Yu-Gi-Oh! Eternal

A Fanfiction by neomage

(DISCLAIMER: Yu-Gi-Oh, Yu-Gi-Oh GX, and all the original characters therein do not belong to me. The original stuff belongs solely to Kazuki Takahashi, Shonen Jump, and the various studios that broadcast the anime. I do, however, own the new characters.)

CHAPTER 1 – The Evening and the Morning

Characters' First Appearance in Story

JANUS

NAME: Janus Yuki

AGE: 14

HAIR: Blond (think of Yu-Gi-Oh GX's Jaden Yuki with blond hair)

EYES: Black

CLOTHES: Red jacket, white T-shirt, green camouflage pants, purple sneakers

NATASHA

NAME: Natasha Truesdale

AGE: 12

HAIR: Black

EYES: Blue

CLOTHES: Red jacket, brown blouse, black shorts, black sneakers

RICARDO

NAME: Ricardo Misawa

AGE: 16

HAIR: Brown

EYES: Black

CLOTHES: Yellow jacket, blue undershirt, black pants, black shoes

DRAKE

NAME: Drake Phoenix

AGE: 15

HAIR: Black (think of Yu-Gi-Oh GX's Aster Phoenix with black hair)

EYES: Hazel

CLOTHES: Dark green trench-coat, black T-shirt, dark blue jeans, sky-blue suede shoes

SOMEWHERE, A.D. 2018

The room was small, nothing more than a cramped space. The walls were a depressing shade of gray. There were no windows, and only one door in or out. The only light that was available in the room came from a single bulb screwed into the ceiling overhead. There was a ventilation system through which the only access to cool, fresh air came; the shaft could be seen several meters away from where the bulb shone feebly. On the floor, there were only a table and seven chairs; two chairs were on one side of the table, and the other five were on the other side.

In the two chairs on the one side, two men were seated. Both wore formal-looking business suits—one's suit was dark brown, the other's was teal. Due to the poor lighting in the room, both of their faces were partially masked in shadow save for their mouths. And at this moment both men's mouths were set in grim, determined lines.

Presently the door swung open, and three men dressed in brown security apparel entered. One of them was carrying five red folders in his arms; as they entered the room, one by one the folders were set down on the table in front of the two mystery men. "These are the files you requested, sirs," one of them reported.

The teal-suited man reached for one of the files and began flipping through it. He studied it a long moment, then casually handed it to the brown-suited man and picked up another one himself. "Interesting," he muttered as he went through the files.

"Quite so, quite so," the brown-suited man answered, reading through the files as they were handed to him one by one.

A few moments later, all the files had been read and put aside—and still the two men's mouths displayed no sign of emotion. "Is the information satisfactory, sirs?" one of the guards inquired.

The brown-suited man nodded slightly. "Now…bring them here at once."

Nodding, the guards turned and left the room. The teal-suited man then shifted slightly in his seat to face his companion. "It will be worth it, having these five, won't it?"

"I agree," the brown-suited man answered. "Of course, that's assuming they will agree to our offer."

"And if they won't?" the teal-suited man wondered.

For the first time, the brown-suited man's mouth curved upwards in a sinister smirk. "Trust me…they won't want to refuse. Not with what we've got to offer them."

"Well, yes, that's true." The teal-suited man smirked too. "That, and what we'll be getting out of this in the long-term."

"Right." The brown-suited man nodded.

Footsteps in the hallway outside arrested their attention. Immediately the smirks disappeared from their mouths and they were all business again, even as the door opened and the three security guards from before came back in. "That was pretty quick," the teal-suited man remarked.

"Their holding cells were not far from here, sir," one of the guards told him. "I would find it fit to warn both of you, though, be on your guard. These five are highly unpredictable—who knows what they may do to either of you."

"Oh, I'm sure we'll be able to handle it," the brown-suited man answered, "but if it'll set your minds at ease, you may remain outside near the door. If there's any trouble, we can always call for your assistance."

"Yes, sir, be sure you do that if you feel the need," the second guard replied.

The third guard looked out the door. "All right—bring them in now."

Then, at that moment, in came five more guards. Each of them was holding someone by the arm…and each someone was clad in deep blue jumpsuits and handcuffed chains. The guards directed each of these newcomers to sit in one of the empty chairs, then extra handcuffs were pulled out and placed on the newcomers, attaching them to the chairs they now occupied. That done, all of the guards stepped back and filed out the door, the last one pulling it up behind him.

