Cardfight! Vanguard – Override
Sendou Aichi is a timid student whose life is changed by the card game, Vanguard. But as Aichi and his friends reach new heights, the dark and troubling side of the game, combined with a war on Cray, threatens to destroy the players and their new world.
Contains violence, language, character death.
ARC 1 – Rising of Team Q4
-Planet Cray: Canyon-
A wistful breeze scurried across the splitting ground of the wide canyon towards the border between the United Sanctuary and Dragon Empire continents. The faint skins of other planets and stars hovered between the gaps in the thickening grey clouds, casting wide shadows across the parched land. In the centre of the wide alleyway between mounds of rock and shrub, standing tall enough to appear as though they were reaching for the hiding skies, a sole figure stood at the front of the miniscule brigade; a knight whose blue suit had been decorated with various plates of sharpened white armour, glowing azure from the grooves driven into the shoulders, chest and limbs. The style was an intrigue one; a belt made of four pieces, the two hanging off his legs extending out diagonally as though built with the intention of slicing remains missed by his grand boots. Horned shoulder blades matched those of his collar and the white ring encircling his temple, locking his helm into place and tucking away his locks. In front of him, his prized sword, matching his white and midnight blue ensemble had been driven into the rocky ground, a red jewel gleaming from the centre of the wings spreading out at the base of the blade, like the three placed cautiously up his armour.
The warrior twisted his neck briefly, allowing his sharp green eyes to survey the remainder of his group; a young blonde boy whose colour scheme matched the leader's, sporting much looser robes and a tilted round hat. The lenses in front of his large blue eyes gleamed with readiness; he would follow the knight into the very jaws of Hell if he wished so. Tucked under his right arm was a wide book, slathered in red with dark blue markings across the front cover, presumably an emblem of the boy's race. Beside him, a young woman with sickly pale skin, clothed only in a silky white dress that looked much more delicate than could be considered safe for the battlefield. The material was also wrapped around her calves and gold jewelry decorated her arms, wrists, hair and pressed down the overflowing bottle green locks to her temple between the large pointed ears that curled out either side of her face. The woman smiled at her superior, offering a nod to her loyalty and insistence she would stay, even if their fate was to die horrifically; blue eyes shimmering as brightly as the crimson jewel protruding her forehead or the thick pink lips that curved. The final survivor was no humanoid; but a Hi-Beast; a blue-furred dog-like creature with a white streak across the bottom half of its face running down its stomach and hind legs, isolated patches running up its front. Spiked pink hair sprouted from the animal's head and tip of its tail, a faint red scarf tied around its neck and a dagger in its sheath strapped to its front left leg. Unlike the human-shaped companions, its eyes gleamed scarlet.
The knight averted his view to the emptied path ahead, eyeing the direction towards the Dragon Empire, whose soldiers had appeared recently in small pockets. The king had assumed it was a warning of war, an unofficial declaration that the opponent state denied repeatedly. Nevertheless, the king had sent out his most valued troops in order to quell any further violence before it threatened the United Sanctuary's society. The path, however, was no longer clear; a towering silhouette shivered in the distance, stomping closer to the squad of four. The knight sharpened his eyes, glaring towards the grey dragon marching forward on its hind legs, its torso and legs wrapped in midnight blue armour with scarlet jewels embedded into the suit and its limbs, matching the one in the pale girl's head. The horned beast bore its teeth, eyes gleaming coldly and matted grey-white hairs emerging from the back of its armoured head – they had sent the leader of the Nubatama Clan. Smoke seeped from the dragon's clenched jaws, its grey-clawed fingers tensing eagerly.
His opponents readied themselves; the knight lunged forward, snatching his treasured sword from its earthy stand whilst passing. The blonde boy threw open his book and aimed its pages towards the invader. A jet of lightning erupted and raced across the battlefield much faster than his ally, crashing into the dragon's chest, though resulting only in an irate hiss. The knight continued regardless, leaping up from the ground and driving his sword into the breastplate of his enemy. The dragon's response followed much more quickly and violently, flailing with sharp agony, though turning the situation to its advantage and twirled immediately, slamming its thick tail into the descending warrior. His comrades winced whilst witnessing their leader crash into the ground just in front of them, kicking up a thick cloud of dust. The Hi-Beast charged forward, bearing its own miniature fangs while the woman hovered closer to the downed white knight, seeming to confess her concern. Another blast of magic bounced away from the grand beast, followed quickly with the swatting of the dog creature, causing the animal to roll along the ground back to its companions.
The white knight pressed a hand over his right eye, heightening the elf woman's worries. Her hands dropped quickly onto the raised limb and her gentle eyes sliding shut. Her lips moved, uttering a silent spell to cast her healing powers; transferring energy from her form to the warrior's. The Hi-Beast staggered between the two, bringing the four back to a tight formation. The dragon stomped forward, its curled jaws almost grinning at the display in front of it, causing the woman's hands to drop and the knight's bitter glare to appear once more. He charged forward without any signal, leaping up to the same space he had damaged already. The dragon's hands waved, catching the knight and pressing him against the beast's abdomen and just out of reach of his trapped weapon. The blonde boy gasped in horror and stepped forward, launching several frenzied blasts to the beast while the woman scooped up the animal from the ground and held it in her arms, both watching the scene with a much calmer approach than the young mage.
Within the crushing pin, the warrior squirmed, tensing his shoulder in order to loosen his left arm – the only hope for recovering his sword and wriggled harder. Eventually, he'd managed to free his arm and began to reach for the sword whilst the enemy was distracted by the boy's storm of spells. The creature spun violently, sending its tail flying around in a circle with enough power to knock over both the mage and his elfin companion. Aware that his comrades would stand no chance alone, the warrior continued his mission, missing his weapon several times.
But by pooling the strength of his will into his arm, he finally succeeded in seizing the handle of the sword, driving it slightly further into the dragon. The beast wailed and began to wave its arms in agony, one claw unconsciously smacking away the knight, armed with his blade. He crashed into the ground beside his allies, already in the process of picking themselves up and the foursome glared up at their enemy, the white knight on one knee between his younger companions. The dragon, infuriated by the tactics, opened its jaws wider, gathering energy from the very air and ground in order to charge up its next attack. Tightening his fingers around the handle of his recovered blade, the knight sharpened his eyes once more and jumped forward to resume the war.
Ride 1: Army of the King
[Oo no Butai]
-Hitsue City: Park-
The sky was clear, perhaps a good omen. By the pond close to the centre of the park, Sendou Aichi smiled whilst gazing up at the untainted day, sun shining brightly while his reflection rippled and glittered. In his hands was the box holding his precious deck – the cards he had collected for years but only begun to use recently when a special person wandered back into his life. His fingers tightened around the box, clutching it like an invaluable treasure – to him, that was his feelings towards the deck. Though with the excitement came anxiety; he'd been lured into the shop tournament at Card Capital by the friends he'd made through the game and the store, though possessing no confidence whatsoever in his skill or chances against the regulars. He'd been considering trying to get out, but if he knew, then he would never accept the boy as a runaway.
