Obvious disclaimer: If I owned Yu-Gi-Oh!, this story would already be part of either a series or a game. Because I do not, this is simply here for your enjoyment.

Chapter 1: Ones Who Will Defy the Gods

"For those of you just tuning in, I'm Al Meredith here with Kirk Jackson discussing the amazing end to the tournament at the Duel Monsters Coliseum just completed this past December. No one thought these two underdog challengers would make it to the finals, but these two came out of the chute swinging…"

"I think you're mixing your metaphors from two different sports there."

"…sacking the heavy contenders from the word 'go.'"

"Now you've added two more."

"Watch here as the odds-on favorite loses his advantage in this devastating display of the newest addition to the game of Duel Monsters, brought to us by the Industrial Illusions division of Kaiba Corp."

The camera moved past the talking heads to review footage from the dueling tournament in question. On one end was a tall, bulky duelist with a Cyber Dragon (2100) in front of him, and on the other end was a thinner duelist with white hair and a steady expression on his face.

"See here," Al Meredith spoke, "how Stevenson doesn't flinch even though his opponent just dominated his Six Samurai deck on the last turn?"

"To be fair, he still has a full hand with many options. That Marine Corps discipline helped him plan out his moves fully in advance in case of situations such as this one."

The holographic projectors between the two duelists presented monsters that were almost completely opaque and looked fully real—the most advanced programming yet offered on a dueling stage. Chad Stevenson, a retired Marine Corps colonel with a penchant for military strategy, placed a total of three cards on the plates of his Duel Disk, which then transmitted the signatures of the cards to the projectors for holographic rendering.

The four-armed warrior Legendary Six Samurai – Kageki (3/200/2000) was the first card to hit the field, but with an added monster effect, he did not need to stare down the enemy alone. He was promptly joined by The Six Samurai – Irou (4/1700/1200), a blind kensei with a righteous heart that always took him down the path of least bloodshed. With a monster effect of his own granting him the privilege, Legendary Six Samurai – Kizan (4/1800/500) joined as field commander—the very portrait of a grandmaster as a young man.

"Notice here the effective use of the Six Samurai's ability to swarm the field. That was necessary for him to make this next move, which is already reputed to be the next big thing in dueling. See how Irou and Kizan both disappear from the field like that? He's not sending them to the Graveyard pile: He's overlaying them in order to perform an XYZ Summon."

"It's pronounced /ik-seez/."

"Using a new ranking system with the monsters, he turns these two level four samurai into a Rank 4 Shadow of the Six Samurai – Shien (4/2500/400), a card with more points than any normal level four monster out there." Indeed, the hologram revealed a warrior of greater stature than those he replaced, wielding both the mastery of the Six Samurai style and the support tactics of the Shien clan. "I tell you, the critics are already in love with this new overlay system. Of course, the favored duelist Bryan Knight wasn't too thrilled with it at the time."

"He seems fine with it," Kirk Jackson argued. On screen, Stevenson's opponent didn't even hide behind his Cyber Dragon. He stood off the side in plain view with his arms folded across his chest as if nothing bothered him.

"And here comes another monster effect," announced Al Meredith like a kid on Christmas. "By detaching one of the XYZ material monsters…"


"…Shien actually raises the power of Kageki to 2000 points. On top of that, Kageki's own ability raises his points by another 1500 just because he's a team player. That gives this ordinarily weak warrior a whopping 3500 attack points! And that's more than enough to take down Knight's Cyber Dragon (2100)." The four-armed Kageki raised his swords and whirled around, becoming a bladed tornado tearing across the field.

"And let me tell ya, this was a particularly inspired move by the disciplined Stevenson. His two monsters are as strong as warriors can get, but they're only level four, which means the Grave of the Super Ancient Organism Knight used earlier to restrict any level six monsters doesn't affect either one of these two. So this attack goes through cleanly."

