YGO CoP 2: Duel 4 – If you look under the couch and behind the portrait you find a gold coin.

Yukio Fujiwara quietly sipped his coffee in his lodgings. It was ten o’clock, reasonably late for normal people but not for him. He didn’t like to get up until two in the morning. His room in Stella’s communal house testified to his lifestyle. An electric guitar and a few amps were cuddled beside him like kittens where he woke up (which wasn’t his bed). After he took his last sip he once more dug through his landfill of old clothes underneath a Bob Marley poster. He couldn’t find it.

“Looking for this?” He followed the voice out of his room. Maya sat at a small, comely wooden table, looking out the window. She just arrived last afternoon. The morning dawn colored the Iceland suburb a soft gold. Some of those precious rays flowed through the window, illuminating the red highlights in her black locks and giving her skin a warm bronze glow. She only wore a home shirt and underwear.

She tossed at him a small plastic bag full of herbs crushed into green-brown balls. They gave an intense smell. “Don’t worry. I didn’t use any, but I know you can’t sleep well unless you get baked every night. I want you to be awake for a change. I haven’t seen you in so long.”

“Hmm… thanks?” He scratched his shaggy black hair and felt the stubble growing around his soul patch. He was too lazy to shave. Not even a giant quadruple-bladed electric shaver that could shave off the hair around an alpha male orangutan’s anus could make him shave. To be honest, he found Maya’s little theft right under his nose a blessing in disguise. He hadn’t seen her in ages either.

He stared into her eyes. The woman was a tiger but she was calm. She wouldn’t attack him. As she looked at him her eyes weren’t sharp or savage but were steadfast, warm. “Is this dream?” He murmured at last.

“Is it?” She mirrored his question felicitously. “Do dreams feel this real?”

“They do. Its like the dreams Sam Lowry had. He flies through the white and blue skies, in a lost world free of the city, and somewhere on the golden horizon is his angel. But that moment is too impossible to happen. That’s the only hint I have.”

She leaned towards him, her eyes still steadfast. “This isn’t a dream.”

“Not like Brazil?”

“No. Much better.” She slowly but inexorably leaned forward to kiss him, but Yukio pulled away at the last moment.

“I’m sorry, Maya. I found another woman after Jolene.”

“Stella…”

They agreed it was time to get dressed and went to the living room below. All of Team Stella waited for them. The eponymous member, Stella herself, brightly greeted them, as did the rest of the team. Stella was the spunky pale one with a prominent nose and her hair dyed a bright bubblegum pink. Poppy was blond, with thick glasses, had a nurturing plumpness. Luca was especially small and had electric blue eyes. Willow wore her hair in dreadlocks, stashed under a beanie. Dahlia had a stout body and examined people with sharp eyes under two thick, arched eyebrows.

Maya nudged him, her mouth spread in a naughty grin. “So you’re the rooster of this hen pen, huh.”

Yukio blinked at first but it finally came on. “My God no you little pervert! Does everything have to be about sex with you, you lecherous spotted hyena! You know I go to bed with Stella!” All the women in the room giggled uncontrollably. Yukio’s face was as red as his hair was black.

Maya clapped her hands together. “Let’s get to work. We need to contact base. Jolene can hack the Internets to leak info about the World Championship. Then we’ll complain how much the meta sucks.”

Stella popped a can of soda. “Sounds like a plan.”

June 12, 2009
PRIVATE CHANNEL

Maya, Yukio, and Team Stella are on one end of cyberspace. Jiao, Jolene, JC, and Hassan are on the other.

MAYA: “I hope no one can spy on us.”

JIAO: “Don’t worry you’re noodle. Jolene made sure it’s private and she’ll delete all evidence of this conversation as soon as it’s over.”

MAYA: “Jolene, can you get any info on the World Championship before it’s broadcasted?”

JOLENE: “I actually did that. I hacked into Industrial Illusions. I didn’t hack into KaibaCorp though. It’s too risky. Yes, the World Championship will take place in Egypt. It’ll be like Battle City. You collect something similar to Locator Cards, which you use to get to the finals. There are eight finalists.”

STELLA: “Sounds like the veterans are trying to bring back the glory days.” She crumples the soda can and throws it out.

MAYA: “And the prize money?”

JOLENE: “I don’t know, but it should be big. That’s all I know. Sorry.”

JIAO: She’s in the background but everyone can see she’s painting another picture with her feet. “Something tells me, Maya, that you’re zombie swarm deck won’t do well in the tournament. I mean, look at what happened between you and Akira.”

MAYA: “He obviously cheated.”

JIAO: “Yaaaaa…. But…” She wags her big toe at Maya like it was a finger.

MAYA: If anyone could give the thinks-they’re-cute-and-quirky-but-really-very-obnoxious award, Jiao would get it. But it wasn’t the time to be angry. “We know that Shaddolls, Burning Abyss, and Qliphorts completely rule the meta now. But there’s more. Back in the day we had many great generic cards like chaos monsters, Yata, and Raigeki that could work in any deck. But now they’re either banned or ineffective. New cards are situational and only exist to help certain archetypes. In other words, Pegasus and Kaiba use archetypes and the ban list to strictly control what decks and which duelists are on top. Certain archetypes are boosted with cards carefully designed to only support them. Custom decks are left to die.”

STELLA: “So how do we beat the system? We, Team Stella, always try something different. I run Yang Zing myself. It’s all partly because of you since you inspired us to look for new things in this game. We’re invited to the World Championship but I doubt we’ll even make to the finals. At least we’re not has-beens who used to win championships with tier 1 decks but can’t get over the fact the game moved on without them. Deedee Chua, the ‘duel master’, still uses Dragon Rulers and wants to be taken seriously. He’s almost as pathetic as ‘Bandit’ Kieth, and as egotistical as him to match.

MAYA: “Time for some life hacks. What we need to figure out is what exactly do they control to keep their top three decks in place. In other words, what are they keeping out? Skill Drain doesn’t work because Qlophorts do just fine without effects and Burning Abyss and Shaddolls use so many effects in the graveyard. Banishing monsters will frustrate all three archetypes, but Macrocosmos and Dimensional Fissure are limited to one. Soul Drain can negate effects in the graveyard, and it’s also limited. And Banisher or Radiance is a weak and slow monster. I’m sure that’s all a coincidence. Bouncing only works a bit unless we bounce back to the deck…”

STELLA: “So we play banish and bounce decks?”

MAYA: “We also need to use control. We need to negate monster effects from outside the field and prevent our opponents from swarming and searching. Thunder King Rai-Oh is also limited. Again, just a coincidence. Or you can try to outrace your opponent. Perhaps we should do both. All the while we need to conserve as many cards as possible and have strong ATK while we’re at it.”

STELLA: “So we need generic cards or archetypes that banish, bounce, and control your opponent’s cards. But most are limited on the ban list.”

MAYA: “I know.” She buries her hands in her thick, curly hair. “If only we could magically change the ban list. – Wait! Jolene, can you hack into I2 and change the ban list? Be subtle so no one will notice. You can unlimit a few cards, just a few so it’s hard to notice until it’s too late, and don’t unban anything.”

JOLENE: “I can even make it look like someone from within the company did it, and make the change just before the tournament starts. My oldest cousin works at I2. He would make a good plant.”

YUKIO: “Guys, isn’t all this cheating?”

MAYA: “Pegasus and Kaiba are cheating this whole time. Matthew cheated with all of his power when he fought us. Akira cheated so I couldn’t even duel him. By their standards we’re being downright fair.”

YUKIO: “Speaking of life hacks, know this. Shady, sinister behaviors are slippery slopes down to hell. People aren’t chess pieces. They’re unpredictable and things way too often get out of control.”

MAYA: “Tell that to Pegasus and Kaiba.”

JIAO: “So I guess we’re done.” She dabs her toes on the canvas in whatever weird experiment she’s involved in. “Ah! Perfect!”

MAYA: “The session’s over. I promise I’ll be careful, Jolene.”

JIAO: “One more thing. It’s in your best interest to make a new team. It’s nice to have comrades in Battle Royale reality TV style stunts. Happy hunting.”

Maya and Yukio took it upon themselves to find their last teammate. Stella rent Yukio her car so Yukio and Maya could drive out of the town of Selfoss and into the small town Laugardælir, partly to enjoy the beautiful scenery and partly to find their third duelist. You may ask, why look in such a small town? Well, let me tell you. The great chess champion, Bobby Fischer, spent his final years in Reykjavik and was buried on the grounds of Laugardælir church. Since Fischer’s death duelists built an active community in Reykjavik, hosting many tournaments and many free for all dueling parties that spanned entire parts of the city.

But more importantly, Laugardælir became a shrine of sorts, drawing great duelists and chess players all over the world, even if just temporarily, where they created small elite clubs. The membership was never permanent as duelists whisked in and out during their visits but someone good was already there. Even Seto Kaiba paid respects to the great master’s grave. If you want to find great things it is best to look at places you wouldn’t usually expect.

Maya set a pair of roses on top of the Fischer’s grave. The tombstone’s marble was still fresh and the flowers on the grave were new and colorful. They visited the church, a small, hushed, sacred place, before they took off to a café. It was ok to be leisurely. Stella told them that it was best not to look for great duelists. Rather, great duelists would come to them.

Yukio sipped his warm, delicious coffee, thinking for a long time about what he wanted to say to Maya and how he wanted to say it. He needed to get this out of the way. “Jolene told me about what you did with her and that guy that one night. What you did was really problematic. You did BDSM when you were all drunk. It was a really foolish and dangerous thing to do. Jolene could’ve seriously gotten hurt. You know what that tells me? That you’ve lost respect for yourself as well as other people.”

Maya took her time to process his harsh words. Yukio watched Maya closely, almost like a guard dog. He saw the usual anger flare in her eyes her lips twist downward, features he saw the moment he first met her, but nothing else. He then saw hurt and remorse creep into her eyes. “I’m very sorry. I threw myself in the alcohol because I was cornered and didn’t know what to do. The World Championship is my last plan. If I lose, I’ll forever be an outlaw. I’m not making an excuse for what I did. I promise I’ll be nicer, at least to my friends.”

