Author's note: Some may see in this chapter that Fran has used Ms. Mowz again as a Deckmaster, but with a different effect.

Neither I nor my beta remembered the previous duel, and seeing as this was hard enough to write and changing it would require starting from scratch... Let's just say that Ms. Mowz was able to evolve her ability.

I promise this won't happen again.

0000000000

You ever notice that working for an evil overlord is never a good career choice? Honestly, it's a bad idea. Many famous villains in fiction are so cruel, their employees are often in more danger than the heroes who fight them.

Most of James Bond's enemies are like this. (A "Blofield Ploy" is a term for a villain killing one of his own henchmen that he's angry - or just annoyed - at in order to intimidate a hero, named after one of Bond's enemies.) The guy from A View to a Kill even double-crossed his lover. Darth Vader killed two minions (that we know about) and from what novels tell us, Moff Tarkin was much worse in this regard. (And don't even get me started on Palpatine.) The Joker… Well, to give one example, in Tim Burton's movie, he murdered his loyal second-in-command simply because he was angry and just wanted to shoot someone.

Cartoon villains tended to live this trope. Skeletor, the Shredder, Megatron... You name it. (The villains in the old G.I. Joe cartoon were like this, but it was lampooned in one episode, I believe, where the Joes found out that Cobra did provide a decent dental plan, at least.)

So… The question is, why exactly does anyone work for people like this? And what do they do to earn such loyalty from some employees, like the ones in front of us?

Uh… Mind if we get back to you on that?

00000

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Duel Sixty-One

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Double Payback

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As the three of them walked down the hallway, Stan looked hard at the Refund and Reimbursement card.

"Stan, you're glued to that Trap Card, aren't you?" sighed Francesca.

Goombella and Vivian appeared behind Stan, as he shook his head.

"Come on, people, this must have done something," he said. "I just don't know what…

"Goombella… You're the genius here… Do you know why the heck he used this?"

"Uh…" said the goomba.

She hopped up on Stan's shoulder to take a closer look.

"Uhm…" she said.

Vivian looked closely at it too, lifting the brim of her hat slightly as she did so.

Goombella looked closer. Then she shook her head.

"You got me…" she said.

"I'm clueless too, I'm afraid…" said Vivian.

Stan muttered something under his breath, and then put it into his shirt pocket.

"We'll figure it out later," said Andy. "Right now… We have other stuff to do…"

0000000000

In Rogueport, Rawk Hawk and the Shy Guy General were sitting on a bench made from a log, watching the parliamentary building, which they assumed Arcadia's puppet government was still hiding in.

Rawk sipped from a bottle of water, and then handed it to the General… Who drank from it, without removing the mask.

"How do you do that, Remmy?" asked Rawk.

"Do what?" replied the Shy Guy.

"Eh…" muttered the wrestler.

"Can I ask you something?" asked Remmy. "Did you like your job?"

"You mean wrestling?" asked Rawk.

He leaned back against the wall of the building.

"Well, I used to…" he said. "What wasn't to like? It's probably the only job where you're encouraged to act like a maniac."

He sipped from the bottle again.

"Problem was, I got too popular… And my head got too big… I started thinking I was so popular in the Glitz Pit, I was untouchable…"

He threw the bottle to the ground.

"No-one is untouchable here… In fact… Opening my big mouth only made it worse…"

"Yeah, you aren't the only one she's done that too…" replied Remmy

He reached into the long sleeve of his robe, and pulled out a rolled up scroll.

"She gave you the contract you signed?" asked Rawk.

"Course not," replied Remmy. "This is a copy…"

He unfolded it.

"I always keep this with me… You know how they say you should read the fine print with stuff like this? That's a myth. The stuff you have to watch out for is in the main body of the contract.

"Listen to this…

"It says here, 'If the party of the first part,' that's the Queen, by the way, 'observes any previously unforeseen factors that may hinder or endanger the terms agreed to by the party of the second part,' that would be me, 'the party of the first part or a representative thereof is authorized to take any reasonable steps deemed necessary to remove or neutralize said unforeseen factors to ensure terms are no longer at risk'.

"Right! I'm willing to bet THAT was the clause that caused the 'accident' that led to my second-in-command being found dead with his neck broken after he started having second thoughts about working for her! And all the other Shy Guys who were mysteriously killed or disappeared after they spoke out against her!

"By the time I realized what that clause meant, it was too late to ask whose definition of 'reasonable steps' we were using…

"After a while, I had no choice but to tell them all to go home… It was for their own safety… This dumb contract is the only reason I'm still here… Why she let me live… I have no idea…

"I thought she had forgotten about me completely until she called and told me she needed me for her dumb tournament…"

"Chin up, people," said White's voice.

They looked up, and saw him looking at the building with binoculars.

"They can't stay in there forever…"

"Can I ask a dumb question?" asked Rawk. "What's keeping you from just breaking the doors down?"

"Not a dumb question at all, Rawk…" said White. "See, the place has some rather clever architecture that one of the Queen's top aides designed, and as a result, it's very hard to sneak in – or out – without being seen, or get the jump on someone by forcing your way in.

"There are only a few entrances, they're small, compared to doors in typical government buildings, and it's rather easy to set up and ambush from the inside."

"So… Maybe you can smoke them out, or something…" replied Rawk.

White looked at the muscleman with surprise.

"Rawk…" he said. "That may well be the best idea you've ever had…

"Come on you two!"

They got up and followed him as he took his mobile from his pocket.

0000000000

The Queen was leading her six children through another part of the Palace. As they walked through a large room with several flaming braziers, Melissa finally spoke up.

"Mom, what exactly do you plan to do with that card?" she asked.

The Queen looked at her. Then she held up a card, Dimentio's card, which she had picked up after killing Bleck.

"What, this?" she asked. "Mmm, yes… What to do with it…"

Then she tossed it into the brazier next to her, and a fierce ball of flame shot out of it, causing a hellish glow to fill the whole room. Then the brazier fell over with a crash and the flame went out, causing only thick, foul-smelling smoke to rise.

"That…" she said, as she wiped her hands. "Now come along, children, I didn't pardon you for free. I expect you all to return the favor.

"There's still time for you to prove your worth before the finals start…"

"HOW?" shouted Tyson. "We've already dueled them twice…"

"What's the old saying?" asked the Queen. "Third time's the charm?"

All six of them stopped. She looked at them.

"Mom, in all due respect…" said Maria. "Aw, screw that, you are out of your mind!

She shook her head.

"I'd rather go back to prison, thank you," added Melissa. "I'm starting to think I'll have better chances there…"

"What are you saying?" asked the Queen.

"She's saying, mother," said Leopold, as he took his glasses off, "that we're starting to think that you might not come out the winning side on this at all, and it would be better for us to not be on your side.

"You know, when Stan told me about that Philip person back in Twilight Town, I honestly didn't remember him… But I was curious… When you let us out of prison the first time, I looked him up.

"I found out what his 'crime' was… Immoral ideas. You know what that is, right?"

"I know what it means," added Tyson. "It's what you charge someone with when he does something that makes you angry and you can't find any legitimate crime to charge him with! I defy you to deny it!"

Leopold nodded.

"Then…" he said. "Then I remembered the whole deal with him perfectly… And it wasn't a pleasant memory…"

"You ever hear about a Roman emperor named Caligula, mom?" asked Kurtis. "He was a tyrant who went too far. He forced himself on the wives and daughters of several members of the Praetorian Guard. Seeing as they were armed soldiers who were supposed to protect him, that was pretty dumb. They killed him.

"They killed his whole family too, even his two-year-old daughter, because they had to make sure…"

He stopped for a few seconds. The horrifying realization of what he was about to say had struck him, but he still had to say it…

"…they had to make sure the evil wasn't hereditary…"

"He wasn't the only Roman emperor who was killed by his own bodyguards," added Maria. "There were eight others. The Romans tended to have a LOT of rulers like that. And you're heading the same way, mom."

The Vladimir finally spoke, having been quiet up to now.