"Except for one thing," Kirk Jackson pointed out. On stage, Bryan Knight wore a shiny necklace dragged by an amulet formed from studs of six gems and a piece of onyx. As he dropped a card from his hand into his Graveyard, the amulet produced a transparent black barrier that absorbed completely the shock of Kageki's continuous strikes. "Knight uses the effect of Depth Amulet once more to negate the attack."

"He did, and you know he was planning something really big because that move right there left him with only one card to play for his next turn."

"Well… Technically he does get a chance to draw a new card at the beginning of his turn, so he has two cards to play."

Al Meredith continued: "Unfortunately, the Cyber Dragon couldn't stick around after Shien got through with him." Shien raised his sword and arched it over his head, holding his right arm out as bait. He thrust his free arm toward the metallic serpent on the other side of the field, causing the serpent to flinch. At the instant the serpent recoiled, Shien pulled his sword arm down and thrust his long sword across the entire length of the field, piercing the belly of the Cyber Dragon. Motor oil leaked from the wound like blood. When Shien ripped his sword away, motor oil poured from the wound momentarily, and the Cyber Dragon simply exploded—metallic pieces flying everywhere.

Knight 2100 – 400 = 1700 LP: Stevenson 2500 LP.

With the recent holographic upgrade, many monsters also received new programming to include more exciting and violent (oftentimes longer) display sequences. The length of the average televised duel increased by ten minutes, but the ratings took a massive jump.

"And here is the moment you've all tuned in for," Al Meredith described. "The moment the student from Duel Academy turns the duel into his victory." He sounded snide as he said, "After he drew a card to begin his turn, Knight immediately sent Depth Amulet, Imperial Custom, and Grave of the Super Ancient Organism off the field in order to summon one of the few cards out there that is both legitimate and one-of-a-kind: Uria, Lord of Searing Flames (10/+5000/+5000)."

A small flame sparked into existence in the center of the field. Flickering softly, the flame appeared to die for a moment before flaring up again, bigger the second time. With a sudden explosion of fire power, the flames grew until they engulfed the entire stage. The stadium's sprinkler system went off as if there were some malfunction, but it was simply an addition to the holographic features. The flames settled and began to transform into solid, red scales—a body coiled like a winged snake about to strike. A serpentine dragon burst from the flame, becoming the flame itself. A single, gut-wrenching roar started fires in the corners of the stage.

Suddenly Al Meredith and Kirk Jackson froze in place, completely motionless.

Dr. Gabrielle Houtz popped in front of the screen. "So this right here is one of the legendary god cards so highly regarded in Duel Monsters history. As you may recall from our first class period, the god cards were formerly kept here at Duel Academy before they went missing. Now, only Uria's location is fully known. Can anyone tell me something else about the legendary god cards? Anything at all?"

A dozen hands went up, but Dr. Houtz suddenly stopped and frowned. She had a very expressive face, and her frown was enough to cause every hand to drop back down. "Hold on. Where's Bryan? This whole lesson was supposed to be about his recent championship."

Carter Jade answered by pointing toward the far wall of the lecture hall. "I saw him heading that way a little while ago. Wait." He made a face and moved his finger in three different directions as if mentally retracing his steps to figure out which way he was facing when he saw Bryan outside. "Yep. That way."

"Where was he going? Did he at least have a good reason for skipping class?"

Carter shrugged. "Well, Lucy was with him. Since they're engaged, I'd guess he thinks it's a good reason. Probably not school appropriate."

Dr. Houtz didn't even look upset. She slumped back on her heels and sighed. "Lucky."

"This is the right way to spend January," spoke the half-naked man as he gazed into the sky. Though he wore nothing more than swim trunks, his body helped keep him warm with a layer of bulky muscle and a high metabolic rate. Of course, the steam vents releasing hot air into the hot springs in which he soaked himself didn't hurt. Bryan Knight was never intrigued by the polar bear club—those guys who swim in almost-freezing water in the middle of winter—but the hot springs were an excellent way to warm up when there was snow on the ground.

Not that it was necessary to take a dip in the hot springs. The mere sight of his girlfriend Lucy Mercer was enough to raise Bryan's pulse, although there was something exciting and exotic about seeing her in the hot springs. Thanks to the contrast between the water's temperature and the surrounding air temperature, a light mist rose from the surface, granting just enough illusion to Bryan's eye that he could imagine she was there without the bikini.

