Maya and Yukio hastened their way back to the city of Assiut as much as they could with Akira, who could barely walk on their own. When Maya dueled Akira their blood boiled so hot from the challenge of fighting such a strong duelist and from the life-or-death pressure of the game they forgot all about Sophia. They knew only one thing could have happened to her and they feared for the worst.
The entire marketplace broiled in chaos. The duelists ran in all possible directions in a delirious panic, fleeing from the bloodthirsty hunters who stalked them. The Ghouls destroyed everything in their path to catch their prey, smashing every shop they saw, looting it for any trinkets they could get their hands on. Sometimes the Ghouls humored their prey with a duel, playing with their food before they ate it, as was their habit. Many a duelist hoped in vain the Ghouls would leave them alone if they beat them in a duel, but it was a false hope the Ghouls gave them just to hurt them even more. Sometimes the Ghouls didn’t even bother with a card battle. They beat their prey and ransacked them of everything but the clothes on their back without any formalities.
Some duelists fought back, like Mathias, Maximus, and Ivy, somehow repelling their attackers. Maya saw that, somehow, their holographic monsters made a huge dent on the Ghouls, as if they were more than holograms. If the Ghouls tried to manhandle them, the trio quickly put them down. She barely noticed any of this through the forest of duel monsters, running people, and burning shops, but she noticed it nonetheless.
Yukio pointed at the trio for he saw what Maya saw, and they hurried to them as fast as they could with Akira hobbling with them. They never reached their friends. The trio disappeared deeper into the chaos, everyone swept around in a whirling circle of death as dry autumn leaves. Instead, a regiment of Ghouls closed in on them, their cloaks as black as night. Their leader immediately tore off her entire cloak. Alexis Burkeheart, Matthew’s companion, had a deathly pallor. Her black hair, once sleek and short, was long and disheveled and she replaced her white Academy skirt with a dirty black dress.
Alexis pointed at Maya and Yukio, her eyes glimmering with a violent expression. “You humiliated Matthew in front of the whole world and ruined his life. I’ll kill you in a duel and bring you to Matthew. Our mission will finally be done.”
“How about we wager our fates. You know, duel the old fashioned way?” Maya offered. “If you win, you can take us to Matthew to depose us how he wishes. If we win, you only have to tell us where Sophia is. You’re this thing called a ‘true duelist’ Matthew babbles about, aren’t you?”
“Let me take care of this. It’s my turn.” Yukio said to Maya. He stepped up to the plate, showing his duel disk to Alexis as an unsheathed sword. “Tell us who you work for! Matthew isn’t bad enough to cause this much misery by himself!”
“Over my dead body.” Came Alexis’ reply. “Once I defeat you, we will both finally have peace.”
“I accept your challenge but with our wagers. Agreed?”
Alexis nodded and said, ““I keep my word.”
Yukio: 8000 || Alexis: 8000
YUKIO’S TURN: “I summon Thunder King Rai-Oh !” Yukio declares, and a sentient electromagnetic machine levitates in front of him. “I set a card facedown. Go.” Time is already running out for Sophia. The duel must end as soon as possible.
ALEXIS’ TURN: “You think a cheap, antimeta track will stop me? I activate Nekroz Cycle , sacrificing Great Sorcerer of Nekroz to summon Nekroz of Unicore .” A magical, golden thread loops into a circle and a wizened wizard passes through it in death. Then a young man appears, with blue armor that looks like it has pieces of a deceased unicorn’s body. “Nekroz is one of the best decks out there, a tier one – no, a tier zero! – deck. It can’t lose to something as low as Heroic Challengers.”
Yukio thrusts his hands over his head, and challenges, “Then come and get me! Put me in my place the way Matthew puts you in your place every night, if you know what I mean, though I can tell he probably doesn’t give you enough action now. You went from model to anorexic since we last saw you.”
“Talk to my tier one deck! Unicore, slay Rai-Oh!” The necromancer-warrior leaps at the electric android.
“ Forbidden Lance !” Yukio quickly retorts. “Unicore loses 800 ATK.”
“No, it won’t.” Alexis counters. “I discard Nekroz of Decisive Armor , giving Unicore a 1000 ATK boost!” A long, finely crafted lance springs from nowhere and spears Unicore in the gut, but even that doesn’t stop him. He wrecks Rai-Oh with its blade, making it explode in its face. (Yukio LP 8000 à 7400)
“I activate Cycle, banishing Sorceror and itself to add another Cycle. This activates Great Sorcerer of Nekroz , so I mill Clausolas. Now I activate Nekroz of Brionac from my hand. I discard it and add Valkyrus. And I set a card face down.”
