All issues considered, it is a fundamental fact that New York cheesecake is healthier and tastier than chocolate mousse. Cheesecake is made of cheese, a necessary nutrient in daily life because all the food pyramids you see in the doctor’s office say so. The famous tarte au fromage frequently comes with blueberries and strawberries on top, both of which are fruits and therefore deemed healthy by every juice cleansing company and yoga mom in the nation.
My esteemed colleague, a freeloader in The Cheesecake Factory, assures me the New York cheesecake contains much less sugar than the chocolate mousse, which is produced in the bowels of the diabolical Mousse Factory, both corporations engaged in a business argument lasting generations. New York cheesecake is so healthy statisticians from The Cheesecake Factory Coard of Researchers estimate that eating ten cheesecakes each day will decrease your chances of getting diabetes. The same statisticians also confirm, beyond any reasonable doubt, that eating only two chocolate mousse in one day increases your chances of getting diabetes by ninety-eight percent.
New York cheesecake has a richness of taste and creamy satisfying flavor that lingers in the tongue only a confection with superior amounts of dairy than chocolate mousse can possibly provide. Chucky the Great, the patron deity of all cheeses from the mozzarella stick to the parmesan pizza, alpham et omegam de omne casseus delectamentum, distinguishes his prophets and other beatific noblemen from the masses destined for perdition by their increased capacity to taste and appreciate cheese. I cite the irrefutable Boden’s Law, which dictates that one’s personal preference is a natural law of the universe, a fact indisputable as Newton’s Three Laws of Gravity. I like New York cheesecake over chocolate mousse. Therefore, New York cheesecake is superior to chocolate mousse in every way.
My final attempt at making the best Forbidden Memories Deck without cheats:
Red Nova Monsters: 3x Meteor B. Dragon 3x Blue-Eyes White Dragon 3x Skull Knight 3x Zoa 3x Red-Eyes Black Dragon 3x Meteor Dragon
Equip Spells: 3x Megamorph 3x Bright Castle 3x Dragon Treasure 3x Dark Energy 3x Malevolent Nuzzler 2x Violet Crystal
Normal Spells: 3x Raigeki
Traps: 2x Widespread Ruin
The primary attackers of this Deck are Meteor B. Dragon and Blue-Eyes White Dragon, both of which have the Sun to counter the Moon of Gate Guardian. Skull Knight and Zoa are secondary attackers but of critical importance since they have Mercury to counter the Sun of Blue-Eyes Ultimate Dragon.
I chose to replace Metalzoa and Twin-Headed Thunder Dragon with Red-Eyes Black Dragon and Meteor Dragon so I can make more Meteor B. Dragons, which are stronger. They give me a better chance of defeating Gate Guardian and Blue-Eyes Ultimate Dragon. The former pair of monsters are powerful but redundant and don’t give me any guardian star advantage.
The Equip Spells exist to power up the two “classes” of monster in this Deck: bright fiery dragons and creatures of darkness. Raigeki is staple while Widespread Ruin can stall your opponent, waste a powerful monster, and protect your field if you have a weaker monster.
Equip Spells: 3x Insect Armor with Cannon 3x Laser Cannon Armor 3x Power of Kaishin 3x Spring of Rebirth 3x Horn of Light 2x Megamorph
Traps: 3x Mirror Wall
This is a poke Deck, the point being to teleport Leghul and Ooguchi to your opponent’s Deck Master to make a direct hit. Man-Eater Bug, Psychic Kappa, and Roaring Ocean Snake are good side monsters that also work with the many Equip Spells in this Deck. Man-Eater Bug pops a monster, Psychic Kappa makes a good scout, and Roaring Ocean Snake transforms the field to its advantage each time it battles.
Dancing Elf and Weather Report are materials to create Dark Witch for a little extra beatdown, and to make the Deck faster. Since many monsters in this Deck are weak, you can take heavy battle damage if you’re not careful. You must heavily rely on Mirror Force to protect your monsters. Since computer opponents are idiots they will keep attacking you, triggering your critical Trap Card.
Metal Morphs Deck Master: Cyber-Stein Deck Cost: 754
Monsters: 3x Labyrinth Tank 3x Blast Juggler 3x Cyber-Stein 3x Petit Moth 2x Zoa 2x Red-Eyes Black Dragon
Equip Spells: 3x Dark Energy 3x Machine Conversion Factory 3x Horn of the Unicorn 3x Megamorph 3x Cocoon of Evolution 3x Metalmorph
Traps: 3x Mesmeric Control 3x Infinite Dismissal
This Deck relies on summoning powerful fusion Machine monsters, Metalzoa and Red-Eyes Black Metal Dragon, while powering them up to high ATK. Labyrinth Tank is another boss monster, and it can travel through Labyrinth Terrain. Cyber-Stein transforms the field to Wasteland Terrain each time it battles, Blast Juggler destroys troublesome monsters, and Petit Moth combined with Cocoon of Evolution eventually bring out Perfectly Ultimate Great Moth.
Of all my Decks, this one is the least consistent. You often won’t have enough Star Power to summon your stronger monsters and your hand will often get clogged with Petit Moth, Cocoon of Evolution, and Metalmorph. You sometimes need to discard cards to keep your Deck running.
Poison Ivy Deck Master: Dark Plant Deck Cost: 754
Monsters: 3x Laughing Flower 3x Greenkappa 3x Eyearmor 3x Kuriboh 3x Petit Moth 3x Dark Plant 3x Swordsman from a Foreign Land 3x Monster Eye 2x Leogun 2x Hinotama Soul
Equip Spells: 3x Crush Card 3x Vile Germs 3x Cocoon of Evolution
Traps: 3x Mesmeric Control
A different kind of Plant Deck, this one relies on making Crush Terrain and using monster effects over brute force. Queen of Autumn Leaves and Rose Specter of Dunn are still powerful fusions but their ATK is not a priority. Leogun and Hinotama soul fuse into Flame Cerberus, another strong side monster. Petite Moth and Cocoon of Evolution eventually make Perfectly Ultimate Great Moth, which is very useful, both as a forceful attacker and a subtle underminer of your opponent’s monsters.
The various effect monsters fulfill many functions: Greenkappa and Eyearmor mimic the ATK of the strongest monster on the field. Kuriboh insures you from damage when it battles. Monster Eye flips your opponent’s card face-up. Swordsman from a Foreign Land destroys the monster that killed it. Laughing Flower briefly turns your opponent’s creature against its maker. Dark Plant makes Crush Terrain. Hinotama Soul destroys nearby Spells and Traps when it dies.
Devilish Burn Deck Master: Kryuel Deck Cost: 754
Monsters: 3x Kryuel
Normal Spells: 3x Tremendous Fire 3x Ookazi 3x Final Flame 3x Hinotama 2x Dimension Hole 1x Just Desserts
Equip Spells: 3x Axe of Despair
Traps: 3x Invisible Wire 3x Bear Trap 3x Eatgaboon 3x Mesmeric Control 3x Tears of the Mermaid 3x Infinite Dismissal 1x Bad Reaction to Simochi
This Deck has only three monsters: copies of Kryuel, whose purpose is to make burn Spell Cards more potent. When not hitting your opponent with direct damage you take your time setting a field of many Trap Cards to stall them, either by decreasing a monster’s ATK, spellbinding it for several turns, or killing it. Bad Reaction to Simochi counters any attempt your opponent may make to rejuvenate their atrophying Life. Dimension Hole is a last ditch escape if you need it.