The brown-suited man nodded with approval. "Good…now all of you are here."

All of the handcuffed prisoners were quite young, yet all of them bore hardened looks to kill on their faces. The first was a young woman with fiery orange hair and dark-brown eyes. The second was a young man with blond hair, blue eyes, and a green neckerchief tied so as to conceal the lower half of his face. The third, also male, sported shoulder-length brown hair and hazel eyes. The fourth was female with green eyes, but had her blond hair cut in a boyish style. The last was definitely male, with hair that seemed more gold-dyed than natural blond, and green eyes. And at this very moment, all five of them were regarding the two suits with a degree of curiosity mixed with suspicion.

"Who are you? Why have you come to see us?" the masked man asked guardedly.

The brown-suited man smirked again. "Direct and to the point, now aren't we? I like that."

"What we'd like is if you answered his question," the blond woman growled.

"Got that right," the gold-dyed man nodded in agreement.

The teal-suited man looked at his companion. "Looks like it's a unanimous thing."

"That it does," agreed the brown-suited man. Then, to the five prisoners, he spoke again. "All right, I shall answer your questions. Now…who we are is not important right now. Why we're here…now, that is a different kettle of fish."

He leaned forward a little on the table, though the upper half of his face remained concealed in shadow; he intertwined his fingers underneath his chin. "Now, this is how it is. We know all about your involvement with the Zodiacs, that criminal group that was gunning for world domination via the recently-ended Duel Monsters World Championship tournament. Each of you five held an important role as a member of the organization's special little task force, the most important of the organization's overall membership. Each of you was defeated in the course of the tournament, and after your leader, Gozaburo Kaiba, was killed at Tokyo Dome, all five of you were arrested and brought here…where you've been held in remand for well over a week now…in fact, today makes it eight days since you were brought here, doesn't it?"

"What's your point?" the orange-haired woman asked curtly.

"My point is, your lives right now have hit rock-bottom…and in the weeks to come, it'll only get worse." The brown-suited man's smirk was gone now; he spoke in a serious, cutting tone of voice. "In another week, you'll all be brought to court to answer to various crimes—crimes for which there can be no possible chance for atonement this side of eternity."

The teal-suited man spoke up. "The list of charges against you guys—collective, might I add—is quite long, indeed. Murder, criminal espionage, robbery, terrorism, reckless endangerment of life, obstruction of justice…and that's WITHOUT taking into consideration the number of counts for each of these and other charges the courts will bring against you. Every single one of you will be looking at life imprisonment with no possibility of parole and no chance to appeal—best case scenario. And I do mean, best case scenario."

"Tell us something we haven't already known, mister," the brown-haired guy sighed. "We all know we're destined for hell, anyway."

"Are you, now?" the brown-suited man inquired, seeming amused at the statement just made. "In that case…what if we told you that you could have a second option?"

The masked man scoffed. "A second option? After what we've done? Please. Don't try mocking us, mister. It won't do you any good."

"Oh, but I'm as serious as a judge," the brown-haired man answered. Then he chuckled. "Oops, pardon the analogy. Anyway, what I say is true—you all have a golden opportunity available to you right here, right now."

"Essentially, you all have two options," the teal-suited man added. "The first option is this: You can all remain here, at the detention facility where you're to be held until your case is heard next week. Then, starting next week, you can go before some very hard-nosed judges and a really unforgiving jury, as well as face immense evidence that will definitely not win any of you a not guilty verdict. After that, you'll be locked away in isolation, far away from each other, or—worse yet—you'll probably get the lethal injection, or if your judges happen to be more old-fashioned, the electric chair or the gas chamber, or even the hangman's noose. Even now, I still can't figure out which one will be worse—to be locked in a cold, hard prison cell with rotten food at every meal and no contact with anyone else, never to see the light of day again…or to be locked up on death row, knowing that it's only a matter of time before it's your turn to bite the dust and knowing that there is absolutely nothing you can do about it."

"BUT…that doesn't have to be your reality at all." The brown-suited man took up the speech again. "Which brings us to the second option you guys have. You see, we happen to know some people, who happen to know some people. All we have to do is say the word, and come next week you'll all be out of here—free, back in society once again. You'll never even have to spend one minute of the sentence you're going to get otherwise."

The orange-haired woman's brown eyes now narrowed. "What's the catch?"

"Hmmm?" Both suits frowned.

