake. He noticed that their effects were stacking, and then he started to fear the end. "Your face-down card..."

James nodded. "I activate Call of the Haunted," he said, "reviving Levia-Dragon – Daedalus." The blue sea serpent burst from the ground and writhed in the air, reveling in the flow of power from the penguins (Daedalus: 3000/1500). James brushed some hair from his face and pointed at Cliff. "Now, Daedalus, attack Ancient Gear Golem."

The sea dragon seemed to grin before it stretched across the field and ground its jaws into the Golem's shoulder. Metal squealed and tore, and Daedalus flipped its head sideways, sending pieces of its arm tumbling into the dark. The Golem reeled from the blow and then fought back, wrapping its grimy hand around the dragon's neck. There was a contest of strength and then both monsters fell down, vanishing through the black fog and leaving Cliff's field bare. He just stared in shock as a penguin rushed up and slapped him across the face, sending him sprawling to the ground (C LP: 0).

James let all the air out of his body, gasping in new breaths of relief. He watched as Cliff looked back at him, in denial over the situation, and then flopped backwards, the Dagger clattering from his hands. James bent over, still recovering himself, and waited for something to happen.

Instead, the darkness remained around him. He kept waiting, but the bodies remained lifeless. His breathing suddenly seemed cramped by the surrounding dark mist. Finally, his eyes rested on the golden weapon. Shivering, he slowly stepped over to it.

The dagger was not very ornate, except for the raised eye on the handle's end. He had to admit, there was an astounding similarity between it and the eye that had adorned his father's puzzle. Slowly, carefully, he bent down and stretched his hand towards the dagger, cradling his fingers around it and lifting it off the ground.

As his hand touched the metal, the darkness around him came into sharp relief. He noticed a dozen points of light in the shadows, understanding them all to be the souls of the Duelist Hunter's victims. There was also something else in the darkness, and though he turned his head around to look, he couldn't see the eyes staring at him from the fog. The wind rushed around him to the pulse of laughter, and he dropped the dagger to the ground, grateful for the return to a somewhat more acceptable level of sanity.

But, seeing that nothing had changed, he took up his courage again, grabbed the Dagger, mentally sent his wishes, and threw the Dagger to the ground. The dome around them dissolved, and his sight was blocked by the collapsing fog.

Outside sounds came back through, as did light. James held his arm over his eyes as he saw the shapes of his family, Mr. Henderson's assistants, and the police become visible. Once their vision was clear enough, the police rushed across and tackled Cliff as he was groaning and rubbing his eyes. As they handcuffed his wrists and read him his rights, Tea rushed over and hugged her children, holding them tight.

"Thank goodness," she said between sobs.

Kyra blinked her eyes, looking around herself to try and understand what was going on. "I'm still really confused," she said. "Can someone explain what just happened again?"

"Mom," James said, trying unsuccessfully to squirm out of her grasp, "Mom, it's okay. We're okay."

Yugi walked over and proudly looked at the kids, also noticing as the police carefully picked up the dagger and placed it in a plastic bag. He smiled at Michael. "You did it," he said. "I'm very impressed."

Michael stared fiercely back at him. "You owe us an explanation," he said.

Yugi looked back at him, considering it, and then turned away and nodded. "You're right," he said, "but not now."

A police officer walked up to them. "We'd appreciate it if your kids would come down to the station with us for a while," he said. "We just need to get a statement from them."

"That won't be necessary," Mr. Carpenter said, stepping in. "An Industrial Illusions representative will talk to the police and explain everything. The children were mere victims and don't know anything." The police officer looked at him with some intrigue, but when Carpenter kept his serious look, he shrugged and turned back to Cliff. He seemed a little lost as the policemen led him away, off the field. The few people remaining in the stands cheered as he left.

"Thanks," Yugi said.

"Kaiba's orders," Carpenter said. "There's one more thing. A winner for this tournament must be announced."