"We have half a mind to cut our losses and leave this place to start over on our own…" he said, with a bitter voice. "And more than half a mind to go before the United Nations and tell them everything we know about Arcadia's real government."

"And by the way," said Melissa, "don't even try to give us that garbage you tell people about the UN having no real authority. The people who say that are the folks who most members side against."

"Maybe so," replied the Queen, "but the idea that you six can even 'start over' is, in itself, a big enough stretch. Start over with what? Exactly what do you have that I haven't given you?

"If you six leave, you'll have nothing… Nothing but the clothes on your backs… And I could even take that if I wanted to."

"I'll tell you one thing we'll have," replied Vladimir.

He looked his mother in the eye.

"Our self-respect."

She looked closely at her eldest son. Then she looked at her other children, but they all glared at her with the same defiant looks.

This was serious. She had never dreamed they would finally get this much of a backbone… Maybe she had taught them too well…

"So…" she said, as she crossed her arms. "You want to leave? How do you intend to get past me?"

"I'll show you how…" growled Vladimir.

Then he took a card from a pouch on his belt – his side deck – a Ritual Spell Card which his mother recognized, but didn't know he had. As his five siblings stood next to him, he lifted it, and both the card and six Spawn started to glow.

The Queen stepped back with a small look of surprise. This was new…

The six of them vanished, one by one, starting with Melissa, then Kurtis, and proceeding from youngest to oldest, until Vladimir, who was glowing with multicolored light, started to change shape…

Someone new was confronting her now…

The Queen slowly lifted her hand, and the orb appeared on it again.

"Grodus?" she said. "I'm probably going to need a little longer than ninety minutes…"

0000000000

"Yes, my Queen," said Grodus.

He and Crump were in a large, circular room, standing in front of an archway leading into the next room, topped by a gargoyle with its face in a silent scream.

"So why are we doing this again?" asked Crump.

"Because the Queen told us to," replied Grodus. "And that should be enough of a reason for you.

"Let's not have any more screw-ups, Crump… I still can't believe you broke into her alchemy lab and drank that stuff. I mean, seriously, you even balked at that idea for the medication I suggested to help stop smoking…"

"Wha?" asked Crump.

He dug into his pocket, and then took out a paper, a page torn out of a magazine. He looked at the advertisement on it.

"Oh, right, you mean this…" he said. "Yup, ninety-percent success rate for weight loss among the obese… Sure sounds like a good idea…

"Oh wait… There's a disclaimer here… What does it say…

"It says, 'Most common side effects include nausea, vomiting, fatigue, lightheadedness, dry mouth, headache, numbness, sudden, uncontrolled sweating, and rapid, uncontrolled movements in extremities. Less common side effects include seizures, high fever, impaired vision, visual hallucinations, and impotence in men. This product carries a risk of allergic reaction, and may react adversely with other medications. If you are pregnant or nursing, consult an obstetrician before using this product'.

"Guess I don't have to worry about that last one…"

"Well, an obstetrician would actually recommend not trying to lose weight at all to a pregnant woman," sighed Grodus. "But the thing is, that was my exact point.

'You always find out the adverse effects of a drug before you use it, so if you don't even know what they are…

"…you sure as Hell don't use it…

"Now, keep your mind on the plan. Given what the Queen wants, given my experience, I estimate twenty should do, given no unforeseen accidents.

"I assume you can count that high?"

"Yes…" muttered Crump, closing his eyes.

Then the three teenagers walked in from the opposite end.

"Just don't embarrass me, okay?" he said, quickly.

Then he cleared his throat as they looked at him and Crump.

"Who?" said Francesca.

"Greetings," said Grodus. "I am Lord Grodus, Chamberlain of the Arcadian Parliament…"

"Which means you're the Shadow Queen's flunky," said Francesca. "We're not impressed.

"Now can you and your friend over there get out of our way? We've had enough trouble from him already…"

"Okay, I tried being polite…" said Grodus.

Electricity started sparking around his cranium, and his scepter vanished, as a fancy, silvery Duel Disk appeared on his left arm. Crump stepped forward, slipping his own on his arm.

"Look, chrome-dome, we don't have time for this," said Andy. "We're not in the mood to deal with you."

"Yes, well, that's the problem," said Grodus, "see… We aren't asking permission…"

Then he and Crump pointed their right arms forward, and twin lashes of energy shot from them, one of them snagging Andy's wrist and the other snagging Francesca's.

"Not THIS again!" shouted Andy.

He and Stan remembered this… The Duel Binder that Saggi had used on him and Chaos Hunter had used on Stan. It was new to Fran, but she realized what it meant… They didn't have a choice now…

"I guess one more can't hurt…" she sighed, as the cords faded. "Feel like a team duel, Andy?"

"Actually…" he said. "It may help me blow off some steam…"

"Very well…" said Grodus. "We're still under the rules for the Palace of Shadow, but in a two-on-two, each team uses two Deckmasters, one per player. However, during each player's turn, he can only use his own Deckmaster unless his partner – or her partner, as the case may be – has summoned his or hers to the field.

"So… Let's see them…"

They looked at him. Francesca lifted a card, and Ms. Mowz appeared behind her. (1,200 ATK) Then Andy lifted one, causing Bobbery to appear. (2,200 ATK)

Bleck may be dead, thought Andy, but the help he gave us won't be forgotten…

"My Deckmaster will be…" said Crump. "Puppet Master!"

With a loud, evil cackle, a jester with a skull-like face and decaying, dead hands appeared, hovering in the air. (0 ATK)

"Ugh…" said Francesca.

"And mine…" said Grodus. "Dark Ruler Ha Des."

A slow, creeping shadow crept behind him, and a tall, hulking, dark shape parted to reveal the ruler of Fiends. (2,450 ATK)

"All right," said Grodus. "Because Crump's Deckmaster has the lowest Attack Score of the four, he'll make the first move… Then Francesca, whose Deckmaster is second-lowest, will go second, then me, then Andy, then back to Crump.

"Any questions?"

"Uh…" said Stan, as Vivian appeared behind him.

"Don't worry, Stan, we can handle this guy…" said Andy.

"Famous last words…" muttered Vivian.

(Andy and Fran: 8,000) - - - - - - - - - - (Grodus and Crump: 8,000)

"Let's start this off!" said Crump.

He drew a card.

"If you guys think I'm going to be the same as I was last time, you're dead wrong. I summon Gimmick Puppet Egghead."

As he played the card, there was a deep, throaty laugh, and a man-sized, puppet-like creature with an egg-shaped body, a goofy face on the front, a mop of hair on the top, and long, spindly, wooden limbs. It balanced on one foot, and spun like a top. (1,600 ATK)

"What in the world…" said Andy.

"Now, this guy can't attack because I went first..." said Crump.

He took another card from his hand and discarded it.

"But… By tossing another Gimmick Puppet, my egg flips, but it won't land over easy..."

The weird thing let out the deep chuckle again, and leapt into the air, doing a double flip. It hovered for a minute, and then split apart at the waist, like it was hinged in the back, and a dozen glowing spheres fell from its upper half.

Then, to Andy's shock, they all exploded like bombs as they fell around him.

(A&F: 7,200) - - - - - - - - - - (G&C: 8,000)

"GAH!" he said. "Oh… Kay… Not bad for an egg…"

Crump chuckled as Egghead landed.

"This is the type of egg that scrambles you," he chuckled.

Grodus sighed.

"You've been hanging around Tyson too much…" he muttered.

Crump set two cards, and they appeared behind the Puppet, and he nodded.

"If you think this guy was a blast, just hang in there. I've got lots more… But he'll be fine for now."

"Don't worry, Andy," said Francesca, as she stepped forward, making a draw. "One omelet coming up."

She played the card, and Beast Striker appeared in front of her, looking at Egghead and letting out a feral roar. (1,850 ATK)

"Crush that egg!" she shouted, as it lifted its hammer.

"I activate… Gravity Gain!" shouted Crump, as one of his Traps lifted up.