Yukio pushed his phone to her across the small table. “I remember you when you protected Jolene against the Crusaders and even against JC himself. I want to see that you again. You need to apologize to someone.”

Maya dialed the phone. After Jolene on the other side asked who it was, Maya said, “Jolene, I’m sorry about that one night. It was very reckless and selfish of me and I could’ve seriously hurt you. You didn’t deserve it. I’m very sorry.”

“It’s alright. I totally forgot about it. But thanks for apologizing. You’re a real friend.” Jolene said.

Maya knew Jolene was lying.

Maya and Yukio noticed people leaving the café, gathering in a ring. They soon found out why. A duel just started. On the right stood a young man who wore a decent suit, which he ruined by popping up the collar, wearing a baseball cap on its side, and wearing a gaudy gold watch. On the right stood a teenage girl with a black flat cap and studded jacket, complemented by her dark red hair, which she wore in a French braid, and contrasted by her rather pale skin. Maya and Yukio recognized the young man as Deedee Chua, the “duel master” himself. They figured out the girl’s name from his banter: Sophia.

Deedee: 4000 || Sophia: 4000

DEEDEE’S TURN: “My deck’s just craaaaaaazzzzyyyy! Oh my, this opening hand is super sexy! I activate Gold Sarchophagus to banish Tidal, Dragon Ruler of Waterfalls.” A giant gold box opens, allowing a large holographic card to be placed inside it. “I discard Steam, Dragon Ruler of Droplets and Wyvern to summon another Tidal, Dragon Ruler of Waterfalls from my deck.” A large but thin ice blue dragon flies beside him. “Since I discarded Eclipse Wyvern I banish a dragon from my deck. I banish Wyvern and Steam from my graveyard to summon Blaster, Dragon Ruler of Infernos!” To contrast his thin and ascetic icy blue dragon, a fat and fiery red dragon appears beside it.

“Not done yet. Since Wyvern is banished, I add a dragon to my hand. I overlay Tidal and Blaster to Xyz Summon Mecha Phantom Beast Dracossack.” The two dragons collapse into comets of different colors and enter what looks like a black hole. But it apparently is a wormhole to another universe because an absolutely huge fighter aircraft flies out, surrounded by two lights that revolve around it like electrons. “I detach Blaster,” One of the “electrons” vanishes inside Dracossack, “and summon two Mecha Phantom Beast Tokens.” Two small jets split away from the mother ship. “And tribute them both to summon Light and Darkness Dragon.” They shatter into pieces and a majestic dragon, half white and half black, replaces them. “And I set a card. Try to beat this! Dragon Rulers are still Tier 1 and you know it!”

SOPHIA’S TURN: “Dragon Rulers are strong and you have a pretty strong field right now. But LDD can be beat, even in one turn. Please don’t take what I say too harshly, but your dueling seems rather solipsistic. It’s like you’re just playing against yourself.”

“She’ll probably use a chain to beat it?” Yukio comments to Maya from the sidelines.

“Or she’ll drain its ATK to kill it in battle the old fashioned way.” Maya mused.

“Oh yeah?” Deedee smirks, compulsively shuffling his hand as loudly as possible. “Prove it! I’m the Duel Master K for a reason!”

“Fine then. I discard a card to summon Swap Frog.” A yellow horned toad hops into play. “My Nimble Angler now activates and I choose to activate Swap Frog’s other effect.”

“And I activate LDD!” Deedee’s dragon pushes an aura of light outward as if it was flexing a muscle. The wave of light hits Swap Frog, paralyzing it briefly. “Sure it loses 500 ATK and DEF but it’s a small price to pay to control your every move.” (LDD ATK 2800 à 2300) “I activate Swap Frog’s other effect, to bounce a monster back to my hand.” But that was as far as she got for LDD negated her Swap Frog again. (LDD ATK 2300 à 1800)

Sophia is unfazed. “Angler still goes through. I summon Nimble Sunfish and Nimble Manta from my deck.” True to form, a sunfish and manta appear. “I activate Swap Frogs last effect.” To which Deedee again interrupts her and negates its effect. “I summon Genex Undine,” A strange cyborg with a water tank for a stomach appears. “And activate its effect.” Once, more LDD negates. (LDD ATK 1800 à 1300)

Deedee is clearly amused. “Forget about LDD’s effect already? Girl, do you even know how to play this game? You duel worse than my little sister! You must be one of those fake geek girls. ‘Like oh my God, who’s Bruce Wayne? I’m a huge Batman fan!’ Or how’s this? ‘I’m such a nerd! I read all five Harry Potter books!’ I mean, you got some nice blowjob lips but you’re no Sasha Grey.”

Maya smacks her palm to her face. “Maybe he should shut up and buy an anime body pillow before I put him in a real body bag.” Douchebags come in all races, creeds, and nationalities.

Sophia just ignores the insult. Honestly, Yukio finds that level of maturity from a teenager frightening. Anyway, Sophia continues. “I overlay Swap Frog and Sunfish to xyz summon Ghostrick Socuteboss.” Sophia’s monsters fall into the wormhole, which then bursts in energy. A sleepy-headed girl with bat wings and in lingerie pajamas flies out accompanied by two orbiting spheres of her own. “Socuteboss, attack LDD!” Sophia commands, and Socuteboss casts her spell. Legions of bats from the netherworld swarm and consume LDD.

Deedee grimaces at the death of his once mighty dragon. Sophia activated all those monster effects to weaken LDD so it could be destroyed. (Deedee LP 4000 à 3900) “I activate LDD’s other ability. I nuke all my monsters to bring back a dragon from my graveyard.” Draccosack vaporizes in a field of flames and Deedee’s trusty Blaster returns.

“I activate Socuteboss’s effect, destroying your monster and voiding your monster card zone so it can’t be used anymore.”

“That’s where you’re wrong! I activate Fiendish Chain!” His trap springs, and iron chains lock Socuteboss in their fetters. “Not exactly loli hentai but almost as good.”

Sophia sighs. Even her patience is strained at this point. “Can you stop being gross for one minute? I set two cards.” And as she ended her turn, Blaster vanishes back to Deedee’s hand per its effect.

DEEDEE’S TURN: “So one turn passes for Gold Sarcophagus. Next turn, Tidal is all mine. I activate Lightning, Dragon Ruler of Drafts from my hand. I discard it and Redox to special summon Tempest, Dragon Ruler of Storms from my deck. But don’t blink. I banish it to special summon Red-Eyes Darkness Metal Dragon and use its effect to bring back Blaster from my graveyard.” Storms gather and dark clouds form into a furious grey dragon, only to vanish and be replaced by a sinister dragon made of black steel, which is then accompanied by the familiar fiery red dragon.

Sophia springs her trap. “Ojama Trio!” Three circus freaks, yellow, green, and black, infest Deedee’s field, wearing only red tights. Deedee clenches his nose to protect himself from the awful smell caused by their constant farting. “You’re field is full, so you can’t summon any monsters.”

Deedee curses, annoyed. “No problem. I can’t swarm the field but you’ll still suffer. Blaster, roast Socuteboss!” Blaster launches a ball of fire at Socuteboss, who explodes into bits from the blast. (Sophia LP 4000 à 2600) “And REDM, destroy Undine!” REDM projects a fiery projectile of its own, blowing Undine up. (Sophia LP 2600 à 1000) She winces from the attacks but keeps her cool. Deedee concludes his turn and his Blaster once more returns to his hand.

SOPHIA’S TURN: “Alright, I got everything I need. I activate my trap Xyz Reborn. Socuteboss revives and this trap attaches to her as a Xyz Material.” Socuteboss revives, with one new orb revolving around her. “I Normal Summon Swap Frog and mill Nimble Angler.” With her monster sent to the Graveyard, another Nimble Sunfish and Nimble Manta appear on her field. “I overlay Swap Frog and Sunfish to Xyz Summon my second Ghostrick Socuteboss and my other Sunfish and Manta to summon my third Ghostrick Socuteboss.” Her four monsters vanish in two worm holes and two more Socuteboss are formed.

“I activate the effects of all three! Destroy REDMD and two Ojama Tokens!” The three Socuteboss three black holes to appear, which both consume REDMD and the two Tokens and stay so no monster can be on those zones. Deedee also loses Life Points from the two Tokens. (Deedee LP 3900 à 3600 à 3300) “Socuteboss number one, destroy the last Ojama Token, and my two other, attack him directly!” The first Socuteboss obliterates the last Token with her swarm of bats (Deedee LP 3300 à 3000) while the other two torment Deedee himself with their own legions of dark creatures. (Deedee LP 3000 à 1600 à 200) “And I activate Ground Collapse.” Deedee’s remaining two Monster Card Zones are crushed by two warp fields.

Maya gazes at Sophia as if she was in love with her and sighs fondly. “Really brings back the good old days, Yukio, back when I swarmed the field with WATER monsters myself. Even Deedee’s juvenile, abusive comments make me feel warm inside. Back then guys like him were all I had to worry about.”

Deedee looks anything but calm and nostalgic. “This is impossible! Nimbles and Ghostricks? What a n00b! I use Dragon Rulers! I can’t lose to you!” He screams in anger and throws his duel disk on the ground, scattering his cards everywhere. “FUCK THIS GAME! I’M OUTTA’ HERE!” And he stomped away in a huff.

Deedee: 200 (rage quits) || Sophia: 1000

Now the duel was over, the crowd scattered from the scene, but Yukio noticed that they still chattered among themselves. During the duel they whispered to each other, commenting on both player’s decks and strategy and even making critiques and postulating their own ideas, which they kept doing even as they dispersed. “Why didn’t Deedee play Fiendish Chain sooner? Some “master duelist” he is!” – “Because Fiendish Chain would be chained by LDD.” – “Why didn’t Sophia play Ground Collapse and Ojama trio during her first turn? She could’ve iced Deedee back then?” – “Toying with him? Didn’t draw Ground Collapse yet? I don’t know.”

