Morning arrived with the sound of drums. Juudai stood staring out an arrow slit in one of the towers, sizing up the situation.
"You know, it looks like there are a lot more of them than there were before," he said. "There's zillions of them out there."
"Preposterous," said Misawa, pushing him aside. "There is no such number."
"You don't have to be so literal," Juudai grumbled.
Misawa ignored him, staring out at the ranks of goblins. "Anyway, there aren't that many of them, comparatively speaking. I'd say no more than two hundred."
"More of them than us, anyway," said Hayato.
O'Brien marched up the stairs to join them.
"What are you three doing up here?" he asked. "Everyone is waiting for you at the gate. You're going to have to hurry."
"But it's not time yet!" Juudai protested.
"It's close enough," said O'Brien. "Besides, we will need to be in position when the fighting starts. Move."
There really wasn't any arguing with O'Brien when he made up his mind. The group hustled down the stairs and out into the streets. Toon Kingdom looked very different than it had when they had first arrived. The formerly bustling city was now ominously quiet - every living thing in the city walls had gathered near the gates to await the battle. They were unusually solemn, reflecting the seriousness of the situation. At the center of the crowd stood Cyndia and Pegasus, keeping watch over everything, getting everyone sorted out into their own groups. As Juudai and the others arrived, Pegasus turned his attention away from shepherding Toons about to speak to them.
"Good, you're here," he said. "We were wondering if we were going to have to start without you."
"Wouldn't miss it for the world," Juudai assured him.
"Is anything happening yet?" asked O'Brien, all business as always.
"Nothing yet," Pegasus said. "For now, they're just watching. To tell the truth, I wish they'd hurry it along. All this waiting makes my skin crawl."
As if on cue, a disturbance arose near the gates, and the Toon Masked Sorcerer rushed over to his side.
"There's a goblin standing outside," he said breathlessly. "Just one. He's carrying a white flag, and says he's here to deliver a message. Should we let him through?"
Pegasus cast a look to Cyndia, who nodded slightly. At her approval, Pegasus turned back to the Masked Sorcerer.
"Make sure all the other goblins are standing well back," he said, "and open the door just wide enough for him to get inside, then close it again."
"Yes, sir," said the Sorcerer, and hurried to give the order to the guards at the gate.
A few moments later, a grinding sound announced the opening of the gates, and a goblin clambered through the opening. Juudai recognized him as being the same potbellied goblin who had delivered the message the previous day. Now he was proudly carrying a white handkerchief tied to a stick, brandishing it like a royal wand, swatting aside any unfortunate bystanders who got too close. He swaggered up to stand before Cyndia and deliver a mocking salute.
"So," he said, "you've had all night to think over our offer. Have you come to your senses?"
"My senses are as clear as they have ever been," she replied. "You are taking nothing from this city. Do you understand that?"
"You'd better think again," said the guard. "We're going to tear this city apart until there aren't two stones standing on top of each-"
There was a quiet shup! sound, as a card shot from O'Brien's disk-gun. It struck the ground at the goblin's feet, neatly severing the end of his toenail.
"Keep talking," said O'Brien, "and the next one goes between your eyes."
"Grrr... Why, I oughta...!"
"Guards, please escort this goblin out of the city," said Cyndia.
A pair of Toon Cannon Soldiers flanked the goblin, seizing his arms and all but dragging him to the gate. The guards at the door, which consisted of a Toon Goblin Attack force, held their noses high as the messenger was hustled outside, making it clear that they wanted no part of their distant kinsman's kind.
"You're gonna be sorry for this!" the goblin shouted, his voice muffled by the door.
"Somehow," said Cyndia, "I do not think so."
"That's going to make them angry," Misawa observed.
"Time to get into position, then," said Pegasus. "Good luck, everyone."
The group scattered. The assembled Toons dispersed, each to their own proper place. Within moments, the entry to the city appeared deserted. But it wasn't. Not quite. Misawa stood on the catwalk above the gate, watching the army shift around, getting its troops and battalions into position. He could easily make out the bright spot that was Mogwen, calling encouragement to her soldiers. She was plainly not one to go about on foot. Instead, she rode on an armored horse with long, slender legs and a gleaming mane, as well as a pair of flashing wings.
Phantom Beast Thunder-Pegasus, Misawa thought. Somehow, I get the feeling she's making a point. How crass.