Actually, that was already the least he ever convinced her to wear in a place occupied by more than just the two of them. Rather shy about her body, Lucy was the type of girl to cover up with clothes a few sizes too big. As long as she focused on Bryan and remembered the mist offered a veil over her, she could pretend the hot springs were private and that no other couples or physical therapy patients existed within a thousand miles.

"Forget the cold air," Bryan continued. "Let's just stay here forever."

"I'm finding it very hard to argue with you," she said as she laid her hands on his strong but softening chest. In his high school days, he was a football player, but his interest in the weight room had waned from intense to reasonable in the past few years, leaving him with his size but dwindling his muscle tone. To Lucy, he was beautiful. "It is one advantage of going to school near an active volcano."

"The only advantage," he corrected her, but it was a true advantage. To him, hiding her body was a crime. Though she was bigger than movie stars and models, she had a wondrous figure and soft facial features that caught the attention of any guy who bothered to look high enough to see. He held her close within his arms, and enjoyed the mere touch of her skin.

"Didn't you have somewhere to be this morning?" she asked him.

"Nowhere more important than here."

Duel Academy had a hierarchy among the students. All first-years were dropped into the Red Dorm, the lowest level referred to as "Slifer Reds" back before the school expanded into a four-year university. The basic amenities were all present, but the general motto of the dorm was to thrust the students into the "real world" by offering them supplies of much lower quality than those given to students with higher ranks. Competition was everything in Duel Academy. One could duel for a higher rank to obtain slightly better materials, but Red supplies never measured up to the next level.

The students who survived the curriculum and tuition into the second year graduated to the Yellow Dorm. The amenities were scarcely of higher quality than in the Red Dorm: Some suspected the reason was Duel Academy viewed everyone ranked lower than 25th to be essentially the same while others believed the Yellow Dorm was truly the lowest level of the hierarchy, only offered better supplies through experience and patience of the first year.

Matthew Luther was once a resident of the Blue Mansion, an aptly named dormitory that offered the space and comfort of a boarding school in itself. Students in that dorm were offered their own rooms and more expensive furniture for decorating them. And the ratio of students to bathrooms dropped tremendously. On top of all that, the food prepared in the dining hall was among the best cuisine in the Pacific Ocean.

Before his junior year began, Matt failed to register for classes in a timely manner due to personal issues. He successfully enrolled in classes for the fall semester, but his rank was immediately dropped to the lowest number in the Yellow Dorm. Despite his excellent performance on the fall finals and the fact that he saved the world from Armageddon, he was still held back in the Yellow Dorm when the spring semester began.

On the first day of the semester, Matt was eating lunch with his friend Sean Bivins. Lunch was some kind of attempt at pasta: edible, but the sauce was runny and the pasta crunched a tad with each bite. Drawing on his humor to get him through the meal, he asked Sean, "Did you ever hear the one about the kid who saved the lives of his entire dorm? He killed the cook?"

Sean replied, "No. How does it go?"

The food was as healthy as college food is expected and students could always purchase their own groceries if they opted to skip the campus meal plan, but want of a better lunch and a quieter bathroom led Matt to barge directly into the office of Dr. Kevin Lankford, the senior professor at Duel Academy and the faculty advisor for the Blue Mansion. He demanded in a perfectly subservient voice to be allowed into the Blue Mansion, which was promptly denied.

And then he used the C-word: He challenged Dr. Lankford to a duel. Quite simply, he offered, his victory would gain him entry into the higher dorm and his defeat would make him lose every duel of the semester just to offer Dr. Lankford the show of watching Matt humiliate himself. Dr. Lankford never cared much for Matt, plus his competitive spirit appreciated the gamble.

But Matt didn't see it as a gamble. He spent the previous semester getting to know himself better than ever. For the first time in his life, he had complete control—over mind and cards.

"If this is strictly a duel between us, then we do not need an audience, correct?"

