• Published 30th Apr 2016
  • 9,302 Views, 976 Comments

My Little Pony: Friendship is Numerous - Monty Eggman



Based on the Equestria Girls movies and Yu-Gi-Oh! ZEXAL, this series tells the story of Sunset Shimmer in her quest to locate a series of dangerous cards that corrupt those who find them. It's time to Duel!

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RANK 46: Invasion of the Duel Monster Snatchers:

Author's Note:

The tournament continues in this chapter, but also re-introduces a character that had been seen earlier on that is about to have a side adventure all their own. I hope you all enjoy this one!

RANK 46: Invasion of the Duel Monster Snatchers:
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THE STORY SO FAR...:
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In Canterlot High School, every student is wild over the world's most popular trading card game: Duel Monsters! Every day, players of the card game, known as "Duelists", go head-to-head to see who among them is the best around. Among the Duelists in attendance at CHS, one of the best is a young teenager named Sunset Shimmer, a girl from another world...

With the first half of Round 1 complete, the WCQ Qualification Tournament, which is currently taking place in Canterlot High School's football arena (now turned into a colossal coliseum), was ready to move on to the next set of Duels. The first Duel for the second half of Round 1 pitted Derpy Hooves against Sonata Dusk. Right away, everyone's eyes were on this Duel, especially Sunset Shimmer, who suspected that Sonata, along with her sisters Adagio Dazzle and Aria Blaze, were up to no good. Derpy however, wanted to beat Sonata for a cruel act that her opponent committed during the Battle of the Bands. Despite putting up an amazing fight, Derpy lost to Sonata's Atlantean Deck.

While this was all going on, Discord and Utopia, along with two mind-generated clones of Twilight Sparkle, were on the hunt for information regarding the real Twilight's apparent connection to the Astral World. This came up after the group had watched one of the young Princess's dreams, where they discovered two people that looked exactly like Twilight and Sunset, who were part of a group known as the "Order of Astral". However, the only information about the Astral World that wasn't already known to Twilight existed in the subconscious part of her mind, which was heavily booby-trapped. Luckily, Discord and the others managed to reach the subconscious and, hopefully, the end of their search...

But just as they thought that they would have all of their questions answered, Utopia finds something that only served to raise more questions...

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While a major Duel Monsters tournament was taking place in Sunset Shimmer's world, Discord and Utopia were on a journey in the vast mind of Twilight Sparkle. With the help of a pair of mind-generated clones of Twilight, they searched hard for any clues related to the Princess of Friendship's possible connection to the Order of Astral, an ancient sect of priests and priestesses who vigorously trained themselves so that they could reach the mysterious realm known as the Astral World.

After travelling through Twilight's subconscious; a trap-filled section of her mind that stored her lost thoughts and memories, Discord's party encountered yet another mind-generated being that took on the form of Twilight's beloved childhood toy, Ms. Smarty Pants. But unlike the doll that the figure was based on, it was capable of speech and independent thought. Upon entering the chamber and introducing herself, the figure presented Discord and the others with a strange book that bore the image of the Emperor's Key, which was assumed to be the very symbol of the Astral World itself, and was the same shape of the charm on Sunset's necklace. But after Utopia opened the book, a Duel Monsters card fell out of it, which read as follows:

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Number 78: Number Archive
(Xyz-Effect Monster/Spellcaster/LIGHT/Rank 1/ATK 0/DEF 0)

2 Level 1 monsters
Cannot be destroyed by battle except with "Number" monsters. Once per turn, (Quick Effect): You can detach 1 material from this card; your opponent randomly chooses 1 card in your Extra Deck, and if it is a "Number" monster that has a number between "1" and "99" in its name, Special Summon it by using this face-up card you control as material, but banish that monster during the End Phase, also you cannot Special Summon for the rest of this turn, except by Xyz Summon. (This is treated as an Xyz Summon. Transfer its materials to the Summoned monster.)