He turned his attention away from her, and looked instead toward the center of the crowd, where a number of goblins were hauling a battering ram toward the gate. It was a fairly crude thing, consisting mainly of a large tree trunk suspended from a rickety wheeled frame by a few ropes. He had no doubt, however, that it would be effective if it happened to be used against the front gates.
Well, then, we just won't let them use it.
He leaned over the other side of the parapet and called down to the guards, "Can you get these doors open in a hurry on my signal?"
"We sure can!" the guards agreed. "No problem!"
"All right, then," said Misawa. "Wait for my word."
He went back to watching the goblins. They had managed to haul the battering ram into place.
"Steady...." Misawa said.
They began pulling the log backwards.
Muscles straining, the goblins heaved the log as far back as it would go, and stood trembling with the effort, waiting for their signal to let it go.
"Now!" their captain bellowed.
"Now!" Misawa shouted.
The log swung forward. At the same time, the gates flew open with a snap. The log continued to sail forward under its own momentum. The hastily thrown-together rigging wobbled and creaked as the heavy weight strained against it. The ropes snapped and sent the whole ram flying, to land harmlessly in the middle of the road. The gates snapped shut again.
"Well done!" Misawa called to the guards, while the goblins outside gibbered in dismay.
Of course, disposing of the battering ram didn't mean the army was foiled. Spurred on by their leader, the goblins began assaulting the gate with swords and hatchets. They weren't doing a very neat job of it, but the doors were mere wood and wouldn't sand up to that treatment for very long. The portcullis was made of sterner stuff, but plainly it was only a matter of time before someone found a way past it. Meanwhile, less patient goblins swarmed around the castle walls with grappling hooks. O'Brien watched them as they began scrambling up the sides. He turned to the Toon Cannon Soldiers who stood by him.
"Anvils," he ordered.
The soldiers immediately began passing anvils to each other from the large piles they had amassed in the towers on either end of the wall, sending them down the line so that each member of their team had a steady supply. Each time they sighted a climbing goblin, they dropped their burdens on them and watched them go tumbling to the ground. O'Brien watched with approval.
"Why did you have so many anvils lying around, anyway?" he wondered.
The nearest Cannon Soldier laughed. "For dropping on people, of course!"
"I should have known."
The arrival of the rain of anvils slowed the progress of the goblins at the gates, as well. For a while, it appeared that the enemy wasn't even going to make it past the front door. Then someone in the crowd gave a shout, and the goblins battering at the door suddenly retreated. The warriors attempting to scale the walls gave up and fled. O'Brien frowned.
"I don't like this," he said. "Everyone, be on guard. Keep your heads down. Whatever's coming next, it will be something we won't like."
Sure enough, moments later, the crowd parted to make way for several particularly burly goblins who were laboring their way up the hill dragging a catapult. This was plainly a better- constructed piece of work than the battering ram had been, and it was taking all the effort they could manage to keep it rolling up the slope.
"Credit for trying," said O'Brien, "but it's not going to work."
He raised his gun-disk and took careful aim, firing off several rounds toward the burly goblins. It was hard to aim at this distance, especially with such light projectiles, and several of them went wild. A few found their marks, though, and the hauling goblins were startled into letting go of the catapult as they were struck by the flying cards. The catapult, finding itself suddenly subject to gravity once more, began rolling back down the hill, bowling over more goblin soldiers as it rolled.
"That takes care of that," said O'Brien, satisfied.
But he was wrong. Within seconds, more soldiers swarmed around to block the catapult's path and begin pushing it back into place. By the time O'Brien realized what had happened, someone had already pulled the release switch. With a mighty crash, a boulder struck the front gates, reducing them to splinters and twisted bits of metal. O'Brien swore.
"It's all right," Misawa reassured him, from further down the wall. "We still have backup."
"They wouldn't have gotten past us if I hadn't turned my back," O'Brien grumbled. He scowled at the first few goblins as they raced through the front gates. He fired his gun several times and watched them squawk and stumble as the projectiles struck them.
"There," he said. "Now I feel better."
The anvil crew quickly shifted their attention toward the gates, doing what they could to squash the invaders, but there were too many of them to block. Goblins poured into the city and dispersed throughout the streets, spurred on by their leader.
"Find them!" she ordered. "Don't let them escape! Bring the artist to me, destroy his friends, and crush anyone else who gets in your way!"
"Charming lady," Misawa commented, as he and O'Brien headed for the stairs to the ground, so they could be where the action was. "I can see why Pegasus decided he liked the other copy better."