"Sure," Matt agreed sarcastically. "Why make a spectacle of the senior professor dueling the strongest student? Who'd want to watch that?"

"Sarcasm notwithstanding," Dr. Lankford continued, "we don't need to draw unnecessary attention to our duel, either; therefore, we will simply play a game of cards on a table top."

"Should I also wear earth tones so I don't stand out in the hallway?"

Dr. Lankford gave him a serious look. "Do you want me to change my mind about the duel?"

"You wouldn't do that," Matt assured him jovially. "You want to put me in my place. I might, however, ask for a single spectator—a neutral third party to act as judge to any arguable plays and to resolve any disputes between us. Plus, it's just a witness to keep us both honest about the outcome."

"You have no qualms about losing?"

"No one likes to lose," Matt pointed out. "But to rephrase your question, I am willing to accept my loss if the result is, indeed, my loss. I'm not looking to settle any scores here: I just want access to the dorm where I already deserve to reside."

The professor glared at Matt for a moment. The yellow jacket really did clash with the student's pallor. Everything about him seemed like dueling would be the last field of study he'd choose. He was reasonably muscular and was basically justifyied the existence of the Duel Academy recreation center by himself. He was intelligent and strategically-minded, even if he was too wild and uncontrolled for such a social competition. He had difficulty with losing, and he went off on such tangents people had tremendous difficulty enduring a full conversation with him at times. Despite the seriousness with which most people competed in Duel Monsters, Matthew Luther treated it as nothing more than a hobby… and occasionally a bargaining chip.

"Let's do this in my office. Shouldn't take more than twenty minutes without the holograms."

"It'll also be less exciting, but I accept your terms."

Matt grudgingly accepted the lack of a third-party judge when he saw the size of Dr. Lankford's office. It was probably the biggest one occupied by any professor, but he loaded it with piles of mechanical equipment and lined the walls with books, both academic and bound cards. There was plenty of room for Dr. Lankford to sit behind the desk and a student to sit on the opposite side, but any third person would have to stand in the doorway. No one ever showed up when Lankford shuffled his deck and started the duel.

While slapping down a yellow card, Dr. Lankford said, "Alexandrite Dragon (4/2000/100)."

"Why do you get to go first?" Matt asked.

"My office, my rules."

"Well, I guess that's fair." Matt's hand offered him a variety of options. The Alexandrite Dragon was among the most powerful level four monsters in the game, but it had no special abilities. Matt could overpower the card, set up a counter strategy, or take the defensive until he witnessed Lankford's strategy. But he didn't want to be passive about it: Matt wanted to guess Lankford's strategy and confront him head-on, making little adjustments as he needed to.

To Matt, his opponent was a puzzle, and no one wanted to wait for the answer to present itself. Lankford wasn't a difficult read. He came from the only family to revere the Blue-Eyes White Dragon. He was a beatdown duelist, and the best way to earn his respect was to beat his cards down.

Placing an orange card on the table, Matt said, "Jain, Lightsworn Paladin (4/1800/1200), attack mode."

"A lightsworn deck?" Dr. Lankford asked. But he shook his head as if to answer his own question. "No, not you. A twilight deck, perhaps? Taking a page from your old mentor?"

"Haruki Yagawa gave me a good outline," Matt admitted, "but any good duelist takes what his predecessors leave him and fits it to their personalities. Wouldn't you say so?"

Lankford tapped the desk. "Just make your move."

Matt grinned. He was already under Lankford's skin. "When Jain attacks, he gains 300 points. Your monster is destroyed." He could have placed a card or two on the field to deter Lankford from retaliating, but he suspected that the bothered Lankford was already off his game and would retreat temporarily.

As part of Jain's effect, Matt sent two cards from the top of his deck to his discard pile.

Matt 8000: Lankford 8000 – 100 = 7900.

"In that case, I will set a monster and one additional card."