Maya and Yukio approached the victor. They shook her hand and introduced themselves. “Приятно познакомиться.” Sophia greeted back, shaking Maya’s hand, and then Yukio’s. Sophia had small hands with thin palms, and long, bony fingers, her nails painted black. They looked like a witch’s hands as much as Maya’s hands looked like spiders. He was surprised by how strong Sophia’s grip was.

“Можете ли говорите српски?” Maya asked, to which Sophia replied bashfully. “Sorry, no. I can’t make out enough Serbian. I know some Russians who can but I’m not one of them.”

“We thought you’re duel was really great.” Yukio complimented her. “You show a lot of strength and originality. The World Championship is approaching and we’re making a team. We need one more member. Will you join us?”

Sophia analyzed them for a minute, her dark, slanted eyes soft but proping at the same time. “If I recall, you are Marina Bozovic and Yukio Fujiwara. Maya, you used antimeta zomies since 2005, and I remember you, Yukio, using Masked Heroes for the 2005 Nationals. How interesting! I was looking for a team myself. I accept.”

Yukio nudged Maya gently. “She’s approachable, polite, and kicks butt. See, you can be a great duelist without being belligerent.” To that Maya laughed, palmed Yukio’s face, and jokingly shoved him aside.

Maya saw Sophia wore a black shirt with the picture of the monster Necroface on it. “I’ve got an idea for a team name. Team… Dead Baby Humor!”

Yukio laughed awkwardly. “That’s a little too dark, don’t you think?”

“How does Dutch Baby Oven sound?”

“You may want to tone it down a bit.”

“Alright, alright.”

“Hmm…” Sophia puckered her lips and put her finger on them inquisitively. “I have a Tumblr called Baby Blast Furnace. Sounds good?”

Yukio groaned and waved his hand at them despairingly. “What’s wrong with you people? If you like dead babies so much why don’t you join Planned Parenthood. But whatever, I’ll accept the name. Forget I said anything about you two being different.”

“So we got a team! YAY!” Maya and Sophia jumped with joy. They dragged Yukio away by the arms. “Speaking of dead babies maybe we should shop at Hot Topic for the lulz.”

“Hot Topic? In Iceland?” Yukio groaned again. “Why don’t you buy a fake dog turd at Spencer’s Gifts while you’re at it.”

Oh we will!”

Advertisements

YGO CoP 2: Duel 3 – One Shot Blown. A Lifetime Opened.

The crowd inside the stadium simmered as a boiling cauldron, their expectations bubbling higher with each passing second. They stared down at the empty arena beneath them as if the two great duelists already waged their war for the supreme reputation. Already they cheered for their future combatants, divided into camps of die-hard fans locked against each other as two opposing armies. They waved their crude signs and number one gloves as if they could send missiles to obliterate the opposing team.

For Maya waiting just outside the arena, it was boring. The audience had simple expectations. They wanted something big and loud, a duel lasting between five to twenty minutes so it looked like a real struggle. The crowd would guzzle down their corn dogs and beer and slug at each other when things got really out of hand. Maya had satisfied them with a spectacle of death a million times already. And all this over children’s trading card game.

Could be worse. Could’ve been about a bunch of sweaty, road-rage beef-heads having a public orgy. They did it because they needed to fumble over some pigskin. It had something to do with playing a children’s game also.

Maya’s head throbbed in pain. It felt like a migraine but she knew it really wasn’t. She had woken up on top of Jolene in her cheap apartment. Some random guy slumbered under their bed. Everyone looked like they were dead, and incriminating evidence of Maya’s deeds were everywhere. The guy’s body was riddled with whiplashes and bites so hard they had drawn blood. Jolene’s body was less savaged but was smeared with red lipstick everywhere. Maya herself looked horrifying, her makeup smeared and blurred all over her face so much she liked the Joker from the Dark Knight.

A sudden sick urge had overwhelmed Maya and before she knew it she threw up all over the random guy. She whispered a soft, meek apology, but he snored on. My God! The time! She quickly god dressed and could only wash some of the makeup off. She found her duel disk, suspiciously placed somewhere else than when she last remembered it, but she didn’t have time to consider it.

Maximus, the familiar tournament commentator, short and stout, flashing a rich mop if dyed golden hair, brandished a special silver trophy just for the occasion. “Today, we hold the premier match to the AMERICAN DUEL MONSTERS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP, the gala for glory, the appetizer to whet you’re appetites!” The crowd swerved in a lecherous frenzy. “On the left, we have AKIRA RYU! JAPANESE NATIONAL CHAMPION AND CURRENT WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP!!! And who has he graciously stooped down to duel with his generosity? NONE OTHER THAN THE AMERICAN NATIONAL CHAMPION MARINA BOZOVIC!!!!!!!”

Maya and Akira finally entered the stage together, shuffled each other’s decks, and took their stances opposing each other. The formalities and bombastic titles were finally over.

“READY!!!! GET SET!!!! DUEEEEEEEEEL!!!!!!”

Akira: 4000 || Maya: 4000

AKIRA: “Even now I regret stooping this low to duel against you. You probably won’t satisfy me even as a curiosity. I activate Qliphort Scout and Qliphort Monolith!” Two cylinderous beams of light, pure and immaculate, descend from the sky. Inside them float two similar monsters opposing each other, a long, thin machine that looked like a tall hermit crab’s shell, and another machine shaped like a monolith. “I pay 800 Life Points to use Scout’s pendulum effect: I search for Laser Qlip and activate it.” (LP: 4000 à 3200) The whole field takes on a sickly, purple-pink hue from the spell.

“Scout has a Pendulum Scale of 9 and Monolith has a pendulum scale of 1, so I can summon all monsters between those levels! PENDULUM SUMMON!!” Lines crisscross in the sky in the shape of a multisided star. A celestial gatewats opens! Spirits pour forth and take shape into a train of husk-like machines: Qliphot Carrier, Qliphort Helix, Qliphort Stealth, and Qliphort Shell.

But Akira is nowhere near done yet. I tribute Stealth and Shell to summon Qliphort Disk!” Two of the alien machines return to their celestial source, not the graveyard, their place taken by a saucer-shaped machine. “And because I tribute summoned Disk, I special summon two Qliphort Carriers from my deck.” And surely enough two new machines appear. “Now I tribute two carriers and Helix to summon Apoqliphort Towers, which I can due because of my field spell!” His three machines ascend far above. Now a gargantuan, imposing monster with four towering legs loomed ahead.

“I use Towers’ effect. Throw away one monster from your hand.” Maya does so. “As my turn ends I use Monolith’s pendulum effect to draw five cards! Take my advice, ‘Maya’. Don’t fight against the system. You might as well play along with it.”

MAYA: “Thanks for the useless advice.” Pegasus must be running out of ideas to rip off of Evangelion. Qliphorts are as tough as they are generic in this metagame. Qliphort Tower is especially bad. It can only be destroyed by battle. And Akira has five more Qliphorts in his extra deck, which he would summon next turn. She faced these gamebreaker monstrosities before. It will be difficult but she has a plan. “I summon Unizombie!”

Nothing! The monster doesn’t appear! She slaps the card on the duel disk again! Nothing! She tries again, and again, smacking the duel disk she’s almost hitting it. It couldn’t be broken! The crowd boos and jeers at her. Even her “fans”, who just waved their sloppy signs for her a few minutes ago, don’t bother to hide their derision.

Akira can barely contain a smug grin of satisfaction. “Forgot to fix your duel disk? Sounds like a bold strategy to me. I knew you had tricks up your sleeve but I had no idea you’d do this.” He keeps shuffling his hand, making a very loud and obnoxious slip – slip – slip sound. Most duelists do this. They think it makes them look like a pro but it really makes them look like douche bags. To Maya it always sounds like jacking off, and in the end that’s all it amounts to.

The fire inside Maya stars to cook at a higher pressure, her suspicions aroused to paranoia. “You did this! You tampered with my duel disk while I was out you cheat!! I swear I will crucify you upside down over the Chicago Skyline Bridge!”

Akira merely laughs at her threats. The crowd now mocks her in crude chants and throws food at her, especially her former fans. Maya, feeling only impotent, drops her head low in shame. The crowd hits her with a few corndogs and a box of cheesy nachos. One guy on a front row seat hits her head with a beer bottle. A serious mistake.

……………………..!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Duel over. Maya clenched her fists. She seized the silver trophy and pelted it at the offender, striking him on the head and knocking him out cold. The crowd instantly changed its tune from mockery to panic. People fled the arena in droves, throwing each other under and stumbling on top of one another.

Akira was already on his cell phone. “HELP! HELP! Things are getting out of hand! Send the cops over right now!”

That was soon, a little too soon. But Maya had no time to ponder the situation. Akira already disappeared, replaced by a ring of cops tightening their grip on her. Maya cursed. “Cops! Again! What is this, a pigsty!?” She tried to break through but the cops hit her with their nightsticks and before she knew it she was pinned to the floor, handcuffed.

———————————————–

Maya had no choice but to slump on the wall of the jail cell. The adrenaline was gone. But the pain wasn’t. Her head still felt bruised and cut from the beer bottle. She was at least thankful no glass got into her eyes. But there were few blessings to count. If Maya paid for her bail she would be completely broke. That one banker at the party would breath down her neck worse than a dragon and would make sure within all his power to have her locked up for good. She didn’t want to become a statistic, but it seemed she had no other choice.

Either way the guard couldn’t care less. He just lounged on his chair, cross-legged, his feet on the desk, reading a newspaper while sipping a cup of coffee. His potbelly protruded from his body like a swollen abscess. He wasn’t smug or cruel like Akira was so much as apathetic, which was even worse. At least spite was a passion.

The cop flipped through his newspaper. He echoed her worries. “I hope you got friends to help you out, or you’ll be stuck here for a long time. Not like you can pay for anything anyway. Well, that’s what you get for going crazy like Mike Tyson at the stadium. Problem is, I don’t think you’re a superstar with an army of lawyers like Mike Tyson, are you? Bet you’re on drugs all the same.”