"You can't trick me so easily. You're offering us a chance to escape prison time…but considering the stuff we've done, there has to at least be something you want in exchange for all this. Nobody in their right mind would just get up and offer us something like what you're serving us…unless they thought they could get something from us in return."

There was a moment's silence as this sank in. Then the brown-suited man chuckled. "I like your insight. You're not nearly qualified to be called naïve." He nodded. "I will state right now that we had no intentions of tricking you, as you claim. But you're right—this offer of ours comes with a price. However, it's a price I'm sure you'll all be willing to pay."

"How presumptuous of you," the blond woman remarked. "But I'll bite. What's this 'price' we'll need to pay?"

The teal-suited man smirked. "When we first learned about your case, we decided to approach the authorities handling you folks with an offer they couldn't refuse. Basically, we want to offer you five a chance to come and work for us. We'll be taking you off their hands, making their workload with the justice system a little lighter, so to speak."

"Unfortunately for you, however, that doesn't mean you'll be taken off their hands completely," the brown-suited man added. "As much as they'd rather not hear from any of you ever again, those good men and women cannot completely overlook what you have done in the past. Therefore, your coming into our employ will be a sort of…community service, shall we say? Only, in your case it won't be for a few hours, or even for a few days…it'll be for exactly the same length of time as you would've had to serve any prison sentence they would give you. You'll be working for us for life."

"But, again, it's a price I'm certain you'll be willing to pay," the teal-suited man went on. "After all, should you accept our offer, there won't even be a need for a trial. By next week, you'll all be walking out of here free men and women—well, as free as it'll get for you, anyway. You'll be getting all the perks that only our highest employees could ever get: first-class, five-star treatment…a chance to meet and be acquainted with some very powerful people in the worlds of business and politics…oh, and there is one more thing I'm sure we have that you all will want…"

The masked man cocked an eyebrow. "And that would be…?"

The brown-suited man smiled widely. He spoke, and his voice came out in a hiss of a whisper. "The opportunity to take your revenge on the ones responsible for bringing you here in the first place."

The five prisoners all twitched at that—then just as quickly, they glanced around. The teal-suited man chuckled softly. "Oh, there's no need for you to panic—it's not as if the guards are inside with us, after all. They're just hanging around outside in the hall, waiting to barge in at the first sign of trouble. Except…there IS no trouble here, now is there?"

"You said revenge." The brown-haired prisoner spoke. "Are you pulling our legs here?"

"My friend…if we weren't serious, we wouldn't have even brought it up." The teal-suited man nodded knowingly.

"That's right," said the brown-suited man. "So, there you have it. Come and work for us, do 'community service' instead of prison time…and in exchange, you all get to live as big as you could ever hope to live, and also take your vengeance on your so-called comrades who sold you out to the authorities…as well as on those duelists from the tournament who shamed you at what you're best at…you can even take down the Duel Monsters World Tournament Committee with our backing, if you so choose."

The two suits then leaned back in their chairs; and still their faces were partially concealed by the shadows in the room. "Now…our only question to the five of you is…will you accept our offer? Or will you not?" the teal-suited man asked softly.

The five prisoners all looked at each other…and they all collectively nodded. Then the orange-haired woman turned her face back to the two strangers.

"Gentlemen…I do believe you have yourselves a deal."

----------

ELSEWHERE, AT THAT MOMENT

The moon was shining brightly and in full upon the rather large mansion and its grounds. Everything was shown in black and white with varying shades of gray; the front lawn's grass appeared to have been splashed with gray paint. Shadows loomed around the mansion itself; the moonlight gave it a very eerie impression. Were anyone to pass by the mansion's front gates, several minutes down the driveway, and glance up, the very sight of the house under such lighting and with so many sinister-looking silhouettes would have made them think twice about passing there ever again.

At least, that was the effect the house would have had if not for the lights currently shining from its windows.

At one of those windows, up on the second story of the house, a young man stood looking out at the night sky. Based on the view one might get of him from looking at him through the window, the upper half of his face was silhouetted, partly by his jet-black hair and partly by the window drape. His lips were curved downward in a thin line, his hands in his pockets. One might even have been forgiven for mistaking him for a statue or a mannequin at that moment, so unmoving and unflinching was he. In fact, he didn't move even when the door behind him opened and a uniformed young woman entered the room.

"Young master, the hot tub is ready as you ordered," the girl addressed him, in a soft and respectful tone. "Would you care for any of the maids to attend to you while you have your bath?"