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"Of all of the places we could have conceived of..." said Utopia in shock, "even I would have never guessed that this where we would find another Number card!" He then showed the card to the rest of the group to confirm that he was telling the truth.

"Amazing..." said Discord. "If that's not a surprise twist to this story, I don't know what is!"

"It IS surprising all right..." said one of the two Twilight clones (nicknamed "Mind-Twi" by Discord). "Of all the possible occurrences that could have occurred, this is, by far, the least likely thing to happen!"

"I agree..." the other Twilight copy chimed in (she was called "Memory-Twi", as she worked in the place where Twilight's memories were stored). She re-adjusted her glasses and took a closer look at the card, intrigued by the strange language that was printed upon the card. "I read about the Number cards from Twilight's recent thoughts, but this is the first time that I've ever seen one!"

"I must admit, this is most surprising, even to me." said Smarty Pants. "Especially considering the fact that I have looked over that book multiple times, but never saw a card inside of it until now."

"Hmmmm..." hummed Utopia as he stared at both the book and the new Number card. Finally, he said to the others, "I truly believe that we were meant to come here and find these... I cannot say for sure why or how exactly, but it is a feeling that I have. In any case, we may have found what we were looking for, so we should take our leave for now."

"Hold on a second...!" Discord suddenly told him. "Don't forget: We need to make a copy of this book so that Twilight can see it, since we can't take the original from this room."

"Indeed." said Smarty Pants. "Removing anything from my former owner's mind - even a subconscious thought, could run the risk of permanently damaging her brain as a whole."

"She's right." said Memory-Twi. "If you wish to take that book with you, making a copy of it or its contents is the only option." Mind-Twi nodded to confirm that.

"Very well then." said Utopia, agreeing with the others. "Discord, if you please...?"

"On it!" The draconequus took the gold-covered book and stuck it into the copy machine that he generated with his vast powers. He then pressed the button labeled, "START" and the machine went to work. The rest of the group watched as the machine hummed loudly and glowed with a bluish-white light. Then, from out of a tray on the side, an exact duplicate of the strange tome was ejected out. Discord took it from the tray and shoved it into a pocket on his chest (that seemed too small for the book to fit, but it did anyway). He then said, "Well, that takes care of that, then. I'll present this book to Princess Celestia and Princess Luna once I get back."

"I wish you luck then, Discord." said Smarty Pants as she took back the original book (the copy machine vanished as well, as its purpose had been fulfilled). "I will continue my research on the matter as well and will let you know the next time you come by. And do not worry; I will make sure your trip back here will be much easier the next time." The others nodded before turning around to leave.

As they departed from the room, Discord then asked Utopia, "So...are you going to tell Twily about the book? Or the card that was in it?"

"Yes, but not right now..." the warrior answered. "Twilight is still busy helping her friend manage the Duel Monsters tournament that is currently going on right now; I do not wish to burden her with this information on top of whatever she might currently be engaged in. Once the tournament has ended however, I will inform her of what we have found."

"That's probably a good idea." the draconequus agreed. "The last thing Twilight needs right now is any more additional stress, as several episodes of the series have proven." Stretching his arms, he then told the warrior, "In any case, I've got to get back to Equestria and show the book to the other Princesses. I'm sure Twilight will feel better knowing I'm not running around in her mind at the moment. And besides that, it'll give the author a chance to come up with a new side-story; even I can tell that this one's pretty much tapped out already."

"...Very well, then." Utopia simply replied. "Have a safe trip." The two nodded to each other as they and the two Twilight duplicates exited the chamber they were in. Although they all knew there were many more questions that needed to be answered regarding the whole matter, everyone felt as though they made a giant step forward in solving the Astral World's mysteries...

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Back in the "real" world, the tournament Duel between Derpy Hooves and Sonata Dusk had finally ended. Unfortunately for Derpy, she had lost to her opponent. The grey-skinned girl dropped down to her knees in defeat, shocked that she didn't win. "N...n-no..." she muttered quietly. "I lost..."