“Correction, the pig in a wig is smug.”

“What was that?” The cop had enough of her but then the door slammed open and a man threw a briefcase full of cash on the cop’s lap. He was modest in height and well built, with a short, well-groomed beard and mustache that complemented a serious face. “My name is Hassan. Get in the car. I’ll explain everything there.”

———————————————–

For the next few minutes Hassan delivered what seemed more like the exposition of an outlandish fanfic than anything that happened in the real world. Maya’s head swam at all the news being doused at her at once. Her world was shot. “You want me to save Egypt from you’re father and the Ghouls. And you think I’m the one for the job because… you dreamt about me.”

Hassan nodded. “You are one of the three serpents. Forgive me for prying into your personal life, but I know you battled against the Ghouls before. You wanted to research crime in the inner city for your undergraduate thesis, but wound up in the middle of two Ghoul gangs fighting for turf. You even befriended the leader of one gang… before he was killed. Point is, you already dug deep into the Ghouls as a whole, but you stopped. I hear rumors the next World Championship is taking place in Egypt and you need the money. You can kill two birds with one stone.”

Maya was in no mood to hear about this closed case, or to open old wounds. She still could smell the gang leader’s entrails and feel her soaked hands push them back into his body as he lay dying. “No! One, I’m not going to the World Championship! I’m not good enough! Two, there’s no way I can stop the Ghouls! If Yugi couldn’t do it what makes you think I could?”

Hassan reached the Chicago O’Hare International Airport. “What choice do you have? I believe in Fate, Maya, and I know dreams say something deeply important.” He took out two suitcases for he packed all of Maya’s things and handed her a one-way ticket to Iceland. “May Horus protect you on your journey. May he vindicate the righteous and annihilate the wicked.”

“If you honestly think a cosmic force is parochial enough to privilege a small tribe of apes on a small dust ball in a small suburb of the universe, then you, sir, are lost.” But Maya wasn’t oblivious to Hassan’s generosity, so she grudgingly thanked him. She thought of taking a cab right back to the city as soon as he left… but then what?

Jolene greeted her, but after that they kept looking at each other awkwardly. Jolene didn’t say anything but the embarrassed red flush on her cheeks and the look in her eyes said everything. Two people accompanied Jolene. One was JC, a tall and corpulent man, sporting a bristling black goatee and thick glasses. Maya, glad to break the spell, greeted him. He, in turn, paid his grudging respect. The other person… she was a small and slim woman with long, black hair and porcelain features, doll-like. Jiao Yi.

Hassan wasn’t going to leave either. “If I can’t convince you, then she will.”

Maya was sore enough but Jiao smiled sweetly and offered her seafood sushi. Maya was starving! She ate her morsel gratefully and so her irritation was pacified a bit. Jiao offered that they all sit at a nearby Japanese restaurant. Maya’s flight wasn’t until another four hours.

Jiao showed Maya an interesting painting of an ancient, ruined castle deep in the woods. Between Jolene and Maya, Jolene was the painter, but Maya could tell the brush strokes were thick and broad, and of dark colors, to create the impression of something untamed and obscure at the same time. “You painted this?”

“Yes, with my feet.” Jiao even playfully took her foot out of her slipper to wiggle her toes. They indeed were especially dexterous. Jiao seemed to have read Maya’s mind because she then said, “There was a time in my life where I felt completely free yet safe in the same way. I felt a raw, primeval feeling, and at home in the world.”

Maya needed to change the subject. “I appreciate your favors but cut to chase. What is your argument?”

Jiao chuckled lightly. “Oh yes, arguments, to ingratiate the rationales of irrational animals. But fine. Here is the most obvious.” She took Maya to the third floor of the restaurant and pointed to the dark horizon. “Look over there.”

Maya saw the stadium where she had her humiliating duel just half a day ago. It shone brightly like a green lighthouse but in doing so allowed her to see the projects not too far off. A Ghoul gang used one of the abandoned buildings as a home base. Then it was raided by the rival gang, and the leader Maya joined sides with died in the attack. “It reminds me that the dueling world… didn’t change at all.” She bit down her bitter disappointment. “Four years later, it’s still all the same. My dueling didn’t make any of their lives better.”

“And I’m sure you know why.” Jiao was sympathetic but damning all the same.

“Because I played within ‘the system’. The dueling world is run by ‘The Man’ as it were. I wanted to help the ‘littleman’ but just to exist I needed to follow ‘The Man’s’ rules. The rules rigged, so it’s impossible to actually do anything. The worst thing is that even the people who are screwed over the most either don’t know about or don’t care. Their spirits are so crushed they can only look for a narcotic, like reality TV, the Superbowl, or dueling.” Maya glared at the stadium far away with burning envy and hatred. “If only I could just burn the whole damn world to the ground!”

Jiao looked out to the horizon as Maya did. “Well, you could do the next best thing. If you win the World Championship you’ll get about three million dollars prize money. Even more important you’ll get the power to change the system. I mean, let’s be honest here, you’ll still have to navigate through the corporations, especially KaibaCorp or Industrial Illusions, but it’s better than nothing. Or perhaps you’d rather go to jail.”

“There’s one more thing. The funny thing about the Ghouls is that after I got to a certain point I just went up against a wall. Separate bosses run big Ghoul syndicates, or that’s how it appears.” Maya mused. “But beyond there seems to be a person, or persons, who have control over the bosses behind closed doors. Heishin is the boss of the Ghouls in Egypt right now, but I’m sure he’s dealing with someone else. Question is: who are these people and what are they up to?”

“Would you like to know?” Jiao prodded.

Maya at last conceded. “Fine. I’m going. Hassan gave me a big present and he doesn’t seem like a shady guy. He’s either naïve or desperate to the point of being stupid. I’ll give him that. The World Championship is my last shot as a pro.”

“You’ll meet Yukio, you’re old friend, in Iceland. Hassan, Jolene, JC, and I will stay here. We’ll be you and Yukio’s base, your line of support. In Iceland you’ll also meet Team Stella, who you’ve worked with in the past before…”

“And there I’ll register for the World Championship. I’m pretty sure America banned me from the tournament scene by now. But… answer me, Jiao. Why do you even care? I know what Hassan gets out of this, but what about you?”

“Because I recognize a worthy creative spirit when I see one and I want to see it nurtured.” Jiao’s reply was plain and simple. “And frankly, I’m sick of ‘the system’ too.”

Reparations (Grad School Commentary On Readings)

reparations

American writer, journalist, and educator Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a very eloquent essay, “The Case For Reperations”, which focuses on the heavy injustices black people in America have faced in history and face today. He alternates between picturing the lives of people who endured segregation during the twentieth century, such as Clyde Ross and Billy Lamar Brooks, and exposing America’s broader history of racism, especially during the infamous Jim Crow era. I say “exposed” because even today, where we believe we have risen above racism, we still deny our history to a broad extent and our modern world it begat.

America has a nasty habit of sweeping racism under the rug but Coates sticks to his guns, emphasizing how the profits of slave labor allowed America to economically rise into a world power. He insists racism is so deeply entrenched in American culture and history we would be living in a vastly different world without it. Racism, slavery, and genocide are as much part of the American tradition as apple pie. He is absolutely right. To distort or deny our dark history is callous and willfully ignorant at its best and monstrous at its worst. He makes an eloquent argument that makes you seriously consider making reparations to black people all around America.

But the problem is as soon as you do, you run into problems. Coates’ fatal flaw is he never specifies how to go about making reparations. Do we give all lower middle and lower class black people a hundred thousand dollars? Do we take people out of the projects and build suburbs for them, mirroring the opportunities presented to white people after World War II? Coates does give examples of a few models attempted under Lyndon Johnson, but he never uses them to come up with his own solutions.

This is where the other essayists Kevin Williamson and David Frum step in. They provide their own reasons why reparations would be practically difficult to impossible. Williamson does not show any specific ways reparations would be impractical, just the sentiment that “the path from policy to outcome is a crooked one.” Frum is more specific. He says reparations would cause as much distrust and contention as affirmative action, which is unpopular and controversial in its own right. Furthermore, black people are far from the only people who have been oppressed in America. What about Mexicans-Americans? What about women? What about Asians?

As for me, I am pessimistic. I don’t feel confident about reparations, at least the kind Coates has in mind. Bureaucracies exist first and foremost for themselves and for the capitalists who employ their workers. They are designed to be ineffective and to cause more problems than they solve. In my last essay I discussed how building the projects and renovating public schools in Chicago were both fraught with problems. Both government programs were enormously saddled by bureaucratic complications and ultimately were not given enough support because America insisted on private enterprises having most of the power.

What should have been humanitarian missions became another form of business. Services were sold like a product to costumers and only the customers who could afford the services were the ones who bought it. The people who needed those services the most, the poor and destitute, did not receive much. The projects were neglected until they became dilapidated and dangerous because private enterprises didn’t see any profit in it. Chicago’s public schools were not renovated in an efficient way to be totally inclusive for the same reason. Bureaucracies are designed to be ineffective. Bureaucratic solutions succeed most in making bureaucracies more pervasive. Working with the system, playing within the rules, makes for minimal progress. The house always wins.

And this is a cause for deep sadness. The people, especially the oppressed people, deserve better. They deserve justice. I do have some optimism. Though gaining progress within the system, through bureaucracies, is very slow but there are at least marked improvements. The lives of black people are enormously better than they were a century ago. The lives of women have had similar drastic improvements. However, those improvements came with heavy costs. With each concession capitalism makes, with each loan it gives you, it finds some way to make you accumulate interest. Prejudices vanish, but some stay and become ever more insidious.

My own solution is through a complete overhauling of the social structure. To create equality it would be necessary to attack the disease itself, not the symptoms. This means taking away the power of the capitalists who profit from bureaucratic hierarchies and then to decentralize the power to give it back to the people. I am no expert on political philosophy and activism, so I will admit I have little knowledge of how to make this drastic change go about. I can only point to a better idea.