"No, that will not be necessary." He did not turn an inch to look at her. "I would much rather have one person tend to me, the only one of my personal servants who is most attentive and loyal to me…and that would be you."

The girl blushed a bit, but otherwise maintained her composure. "Will that be all, young master?" she inquired.

"Actually…" Here the young man's shoulders stiffened a little. "Has there been any news regarding him?"

"Yes, sir," the maid replied. "Janus Yuki made it back to Duel Academy three days ago. His classes are scheduled to resume as of tomorrow."

The young man chuckled. "Of course. That would be expected of him, after all…especially considering he managed to clip third place in the Dueltropolis tournament. He'd require time to recuperate, and now…I believe he has, fully."

"Master, will you be going to see him?" the maid asked.

The young master nodded. "But of course."

The maid now looked a little uncertain. "Master, if I may be so bold…?"

Still he had not moved to look at her; he made no effort to do so now. "Speak."

She hung her head slightly. "Must you really continue to do this? Maintaining this rivalry of yours with him, I mean. It just seems so…unnecessary. Besides, you know your sister does not approve of it."

"Pffft. My sister doesn't approve of half the things I do." The young master shook his head. "Besides, all said and done, I make my own destiny. Nobody else can do that for me—not even her. And you know that's saying something, considering how much she and I care for each other."

"I understand, Master." The maid bowed respectfully.

"Good." And still he did not turn to face her. "All right. Please go and ensure that my towels and bathrobe are ready for me by the hot tub. I will be down there in five minutes."

"At once, young master." The maid bowed again, then turned and went back through the door, closing it behind her.

And still the young man did not move from his position at the window…but now his thoughts were swirling rapidly back and forth in his mind. Janus Yuki…so now you've returned, have you? Well…you'd better hope that your experience with Dueltropolis was worth it, because come tomorrow…I'm coming for you! Just you wait…then I'll crush you with all of my power, and you will regret having ever crossed paths with me!

----------

DUEL ACADEMY, THE NEXT MORNING

"Janus…Janus! Hey, sleepyhead, wake up! Today's the day!"

14-year-old Janus Yuki's eyes barely managed to open; he flinched as a flood of light stung the underside of his eyelids and as he found himself being shaken awake. "Geez, Natasha, isn't a guy allowed to sleep in late or something?" he muttered, defiantly pulling the sheets over his head.

Watching as he flopped over in his bed, Natasha Truesdale reached over and shook him again. "C'mon, Janus, you have to get up! Classes start today!"

"One day of me not being at class isn't going to hurt anybody," Janus grumbled, curling up like an embryo within the sheets.

Silence descended upon the room. Now perfectly tangled up in the sheets, Janus smirked in triumph. Heh…I've earned a good extra five minutes, for real…

"JANUS YUKI! GET OUT OF BED THIS INSTANT!"

The sudden unexpected shout, seemingly amplified in volume a hundred times over and blasted out so close to his head, caused Janus to catapult forward. "Yaaaaaah!" he screamed out, rearing himself upward on his knees—and in the process, he found the sheets wrapped around his legs, tripping him and causing him to fall out of bed face-first with a CRASH!

"Ow…that had to hurt…" Natasha spoke up.

Janus sat up, his forehead having a very impressive bump from where he'd landed on the ground. "Okay, who's the wise guy?" he demanded crossly.

"My, my, Janus…you never learn, do you?"

Standing next to Natasha was a boy wearing a yellow jacket and holding a bullhorn in one hand. Janus recognized him immediately and a scowl crept over his face. "Ricardo Misawa…hasn't that prank gotten old for you yet?" he glowered. "You've used that damn bullhorn of yours to wake me up a thousand times by now!"

"1,209 times to be exact, including just a while ago," Ricardo corrected him, a grin on his face.

Janus turned and shot an accusing look at Natasha. "And you just let him sneak in here and scream into that bullhorn—and so close to my ears, too?" he complained, wincing as he now put a hand to one ear. "I swear, I'm still hearing bells!"

"Sorry, Janus, but how else were you going to get up?" Natasha said apologetically.

"Anyway, now that you're up, you should hurry and get washed and dressed," Ricardo told him, speaking more seriously. "In another fifteen minutes, your parents are going to address the entire student body in the auditorium. And it won't look good for them if their son happens to play truant while they make a speech that centers on him."