They reached ground level and found themselves faced with an oncoming tide of goblins. Each of them reached for a card and placed it on their Duel Disks. The goblins found their path being blocked by a Water Dragon and a Volcanic Dragon, neither of which looked pleased to see them.
"Wha-what is that?" one of them blurted.
"Hell and high water," Misawa suggested.
The goblins did not seem to find this comforting. Some of them broke ranks and ran, but others held their ground. They rushed the dragons with weapons held high. The dragons responded with dual blasts of water and flame, and the goblins shrieked as they were caught up in a wave of steam and boiling water.
But some of them made it through. A small cluster of goblin soldiers, sniggering with glee at having infiltrated the city unscathed, began scouring the city in search of the man their lady wanted. It didn't take them long to realize that something odd was going on. The streets were deserted, without so much as a blockade to keep them from progressing. They looked around warily.
"Hey, fellas! Up here!" a voice shouted.
The goblins darted around a corner and found themselves at the bottom of a steep and narrow path that cut between two buildings. At the top of the hill, Hayato stood, waving his hands and making faces at them.
"Right this way, guys!" he shouted. "I'm right here in the open!"
"Come on, let's get him!" one goblin shouted.
"What, are you nuts? It's got to be a trap," one of his companions replied.
"How could it be a trap, doofus? It's an empty alley! What is he going to trap us with?"
"Are you guys coming up here or what?" Hayato called to them. "I'm not going to stand around here all day! If you aren't going to come up here and fight, I'm just going to go somewhere else."
True to his word, he turned and began walking away. That was the last straw for the goblins, and they rushed up the hill after him. Halfway up, a number of Toons appeared at the windows of the buildings on either side and began raining banana peels down on them. Hayato watched as the goblins skidded and smacked into the pavement before going sliding back down the hill to land in a heap at the bottom. They sat up woozily, rubbing their heads.
"Should we try again?" one of them suggested.
"And fall on our faces again?"
"It's just a bunch of bananas! We can get by them..."
Hayato watched them bicker for a moment. Then he drew a card and summoned his Des Koala.
"Go get 'em!" he said.
The Koala obediently set off at a lope. When he reached the beginning of the bananas, he flung himself onto them and shot down the hill in a belly-flop. The goblins were still arguing when they found themselves suddenly being bowled over by a speeding marsupial. The Des Koala looked around itself as though it couldn't quite figure out where the goblins had gone, then picked itself up and marched up the hill, its long claws giving it easy purchase, banana peels or no banana peels. The goblins simply lay where they had fallen, or more accurately, where the Koala had fallen on them, looking rather squashed.
"Good job, Des Koala," said Hayato, rubbing his friend behind the ears.
"No, I think there's still some left over. Don't worry, I'll get you a banana when we're done."
In another part of the city, Juudai stood leaning against a lamp post, watching for any signs of trouble. Actually, he appeared to be watching the clouds, or possibly daydreaming. He wasn't even watching the road. He was just staring off into space, humming to himself. Even when a crowd of goblins came clattering up to him, he didn't even look at them.
"Hey, boy!" one of them shouted. "Wake up! We've got you surrounded!"
"Hm?" said Juudai. He looked up and blinked at them. "When did you guys get here?"
"Don't play dumb, kid!" the goblin snapped. "Just come along quietly, and we'll deliver you to the Lady so she can dispose of you herself. If you don't put up a fight, you might live another fifteen minutes!"
"Hey, wait," said Juudai. "You guys aren't threatening me, are you? Because that would be bad."
The goblin prodded his side with the tip of a sword. "You don't seem to get it. If you don't come with us, we're going to chop you into little pieces right here and now. Is that not getting through to you?"
"Nope," said Juudai. "You aren't going to be able to do anything to me."
"And why not?" the goblin demanded.
Yubel flickered into view. "Because if you try, I'll stop you." She smiled at the goblins' thunderstruck expressions. "Hello again, boys. Remember me?"
The goblins yelped and began backing away.
"I thought so," said Yubel. "How do you like this for a deal: I'm going to chop you into little pieces here and now. If you start running now, though, you might live another fifteen minutes. How does that sound?"
The goblins shrieked and began scrambling away, tripping over each other and jostling to be in front. Yubel glanced at Juudai.
"Nah," he said. "Just let 'em run."