"No way..." said Twilight Sparkle, shocked at what had happened. "Sonata beat her..."

"Aw man..." Spike added. "And she was so close too...!"

Sunset Shimmer was also surprised and dismayed by Derpy's loss. Still, she had a job to do: She then grudgingly announced, "The winner of this Duel is...Sonata Dusk!" After saying that, the red-and-yellow girl could swear that a sudden bad taste came up in her mouth.

Naturally, after having won the Duel, Sonata felt like boasting about it to her defeated opponent. With a smug expression on her face, she casually strolled up to Derpy and said, "See that, Weird-Eye? I told you that you didn't have a chance from the start! I hope this proves to you and everybody else that I'm not as dumb as everyone thinks I am! Too bad YOU can't say the same for yourself, huh?"

Growling a little, Sunset then told her, "Just because you won the Duel Sonata, that doesn't give you the right to badmouth your opponent!"

"Pfft! Well, you better get used to it, Sunset!" the blue siren told her. "And you'd better get used to seein' me beat everyone else, too! 'Cause the Dazzlings are gonna be the champs of this tournament, and there's nothing you can do about it! And everyone that goes up against us'll end up just like that loser over there!"

Susnet was strating to get angry at Sonata's comments. "You...why you...!"

But before Sunset could say something, Derpy suddenly and quickly stood up on her feet. To everyone's surprise, she had a smile on her face, even though there was also a slight tear in her eye. Turning to the jacket-wearing judge, she said to her, "It's okay, Sunset... I don't care what Sonata says about me. Because I know that none of it's true!"

"...Derpy?" Sunset responded, starting to calm down a little.

Nodding, the grey teen then said, "Believe me, I've heard a LOT worse things than anything she can think of. And I know I did my best out there in that Duel, despite whatever she thinks! I fought hard and I fought well, and I don't have any regrets!"

"Wh-what are ya talking about?!" asked Sonata, completely clueless as to why Derpy wasn't feeling bad at all. "You lost the Duel!!"

"Maybe..." Derpy replied, still smiling. "But I'd rather be a good loser...than a bad winner!" That comment of hers caused the blue siren to grumble a little.

"Yeah!! You tell her!!" shouted Golden Harvest (a.k.a. Carrot Top), one of Derpy's friends in the audience. "You're always a winner in our book!" The rest of Derpy's friends cheered in response, and it was soon followed by the rest of the spectators. The grey girl felt happier, knowing that her friends and classmates were giving her so much support, even though she didn't win the Duel.

Sonata, on the other hand, had no idea what was going on: Between Derpy's comment to her and the audience's cheers, it was correct to assume that she was both annoyed and confused by the current situation. Trying her best to snap back at her, all that she could think saying to her was, "W-w-well I still won!! And you still lost!! So THERE!!!" And with that, she stomped off in a huff.

Back at the bench, both Adagio and Aria were equally as perplexed by what was going on. "Grrr...what's with this school...??" asked the orange-haired siren.

"Yeah, really!" Aria spoke. "Whoever heard of an audience cheering for the LOSER?! Are these people stupid or something??"

But Sunset, having completely calmed down, smiled and thought to herself, (I suppose you three would never understand... They're cheering for her because she played an amazing Duel, not to mention she had a good attitude the whole time. She may not have won the Duel, but that doesn't mean she can't FEEL like a winner anyway. For a True Duelist, that's an important quality to have.)

Walking up to the jacket-wearing girl, Derpy then said to Sunset, "Hi, Sunset... I'm...sorry that I lost..."

"...It doesn't matter, Derpy." she told her, still smiling. "You did amazing out there and you even made Sonata really sweat out there a couple of times. As far as I'm concerned, you're certainly NOT a loser at all."

"Thanks, Sunset." the grey girl told her, feeling even better after hearing that.