"Ah," Matt groaned. "Running away so soon?" He placed Ehren, Lightsworn Monk (4/1600/1000) on the table. "A learned professor like you must have all these effects memorized, right? So I don't even have to tell you that when Ehren attacks your monster, your monster gets returned to the deck without being destroyed." When Lankford didn't even flinch, Matt doubted that he read his opponent correctly, and he became nervous to declare a direct attack. "Jain attacks you directly. Do you wish to continue?" That was code for: "Is that a Trap Card lying on the field in front of you?"

Lankford shook his head.

"Very well. My turn's done."

Matt 8000: Lankford 7900 – 1800 = 6100.

Per the combined effects of Jain and Ehren, Matt sent five cards from the top of his deck to the discard pile. When he saw one of the cards, he said, "My mistake. One more move: I'll summon Wulf, Lightsworn Beast (4/2100/300). Sorry to be so bothersome, but when he goes from my deck to the Graveyard, he summons himself to the field. Anxious little beastie. I hope that's not a problem." He was trying to draw a reaction from Lankford. Reading reactions was how he predicted the cards.

"Shouldn't be." Lankford settled quickly from his previous tension. Suddenly his expression was like stone—much harder for Matt to predict. "I've decided to change out my hand. I don't need these three cards," he said as he dropped three cards in his own discard pile, "but I'll summon this one." He played Montage Dragon (8/?/0).

Matt asked, "What were those three cards?" Lankford fanned out Blue-Eyes Shining Dragon (10), Chthonian Emperor Dragon (6), and Golem Dragon (4). "And Montage Dragon's attack points equal the levels of those three monsters times 300, right? 6000 points?"

"I hope that's not a problem."

Now he's mocking me. Keeping his own stony expression, Matt said, "Shouldn't be."

"Good. Confidence is necessary to get into the Blue Mansion, but it's not sufficient. Montage Dragon to Ehren, Lightsworn Monk."

"I'll remove Necro Gardna from play," Matt interrupted. He reached into the cards he discarded during the last two turns and pulled one of them out of his discard pile, but he didn't put it back in his deck: He placed it off to the side of the table. "Sorry, but that negates your attack. Odd how a two-headed monster only gets one attack, yeah? Also weird that it has only two heads when you have to discard three dragons to summon it. Oh well. Now you've got a 6000-point paperweight." It was easy to say that, but reality was much harsher when facing a monster worth two Blue-Eyes White Dragons.

"We'll see. I'll play Super Rejuvenation to draw three cards." Specifically, he drew one card for every discarded dragon. "That's all for now."

Despite the arrogant front he put forth, Matt was reluctant to accept the terms set for this duel. Not only was Dr. Kevin Lankford arguably the strongest Duel Academy professor since the schools inception sixty years earlier, but he was overly suspicious of Matt already. Every look in his eyes gave Matt the impression that he had no secrets from the man. Somehow, maybe, Lankford knew about the ethereal spirit that lived within Matt's body. That had to be why he wanted a duel without the holograms. Holograms offered too much hubbub—too many distractions: It was harder to detect the fluctuations in Matt's duel energy. A quiet duel would force Matt to think twice before drawing upon that hidden wealth of duel energy.

Matt cleared his mind of all but the face of a single card and let his arm swipe a card from the deck on auto-pilot. He didn't allow himself normal thought until he looked down and saw that he had, indeed, drawn the card he wanted. He resisted the smile that pulled at the corners of his mouth. Did Lankford see it?

"Cool. So I've deduced that your facedown card is probably not a threat to me—maybe something to help you swarm the field with dragons—so I'm going to send Jain and Ehren to the Graveyard as Tributes in order to summon Darklord Desire (10/3000/2800)." He really wished they were playing with holograms on this one. Desire was a fallen angel wearing wicked, black armor and just generally looked badass when rendered in 3D. "By reducing his attack 1000 points, I can send any monster on your field straight to the Graveyard." As Lankford reluctantly moved his card from the field, Matt waved. "Do not pass Go. Do not collect two hundred dollars."

"Are you always like this?"

"Isn't that why you don't want me in your dorm?"

Lankford knew better than to answer that question in any way. He couldn't accept the premise of the statement without admitting bias, and any response would lend credence to the fact that Matt would even ask.