YGO CoP 2: Duel 2 – Wine doesn’t drown demons. It invites them to dance in the party.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: From YGO CoP 1 I wanted to tackle serious social issues such as racial and sexual inequality. I know how contentious these topics are but I swore to touch on all the issues I care about in my work.

Maya leaned on the grand piano in the practice room, her hand on her mouth in thought as she watched Clarence struggle to play. The poor boy was even more gauche with his composition than with his playing. Music is often said to be a language and while he could write sentences he didn’t know how to put them together in a meaningful paragraph. He would start an idea and just break it off without any justification. He was trying so hard to show his skill though, whizzing through scales and arpeggios but tripping every once in a while.

She put her private judgments aside. Clarence looked up to her. His eyes shone with an eager, naïve, and expectant light. “Well, how did I do?”

He was going to be disappointed. Maya was too irritated and worried to be tactful. Her patience was worn out by months of problems, but she still tried to be didactic in her response. “What did it say?”

Clarence blinked. “What?” He asked blankly. It took him a while to figure it out. “I don’t know… Was I supposed to say something? It sounded good, right?”

Maya shook her head and took his seat in front of the piano. Did he not learn anything? “You’re playing is fine. However, the technical skills in your composition are meaningless because it doesn’t say anything. You need to have an idea and real emotion behind it, but even that is not enough. You need to control the language of the music to sustain an idea and direct it somewhere.”

She would let her own folly instruct him. She played the last movement of a sonata she wrote during her teens. It was so virtuosic and dynamic it easily outstripped everything Clarence wrote, only magnified by Maya’s fiery but poised playing. But nothing. A few lights flashed. A few times a window opened into a higher realm but they quickly shut. “Where did I go with my idea? What did I say?”

Clarence remained silent, so she then played the final movement of the Waldstein sonata at a leisurely pace. She showed how Beethoven presented a unique idea, a dawning sunlight and the feelings of hope that came with it. She emphasized the few contrasting ideas that followed, but maintained how Beethoven sustained the main idea. Then, at the Presto part at the end… She let go! She bottled all the energy before, coiling it into a tight wire, and let it spring in a soaring and magnificent finish. “Where did Beethoven go with his idea? What did he say?”

Clarence’s face gradually darkened the whole time. He tried to throw music from the stand on the floor but he restrained himself. “I don’t see the point!!! Why are you forcing me to write stupid Classical music in the first place! No one writes dead white man’s music anymore!” He changed from anger to resignation. “It’s impossible. I’m never going to make it in the music industry. You know what it’s like. Black people don’t get hired or promoted as much. And the only way we can become mainstream is if we play into a racist gansta’ stereotype, a ‘lifestyle’ made by white people for white people.”

Maya didn’t apologize but the look in her eyes said everything. “I was too harsh. Let’s sit down on the floor.” So they did, leaning against the wall. “I struggle the same way in dueling. Couldn’t get a sponsor for my first two years as a pro. When I finally did I wasn’t paid or covered as much as white duelists even though I was much better than they were. I wasn’t forced but… I felt I needed to be, as you said, a gansta’ cliché. Since we’re in Chicago it’s only worse.”

She shook her head and told him everything. She remembered how hard it was for her to win her first Nationals against the former champion Matthew four years ago. But even the best duelists don’t always win the prize money. Hence why Maya composed, hence why she needed a manager. For each eight possible tournaments she could be in, seven of them were filled with white men. Her sponsor gave her less money than to other duelists and hence less resources to keep up with the metagame and live only by dueling. That entailed needing to support herself in other ways, which left even less time for dueling. Being an outspoken radical antimeta duelist didn’t exactly help either.

Clarence took some folded posters from his music binder and handed them to his teacher. “I watch your duels a lot. I think you’re an awesome duelist. Last year you donated to the King College Prep High School and lectured about how anti-intellectual America was and how badly it needed more educated people and public intellectuals. Then you completely devastated the Fox News sponsored duelists at the finals and exposed that to the whole world. That was great.”

Maya unfolded the posters. Many duelists modeled as a part of their career, both to make money and advertise themselves, and Maya was no exception. But she decided in each shoot exactly what she wanted to say. The first poster was her most popular. She was completely nude in a forest, wrapping a python around her like a scarf, her body vibrant, caught in the middle of motion. In the second poster she posed in her preferred dueling costume of a black tank top and a black skirt with red lacings holding a skull to advertise a special Halloween party. In the third, she was precariously balanced on a small boat on a river, wearing only old fishnets.

The other posters had a similar theme. Other duelists, especially the women, posed soullessly, their bodies “perfected” with a price tag put on them, like a Mercedes in a car magazine They were less lively than still life, their eyes pretty but blank. Their bodies didn’t show anything true about them, nothing of the blood that boiled in their veins or the fire that burned in their hearts.

The young woman who looked back at Maya in her posters was very different. Her wiry body vibrated with coiled energy. Her shoulder-length black hair of untamed, serpentine locks blended well with her brown face. Her features were broad and full, made livelier by the dark red lipstick and black eye shadow she often wore. Maya looked a long time into the woman’s piercing and narrow brown eyes. She wondered if the firebird who blazed in the posters really was her. She looked so powerful, like she could shake the earth and make its volcanoes erupt if she wanted to. Maya didn’t often feel that way, but was good at pretending otherwise.

Maya’s phone rang and she answered. Clarence didn’t know whom she was talking to, but he could see her eyes brighten and her hawkish features soften. She smiled and giggled like she was a teenage girl talking to her BFF about each other’s boyfriends. She hung up. “An old friend is meeting me at a party I don’t want to go to. My life is less terrible. Don’t forget to do your homework.”

Clarence was still curious. “By the way, why is your full name Marina Bozovic? Sounds Russian.”

“My dad is a Serbian immigrant. He met mom in the Bronx.” Maya replied.

——————————————————————–

The Duel Monsters National Championship Gala was another of those “work parties” Maya had to attend. And she hated them. All of them. Dueling was a lot like professional football and basketball, a ridiculous spectator sport owned by rich people to amuse themselves and cow the masses. It wasn’t the path of a warrior, as Yugi so often said. It was a business. It was reality TV. It was the news. Yugi was so innocent he never fell into the dark side of the dueling world. But other old school duelists, like Mai, did and knew first hand how vicious it was.

Corporate sponsors and duelist managers were everywhere, easily recognizable in their buttoned-up suits that cost a thousand dollars. In essence they were sleazy used car salesmen who pretended they were Bill Gates. The “great duelists” themselves were hardly any better. Most wore extravagant or gaudy costumes like Hollywood and music industry celebrities. Whenever Maya was bored in these events, which she almost always was, she would amuse herself by picking out the Kim Kardashians, the Kanye Wests, the Jessica Simpsons, the Tom Cruises…

Maya found Jolene, her friend since high school, and they embraced with open hearts, glad to see each other after so many years. Jolene was a small and spunky woman with dirty blond hair and sharp, green cat-like eyes that peeped through green horn-rimmed glasses. “I’m so glad you got back your National Champion title last year! I hope things are going better for you!”

Maya kissed her dear friend on the cheek. “Thank you so much for coming cher! Things are getting a little better!” And she meant it. But the problems still hounded her and wouldn’t even stop at her grave. One problem, a banker whose son was one of the duelist celebrities, just came around the corner. “Hide!” Maya cried frantically and they both dove behind a large fountain.

It was best if Jolene didn’t know the sordid story. To duel she needed to buy cards, so she needed to borrow money, and so she needed to keep up with the game when new cards came out, so she needed to borrow money. And the cycle went on, interest lumping together into a big hideous pile Maya never dared laid eyes on. The ugly truth was no amount of tournament winning could pay the debts off. To be a pro you needed the financial backing privilege gave you. No amount of hard work and tournament winning would help you.

The two women reintegrated themselves back into the crowd. One of the “hip          “ corporate sponsors, distinguished only by his sunglasses and greasy beard, a sort of David de Rothschild, took the burden of delivering the announcements. And a burden it was, from his pathetic attempt at safe jokes to his self-congratulatory tone to the long role call of all the “brilliant innovators” who sponsored the party. It wasn’t necessary. Maya could tell who they all were by the corporate logos that infected every stadium she dueled in.

The announcements reached closure, and the room darkened. The gaudy duelists all danced to, as Clarence would guess it, gansta’ rap. The self-important corporate sponsors were more reserved. They knew not to make a fool of themselves. That was the duelists’ job. Tomorrow Maya would duel against Akira Ryu, the World Champion himself, in a spectator match to begin the Nationals. But only Akira was invited to the podium. Maya was only mentioned briefly.

As the party dragged on, Maya took Jolene on a tour of sorts around the dueling world, mocking the more pretentious duelists they passed. Maya’s sharp eye caught a woman of fair skin, pale hair, and deep blue eyes. The woman icily acknowledged Maya before gliding out of sight in a way she thought dignified. “Purity Sue over there is Maria Law, the British Champion. She thinks she’s an angel sent by God to tell everyone how to duel. She is completely oblivious of how annoying she is and should go die in a fire.”

They passed a man whose fashion was so retro he stuck out like a sore thumb, even among the crew of celebrity duelists.. “The wannabe seventies pedophile is Garret Gould, Canadian Champion. His dueling is as bad as his piano playing. He can’t take a hint from anyone and he has so much faith in tradition it makes Edmund Burke look smart. He thinks he’s a genius with Asperger’s but in reality he’s just an idiot with an inflated ego.”

They passed a tall, beefy man, slightly overweight. His face was gregarious and shady at the same time. “That’s Mathias Krueger. He’s so American he makes Bandit Keith and Ben Affleck look Canadian. Ironically he was born in Canada. He thinks he’s the biggest alpha male of all time but he’s actually a good duelist who believes in challenging himself to the limits. He’s pretty cool and eats everything in sight.”

He embraced a buxom, red-haired woman. “That’s Merida Morgana, Irish Champion. She has a really nice rack. I really want drink with her while we listen to Camelot and play Castelvania.”

