Only three days remained before the World Championship would begin, when the greatest of all competitions, the grandest theater of war, would ruthlessly commence. Every duelist knew in his gut all too well the gravity of fate, anticipating the far off coliseum where the goddess victory would smile on one man and bestow upon him absolute glory. What did Seto Kaiba and Pegasus J. Crawford do, the colossi, the leader and father of Duel Monsters? They played golf while settling a few business deals with some important guests.
That was how Pegasus described it. Kaiba didn’t play golf, nor would he ever bother to learn. Such a “sport”, if you could call it that, was an insult to any true duelist. No competition, no crucible to test your worth, no enemy to stare down as you match your skills against his, as you collide your fighting spirit with his. Golf was a “sport” that glorified nothingness and ennui, displaying vanity and sophistication as something “charming” when it was mere weakness.
“Oh, dear Kaiba-boy, please join us to play some golf with us. It’s quite refreshing, really. Oh, look!” Pegasus pointed at Takeshi Uchiyamada, the chairman of Toyota. He struck the golf ball with his club, sending it whizzing more than half way to Hole #6. “Look at him go! My dear Uchiyamada, you are a natural!”
“Save your flattery to yourself.” Kaiba couldn’t believe Pegasus, the very creator of Duel Monsters, would stoop this low, wearing short shorts while trafficking with car and oil companies.
Kaiba was a tall and thin man over six feet, with a long, angular face, his features often contorted into a scowl. A combed mass of brown hair crowned his brow and shadowed his piercing, ice blue eyes. Combined with his tall, angular body and his proclivity for wearing white, his features made him look dark yet august at the same time.
Pegasus was a bit different. He was only a couple of inches shorter than Kaiba yet had the mature frame of an adult Kaiba never fully received, and none of it interfered with his disarming debonair charm and grace. Kaiba knew better. He knew that behind the silly, foppish recluse, with his long, white hair, frilly red coat, and ridiculous mannerisms, lurked a serious and sinister man. He had enough painful memories from dealing with him.
Kaiba scanned every golfer and assistant around him, analyzing them so as to sort them out as allies or enemies. Before the business meeting he memorized a list that was as formal and tedious as it looked:
Ken Kobayashi, CEO of Mitsubishi
Takeshi Uchiyamada, chairman of Toyota
Rex. W. Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobile
Marvin E. Odum, president of Shell
David Cameron, Prime Minister of Britain
Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister
Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England.
None of those weasels deserved a name, let alone a tedious title to memorize, but boring tasks like shaking hands with every variety of sewer rat was something even Kaiba had to do. They wanted to extend their influence in the dueling world, to exchange stocks, shares, and bonds with KaibaCorp and Industrial Illusions. At the same time they sponsored their fair share of duelists, owning them the same way George Bush owned the Texas Rangers. It was sickening.
Kaiba made up his mind. He approached Uchuyamada and Kobayashi, the owners of Toyota and Mitsubishi respectively, and settled some trivial matters. He pushed his own demands for the stock trade just enough to get what he wanted while not dissuading them too much. Both businessmen objected but after a little heckling Kaiba got what he wanted. Yes, Kaiba had to heckle people, as if he was dealing with a peasant Egyptian selling cheap merchandize. Even to admit that to himself was a painful sign of weakness.
After David Cameron finally claimed hole #12 (his golfing was as terrible as his politics, Kaiba observed) the business party took turns on a laptop. They scrolled through all the different duelists they sponsored, each a special protégé they bet their money on winning the Championship. Tournaments were just another investment. Dueling itself was just another investment. For this reason alone Kaiba never sponsored a duelist.
Pegasus must have had a keen sense of smell since he could apparently sniff out Kaiba’s mood as if it was a stench. It did make up for his missing left eye. “Don’t be a grumpy bear, Kaiba-boy. Why don’t you check out the youthful protégées of the new generation?”
Uchuyamada and Kobayashi pointed to a picture of a 15 year old boy with artificial blond hair, gelled into spikes. Otherwise, the boy wore a suit that made him look as if he was groomed for success from birth. “Akira Ryu is the current World Champion.” The businessmen eagerly pointed out. “He graduated really early from the best Duel Academy in the world, one right from the coast of Japan.”
Kaiba scanned the image of Ryu. The boy thought he was lion, a king of the beasts, when in truth he was merely a house cat, spoiled by doting owners, petulant, weak, sheltered, never let beyond the house. He never dueled in any uncomfortable situation, one where his pride was truly on the line. This made sense, as Kaiba knew wealthy families sponsored Duel Academies to groom their children to be champions from an early age. There was only one King of the Beasts, and that was Kaiba himself.