YUKIO’S TURN: Yukio is left to ponder his next move. Alexis is a smart, methodical duelist, he thinks to himself. She plays meta, but she does it smart. Then again, you can’t play dumb with Nekroz. “Her only problem is she showed me her hand. She’s scared I’ll screw up her hand more with more antimeta plays next turn, but she made a mistake!” Yukio realizes. “She is predictable. She plans to summon Nekroz of Trishula next turn! I have a combo, but I need to play smart and stop my monster from getting banished.”
“Here goes!” Yukio announces aloud. “I have no monsters, so I Special Summon Heroic Challenger – Assault Halberd and summon Satellarknight Deneb.” Two warriors, one with dark, heavy armor, the other glowing in golden, celestial armor appear together. Alexis looks surprised at the sight of the celestial warrior, and Yukio answers her, “I always try something new. I activate Deneb, adding Altair to my hand. I overlay Halberd and Deneb to Xyz Summon Number 85: Crazy Box .” The warriors collapse and fuse in a worm hole, giving rise to what looks like a massive floating Rubik’s cube.
“Now for the fun part, I detach Halberd to use its effect.” The cube twists and turns chaotically, leaving everything to chance. “What happens depends on the number it shows.” Yukio looks calm but is tense inside. His monster could either take out Alexis’ monster or blow up his entire field. It was called Crazy Box for a reason. Suddenly, the cube stops twisting, showing the number “3” on its gridded surface. Yukio leaps for joy as an arrow released from its bow. “AAAHH YEEEAAAHHH! SUCK ON IT! DISCARD A CARD RIGHT NOW!” Alexis reluctantly does so.
“Crazy Box, destroy Unicore!” The cube slams into the sorcerer hard enough to crack its armor and its skull. (Alexis LP 8000 à 7300) “I set a card face down. Your move.”
ALEXIS’ TURN: “Draw! Nekroz Mirror , activate!” A gateway forms from mist behind Alexis, with a surface transparent enough Yukio can see himself perfectly from a few meters away. Is it a mirror of glass or of water? “I banish Clausolas and Brionac to summon Nekroz of Trishula !” Two sorcerer-warriors in ocean blue armor form in the reflection, and disintegrate into the mist.
“I activate Imperial Iron Wall! ” Yukio tries to halt her, but with no effect.
“Counter with Royal Decree ! It negates all traps, so you can’t stop me from banishing my monsters!” And Alexis’ ritual proceeds as according to plan. The dissolved Nekroz reform into a new, far more powerful knight, who then steps out of the mirror into reality.
Suddenly, a large holographic card with an image of small, crawling insects inflates in front Alexis’ view. “I discarded Maxx “C” while you weren’t paying attention.” Yukio says. “I draw a card.”
Alexis sweeps the information aside; a small annoyance. “I use Trishula to banish Crazy Box on the field, Halberg in your Graveyard, and one card in your hand.”
The new monster strikes its blade in the air. Crazy Box evaporates into mist and the ghost of Halberd is exorcized. Yukio holds two cards up. “Choose carefully.”
Yukio’s move gives Alexis pause. Most duelists cower in front of Trishula, afraid even to let a card randomly get banished, but Yukio strikes her options right in front of her! Alexis feels cold tears of sweat roll down her neck. Is she nauseated from malnourishment or does her decision bear that much weight? How can it? She wins ninety-nine of one hundred duels with Nekroz! Yukio is such an inferior duelist to her! Then she recalls how Maya one turn killed her four years ago. Her deck back then was one of the most elite out there, with Elemental Hero Stratos as its focus, but she lost in one turn.
Yukio glares at her, eyes piercing, unwavering. “Choose!”
Alexis shakes away her doubts as a bad headache. “The right one.” Yukio banishes the card Instant Fusion. “Back to the duel. I banish Mirror and Unicore from my Graveyard to put Nekroz Kaleidoscope , and I activate it.” A spectrum of mirrors forms behind her, sliding in and out of each other. The white and ethereal Stardust Dragon reflects in the mirrors before the mirrors quickly slide away from one another. “I summon Nekroz of Valkyrus !” A knight in even more extravagant and intimidating armor than Trishula appears by her side.
“Monsters, direct attack! Put Yukio in his place!” At her command, both of her knights leap at Yukio and struck him down with their blades. Yukio wobbles on knees but stays on his feet. (Yukio LP 7400 à 1800)
“Seriously, how do holograms do that?” Yukio moans. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
“Maybe shadow games are real or maybe they put drugs in our water to make us hallucinate it all so we can spend more money on card games. Beats me.” Maya replies simply and honestly.
“Conspiracy theory much?”
“I want to believe.”