At last Maya revealed to Jolene the star of the freak show. “Have a front row seat. This is Akira Ryu himself, Japanese and World Champion. The Japanese chose a fifteen-year-old bishi to be their champion because they can’t stand pubic hair. With each passing year the World Champions get younger and younger. Everyone I showed you has their spot because of their privileged background. Maria comes from a family of lawyers. Garret’s father owns a bra-manufacturing company (I’m not kidding). And Akira’s dad is a senior business advisor for KaibaCorp.”

Jolene needed a while to take it all in. Thinks really didn’t change. Or did they? Maya seemed to have lost her shyness from four years earlier. “It’s a bit shallow and mean how much you hate and judge all these people. For someone who fights for equality, you showed a lot of prejudice.”

“They deserve to be judged harshly. Whatever I say about them they say about me. Even worse, they go so far as to slander and try to ruin me in other ways. ‘High society’ has the values of Mean Girls, which they think is Twilight, which they compare to Macbeth. If you heard how many times show hosts told me I ‘talked white’ you’d know exactly what I’m talking about.”

Jolene got the point. “Is everyone your bitter enemy?”

Maya smiled dryly, sadly, in resignation. “Yes.”

“The dueling world really destroys the game. It was so much better when we would duel each other just for fun in detention. The teacher wouldn’t even show up.”

“I totally agree. But I have no choice. I’m in a cycle I can’t leave.”

Jolene rested her hand on Maya’s shoulder. “Hey, you always have a choice.”

The snotty boy Akira, who called himself World Champion, and Maria the angel showed up. Akira cocked his head and looked up at Maya quizzically. “So this is the American Champion you told me about, Maria.” He stroked his chin, puzzling out this strange antimeta duelist. “She never once used the three great decks, but she still manages to win.”

Maria escorted Akira away to whisper to his ear. “She just doesn’t get it.” She seemed oblivious Maya was still practically right in front of her. “She’s the most offensive person I’ve ever known, and the most stubborn. She’s so loud and gross. Just no! She ruins the game for everyone. She wrecked Lightsworns. Will she ruin Burning Abyss and Qliphort now?”

“Dignity and subtlety at its finest.” Maya commented.

Akira took a glass of champagne from a butler. It was really funny watching the fifteen-year-old act like a sleazy tycoon or Playboy publisher. It made Maya’s old rival, Matthew, look downright tolerable by comparison. “You’ll be an intriguing opponent.” Akira clearly found their match to be an amusement. “You really like to stick it to the man, lead the people, right? Let’s see how that turns out.” He bowed in feign politeness and took Maria away with him.

He was certainly amusing, Maya thought. The little man thought he was Caesar but he really was Ptolemy XIII. In a fair fight he would be kicked aside by the grown ups, which is what Maya planned to do if they actually were in a tournament together. The thought of crushing the little turd under her heel delighted her.

Maya and Jolene took some champagne together. Maya preferred red wine to be classy or Texas moonshine for a rougher, outdoorsy experience, but this had to do. The dueling world hardly changed since Maya became a pro. It even seemed to have gotten worse. She dug herself her own grave. Her strengths became curses that made most of the dueling world reject her. Four years ago she only had one Matthew. Now she had more than five.

Even her music was in a dead end like dueling. She was pushing classical boundaries and infusing different genres to create a unique style. She was a very competent jazz writer. But she had the same problems her student Clarence did. She wasn’t rich, wasn’t backed up by a manager, and the music industry didn’t want a black woman who was actually educated and talented. She was growing in power, energy, nuance, discipline… but nobody cared.

After a few drinks she felt vaguely relaxed and happy. Jolene looked like a grinning idiot, which was how Maya imagined she must have looked. She took more to drink, which she knew was a mistake. Going from tipsy to drunk meant falling from a swimming pool into a chasm. Anything to make the demons vanish! The demons came all the same. They sprang up from her bubbly champagne glass as if it was a hellish cauldron and danced around her in tune to the generic party rap music. Strangely enough, the demons didn’t bother her. Her vision was distorted, she felt vaguely dizzy, and everything sounded muffled like she was underwater.  She was close enough to touch the demons but they seemed made of glitter and just out of her read.

Jolene and she laughed together about something that wasn’t funny and for no reason. They stumbled out of the rich gala party to find a local club where there would be better company. People like them who made the same mistakes they did. Their long night was better wasted there. As for her duel tomorrow, Maya wished she didn’t care.

25 Great Authors Whose Books You Should Read

milton-dictated-to-his-daughters-the-paradise-lost1The other day Neil deGrasse Tyson listed eight great books everyone should read. I will pick up the trend and list twenty-five great authors whose works everyone should read. A disclaimer should be noted. My list was formed from my personal experiences. These are people I have personally found to be worthy and who affected me in a positive way. You, dear reader, are free to recommend as many authors and books to the list as you wish.

Karl Marx

Marx is a foundational scholar of modern left economical and moral tenants. He also gives an in-depth investigation of modern society, capitalism in other words, and describes in detail how it is unstable and oppresses people. His ideas on communism are not as well formed, and he sparks debate to this very day. Capital is a must read in spite some of its outdated concepts. The Communist Manifesto is a short-hand version that succinctly introduces you to his ideas.

Lierre Kieth

Kieth and Derreck Jenson both authored Deep Green Resistance, a very important anarchist and environmentalist work. It is basically a summation of radical left wing thought: how deeply the present system is exploitative and destructive, the virtues and ailings of liberalism, the urgent necessity of radical feminism and other forms of social justice, and practical guides on how power works, how to organize resistance movements, and how to destroy oppressive power structures. It’s a strong and sobering book that awakens you to the reality and urgency of out situation.

Mark Twain

Legendary Twain, the original all-American, is an astute satirist of American and world culture. Innocents Abroad is a fun adventure but with many stinging barbs at the world’s cultures and people. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Fin tackles racism and other moral issues head on. Twain makes broader observations on the human condition in Letters from the Earth, the Diary of Adam and Eve, and The Mysterious Stranger. His main voice in these works is Lucifer himself. It is a testament to his pessimism and his attacks against organized religion. The Mysterious Stranger demolishes all human senses of significance, idealism, and certainty altogether.

John Milton

Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained are his top works. The two of them alone, especially the former, forms an entire world. Milton’s own religious and political views are complicated and a little enigmatic, as the works reveal. In life he was a Puritan revolutionary who supported Cromwell and the death of King Charles II. Strangely enough Satan plays the role of revolutionary. He was of the Devil’s party and he knew it. Milton’s moral dilemmas and sheer audacity his epic poem brings up are iconoclastic to the present day.

Adam Smith

An astute economist who analyzed capitalism as it was developing in 18th century Europe. Contrary to popular belief, The Wealth of Nations is a critique of capitalism, not an outright endorsement. Among other things Smith touches on the problems of inherited wealth and how necessary it is that the government regulate businesses.

  1. H. Carr

What is History? is important in providing us with critical methodological tools to examine history. In other words we must ask, “What is history? How do we study history?”, to gain an adroit world-historical perspective as Spengler would put it. Carr tackles the question of what events we choose to canonize as “historical facts” and why. He raises the issue of how we are molded by our society and thus are subjective and biased, even the educated historian. He touches upon how human thought widened during the Enlightenment where people developed complexity of their ideas and grew more audacious in how they used ideas to shape the world.

Oswald Spengler

Decline of the West was a revolutionary strike on the public and academic realms when it was first printed. Though it receded past WWII it is an important work of philosophy of history. It provides a precarious but ornate and profound perspective of world history. He eschews more conventional forms of telling history such as empirical research and reaches for aesthetics and intuition instead. It is much an artistic work as a didactic one. Man and Technics is a short work but warns that our culture will be destroyed by materialism, and economic competition and warfare with other cultures.

Friedrich Nietzsche 

Nietzsche is one of the fawned after but also one of the most poorly understood and misrepresented of philosophers. Because of this people should clear their eyes of the loaded and sensational reputation surrounding Nietzsche before reading him. Nietzsche is a tricky philosopher because he uses a self-fashioned form of dialectics where he takes different premises to their logical conclusions and juxtaposes them. Beneath his provocative writing is a subtext of transforming symbols, narratives, and characters more important the surface writing itself.

Jonathan Swift

He is a pessimistic curmudgeon much like Mark Twain was and like Twain he was a complex person with nuanced views. Swift’s venomous barbs most often aim at contemporary politics and religious practices, and he is probably the most skilled at using irony to ensnare his opponents. In A Modest Proposal he underscores the idiocy of England’s politics to Ireland, all the while exposing English people’s prejudices to Irish people. English readers at the time actually bought Swift’s portrayal as truthful. Tale of a Tub shows how different Christian sects deviated from the Catholic tradition and the many rationalizations people use for those actions. Gulliver’s Travels is a broader sweep at contemporary European politics and philosophy. He concludes that humans are barbaric Yahoos.

Marquis de Sade

Like Nietzsche he has his own loaded and sensationalized reputation. He wasn’t a modern proponent for sexual freedom and against censorship, as liberals often portray him. Rather, he examined the moral and sexual landscape of his time and was willing to explore the very bottom. It is important to see the worst in us. Sade is adept at showing how egotistical people use sophistries to silence their conscience and commit brutal acts. At the other end of the spectrum, Sade attacks the moral pretentions and hypocrisies of the aristocrats and priests by attacking conventional attitudes of morality and religion. He also reveals the heinous secret actions those “super moral beings” did. Sade also offers some feminism in his writings. His female characters are arguably the most self-actualized and liberated (sexually and otherwise) women of all fiction.

Noam Chomsky

Chomsky is an extremely important modern philosopher because of his sustained integrity as an activist and his thorough critiques on modern American capitalism and hegemony. Chomsky in particular likes to focus on the power politics American oligarchs use to control their own people and countries abroad. He also focuses a lot on how the media works to spread propaganda and create entire false narratives and narrow debate platforms. Both of these foci are consistent in Hegemony or Survival, Profit over People, and Manufacturing Consent. The genius of the system, Chomsky says, is giving you the illusion of freedom to deceive you rather than oppress you outright. His insightful analysis of media manipulation is similar to Huxley’s portrayal of the media in Brave New World.