That got Janus's attention. "What's that? They're going to make a speech about me?"

"And about me and Natasha, too," Ricardo nodded. "As well as James, Cassius and Angel. So, hurry up."

Janus's eyes narrowed at this last bit of information. "I hear you now. All right, you guys go on ahead and save my seat in the usual spot. I'll be there on time, don't worry."

"Good," and Ricardo nodded. "Come on, now, Natasha, let's hurry before the whole auditorium gets too crowded."

"Okay!" Natasha replied brightly. And with that, she and Ricardo turned and hurried out, leaving Janus alone in the room.

----------

DUEL ACADEMY AUDITORIUM, FIFTEEN MINUTES LATER

Duel Academy was located on a somewhat isolated island, several hundred miles from the nearest mainland. Built and sponsored by Seto Kaiba, business mogul and CEO of gaming-equipment company Kaibacorp, this school was known as the top school for Duel Monsters enthusiasts who strived to become champion players of the game. The Academy boasted some of the world's best facilities—live-in dorms, top-of-the-line cafeterias, and even the island's own natural sites, including huge forests, waterfalls, and a largely inactive volcano. There were three dorms on the island, for which Duel Academy was well known: Osiris Red, Ra Yellow and Obelisk Blue, all named by Kaiba himself, whose respective students wore jackets of the appropriate colors—red, yellow or blue, of course. As far as the school's curriculum went, the courses were mostly focused on Duel Monster-related strategies and theories, though mainstream courses such as Mathematics, English Literature and History were taught as well.

But perhaps what brought Duel Academy its greatest fame was its auditorium, which was built with a seating capacity of roughly between 2500 and 3000. In times gone by that capacity had been considerably less, but in recent years enrollment at the school had gone up, and a complete renovation of the auditorium had been seen as necessary. Still, at least one thing had remained consistent even after the renovation was complete—and that was the huge dueling arena in the middle of the auditorium floor. Thirty feet long by twenty-four feet wide, it served both as a dueling arena and as a platform to deliver speeches from.

And, as the students were filing into the auditorium and taking the seats overlooking the arena, that same arena was now fulfilling the second function. In its center a microphone stand had been set up, and at ringside several seats for faculty members had been placed. In some of those ringside seats, several people were now seated, chatting with each other in low tones.

Presently, one of them stood up and headed for the steps ascending up to the platform. This person was clad in a dark-brown suit, complete with a matching tie. His brown hair was somewhat untamed, but it seemed to fit with the mischievous smirk on his lips. Approaching the microphone, he tapped on it with his finger…and the resounding feedback, though brief, was enough to grab everyone's attention.

"Testing, testing…oh, good, it works. All right…" The man took a deep breath. "Good morning, ladies and gentlemen of Duel Academy! This is your principal, Jaden Yuki, speaking. Welcome back to all of you, welcome back from your vacation period, and let me just say it's so good to see all your smiling faces here before me today! I know you all had a great time while you were gone, and I know we're going to have an even better time now that we're all back for another year!"

As the students applauded, up in the higher rows Ricardo and Natasha sat together. "Gosh, where is Janus? He's so late!" Natasha remarked fretfully.

"Well, if he does come, he'd better be grateful I decided to save him a seat, at least," said Ricardo with disdain.

But hardly were the words out of Ricardo's mouth when suddenly, from not too far away: "Excuse me…sorry…coming through…oops, sorry about your foot!" And then, just like that, Janus plopped down into the empty seat next to Natasha. "Hey, thanks for holding the seat for me, you guys."

"You just barely made it—Principal Yuki just started talking," Natasha told him.

"Now, to all the new students, I say welcome to Duel Academy," Principal Yuki went on. "You know, just looking at your faces kinda reminds me of when I was a freshman here, back in the day. You're all probably feeling a little anxious, sure…but no need to worry about that! I guarantee, you're going to have a really sweet time with us, and we're all going to make sure, faculty and student body alike, that your stay with us is worth it! And I'll start that off by asking all freshmen to stay back here, after assembly is dismissed, so that I can personally conduct your orientation…which means, for the rest of you, that your first class period will be suspended for today." There was more applause from the students at that announcement.

"And now, students, we have two very important announcements to make today," Principal Yuki continued. "And both announcements have to do with certain select students of our very own Duel Academy. Now, to present the announcements, please help me welcome to the mike, our very own head of the Obelisk Blue dorm…Dr. Vellian Crowler!"