Bored of waiting for an answer, Matt said, "Yeah. Anyway… Desire (-2000) and Wulf will attack directly, and that's all I'll do."

Matt 8000: Lankford 6100 – 4100 = 2000.

"For a twilight deck featuring Darklords, you run surprisingly few Traps and Spells," Lankford prodded.

"I keep discarding them with my Lightsworn monsters. Every single card I've drawn into my hand so far has been a monster."

That sounded like a crock if Lankford ever heard one. Matt was too clever to shortchange the support cards. He was waiting for something before playing a support card—perhaps a swarm of Blue-Eyes White Dragons. Odds were that's what everyone who ever dueled him expected Lankford to play. Looking at the cards in his hand, he considered doing exactly that to avoid disappointing his cocky opponent.

Lankford placed a green card on the field. "Pot of Greed." He didn't bother to explain it because everyone knew Pot of Greed let its user draw two cards from the deck. He placed a second green card on the field. "Monster Reborn will revive Chthonian Emperor Dragon (6/2400/1500). Do you know what a Gemini monster is?"

"A monster that has an effect but is treated as a Normal monster on the field and in the Graveyard until its effect is unlocked through a Gemini Summon? The process of Gemini Summoning gives it a powerful effect that has very few drawbacks at the mere cost of skipping your Normal Summon for the turn?

"Nope. Never heard of 'em."

Lankford was fluent in sarcasm and usually allowed it, but he hated being spoken to with such heavily sarcasm-laden speech. He was nearing his breaking point. "I Gemini Summon Chthonian Emperor Dragon and attack both your monsters." Once Gemini-summoned, Lankford's monster gained the ability to attack twice during the same Battle Phase.

Matt 8000 – 700 = 7300: Lankford 2000.

"There you go," Matt said. "You scratched my Life Points. At this rate of decline, I'm only going to beat you eight times before you beat me once. If it's any consolation, I think that means you beat the spread."

"Stop the insolence now," Lankford requested sternly.

Matt nodded once. "Okay." He turned over a green card in his hand. "Solar Recharge, so I discard a Lightsworn, draw two cards, and send two from the top of my deck to the Graveyard. I'll set a monster in defense mode and set two additional cards behind it." He held out his hand cordially. "Your move." Lankford didn't understand Matt's willingness to lay off the sarcasm, but he didn't wish to question it, either. Whatever reason Matt had for shutting up was good enough.

In reality, there was no mystery. Matt was willing to filter his comments if the people around him asked for it. Not everyone found sarcasm funny. As aggressive as he could be, he rarely sought to upset people who didn't deserve it: Lankford only deserved it a little bit.

"Polymerization fuses three Blue-Eyes into Blue-Eyes Ultimate Dragon (12/4500/3800)."

"Ho ho!" Matt laughed excitedly. "Now that's a big monster. I hope I'm ready for it."

Lankford wasn't sure what that meant. Obviously Matt had a Trap laid out: Never use a defensive monster without a Plan B. But what was the Trap? Lankford still held De-Fusion in his hand, and he could use that to triple the Blue-Eyes on the field if he timed it right. He couldn't be too ambitious or Matt would read right through his strategy.

"Blue-Eyes attacks first."

"Definitely not enough defense points for that," Matt said as he showed his Card Trooper. "I get to draw a card when this one goes to the Graveyard."

How odd that Matt wouldn't retaliate against the Ultimate Dragon. He must have read through Lankford's strategy already. Thinking to the next turn, Lankford realized he could set Matt up to lose in one more turn by attacking with Chthonian Emperor Dragon… unless Matt panicked and used his Trap immediately: Then Lankford would use De-Fusion and end the turn right away.

"Chthonian Emperor Dragon attacks directly."

"Ohh. Don't like that one," Matt said as he flipped over one of his set cards. It wasn't what Lankford expected. "Sakuretsu Armor. Destroys your monster before it can finish attacking."