"As you wish," said Yubel. She sounded a bit disappointed, but there was no bringing her to disobey Juudai. She faded back out of sight. Juudai went back to leaning against his lamp post and watching the clouds drift lazily by. After all, more soldiers might come by, and he wanted to be ready for them.
There was a bright spot above the city. If Pegasus shaded his eye, he could look up and see Cyndia keeping watch over the action from her vantage point in the sky. Pegasus himself was confined to the earth, but as much as he was sure he would have enjoyed the aerial view, he was more than content to leave things the way they were. All the fighting was going to be down here, so this was the last place he wanted her to be.
Even as he was watching, she halted in midair and began to drop, and Pegasus shooed the assembled Toons out of the way so she would have room to make her landing. She alighted daintily on the cobblestone street and folded her wings around her.
"They've breached the gate," she said. "They'll be here any minute."
"Any sign of Mogwen?" Pegasus asked her.
"Not yet," Cyndia replied. "I saw her earlier, but she's dropped out of sight." She frowned. "I have this nasty feeling she's up to something."
Pegasus waved a hand. "I was born up to something. She's a rank amateur next to me."
Cyndia smiled, as he'd hoped she would. Just the fact that he'd already been fooled once was enough to prove that Mogwen was capable of getting up to things on a grand scale, too, and it wouldn't do to forget that. So Pegasus was remembering it, but that didn't mean he was going to let Cyndia worry more than necessary.
"All the same, I'm going to be watching you," she told him. "You get into entirely too much trouble when I'm not watching."
"I agree wholeheartedly," he said. He reached for her hand - but he didn't quite reach it before a sound made him turn away. Cyndia, too, looked toward the city gates.
"They're here," she said tersely.
"You get out of the way," Pegasus told her. "I'll handle this."
"No buts," he told her. He gave her a crooked smile. "You could at least pretend to let me be heroic."
"Very well," she said, returning the smile, "but try not to get hurt."
She spread her wings and took to the skies again, and Pegasus allowed himself to watch her for a moment before turning to his assembled armies of Toons.
"All right, my friends," he told them. "Time for you to make me proud."
The Toons answered his words with a determined murmur. Pegasus reflected that what he was seeing was vastly peculiar - serried ranks of cute cuddly creatures, all of them armed to the teeth and preparing for battle.
Of course, what a cartoon considered "armed to the teeth" was very different from what most people thought.
With a great pounding of boots, the goblins came marching up the hill. "Limping" might have been a better term - most of them looked scalded or bruised or clawed from encounters with the front lines - but they continued forward anyway, looking entirely too pleased at having gotten this far. The forerunners looked up at Pegasus and grinned. He grinned back at them.
"Hello there, boys!" he called cheerfully. "Hungry? We were just sitting down for a quick snack."
"Snack?" one of the goblins repeated.
"Oh, yes," said Pegasus cheerfully. "Your first meal of the day is the most important. We wouldn't dream of having a war on an empty stomach. Won't you sit down and join us? We're having pie."
The goblins blinked at each other. Their imaginations were limited things; they were not certain what to do with enemies that offered sweets. They were not sure whether or not this outweighed their orders to kill and lay waste to things.
"We can have pie?" one asked.
"Of course!" said Pegasus. "All you really have to do is ask."
"Okay, then, give us pie!" the goblin demanded.
"Well, Toons, you heard the nice goblin," said Pegasus. "Give it to them!"
Then he ducked, diving to the side and planting himself facedown on the cobblestones while a volley of banana cream pies sailed over him. The goblins watched him, their expressions mystified for the split-second before they were covered in whipped cream. Pegasus laughed as he rolled clear and scampered out of the way. The goblins did not get out of the way - they bumped into each other as they skidded on the pie-covered ground and tried without much success to wipe the sticky goo out of their eyes.
"All right, Toons, get them!" Pegasus ordered.
The Toons eagerly obeyed, charging forward in a disorganized rush. The goblins made an effort to recover themselves and repel the attack, but they were already off-balance while the Toons were in their element. It wasn't long before the goblin soldiers were hemmed in, and soon there was a fine rout in progress. Pegasus leaned casually against a convenient wall and watched the show. His army easily outnumbered the goblins, and already the invaders were being subdued and rolled down the hill by the gleeful Toons, leaving slippery trails of pie filling in their wake.
Not bad at all, he decided. So much for the invincible army...
But then one particularly determined goblin managed to squirm his way out of the melee, crawling on his hands and knees as he wormed through the crowd of legs in front of him. He finally managed to escape and stagger to his feet. He looked around. His gaze alighted on Pegasus.