James looked around uncomfortably. "I guess that's me, then," he said. "I defeated him in there."

"Very good," Carpenter said. "Then you must choose the card theme that will be used in the next set."

"Oh," he said, then chuckled a bit. "I had forgotten about that." He looked away from Kyra. "I choose Phoenixes."

Kyra was shaken from her daze. "Really?"

He shrugged and looked at Michael. "There are enough Water cards already for me, so I want a new area to be explored. Phoenixes sound good to me."

"Very good," Carpenter said. "That's all." He cleared his throat. "Thank you for participating in the Summer Opening Duel Monsters Tournament."

A question crossed his mind as Mr. Carpenter turned around. "Wait," he said, catching his attention. "You know about Mr. Henderson. Has he sponsored any archaeological endeavors recently?"

Carpenter looked back at him blankly. "Mr. Henderson has been occupied with planning this tournament," he said, "and anyway, I've never heard of him being involved in such an activity. Why do you ask?"

James looked away and shrugged. "No reason."

Yugi put his arm around his kids as Carpenter walked away. "Well," he said, "we've had a busy day. Let's go home." He was interrupted by his cell phone ring. "Yes?...Sure, Aura, we'll take you home...Uh-huh, we're all all right...Isaac can come, too."

He put away his cell phone and sighed. Tea tried to grab his attention. "Dear?" she asked.

He looked up at her and nodded. "We should invite Joey and Mai, too," he said. "They should hear the whole story."

Kaiba faced the television cameras with calm conviction. "What you saw today at the end of my tournament was a holographic-induced dementia," he said. "We knew that there was a risk that the Duelist Hunter would try to infiltrate our tournament, so we installed the program to incapacitate him should he openly attack someone."

"Why was it activated while another person was nearby?" a reporter asked.

"When Ellie Thompson, his first victim today, awoke," he said, "she informed us of the Hunter's identity. We were planning on waiting until he was offstage and could be apprehended quietly, but he moved too soon and forced our hand. The holographic program was our last resort that we were forced to activate in order to protect her."

Another reporter insistently raised her hand. "Why were James and Michael drawn into the illusion?"

"Inexperience with the program," he said. "Unfortunately, they walked within the safe distance and were drawn in as well. We were forced to wait until we knew we could subdue the Hunter before turning it off. The children are fine now and their parents have forgiven us."

"Why were you employing a holographic weapon when you've been so dramatically opposed to holographic weapons in the past?"

"The idea was suggested by my associate," Kaiba said, "Charles Henderson. I agreed to implement it in this case only as a safeguard to protect the duelists."

Yugi reached for the TV remote and clicked it off. "He still knows how to worm his way out of anything," Joey said.

"He's earned his position," Yugi replied. He turned and looked around his living room. Joey and Mai were sitting next to Michael and Aura, while Kyra and James were flanking Tea. The odd one out was Isaac, sitting sheepishly in the corner.

"Here," Tea said, sliding over the tray of chocolate chip cookies to him, "have another cookie."

"Thanks," Isaac said, smiling and grabbing one. "So then, if what Kaiba's saying isn't the truth, then what is?"

Kyra blinked. "Who invited him again?"

"I did," Aura said. "He was with me when the whole thing took place. I think he deserves to know what happened, too."

"I want to know," he said, straightening up and presenting his case. "I don't have the slightest idea what happened, but you guys seem to." He pointed at the Motos. "You guys were down there with the police the whole time."

Yugi nodded. "It's all right," he said. "If you want to know, then that's fine." It's also nice to give them a friend outside the family. "Even if you did tell anyone else, they probably wouldn't believe you. It's a very incredible story."

"More incredible than dark clouds that enclose people and steal their souls?" Michael asked.

Yugi sighed. "Yes." He took a deep breath, collected his thoughts, and began. "It all started with the Millennium Puzzle."