YUKIO’S TURN: “Finally, my turn.” His plan worked! Now he has all the puzzle pieces in place for a decisive victory. “I activate Reinforcement of the Army to fetch another Heroic Challenger Assault Halberd and Special Summon it.” Another copy of his dark-armored warrior takes the field, wielding its burly axe. “And I summon Satellarknight Altair , which lets me summon Daneb from the grave.” Another celestial soldier descends from the heavens, accompanied by its companion. “Then I activate Inferno Reckless Summon !” And two more Daneb spawn.
“Go, monsters! I overlay all you to Xyz Summon Number 86: Heroic Champion – Rhongomyniad !” Yukio’s entire army vanishes into five twinkling stars, opening a gateway to the cosmos, heralding the arrival of a colossal hero with shining platinum heralds. “I have five Xyz Materials, so Rhongomyniad kills your whole army!” The grand hero gestures with his hand and in a blaze of fire all of Alexis’ monsters evaporate as sea foam at the shore. “Rhongomyniad, attack Alexis directly!” His monster strikes Alexis down to the market place pavement. (Alexis LP 7300 à 4300)
Alexis’ servile Ghouls, who stood by and watched the duel the entire time, swiftly rush to help their master without a second thought. Alexis, with the help of her squad, returns to her feet, only to realize the duel is done. “I should have banished the other card.” She sighs ruefully. “I made the wrong choice.”
“You didn’t.” Yukio corrected her. “Instant Fusion or Reinforcement, I would’ve turned the game around.”
ALEXIS’ TURN: She draws her last card, another Trishula. Rhongomyniad stops her from playing anything. There is nothing she can do.
YUKIO’S TURN: “I summon Heroic Challenger Thousand Blades .” A bronze fighter carrying innumerable swords joins the fight. “Thousand Blades, Rhongomyniad, attack for game!” His two soldiers strike Alexis down, this time once and for all.
Yukio: 1800 || Alexis: 0
The Ghouls returned their leader to her feet again. Alexis’ eyes were dull and glazed, and she barely could stand on her feet. “Good game, Yukio. Not bad for a rogue duelist.”
“You too.” Yukio acknowledged his opponent in mutual respect, but an impatient Maya cut their moment short.
“Where’s Sophia?” She demanded. She spoke with a fearful urgency Yukio never heard before.
Alexis obliged her enemy’s demands, “She was taken by our second in command. He’s probably dueling her right now just to torture her and give her a false sense of hope. It doesn’t matter if she wins or not. He’ll probably just beat her up or worse.” Alexis trembled at the knees and fell down one final time.
“What the hell do you mean?” Maya shouted, her voice even harsher than before. “Don’t you dare be cryptic with me or I’ll do even worse to you!”
“Tell us who Matthew works for! Is it Heishin? Somebody else?” Yukio yelled even louder than Maya, but it was too late for the both of them. Alexis was out cold.
Surprisingly, the Ghouls kept their leader’s word and left, and as they did so Mathias, Maximus, and Ivy ran in, calling Maya’s and Yukio’s names, thanking their god they were all right. Maximus curtly explained their situation for brevity’s sake, “About thirty Ghouls surrounded us but we wiped them all out. Stella and her friends held their own.”
Yukio and Maya sighed in relief. Yukio sighed in relief, but Maya said, “Sophia is missing! We need to find her fast!”
Mathias and his company nodded grimly. Maximus knew exactly what to do. He slapped his Millennium Puzzle Card on his duel disk and requested the materialized Millennium Item, “Locate the duelist Sophia Petrova.” But the Puzzle shook, it’s frame distorted by glitches, and blue-lined code manifested in front of it. “The location of her duel disk was shut off, possibly encrypted.” Maximus sighed. “What now?”
Maya remembered how she deduced Akira’s whereabouts. She saw all duelists whose rosters weren’t corrupted by Ghouls. “We could use a Millennium Tauk Card to see all the encrypted codes, but,” her voice dropped, “not trace them.”
Maximus suddenly got an idea. “I know how. You still have a Millennium Rod Card?” Maya produced it. Maximus slapped it on the duel disk, the Millennium Item appeared. He requested all encrypted codes, and the holographic Rod obeyed, projecting from its eye every encrypted code. He recognized a code similar to the one the Puzzle displayed before it crashed. He pointed to it. “Trace the encryption to its source.” The Rod obeyed and produced a set of coordinates.
Yukio reached for his iPhone and entered them on Google Maps, which pointed to the nearest Nile cataract. “It looks like it’s at a cliff face. Maybe it’s a bunker.”
Upon hearing this news everyone knew exactly what to do. Everyone ran to Maximus’ car as fast as they could to rescue Sophia in time.