Lankford expected Mirror Force, considered the ultimate Trap Card for its sheer destructive power. But Matt's other card might still be Mirror Force, especially if he predicted the Blue-Eyes Ultimate Dragon. Lankford decided not to risk losing all three Blue-Eyes at once. "Your turn," he conceded.

"Thank you. I don't have much here, so I'll set one more monster and let you go again."

Lankford was now certain Matt's facedown card was Mirror Force. But that might not matter at this point. "Pot of Avarice." He shuffled five of the dragons from his Graveyard into the deck and then drew two cards off the top. "De-Fusion," he said. He showed Matt the card briefly and then took three Blue-Eyes White Dragons (8/3000/2500) from the Graveyard without explaining that he could summon them to the field by sending the Ultimate Dragon back to the Extra Deck. "You expected this, didn't you?"

"Pretty much," Matt admitted. "Can't teach an old dog new tricks. Actually, you can teach an old dog all kinds of tricks, like 'roll over' and 'stop humping that man's leg.' That second one takes a lot longer to sink in for some reason…"

"How's this for new? I'm not attacking with these three. I'm going to overlay two of them to Xyz Summon the Hieratic Sun Dragon Overlord of Heliopolis (8/3000/2400)."

"That's a real mouthful, isn't it?" Matt leaned forward to get a good look at the black card Lankford pulled from his Extra Deck. "I guess I shouldn't be too surprised you have such a new card since you're in the Kaiba family, but I didn't even know they made Xyz monsters with ranks that high. That's a real sight, right there! Boy, I'd love to see that hologram!"

"Then at least you'll learn something with your loss today. I'll send one Xyz material to the Graveyard and offer two cards from my hand as Tributes to destroy both your facedown cards." Matt scooped up Ryko, Lightsworn Hunter and Mirror Force. Lankford felt vindicated in his caution. "You are now open for a direct attack from both my dragons."

Matt 7300 – 6000 = 1300: Lankford 2000.

Matt shook his head and said aloud how glad he was not to get attacked directly by those two monsters with the hologram system up and running. He claimed he was asthmatic and the attack would probably be too much for him. But it was a smokescreen while he focused on his deck. It was a little more difficult for him to focus so completely this time considering how close to losing he suddenly found himself. He accidentally let some of the power leak into the air around him. It was minimal, but if Lankford wasn't distracted by his babbling, then he might catch on to Matt's trick.

But he may have lucked out this time. Lankford didn't seem any different when Matt drew exactly the card he wanted. "So I'll start by admitting that was pretty spectacular. It's no wonder you're the one who established Team OTK, and seeing you play one just now proved to me that Lucy's Xyz monsters are truly badass. But here's where I collect on your end of the bargain.

"There are ten monsters in my Graveyard, so I summon Sephylon, the Ultimate Timelord (10/4000/4000). And what's a Timelord without a companion? Sephylon's effect summons Darklord Superbia (8/+4000/2400). Superbia loses its effect, but its points go up to 4000 so it's pretty much worth the exchange right now." He held each monster in front of Lankford's two 3000-point monsters. "See where I'm going with this?"

Matt 1300: Lankford 2000 – 2000 = 0.

Dr. Lankford sat back in his chair and sighed with annoyance. He unlocked the middle drawer on his desk and withdrew a key, tossing it at Matt. "There. A room key. Show it to Mitsuro on your way out and she'll give your ID card Blue permissions." In other words, Matt was now a resident of the Blue Mansion.

When he showed the key to Mitsuro Itachu, the administrative assistant who was also a senior student and fellow resident of the Blue Mansion, she asked him, "How'd you get this? Did you duel him for it?"

"I gave a convincing argument based on my merits and my history with the campus."

She shrugged, not questioning his story. "Well, you have dueled for our safety three times now."

"Twice, actually," Matt corrected her. "Dr. Apple wasn't trying to hurt anyone."

"Does that mean you've finally figured out what he was trying to do?"

"Not exactly."

As Bryan dropped a box of books in front of the empty bookcase, he said, "Two boxes of books, one suitcase bag of clothes, and a shoe box full of extra cards. You are planning to live here for the full semester, right?"