The goblin's face split into an insane grin, showing quite a lot of teeth. Its eyes glittered in a way that Pegasus did not like. He realized in a flash that this goblin wasn't just following his mistress's orders - he was honestly and completely out for Pegasus's blood. Pegasus began backing away slowly, keeping his eye open for any sudden movements.
"A little help here?" he shouted, but nobody was listening. The Toons were apparently distracted by another group of goblins that had shown up and were now attempting to climb the slippery hill, much to the defenders' amusement. The combined racket of the cheering Toons and the clattering of falling goblins drowned out everything else.
"I knew they would fail you," the wild-eyed goblin hissed. "You cast your lot with the wrong group, Pegasus. I'll give you one more chance. Join us, or die here."
"Can I take a third option?"
"This is no time for jokes, Pegasus."
"Who says I'm joking? If there's another option, I'll take it!"
"That's enough!" the goblin snarled. "I should have known you'd be useless. So soft- hearted... It's useless! What's the point of love if only a few people get to have it...?"
Pegasus gaped. "Wait - you are... You're Mogwen!"
The only response was a snarl as the goblin lunged at him, a short but wickedly sharp blade flashing in its hand. Pegasus made an uncoordinated move to dodge and somehow managed to scramble out of the way. The sword struck a wall, sending up a shower of blue sparks, and Mogwen snarled.
"You won't get away from me this time," she said. "If you won't help me than I'll make you suffer as much as I did."
She advanced on Pegasus, who continued backing away, weighing his options. There was nowhere to go from here - she was herding him towards the palace walls, where he would have no room to maneuver. He cast about for a route of escape, but he already knew it was too late. Mogwen was too close - there wasn't enough room - he just wasn't fast enough...
But it turned out not to matter, because something fell from the sky like a blast of lightning, and Pegasus looked to see someone standing before him with her wings spread wide, light gleaming around her like a golden wall. The goblin slammed into it with an audible smack and fell dazed onto the ground. Cyndia flashed Pegasus a dazzling smile.
"Well played, love!" said Pegasus approvingly.
"What a good thing," she said, "that you gave me such high defense."
The goblin sat up and shook itself. Through eyes that were still slightly crossed, it still managed to give Cyndia a look that was pure venom.
"I've had just about enough of you!" it snarled. "You're always getting in my way! It's not fair! I'm just as good as you! It's not fair that he loves you and not me!"
The goblin suddenly seemed to explode, feathers bursting from its back, armor and green skin falling away to reveal a beautiful woman, perfectly identical to Cyndia in every way but the expression of pain and anger on her face. She looked, in fact, like she was ready to cry, and for a fleeting instant, Pegasus felt sorry for her.
Then Mogwen threw a blast of light at Cyndia, and any pity he had evaporated.
Cyndia folded her wings and the blast washed harmlessly away, but that was only a temporary measure. The infuriated Mogwen seized on her and began physically dragging her away. Cyndia struggled, but she had never been good at hurting other people, and her efforts to escape were tentative at best, whereas Mogwen had the strength of obsession on her side.
"Get your hands off of her!" Pegasus shouted. "Don't you dare hurt her!"
But Mogwen was beyond listening. She was beyond even behaving like a proper Duel Monster - she was scratching at Cyndia's face and tearing at her hair like any angry teenager in a catfight. Cyndia cried out, her eyes wide with fear, as Mogwen's sharp nails raked her cheek.
"I said get off!" Pegasus snapped. He rifled through his deck and drew a card, throwing it onto his Duel Disk without any regard for rules. Who cared about a trivial thing like that at a time like this? This was his game and his Toon Kingdom and he would break the rules if he felt like it.
Fortunately, the cards seemed to be on his side. With Block Attack in play, Mogwen was suddenly shoved backwards by an invisible force, skidding to a halt some ten feet away. Cyndia glanced back at Pegasus.
"Well played, love," she said.
"Oh, you haven't seen anything, yet," said Pegasus.
From his deck, he drew two cards, and laid it almost reverently on the Duel Disk. On the field, nothing happened - but then, the Artist's Inspiration was already in play. Then he played Cestus of Dagla, causing a flurry of golden lights to gather around her, coalescing in her hands as a pair of sharp blades.
"Don't try that again," she warned Mogwen. "I really don't want to hurt you, but if you attack me or him again I will have to fight back. I would advise you not to provoke me."