Monsters: 3x Roaring Ocean Snake 3x Yamatano Dragon Scroll 3x Petit Dragon 3x Root Water 3x White Dolphin 2x High Tide Gyojin 2x Catapult Turtle 2x Zone Eater
Normal Spells: 2x Umi 2x Aqua Chorus
Equip Spells: 3x Power of Kaishin 3x Spring of Rebirth 3x Hightide
Traps: 3x Mesmeric Control 3x Tears of the Mermaid
Yifan’s strategy is to create and power up fusion monsters, mostly Aqua Dragon, Kairyu-shin, and Sea King Dragon. Roaring Ocean Snake is of course a main hitter as well. Most of these monsters also transform the field into Umi Terrain as they battle, which powers them up even more and takes away field advantage the opponent may have. The Deck kills two birds with one stone. Umi and Aqua Chorus are really supplements to rub salt into the wound. Of all Decks, this one produces monsters with the highest ATK.
Some of the fusion materials have uses on their own. Root Water creates more Umi Terrain, Yamatano can transform into Yamadron over time, Catapult Turtle can blast through Labyrinth Terrain, and Zone Eater makes more Umi Terrain.
Haunting Deck Master: Swordstalker Deck Cost: 757
Monsters: 3x Swordstalker 3x Muka Muka 3x Mavelus 3x Yamatano Dragon Scroll 3x Hinotama Soul 3x Witch’s Apprentice 3x Time Wizard 3x Dancing Elf 2x Frenzeid Panda 2x Barrel Rock 2x Princess of Tsurugi
Normal Spells: 2x Burning Land 2x Darkness Approaches
Traps: 3x Mesmeric Control 3x Tears of the Mermaid
Marcus “the Muskrateer” fuses many weaker monsters into strong fusions that top 2000 ATK, all the while powering up Swordstalker and Muka Muka by filling his Graveyard. This Deck is more consistent than the other Swordstalker Deck since it doesn’t compromise with the Magician of Faith-Tremendous Fire engine. It also allows the boss monsters to peak at ludicrously high ATK because of Darkness Approaches, like getting Muka Muka to hit the ceiling with 9999 ATK. Burning Land takes away Crush Terrain and any field advantage from the opponent.
Equip Spells: 3x Salamandra 3x Gust Fan 2x Machine Conversion Factory 2x Dark Energy
Traps: 3x Mesmeric Control 3x Tears of the Mermaid
Percy “the Vagabond” makes use of the unique Immortal monsters. Slate Warrior and Rigras Leever are the primary attackers, with Gust Fan and Salamandra as their respective Equip Spells. Their ATK won’t soar to great heights but they are competent, and take revenge on their killers by making Crush Terrain when they die.
Soul Eater is the big gun, absorbing monsters in the Graveyard to top 3000 ATK with ease, 4000 ATK on a regular basis, and even 5000 ATK at times. Jowels of Dark Demise is a good tech that steals any powerful monster you can’t kill outright. Greenkappa and Eyearmor copy the ATK of the strongest monster and Change Slime frustrates the opponent by doing a kamikaze on monsters they devoted time and effort creating. Dharma Canon is useful for blasting past Labyrinth Terrain.
I’m fond of making Decks for my characters. If a Duelists of the Roses version of the Yugioh game was invented, these are the decks Maya, Yukio, and Sofia would use respectively.
Fell Dragons Deck Master: Red-Eyes Black Dragon Deck Cost: 752
Monsters: 3x Red-Eyes Black Dragon 3x Summoned Skull 3x Yamatano Dragon Scroll 3x Petit Dragon 2x Canon Soldier 2x Time Wizard 2x Witch’s Apprentice 2x Kuriboh
Normal Spells: 2x Mountain
Equip Spells: 3x Dragon Treasure 3x Nails of Bane 3x Horn of the Unicorn 3x Dark Energy
Traps: 3x Mesmeric Control 3x Tears of the Mermaid
Maya resorts to fusing B. Skull Dragon and powering it up with many Equip Spells, often with ATK topping 4000 and even 5000. The fusion materials, Red-Eyes Black Dragon and Summoned Skull, are very powerful in their own right, especially when with many equips, easily topping 3000 ATK and even 4000 ATK at times.
Thousand Dragon is a lesser fusion monster, but still quite powerful. Even the weak fusions, Blackland Fire Dragon and Koumori Dragon, can cause trouble when powered up with Equip Spells. Metal Dragon is a decent monster and a good combatant in Wasteland Terrain, which many Yorkists reside in.
The fusion materials have their functions: Cannon Soldier can break through Jasper Tudor’s Labyrinth Terrain fortress, Yamatano can transform into Yamadron to remove Terrain that gives the opponent an advantage, and Kuriboh makes a good scout since you get no damage from it.
Zombie Apocalypse Deck Master: Patrician of Darkness Deck Cost: 755
Equip Spells: 3x Violet Crystal 3x Dark Energy 3x Megamorph
Traps: 3x Mesmeric Control 3x Tears of the Mermaid
Yukio relies less on Pumpking the King of Ghosts to power up weaker Zombie monsters, instead strengthening Great Mammoth of Goldfine, Patrician of Darkness, Skelegon, and Shadow Ghoul through Equip Spells. This makes the Deck faster, more consistent, and less reliant on setup, though it can still make a couple of Pumpkings to easily power up monsters to over 4000 ATK. In addition, Shadow Ghoul can cross Labyrinth Terrain.
Fairy Queen Deck Master: Dark Witch Deck Cost: 755
Monsters: 3x Dark Witch 3x Maha Vailo 3x Fairy’s Gift 3x Wing Egg Elf 3x Dancing Elf 3x Curtain of the Dark Ones 2x Barrel Rock
Traps: 3x Mesmeric Control 3x Tears of the Mermaid
Sofia relies on churning out Dark Witch and Mystical Elf with many Equip Spells. Summoning many Mystical Elfs can power up all LIGHT monsters to an enormous amount, topping 4000 ATK and even 5000 ATK on a regular basis. Dark Elf is a powerful ally despite being a creature of the night since she has stronger base ATK.
Maha Vailo is best when in face-up Defense Position since he makes Equip Spells even more potent. Barrel Rock can blast through Labyrinth Terrain can fuse into Mystical Sand when taking advantage of Wasteland Terrain is needed.
Traps: 3x Mesmeric Control 3x Tears of the Mermaid
The main strategy is to easily churn out many Queen of Autumn Leaves and Rose Specter of Dunn, powering them up to very high levels with many Equip Spells and Forest. You can easily get their ATK to top 3000 and it’s not uncommon for your monsters to top 4000.
But even the weak fusion materials have strong effects. Laughing Flower and Dark Plant can delay your opponent’s monsters by controlling and destroying them. Green Phantom King can give your Queens a little boost. Magician of Faith can reuse Tremendous Fire, both staples among my Decks, allowing you to dish out up to 6000 direct damage.