David Harvey

A valuable companion to Chomsky, Harvey focuses more on economical analyses. A Brief History of Neoliberalism traces the origins and implementation of modern American capitalism as we know it today, hence the title. Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism and other works explore capitalism’s limitations and foresee it’s eventual collapse. He also published important works on social justice like Social Justice and the City.

Pyotr Kropotkin 

The Prince of Anarchism, Kropotkin was a tireless activist as well as a writer. His prominent ideas, bread and butter to anarchist circles are mutual aid, mutual support, and voluntary cooperation. In Mutual Aid he argues against social Darwinist rhetoric of “survival of the fittest” and instead shows that nature encourages social animals like humans to cooperate to survive. In The Conquest for Bread he proposes an economic system where money is obsolete and his based on mutual exchanges. His prison writings are a more informal doorway to his thoughts but no less revealing where he explores many different anarchist topics.

Dante Alighieri

The Divine Comedy is of great poetic beauty and reveals the medieval mind’s view of the cosmos. More importantly it shows a moral landscape, nuanced and hierarchical. He explores in detail the nature of moral and amoral actions through the joy and harm they bring through his ironic punishments. He also details the most comprehensive guide to the Christian afterlife to date.

Emily Dickinson 

Dickinson wrote small poems but when collectively but together they reveal a big and idiosyncratic worldview. Like Walk Whitman, she inaugurated modern poetry, free in form and self-styled, and placing intense personal experiences above all. Her poems form brief flashes that when combined together form the whole starry sky. However, those flashes are entire worlds unto themselves. She distills the pure essence as far as one is capable of words. From then on, music is needed. In just a few lines she can seemingly contradict herself and reveal a layered social criticism or worldview. Her topics are often love, death, nature, and the struggle against her Christian faith. Brevity is the soul of wit, and the soul’s name is Emily Dickenson.

  1. E. Du Bois 

The Souls of Black Folk is an essential work in exploring what has been called the “black consciousness”, a double existence where is part of the American nation and history and the other where one is part of an oppressed race of people that forms a whole class. Du Bois describes the oppression and national identity black people in America face to this very day. Anyone interested in social justice must read this book.

Margaret Mead 

Mead kickstarted modern anthropology as a discipline in America and for those reasons deserves a solid spot on this list. While her ideas, that people are strongly influenced by culture, are not knew in the discipline she helped popularize those ideas to the mainstream. Coming of Age in Samoa was the chief work that became a major vehicle of broadening sexual moors during the sexual revolution.

William Blake

Idiosyncratic and vivid, Blake crosses genres and artistic disciplines by his unique engraving techniques where he merges words and images into one. Blake is also important for his revolutionary politics, which are still radical to this day. Irregular for most religious writers his outlook is mystical rather than orthodox and borrows from many different sources. Songs of Innocence and Experience is written in deceptively simple, childlike prose, but tackles “grown up” issues such as slavery and child labor head on. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, as one academic put it, “rehabilitates the Satanic”; ideas such as conflict, energy, bodily energies, and violent passions, and integrates them as essential parts of the human condition.

William Shakespeare 

High school doesn’t make you too fond of Shakespeare, as he is another dreary and incomprehensible text to read before you take your next exam. That is unfortunate, because that dull routine blinds you to an interesting genius. Shakespeare, in my opinion, is most noticeable by his ambiguousness and anonymity. He never endorses any particular worldview or ideology, and though his characters are nuanced and complicated you never are able to see an underlying message that points to what he was like as a person and what he believed in. We moderns tend to put Shakespeare on a pedestal and make him more pretentious than he really was. But really his style is marked by its simplicity and candidness, and that lends his characters to life and makes their passions real for us.

Mary Wollstonecraft

Wollstonecraft is the archetypical feminist whose work A Vindication for the Rights of Women was one of feminism’s major first steps. Like other radical and Romantic writers she explains that reason and passion should not act independently but should inform each other. A lesser-known contribution is how she is one of the first writers to describe the psychological phenomenon of association. She was very critical of the gender role women were expected to assume such as Mary: A Fiction and Maria: or, The Wrongs of Woman. To Wollstonecraft, women assumed roles that cowed them into sentimentality and dependence. Wollstonecraft’s less acknowledged but great work is Vindication of the Rights of Man where she refutes Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution, and turns his subtext on its head.

Hannah Arendt

Arendt wrote many works that analyze fascism and the factors that lead to its brutalities. All of these issues were very real to her as she herself escaped the Nazis in WW II. The Origins of Totalitarianism trace the origins of Nazism and Stalinism to anti-Semitism and imperialism. In Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, she actually coined the phrase “banality of evil” to describe how atrocities are carried out not by a sole dictator but by the apathy and blind obedience of ordinary people. Other works by her are The Human Condition and On Revolution.

Voltaire 

To this day Voltaire is a patron of the Enlightenment, a scorner of religion and superstition, a satirist of human optimism and pretention, never failing to be scandalous for the sake of his message. Voltaire was the original daring public intellectual and activist who was not afraid to be arrested and exiled for his cause. Like Gulliver’s Travels, Candide attacks human pretentions by having its protagonist lose his optimism and harden from his misfortunes. Voltaire wrote even more plays, most of them tragedies of startling intensity, such as Zaire, a tale of how jealousy and religious intolerance lead to the downfall of its heroine. A similar play, Herod and Mariam, portrays the downfall of a heroine at the hands of jealousy.

Bertrand Russell 

Russell is an important philosopher whose output was as prolific as a long life of ninety-eight years allows. Throughout his long life Russell held to reason and humanistic principles, simple, honest, and free of pretentions. His lifelong activism was an offshoot of his gentle wisdom. He was one of the founders of analytic philosophy and as such his works heavily contributed to logic and mathematics.

Aldous Huxley

His greatest work Brave New World is an insightful reveal of how a truly dystopian society would work. It wouldn’t actively suppress thought and books, but rather create a world where people felt they didn’t need thoughts or books anymore. It wouldn’t suppress information, but flood people with so much meaningless information people don’t bother to find the truth anymore. Brave New World is probably the best of all dystopian novels because of this insight.

George Orwell 

1984 has captured the public’s imagination as the archetypical dystopian society. However, he wrote many other good works. The American imagination is not too familiar to Orwell’s political writings that express his democratic socialist ideals. The one I am most familiar with is the Road to Wigan Pier. He portrays the soul-crushing lives of the British working class in a stark and unsentimental way. He criticizes both contemporary class inequalities as well as sentimental liberal ideas.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

ghettoBlack on the Block by Mary Pattillo is a detailed and sobering look at the many complexities and conflicts black people of all classes endure in the city. The most intriguing part of Pattillo’s work is her observations of the middleman. Placed between the man (upper class people, usually whites) and the littleman (poor and working class people, usually thought of as black but can be other minorities as well), the middleman (middle and upper middle class blacks) is put in a tight and tricky situation. He frequently identifies with the littleman and shares the same national consciousness of being black in America, but at the same time aspires to the wealth and security a high social status provides. This creates a tension where he will sometimes serve the man and other times cater to the littleman. As Pattillo insists, the middleman is not an objective and unbiased person. He can swerve either way, or even both, based on his priorities, his wants, or even just to survive.

Two histories that deeply reveal the nuances of what middlemen did in the world are attempts of reforming Chicago’s education system and the building and eventual tearing down of the Chicago projects. In the nineties and early two thousands, Chicago middlemen, some from universities, some activists, and some bureaucrats of public school administrations, sought to overhaul to Chicago’s public schools. They wanted to create a nurturing environment that would attract excellent teachers and quality education in the poorer Chicago neighborhoods but encountered many problems. If they wanted high quality educators and people of decent income to improve the poor neighborhoods, that would inevitably lead to gentrification and drive out the very poor people they were trying to aid. Furthermore, reviving the schools with a completely new administration forced the schools to be very selective to who they admitted, which again alienated the poor.

In the end the middleman often has a difficult position, often as a bureaucrat who tries to help the poor but is forced to navigate through all the red tape and play the man’s rigged game. So it is not surprising that the littlemen blacks treated the middlemen blacks with suspicion. As far as they were concerned, the middlemen blacks were cronies of white bureaucracies that would lead to gentrification. They refused to be fooled by middlemen who carefully acted as token spokesmen to make the educational reforms better than they really were. The middlemen unfortunately did not administer a more socialist system that would serve the public but rather a capitalist one where reforms were “sold” to families who could afford them.

The middlemen played just as much of a complicated role during the creation, decay, and destruction of the projects. As Pattillo points out, black people aren’t a homogenous group that agrees on everything. They share a general national consciousness as “African-Americans”, she says, but are still individual people as well as members of different groups. When the projects were being built middlemen opposed public housing because they knew the projects would be badly maintained and thus decay into a ghetto of crime and poverty. The littlemen, on the other hand, were more optimistic because they saw the projects as an adequate replacement for run-down slums. In particular the middlemen were very conscious of losing their property value, and part of their wealth and stability that came with it. The middlemen also saw public housing as continuing to segregate white people from black people, as segregating and isolating the poor away from the rest of society and its vital networks, such as health care and the police.

Race and class are inextricably bound, Pattillo says. Indeed they heavily influenced public housing, not just for white people but for black people too. The American government spent its budget lavishly creating the suburbs – in fact, creating a whole lifestyle – for white people, and went to great lengths to make it affordable to even modest middle class white people. The projects, however, were neglected almost soon as they were built and became dilapidated as a result. The littlemen, whose original houses were demolished and replaced, were not consulted, and even their dignities as human beings were under question as they still are now. They were relocated not in a way that was constructive to them as human beings. Rather, they were herded in as part of a mechanical and oligarchical “master plan” to build a modern city.

The middlemen’s reaction to the projects, once they were installed, was ambivalent. They wanted to renew and “clean up” the projects, but that came with it’s own caveats. Renewed projects may attract middle class and white people, and hence bring the old monster of gentrification in. They also feared that asking for more maintenance of crime would result in more police brutality. Even the expression used at the time, “discipline”, implies forcefully “correcting” who are criminal and shiftless. Many of the middlemen were activists to reduce crime in the projects. Other middlemen were enraged at “the system” at betraying them yet again, and demanded the projects be completely demolished, which is what happened to some of them.