Mogwen glared at her for a moment, and then, with a snarl of utter frustration, flung herself at Cyndia. Cyndia dodged, but not completely - the edge of one Cestus clipped her shoulder, turning the dive into an uncoordinated tumble. Mogwen hit the ground hard, and her illusion shattered, leaving her in her natural form. She had managed to land against a wall, with her head down and her feet in the air, and her skirt had fallen down to reveal a pair of faded polkadot bloomers. Pegasus politely averted his gaze while she righted herself.
"Seize her," said Cyndia to a few of the Toons, who had been attracted by the sound and lights. She didn't sound angry, only resigned and a bit sad. The Toons obediently grabbed her arms and began hauling her away.
"You can't do this to me!" Mogwen howled. "It's not fair! You made me this way!"
"You chose this for yourself," Cyndia told her sternly.
Mogwen gave her a baleful glare. "I wasn't talking to you, I was talking to him."
"Don't blame me, either," said Pegasus. "I wanted nothing to do with your schemes."
"It is your fault!" she screeched. "You could have made me differently! You could have made me as beautiful as she is! You could have made me strong! If you had made me better, I wouldn't have had to do this! It's all your fault that nobody will ever love me!"
With that, she broke into tears. She did not do it prettily. She bawled, tears streaming down her face to mix with the fluids of her running nose and drooling mouth. Her green skin took on an unappealing purplish tint. Pegasus watched in horrified fascination as she continued to sob, beating her fists on the ground as she was hauled away by her feet.
"Wait half a moment," he called to the Toons. "Mogwen, calm down. Listen to me."
Amazingly, she calmed. She blinked her piggy eyes at him, sniffling piteously.
"I've heard a lot of talk lately about what I did or didn't do in relation to creating the Duel Monsters," he said. "I still can't say I know for sure where I stand. All I know is that when I painted your image, I painted it exactly the way I wanted it, and I treasured that image as much as I treasured every other monster I've ever made. You are not unloved. And moreover, I can prove it."
Mogwen regarded him skeptically. Ignoring her expression, Pegasus reached into his pocket and took out his cell phone. He tapped a few buttons on it, bringing up a video that had been stored and forgotten there weeks ago, and held it up so that Mogwen could see it. On the screen, a blurry image of two boys dueling could be seen.
"I set a trap card and end my turn!"
"All right, my turn! I summon my favorite monster, the Jealous Goblin!"
Mogwen watched, wide-eyed, as the duel played out.
"They... really like me," she said.
"Every monster I make is important," said Pegasus. "Even you."
Mogwen looked down at the cell phone, then back at Pegasus. The video reached the end and started replaying itself.
"What do you think, Cyndia?" said Pegasus. "What shall we do with her? On the one hand, we can't let her get away with this sort of mischief. On the other hand, there's no real harm done..."
"You're going to forgive me?" she asked hopefully.
"I don't know," said Cyndia. "You really have been an awful lot of trouble... but if it hadn't been for you, Pegasus and I wouldn't be together now."
Pegasus nodded. "That is worth quite a bit of inconvenience."
"But you can't be allowed to get off with no punishment at all," said Cyndia. "So, as Queen of Toon Kingdom, I sentence you to exile. You are hereby banished from the kingdom and its environs. Is that fair?"
Mogwen nodded eagerly, plainly relieved to be getting off so easily.
"And you may keep the phone," said Pegasus magnanimously. After all, he'd had that one for a while - it was time for a new one anyway. "As a reminder not to get into any more trouble."
Mogwen gave him a startled look, and then turned away again, shamefaced.
"I don't deserve it," she mumbled. It seemed to be as close as she was going to come to thanking him or apologizing to him. He let it go.
There was a scrambling of footsteps. The assembled company turned to see Pegasus's human bodyguards, assorted Toons, and one cat with a proudly waving tail. They were escorting a large number of goblins who were tied with chains, rope, or in one or two cases, brightly colored stockings.
"Pegasus," O'Brien greeted, giving him a smart salute. "We rounded up as many prisoners as we could take. The rest have fled. What's the status here?"
"Everything is under control," said Pegasus. "Cyndia has done us the favor of incapacitating our opponent, as you can see."
"You helped too," she reminded him.
"So this is what all the fuss is about," said Misawa, taking a few steps closer to get a better look at her. She was ignoring him, wrapped up as she was in admiring her new phone. "Not that impressive, is she?"