The six Trap Cards are staples in all of my Decks; they weaken your opponent’s monsters and make them sitting ducks for you destroy them and damage your opponent’s Life.
Pumpking Patch Deck Master: Pumpking the King of Ghosts Deck Cost: 757
Monsters: 3x Dragon Zombie 3x Wood Remains 3x Dokuroizo the Grim Reaper 3x Fiend’s Hand 3x Mammoth Graveyard 3x Abyss Flower 3x Dark Plant 3x Magician of Faith
Normal Spells: 3x Wasteland 3x Tremendous Fire
Equip Spells: 3x Dark Energy 3x Violet Crystal
Traps: 2x Mesmeric Control 2x Tears of the Mermaid
This Deck is the most complicated. Preferably, you will start out with about two Pumpkings to boost your monsters. Great Mammoth of Goldfine is the most powerful fusion monster you can bring out. With a little patience, you can easily get it over 4000 ATK. Wood Remains is a good soldier, especially if you get many out since they can power up each other, letting you easily top 3000 ATK, and at times even 4000.
I purposefully chose weaker Zombie monsters as fusion materials so I can make more Wood Remains if needed, as well as to fuse with Magician of Faith to and a Plant monster bring out a Pumpking. The purpose is to make the Deck go faster and avoid dead draws by fusing more monsters. Finding out just the right monsters was a struggle and took a long time.
I use a “rule of two” when playing this Deck to avoid a dead hand. If I have two or more Plant monsters in my hand, I use them both to make a Pumpking or use one of them when making a Great Mammoth. The same rule applies to Zombie monsters and Magician of Faith.
The fusion materials have their own uses. Fiend’s Hand can pop an enemy monster. Dark Plant makes Crush Terrain. Magician of Faith recycles Tremendous Fire. Dokuroizo the Grim Reaper is immune to Trap Cards.
Aldying Deck Master: Swordstalker Deck Cost: 756
Monsters: 3x Swordstalker 3x Muka Muka 3x Mavelus 3x Frenzied Panda 3x Hinotama Soul 3x Petit Dragon 3x Time Wizard 3x Magician of Faith 3x Dancing Elf 2x Princess of Tsurugi 2x Ancient Jar
Normal Spells: 3x Tremendous Fire
Traps: 3x Mesmeric Control 3x Tears of the Mermaid
The main strategy is to power up Swordstalker and Muka Muka by fusing a lot of weak monsters together to make more powerful creatures. While you should normally fuse with as few materials as possible, this Deck takes an opposite approach. You should fuse as many materials as possible, even if you don’t have to, so you can stack up a big Graveyard to power up your boss monsters. This way, Swordstalker tends to top 3000 ATK while Muka Muka climbs up to 5000 ATK.
I struggled over a long time to choose the right fusion materials so even the fusion monsters easily top 2000 ATK. They are relatively weak but still give the opponent a hard time. Such monsters are: Thousand Dragon, Crimson Sunbird, Punished Eagle, Flame Cerberus, Mystical Sand, Stone Dragon, and Garvas.
The Valley of the Kings burns under the heat of the midday sun, so hot and dry Hassan Mubarak nearly has his backside burn and fuse with the seat of his army jeep. The current Egyptian President cannot find much romantic mystery in the desert he governs. The bright light above him seems to disinfect everything to the point of making the land sterile, like it broke through every tomb and burned all the mummies and ancient relics to ash. If the past, with its remains of an old world, are a kind of vampire sucking the life of the living – then the vampire should die? He has the weirdest deja vu right now for some reason.
Hassan sees a merciful large white tend and unsticks himself from the seat with his advisor, Simon Al-Mufti. He sees two familiar woman as he enters the tent, the first garnished in white clothes and large sunglasses, and the second in old blue jeans and a flat cap. Simon scratches his head in visible confusion.
“Why are you dressed like a discount Kim Kardashian?” Hassan addresses the woman in white.
“One: it’s hot. Two: I’m hot.” Maya quips in a facetious manner.
“Fascinating.” Hassan remarks as he takes a seat near the two women. Knowing who they are and having their goals in mind, he can make an educated guess on what they’re after. “I’m assuming you want my help in taking out a high mage, perhaps Anubisius since he rules over the Middle East. I don’t know if I can do it for reasons you should know.”
Maya nods, admitting the fact, and gives her modest proposal. “I’m aware of the messy relationships in the Middle East. It’s like a love dodecahedron. America-sempai loves Israel-chan and Saudi Arabia-chan. The two are frenemies; Israel-kun has a decent friendship with Egypt-kun as of late but Saudia Arabia-kun has soured feelings for Egypt-kun for reasons more tedious than card games. TL;DR Egypt-kun has declined, become dependant on foreign support, and won’t give land Saudia Arabia-kun feels entitled to.”
“You don’t need to explain it to me. If your complexion was lighter than mine I’d accuse you of white-splaining.” Hassan reminds her. “Egypt is so weak already I would rather die than make another humiliating concession.”
“It’s not for you but for the audience. Not everyone knows. And,” Maya adds. “Turn that frown upside down. You can beat Anubisius and level the playing field. – By the way, Kim Kardashian was delicious. Maybe she lives in me to some extent.”
Hassan is incredulous, but a part of him remains hopeful. Subtly reminded that Maya has superhuman powers, he still must test Maya to see if his hope can manifest into something real or if it is merely a cruel trick. “Let me take you and your prodigy on a tour of this ancient land free of charge. I would rather show my argument than tell it.”
He takes his guests beyond the Valley of the Kings, following a large truck heading on its way from Cairo to a nearby village by the Nile, now grown into a refugee camp. It is only one of many along the river bank, each giving asylum to about a thousand people. It is a very different place than what Maya and Sofia remembered from three years earlier: very crowded and dirty, crafted brick houses overshadowed by a large patchwork of makeshift tents, the river cluttered with waste.
The truck stops and the drivers unload crates containing water, toiletries, canned food, used clothes, frozen vegetables, and emergency aid kits, with Hassan directing a team of his army on how to distribute the crates and to whom. The party sees an old woman trying her best to wash her clothes in the Nile. Men on a nearby farm are forced to bury a large pile of human waste in the soil, trying to make the best use by making it fertilizer. Maya, always sensitive to smells, covers her face. Sofia, whose smelling is even more acute, gets watery eyes.
Hassan gestures to the tent city-village. “Our world is like a pyramid now. Anubisius builds new palaces in Saudi Arabia, Momentum giving him all the energy he needs. The surrounding states are not so lucky. I depend on Saudia Arabia to keep my nation’s cities floating while I do what I can to help my unhappy people. How can I muster the strength to help you. Even your strength has limits.”
Sofia tugs at Maya’s sleeve as if her teacher is her mother too. “Promise me that we will see the people in the tent city. We must know the faces of the people we are fighting for. We cannot have a revolution with an abstract mass like ‘the proletariat’.”
Maya nods sagaciously, then says, “You are so much wiser and stronger than me, Sofia. If only you believed it.”
As the women were about to go, Hassan asks Maya, “Why dress as Kim Kardashian in a place like this? You don’t look like a hero of the common man at all. Honestly, you look like a jerk.”