The children listened as Yugi told the tale from when he first assembled the Puzzle, meeting with Shadi, through Duelist Kingdom and Battle City, the encounter with Dartz's organization and the parallel universe, and the Pharaoh's memories. The kids were surprisingly quiet, only asking to clarify certain points. "The Items were lost when it collapsed," he finished, "and I've never heard from the Pharaoh since."

"Wow," Michael said while everyone was letting the information sink in. "You know, I never would have expected something like that."

Yugi nodded. "I know it may be hard to believe," he said, "but the Wheelers can corroborate on everything."

"It's true," Joey said. "I know just what you guys went through today."

"So, after he left," Michael said, "you fought all those duels on your own power?"

"Yes," Yugi said. "Though we were different people, I learned a lot from him. That's how I was able to remain successful in the years afterward."

"Then," Michael said, "Kaiba really isn't the King of Games. I mean, the true victor in all those battles left, so he didn't really defeat him and win the title from you."

"Well," Yugi said, "I think it established him as the strongest of us who were left." He looked out at the starry night. "But you may be interested to know that even he would agree with you."

"There's one thing that bugs me," James said. "You said that all the Items were lost, but we faced one today, and it was one that didn't look like any that you knew and didn't act in quite the same way."

"Yes," Yugi said, "that is something I'm very curious about as well. In fact," he sat down next to Tea and folded his hands in his lap, "I think that it's your turn to tell what happened inside that Shadow Game today."

Michael, Kyra, and James all looked at each other, and then Kyra sat forward. "Well," she said, "he said a lot of the same things you just said, about different dimensions and duel monsters existing, but he didn't seem to know the whole story."

"Do you know who he learned it from?" Yugi asked.

She shook her head. "No idea. He said it was from 'experimenting with his Item.' Anyway, he challenged me to another duel, one to break our tie, and I..." She paused sheepishly. "I'm afraid that I lost rather quickly."

"It's not entirely your fault," Michael said. "His Dagger has the power to manipulate people's emotions. He was probably making you extra nervous."

Her eyes widened. "That jerk!" she yelled, pounding her fist into her palm. "I'm so going to punch his freaking face the next time I see him."

"I'll probably help you," Joey said.

"So," Yugi asked, "it could only affect emotions?"

"Yeah," Michael said, "I know, it's kind of similar but different from the Millennium Rod."

"Well," Yugi said, "I knew from the picture that it was different anyway."

"Okay," Tea said, "now where were we? We've lost track of the story."

"I'm out," Kyra said, resting back in her seat. "That was the point where I lost my soul."

"What did that feel like?" Aura asked. Kyra grimaced. "I'm sorry, it's just...hard to imagine."

"No," Kyra said, "it felt I was stuck outside myself, where I couldn't see or hear anything. Black, all around."

"I know," Joey said. "It's not a pleasant feeling." Mai's hand gripped his.

"So," Michael said, "then we come in. He gives us the same information, except that he tells us about the Dagger and what it does."

"Did he say how he got it?" Yugi asked.

Michael shook his head, but James tapped his finger. "Actually," James said, "he told me."

Michael turned to him. "When?"

James shrugged. "We talked while we dueled." He looked down. "Anyway, he got it from his father."

"Oh yeah," Kyra said. "He raised him after his mother left. He's got a lot of respect for him."

James swallowed, not sure about how to say it. "He's dead." The comment silenced the room, so he continued. "His father is dead, and he blames Mr. Henderson for it."

"Charles Henderson?" Joey asked. "The guy in charge of Industrial Illusions now?"

James shrugged. "It sounds weird to me, too. He said that his father went away on some secret assignment and, when he came back, gave Cliff the Dagger and died shortly afterward."

"But where does Charles come in?" Yugi asked.

James rubbed his eyes, trying to remember. "He thinks that Mr. Henderson had funded that secret assignment he went on, but it sounds highly suspicious. All he had was a letter that said Mr. Henderson was hiring him for a project that didn't exist."