"That aside, there's been something I've wanted to ask you ever since you showed up at the Preliminaries..." Sunset began to inquire. "Why DID you join the tournament? I only ask because it feels like there was some reason besides the competition that you were here."

"Well, there is a reason, actually..." Derpy began to tell her. "Truth is, The Doctor sent me to try and find any sings of Number users. He felt it would be too risky for him to show up in person, in case there was more than one Number holder here that could gang up on him, so he asked for me to look out for anyone that could be using one."

"I had a feeling that was the case." the red-and-yellow girl responded. "In fact, that's kind of the reason I'm here as the Judge."

"I thought so."

The red-and-yellow girl then asked her, "So...have you seen anything like that so far?"

Shaking her head, the grey teen answered, "No, not yet... But I guess now that I'm out of the tournament, I'll have more time to try and fulfill The Doctor's request! So...you know; silver lining and all that!"

"I suppose that's one way to look at it." Sunset replied. At that moment, Sunset began to recall the feeling that she had gotten during one of the previous matches - the one involving Night Switch, the strange boy that seemed obsessed with destiny and fate. Eventually, she decided not to say anything, as she wasn't quite sure about whether that feeling was related to the Numbers or not. Smiling again, she patted Derpy on the shoulder and told her, "Well, good luck with that, then."

"Wait, there's something else..." the grey girl then said, getting Sunset's attention once more. "I talked to The Doctor about that thing we were discussing a while back, when we met up at Sugarcube Corner..." Sunset then immediately recalled that memory of their conversation all the way back then...

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"I'd like it if you and The Doctor could work together a little more as well..." Derpy requested. "He asked me to try and meet with you so that he could know more about you...And I think it's because he would really want that as well."

Thinking about her request for a moment, Sunset said to her, "Well...I suppose it would be the most logical option. If he and I DID work more closely with one another, we might be able to locate and collect all of the Numbers much faster." Knowing that it was a good idea, the red-and-yellow girl then said, "I would like that, too. But only if he comes to me and asks me himself. That way, we can both be sure that's what he wants. Nothing personal, I'm just still a little cautious, that's all."

The grey girl responded with a nod and replied, "I understand. I'll see what I can do."

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"Oh yeah...I remember that..." said the otherworldly teen. "What about it?"

"Well...for a while, he wasn't sure about it," Derpy explained, "but ever since we got back from our Spring Break vacation, he started thinking about it again... And then - after he asked for me to join the Tournament, he told me to tell you...that he'd be willing to speak to you."

"He really said that...?" asked Sunset, a bit surprised at how quickly he came to his decision. Of course, she was happy to hear that, but she figured it would have taken a lot longer for him to come to his decision. Satisfied to hear that, she then told her, "Well in that case, you can tell him that I'm willing to talk to him whenever he's free to do so."

"Okay! I'll let him know!" the grey girl said happily. And with that, she ran out of the arena to the tunnels below.

Walking up to her, Twilight asked Sunset, "So, what was that? What were you two talking about?"

"...It's nothing. Just praising her for how well she did during the Duel, and then chatting a little after that. Nothing you need to worry about." the red-and-yellow girl answered. Looking at her cell phone clock, she then said, "The next Duel will take place about a minute from now, so I'd better get ready."

"Okay." the purple girl responded. "Do your best out there, Sunset!"

"Yeah, do your best!" Spike repeated.

Giving a thumbs-up Sunset smiled and said to them, "I will. Thanks!"

Down in the tunnels, Derpy was on her cell phone as well, making a call to someone. Once the phone stopped ringing, a voice on the other end asked, "Hello? Derpy?"

"Hi, Doctor!" the grey girl cheerfully said into her phone. "Just calling to let you know some things!"

"What sorts of things?" asked Dr. Hooves. "Have you found anyone using Numbers in the tournament?"

"No...not yet." Derpy responded. "But I did pass that message of yours to Sunset; she said that she's willing to talk to you whenever you have the chance."