“That’s the point. I am not. Look at me, Hassan.” Maya grabs his shoulders, looking him in the eye. “I am a black magician who sold my soul to the Devil to gain my powers. I can transform into a dragon and do other dark arts. I do all the good I can but only so much can be achieved through evil means. I have so much blood on my hands the Nile would fail to wash it away; it would merely turn my claws from red to green.”
She puts Hassan’s hand on Sofia’s shoulder. “I will help you create a new world but it is not a world where I will be welcome. Having me as a leader would be demeaning to the people of this planet. Worthy people like you two are the ones who must lead the people to make a better world.”
Hassan’s suspicions remain. “Love for ‘the proletariat’ doesn’t drive you. Hatred of the ruling class does. If you truly served the people, you would act differently. A person like you, with your immense power, will always make me wary. Maybe there are things you’re not telling me. Well, Maya?”
“You can squint at me hoping to find a hidden agenda all you want, but you must take me for my word if you want Anubisius’ head on your wall.” Maya says. “I will tell you now that I have no secrets.”
With that finished, the three of them go through the tent city. They watch several children play with a ragged soccer ball nearby. A lone man on a small boat struggles to fish. A husband, wife, girl, and scabby little boy eat small portions of lunch in a tent. The 1 liter water bottle beside them is their only ration for hydration. The family beckons Maya and Sofia to come share in some of the lunch, much to their surprise. The two women refuse to eat, daring not to waste the family’s precious food, until the wife pressures them into taking a bite. Even then, they take only a small nibble.
Husband and wife try to have a conversation with Maya and Sofia – even the little girl joins in – but the two women cannot reply since they don’t know how to speak Masry. That Masry was the maiden name of Maya’s mother; that coincidence does not escape her attention. Hassan, kneeling from outside the tent, explains Maya: “They used to own a shop in Cairo before being forced out here. The daughter once went to a private school and wants nothing more than to go back there. The son has a skin rash because of the poor sanitation.”
Sofia nudged Maya on shoulder. “You don’t know the names of any displaced person but you know the names of the high mages you’re about to kill. Don’t you think that’s funny?”
“A delicious irony in this tragicomedy.” Maya says.
Sofia clarifies it is not what she means by “funny”. Maya replies, “I understand, but you don’t either. This is exactly why I said I was unworthy. I’m not really a fighter for the people. We’re really third party allies who cut off the heads of the monster tormenting them. It is up to them – as it should be – to build fair and just societies. But – and you really must understand this, Sofia – we ultimately serve a different agenda.”
The husband asks Hassan what Maya just said. Hassan, being tactful, simply tells them they are the warriors who defeated one of the high mages. Sofia asks him the names of the family members. Hassan tells her: the husband is Malik, the woman is Turas, the girl is Najima, the boy is Waleed. He orders a soldier to give him a crate. Hassan, Maya, and Sofia take out all the contents and give it to the family, who dearly thanks them for the medicine therein. Turas kisses the three of them and Malik shakes their hands. Najima and Waleed wave goodbye.
The name of the husband gives Maya an idea, so it sets her thinking. The party of three stops at a far less wholesome sigh. A wasted man with a patchy beard injects a drug in his vein with a needle, resting his back against a rock. Maya says, “Not to have a Dora the Explorer moment, Sofia, but do YOU know where the man’s heroin comes from?”
“Plantaciones de amapola en Afganistán. Poppy Plantations in Afghanistan.” Sofia says with no enthusiasm.”
“And do YOU know who owns private plantations in Afghanistan but spends most of his time elsewhere?” Maya prods further.
Sofia does not bother to speak, the answer being so obvious. Hassan speaks for her instead. “If we are going to attack Anubisius, we need more forces. Egypt’s army is not enough.”
And he is right, as Maya admits. They need a cohesive network of fighters. But who? Maya and Sofia part ways with Hassan, setting out to camp near the tent city. Maya creates a fire to warm up some tea while Sofia plays with sticks on the sand, getting promptly hit on the head with a ball from one of the children. Sofia tells the children they should be with their parents, but they do not understand her, so she throws the ball far away at the tents, the children running after it.
“This is a Yugioh fanfic, by the way.” Sofia reminds Maya and the audience. “When are we going to duel? People are getting bored. Political commentary is boring.”
“Be good and I’ll get you a duel. If you’re bad, I’ll publish a socialist manifesto and make everyone read it.” Maya says while looking at the flames as they fly above the campfire into the starry sky.
Sofia closes the tent and goes to sleep, Maya soon following her.
Anubisius cannot help but pace restlessly in his vacation manor, occupied with the defeat of Secmeton from several months ago, stopping every once in a while to glance at the rich purple fields surrounding him. What if he is next? The poppy plantation his manor oversees in the Goston valley, more specifically the wealth it represents, gives him small comfort. He tightly clutches the Millennium Key hanging round his neck as if asking the artifact to protect him with its magic.
But the poor wealthy man need not brood alone. A large helicopter blows over the poppy field, out of which steps out Pegasus. Yifan arrives on horseback wearing a cream pink skirt, looking like a little princess, which makes Anubisius scoff, while Kepura arrives in a black limousine. Anubisius puts on the bravest face he can as he goes out to greet the guests, inviting them to his palace. He calls on servants to set up small round table and soon thereafter everyone sits down to have a tea party.
Yifan notices the anxiety of her host as it shows on his features: his face long and sullen, his skin wan, his long arms stiff as wood, and his speech correct and terse as the Queen’s English. She cautiously sips the rose tea, sticking her pinkie out in jest. “Why so British?”
Anubisius fails to respond. Kepura wipes his large thick lips with a handkerchief and lays out what everybody is thinking on the table. “One of us is down. What do we do?”
“I’m in no position to do such a thing but maybe,” Pegasus says while twiddling his thumbs. “World leaders should do something about this crisis on our hands.”
“Martis is in a conference with the President of the United States.” Kepura states flatly. “So far the American government has declared martial law on the devastated west coast while building forts to strengthen the defenses of the east coast cities. If I was a gambling man – which I am; it’s a serious problem – I’d say the terrorists will continue on the east coast or attack East Asia. The Momentum generators there are nearest to Los Angeles.”
Anubisius is about to speak up but he is cut short by a sharp objection. “Don’t be an idiot!” Kaiba severely admonishes Kepura. “The terrorists can fly like they’re devils from Hell, or Dragonball Z villains. No place on earth is safe geographically speaking.”
Pegasus quietly observed Kaiba parking his Blue-Eyes White Dragon jet outside, which certainly made a big noise, but the rest of the conference was too distracted to care. He sighs, “It’s everyone’s favorite party pooper.” All this while drinking his tea.
Kaiba is not alone; he is joined by an otherworldly woman, thin and very pale, with hair so fair it is almost white. Pegasus recognizes her to be Maria Wight, the Yugioh World Championship semi-finalist from three years ago.
Anubisius finally has the courage to bluster at a random target. “Kepura, do something! You are the Field Marshall of the United States, the most powerful country in history!”