Kaiba glanced at a few more faces. The short man with dyed, flaming blond-red hair was Maximus, an arena commenter who would participate in the World Championship. He had no sponsor. Come to think of it, he was pretty mysterious. Kaiba knew nothing about him. Micheal Gould, the Canadian Champion, was a different story. He thoroughly belonged to Exxon Mobile and Shell. He looked classy enough with his suit and fedora, though Kaiba suspected he was just another weasel underneath.
Stella and her team were an interesting lot, a progressive group of “deviant” duelists who played outside the metagame. They had a strong feminist streak to them, which Kaiba found interesting. They were like a pack of lionesses, completely sufficient for their own sustenance. He passed a similar Judgment to Indira Misra, the Indian Champion. Her sponsorship came from scholarships and government grants.
He found Marina Bozovic, the swarthy, dark-haired woman with narrow eyes. She was a strange one, an upstart who came out of nowhere, took Matthew’s Nationals title from him, and kept it her own for four years. She, this serpent, wasn’t just a “deviant” duelist like Stella was. It was like she was trying to strike at the heart of the very dueling world, to transform the very game itself…
“Well isn’t that a colorful character?” Pegasus interjected, disturbing Kaiba’s thoughts. “She seems to have a lot of potential, though I would cut that mane of hers, in both the literal and not-so-literal sense.”
Kaiba folded his arms. “She’s just another dreg, one of those dirty anarchist vegans who disrupt civil society when they’re not too stoned to groom themselves properly. She’s a wondering lone wolf, a rebel without a cause, but like all wolves she is murderous, hungering for the chance to devour her prey. Be glad she didn’t find herself a pack to join yet.”
“Oh dear. Do you like any duelist, Kaiba-boy?”
“Don’t get me wrong, Pegasus, the game stagnated ever since Yugi and I retired some eight years ago. We’ve seen the same boring cards and the same boring duelists. I’m glad there’s greater diversity and new blood entering the game, especially at this speed.” Kaiba smirked in a smug, boastful, self-satisfied way, a trademark of his personality. “Even if some duelists are unsavory, if they’re strong and do the game justice with their skill I will at least acknowledge them as duelists.”
And finally, Maria. Kaiba’s heart softened, even at gazing at a mere picture of her. Her pale skin, fair hair, and deep blue eyes penetrated him, while her voice rang inside him, like a very old memory he barely remembered but knew in his heart was important. It was too pitiful how she was chained to David Cameron and the Bank of England.
“Maria”, Kaiba thought. It was like he had spoken her name instead. Just before Kaiba’s boring meeting with Pegasus he got to see her one last time. Maria would soon return to England to prepare herself for the World Championship, rally up her team and everything. He wanted to take her under his wing as her sponsor so badly, but he couldn’t. He wanted her to learn and grow on her own and become as good as he was. He affectionately caressed her hair with his fingers before laying his palm on her cheek. “Promise me you’ll be careful.” He said. She nodded.
“Oh, and my protégé, Sophia, is participating in the World Championship. You know the story, Kaiba-boy. I take orphans around the world and raise them to be great gamers and businessmen. Don’t worry, I’m a benevolent father figure, unlike your father.”
Kaiba clenched his hand into a fist. His cruel stepfather cast a long shadow in his life. No matter how much Gozaboro had shaped him he would never look back. He looked to the light of the future, not to the darkness of the past. “I predict the winner of this tournament will be the duelist who breaks the most barriers and faces death to make the ultimate sacrifice.”
It was now Pegasus’s turn to take on hole #18. He gave his club a hearty swing, nearly tripping over his feet. His ball sailed across the sky in a long arc…
And landed in a pool of water.
“OHHHH NOOOOOO!!” Pegasus cried in playful exaggeration. “I’ve never been the sporting type. Crockets, will you please be a dear and retrieve my ball for me?”
Crockets, a weary, grey-haired man with a mustache, his eyes always covered in shades, hesitated. It looked like it was the worst day of his life.
“Yes, you, Crockets, please get my ball.” Pegasus demanded.
Crockets reluctantly wallowed in the pond, wetting his fine suit in the dirty water. He presented his master with the object that caused him such discomfort. Kaiba smirked quietly from a distance. He wasn’t above gloating at other people’s misery, not by a long shot.
Pegasus bounced in joy. “Thank you so much! Wonderful!”
“Hey guys, I’m home!” Stella placed a few groceries and a computer program on the common room table. “I got you guys some one of those accelerated learning programs! You know, so we can speak Arabic for our trip to Egypt!”