"Ah! Good to hear." said The Doctor. "Good job as always, Ms. Derpy; I knew I could count on you."

"Thanks, Doctor." she replied, blushing and giggling a little from his compliment. She then added, "But...I have to ask: What made you finally decide to talk to her now? Even though we know that she's not collecting the Number cards for a bad reason, for a while you still weren't sure if you wanted to join forces with her right away..."

"It's nothing you need to concern yourself with for now...I can assure you, I have my reasons." Dr. Hooves replied. "For now, just continue to monitor things and inform me if anything else develops."

"Okay, I will." Derpy then asked her friend, "So...did you watch me Duel?"

"Of course I did, Ms. Derpy." he told her. "I may be a busy man, but I would have never allowed myself to miss watching your match. Despite that you weren't victorious, you still fought very well, and I am very proud of you."

Giggling a little more, the grey girl told him, "Th-thanks, Doctor... That means a whole lot. And I'll make sure to let you know if anything Number-related comes up. I'll talk to you later, then."

"Very well then. Farewell for now, Ms. Derpy." The Doctor said, hanging up his phone. Afterwards, he hummed a little to himself, thinking about something that his faithful assistant had asked him about. He then looked at his right hand where - on his ring finger, was a ring that bore the same symbol as the charm on Sunset's necklace: The Emperor's Key. He stared at the ring for a while, humming to himself as he did so.

Back in the arena, Megan Williams, the MC for the tournament announced to the crowd, "Alllllright, Duelists!! It's time to start our next exciting Duel for the WCQ Qualification Tournament! Right now, he have six Duelists remaining that have yet to participate in the first round. And of those six, two of them will do battle right now! Now let's check the big screen and see who it will be!!"

Everyone in the audience watched as the pictures of the six remaining competitors cycled through randomly. "So uh...who's all left to duel?" Rainbow Dash asked her friends.

"Let's see..." Rarity pondered, trying to remember. "If I am correct...the remaining Duelists include my sister, Flash Sentry, Octavia, Zecora...as well as the other two players coming from out of town. What were their names again...?"

Looking at a program, Pinkie Pie answered her fashionista friend, "It's Sol Burner and Bright Mind."

"Yes, that's right... Thank you, Pinkie dear." Rarity said politely. Looking back at the screen, she added, "Now the only question on my mind is who will be paired up next..."

"Well, we won't be wonderin' it for too much longer, Rare." said Applejack. "The slot machine reels're about t' stop, so we'll know in a sec..."

And just as the farmer girl told them, the slot machine finally stopped, revealing the next pairing. "And our next Duel will feature..." Megan shouted, "...Bright Mind versus Flash Sentry!!"

"Alright! It's my turn!" said Flash, who had been eager for his turn to Duel.

"At last... Time for me to show off my skills as a Duelist." the spectacle-wearing boy said, equally as ecstatic to compete.

"And now, will Bright Mind and Flash Sentry please make their way to the center of the field?" Megan said next. The two Duelists nodded and did as she told them to.

After the two made their way to the center of the arena, Sunset walked up towards them to officially begin their match. "Alright then... Will both Duelists cut and shuffle each other's Decks?" she asked them. Bright and Flash nodded and did just that. After they handed their Decks back to each other, Sunset then got out a coin and said, "Now to determine the turn order; I'll flip the coin and have one of you call it in the air."

"You go ahead and call it." Flash said to his opponent.

"If you insist." Bright replied with a nod. After Sunset flipped the coin into the air, he made his call, shouting, "Tails!"

After the coin came back down, Sunset grabbed it with her right hand and placed it onto the back of her left without looking at it. She then moved her hand, revealing the result. "It's Tails."

"Good call." Flash complimented his opponent. "How'd you do it?"

"It's nothing much:" Bright Mind explained. "I've just been paying attention to all of the other coin flips so far, and figured that the result was likely to be Tails this time. Just a simple matter of calculating probabilities."