He stepped back from the microphone and started applauding. The action was quickly taken up by the student body, most notably those among the Obelisk Blue students. And as the applause continued, one of the other faculty members stood up from ringside and came up to the mike. This one had blond hair cut in a slight mushroom style, with a long ponytail at the back, and he was dressed in a big blue trench-coat. Oddly enough, he also sported purple lips, giving one the impression that he was wearing lipstick.

"Thank you, Principal Yuki, and good morning to you, dear students," he addressed them all. "Now, as the principal has just mentioned, there are two announcements to be made here this morning—and I will deliver them to you now. And both announcements…" He paused for a moment. "Both announcements have to do with the Duel Monsters World Championship tournament, which ended only last week."

There was a hushed whisper throughout the crowd as this bit of news sank in.

"As you all know, over the summer break six of our students were chosen to enter the tournament, both to earn extra credit for their end-of-year assignment and to represent our illustrious academy with their dueling skill," Dr. Crowler went on. "Those of you who were following the competition on TV will know that, unfortunately, none of the six students chosen won the Dueltropolis tournament…however, one of them did manage to get third place, which is in itself quite an achievement and has placed us in the spotlight of the dueling world once again! Now, students, please help me in congratulating that student…Janus Yuki!"

Immediately, Ricardo and Natasha turned to Janus and started applauding loudly; those closest to them followed suit, until soon the entire student body was clapping and cheering. Seeing all this, Janus scratched the back of his head and blushed…and looking down at the arena, he saw Principal Yuki looking right up at him, a beaming smile on the older man's face.

"Which brings me to the second announcement," Dr. Crowler continued—and the joviality went out of his tone as he spoke. "Unfortunately, three of the other students who went on that assignment—James Truesdale and Cassius Princeton of Obelisk Blue, and Angel Snow of Ra Yellow—will not be returning to Duel Academy for this year. As much as it shames me to admit it, and on the first day of the new school year, too…the three of them were found to have associations with a nefarious group that attempted to overthrow the Dueltropolis tournament. As a result, all three have been judged by Duel Academy's punishment board, and are consequently on suspension for one academic year. So, to their classmates and dorm roommates, do not expect to see them around for now."

Whispers flew throughout the student populace again…and a dark shadow crossed Janus's face as he listened to it all. Both Ricardo and Natasha noticed this, and looked at him pityingly.

"Well…thank you, Dr. Crowler," said Principal Yuki, retrieving the microphone from the other man. "All right, students, that will be all for this morning. Any other announcements will be made over the P.A. system during the course of the day. And remember, all freshmen please remain here after this assembly dismisses for your orientation, and the first class period is suspended for today. Now…everyone else, you are dismissed!"

----------

A FEW MINUTES LATER

Dr. Crowler was walking along the corridor leading away from the auditorium. "Ah, yes…to finally be free of that auditorium…crowds really aren't my thing these days," he muttered.

"Excuse me, Dr. Crowler, could I have a minute?"

"Hmmm?" Dr. Crowler turned at the sound of the voice behind him. "Oh, Alexis, it's only you. How do you do today?"

The person in question was a woman with blond hair tied back in an impressive bun, and blue eyes hidden behind small-framed glasses. She wore a pink suit-jacket with a matching knee-length skirt. "That's Vice-Principal Rhodes-Yuki right now, Dr. Crowler," she said darkly.

"But of course, Vice-Principal. My apologies." Dr. Crowler regarded her. "You're upset about something…could it, by any chance, have anything to do with my second announcement just now?"

"Right on target." Mrs. Rhodes-Yuki nodded. "You spoke of those three students as if they were being expelled and not merely suspended. Do you know all the bootlicking I had to do with the punishment board to ensure that it didn't come to that for any of them?"

"Well, if you want my honest opinion, my dear, it may as well have been expulsion that they got, for all the good the suspension will do them." Dr. Crowler's tone was serious. "Those three were all promising students…and they disappointed us terribly. They were all found to be members of the Zodiac organization, along with the rest of those cretins who infiltrated the World Championships. If not by virtue of the fact that they were willing to testify against their brethren at the appointed time, then expulsion would've been the least of their worries."

"I know." Mrs. Rhodes-Yuki closed her eyes and sighed deeply. "But isn't it enough that now, they're all going to have to live with that shame?"