She found Maya and Yukio playing music together. Maya took the lead on the piano while Yukio supplemented whatever she played on the guitar. The music they wove together was beautiful, except “beautiful” was a way too generic description. Sometimes Maya and Yukio were indeed graceful and lofty. At other times they were dark and dramatic or bouncy and quirky, taking the risk of making the music “ugly” to fulfill some other definition of beauty. The music seemed to be an interesting combination of classical and jazz. Maya had a penchant of using sharp dissonances and chromatics, making the music more poignant. Perhaps, Stella thought, magic was a better way of describing the music. It created something out of nothing, or to put it more accurately, brought something down to Earth that didn’t belong there.
“Hey, Maya.” She gently poked Maya, who didn’t pay attention. Something in Maya’s eyes was not human or earthly. Was she alright? “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” Yukio warned, but Stella didn’t listen. She poked Maya again.
Maya jumped out of her seat so suddenly and violently the piano crashed an ugly dissonance and bench toppled over to the floor. She looked completely bewildered, like a frightened animal, and like a frightened animal she looked like she was about to strike Stella! But she must have noticed Stella’s horror and confusion and came back to Earth. “I- I’m sorry! I didn’t see you! Are you OK?”
Stella’s bright pink eyes shone fiercely, first in anger, then in laughter. She too looked like she was about to get into a big fight but soon laughed it off. “I’m fine! I just came back from the store!”
Maya grew red with embarrassment. “I didn’t mean to frighten or bother you. This kind of thing just happens.”
“No, no. It’s fine. I understand. Yukio lives with me after all.” Stella noticed a notebook near the piano. “What’s this?”
“The music I’m working on, twenty five variations on Salieri’s march. You know, the one from Amadeus. What you just heard were some fantasies on it. I want to build a better piano. The grand piano we use hasn’t changed much since the 1870s. The notes on a concert grand are sterile compared to a period instrument, where each note has a warm tang and the different registers suggest different orchestral sounds. I want to make the grand piano even bigger, but more importantly bring back all the different orchestral sounds, even add more pedals to give the player more options. That’s a very brief description of what I want to do.”
“Well, good luck with that.” Stella gave Maya and Yukio the computer program. “We can all learn a bit of Arabic with Rosetta Stone.”
“In just a week? Challenge accepted, I guess.” Maya pointed to two brand new passports on the table. “Yukio and I got Icelandic passports earlier today, and we have a guest.”
“Hi!” A woman standing only at five feet and four inches, with hair and lips as dark red as her skin was white, greeted Stella. She pulled a golden card out of her purse. “Did any of you guys get an entry card, for the World Championships?”
“Yeah, of course.” Stella, Maya, and Yukio produced entry cards of their own. “They each have pictures of the Millennium Items on them.” Indeed, this was fact. Stella’s card depicted the Millennium Rod, Yukio’s depicted the Millennium Puzzle, while both Maya’s and Sophia’s depicted the Millennium Ring.
“You guys formed a team?” Stella asked. “Ours it Outbound Flight. What is yours?”
Maya winked at Stella and high-fived Sophia. “Team Baby Blast Furnace.” (Yukio crossed his arms in a huff. “Not my idea. Never was.”)
“Guys, look at the time.” Maya pointed to the clock. “It’s 8pm. Kaiba and Pegasus will announce the World Championship on any time now.” All the people of Outbound Flight and Baby Blast Furnace gathered around the TV.
REAL DUEL TV – THE TV FOR REAL DUELISTS
“GREETINGS EVERYONE! I AM MAXIMUUUUS!” The short man with flaming hair booms, followed by a cheering audience track. “To my left and right are none other than PEGASUS J. CRAWFORD and SETO KAIBA, the designer and leader of the dueling world themselves! All three of us welcome you to the YUGIOH WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP 2009, the 13TH BATTLE CITY!”
A familiar and very excitable tune called Passionate Duelist plays in the background. It was so pervasive on television it could be called the Yugioh Theme. A montage of different duels happening in all sorts of different places around the world flashed quickly behind him. Usually they were duels of previous world champions, each flashing their favorite deck archetypes and monsters while pummeling tough opponents, all the way from Yugi Moto to Akira Ryu.