"The laundry at this dorm is free," Matt replied. "I've got enough clothes for a week at a time, and then it's back to the laundry. What more do I need?"

"How about a ping pong table? Or a refrigerator. Or a poker table."

"What happened to the one you used to keep in your room?"

"I sold it for that motorcycle."

"And what happened to the motorcycle?"

Bryan sighed longingly. "I sold that, too." He obviously missed the motorcycle. "I ultimately decided that you were right: Dueling on a motorcycle is like asking for an accident. I never did quite get the mechanics figured out, either. I didn't pay enough attention in my engineering classes."

"You've never taken any engineering classes."

"Well, maybe that was the problem. Either way, I sold it. My money's better spent on other things."

"Like jewelry, I'll wager," Matt concluded. Specifically, that explained how Bryan afforded the engagement ring he gave Lucy—the one with the sixteen diamonds circling a trillion cut garnet. It was a beautiful piece, custom designed to look like a Spell Counter—the theme of Lucy's dueling deck.

Darius walked into the room and dropped Matt's suitcase bag of clothes on the floor. "Thanks for the help, Darius," Matt told him. Darius was the third suitemate in this of the Blue Mansion's three-room suites. He was a good guy—very patient in dealing with Matt's wild train of thought and occasional prank-addled antics. He had a lot of experience, too. He was Matt's first roommate who wasn't Bryan.

"You are welcome."

Matt looked at Darius for a moment and admitted, "I'd forgotten how much I envy that beard. That is a thing of beauty." It was true: Darius grew full, lush facial hair in a matter of hours. He was the kind of guy who could shave in the morning and be ready to shave again at lunch, if he chose to do so. Instead, he kept the full beard look and continually trimmed it every morning.

"Thank you. It will be fun having you around again. How did you convince Dr. Lankford to let you move back here?"

"I thumb wrestled him and won the best two out of three."

"I bet that drove him up a wall," Bryan replied. He knew Matt was making up that story, but he played along because he also knew Matt was going to keep the details secret. There's no way Dr. Lankford would ever agree to thumb wrestling.

Darius looked confused. He was a man of few words, usually because English was not his first language and it was such a difficult one to learn. Idioms were particularly tricky and remarkably inconsistent. "Driving him up a wall is another figure of speech, correct? I assume you did not actually destroy the administration building just to obtain mansion permissions."

"I did not," Matt agreed. "That was Plan B." He looked toward Darius in the doorway, but his gaze followed past his old roommate to a fire-red envelope sticking out of Bryan's door. "What is that?"

Darius turned to see Matt's reference. "The envelope?" he confirmed. "It was there when I returned from class a little while ago." He pulled it from the door and handed to Matt, who handed it in to Bryan. "I do not know who brought it in."

"There's no sender," Bryan noted. He shook the envelope to get a feel for its mass: It felt like nothing more than a card. He ripped off the end of the envelope and let the contents slide out. It was a small board, like a postcard, with a picture of Bryan standing behind a hologram of Uria, Lord of Searing Flames. "That's not creepy," he lied. He flipped over the card and read an invitation on the back—a request for Bryan and Uria to attend a gathering in the far-north town of Yasna.

"You and your god card," Matt said. The room was silent for just a moment. Matt broke it by asking, "You know what this means?"

"Yep," Bryan answered. "We found the missing god cards."

Welcome to the fifth installment of my Yu-Gi-Oh! story. It is not necessary to read the previous four to understand this one. I hope for this one to be the centerpiece of the series and a place to answer the biggest questions that haven't even been asked yet as we build to a finale. Thanks go to tiramisu19 for contributing Darius, Jaden2010 for Carter, DarkVestroia2 for Sean, and Titanic X for Mitsuro. Titanic X also helped me prepare today's duel script.

Bryan is invited to Yasna alone: god card holders only. But Matt is determined to go with him and retrieve some of the gods himself. He just needs to get invited somehow...

Trivia: The comment about a Timelord and his companion is a reference to Doctor Who.