"Huh?" said Fran, as Beast Striker backed off. "Gravity Gain?"

"You know what Gravity Bind does, right?" asked Crump. "It stops high-Level Monsters from attacking. This does the opposite. It stops low-Level Monsters from attacking."

Francesca looked at him oddly… Then she went over the other five cards in her hand…

She slowly took Key Mouse, and discarded it, causing Beast Striker to slam his mallet against the ground, and Moja to spring up from the impact. (100 DEF)

"Uh…" she said. "Gonna play one more card…"

A set card appeared behind her Monsters.

"And… Done…"

"Then I draw…" Grodus, as he drew. "And during my Standby Phase, I have to sacrifice a Monster to keep Gravity Gain in play… So I'll get rid of Humpty Dumpty here…"

The rotund puppet turned into shadow and then dissipated into dark smoke.

"Then, I'll summon Archer of the Company…"

There was another sinister shadow, and a humanoid wearing tarnished bronze armor of monstrous, demonic design, but still elaborately decorated, stepped out. He held a longbow that was almost as big as himself. He drew the bowstring back, aiming at Francesca threateningly. (900 ATK)

"He doesn't seem so tough," said Fran.

"He isn't," replied Grodus, "but… When does an army only have one archer?

"By summoning him, I'm able to summon another one by relinquishing 800 Life Points…"

Red sparks crackled in the dome on his head as a second Archer appeared. (900 ATK)

"Then I'll use the effect of my second Archer as well…"

Again, his cranium sparked as a third Archer joined the others. (900 ATK)

"I'm not allowed to summon any other Monsters, so we'll just hand the reigns over to Andy…"

(A&F: 7,200) - - - - - - - - - - (G&C: 6,400)

I can see what they're planning… thought Andy. They're planning to sacrifice one of those guys to keep their Trap while using the rest of their Monsters to bring out something that can get past Gravity Gain…

So I'd best summon something strong of my own fast…

He made a draw.

Good one…

"I'll use Moja," he said, as the small Beast turned into particles of light, "to summon Des Volstgalph!"

Grodus looked up as the huge Dragon looked down on him. (2,200 ATK)

"I've seen better," he said.

"He's no Gloomtail…" said Andy. "But still… He's Level 6, so… The one on the left, Des Volstgalph!"

The blast hit one of the three Archers, turning him to a cloud of ash.

"He's toast…" said Andy.

"True," said Grodus, "but I'm much better off…"

"Crump's other Trap Card!" shouted Stan.

"That's right, I activated it," said Grodus, turning towards the activated card. "I know about all the cards he's using… After all, I gave him the deck he has.

"This Trap is called Gimmick Box, and the first thing it does in protect me from the Battle Damage I would have taken."

"You still take 500 points of Effect Damage…" added Andy.

"A minor inconvenience," replied Grodus, "seeing as Gimmick Box has another effect. The Trap itself then becomes a Monster…"

A window-like opening appeared in mid-air five feet by five feet, revealing a grinning mechanical face behind it.

"…and its Attack Score is equal to the Life Points your attack would have caused me."

(1,300 ATK)

(A&F: 7,200) - - - - - - - - - - (G&C: 5,900)

"I've got the strangest feeling that Grodus wanted me to attack him…" said Andy.

"That's cause he did!" laughed Crump. "My move now?"

"Have it your way…" said Andy.

"Right!" shouted Crump, as he quickly made a draw. "I'll get rid of another Archer to keep Gravity Gain for a little long…"

Another of the fiendish bowmen turned into a cloud of ash.

"Then, I'll activate the Trade-In Spell Card," he said, as he played a Spell. "I'll trash one of my Level 8 Monsters…"

He quickly chucked a card into his discard pile.

"And then draw twice…"

He made two draws.

"And because the card I junked was Gimmick Puppet Dreary Doll, I can banish another Gimmick Puppet from my Graveyard to summon it!"

What happened next was… Bizarre. A sinister, ghostly coffin slowly rose out of the floor. Then the lid opened, and a female doll – a mutilated female doll with a stained bandage around her head – sat up in it. (0 ATK)

"Ugh!" said Francesca.

"Oh, you don't know the half of it…" said Crump, as eerie fog started to cover the floor of the room. "I build the Overlay Unit with Gear Box and Dreary Doll…"

"A Rank 8 Xyz?" gasped Stan, as the two weird creatures were absorbed into the Network. "This is…"

A cackling, maddening laughter echoed through the whole room. Then, the light in the whole room dimmed.

"Creepy!" gasped Vivian.

"You think it's creepy?" asked Stan, looking at her funny. "I thought you used to practice black magic…"

"I did!" she shouted. "Now you know why I quit!"

"I Xyz Summon Gimmick Puppet Mad Jack!" shouted Crump.

A set of dangling strings fell from the ceiling, and then pulled up, pulling taunt, and then pulling up a large marionette, one the size of a man. It looked like a tall, dark man wearing a long, billowing cloak and overcoat, a wide-brimmed hat, and a scarf over the lower part of its face. Strangely, the dark fabric of the clothes it was wearing seemed to sort of drink up what little light was left in the now dim room, making it harder to see.

One part that could be seen were the eyes. They were horrifying eyes that reflected pure madness, but no soul. (0 ATK)

"I'd hate to meet that guy in a dark alley…" said Francesca, trembling.

"You ain't seen nothing yet," said Crump, "as folks tend to say. You probably notice that Jack here has zero Attack Points…"

Mad Jack reached into his cloak, and quickly pulled out a long, razor sharp blade that shone brightly in the dim light.

"However, when he attacks, I can ditch one of his Overlay Units, and he wins regardless of what the Scores of the Monsters are, plus I take no damage."

"And since Xyzs have no Levels at all," added Stan, "Gravity Gain isn't an issue. No wonder you two wanted to duel them instead of me…"

"See? You're learning," said Crump.

Then the light in the room dimmed even more, and Mad Jack seemed to simply fade into the darkness. Francesca and Andy and their Monsters – along with Bobbery and Ms. Mowz – looked around nervously…

Then, those two glowing eyes appeared next to Des Volstgalph…

"LOOK OUT!" screamed Andy.

The Dragon turned in response, but all everyone saw was the flash of a knife, followed by a screech from Des Volstgalph, right before it collapsed, a deep wound in its neck.

As the Dragon slowly faded away, Mad Jack appeared out of the shadows on Crump's side of the field again, as a little light – not much, just a little – slowly came back.

"One other thing…" said Crump. "If he kills a Monster this way, his Attack Points become equal to his victim…"

(2,200 ATK)

"…so I'll only have to do that again should you two come up with something stronger."

Then he looked at the two of them.

"Scared, huh?" he said. "I gotta admit, this guy even scared me the first time I used him… Anyway, to end my turn, I'll move the last Archer to Defense Mode…"

The Archer of the Company knelt, holding his bow on his knee. (300 ATK)

"So," said Fran, as she drew, "Mad Jack seems to like attacking by ambush… That's probably why he can, in theory, defeat any Monster that he attacks…

"But… I'm willing to bet that, like all such people, he's no good fighting someone who directly challenges him."

"What on earth are you talking about?" asked Crump.

Fran's set card lifted up, and Limit Reverse glowed with light. Key Mouse hopped out of the card. (100 ATK)

"I mean he likely can't do it if he's being attacked," replied Fran. "Let's see if I'm right…

"Because I control a Tuner, I can Special Summon D.D. Unicorn Knight…"

In a flash of radiant power, the bestial knight with a trident appeared. (1,800 ATK)

"Then," she said, as Key Mouse and D.D. Unicorn Knight turned into glowing stars, "I'll Tune these two Monsters together…"

The darkness vanished as Thunder Unicorn's appeared with a glowing prominence. (2,200 ATK) Mad Jack grunted and covered his eyes.

Crump growled a little.

"I take it from your expression I'm right," said Fran. "That guy isn't so tough when he can't hide in the darkness."

"Yes, you're very smart!" snapped Crump.