Maximus brandishes his new duel disk. “This tournament is gonna’ be BIG! The BIGGEST tournament in over a decade! Perfect to take this game into A GREAT RENAISSANCE! We invented new GENERATION 3 DUEL DISK to commemorate the event. They look just like before except no clumsy separate slots for Monster and Spell Cards. Just a single, black board you place all cards on. But don’t worry, because these new duel disks are extra light and small so its main body doesn’t intrude on the board like in previous models. To balance against the board more of the main body is closer to you. The Graveyard is parallel to the Deck and behind it. To banish a card, simply put in the Graveyard face down. The Extra Deck is a small slot just on top of the Graveyard. The Deck will shuffle automatically before your duel and if you need to search a card, the duel disk will just pop the card out for you. SIMPLE! EASY! FUN! AWESOME!”
Pegasus took center stage, his hair as bouncy as his mood. “Let it be known around the world that the name of the game has been officially changed to Yugioh, in honor of the first World Champion and King of Games himself! Version one, running from 1993 to 1996, was called Magic and Wizards. Version two, running from 1996 to 2009, was called Duel Monsters. Version three, Yugioh, is the game we have now. As expected, we changed the rules slightly to make things even more exciting! Read your guidebook that came with your Entry Card for more details!” The montage changes to a series of simple CGI figures and cards for the purposes of illustration.
• Players start the duel with 8000 Life Points
• Monsters cannot be Normal Summoned face up in Defense Mode. They must be Set.
• Each player’s Graveyard and Banished Zone are open knowledge to all players. You must even show cards you discard.
• If you activate a Field Spell Card while your opponent controls a Field Spell Card, both become active. Both effects apply.
The montage changes to rapid images of Egyptian monuments. “For our 13th World Championship, we will be hosting the tournament in none other than Egypt! Is there a better way to get duelists to connect with their dueling spirit than fighting where the shadow games originated? Not just Cairo, but the entire nation is your battleground! Participants will have twelve days to gather all the Millennium Item cards, and make it back to Cairo to make it to the finals. Even better, a revolution is broiling in Egypt as we speak. Some political turbulence is just what we need to spice things up a bit! If you’re easily bored though, don’t you worry! The finalists will be absconded from Egypt to an undisclosed location, and I guarantee you you’ll love the change of scenery.”
It is now Kaiba’s turn. He always looked the same. He hadn’t changed a bit since Battle City. Same dramatic white trench coat. Same uncompromising pride. Same scowl. The montage once more changes to simple CGI figures, cards, and maps to illustrate the new roles. “All right listen up because I’ll only say this once. Each duelist worthy enough to participate in my tournament received one Millennium Item card. You’ll need seven to reach the finals but each card must be different. For instance, you can’t make it to the finals with seven Millennium Eye Cards. You must ante at least one Millennium Item Card per duel and forfeit them to the winner if you lose. If you win a Millennium Item Card with the same name as another one in your collection that’s too bad. Be smarter the next time you choose to duel someone.”
Maximus resumes his role as head commentator he is best known for. “But all is not lost. Each Millennium Item Card has a special power you can activate by putting it on the duel disk while not dueling. What special power does each card have? YOU will have to find out! But there is a catch. NO ONE can enter the tournament alone. Duelists MUST compete in teams of at least two players, and each team can only start out with one Millennium Item Card. Use a black light on the back of your card to reveal a secret code. Log on the registration page of duelingnetwork.com with your secrt code to register your team.”
Maximus and Pegasus shout together, “GOOD LUCK AND HAPPY DUELING!” Fireworks explode everywhere in the TV as sugary, victorious music wraps up the announcements. A very bland voice spoke so quickly it is impossible to understand. “sponsoderedbykaibacorpindustrialillusionsexxonmobiletoyoya
“I guess that settles it.” Stella said. “We‘ll prepare our decks and everything.”
“Hmm… I’m thinking about the new rules.” Maya brooded. “We now have 8000 Life Points. The new advantages we have are that we can plan bigger combos and more farsighted strategies. The disadvantage is that once the power creep sets in people’s decks will be so broken, so powerful and fast, having 8000 Life Points won’t mean anything anymore. Furthermore, because we’ll be dueling in an entire country, duelists will be scattered everywhere. Duels will be scarcer and carry more weight. We’ll have to take much more time to plan our duels.”
Yukio nodded silently. “We’ll need to adapt, and quickly.”
Maya gave her final thoughts. “Honestly, people make this game into such a reality TV show. A duelist is like a star from Jackass, American Idol, or the Jerry Springer, grabbing their fifteen minutes of fame only to thrown away. I expected a little more foresight from Kaiba and Pegasus. What were those fools thinking, putting people in Egypt, a country torn apart by war and revolution? Are people’s lives just cheap entertainment to them, to pass away the ennui of being a corporate billionaire? You want a spectacle of death, you idiots? You’ll get one! I’m coming after you both! Before the decade is over I’ll take both of your lives!”