"What do you want us to do with her?" asked O'Brien. He fingered his gun in a manner that suggested that whatever they wanted, it was likely to be swift and permanent.
"You will not harm her," said Cyndia. "Take her to the edge of the kingdom, with any of her followers you've captured, and set them all free. The soldiers have done nothing more than follow orders, and Mogwen... we have already settled matters with her."
O'Brien looked displeased by this, but Juudai smiled.
"I like your style," he said. "I'd be glad to take her to the border."
"No, not you," said Pegasus. "Everyone else can go, but I have something I want to talk to you about. I think you're the best man for the job I have in mind."
"What kind of job?" Juudai asked.
Pegasus shot a meaningful look in Mogwen's direction. O'Brien immediately rounded up her and her guards and began hustling them toward the gates. The others followed along with a few curious backwards looks, leaving only Pegasus, Cyndia, and Juudai behind. Juudai came closer so they could talk in comfort.
"What's on your mind?" he asked.
"A thought on Mogwen's final disposition," said Pegasus. At Cyndia's surprised look, he added, "What? Did you think I was just going to let her walk away and forget about her? No, we need to do something a little special for her..."
Misawa's carefully planned itinerary had gone out the window. Even though the Toons could have easily guided them back to the main road and put them back where they would have originally ended up without the lengthy detour they'd taken, but it was obvious that no one was going to get Pegasus out of Toon Kingdom by anything short of extreme force. So they stayed. No one really minded that much; Cyndia was a charming hostess, and ensured that every one of her guests, both human and nonhuman, had whatever they desired if it was in her power to supply it. She even went so far as to send a couple of cooperative dragons to find Taniya and escort her to the castle so that she and Misawa could be together for the duration of his visit, a gesture that greatly endeared her to both of them. However, for the most part, her work was carried out through her retainers. Most of the time, she was with Pegasus. They had catching up to do.
It was late one morning, when the sun was already well on its way towards its zenith and the remains of breakfast had already been cleared away. Everyone had gathered out in the castle courtyard, where they could enjoy both the pleasant weather and the attendance of the castle staff. At the moment, Juudai and O'Brien were playing a casual round of cards at a folding table. Hayato was relaxing on the grass, leaning against his sleeping Des Koala's furry back as he sketched on a pad of paper he'd found somewhere. Pharaoh was resting nearby, sprawled out in the sun like a fat fluffy rug. A short distance away, Pegasus presided over a small cluster of Toons, moderating some game that they were playing. Nobody seemed to understand the rules or even what the point of the game was, but that didn't seem to be a problem for him. Cyndia and Taniya occupied two lawn chairs nearby, as they sipped cool drinks and chatted amiably. Despite their vastly different backgrounds, the two of them had taken to each other surprisingly well, and could happily talk for hours about everything from tips on getting by in the world of monsters to how to deal with their occasionally obstreperous men. Only Misawa seemed serious; he had taken some sort of machine out of his pack and was tinkering with it in a manner that suggested he wasn't about to be distracted until he'd gotten what he wanted out of it.
Juudai finished his game and wandered over to see what his friend was doing.
"What are you messing with?" he asked, leaning over Misawa's shoulder.
"Transport module," said Misawa tersely.
Juudai blinked. "Okay, but what is it?"
Misawa brandished the machine, as though showing it to Juudai would make everything self-evident. When Juudai continued to look baffled, he said, "This is the homing device that will allow the workers at the lab to find us and open the gate that will take us all home again. I'm readjusting it so that it will work from here instead of our original pickup site."
Pegasus looked up from his conversation.
"Go home?" he said, his expression dismayed. "It can't be time to go back already..."
"We'd only planned to be gone a few days," O'Brien pointed out. "Your people will be expecting you back soon."
"But...." Pegasus looked around, spreading his hands helplessly. The Toons pressed around him, gazing up at him with pleading expressions. Cyndia had gone slightly pale.
"You're leaving? Already?" she asked.
"I... I don't know...."
"Oh, really," said Taniya, rolling her eyes. "Of course he's going back."
Everyone turned to look at her. She glared back at them enough that a few of them actually took a few steps away from her.
"Of course he is," she said again. "He's got to organize things there before he can come and stay here, hasn't he? You can't just walk away from your responsibilities like that."
Misawa began to smile. "Of course. He might even have to spend a week out of every month back there, to make sure his company is running properly. What a good thing we got the gates functioning reliably."