“Secretary of Defense. There is no American Field Marshal.” Kepura corrects him. “Besides, what am I to do? Order a nuclear assault on every potential target around the world? Our terrorist friends come and go as they please. They have no headquarters nor any chain of command.” He points an accusing finger to everyone around him in turn. “Their strategy is to form a cell when it is time to attack, even one under your very noses, then disperse.”
Yifan observes, “In other words, every underprivileged person on the planet is a potential enemy, about seven billion of them ever since Momentum became a thing. Meanwhile, the whole infrastructure of civilization as we know it depends on six generators. The terrorists can attack six billboards with targets painted on them. We can only grasp at smoke.” Yifan points to the servants of the house and the workers outside. “Even they can be plotting against us.”
Anubisius puts his hand near his throat as if he is choking and even Kaiba drops his stoic mask, just a bit. Yifan covers her smile with a pale dainty hand, satisfied as a cat lapping milk.
Kaiba covers his fear by lashing out. “How disgraceful! Our enemies are anarchist dogs who hide in the forest until they make a surprise attack. Fitting that a seditious woman like Maya leads a pack of hyenas.”
“Actually,” Anubisius adds, “Hyenas are more related to cats than -”
“SHUT UP!” Kaiba roars like a blast of icy wind.
Pegasus blows into the air and waves his hand like its a fan. “Do you have a strategy, Kaiba-boy?”
“You’ve done nothing from the beginning. You’re useless!” Kaiba turns on him, heaping more abuse. “You know that meme where Val Kilmer in Pulp Fiction walks around in bewilderment and has no idea where he is or what he’s doing? That’s you!”
Yifan finishes her tea, extremely amused from all the arguing going on, also making a note in her mind to steal Kaiba’s joke. Kaiba catches her smirking and demands she speak up, so Yifan tells him the truth. “I think it’s funny how easily you intimidate other people. All your constipated rage and vitriol comes from frustration and impotence. If you could achieve all the things you needed to, like getting a life, getting a girlfriend, beating Yugi in a card game, you would be a happier person.”
Kaiba rejects her advice at once, triggered into delivering a monologue on his philosophy. “Happiness is the mark of the imbecile. Man’s first scowl, his first profundity, came when the gods touched him on the forehead. A man who laughs and smiles often is shallow and dull. A man who laughs at everything kills a duelists’ pride by sneering on all that is heroic. A profound man does not laugh in joy or amusement. A profound man laughs in scorn and judgment. A profound man always has gravity and dignity about him. He is serious in every field and is never frivolous; he does not guffaw, he does not party, he does not waste his time socializing or drinking tea while the world collapses.”
Yifan checks her watch, slouching on the tea table. “Cool story, bro.” Poor “Kaiba-boy” must be as boring and miserable as a Puritan. No wonder Maria broke up with him. Anubisius cannot take it anymore. He smashes a vase in frustration, screaming.
Pegasus decides to speak up. “Perhaps we should petition to every world power to double its defenses of the Momentum generators. America, China, Russia, and Pakistan come to mind. Even if they are set on protecting Momentum, we should still stress the danger of terrorists.”
Yifan ponders the situation. If she is a gambling girl, she will bet Maya will take out Anubisius next. He is the weakest link. The poor thing must be frightened as a little rabbit. She can smell his fear. However powerful Maya is, she is still the underdog so she will exercise some caution, breaking one weak link after another until the whole chain falls apart.
Set on her prediction, Yifan gives false council. “Anyone who has seen Maya as a pro duelist knows she is a brash impatient person. Most likely she is already bored with taking out mere high mages and wants a real challenge, a legend like Kaiba, Pegasus, or Yugi. I’ll also venture to guess that Maya is an insecure person beneath all her dramatics – this is a common trait among outlandish people like her – so she wants to prove herself to mend her low self-esteem.”
Pegasus jumps to the conclusion. “Protect Japan and China, as well as my island since it’s near the shore of East Japan.”
“Correct.” Yifan confirms. She eyes Kepura next. “The American East Coast should be fine on its own. Also, India and Pakistan should protect China in case Maya wants to pull a fast one.”
The council, seeing her ideas to be most reasonable, agree. Even Kaiba nods in approval though still hating her guts. Strategies out of the way, he proceeds to his agenda. As he explains it, Maria has Blue-Eyes White Dragon as a Ka, meaning she can confront the terrorists since she can match their unnatural strength with her own. Unsure of such a bold claim, the council demands to see such power first hand.
Maria quietly assents, leading everyone outdoors. Being very shy among such powerful people, she lets Kaiba do all the talking while she concentrates on proving what words cannot. She has trouble getting in the mood at first but pulls herself together after a while, meditating for a full hour. Yifan can hear her Ka growing ever stronger like it’s a rising pitch, burning like a blue star, before anyone sees her glow in bright white. She grows and transforms, becoming a Blue-Eyes White Dragon in the flesh.
Meanwhile, decides to test Maria’s power first hand. She calls on Anubisius to order Saudia Arabia to launch a nuclear missile to Pakistan. He is at first bewildered until he reflects in shame on how he appeared so nervous and weak a moment ago. Steeling his nerves and wanting to get his balls back, he bullies an executive officer over a radio call to bypass all protocol and fire the weapon. He gets his way and within fifteen minutes the missile is launched.
Everyone, even the servants and workers, stop to admire such power and splendor. Not bad, as Yifan thinks. She is a natural. Maya had to train for years to be like this, being an ordinary mortal with a humble background. But still, people like Maria who are chosen by the gods may have a huge head start but normal people with creativity and ambition have a higher ceiling. A god cannot truly be courageous or break new ground but mere mortals can. That is her pet theory. Either way, Maya has her work cut out for her.
“The missile has been launched.” Anubisius informs the council with a dry voice.
“You heard the man.” Yifan tells the white dragon, pointing to the sun as if the warhead is there. “Fetch.”
The dragon takes off, breaking the sound barrier. Anubisius receives a radio call from the executive officer. The nuke was destroyed as soon as it was out of range. The white dragon promptly returns in triumph and reverts back into a human. Maria is strained from the exhaustion of executing such a difficult feat but still has the strength to sit down on a chair near Kaiba.
Anubisius sighs in relief and self-satisfaction, knowing that Maria will keep him safe. He orders the servants to deliver several old school opium pipes to the guests, transporting them a hundred years into the past. Anubisius, Yifan, and Pegasus take to enjoying themselves while Kepura, Kaiba, and Maria refrain.
Enraptured from the opium, Pegasus quotes literature: “Life has always poppies in her hands.”
“Only if you’re a dreamer.” Yifan rejoins. Her brain sick with opium, she naps on the base of one of the manor’s many columns, transported into a dream. She arrives to an African Savannah, the origin of the human species, and sees Maya, a bright woman more beautiful than any other, blazing in the sky where the sun should be. Maya never leaves the midheaven, an idée fixe refusing to leave Yifan’s mind. Yifan stretches her arms to the sky, longing to embrace Maya, but cannot rise beyond the ground no matter how hard she tries.
“Cyndia…” Pegasus moans in sorrow. “My dear wife Cyndia… I still miss you…”
Now the real sparring begins. Both women release a fraction of their power, eyes glowing red, brandishing swords of fire conjured by their willpower. Maya keeps a leisurely tempo for now, like that of a sarabande, moving slowly enough for Sofia to parry her assault without too much trouble. Thankfully, the fighters use minimal Ka on their swords, so even if Maya hits Sofia with the blade her student will merely get singed.