"So that's why you asked that question today," Yugi said. "Mr. Carpenter denied it, though. And I haven't heard of him being involved in anything archaeological, either." He looked over at Joey and Mai. "What do you think?" he asked.

"Another card company CEO with a secret agenda?" Joey said. "It's like Pegasus all over again."

"Can we be sure that his assistant is correct?" Mai asked. "Could Charles have done anything behind his back?"

"I thought the idea of having an assistant was that you didn't do things without them," Tea said.

Yugi thought and then shrugged. "Maybe Kaiba could help. He's been closely involved with Industrial Illusions while putting this tournament together."

Joey huffed. "Like he'd help us."

"I don't know," Yugi said. "He gets serious when something threatens his card game."

"Threatens his company is more like it."

"Is there any more to the story?" Aura asked.

Michael shrugged. "Cliff said that we, James and I, had to duel in order to continue the tournament, which," he motioned to Yugi, "I now see that he was telling the truth. James won, and then he won, obviously."

"Any additional information?" Yugi asked, turning to James. "Anything more that could shed some light on this situation?" James thought for a minute, blushing at the attention directed at him, and then shook his head.

"Well," Tea said, "tell us if you think of anything more."

"But seriously," Yugi said, "don't worry about what happened today. This is something you can let us and the police worry about."

"There's one more thing that's bugging me," Isaac said. "By the way, your story is absolutely fantastic and all. I can't believe any of this is true, but you're all taking it so seriously. I feel privileged to have this little insight into what's going on. However, what's bugging me is that, originally, there were seven Millennium Items, right?"

The parents nodded. "So, then," Isaac continued, "what if there's more now? Is the Dagger the only Item out there?"

Their response was interrupted by a knock at the door. Yugi excused himself and went to answer it while the others kept quiet and watched. He opened the door to reveal Kaiba standing there. Yugi was baffled by the expression on his face, until he realized that it was the first time he had ever seen Kaiba embarrassed.

"Yugi, we need to-" He paused when he saw everyone else sitting there. "I didn't know that I was interrupting something. Yugi, can we talk outside?"

"Come in, Kaiba," Yugi said. "I was just telling everyone about the Millennium Items and the truth of what happened over twenty years ago."

"That's good," Kaiba said, "but I want to talk about something else."

"If you want information about what happened today," Yugi said, "out children would be glad to share it with you."

"Yugi!" Kaiba sighed, covering his eyes with his hand. "She's pregnant."

Everybody froze. "Kaiba?" Yugi asked.

He dropped his hand and looked squarely at him. "My wife is pregnant," he said, "and she's keeping it."

The room was silent, expressions a mix of happiness and shock, until Isaac thrust his arms over his head. "What else is going to happen today?" he asked exasperatedly. The comment had its intended result, and the tense air was broken by strains of laughter.

"I'm sorry," Kaiba said quietly. "I'm making myself a burden."

He walked outside, and Yugi followed him, closing the door behind him. "It's okay," Yugi said, "but why me?"

Kaiba shrugged, looking even more embarrassed. "There's no one else I can turn to," he said. "You're the only decent father figure I know. Not like mine was any good. I just...want some advice, that's all."

Yugi put his hand on Kaiba's shoulder. "Come on," he said. "Let's go down into the store and talk. It's all right, it's closed."

Kaiba nodded and swept his hand off. "Let's not get too chummy."

Unbeknownst to him, sitting in the holding cell, Cliff was being watched by another. The man adjusted the telescope, focusing in on Cliff's face. "Found him," he said. "He's in cell thirteen. Are the operatives ready to move?"

"Yes," a deeper voice answered. "Quinton has escaped from the hospital and rejoined with the others. The group is ready for your command."

"Good." He closed the telescope, resting his hand on the eye attached to the gold-plated lens. "Have them move tonight. I want him and his Millennium Item."