So he'd brave whatever waited and moved on. The blue-haired boy's eyes shivered with an unusual flare of resolve, his arms underneath the polo neck burgundy shirt and open aquamarine jacket tense, likewise, his legs in his jeans and blue shoes. His body moved at a quicker pace than normal whilst he charged through the streets, dodging the leisurely strolling adults taking advantage of their weekends. Aichi's pace continued until recognizing the green iron fencing alongside the road, prompting him to slow to a halt, his eyes scanning the lively sign above the glass doors. He inched closer to the pink-framed entrance, the left door hissing as it slid open and granted him entrance into the unusually busy store. Among the customers, he identified several of his friends; Katsuragi Kamui, the young boy dressed in a long-sleeved orange shirt, an open red vest, dark shorts and his hair spiked wildly; Tokura Misaki, the shop assistant standing in her usual attire of a white shirt, black jacket and skirt hanging down to her ankles and long lilac hair flowing down her back and Miwa Taishi, the energetic blonde standing in his blue and white school uniform with a wide grin on his face. From the table between the three, Kamui's opponent, whom had just suffered another defeat, slumped over his field, two diagonal spikes of black hair obscuring his field and his body clothed entirely in the grey of the middle school uniform Aichi also owned.
Misaki and Kamui averted their eyes to the new arrival, the latter offering a wide and proud smirk to take Miwa's place as he patted the loser's back with a playful attitude.
"Misaki-san, Kamui-kun," Aichi greeted with a timid smile.
"Onii-chan, you made it," Kamui cried joyfully. His cheeks began to glow with a faint rose blush. "Is Emi-san coming as well?"
"Uh, well… I don't really know," Aichi muttered sheepishly, rubbing the back of his head and lowering his eyes. Out of his vision, Kamui's expression dropped heavily, discouraged by the absence of the girl whom he had fallen for.
"What matters is that you're here," Miwa called from behind. "You can't sign up for a tournament and then not show up".
"Right," Aichi answered. "Does that mean that Kai-kun has come yet?"
"Not yet," the blonde chuckled.
Aichi swallowed the lump building quickly in his throat; Kai Toshiki had been the one to inspire him, brought him into a new world with hopes for the future. Hearing that he was going to participate in the tournament had been why Aichi himself signed up – before Kai and the card game, Vanguard, he'd had nothing; now he was gaining so much through them.
"He'll show up before long," Misaki insisted, though showing no form of concern for the absent party's sake.
The young woman turned her head, eyeing her uncle – the manager of the store, Shin – as he fiddled with a sheet he'd draped over a whiteboard fixed to the wall. The green-haired man smiled nervously, droplets of sweat slipping down his forehead and past his eyes concealed by sheets of light clinging to the glass of his spectacles. The man felt quite out of his depth; the shop was filling quickly with new faces, all flocking to partake in or observe the tournament. Aichi, too, felt overwhelmed by the numbers of people who had appeared, already witnessing a warm-up exhibition fight between Kamui and the middle school student. The taller student crept up behind the blue-haired boy, wrapped his arm around Aichi's neck and tucker his chin over the small shoulder.
"Oh, so you made it after all," he called.
"M- Morikawa…" Aichi gasped, turning his head to find the face of his classmate beside his own. "How did your fight with Kamui-kun go?"
"I let him win," Morikawa laughed loudly. "It wouldn't be fair to pull out all my best moves now – they'll be waiting for the final match".
"I see," Aichi responded meekly.
"Everyone," Shin announced, drawing attention from those scattered around the room. "Could those taking part in the tournament please step forward in front of the tournament bracket? Uh, this sheet here".
Kamui patted Aichi's left arm, smirking eagerly. "Let's go, onii-san. Let's do our best so Emi-san will be proud of us".
Morikawa scampered ahead, releasing Aichi from the loose lock he'd held him in. The grade-schooler led his senior, striding past the standing tables set out in the centre of the store's front half. Aichi wobbled behind him, the crushing weight of everyone's stares overwhelming even his body's simplest commands. Curious as to Kamui's strange affection for his sister, coupled with the knowledge that dozens of eyes were on him, Aichi stumbled, his right shoe catching the back of his left ankle, causing him to fall forward with a cry, stopped from crashing onto the floor by catching the corner of the table. A handful of sniggers came from the spectators. Kamui was quick to jump around.
"Onii-san, you okay?" he called.
"Yeah, don't worry," Aichi chuckled quietly.
"Oi, Aichi, don't go passing out already," Morikawa teased, standing with a proud stance, his fists pressed against his hips and tilting his head back to maximize the degree he looked down at the boy from. Beside him, the brunette Izaki Yuta was dressed in the same outfit, also smirking confidently.
Kamui and Aichi quickly filed into the line-up, the older of the two searching for any sign that Kai may have slipped in unnoticed, but there was no sign of him. "Kai-kun still isn't here, is he going to miss this?"
"Who cares?" Kamui scowled. "That guy's got a bad attitude anyway. Like he thinks he's too good for us".
Shin positioned himself beside the board, his hand grabbing the sheet hanging over it with a microphone in his free hand. He surveyed the group gathered in front of him, but paused quickly when his analysis suggested a problem. His eyes ran over the contestants once more to ensure he hadn't miscalculated, but again, he couldn't find the full set of eight participants.
"Ah… are we missing someone?" he asked.
As if on cue, the door slid open, unveiling the final contestant; Kai Toshiki standing with a lax stance, though his arms sharp and tense, his sharp green eyes closed beneath the one-sided brunette hairstyle, dressed similarly in his school uniform. He strode in without comment or apology for his near-miss of the tournament.
"Never mind," Shin chuckled. "Now that everyone's here, we'll officially begin the Card Capital Shop Tournament". Cheers erupted from the crowd behind the contestants; ranging from grade-schooler like Kamui to adults. "I will act as referee; let's have a good tournament – the matches will be single elimination. May the best player win. Let's Fight!"
Another wave of roars and whistles followed the declaration, many of the contestants joining in. Morikawa hollered wildly, Izaki and Aichi inching away from the excited student, with the latter's eyes quickly searching for Kai. The brunette shot a glance towards him, resulting in a quick gasp and aversion. Everyone else seemed to be having a good time, none of them letting the pressure weigh on them, yet for him, it was all there on his shoulders, crushing his spirits and confidence. His fists began to quiver, eyes fixed on the small cat strolling towards Shin and leaping up onto the table beside the sheet. Its brown fur invaded by white around its muzzle, paws, tail tip and underbelly, a blue collar tied around its neck.
"The participants are split into four matches," Shin continued. "And the winner from each fight will continue through to the next round. Now, we'll announce the match-ups". His eyes dropped to the cat, tugging at the corner to signal its role. "Sub-Manager… Sub-Manager?" The cat shot a sharp glare towards Shin and folded its ears back, looking as though they were closed to prevent it from hearing the request. A drop of sweat slid down Shin's cheeks, glancing quickly to Misaki, whose eyes closed as a sign she was playing no part. "Manager… please?"
The cat's ears shot up immediately and it stretched its legs with a high-pitched mewing. Its body swiftly shifted into a stance for pouncing and leapt up, catch the corner of the cloth sheet and sinking its claws in. With Shin's aid, the two stripped the board of the cloak, unveiling the eight names written beside one another, with spaces left for the following matches, working towards the blank winner's space in the centre of the board.