Sofia blocks Maya’s attacks and counters with gestures of her own right after, all while skipping around the field, kind of like a highland dance. Maya picks up the pace to a gigue, then a gavotte, lashing at Sofia with ever greater speed and strength. It gets to the point where Sofia staggers under the blows, forcing her to stand her ground and make a committed counterattack, not half-hearted parries.
Maya surprises Sofia with a sudden drop and a kick to the stomach, a Capoercia that slams Sofia into the cavity of a large rock near the ocean waves. Literally backed into a corner, Sofia strikes back with heavy cleaves. Pleased, Maya lets Sofia plow her way through, keeping it challenging just enough to make Sofia sweat. Sofia takes a gamble; she lunges forward, burning the wrist of Maya’s sword arm. Unfortunately for Sofia, her dance is clumsy and, stretching herself too far, leaves herself open.
It is a fraction of a section, but an hour from the womens’ point of view. Maya takes advantage of her sweet time and slashes her opponent’s abdomen. Sofia yells, a thin black line burned past her clothes and into her flesh. dropping her guard entirely. Maya, all too happy to take advantage of the opportunity, lands a low blow right into Sofia’s wound, making her fall to the ground, utterly defeated.
Maya examines the wound, taking care not to wince, though she is very tempted to do so. “As my great grand uncle twice removed, Clarence Jones, loved to say, ‘Better have blisters and a scar than a stump on your wrist.’” She says in an exaggerated genial tone.
“You don’t have a great grand uncle twice removed.” Sofia moans as she clutches her abdomen. “I mean, you probably do, but I doubt you know his name, or anything he said.”
Maya sits in a cross-legged position near her apprentice, cocking her head in a quizzical manner. “Have you ever watched the Magic School Bus?”
“What’s that again?”
“A cooky teacher sends kids on magic field trips to give them science lessons.”
It rings a bell. Sofia finally gets it, and makes a sarcastic laugh. Maya helps her to her feet – she points to a place behind Sofia. “Look! Wayne is brutalising Eric and Megan!”
Sofia crosses her arms in disbelief. “I don’t believe you.”
“No, really! I’m serious! It’s disgusting! It’s like hardcore porn by National Geographic!”
This catches Sofia’s morbid curiosity, so she cannot help but turn around and watch. Indeed, the hooligan Wayne violently pecks Eric into submission, tearing out several feathers, and proceeds to rape Megan. Sofia drops her jaw in surprise and disgust.
“PSYCHE! KIDNEY PUNCH!” Maya smashes the side of Sofia’s back, making Sofia double down on the floor again. “You fell for the oldest trick in the book. Unbelievable.” When Sofia complains how it can be a trick since Maya was telling the truth, Maya replies, “Yes, you can tell the truth but still use it for deceitful purposes. I am a lenient teacher compared to experience, which will teach you the same lesson by cutting your hand off instead.”
Maya helps Sofia to her feet again, but with no tricks in mind. She brings out a portable electric stove and invites Sofia to cook with her, which Sofia does. Maya instructs her on how to cook, not merely to make any food to eat, but how to cook well, to make the tastiest most nutritious food possible. Together, they cook fish alongside tomatoes, garlic, and ginger. They top off the fish with a pinch of butter and natural salt.
Sofia muses on what to call their meal. You cannot call it brunch because it’s too late for breakfast and maybe you can call it dinner, but what can you call all three meals in one? “Bulinner?” Sofia suggests, feeling silly. Maya laughs a bit, giving her approval. Why not?
“The smallest things are really the largest things.” Maya observes while they eat. Embarrassed at saying such a cliche, she elaborates. “People in the past tended to shirk off small physical things like your diet, the climate you live in, the land you live off of, your daily habits as not too important factors that determine your nature as a human being and the choices you make. But those are really the most important factors.”
“Which people?” Sofia asks. “What things did they think were important instead?”
“Philosophers in the past, specifically Western ones to my limited knowledge. I imagine they cared more about big metaphysical ideas like the state of your conscious mind, your relationship with God, or the philosophical ideals you choose to have. But all those things are based on the food we eat, the state of our bodies, and other ‘merely’ physical things. It seems obvious now but I doubt it was not too long ago. Even all the magic fighting stuff we do is just an extension of our bodies.” Maya speaks in slow, lazy way, not too sure of herself.
“What about the soul? This is a Yugioh fanfic after all.” Sofia inquires furter.
Maya nods, gazing at the waves lit into fire by the sunset, putting her thoughts together. She says, “I’d say consciousness, or the soul, is an emergent property created by the body. The actions of our cells create thoughts and various subconscious processes, which are not much on their own, but we fit them together like pieces of a puzzle. We create a fiction, a ‘virtual’ reality, where our little brain waves become somewhat coherent.”
“What if you seal your soul into Millennium Item?” Sofia probes further.
“I guess the Millennium Item uses magic to change its host’s brain or create a consciousness in some other way.” Maya ruminates. “My point is the soul is not an actual substance like a rock or a pervert penguin. You might as well say the music I play is a substance. My advice to you: do not become preoccupied with your thoughts. We are not a being; we are a doing.”
Sofia finishes her meal, laying back on the grass to see the stars. “Not to be disrespectful, but I think our readers are itching for a duel. We shouldn’t bore them.”
Maya brushes her concern away. “Don’t worry. Let the plot take a promenade through Central Park. Do some world-building. We’re not in a New York Times bestseller, and thank God for that.”
Sofia makes all sorts of sarcastic exclamations. “Wow!” “Much high brow!” “Such deep!” “Very genius!” “A great literature!”
Maya chuckles a bit, and says, “I didn’t discuss philosophy simply to bore you. It’s an appetizer of the next lesson, which you’ll learn when you’re ready. You’ll learn the final skill.”
“To transform into a dragon!” Sofia gasps. She trained under Maya in secret for three years, but Maya never brought it up until now.
Maya nods. “But not now.” She says. “Now, we rest and take the sword battles to the next level.”
“You tease!” Sofia scoffs as she lays down for a nap. She wonders if she actually likes Maya, and in more ways than one. It seems she does, a thought she finds amusing before she drifts to sleep.
The women awaken to a dusk sky an hour later. They build up their Ka, their eyes burning red again, conjuring flaming swords from thin air once more, but more; they project fire from their backs and crowns, transforming it into black wings and horns. The penguins take seats around them to observe the battle.
Teacher and student clash, throwing each other into the air, and from then onward dance as acrobats or birds, whirling around the landscape as if caught by a hurricane of the passions. They land on the base of the southernmost Andes mountains. Maya picks up the tempo of the exercise to a tarantella and gives Sofia a further challenge. “We’ll also play another game, a bit of a rap battle while we fight. It’s my turn. I clash blades with you, I deliver a line. Next time we cross swords, I come up with another line. Then, you’ll do the same.”
Sofia becomes baffled. “Are you kidding me? That’s the dumbest idea I ever heard.”