"Well, it's pretty impressive either way." the blue-haired teen told him. "So, are you going to go first or should I?"

"Hmmmm...I think it would be best for me if I made the first move, if you don't mind." Bright answered. Flash nodded to say he was okay with it and the two Duelists then walked off to their respective sides of the field.

"Alright, ladies and gentlemen!!" Megan then announced. "Without any further ado, it's time to begin the Duel! Duelists, draw your cards and get ready to battle!"

Bright and Flash drew their first five cards to form their opening hands, with the spectators watching with great interest. Once they were ready, the two competitors shouted to each other, "Let's DUEL!!" (Bright Mind: LP 4,000) (Flash Sentry: LP 4,000).

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Elsewhere, far away from not only Canterlot, but quite possibly the world that Sunset and her friends called home, there sat a small, humble house with a pink roof in a large field. It wasn't much in terms of size, but it was enough for one person to live in without any problem. A heavy snoring sound was coming from the house's bedroom; more specifically, it was coming from a large lump of pink sheets clumped together on top of a comfy, white mattress on a small, wooden bed. It was very clear that someone was asleep under those sheets.

As the light from the morning sun peeked its way into the room, the figure continued to snore, unaware of the bright light coming in (or more than likely, trying to ignore it). At that moment, however, a small alarm clock sitting on a nightstand beside the bed (the clock in question was styled after the well-known Duel Monsters card, the Time Wizard) began to go off after the digital display read 7:00 a.m. The sound that came out was a voice that repeatedly said, "TIME...MAGIC! TIME...MAGIC!"

There was a stir under the sheets as the clock filled the room with its noise. "Urrrgh..." groaned the person that was in the bed; it was obvious that they weren't asleep anymore. Just then, an arm reached out from under the sheet, the hand slapping around the nightstand, trying to reach for the clock as it continued to blare loudly. Finally, the hand managed to hit a red button on the top of the clock, which finally caused it to stop its noise.

With the room now quiet, the figure underneath the pink bed sheets rose and sat up in the bed. The figure was revealed to be a young girl in her teens (based on her appearance) with emerald-green eyes and long, blond hair that was currently experiencing a dire case of bed-head. Her current attire consisted of a large-sized T-shirt that was mostly black in color, but also bore the image of a small, pinkish-colored crystal rising up from a magical circle.

Yawning loudly, the girl then said to herself, in a very tired-sounding voice, "Alright, Mana... Time to make yourself look presentable..." She then rolled out of bed and shuffled her bare feet to the bathroom nearby.

After a quick shower, the girl named Mana - the same Mana that had dueled Sunset Shimmer during Duel Monsters Spirit Day (and known better to other Duelists as the Dark Magician Girl), walked back into her bedroom wearing a comfortable, pink bathrobe. The quick wash did help her feel a lot less tired compared to right after she had gotten up. Sitting in front of her vanity and looking at the mirror, Mana applied some of her makeup, giving herself some pink-colored blush under her eyes, as well as fixing her long hair with a small brush (which had a handle designed after her the handle of her magic staff).

Once she was all cleaned up, Mana walked over to a large closet nearby her vanity and opened it up. She was looking for the right outfit to wear today and took a few seconds to figure out what to go with. "Hmmmm..." she pondered, looking through everything, "I think I wore that one just yesterday... That one has a slight tear in it that I need to fix... That one's more of a 'formal' look..." Then, gasping happily, she reached out and grabbed one of the outfits, saying, "Here we go! This one's perfect!" The outfit she chose was actually her iconic blue and pink-colored costume with the short pink skirt, but minus the hat and boots, which were elsewhere (as a matter of fact, ALL the other outfits in the closet were exactly the same as the one she picked out).