The conclusion you can draw from all this is that being a middleman is to be in a difficult place in the socioeconomic ladder. You usually share or feel obliged to share solidarity to the littlemen, which traces back to a deep social and racial past. At the same time you need to pay obeisance to the man whose rules you played and who you found some favor with to be a middleman in the first place. It’s a precarious balance and because humans are strange and complex beings always in want middlemen will always be faced with touch choices.

Stop what you’re doing, and GO READ THE BUZZFEED EXPOSE OF A VOICE FOR MEN’S PAUL ELAM. (SPOILER: He’s even worse than you think)

“I don’t know how to respond to this article. It mostly fills me with deep sympathy towards the women that Elam’s exploited or abused over the years, but also pity for Elam himself. He’s even more pathetic than I could have imagined, and he lashes out with so much hate that it drives away those that were somehow capable of loving him. It’s just sad.”
-WithAZ

we hunted the mammoth

Paul Elam quite literally in the middle of explaining how the media treats him so unfairly. Paul Elam complaining that the media treats him like the terrible person he is.

If you’re a regular, or semi-regular, or even just an occasional reader of this blog, you need to stop reading this post right now and read Buzzfeed’s astonishing expose of A Voice for Men’s Paul Elam instead.

SPOILER ALERT: He’s an even bigger hypocrite than you think he is.

Here’s the link. Right here. Click on it now. Click. Now. Click.

If you need a bit more convincing: Buzzfeed’s long and meticulous examination of alleged “men’s human rights” activist Elam, written by Adam Serwer and Katie Baker, delves deep into Paul’s often sordid personal history, including his drug use, his numerous failed marriages, and the alternately depressing and infuriating story of the daughter he abandoned, who forgave and reunited with him as an adult, and who is now estranged from him again.

View original post 291 more words

Duel 1 – When serpents arrive they strike fear and fear dies

Before I got my eye put out
I liked as well to see —
As other Creatures, that have Eyes
And know no other way —

But were it told to me — Today —
That I might have the sky
For mine — I tell you that my Heart
Would split, for size of me —

The Meadows — mine —
The Mountains — mine —
All Forests — Stintless Stars —
As much of Noon as I could take
Between my finite eyes —

The Motions of the Dipping Birds —
The Morning’s Amber Road —
For mine — to look at when I liked —
The News would strike me dead —

So safer — guess — with just my soul
Upon the Window pane —
Where other Creatures put their eyes —
Incautious — of the Sun –
-Emily Dickinson

Heartbeat. Beat… Beat…. Beat…

The pulse of life. I am in absolute darkness: no sight, no smell, no taste, no touch. Only sound in the Nun, the limitless ocean where all things that are yet to form are hidden. In the chaos there is only a gentle, rhythmic ebb.

Beat… Beat… Beat…

The beat grows faster, faster, furiously, into a roar. I can feel something breaking inside. Intricate coils, infinite loops, swim from the void… a huge black serpent! Terrifying! Fire in its eyes! The Devil seizes me in its coils and devours me. I lie dormant as an egg, darkness within darkness. I break free of my own coils, myself shaped as a snake. I erupt from the serpent and chase it to oblivion.

The serpent breaks away into the nothing. Dissolution. Three black serpents take its place. The dark dragons intersect each other, swim to and fro each other and grind beside each other. The waters divide into three terraces. I sink to the very bottom. The snakes bite each other’s tails and swim around the void as one loop. They spin around with such great energy. The waves engulf me. I writhe in the dark waters in dismal despair.

The snakes break their train with force. They align with the terraces, still clinging to each other’s tails. A ladder. The Nun settles, the formless takes shape, solidifies. I can walk on it. I climb each serpent. From each winding stairway I see writing breathed into the walls, breathed by each serpent. The pictures come alive, speak to me as I ascend the celestial staircase.

I see the distilled character of each red-eyed black snake. The eldest twines in luscious coils, her soul black as the Nun itself, her sly eyes grinning with the hunger of a she-wolf. The middle, fiery, her scales blazing as a furnace, a fierce determination in her piercing eyes. The youngest, fine and solemn, her eyes rich and sad. The walls speak of darkness, an endless pit, an endless labyrinth, the Nun itself, but pulses with a sudden life. A sudden potential. A volcano erupts from the earth! A blazing fire! A striking serpent, her quick and fiery bite as lighting. Majestic towers fall to the ground. Convolute temples reduced to ash. From the ashes, lotuses rise, and open. Blue angels awaken and take flight to the stars.

I tread on shallow black water on top of the tower. In the distance I see a huge isle. Its buildings blazing, the burning Sodom sits atop land barely held aloft the crashing wavse. The serpents dance and sing wildly as three women, naked as the day star. Their singing at once beautiful and terrifying. I can see their contours, their hair, their faces. Their dark hair. Their red eyes. Their dances, gate, gestures, movements serpentine. High above the burning Sodom I see a singly bright light, a blue star far away.

The eldest woman once more becomes a serpent. She jealously wraps her coils around the other two and eats them. I see the egg inside her, the serpents in darkness within darkness. The serpent’s stomach bulges and the two serpents break free of their coils. Two against one they fight, and the eldest serpent is chased into oblivion. The middle serpent caresses the youngest with tender affection. Binds to her in love. And too she sinks into oblivion. The youngest serpent rises up to the star, a coiling ladder. I see in the distance the Field of Reeds, a celestial realm of millions of years. I take the first step.

The earth shook as if struck by a mighty thunder. Hassan, rudely awoken, fell off the bench he used as makeshift bed and smacked head first to the floor. He was reasonably well-built – well, for a “womanly scholar” as his father called him – but the impact still hurt him. He had no time to even rub the bump on his head. The President of Egypt, a kindly but old man way past his prime, jostled him out of his dizziness.

His face and eyes were flooded with panic. “We must leave right now, Hassan! Heishin is attacking the Mugamma! We don’t have any time!”

Father!? Hassan didn’t believe it but it was true! Soldiers loyal to the President flanked the main gate outside of the government office complex, standing their ground as best they could, but clearly losing. It was twilight, almost nightfall, so Hassan could see little. But he could hear his father and feel the terrible new might he wielding.

Heishin, flanked by his own soldiers and Ghouls, thrust his fist triumphantly in the air. “Taste the forbidden power of darkness!!!” And he thrust what looked like a golden crook at them like a commanding scepter.

Hassan could see only vaguely what looked like the outline of a colossal beast in the distance. He played Duel Monsters only casually but… was that Gate Guardian? He didn’t have any time to ponder it any further. A savage fount of wind and water struck the main gate and the unfortunate loyal soldiers broke like twigs under the deluge. With all his obstacles easily disposed of, Heishin and his army triumphantly marched inside.

Hassan had no time, not to even save one book. He took the old Presidents arm and they both ran through the corridors, hoping to get to a back door as soon as they could. No such chance. Before they knew it Heishin and his soldiers had already disposed of the rest of the guards, and already Heishin towered over them, blocking their path. Heishin looked calm and chic, almost to the point of appearing smug, but Hassan could see the restless greedy fire in his eyes.

“So good to see you again, President Sadat.” He spoke as if he was ordering dinner, not usurping the Egyptian government and killing everyone who stood in his path. “Hassan, son, it is time we claimed our rightful place in history. Join me as my co-ruler and heir of the new world we will create.”

“Usurp the government!?” The President sputtered in disbelief. “You’ll throw the country into chaos! Are you mad!?”

“Mad? Me? I don’t think so. The supreme power, the powers of darkness lost for eons, is mine. I can easily dispatch you and claim Egypt as my own.”

Hassan noticed his father’s right forearm was blackened as if burned in a fire and his hand like a dragon’s claw. “Father, your hand…” At last he pieced it all together. “You can’t mean the magic passed down to Ancient Egypt?” The golden crook, he reasoned, was just for show, to make him even look even more powerful and intimidating than he already was.

“You finally found something useful in those books of yours, boy. Yes, that power. Will you now come by my side?”

“You don’t know what you’re doing father. The dark power is extremely dangerous. Whoever you bargained with is clearly up to something you don’t know about. Whatever it is, it must be very sinister. You got more than you bargained for. I’ll never join you!”

Heishin lost his patience and his temper. “You stupid boy! You were always weak and cowardly! I should have known better than have your mother raise you while I campaigned in Kuwait! It was she who softened you turned you into a womanly scholar! You have no strength to fight a battle or lead an army, but I will change that now!”

Hassan had enough. It was the last time his father insulted him. He lunged at his father, trying to bulldoze over him so he and the President could make their escape. Heishin easily caught his son off guard and smashed his gut with one swift fist. Hassan gagged from the sheer shock and pain from the assault. Before he could register anything else let alone react in any way he found himself face-first on the floor. His skull blazed with pain. He just caught sight of the butt of Heishin’s rifle.

“Stupid boy, you waste your time! You lack the power to defeat me! JOIN ME IMMEDIATELY or I will imprison you in the darkest dungeon of this land! Do you understand me!?”

Hassan may not have been a good fighter but he wasn’t weak. He inherited his father’s hardiness and in a moment he was back on his feet. Suddenly, the President intervened. He stood between him and Heishin as his shield. “You are like a son to me, Hassan. Don’t give in to the temptations of this vile creature. I’ll hold him off. Use you’re time to escape. Don’t think! Just do it!”

The President could say no more. Heishin already struck him with the butt of his rifle. The President’s old body couldn’t take the assault. He yelped and crumpled to the floor. Silence. Hassan saw his father step over the body of the President, brandishing his weapon at him. He glanced around the corridor in fear for Heishin’s soldiers and Ghouls were closing in.

There was only one option. In desperation Hassan jumped out the window. He didn’t know if he would survive and somehow escape or if he was falling to death. He left it to chance. Among the shattering glass ringing in his ears he heard his father cry out his name.