“You’ll like it. I promise.” Maya assures her, beaming in good humor. “It’ll teach you to think creatively on your feet. We must get out at least four iambs. Five is ideal. Also, we must rhyme four times – Hey! That works! – And…” She suddenly takes flight. “BEGIN!” The women tangle in the air like squabbling seagulls.
Gotta save the world! We gotta get lit! But I must babysit a shrinking violet. What can I do? Sofie doesn’t know shit. She’s gotta get smacked in a royal battle blitz.
Poor fool! You’re serious, but really dumb. Your heart is gold but your feet are lead drums. Don’t be timid, girl! Seize power! Get drunk! Face your fears! Unleash the beast! Have some fun!
Maya slams the wedge beneath Sofia’s ribs with her knee and ruthlessly throws her student to the rugged mountain below. Sofia stretches her palms out and, using her Ka as a shield, crash lands as a fiery meteor into a crater below. Maya lands nearby brandishing her red blade. Sofia swears at her teacher in frustration. “Ven a buscarme, puta!” Maya challenges her. Sofia replies with a fierce lunge, and they take off again, Sofia improvising verses of her own.
You think you’re smart and chic!? Damn smarmy bitch! You just got daddy issues! Admit it, witch! Keep ridiculing people, and you’ll get a stitch To match your crocodile tears and cheap tricks!
Call me a whore!? You know nothing of love Or duty to anything above! You only have your ego! You’re evil! Like Yifan, an unrepentant devil!
Sofia tackles Maya head on, not caring about the searing cuts from her opponent’s blade. Fueled with fury and unleashing so much wrath she’s almost at the dragon stage, she pile drives Maya deep into a dark cave, getting them both buried in rubble.
Maya laughs in the darkness, her pain mixed with great pleasure. “You’re getting there! You dirty dog! You’re doing it!”
Sofia tightly clutches Maya’s waist. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to.” She would kowtow to Maya’s feet, begging forgiveness if she could.
Maya gently dissuades her, adding: “Why do you feel sorry for being angry? I gave you a hard time. Your feelings are valid.” This moment takes Maya back to when she was in Egypt, buried under mounds of rubble in a cave. The dark night of the soul is a cliche, but Maya could say her time in Egypt was definitely that moment for her. She had a choice; she could either let herself die in her loss, pity, and confusion, or she could climb out of the mess and try again. She tells Sofia everything of that moment.
Sofia is deeply touched by Maya’s tale. She asks Maya if she can tell her something. When Maya affirms, Sofia says: “I used to be an orphan before I was adopted by Pegasus. – There’s a cliche if there ever was one! – It was more like a homeless shelter than any place a child could live in. I even considered becoming a baby prostitute. Thank God I never made that decision.”
Maya pities Sofia, even if only for a small moment. At least Maya had the choice of being a “soft prostitute” when she was a star duelist, not unlike what actresses and pop stars sometimes do in their careers. Maya never took it but it was a privileged option by comparison.
“How did you end up in Pegasus’ care?” Maya asks.
Sofia answers, “Pegasus used to adopt orphans, especially if they came from poorer countries., like the Bragelina couple. But he had this Michael Jackson vibe too where he wanted to take sad children to his Neverland to give them a childhood they never had.”
“It’s really touching but also creepy and pathetic.” Maya observes. “I wonder why he refuses to grow up.”
Sofia knows the answer but does not feel like getting into it, so she resumes her story. “Pegasus once visited Kazakhstan, my homeland, presenting a mock Millennium Puzzle. He said that any child who managed to solve it would be adopted. Well, I stole it, naively believing I could sell it for the gold it was worth. Needless to say, it wasn’t. I got really upset but couldn’t think of anything else but to solve the Puzzle over the course of a few weeks. The police eventually found me, put me in jail, and returned the completed Puzzle to Pegasus, but Pegasus was so delighted with my achievement he adopted me. The rest is history.”
Her story causes Maya to ruminate for a long time, lost in thought. She did not fully know Sofias backstory until now. Perhaps, she wonders, she should be more sensitive to such a vulnerable girl. After all, was not Maya kind of like Sofia when she was a teenager? I mean, maybe, but Maya never let herself be vulnerable like Sofia does. She would lash out by being a delinquent instead. And if Sofia lived in luxury for the past decade, why is she still vulnerable now? – And it is just her, or is a flint of rock stuck up her – no, it is Sofia’s elbow. Well, that is compromising.
The women use their powers to lift away the boulders on them and exit the cave. They conjure their wings once more and fly down to the shore, but with no battles. They take each other’s arms and hop their way back in huge leaps and bounds in a little warm down dance.
“You did good today, kid.” Maya says, lifting Sofia’s chin up.
“I’m not a kid.” Sofia says in return.
“I’m sure you’ll prove it in due time.” Maya gives Sofia a warm hug, which Sofia tries to return but cannot in full confidence in herself.
Sofia cannot help but smirk a bit to herself as she climbs the ocean shuttle to return home. Indeed, she had quite a workout. Before she shuts the hatch, she asks Maya if she can join the fight to capture the next Millennium Item. Maya says yes, which leaves Sofia with a happy heart on her way home.
Sofia finds herself in a wide plane, a grassland in the Horn of Africa similar to the one in the Shangri-la several days ago. The midday sun blazes on her tawny skin, covering them with dark sunspots, burning her so much she almost shines like a star herself. She rushes into the mouth of a cave to protect herself as much as she can, though she already aches with sunburn.
The cave reveals itself to be the mouth of an Egyptian temple, its outside nothing but a ruin but its inside as alive as the day it was built. Yes! She was here before back when she was in Egypt! It’s one of the Abu Simbel temples! She sees pair after pair of stone giants of Ramses II flanking both sides of a seemingly endless hallway. And above, a night sky of stars that look alive. She fears the colossus golems will demand her to solve riddles but they remain quiet, letting her pass without harassing her.
She arrives to the inner sanctum. The four gods: Ramesu, Heru, and Ra-Amun bathed in light and Pitah remaining in darkness, oversee the Shadow Game before them. There, Sofia sees Yifan and Maya sitting across a large circular table, a diorama of the whole Earth. Yifan has several cards out: the high mages, Kaiba, Pegasus, and one card facedown. Maya also wields forces of her own: herself, Yukio, Mathias, Miguella, Hassan, and several generals.
Maya moves the card depicting herself on a square next a card representing Secmeton, and declares an attack. The duel between the two “monsters” unfolds. The Ba, or bar of hit points, of the Maya card almost reaches zero but the Secmeton card is destroyed by battle, so Yifan places it in the Graveyard. Yifan draws a blank card from her Deck, and uses her mind to conjure an image of Maria! She Summons it near the Kaiba card.
It is Maya’s turn, so she draws a blank card from her Deck and conjures an image of Sofia on it. Then, she places the Sofia card on the edge of the board facedown, as if unsure where it should go. Sofia needs to help Maya while remaining hidden in darkness. She nudges Maya’s elbow, pushing her hand a bit to the tail of South America. Maya takes the hint, so she moves the Sofia card face down to the Strait of Magellan. Then, she does something unexpected; she taps the card with her finger, and starts singing in a falsetto:
And so I wake in the morning And I step outside And I take a deep breath and I get real high And I scream from the top of my lungs What’s going on?