"Crump!" said Grodus, under his breath and out the side of him mouth. "Don't get angry here! Remember what the Queen's orders were!"

"Uh yeah…" said Crump. "Right…"

"I use Thunder Unicorn's effect!" shouted Francesca. "With two Monsters, Gimmick Puppet Mad Jack loses 1,000 Attack Points!"

The light became even stronger, and Jack let out a low moan. (1,200 ATK)

"Smash that puppet! Attack!"

Lightning flashed from Thunder Unicorn's horn, and sparks flew from Mad Jack's chest as it hit…

Then they heard a demonic cackle again, even worse than the laugh that came from Jack. They looked up, and saw another weird puppet leap from the ceiling, one dressed like a harlequin in black, holding a scythe. As it landed, it swung its weapon, severing Mad Jack's strings and causing it to fall to the floor in a heap.

"Huh?" said Fran, as Mad Jack vanished.

"Since you destroyed my Gimmick Puppet," said Crump. "I was able to banish it to Special Summon Gimmick Puppet Twilight Joker."

The weird jester looked at Andy, and made a bone-chilling laugh. (1,600 DEF)

Andy almost turned white. Even if clowns didn't scare him, this one likely would have.

"What in the world are these creatures?" he shouted.

"Your guess is as good as mine, kid," replied Crump.

"Calm down, Andy," said Fran, "it's nothing we can't handle.

"Your move, creepy."

(A&F: 7,200) - - - - - - - - - - (G&C: 4,900)

"Creepy?" asked Grodus."

He drew.

"Really? We're trying to kill you and that's the most original insult you can think of?"

"Okay how about this," replied Fran, "you look like a senile old man cosplaying as a gumball machine, better?"

Crump snickered a bit before turning it into a cough as Grodus glared at him.

The sorcerer turned to Dark Ruler Ha Des behind him, and made a nudging gesture. The Fiend ruler pointed at Francesca, and a small burst of flame shot at her. She let out a small shriek as the small projectile hit her.

"What was that?" she asked.

"My Deckmaster effect," said Grodus. "You see, every time you or your ally destroys one of my Fiend-Type Monsters, Ha Des gains a Rage Counter. This enables him to inflict 200 points of damage during each of my Standby Phases per counter."

"WHAT?" shouted Stan, as Goombella appeared next to Vivian.

"Very clever…" said the goomba. "Grodus knew that in this type of duel, you couldn't use your partner's Deckmaster. But he managed to benefit from having a partner by choosing one with a continuous effect, which would gain Counters no matter whose turn it was.

"Clearly, Grodus is smarter than we thought… Only question is, why is he choosing to duel with Crump instead of working on his own?"

"Well…" said Stan. "Honestly… Crump didn't do all too bad…"

"Normally, I'd have to get rid of one of my Monsters to keep Gravity Gain," continued Grodus. "But I don't think I need it anymore, so I'll just keep what I have now, which means the Trap goes away."

The Gravity Gain card simply disintegrated.

"Now, I'll play the Spell Card, Advance Draw," he said, as he held up a card. "I can draw twice if I sacrifice a Monster that's at least Level 8. So I'll discard this Joker..."

Twilight Joker disintegrated as well, chuckling slightly right before its face vanished. Grodus made two draws.

"Then, I'll activate Tribute to the Doomed…"

The Spell Card appeared, and he discarded a card. There was a surge of lightning, but it was red this time. Thunder Unicorn made a loud moan, and then shattered.

"HEY!" shouted Fran.

"Now that that's taken care of," said Grodus, "I'll sacrifice my final Archer to summon Lieutenant of the Company."

The Fiend vanished, just as Joker did, and Fiend appeared that stood head and shoulders above him. His armor was made of the same metal, but his helmet, breastplate, shoulder-guards – well, pretty much everything on his armor – was shaped like a skull. He held a spear with a long, barbed head. (2,200 ATK)

"When I summon him, I can Special Summon a Level 4 Monster with the word 'Company' in its name from my hand. Which is fortunate, because this one can only be Special Summoned…

"Shock Troop of the Company."

There was a sound like the clashing of blades, and a new demonic soldier appeared. This one wasn't wearing plate armor; he was bare-chested and muscular, wearing a kilt made of metal plates, no shoes, and a helmet with no features; just a metal plate in front, without even eyeholes. He held two Fu Tao (martial arts weapons more commonly known as "Chinese hook swords" in America). (2,200 ATK)

"I take it these guys have a pretty bad PR agent…" said Fran.

"The Company of Malice doesn't need one," replied Grodus.

"Company of Malice?" shouted Stan. "I thought they were gone!"

"In body, yes," replied Grodus, "but due these cards of my own design, they are still present in spirit…

"And once the Queen is free, it is my magic that will channel the portal that will to truly bring General U'ulgan and his army back to this world."

"Does the term 'not a snowball's chance' mean anything to you, buster?" asked Francesca.

"Well, why don't I give you a sample?" replied Grodus. "Shock Troop, destroy Beast Striker with Raging Flash."

The Shock Troop ran so fast that he became a blur, then made two swings, hitting Beast Striker with both swords. Then he swung a third time with both, cutting the Beast in half.

Crap… thought Francesca. Why the hell didn't I move him to Defense Mode?

She barely had time to finish that thought before the Lieutenant was on her, jabbing her hard in the stomach with the spear.

(A&F: 4,450) - - - - - - - - - - (G&C: 4,900)

"Fran…" said Andy.

"I'm fine, Andy…" she replied, "I'm…"

She stopped for a minute. Then she stopped holding the wound, and looked at her hand.

"Truthfully, that didn't hurt as much as I thought it would…"

"Bah…" said Grodus, as he waved his hand.

Francesca looked at them suspiciously as Andy drew a card.

Weird… she thought. These Monsters they're using are downright creepy… But… They both seem to be holding back for some reason…

"I'll summon Doppelganger Dragon!" shouted Andy, as the goopy, amorphous Dragon appeared. (1,000 ATK)

"Then, I'll give up 1,000 Life Points, so it can take the form of Warrior Dai Grepher."

The red aura of siphoning power surrounded him as Doppelganger Dragon oozed into a shape resembling Grepher. Then the Polymerization card appeared.

Spirit Ryu appeared next to it, and both were sucked through the card. Ryu Senshi stepped out of the shadows. He looked at Crump sternly through his mask. (2,000 ATK)

"I'll set one," he said, as a reversed card appeared behind the Fusion Monster, "and then you go…"

Crump chuckled again as he made a draw.

"You think I'm falling for that?" he asked. "How dumb do you think I am?

"I play Mystical Space Typhoon!"

He quickly played the card, and the powerful wind lifted the Trap Card up, blowing it to pieces.

"Wha?" said Crump. "It was nothing but Dragon's Rage!"

"That's because it was bait for my true trap," chuckled Andy, as Bobbery's fuse started to spark. "See, my Deckmaster's Decoy Mine ability can destroy one of your Monsters if you destroy one of my Spells or Traps."

Bobbery exploded, and Lieutenant of the Company was thrown backwards from the blast, shattering against the wall behind Grodus.

Then the Shock Troop dropped his swords, and collapsed, then shattered too.

"What do you know?" said Stan, almost laughing. "Kabal was nothing without Stryker backing him up. Some things never change."

Crump looked at him.

"Huh?" he said. "Uh, I don't…"

"I'll tell you later…" muttered Grodus.

Bobbery reformed, and winked at them.

"The downside is, it's only free this time," said Andy. "Next time I use that effect, it costs 1,000 Life Points, and that cost goes up by another 1,000 each time."

"Yeah, yeah…" said Crump. "I'll summon Gimmick Puppet Scarecrow…"

As he played the card, a flock of crows flew into the room with a cacophony of screeches. A weird looking scarecrow made of bent metal pipes wearing a torn pair of farmer's overalls and a straw hat appeared, holding a pitchfork. (800 ATK)

"That should do…"

(A&F: 3,450) - - - - - - - - - - (G&C: 4,900)

"My move…" said Francesca, as she drew.