"Huh, I'm in the second match!" Kamui cried.
Misaki's eyes sharpened, leaping towards Morikawa, whose arms were folded tightly over his chest, examining the board with a cocky smirk.
"Ah, this shouldn't be too hard," he scoffed.
'Kai-kun is in the third match,' Aichi thought. 'But I'm in the first. If I want to fight him, I'll have to make it to the final'.
"You'll be lucky," Kamui growled. Aichi's eyes shot to the boy, though his hardened face had directed itself past the boy by his side and up to Morikawa. "You can't win against anyone, you're going to lose straight away".
"What?" Morikawa snapped. "We'll see about that; you'll be the one crying when you get knocked out by Izaki and I'm winning the final match!"
"Izaki-kun, you're fighting Kamui?" Aichi repeated.
"Yeah, seems that way," Izaki answered with a nod.
"Who are you fighting, onii-san?" Kamui asked.
Aichi redirected his sight to the brackets, sliding across the bottom row and along the names penned in a line, finally finding his in the first match alongside the longest name listed.
"Ninja Master M?" he muttered. "Eh? A ninja?"
"That's so cool!" Morikawa howled. "Hey, Aichi, let's swap opponents".
"I don't think it works like that…" Aichi answered.
The three searched the room for the man, all falling onto the masked figure dressed in black, exposing a white shirt and blue tie surrounded by thick ropes of orange. His black helm sprouted red rings that left room only for his face underneath a golden curve pointing upwards, his eyes hiding underneath blue spaces left in the blindfold hanging between the gap over his upper face. The only feature that could be used to identify him was a blonde goatee hanging from his chin.
"That man," Misaki said, stepping forward to line herself with the trio of students. "He comes here twice a year, just for the Shop Tournament. But we don't know if he comes here other times because we don't know his face".
"Now, matches for the first round will be held two at a time," Shin announced, speaking once more into the microphone. "The first two matches are Sendou Aichi vs. Ninja Master M and Katsuragi Kamui vs. Izaki Yuta".
"Good luck, Aichi," Izaki said, smiling brightly beside his classmate.
"Y- Yeah, thank you," Aichi answered discreetly. "Good luck to you too, Izaki-kun".
The four fighters stepped up to their respective tables, with Kamui and Izaki standing deeper in the store. The four began to shuffle their decks, though Aichi's eyes quickly strayed from his deck, aware of all the eyes set on the two tables; Misaki, Kai, Miwa, Morikawa – the people he knew were watching him.
'It's the same Card Capital. It's the same,' he thought in cycles to calm himself. Though his expression betrayed his technique and his gaze towards the mysterious man put no cover over his doubts. 'There's nothing different. It's the same table, the same people are watching. But still… I feel nervous'.
Taking a moment, Aichi laid his hand over his chest, feeling it pounding much more wildly than normal. His eyes slid closed, blocking out the additionally pressure he could feel from seeing so many unfamiliar faces, including the man standing in front of him. Repeatedly, he argued that it was the same shop, the same people; there was nothing different.
"Your first time, is it not-degozaru?" the man questioned, waking Aichi abruptly to his surroundings.
"Y- Yes," he answered discreetly.
"I see. I shan't go easy on you, but I want to see you charge forward and fight," the man said. "There will be no paths of retreat; only the way forward. Not that I'll let you win this fight-degozaru".
"Have we met before?" Aichi asked, eyeing the man curiously. "I feel like I've heard your voice before".
"We may have or we may not have," the ninja replied with a smug grin. "A ninja can shed his skin just as any other ordinary person can shed simply their clothes-degozaru".
"What is that?" Izaki murmured from the adjacent table, a droplet of sweat slipping down his cheeks. "What kind of images are you trying to put in his head?"
"Awesome!" Morikawa howled from the audience, his eyes glittering with fascination. "Ninjas are awesome!"
Around him, Miwa and the younger spectators chuckled nervously, embarrassed to be associated with the fantasizing student. The four fighters selected their respective Vanguards, laying them onto the designated circles in front of them and shuffled their decks. Aichi's trembling hands made the task much more difficult than normal, cards slipping from the deck and throwing themselves over the field, causing the young blue-haired boy to cry out in surprise.
"Ah! I'm sorry," he yelped, quickly snatching the fallen from the inactive battlefield.
"Onii-san…" Kamui muttered, eyeing the scene in the corner of his eye.
Izaki chuckled discreetly, vaguely amused by the fact that Aichi had been the one to crack, as he'd expected. Though his secret victory didn't last long as cards flew out of his hand almost immediately after drawing his opening hand, causing him to likewise gasp and reshuffle. A moment later and the four had all successfully drawn their hands, staring down their opponents. Shin lifted his left arm, smiling throughout the blunders and belated start of the tournament.
"First match: Sendou Aichi vs. Ninja Master M. Second match: Izaki Yuta vs. Katsuragi Kamui," he announced into the microphone. "Let's fight. Let's Vanguard!"
"Stand Up!" the four fighters barked, picking their starting cards and turning them over. "Vanguard!"
AICHI - NINJA MASTER M
0 -DAMAGE- 0
KAMUI - IZAKI
0 -DAMAGE- 0
The imagined battlefield for Aichi's match consisted of an isolated canyon, much different from the area he had envisioned during previous battles; thick shadows lingered around the rocky formations. Transparent projections of both Aichi and Ninja Master M took their chosen positions – the ninja atop the small ascent, while Aichi had taken the flat ground, watching the posing man. A circle of blue energy surged from the ground, rising up and engulfing Aichi's form, transforming his young body into that of a dog fitted with silver segments of armour clinging tightly to its form. Cobalt hairs poked out from the gaps between the shields, decorated with darker blue patterns, yellow circles where the joints were attached to the main body and a ruby fitted into the chest. The dog's blue eyes flashed sharply, and with the sword in its mouth, all it could manage was a low, threatening growl.
"Barcgal [POW 4000]" Aichi called, naming his opening unit.
The creature opposite taking the ninja's place was a winged beast, hovering above the rocky stage with muddy scales surrounding patches of blood red skin. The mustard-yellow helm attached to its skull bore a small amethyst in the centre, resting in the shade of its webbed horns. In the hands of the floating creature were two long, thin lasers acting as futuristic swords, hissing from the metallic handgrips, both with red ovals where the palms of the being rested.
"Lizard Runner, Undeux-degozaru [POW 6000]" the ninja stated.
FIRST TURN – NINJA MASTER M
The blonde man pulled a card from his deck, finding Stealth Beast Chigasumi glaring towards him. With a subtle smirk, he added the card to his hand and lifted another, throwing it onto the Vanguard laid out.
"Ninja Art: Body Replacement Technique! Embodiment of Armour, Bahr [POW 8000]" he declared.
"Body Replacement Technique?" Aichi repeated, staring at the field anxiously.