"There's no such thing as crime without punishment, dear Vice-Principal," Dr. Crowler answered. "And as much as those three were well-respected on this campus once upon a time, they've all committed a grave transgression. Look at it from the eyes of those people who they've helped the Zodiacs to make suffer—just living with the shame of what they've done will never be enough. And even their suspension, for all the effort you put into getting that verdict to overrule the expulsion punishment, will never be enough for their victims, either. I'm sorry if it sounds mean, but…well, welcome to life."

Mrs. Rhodes-Yuki stood firm. "I've already spoken to my husband about this, but I thought you should know, as well. I'm going to arrange for Cassius, James and Angel to be removed from that detention facility where they are at present. If nothing else, it'll give them back some semblance of dignity after what they've had to endure."

"Do whatever makes you feel better," Dr. Crowler replied, turning away from her and walking off. "But in the end, it'll really not do very much. You know this, as well—your problem is actually accepting it."

Mrs. Rhodes-Yuki sighed and watched as the older man now walked away from her...knowing within herself that he was right.

----------

"Janus, wait up!"

Walking away from the auditorium building, Janus paused as Ricardo and Natasha ran to catch up with him. "Geez, we lost you in that crowd when everybody was leaving…and you left in such a hurry, too," Natasha complained.

"Janus…you're not upset at what Dr. Crowler said about those three, are you?" Ricardo asked, eyeing Janus keenly.

Janus shrugged. "Well…not exactly. I just needed a little chance to think."

"Janus, they were suspended, not expelled. All being well, we'll see them back here next year without fail," Ricardo told him. "As I understand it, your mother worked hard to convince the punishment board to lessen the severity of their judgment. Be grateful for that, if nothing else."

"You know what you need to cheer you up, Janus?" Natasha suggested. "A nice big Super Steak combo! Think about it—two big steak slices covered in special sauce, French fries, rice, coleslaw…"

"Natasha, firstly, you're getting me hungry right now," Ricardo chided her. "Secondly, it's going to be a good while till lunchtime anyway…"

Suddenly he cocked his head to one side. "Say. Do you hear that?"

Natasha and Janus looked at him, puzzled—but all at once, a loud noise above their heads caused them all to look up. "Check it out—it's a helicopter!" Natasha exclaimed.

Janus narrowed his eyes. "Yes…and I think we're about to find out who that chopper belongs to."

The trio watched as the helicopter, beige in color, flew overhead and hovered over the courtyard. Then, slowly, the chopper began to descend, landing a few moments later on the lawn. And…right there on its door, in bold red and gold, was an image of a huge bird. "That's…a phoenix on the chopper's door!" Ricardo breathed.

"Yes," nodded Janus. "And that means there's only one person this chopper could belong to."

With that he strode forward with determination in his eyes, Ricardo and Natasha following close behind him. Stopping a few dozen feet from where the chopper had landed, they watched as the door momentarily slid open—and then, to their surprise, a young woman dressed as a maid stepped out, carrying a Duel-Disk in her arms. Seeing them approach, she headed over. "Good morning to all of you…and special greetings to you, Mr. Janus," she spoke up.

Janus nodded. "Jasmine…it's been a while. Still as loyal to your master as ever, are you?"

"Always, sir," she nodded. "Wherever the young master goes, I will go with him and attend to him as best I can. No exceptions."

"Jasmine, that will be enough of that," a voice behind her spoke up. "It will not do for you to fraternize with that bastard. Now come back over here."

The speaker was a young man, also exiting the chopper. He sported jet-black hair, a green trench-coat and a serious look in his narrowed eyes. On hearing his voice, Jasmine turned and blushed a bit. "My apologies, young master," she said softly, and hurried back over to him.

The newcomer then looked directly at Janus—and his eyes narrowed a little more, with abhorrence burning in them. "Janus Yuki…been a long time," he remarked coldly, crossing his arms.

Janus narrowed his eyes, too…and smirked. "Great to see you again, too…Drake Phoenix."

neomage: Here's my story, ladies and gentlemen—re-submitted, and in a whole new format!

Wondering why the re-submission? Well, in its previous incarnation, this story was touching up to 125 chapters, due to the writing format I'd been using for the first couple of chapters or so. It was stretching out too far for my liking, so…I decided to give it the special "author's touch" to shorten the number of chapters while keeping the pace of the story at a sensible rate. At the same time, this revamp will correct a few small problems that were cropping up in the former version…fully so, I hope.

Now, sit back and relax! More of the story to come!