Pegasus began to smile also. "Very true. I knew it would be worth the bother of getting those laws passed..."
"What laws are those?" asked Cyndia.
"The ones that make it legal for a human to marry a Duel Monster," said Pegasus. He turned suddenly shy. "You know. In case you wanted to."
"Silly!" she scolded. "Of course I want to! You knew that already."
"Well, I had to ask," he said, looking immensely pleased.
"Good," said Misawa. "So glad that's settled. The device will be set in about an hour. You may want to think about packing."
"Okay!" said Juudai, bounding towards the door. "I hope I can remember where I put my bag..."
"You're coming with us?" asked Hayato, surprised.
"For a while, yeah," said Juudai. "I've got a little something to take care of back there. I should be there for a few days, at least. Hey, Hayato, can I crash at your place?"
"Because you're closest!"
While the two of them argued about the details of that arrangement, Pegasus went to kneel by Cyndia's chair. She reached to clasp his hand.
"You will come back soon, won't you?" she asked.
"As soon as I possibly can," he assured her. "You'll barely know I'm gone."
"I'll notice every minute," she told him.
He laughed a little. "Well, so will I, come to think of it. But it still won't be too long. You can count on that."
He looked at her, and then beyond her, to the Toons romping on the lawn and the crooked towers of the ridiculous, fantastic castle they lived in.
"After all," he said, "this truly is my home."
True to his word, Juudai had returned to his home world, if only for a few days. He'd spent most of that time cluttering up Hayato's apartment, when he wasn't out exploring the city or being shown around Industrial Illusions. He did, however, take a few minutes to drop by Pegasus's office to have a brief talk, and to pick up two cards. They were Pegasus's latest creations, which he'd found time to create even in the hubbub created by his announcement that he was about to relocate. They were slated to be released in the next booster pack, but Pegasus had insisted on giving Juudai a set of them as soon as they were off the presses.
But Juudai couldn't stay away from the world of monsters for very long. He felt at home there, and there was so much to do. At the moment, he was creeping around the perimeters of a small village, mostly populated by imps and other small monsters, but he had been there before and knew how to avoid trouble. He had pulled a cloak around himself to hide his face and hair, and no one was paying much attention to him.
He was paying attention to them, though. In particular, he was paying attention to a squat, lumpy goblin woman who was shuffling along the far side of the street. Her head was bowed, and she seemed to be in a hurry to get wherever she was going. No one greeted her as she passed. Juudai smiled a little.
"Found you, Mogwen."
From his card pouch, he carefully drew the two cards Pegasus had given him, and he ducked into a deep shadow, drawing it around him so that he would be kept well out of sight. He powered on his Duel Disk.
"Time for a quick spell," he said to himself. "I play Goblin Coronation! And with this card in play, I can sacrifice one Jealous Goblin to summon Goblin Paragon!"
In the street, Mogwen stopped walking as though she'd been frozen. She stared at herself as lights gathered around her, twinkling like tiny emerald stars. They clustered so closely around her that soon it was impossible to see her at all, and many of the other monsters stopped what they were doing to stare at her. Mogwen's squat shape seemed to grow taller and thinner as the lights grew brighter, and as they began to disperse, it became obvious that something had changed. There now stood a slim, graceful goblin girl with smooth green skin and flowing emerald hair. A filmy white dress clung to her shapely figure. She blinked a pair of long-lashed aquamarine eyes as she studied her hands, which were now smooth and slender, tipped with long and perfectly painted pink nails.
"What... what just happened?" she asked, and then clapped a hand to her mouth at the sound of her own voice.
She wasn't the only one who was surprised. Several people had already begun to gather around her. Juudai was too far away to make out everything that was being said amidst the general clamor, but it was obvious that there were quite a few people who approved of the change. Mogwen's expression went from one of shock to a brilliant smile as she got acquainted with her new admirers. Juudai smiled too.
"Good luck, Mogwen," he said. "You've got the beauty you wanted, now. You'll have to find the love on your own."
"That's as it should be," said a voice nearby, and Juudai turned to see the faintest image of Yubel standing near him. He smiled at her.
"Of course it is," Juudai agreed. "But I think she'll be okay. I'll check up on her some time."
"Now there's a lot more to do! Come on!"
He flashed a grin at her and began darting away, though the shadows and the night. The last sounds he heard before he was gone entirely was the chatter of many voices, and ringing clearly over them all, the laughter of a goblin girl.