The lizard creature was surrounding with the same glaring glow that had transformed the fighters' projections into their respective monsters. Through the gaps in the brightness, Undeux's form mutated, unveiled as a blue-skinned humanoid with a flaming head and cloaked in elaborated crimson armour once the lights subsided. The yellow eyes of the being shone fiercely, matching the jagged jaws visible from its grinning mouth. From between the wing-like segments sprouting from its armour's back, the blue-skinned figure drew its immense curved blade, clutching it firmly with one hand proudly.
"It wasn't anything different than normal," Kamui's friend sporting rounded glasses sighed.
"WD," the brunette by his side added with a heavy breath.
'That ride…' Aichi thought, gazing at the new creature. His eyes quickly slipped towards Kai, who sat casually at one of the tables nearby, resting his cheek against the palm of his hand. The pose displayed his boredom in waiting for a new, strong fighter to appear at the shop. 'He's running a Kagero deck and making the save moves as Kai-kun…'
Aichi frowned at Kai's form; it meant that he was still far from a chance at fighting the brunette unless he could make his way to the final. But even then, would Kai deem him strong and take him seriously? The boy's spirits dipped, shown outwardly through the sorrowful narrowing of his eyes.
"Sendou-kun?" a voice broke through, causing Aichi to flinch and find his opponent standing with his arms folded. "I believe it's your turn now-degozaru"
"R- Right," Aichi answered quickly. "I'm sorry".
SECOND TURN – AICHI
Afraid of keeping his opponent waiting any longer, Aichi swiftly drew from his deck, checking the card as Little Sage Marron and slipping it into the cards in his grasp. His fingers moved to another, lifting it from the group and throwing it over Barcgal.
"I ride Wingal [POW 6000]" he called.
In Barcgal's place, a small dog-like creature with wings sprouting from its head appeared; its fur blue with white patches across its underbelly and the lower halves of its legs. Its usually pink hair sprouting from the head was dyed blue to match Aichi's, though its fearsome expression contrasted the boy's anxious features.
The door to the shop opened, catching the attention of several within the store and redirecting their eyes to the opening where a cool breeze rushed in. Standing in the doorway was a young girl, her pale-tangerine hair curling around her pale neck, blinking with surprise to see the tournament's audience.
"Emi," Aichi chirped.
"Sorry I'm late, Aichi," Emi squeaked, striding into the building.
"Emi-san!" Kamui yelled, the ponytail at the back of his head wagging in place of a dog's tail.
"Don't leave the table, Kamui-san, you'll surrender!" the boy with spectacles hollered.
"DL!" his companion added fiercely.
Emi eyed the spiky-haired boy, recalling that he had been the one to tell her of the tournament initially, trying to propose something after his victory. Though his inability to pass the message on left her curious about his strange request. She moved towards the young students whom she recognized as Kamui's friends, smiling and waving at them. Tears streamed down Kamui's face, desperate to prove his strength in front of the girl who had unknowingly stolen his heart, he fiercely drew from his deck.
Aichi, on the other hand, drifted gradually back to his fight, his eyes falling to Wingal and his fingertips brushing the bottom of the card.
"Barcgal's skill moves it to the Rear Guard," he stated, sliding the card underneath into the circle behind the winged dog. On the battlefield, the armour-clad animal materialized behind the creature that had taken its place. Aichi spun the cards, laying them horizontally. "Barcgal boosts Wingal. Attack Bahr".
A surge of energy poured across the lower half of the field, pooling Barcgal's power into Wingal [POW 10000]. The dog lunged forward, snatching the knife from a pouch attached to its front left leg and gripping it tightly between its tiny jaws.
Ninja Master M smiled, folding his arms over his chest confidently. "No guard".
"Drive check," Aichi declared, pulling the top card of his deck away and turning it over to find Blaster Blade.
A smile crept onto the boy's face – although it wasn't a trigger, it was his ace card, his favourite. The very card that had gotten him collecting Vanguard cards for years. Wingal dove at Bahr, slicing across the armour with the small blade, though inflicting no damage to the breastplate. Ninja Master M also reached for his deck, pulling Exile Dragon and laying it into the Damage Zone.
AICHI - NINJA MASTER M
0 -DAMAGE- 1
"Turn end," Aichi stated.
THIRD TURN – NINJA MASTER M
"Ah, a decent battle, Sendou Aichi," the masked man chuckled. "But now, it is my turn to launch a counter strike-degozaru".
Aichi furrowed his brow, masking a stronger expression in the face of such a threat, but underneath the façade, he trembled fiercely, afraid that he would fall far too early and lose his chance of fighting Kai. His eyes moved across the audience surrounding the two tables; many more eyes were on him than normal, throwing him well out of his comfort zone. But all those eyes didn't matter – he only needed Kai to acknowledge his strength as he struggled through. A genuine sheet of light flashed across his eyes, the spark of his fighting spirit igniting. He would fight whatever came his way – be it Kagero or Royal Paladins; anything to reach that dream match with Kai once more.
"Draw-degozaru," Ninja Master M called, lifting a second Stealth Beast Chigasumi from his deck. With a smirk, he clutched the card tightly in his right hand, dropping it heavily onto Bahr's card occupying the Vanguard circle. "Ninja Art: Body Replacement Technique!"
Bahr vanished in a cloud of smoke, its form drastically altered by the time the veil dispersed. Aichi's eyes widened sharply upon learning what had been chosen as the new Vanguard; a tiger-like being standing on its hind legs, razor claws gleaming from shredded sleeves and metallic shoulder pads. A stripped tail swayed behind the being, moving in rhythm with the crimson scarf wrapped around its thick neck.
"Stealth Beast Chigasumi-degozaru [POW 8000]" Ninja Master M declared.
"It's not a Kagero," Aichi gasped.
"Of course not-degozaru," the ninja chuckled. "A ninja remains faithful to his clan, therefore, I shall work with my brethren-degozaru".
"Brethren?" Emi repeated, tilting her head in confusion as to what the man was referring to.
"Stealth Dragon Dreadmaster " the blonde-goatee man commanded, throwing the card down behind his Vanguard.
A dragon made of dark green scales with a murky resembling a forest at night appeared above Chigasumi, growling lowly and stretching its long wings, burgundy skin clinging to the creaking bones.
"And… Ninja Art: Clone Technique!"
A second Stealth Beast Chigasumi appeared on the field in an explosion of smoke, creating a replica of the faction's current leader.
"Amazing!" Morikawa howled from behind. "He really made a double!"
"What are you talking about? He just played the same card," Kamui's spectacles-wearing friend commented.
"SC," the brunette child spat.
"But still, it looks different than normal," Emi whispered. "You can win this, can't you, Aichi?"
"Once more, Embodiment of Bahr-degozaru".
Behind the second Chigasumi, the red-armoured, blue-skinned humanoid appeared, grinning as wickedly as ever. Behind the faces of his units, Aichi scowled, aware that his opponent's building force was going to cause great trouble if he couldn't deal with them quickly.
"With the support of Bahr, Chigasumi attacks Wingal-degozaru [POW 16000]" Ninja Master M declared.
The beastman leapt from the higher field, soaring directly above its target. When Aichi made no move to add support of his own, the creature plunged itself into the battle, slashing Wingal with its razor claws. The dog creature yelped and the aggressor retreating quickly, transfiguring its form into a log that clapped the canyon floor while the real Chigasumi reappeared beside its allies.