Just great, three Tuners and a Trap Card, she thought.

She looked at Ryu Senshi.

And he's not a Beast, so I can't use him to summon Lightning Tricorn of Garnecia Earthshaker…

Ah, spit…

"Attack that Scarecrow, Ryu!" she shouted.

The Warrior lifted his sword, and it gleamed in the dim light.

"Scarecrow's effect activates!" shouted Crump, "You attack it when it's in Attack Mode, it moves to Defense Mode."

The weird thing crossed its arms. (2,000 DEF) Ryu's sword fell against it with a clang.

"One other thing…" said Crump. "It's the only Monster you two can attack."

"Well, that sucks…" sighed Francesca.

She took the Trap Card, and set it.

"All right…" she said.

"Then it comes to me…" said Grodus, as he drew. "True, Shock Troop cannot survive without another member of the Company with him… But on the bright side, Andy's last move destroyed two more Fiends…"

"What do you…" asked Fran.

Then she was interrupted as an even bigger fireball from Ha Des hit her.

"Oh… right…" she groaned.

"Next, I'll use Monster Reborn to bring back someone you might remember," said Grodus.

He played the card, and a dark portal opened in the floor. Lieutenant of the Company rose out. (2,200 ATK)

"Next, I'll summon Scout of the Company," he continued.

Another fiendish creature soldier appeared, this one wearing a tattered, black cloth hood and a long scarf covering the lower half of his face, no shirt or shoes, tight linens wrapped around his hands, and ragged trousers. He carried a long pike. (700 ATK)

"You're probably thinking he's just a grunt," said Grodus, "and well, you'd be right. However…"

He played another Spell Card.

"Because he has only 700 Attack Points, by using Secret Pass to the Treasures, he can attack directly."

"Bring… it… on…" said Francesca.

Grodus didn't answer, but the Scout did make a rush for her, jabbing her in the stomach with its pike.

"Didn't hurt!" she said.

"I didn't intend for it too," replied Grodus. "You see, when Scout attacks directly, he gets to move to Defense Mode."

The Fiend knelt, and then lowered his weapon. (2,000 DEF)

"Just how many Monsters do you guys have who can do that?" asked Stan.

"Do what?" asked Grodus. "Switch battle positions?

"Do you think that all demonic armies are the type where all members are bloodthirsty berserkers with no strategy other than 'scream and charge'? Maybe some are like that, and it's a big reason why they tend to lose a lot.

"The Company of Malice was a fierce race of warriors, and they were proud of it, but they weren't stupid. An army with no strategy is a dead one. My Monsters are just giving you an example of what they were capable of.

"My Scout, for example… Guerilla tactics, hit and run. Of course…"

The Lieutenant lifted his spear.

"…a few of them are more direct."

The officer made a thrust at Ryu Senshi, quickly, Fran tapped, her Disk, and her Trap Card lifted up.

"Draining Shield!" she shouted.

There was a loud crackle as the weapon jammed into the force field, and the Lieutenant struggled a little to free it before doing so with a hefty yank.

(A&F: 4,350) - - - - - - - - - - (G&C: 4,900)

"Well then…" said Grodus. "In that case… I can activate my Scout's other effect, which is triggered now because the first effect was activated."

A second Scout of the Company appeared, also kneeling in Defense Mode. (2,000 DEF)

You may have increased your Life Points with that Trap, Francesca, he thought, but that's actually a good thing… After all, I wouldn't want this duel to be over too soon…

0000000000

In case you were wondering where the Queen was right now, she was in the middle of a nightmare come true.

A blast of flames from one of her opponent's Monsters struck Doomed Fanatic, burning it to a crisp.

"Doomed Fanatic's effect activates!" she shouted, as the wicked claw reached out of the floor and crushed the Monster.

Unfortunately, she had nothing to defend her from the other Monster, which quickly launched a blast of superheated steam, hitting her in the chest.

Sweat was falling down her brow. Both their Life Points were in triple digits now, but she was a little worse off. And there was only so much this armor could take… The deck she was using was one she had brought with Bleck in mind… It wasn't as good in this case, but she had no time to switch it for another.

She realized she had made a big mistake in raising – and disciplining – her children. She had focused too much on how to keep them in line individually, never dreaming they would try to work as a team to take her down…

Her hand consisted of one card, and her field was clear, other than Demise, whose Deckmaster effect wasn't of any use right now…

She started to lift her hand to draw…

Then she looked at her opponent.

"You know…" she said. "You're a lot better than you thought… Maybe that was the whole problem… You should have told me about this, and I should have had you try it in the first place…"

She got no answer. Just a cold stare.

"Look, you kids want to quit?" she said. "Fine. You can quit.

"I won't stop you. If you want to leave and start a new life somewhere else, you can go…

"But… We wouldn't have to leave on bad terms…"

She looked at her opponent again. Still, only the cold glare.

"I could maybe look into boarding schools… Colleges… Make sure you kids are well-off once you leave… I could even do it through a trust fund so you'd never have to talk to me again…

"I can do it… If you just do me one more favor…"

Her opponent looked at her. The cold glare started to falter a bit.

"I give you my word…" said the Queen. "Just one last time… And you can leave with my blessings…"

The glare vanished as her opponent's eyes closed…

0000000000

"My move…" said Andy.

Nuts… he thought.

He set all three of his cards, causing all of them, one Monster and two others, to appear reversed.

"That's all I can do…" he said.

"Then stand back…" said Crump, as he made a draw.

Heh, Machine Duplication… he thought. Just what the doctor ordered.

"Time to use my Deckmaster's effect," he said. "See, I have a great Rank 4 that I'm just dying to summon… But… I need three Level 4 Monsters, and they have to be Gimmick Puppets."

"You've got four Monsters," said Andy. "You'll have to get rid of one to make room."

"I'll just kill two birds with one stone," replied Crump, "to quote a cliché. That's where the guy behind me comes in…"

Puppet Master laughed, and two dark strings entangled the two Scouts of the Company. It yanked, and pulled them into the shadows.

"By sacrificing two Fiends," he continued, "I can Special Summon any Monster I want from my deck with the word 'Puppet' in its name. It can't attack this turn, but the guy I'm going to summon isn't the type that attacks much anyway.

"So, let's have a hand… For Gimmick Puppet Gear Changer."

The Puppet that appeared this time had outright bizarre anatomy, which is hard to describe. First, picture a very old-fashioned dial-lock, like the kind on old suitcases. Then put one spindly blue arm on the top of it, and another where the right arm would be on a human, then put the whole thing on a pair of spindly blue legs. Basically, that's what it was. (100 ATK)

"I don't know what's worse…" said Goombella. "These creepy Monsters or his lame jokes."

"Yeah, well," said Crump. "Know how they say 'less is more'? I say that's bull. More is more! I play Machine Duplication so I can have three Gear Changers!"

As he played the card, two more of the weird Fiends appeared. (100 ATK x2)

"And Gear Changer has a nifty effect. If I have another Gimmick Puppet, it can change its Level to match the other one. Since Gimmick Puppet Scarecrow is Level 4, that means all three of my Gear Changers can use their effects to become Level 4."

The three Gimmick Puppets took hold of their cranks, and turned them until the numbers on their locks all read 4.

"Now, with the Overlay Network built again," said Crump, as the portal opened, drawing the four Gear Changers in, "I Xyz Summon Gimmick Puppet Queen Payne!"

The portal vanished, and the room was completely plunged into darkness…

Then the light slowly came back, and the Monster in front of the teenagers gave them quite a shock. It was a full fifteen feet tall, and looked female, but whether its clothing was armor of a formal dress was hard to tell; it was metal, but seemed to incorporate elements of both. Its face was completely blank, no features at all, and it wore a silvery crown with sharp prongs on the top. It was holding a large, sharp axe. (0 ATK)

It looked at Andy. Even with no face, he didn't like the way it was looking at him…

"I know what you're thinking…" said Crump. "This one has no points either. But when it battles, I can get rid of one Overlay Unit..."