And I say, hey yeah yeah, hey yeah yeah I said hey, what’s going on?
“What was going on?” Sofia thinks to herself after she wakes up.
Maya did train her how to have lucid dreams and mentioned they would talk to each other through dreams one night. It seemed like Maya lured Sofia to hidden place to ask her for directions – for something. Once Maya got what she needed, she then gave Sofia directions of her own – or so it seemed.
Sofia browses the Internet a bit, not fully awake, unsure of what to do. Surely enough, the death of Secmeton is all over the New York Times, the remaining masters of mankind visibly scared. Enough of this. Sofia gets up, puts on her clothes, and makes her way to the East River. Sofia must have a bad habit of sleeping in because the sun already at its zenith, and she is hungry. Suddenly, a machine appears as if it waited for her the whole time. It looks like a spaceship from centuries in the future but comes out from the water. It opens the hatch, revealing a small seat inside.
Now Sofia gets it. She texts Jolene, “Going to the gym.”, knowing her friend will get the subtext, and climbs aboard. The hatch closes her inside and creates a computer generated panorama of the underwater world surrounding it. Sofia opens a virtual map and points to the Strait of Magellan. The machine obeys, darting to the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, transporting Sofia to her destination within several hours. She opens the hatch, seeing Maya stand with her arms crossed on the rocky wind-blasted shore, as if defying the elements.
“So how’s your work vacation?” Maya welcomes Sofia; her face makes a jarring change from brooding to jovial in a fraction of a second.
Sofia steps out to the shore, getting surrounded by a multitude of little penguins as if they are giving her a welcome party. She sees Maya pointing at the penguins and hears her give them names: “Here’s Dan, Wayne, Frank, Eric, Ted, and Darren. And there’s Amy, Megan, Karen, Lisa, and Carrie.”
“Did you just assume their genders?” Sofia jokes.
Maya gives Sofia a warm hug, leading her to the windswept mainland, the penguins following her. It is time to advance Sofia’s training. The first task of the student is to follow the master in doing several stretches and balances. Sofia easily follows Maya’s lead, doing what looks like a few yoga exercises except maybe the balancing is more demanding.
Sofia begins to feel disappointed, even a little upset. It doesn’t look like Maya is taking her seriously. Then, Maya puts 5 kilogram weights on her arms, legs, neck, and waist. Sofia follows, and the “yoga class” becomes harder. Maya ramps it up to 10 kilogram weights. Sofia, though hardy like her teacher, has a lighter build and less training, making her strain rivers of sweat as she summons the greatest strength her body is capable of doing. Maya also trembles from the extreme strain, like she is also about to break any minute now.
At 20 kilograms, Sofia exceeds her mortal strength and is forced to bring out her Ka, or life force, from deep within her, making her dark brown eyes glow crimson. She looks across to Maya, whose eyes make her less like a human and more like a night predator. Sofia puts all her effort in controlling her Ka, taming the roaring rapids of fiery energy throughout her body, engineering it into a controlled river that flows around in a circle, around, and around, and around. Otherwise, her Ka would erupt like wildfire, burning her body and a kilometer of landmass into smouldering ash.
Sofia does a handstand with one arm, the penguins pile on top of her, and Maya sits on her feet with all of her weight, making her body, now superhuman begin to strain. “Good.” Maya purrs like a contented tiger. “Now the real training can begin.”
Sofia blinks. “Excuse me.” She begins to see red from all the blood rushing to her head.
“I will ask you several questions.” Maya says in a very grave tone. “For each one you get wrong, you owe me one bourbon. Sounds good?”
Sofia nods, visibly confused.
Maya starts the game: “In the red house lives a red man. In the blue house lives a blue man. In the white house lives -”
“A white man.” Sofia blurts out.
“Wrong. The President lives in the white house, who is a black man, you racist. You’re retarded.”
Sofia blinks several times, her eyes bloodshot. “I don’t understand.”
“I want you to think on your feet and see logical holes where you’d otherwise not see them, even under unbearable stress.” Maya explains, though Sofia remains skeptical. “Next question: what is the best way to burn grass in your backyard?”
Sofia wracks her brain for an answer but can’t find one. “A small match to keep it controlled?” She answers, her voice uncertain.
“Why would you burn perfectly good grass? You smoke it!” Maya scolds her. “And you don’t do it out in the backyard where a cop can see you. That was a major doobie. By Mary Jane’s bush, you’re retarded!”
Sofia frowns in frustration and disgust, too upset to say anything.
“Last question: on what side of the roof does the rooster lay its egg in the morning?”
Ah ha! Sofia knows this one! “Neither! Roosters don’t lay eggs!”
“I was going easy on you.” Maya scoffs. She gives Sofia several more retard tests but Sofia only gets another one right. “You must have been very sheltered growing up under Pegasus.” Maya complains. “If you went to a public school, you’d know half these riddles. I only invented one of them, the one with the weed joke. Don’t worry. You can live a full life despite your disability.”
“Come on!” Sofia shouts through gritted teeth, her resentment building. “I want serious training!”
“Oh, this is very serious.” Maya reassures her. “You can’t just fight. You have to dance in a battle. You must cultivate humor, wit, rhythm, lightness, and music in your martial arts. It is called martial arts for a reason.”
Maya feels Sofia buckle under the strain, folding beneath her like a pretzel. Maya gets off and surveys the tangled mess, wondering how to reassemble her. It’s like Maya needs to build Ikea furniture but lost the directions. “Wayne, stop it!” She shouts at the hooligan penguin as it starts humping Sofia. She kicks the creature away in a fury, cursing at the author. “Very original!”
Maya takes off her weights, then carefully removes the weights from Sofia before putting her back together. Sofia gets up, feeling so light without the weights she can dance on her toes. Maya does dance on her toes and invites Sofia to a boxing match.
Sofia accepts the challenge, eager to get revenge on Maya for humiliating her. The two fighters flit from one place to the next within the blink of an eye, like how the hummingbird goes about her business among flowers. Sofia lashes out at Maya in every way she knows how, but Maya effortlessly dodges them, while Maya in turn strikes with just enough speed for Sofia to block – most of them. Maya smacks her a few times, though not too hard. The penguins thoroughly enjoy the spectacle.
“Doctors know an easy way to diagnose cancer. If your hand is larger than your face, I have bad news for you.” Maya says. Sofia naively lifts her hand to her face, only for Maya to push Sofia’s face with it. “I do have bad news for you. You’re retarded.”
“I honestly think you’re just trying to bully me.” Sofia complains.
“A little bit.” Maya admits with a twinkle in her eye. “I last dunked a gamer nerd down the toilet when I was eighteen the day after my dad beat me and got drunk. I had to plead the cops to not arrest him that night. Now the gamer nerd complains about feminists all day.”
“Even in a tent city?”
“Especially in a tent city. He knows who I am.”
Sofia grows impatient. “Can I fight you for real now?”
Maya is overjoyed. She uses her Ka to create a burning sword out of the air. Sofia does the same and lunges at her opponent, glad to finally be taken seriously. The two women begin sparring once more. Maya’s quirky training regimen continues unabated. Still, Sofia is unsure what’s really going on or if Maya is pulling her leg in an elaborate prank.