"Damage check," Aichi said, pulling the top card of his deck away and turning it over. With its face revealed, Aichi moved it – Mighty Sage Barron – to the Damage Zone.
"Now the leader – my Vanguard Chigasumi attacks, with the aid of Dreadmaster [POW 15000]" the ninja yelled, stretching his hand towards the centre of the battlefield.
"No guard," Aichi responded.
"Drive check," the man called, drawing from the stack. A blue glow emerged from the hidden face of the card, revealed as Lizard Soldier Ganlu seconds later. "Stand Trigger-degozaru".
"Stand Trigger?" Aichi gasped, his eyes wide with shock.
"I shall apply both effects to the Rear-Guard Chigasumi," the ninja announced, turning the card back to its vertical stance.
Aichi scowled, watching as Wingal suffered another brutal attack from the strange beastmen pack. He drew from his deck, checking Knight of the Rose Morgana and laying it into the Damage Zone, sustaining more than his opponent for the first time, quickly falling behind as soon as the man had a chance to launch his attacks.
AICHI - NINJA MASTER M
2 -DAMAGE- 1
"Dreadmaster's Counterblast-degozaru," Ninja Master M said, turning over the sole card in his Damage Zone. "As an attack by a unit boosted by Dreadmaster made contact and my hand is smaller, Dreadmaster's skill forces you to discard once".
A drop of sweat clung to Aichi's forehead, running his eyes along his hand and picking Starlight Unicorn from the selection and transferring it to the Drop Zone underneath the deck.
"Now you witness another tactic of the way ninjas battle; disguising themselves and awaiting the arrival of unwitting prey, taking them out one by one" the ninja called, pointing towards the discarded unit. "I call it Ninja Art: Hand Thinning Technique".
"Forgive me, Starlight Unicorn," Aichi sighed.
"Rear-Guard Chigasumi attacks Wingal once more-degozaru [POW 13000]" the costumed fighter commanded.
"I won't let you," Aichi barked, tearing a card from his remaining hand. "Guard with Flogal [SLD 10000]".
The card fell into the Guard Circle between the two front lines, a small rose dog materializing in front of Wingal, small detached sections of armour fixed in various places across her body. Two horn-like pieces stood up from the large fur pigtails hanging from the skull. Chigasumi swiped at the dog creature, eliminating it, but its shield draining its power and ability to deal with Wingal [POW 3000]. Without the sufficient power to take on its initial target, the creature vanished once more, fleeing back to its pack observing the battered forces from above.
"My turn is over-degozaru," Ninja Master M declared, grinning proudly over his taking the lead. His emptied hand shot forward, clutching the cards close to his chest with the other, and pointed towards Aichi, causing the boy to flinch from the sudden movement towards him. "How would you survive, Sendou Aichi?"
Aichi gazed at the finger aimed towards him, the stance prompting a memory of class just a couple of weeks before. The very day of his fight first against Kai, he had been asked in class that very question by his teacher, who also sported a goatee like the costumed figure opposite him.
"Are you Mark-sensei?" he asked, lifting his eyes to the man's half-concealed face.
The man flinched, sweat immediately leaking from his cheeks. The man struck various rigid poses in a dance-like protest, his odd behaviour taking back the others around him.
"No!" he shrieked in English. "No! No! It's Ninja Master M".
"Aichi, there's no point in trying to unmask a ninja," Morikawa protested from the crowd behind.
A bead of sweat slid down Aichi's face, shrinking back from the reactions of his simple question and tucked his head in between his shoulders, just as he had that day, squeezing his eyes closed to the world around him.
"I- I would make sure I always had a line of retreat behind me…"
"What a dope!"
"Haven't heard your voice in forever".
"Why don't you try imagining yourself with a slightly bigger role?"
"Listen, picture it in your mind. Picture yourself big and strong, like the warrior in that card".
"So, Sendou Aichi, what are you going to do?" the ninja fighter asked once more.
Aichi's eyes snapped open, burning with passion and determination; for once, the expression was no façade – he'd been told on numerous occasions to make more of himself and that was exactly what he planned to do. By fighting Kai, but being recognized by people – through Vanguard.
FOURTH TURN – AICHI
"Stand and draw!" he barked, sliding his cards back into a vertical state. With his forces readied, he draw from the deck, turning the card to find Weapons Dealer Govannon. The draw made no difference; his chosen unit was already where he needed it, picking up the white knight's card from his hand and raising it above his head. "Tachiagare, boku no bunshin! Raido! Burasuta Bureido!" 
Wingal vanished in a wide pillar of light crashing into the ground, fracturing the rocky floor of the canyon. The other units gazed in awe at the display, witnessing as the silhouette of the knight emerged from the brightness; fitted in white armour with trails of glowing blue, adopting the wing of Aichi's hair over the right side of his face, Blaster Blade arrived on the battlefield, driving the tip of his majestic blade into the split between his large boots [POW 9000].
"Blaster Blade's Counterblast," Aichi called, turning over the two cards in his Damage Zone. "I retire Bahr".
The knight lifted his sword gently and plunged it into the ground with much more force, causing the split to grow in size and race across the field. The darting fissure ran up the ascent, tearing off a section of the raised field underneath Bahr. The blue-skinned warrior moaned and vanished, its card entering the Drop Zone.
"Call! Marron and Gallatin!" the boy added, throwing the two cards either side of his Vanguard.
On the one side was the knight's young blonde companion, dressed in an attire of blue and white, clutching his spell book in his hands [POW 8000]. The other was a towering warrior, clothed in white and grey segments of armour clinging to his form; his breast-plate sprouting four curves to protect his shoulders, matching those hanging either side of his thighs; gloves and boots made of the same material. Wild purple hair stood out from his scalp, banging hanging either side of his blinded face, a red cloth wrapped around and over his eyes with a golden emblem resembling an eye fixed to his forehead. The peach-coloured scarf wrapped around his neck waved wildly from the gusts kicked up by his arrival on the field [POW 10000].
"Marron attacks Chigasumi," Aichi commanded, turning the card onto its side.
Marron stretched his palm forward, unleashing a blast of energy that surged towards the leader of the opposite pack. The power crashed into the tiger-faced man, causing an explosion to engulf it and its allies to take a step away from their assaulted leader.
"Damage check-degozaru," Ninja Master M said, picking up his card. "Embodiment of Spear Tahr. Unfortunately, I cannot apply its effects because there are no Kagero Units on the field-degozaru".
The card fell into the Damage Zone, levelling the total sustained by each side.
"Barcgal boosts Blaster Blade. Attack Chigasumi," Aichi commanded.
The white soldier launched himself forward, ripping his sword from the ground and lifting it over his shoulder. When it became apparent that his opponent was putting no defence up against the assault, Aichi reached for his deck.
He turned over the card, revealing Knight of Conviction Bors. Nevertheless, Blaster Blade's flying launch came to a halt and he dropped towards his target, yelling whilst swinging his weapon forward, crashing into Chigasumi. Once more, dust erupted from the impact, clouding the collision between the two Vanguards. With a shrunken smile, the ninja man pulled a card from the top of his deck, laying his second Stealth Dragon Dreadmaster of the game in the Damage Zone.