Queen Payne lifted its axe, and looked towards Ryu Senshi.

"Then your Monsters Attack Score becomes zero, while hers increases to whatever your Monster had."

Ryu Senshi fell on one knee (0 ATK) while Queen Payne lifted the axe higher. (2,000 ATK) She quickly struck, cleaving him in half. Andy fell shouted and toppled backwards… That one had hurt.

(A&F: 2,350) - - - - - - - - - - (G&C: 4,900)

Yoshi quickly materialized next to Goombella and Vivian.

"I don't get it!" he shouted. "A while ago, this guy was afraid of his own shadow! What changed?"

Crump looked at him with a smirk.

"Dunno…" he said. "Maybe that Potion of Bravery wasn't as much a failure as it seemed…

"I mean, sure, it wore off… But maybe it just gave me a push in the right direction, gave me the confidence I needed to start standing up for myself."

"Well, I'm very happy for you," said Andy, sarcastically.

"And as for you," said Crump, as Lieutenant of the Company lifted his spear, "I'm not done with you, wise guy!"

The Fiend soldier charged point first, and Masked Dragon appeared on the card. The weapon impaled it, and it blew into red and silver triangles.

Then the triangles all coalesced together, forming a second Masked Dragon. (1,100 DEF)

"Here we go…" said Andy, as one of his two set cards lifted up. "I'll use Shock Draw to draw twice."

He snatched two cards off his deck.

"Then my turn is over," said Crump, "so Queen Payne's effect wears off…"

(0 ATK)

Francesca looked at Queen Payne as she drew.

"Francesca…" said Andy.

"Huh?" she said.

"Careful…" said Andy. "I have a feeling that Queen Payne is a lot braver than Mad Jack was…"

"Uh…" said Francesca.

She looked at the Xyz again. Then she realized what Andy meant.

I figured out that Mad Jack's effect didn't work both ways because he was the type to attack by ambush… she thought. But… Queen Payne seems like the type who would fight an enemy face-to-face… And probably enjoy it.

Which means HER effect likely DOES work both ways, and could be activated during my turn.

"I use the Signal Check Spell Card!" she shouted.

Crump chuckled a little as Glow Moss appeared next to her.

"I should warn you…" he said. "Not all Gimmick Puppets are Dark Monsters…"

"Yeah, well, that's the Attribute I'm naming," said Fran, "so let's see what you've got…"

Crump picked the top card off of his deck. Then he growled a little and turned it forward. It was Sangan. The orbs between Glow Moss's hands turned into a dark purple orb.

"Perfect!" said Fran. "I guessed correctly, so I get three draws…"

She drew three times, and then looked at the cards.

Seems maybe I can kill two birds with one stone too… she thought.

"First I'll summon Uni-Horned Familiar," she said, as the card appeared and the small Imp leapt out of it. (0 ATK)

"Then, I'll discard my Elephun to Special Summon Egotistical Ape…"

She tossed the card, and the small money appeared, its monstrous shadow rising behind it. (1,200 ATK)

"Because Elephun is Level 2, that means Ape's Level is lowered from 5 to 3."

"So?" asked Crump. "You can't Synchro Summon with two Tuners."

"I'm going to use one of them to get a non-Tuner!" said Fran, with a smirk. "I use Enemy Controller!"

She played the card, and the video game pad appeared. The Familiar vanished, and glowing energy strings reached towards Gimmick Puppet Scarecrow, pulling it over to Fran's side of the field.

"I forgot all about that silly thing!" shouted Crump.

"I just bet you did," replied Fran. "But because this thing is a Dark Monster, I can Tune it with my Egotistical Ape…"

The small primate leapt into the air, its shadow wrapping around the Gimmick Puppet and pulling it with it.

"As the sun sets, a lone figure stands on the western hill, standing against the lengthening shadows. Hold your head proud, as you rule the night!"

(*3 + *4 = *7)

"I Synchro Summon… Dusk Unicorn!"

The shadows started to darken again, but this time, the ominous feeling of dread was gone. The midnight-black mare with a glowing horn strode onto the field, then reared with a loud whinny. (2,300 ATK)

"I not only got rid of that thing that was shielding your other Monsters…" said Fran.

Dusk Unicorn looked at Lieutenant of the Company. Then she galloped at him, her horn pointing forward like a lance.

"She's strong enough to get rid of another one!"

The Lieutenant only made a look of incredible shock when the horn literally skewered him through the chest. He fell to his knees, and his spear fell with a clatter as he did so. Then he shattered.

"Nasty…" muttered Fran.

She swung her right hand left to right, throwing two cards into her Disk as she did so (she was getting awfully good at that lately) and then flashed into being in front of her.

"You're on, dim-bulb," she said.

(A&F: 2,350) - - - - - - - - - - (G&C: 4,800)

Getting mighty sick of this… thought Grodus, as he drew a card.

He casually checked his watch, then quickly did some math in his head.

I suppose this couldn't hurt…

"First I use my Deckmaster's effect," he said. "And Ha Des has four Counters now!"

The fireball from the Dark Ruler was even bigger than before, and this time, Francesca actually screamed when it hit her.

"Leave her alone, you jerk!" shouted Andy.

"The order of turns wasn't my fault," replied Grodus. "Now where was I? Oh yes…

"This Monster I just drew is incredibly powerful… But… To summon it, I must banish one Machine and one Fiend from my Graveyard, and both must by at least Level 5.

"Thus, I banish Lieutenant of the Company and Gimmick Puppet Twilight Joker…"

The two Monsters appeared behind him, and then dissolved into formless mist.

"I call forth the Artillery Unit of the Company!"

There was a sound like gears grinding on gears, and then a noise like a noisy, broken muffler. Then a large, hulking contraption rolled out of the darkness behind Grodus. It looked like someone had taken the contents of a junkyard and welded them together, giving it treads for locomotion, with a nasty turret on the top and four smaller ones, two to each side of the big one. It seemed to have a coal-powered engine; at least the foul smoke coming from the thing suggested one. (2,900 ATK)

"Artillery Unit?" shouted Stan. "That's a damn tank!"

"A tank that the Company of Malice invented and was using on the battlefield more than five-hundred years before Leonardo da Vinci's silly sketch, thank you," said Grodus.

"Yeah, well, they probably have whole schools where they teach them better ways to destroy things," replied Stan.

"Indeed they do," said Grodus. "But anyway, before we get to that…"

Queen Payne lifted her axe.

"I don't think so…" said Fran. "I use the Trap Card, Shadow Spell!"

One of her two reversed cards lifted up, and chains shot out of the ground around Queen Payne, pinning her arms to her sides.

"Seems I took her out of commission."

"But not my tank," replied Grodus, as the huge weapon aimed. "Turn that unicorn into low-price Chinese beef!"

"Oh, that is NOT funny!" shouted Francesca, as the turret glowed.

Her other set card lifted up.

"I activate Shrink! Your tank is about to hit a mine!"

"Is it?" asked Grodus. "Artillery Unit has a special ability. Once per turn, if it's targeted by a Spell or Trap Card, I can switch the target of said card to any other Monster I want."

Dusk Unicorn shrunk to half its size. (1,150 ATK)

"So you just made things worse…"

No… thought Fran. What can I do? I have to…

Wait! Andy's Trap Card!

"I use Staunch Defender!" she shouted.

The card flipped up, and the turret swung towards Masked Dragon, right before an earsplitting blast accompanied a burning bolt of plasma that blew it to miniscule pieces.

Fran let out a sigh.

"I may have no Dragons in my deck," she said, "so I can't use its effect… But… At least I protected Dusk Unicorn and our Life Points."

"Mmm…" said Grodus. "I'll set this for later…"

He fit his last card into his Disk, causing it to appear set.

"Your move…" he said, as Dusk Unicorn rose back to 2,300 Attack Points.

(A&F: 1,550) - - - - - - - - - - (G&C: 4,800)

Andy drew, and looked at the three cards nervously.