"Gallatin attacks Chigasumi," the blue-haired fighter stated, switching the stance of the card.
The blindfolded warrior raced forward with incredible speed, unsheathing the two narrow swords hanging from his belt and crossing them in front of him. The masked man grinned, throwing a card from his hand into the Guard circle.
"Lizard Runner, Ganlu!"
Gallatin's charge was brought to a swift halt when the named creature appeared in front of Chigasumi, offering its defensive power on top of the latter's offensive strength [SLD 18000]. Gallatin's swords quickly sliced through the cannon-bearing shield, though depleted his strength, rendering him unable to finish what he'd started and retreat to the lower field.
AICHI - NINJA MASTER M
2 -DAMAGE- 3
"My turn is finished," Aichi reported.
FIFTH TURN – NINJA MASTER M
"Stand and draw-degozaru," the blonde-goatee fighter said, reverting his cards to their offensive positions. He reached for his deck, quickly pulling the next card, its appearance bringing a large grin to his face. Without checking his hand, he moved the new card to the field, throwing it down in the Vanguard circle.
"Ninja Art: Body Replacement Technique!" he yelled. "Stealth Dragon Voidmaster!"
Like the Vanguards before it, Chigasumi vanished in a combination of smoke and light, allowing its replacement to take command. The dragon's roar that reverberated from the display provoked Blaster Blade moving his sword in front of his chest, glaring at the dragon rising from the cloud – the beast he had battled with close to the border of the United Sanctuary. The dragon folded its arms, the crimson markings across its exposed flesh glowing and its purple armour reflecting the overcast setting grimly [POW 9000].
"On the unoccupied side of Voidmaster… Ninja Art: Clone Technique!"
Beside the Vanguard, a second of the towering dragon rose from the gathering of shining particles, building the fearsome force. Behind the replica, another being formed – a human-shaped figure wearing a crown with a veil hanging around its head with the exception of the face [POW 5000].
"Dragon Monk, Genjo," Ninja Master M reported.
"A Kagero unit…" Aichi muttered.
"Shall we begin, Sendou Aichi-degozaru?" the man asked smugly. "Dreadmaster offers its power to Voidmaster. Go, attack Blaster Blade-degozaru!"
"No guard," Aichi replied.
Blaster Blade scowled, glaring at the dragon as it leapt up from the raised field. The knight steadied his sword, watching past the blade as the large enemy dropped down with power growing from its crazed descent.
"Twin Drive. First check," the ninja declared, pulling the first card from his deck – Wyvern Strike Tejas. "Second check". Stealth Beast Chigasumi.
While there were no triggers, the attack was already destined to go through, Aichi clenched his jaws whilst the dragon plunged towards the ground, its tail snaking ahead and crashing into Blaster Blade. The knight was thrown back, his agonized cry matching Aichi's, and crashed onto the ground at Barcgal's mechanical paws. Marron shot his companion a concerned look, eager to move to the fallen knight's side, though stopped by Gallatin's hidden stare. Blaster Blade picked himself up, stepping forward to the lodged sword and wrapping his fingers around it by the time Voidmaster was returning to its place at the centre of the enemy's ranks.
'I can't lose…' Aichi thought, glaring at the field opposite. 'I have to fight Kai-kun, so losing isn't an option'.
"Attack, Asura Kaiser!" Kamui's voice yelled, bringing Aichi out from his troubled thoughts. "Finish Hold!"
Izaki growled, drawing from his deck two cards. With a sigh, he turned them around, revealing neither would save him and laid them in the Damage Zone, completing a set of 6. Kamui chuckled smugly, folding his arms over his chest and grinning proudly at his quick victory.
KAMUI - IZAKI
2 -DAMAGE- 6
"Ah, we have our first victor of the tournament," Shin announced. "Katsuragi Kamui!"
'With just 2 damage, like the last time they fought,' Aichi thought, staring at Kamui's Damage Zone. 'Just as expected, Kamui-kun is strong and confident. This situation doesn't bother him at all'.
"Great job, Kamui-san!" the boy with glasses cheered.
"GJ!" his partner chanted.
Kamui jumped down from the platform that raised him to the field and smirked towards Aichi. "You better hurry up, onii-san," he chirped. He was then quick to race to Emi's side, eyeing her lovingly. "E- Emi-san, you came".
"I thought it was best," Emi answered innocently. "When you asked me, I thought that you and Aichi would be taking part. I wanted to see how he would do in front of an audience".
"You came to support onii-san?" Kamui asked, trying to hide his horror that Emi's brother had been put before him. Quickly masking his disappointment, he smiled whilst large droplets of sweat clung to him. "How admirable, he'll do his best with you around, Emi-san, no doubt!"
"Yeah, the Goddess is a good luck charm," the smooth-haired boy beside her claimed.
"GL," his partner sounded.
Aichi moved from Kamui towards Kai, eyeing the brunette seated at one of the tables with Miwa, who pointed his forefingers towards his companion whilst commenting on something with a smile.
'Kai-kun…' the boy wondered.
"Now, now, has the power of Voidmaster left your paralyzed with fear-degozaru?" Ninja Master M questioned.
Aichi flinched, recalling the matter of the unfinished fight and reached for his deck quickly.
"I'm sorry," he whimpered. "Damage check". He picked up the top card, turning over Solitary Knight Gancelot; his first Grade 3. With a frown, he laid the card where it needed to be.
AICHI - NINJA MASTER M
3 -DAMAGE- 5
"Dreadmaster and Voidmaster's skills-degozaru," the older fight declared, turning over the two face-up cards in his Damage Zone. "As my hand is smaller than yours, the skills of both dragons can take effect – Sendou Aichi, discard two cards-degozaru!"
Aichi's eyes dropped to his hand, sweat building across his forehead – his hand consisted of Bors, Govannon and the King of Knights, Alfred that had been in his hand since his opening hand. Discarding Alfred would never be an option, but at the same time, discarding the others would eliminate any chance of shielding against further attacks. Aichi's eyes closed and he snatched Bors and Govannon, laying them into the Drop Zone, leaving Alfred alone as the survivor of the bombardment.
"Chigasumi attacks Gallatin-degozaru," the adult fighter called.
"Why would he do that?" Aichi wondered aloud. "Gallatin has more power".
"Afraid not-degozaru," the man replied. "Chigasumi's skill increases its strength by 3000 when my hand is larger than my opponent's [POW 11000]".
"No way!" Aichi cried. "Then that Twin Drive and skill combo-"
"Yes!" the man called in English. "That combo whittled down your hand whilst increasing mine to make the most of each skill available-degozaru".
Aichi tightened his throat, watching helplessly as the tiger-faced man crash into Gallatin, tearing away at his form with its razor claws.
"Voidmaster attacks Marron with support from Genjo-degozaru," Ninja Master M declared, switching the two to horizontal positions.