So now what? he thought. These guys are working so well as a team, I…

Wait… Hold on… Maybe that can work for me and Fran too…

He set all three of them, and they all appeared set in his Spell Zone.

"Okay, take a breather…" he said, turning to Dusk Unicorn.

The steed sat on her hindquarters. (1,200 DEF)

"Okay, Crump… Let's see what you've got…"

"Well, let's see what I have…" replied Crump.

He drew a card.

Overlay Regen… he thought. Might need that later…

"I'm using Grodus' Trap Card," he said, as the reversed card lifted up. "Dust Tornado!"

The tornado sprouted from the Trap, and blew towards the Shadow Spell card, smashing it to pieces. Queen Payne lifted her arms, breaking the chains.

"Now then…" said Crump, as she picked up the axe again. "I can…"

One of Andy's cards lifted up.

"Threatening Roar!" he shouted.

"Okay, guess I can't…" he growled. "I end my turn…"

Fran made a draw, and looked at it. Then she looked at Andy's other two set cards, and her Limit Reverse, which had been of no real use since she had used Key Mouse to Synchro Summon.

Ha Des is going to cost me another 800 Life Points on Grodus' next turn… she thought.

Better make this count…

She played the card, and the Pot of Avarice appeared. She quickly added Egotistical Ape, Uni-Horned Familiar, D.D. Unicorn Knight, Elephun, and Beast Striker to her deck and reshuffled, then drew twice.

"Think you're ready for this?" she said, looking at Ms. Mowz.

"You got it, you cute chaubier!" she squeaked. "I'm a little rusty, but I don't think I'll forget it…"

"What are you blathering about?" said Grodus.

"Don't get your robes in an uproar, fellah…" said Francesca.

She played a card, and Lock Cat crawled onto the field, and meowed. (1,200 ATK)

"You know what this means, right?" she asked.

Key Mouse hopped onto the field next to the cat. (100 DEF)

"Next, I'll Tune my Level 1 Key Mouse and my Level 7 Dusk Unicorn…" she said, as the small Monster and the large mare turned into glowing stars.

(*1 + *7 = *8)

The room was illuminated even brighter than before as Lightning Tricorn appeared in a tremendous flash.

"Now, I use my Deckmaster's effect," she continued. "But to do it, I have to sacrifice both a Monster and either a Spell or Trap Card.

"So, I'll sacrifice Lock Cat and my Limit Reverse…"

The cat and the Continuous Trap dissolved into bright, glowing embers.

"…and… sic 'em."

Ms. Mowz darted towards Grodus, and to the evil wizard's incredible shock, planted a kiss on his cheek.

"WHA?" he shouted. "Get away you little…"

He lifted his hand to try to "shoo" her, but then he noticed that she was holding something in her mouth. It was a copy of Monster Reborn.

"HEY!" he shouted. "That's mine!"

Before he could do anything else, the Squeek flew back to Fran.

"Sure it's yours," replied Fran.

Fran took the Spell Card, and Ms. Mowz pecked her on the cheek before she returned to her position behind her.

"That was a trick she used very often when she was the greatest thief in Arcadia. She was called 'the Tease Thief' for a reason.

"I'll use this Monster Reborn to summon Ryu Senshi from the Graveyard."

The glowing holy symbol appeared, and a portal opened in the floor. The draconic Warrior emerged. (2,000 ATK)

"And now he's going to take care of Astrid's evil twin over there! Attack Gimmick Puppet Queen Payne with Dragon Soulsword!"

Ryu lifted his blade, and a shining aura of crackling motes ran along it…

"Forget already?" chuckled Crump. "By ditching one of her Overlay Units, she can reduce his Score to zero and raise hers to 2,000."

(Ryu Senshi: 0 ATK, Queen Payne: 2,000)

"Which means you lose!"

"Not yet, buster," said Francesca, with a grin. "See, I didn't forget about that…

"I use my partner's Spell Card…"

One of the set cards lifted up.

"Battle Fusion!"

(2,000 ATK)

"What?" said Crump, as the two Monsters rushed towards each other. "They'll kill each other!"

"That's the idea, fellah," said Andy.

The sword and the axe collided, and the whole room shook as the two Monsters were blown to bits.

"Yes!" shouted Andy. "Scratch one evil puppet."

He held up his hand, and Francesca "high-fived" him.

"Lovely…" muttered Grodus. "If I didn't know better, I'd say you guys are starting to like this…"

"Yeah, well…" said Fran.

She set her last two cards into her Disk, and they appeared behind Lightning Tricorn.

"Seeing as we're trapped in a dark nightmare with no way out, we might as well make the best of it… It's your move…"

Grodus grumbled a little, and drew.

Eh? he thought. Altar of Azzagrat?

Curses, I could win the duel with this card's effect… But… I need to discard a card to use it, and I don't have one…

Oh, well…

"First," he said, "it's time for Ha Des to do his dirty work…"

Once again, the fireballs exploded around Francesca; fortunately, she had seen it coming this time.

"Ooh, they're down to 750…" said Vivian.

She nervously tugged on her hair.

"One more time, and it's gonna be the last time…"

"Chin up, Viv," said Yoshi. "I have a feeling they've got something in mind…"

"They'd better come up with it fast…" said Grodus, as Artillery Unit pointed at Lightning Tricorn. "Attack with Soulcrusher Cannon!"

Again, the weapon blasted, the mighty roar, almost knocking both Andy and Francesca off their feet as it blew Tricorn into particles. Almost, that is.

"I use Tricorn's effect…" she said, softly.

There was a soft glow as Thunder Unicorn appeared in front of her. (2,200 ATK)

"Oh… right…" said Grodus.

"Now, I activate Andy's Trap Card…" said Francesca, as the card flipped up. "Miracle's Wake!"

There was another soft glow, and Tricorn appeared once again. (2,800 ATK)

(A&F: 650) - - - - - - - - - - (G&C: 4,800)

"Andy…" said Fran. "Finish this up…"

"All right…" said Andy.

I can do this… he thought. Just need the right Monster…

He drew.

Not the best, but he'll do…

"I summon Ancient Dragon!" he shouted.

He played the card, and the shadowy fog was swept away entirely as the brilliant, wise Dragon flew above his side of the field. (1,400 ATK)

"Then, I'll use Fran's Call of the Haunted," he said, as one of his two cards lifted up, "and summon Ryu Senshi again."

The ground cracked open, and the Warrior leapt out, sword first, in a heroic pose. (2,000 ATK)

"Him again…" muttered Crump.

"Go with what works…" said Andy.

The other card that Fran had set lifted up.

"I use Fran's Synchro Rider Spell Card!" he shouted.

Lightning flashed again, and Ryu leapt onto Lightning Tricorn's back. He held his sword high, and lightning fell again, striking the sword and causing him and the mount to glow with holy power.

"By forfeiting his attack, he adds his Attack Score to Tricorn's!"

(4,800 ATK)

"Uh, this is bad, right?" asked Crump.

"Shut up, Crump!" shouted Grodus.

"I'll show you how bad it is…" said Andy.

Lightning Tricorn galloped towards Artillery Unit of the Company, her rider gripping his sword in both hands. With one slash, Ryu smote the evil device, and flames spouted from the huge gash cleaved in the side…

Then the thing's furnace ruptured, and a fiery explosion knocked Crump down. Grodus was still standing, but dizzy and holding his head.

"Thunder Unicorn, Ancient Dragon, finish them off!" he shouted. "Show him some real teamwork… Double Radiant Rays!"

Grodus recovered from the daze, but just in time to see the bolts of energy from the two Monsters thundering towards him…

He fell against the wall, the dome on his head cracking as he did so.

"This is not my day…" he groaned.

(A&F: 650) - - - - - - - - - - (G&C: 0)

The Duel Binders snapped.

"We did it!" exclaimed Fran.

She quickly hugged Andy.

"Uh, Fran?" he asked. "Uh, 'Astrid's evil twin'?"

"Tell you later," said Fran, with a small smirk.

Andy nodded. Then they and Stan looked at Grodus and Crump.

"So what do we do with them?" he asked.

"Let the Queen handle them," said Stan.

He looked at the archway.

"We've got other stuff to handle…"

They walked past the two henchmen, stepping over Crump as they did.

Once they past, Crump groaned and sat up.

"I… I think that was twenty turns…" he grumbled.

Grodus sat up too.

"On the nose…" he said.

He checked his watch.

"Unfortunately, that last blast seems to have fried this cheap thing… I should really invest in a better one…"

Then his cranium started to glow again, sparking a little as it did, likely do to the damage.

"Hold that thought," he said.

He held out his hand, and the glowing orb appeared in it.

"My Queen?" he asked. "Look, we…"

"Don't bother," replied the Queen's voice. "You two succeeded. You delayed them for more than enough time. Maybe you aren't so worthless after all."

The two henchmen breathed a sigh of relief.

"Now listen," continued her voice, "there's been a sight change in my plans, so you two had best make yourselves scarce. Things might get ugly in a minute or two."

"Roger," said Grodus.

The orb vanished.

"Come on, Crump…" he said.

He reached into his robe, and pulled out a Spell Card, the same Dimensionhole card that Crump had used in Twilight Town. He lifted it, and dark portal opened next to him, quickly pulling him and Crump through.

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GRAVITY GAIN (Trap Card)

Continuous Trap

Image: The goblins of Goblin Attack Force staggering under a Dark Core.

Card Description: During your Standby Phase, either Tribute 1 Monster you control or destroy this card. Level 4 or lower Monsters cannot attack.

Note: "Gravity Gain" was first used by Guardian Baou in the "Yu-Gi-Oh GX" episode "Conquering the Past (Part 2)". Creative credit goes to the writers of that episode.

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GIMMICK PUPPET SCARECROW (Monster Card)

Machine/Dark/Effect/Lvl4/800ATK/2,000DEF

Effect: When this face-up Attack Position card is targeted for an attack, switch it to face-up Defense Position. Your opponent cannot target any face-up Monster except "Gimmick Puppet Scarecrow".

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GIMMICK PUPPET GEAR CHANGER (Monster Card)

Machine/Earth/Effect/Lvl1/100ATK/100DEF

Effect: Once per turn, you can select 1 "Gimmick Puppet" Monster you control. The Level of this card becomes equal to the Level of the selected Monster until the End Phase of the turn.

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GIMMICK PUPPET EGG HEAD (Monster Card)

Machine/Earth/Effect/Lvl4/1,600ATK/1,200DEF

Effect: Once per turn: You can send 1 card from your hand to the Graveyard to inflict 800 points of damage to your opponent.

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GIMMICK PUPPET TWILIGHT JOKER (Monster Card)

Machine/Dark/Effect/Lvl8/800ATK/1,600DEF

Effect: When a "Gimmick Puppet" Monster you control is destroyed by battle and sent to the Graveyard, you may banish that Monster to Special Summon this card from your hand.

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GIMMICK BOX (Trap Card)

Continuous Trap

Image: A trapdoor opening in the middle of a blue sky, revealing a sinister, mechanical face on the other side.

Card Description: Activate when your opponent declares an attack; reduce the damage you would take from the attack to zero. Then, Special Summon this card as a Monster Card. (Machine/Dark/Lvl8/?ATK/0DEF) The ATK of this card as a Monster becomes equal to the damage you would have taken from the attack. (This card is still treated as a Trap Card.)

Note: The proceeding five cards were all first used by IV in various episodes of the first season of "Yu-Gi-Oh Zexal". Creative credit goes to the writers of those episodes.

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GIMMICK PUPPET MAD JACK (Monster Card)

Machine/Dark/Xyz/Effect/Rank8/0ATK/0DEF

2 Level 8 Monsters

Effect: If this card attacks an opposing Monster, you may detach 1 of its Xyz Materials to destroy the opposing Monster without applying damage calculation. Then, increase the ATK of this card by an amount equal to the base ATK of the destroyed Monster.

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GIMMICK PUPPET QUEEN PAYNE (Monster Card)

Machine/Dark/Xyz/Effect/Rank8/0ATK/0DEF

3 Level 4 "Gimmick Puppet" Monsters

Effect: When this card battles an opposing Monster, you may detach one of its Xyz Materials; if you do, until the End Phase of the turn, the ATK of the opposing Monster becomes zero, and the ATK of this card becomes equal to the base ATK of the opposing Monster.

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ARCHER OF THE COMPANY (Monster Card)

Fiend/Earth/Effect/Lvl3/900ATK/200DEF

Effect:

When this card is Summoned, you may pay 800 Life Points to Special Summon 1 "Archer of the Company" from your hand or deck in Attack Position. During the turn this effect is activated, you may not Summon or set any Monsters except for "Archer of the Company".

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LIEUTENANT OF THE COMPANY (Monster Card)

Fiend/Earth/Effect/Lvl5/2,200ATK/1,000DEF

Effect:

When this card is Tribute Summoned, you may Special Summon a Level 4 or lower "Company" Monster from your hand.

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SCOUT OF THE COMPANY (Monster Card)

Fiend/Earth/Effect/Lvl4/700ATK/2,000DEF

Effect

: When this card attacks directly, switch it to face-up Defense Position. During your Main Phase 2 after this effect is activated, you may Special Summon 1 'scout of the Company" from your hand or deck.

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SHOCK TROOP OF THE COMPANY (Monster Card)

Fiend/Earth/Effect/Lvl4/2,200ATK/300DEF

Effect:

This card cannot be Normal Summoned. If you do not control a "Company" Monster other than 'shock Troop of the Company", the ATK and DEF of this card both become zero.

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ARTILLERY UNIT OF THE COMPANY (Monster Card)

Fiend/Earth/Effect/Lvl8/2,900ATK/2,000DEF

Effect:

This card cannot be Normal Summoned or set. This card must first be Special Summoned (from your hand) by banishing 1 Fiend-Type Monster that is Level 5 or higher and 1 Machine-Type Monster that is Level 5 or higher from your Graveyard. Once per turn, if this card is targeted by a card effect that targets 1 specific Monster, you may select 1 other face-up Monster on the field; the selected Monster becomes the target of the card effect.

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Admiral Bobbery the Bomber: Machine/Earth/Lvl6/2,200/1,000: "Decoy Mine": Once per turn, if your opponent activates a card effect that destroys exactly 1 set Spell or Trap Card you control, you may destroy 1 Monster your opponent controls. You cannot activate the destroyed Spell or Trap Card if you use this effect. Each time you use this effect, you must pay 1,000 Life Points times the number of times this effect was previously used.

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Ms. Mowz the Tease Thief: Beast/Earth/Lvl3/1,200/1,000: Once per turn, you may Tribute 1 Monster and one Spell or Trap Card you control to take a Normal or Quickplay Spell Card from your opponent's Graveyard and activate it.

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Puppet Master: Fiend/Dark/Lvl6/0/0: "Dark Strings": Once per turn, you can Tribute 2 Fiend-Type Monsters and select 1 "Puppet" Monster in your deck. Special Summon the selected Monster. The Special Summoned Monster cannot attack this turn.

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Dark Ruler Ha Des: Fiend/Dark/Lvl6/2,450/1,600: Vengeance Scourge: When a Fiend-Type Monster you control is destroyed, put a "Vengeance Counter" on this card (max. 10). During each of your Standby Phases, inflict 200 points of damage to your opponent per "Vengeance Counter".

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Okay, seeing as the Queen wasn't upset that they lost, it seems those two were just trying to slow them down… Oh, that doesn't bode well… Especially since they appear to have succeeded…

Next:

We've gone through the gauntlet, and our goal is in sight… Behind the door in front of us, the center of the Palace awaits, where the Queen has promised the finals of the Tournament, where we can assume the final stand will be made…

But one last challenge stands to stop us before then…

But… Something may yet throw a wrench in the Queen's plan this time…

"Baton of the Hero" is coming soon.