The Rear-Guard dragon lunged forward, spinning wildly. Marron clenched his empty fist, glaring up at the incoming force, aware that his defeat was inevitable and glanced towards Blaster Blade, taking note of the scratches across his idol's form. Voidmaster's tail crashed into the young boy, eroding his form and leaving Blaster Blade alone with Barcgal as his only surviving comrade. Aichi's eyes moved to the Drop Zone where the two victims had been transferred, unable to do anything to prevent their fates.
'Gallatin… Marron…' he thought. 'Forgive me for not being strong enough to help you'.
"My turn ends here-degozaru," the adult opponent stated, smirking proudly.
SIXTH TURN – AICHI
"Stand and draw," Aichi barked.
Emi watched anxiously whilst her brother reset his cards and reached out for his deck, drawing Wingal. Kamui and Kai watched with their usual stern expressions, whereas Miwa maintained his usual smile, entertained nonetheless and clearly laying his belief in the boy.
'With my hand in this state, I have to go all out. There's no way I can defend against attacks next turn,' Aichi thought, examining the two cards in his possession. 'At least I'll fight as hard as I can to reach Kai-kun'.
The ninja tilted his head, curious as to why his opponent delayed his next move, well aware that any strategy he could have concocted was obliterated long ago and his forces reduced to minimal survivors.
"Korinsiyo, senshi-tachi no aruji! Raido!" Aichi yelled, throwing the card fiercely onto the Vanguard circle. "Kishioh Arufureddo!" 
Blaster Blade arched his back, yelling towards the murky skies as the power of his replacement seeped into his being, engulfing him in a blazing blue light. When the brightness cleared, the knight had been replaced by his superior – the king wearing a suit of armour with a colour scheme matching Blaster Blade's, though with much broader shoulders, a grand spiked helm and golden segments protruding from the shoulders and waist. The king was mounted atop a blue horse that also sported white armour over its head and the tops of its legs, neighing loudly whilst waving its front legs forward wildly. The mane and tail of flames belonging to the steed flickered around Alfred's elegant armour, though the royal seemed unfazed by the threats his servant posed [POW 10000].
"Hm? Alfred-degozaru?" the ninja man questioned curiously. "I'm surprised you have a card of such calibre".
"Alright, he played a Grade 3!" Morikawa cheered from the spectators.
"Call, Wingal," Aichi added, throwing the card beside Barcgal.
"Aichi… he's really going all out," Izaki muttered, standing beside Morikawa following the conclusion of his match. "Is that really the same Sendou Aichi from school?"
Emi peered at the two over her shoulder, curious herself at how the game had changed her brother in just a couple of weeks. The blue-haired fighter gazed at the card, having received it only days before from the mysterious woman who appeared solely to hand it to him.
"Here," she said, offering the majestic-looking card.
"The King of Knights, Alfred?" Aichi read, stunned that someone would simply hand over such a powerful card. "You're giving this card to me?"
"Consider it a memento of your visit here," she responded with a gentle smile.
"T- Thank you very much," the boy chirped, clutching the treasured card with admiration for the figure depicted.
"Tournament," the blonde woman muttered. "Enter a tournament. When you get stronger, I'll fight you again".
'I will get stronger. So that I can fight Kai-kun and Kourin-san,' Aichi thought, his eyes fixed sharply on his opponent.
"Ah, so you're going to put everything into this turn," the man claimed.
"Alfred's skill increases his power by 2000 for every other Royal Paladin on the field," Aichi stated. "Alfred attacks Voidmaster".
The white king charged forward, his steed neighing excitedly before galloping ahead [POW 14000]. The masked man folded his arms over his chest and smiled, standing back and watching the attack play out, while Aichi appeared much less comfortable – winning this turn was impossible, but if he could last to the next turn, he'd win the fight and move to the next round. A long-shot, but all he had at present.
"Twin Drive," he called, drawing the two cards from his deck – Starlight Unicorn and bringer of Good Luck, Epona. "Critical Trigger – I give all effects to Alfred".
The horse leapt up from the ground, raising Alfred to the level of the ninja pack. The knight king grunted and swung his immense blade, slicing through the armoured plates the dragon leader sported. The ninja sighed and drew from his deck twice, laying Wyvern Strike Jarran and Dragon Dancer Monica into the Damage Zone. Upon entering the area, the latter began to glow red, signalling the power of a Trigger.
"Draw Trigger-degozaru," the man stated. "Voidmaster grows in strength and I draw-degozaru".
He reached for his cards, lifting another Dragon Dancer Monica and adding it to his hand.
AICHI - NINJA MASTER M
3 -DAMAGE- 5
SEVENTH TURN – NINJA MASTER M
"An admirable effort, Sendou Aichi, but not enough-degozaru," the man claimed. "Stand and draw-degozaru". He quickly snatched Wyvern Strike Tejas from the deck. "The Rear-Guard Voidmaster attacks Alfred, with a boost from Genjo [POW 14000]".
The secondary Voidmaster charged forward, leaping from the raised segment and dropping down towards Alfred, striking the king with its tail just as it had done his allies. Aichi scowled and pulled Gallatin from his deck, placing it in the Damage Zone.
"Next, the Vanguard Voidmaster attacks, boosted by his own Genjo," the ninja man commanded. "If the Twin Drive reveals a Critical Trigger, then this fight is over-degozaru".
Aichi clenched his jaws, sweating building across his forehead; without much of a hand, he had no means by which to defend Alfred. Worse, the unnamed man had a point – a Critical Trigger would allow him to inflict the exact amount of damage that he needed in order to win and there was nothing Aichi could do about it.
"Twin Drive-degozaru. First check". He turned over the card, revealing another Dreadmaster. "Second check". The additional draw showing Exile Dragon.
Neither were triggers, he was safe for now. Voidmaster's tail crashed into Alfred, the royal grunting from the new wave of pain flowing throughout his body, the same physical wounds across his body matching those Blaster Blade had sustained prior to his arrival. The knight glared coldly to the enemy group with one attack left.
"Damage check," Aichi breathed, moving Marron to the Damage Zone.
AICHI - NINJA MASTER M
5 -DAMAGE- 5
"Chigasumi's skill increases its power by 3000 as my opponent's hand is smaller [POW 11000]. Go, attack Alfred-degozaru!"
The tiger man dropped down from the raised gathering and jumped across the field, aiming its claws for Alfred's horse. The king's expression didn't change, Aichi was quick to strip his hand of one card, throwing it into the Guard circle.
"Guard with Epona!" he yelled.
The small figure appeared in front of Alfred, riding its golden companion just as the king [SLD 20000]. The hybrid unit tore through Epona with ease, but its arms hung afterwards, drained of its strength and quickly fled from the grazed king.
"Ah, such a shame. I missed out on winning-degozaru," the older fighter sighed, sagging his shoulders in disappointment. "Well, my turn is over".
EIGHTH TURN – AICHI
"Stand and draw," Aichi called, pulling Covenant Knight Randolf from the deck.
"Now what is he going to do?" Izaki asked. "His hand isn't that big; he won't be able to use Alfred's full power".
"It's not the size of his hand that matters," Miwa remarked from his place at the edge of the crowd, leaning against the back of the reversed chair. "When the people love their king, they'll come running to help him out".
"Barcgal's skill," Aichi declared, turning the card onto its side. "I rest Barcgal and superior call Flogal".
A second pink hound appeared in the third back-row space [POW 5000], completing a line-up of the Hi-Beasts in the deck.
"And Alfred's Counterblast," he added, flipping the three bottom cards in the Damage Zone over. "I can search my deck for a Grade 2 or lower Royal Paladin and call it – I choose Gallatin".
In the space where the previous Gallatin had been, the replacement appeared, unsheathing his blades immediately and grasping them tightly in his hands.
"Next I call Covenant Knight Randolf [POW 8000]".
On the opposite side of Alfred, the new knight appeared clad in silver, clutching a golden blade, with only his smirking face exposed. From all five of the allies around Alfred, streams of energy flowed, gathering around the superior.
"Ah! His field is filled with Royal Paladins!" the grown opponent yelped.
"Now Alfred will be at his best," Kamui stated.
"Alfred's skill will give him 2000 for all the Royal Paladins on his side; so now he'll become stronger than before [POW 20000]" Aichi announced. "Gallatin, attack Voidmaster! [POW 16000]"
"Guard with Tejas" Ninja Master M growled, laying two of the named card in the Guard circle. The twins materialized in front of Voidmaster, glaring at Gallatin, who leapt up from the ground to face the strengthened target [SLD 19000]. His swords cut through the summoned guardians with ease, but gravity took hold and he descended back to the ground before he could attempt a failed third strike.
"Alfred attacks Voidmaster," Aichi yelled, leaning forward whilst resting Alfred's card.
"I won't surrender, I'll teach you the strength of ninjas and their clan," Ninja Master M yelled, throwing down his hand. "Guard with Monica, Dreadmaster and Jarran. Plus Chigasumi intercepts-degozaru".
Alfred's horse galloped forward regardless of the army of shields [SLD 29000]. Once in range, its hooves drove themselves into the rough ground and sprung up, soaring towards the collected defences.
"Twin Drive!" Aichi hollered, drawing Gancelot and Randolf.
Without a Trigger, the attack wouldn't make it through. Alfred's weapon cut through the various units called as shields, but by the time he had eliminated those standing in his way, his energy had been sapped and he was forced to abandon the mission.
"With a boost from Flogal, Randolf attacks Voidmaster [POW 13000]" Aichi commanded. "And his skill increases his power by 3000 when my hand is larger than the opponent's [POW 16000]".
The ninja fighter gasped, realizing that his hand had been dwindled to a single card by the desperate defence against Alfred's attack, leaving him vulnerable to the attack. He had no means to defend, but when he looked into Aichi's eyes, he recognized that the boy had changed drastically in the short time since that class – the boy who had planned to escape had become much stronger; he'd thrown everything out in order to attack, to charge into battle rather than ensure survival by retreat. The man smiled, pleased that his student could come so far, even if it was in a subject outside his lessons.
"No guard," he replied happily. "Damage check".
He turned over the card, unveiling Jarran – no Trigger, no hope of being rescued. But he didn't need that; he was satisfied with how the fight had turned out and how he'd seen his timid pupil in a new, glowing light. The card fell into the Damage Zone, filling the section marked out.
AICHI - NINJA MASTER M
5 -DAMAGE- 6
"Winner: Sendou Aichi!" Shin declared.
The shop erupted with a chorus of cheers, causing Aichi's cheeks to blush with embarrassment, having completely forgotten how many people had been watching; he'd lost himself in the fight. He'd become more confident in facing someone he didn't know and become so involved in what was happening on the Cray battlefield.
"I- I did it," he muttered, clenching his empty fist excitedly.
"Great job, onii-san," Kamui called.
"Wouldn't expect less from my number one pupil," Morikawa scoffed, folding his arms over his chest. "But to beat a ninja…"
"He says he's a ninja, but, he's Mar-" Aichi replied, turning his head to find the man vanished. "He's gone".
"Crap!" Morikawa howled. "I let my guard down; you can only expect a ninja to disappear into the shadows like that! I missed my chance to fight him!"
"You haven't fought yet, Morikawa. You're in the tournament," Izaki chortled.
"Not that he's going to win," Kamui scoffed.
"What was that you little-"
"Oh, it's Sendou-kun," a voice called from the crowd, bringing the argument to a halt. From the spectators, the blonde teacher the trio of middle school students recognized as their own appeared, striding towards them with his hands behind his back, clutching a large green sheet wrapped around a collection of items.
"Mark-sensei," Aichi gasped.
"So, you're taking part today, are you?" the teacher asked.
"Yeah, Aichi just won against a ninja," Morikawa gloated. "And Izaki got trounced by a grade school student".
"Morikawa!" Izaki roared.
"You've lost against me plenty of times, Lose-Umi," Kamui chuckled mockingly.
"Ah, a ninja," Mr. Mark chirped. "That sounds great. It looked like an exciting match".
"It was. But what brings you here today, Teach?" Izaki asked, catching a glimpse of the sheet behind his teacher's back.
"Isn't it obvious? A card game tournament gets my blood boiling every time," Mr. Mark scoffed with a grin. "Of course I'd have to come check it out".
"You've got a teacher into Vanguard? That sounds cool, onii-san," Kamui chirped.
"Mark-sensei, what's in that bag?" Aichi asked, leaning over in an attempt to view the sack more clearly.
"Nothing, nothing!" the blonde teacher yelped, sliding towards the counter where Misaki waited, keeping it hidden from the students.
Nevertheless, Aichi smiled, pleased that he had been able to fight a decent player and learn from him – even if that fighter happened to be his teacher. His attention moved to Shin marking his and Kamui's paths upwards, moving them into the second round and closer to the final match.
'I'm getting there; I'm closer to reaching Kai-kun,' he thought, feeling much more comfortable than prior to the fight. 'So I'll keep fighting my hardest and show him how strong I've become just so we can face each other again'.
Aichi: Just a little further and I'll be able to fight Kai-kun again.
Kamui: I'm sorry, onii-san, but I'm not going to lose to you, especially with Emi-san here!
Aichi: Kamui-kun, you're excited for our match, huh?
Aichi: Then I'll fight my hardest too. Next time: "Cardfight! Vanguard Override, Chapter 2 – Climbing the Ranks". I can't lose until I fight Kai-kun. This is my chance.
 "Stand up, my avatar! Ride! Blaster Blade!"
 "Enter the fray! I ride the ruler of all knights! The King of Knights, Alfred!"
Thank you for taking the time to read this; this fic is essentially a rewrite, with some significant chances that become more frequent over plans have been in the works for several weeks, after I finally got around to picking up Vanguard and cramming into a short space of time, though held off posting it until the first Season finished airing last night. Vanguard is for me now what 5D's was a year ago - and still is - and I treasure it because of that, spurring the desire to write a fan fiction for it, but not stray for the subtly that the series has. My partner from The Neo-Domino Purge planned out the fight above, as he has several later on, but we decided that I will take the reigns when it comes to ths story, so I hope to make this a Vanguard equivalent of The Neo-Domino Purge in terms of quality, without straying too far from the subtle nature of the original version. Again, thank you for reading, hope you have some time to review.
- CuteYami, 31st March 2012