Once she dressed herself (which also included a pair of white, no-show socks), Mana made herself a small, simple breakfast consisting of two waffles covered in syrup and a topped with a pair of strawberries. Set to the side was glass of orange juice for her drink. Before she could start her breakfast, Mana heard a THUMP at her front door. Knowing what it was, she smiled and walked over to the door and opened it. Looking down, she saw a rolled-up newspaper in an orange plastic bag, which she promptly picked up. She then waved happily to the person who delivered it: A young boy on a bicycle wearing a black-and-red mailman uniform and carrying a green mailbag. She then walked back inside her home to eat her food before it cooled completely.

Once she had finished her meal, Mana walked back to her front door and reached for her favorite conical hat, which was perched on the top of a wooden coatrack. She put it on, along with her boots that were sitting beside the coatrack, before grabbing her trusty magic staff and slipping it into a sheath that she wore on her back. Taking a deep breath, Mana left her home and walked down the dirt path ahead.

As she walked down the path, Mana suddenly heard another girl's voice calling out from behind her. "Mana!! Hey, Mana!!" the voice shouted. She then looked behind her and saw that the voice was coming from a slightly younger girl with short, dark-blue hair that wore a costume that was similar to her own. The only differences were that this girl's outfit was mostly red with gold trims, and it sported other features such as a pair of feathery wings on the back, red gauntlet-like gloves, an exposed midriff, and garters that connected to her boots.

"Oh! Hi, Apple! Good morning!" Mana greeted her in a friendly tone.

Rushing up to her, the girl in red - named Apple, greeted her friend back, saying, "Good morning to you too! It's such a nice day out isn't it?"

"Sure is." Mana told her. "I wish I could just spend the day having fun with you and our other friends here in the Duel Spirit World..." She then sighed a bit and continued, saying, "But I've got work to do today."

"You mean over at that castle?" asked Apple. "The one with that big shrine and everything?"

"Yep, the shine dedicated to the Legendary Dragons, located in the Dominion of the beasts." the blond-haired girl replied. "Gotta make sure those crystallized dragons don't wander off anywhere."

Apple giggled a bit at her friend's joke before asking, "I probably know the answer to this...but would it really kill you to just take a day off?"

"I can't, Apple..." Mana replied sadly. "If I do, my master will make sure I never hear the end of it. But don't worry; I'll try to make some time for you and the others after I'm done."

"I guess that's fair." the red-wearing girl replied. "Besides, I don't wanna be the reason behind you getting a scolding, especially from him." Putting on her cheerful smile once more, Apple then said to her friend, "Well, I guess I'll see ya later, Mana. Have a good day today!"

"I will! Bye, Apple!" Mana said to her friend as she ran off elsewhere. Sighing a bit, she then said to herself, "Well, guess I'd better get a move on... I don't wanna be late." She then followed the path for a while until she came across what appeared to be a large, circular platform engraved with several cryptic runes. She then stood on top of the platform and pulled out her magic staff. Speaking in a clear voice, she then said, "Shine of the Legendary Dragons." After she said that, Mana was surrounded by a bright green light that completely covered her body. When the light faded, she had vanished completely...

Back in CHS's stadium, Flash Sentry was paired up against one of the other Duelists from out-of-town: A young teenage boy named Bright Mind. Flash was excited to finally get his chance to Duel and was itching to begin. Bright remained calm and collected as he adjusted his glasses, but also seemed eager to begin the match.

"Alright, kid..." Flash began to say, "you ready to get this started?"

"...I am." Bright simply replied. "I just needed a moment to figure out my strategy; can't afford to rush things, you know." Humming a little, the boy figured out what he would do and took a card from out of his hand. "I'll begin with this monster in Attack Position: The cunning Alien Hypno."

Bright Mind's first monster was a small, grotesque creature of unknown origins. Its body was grey, and its head and hands was massively disproportionate to the rest of its body, which seemed to be torso-deep in a tank with a vile-looking green liquid. The creature hissed a little as its orange eyes stared straight at Flash, making him feel a little uneasy (Alien Hypno: Level 4 / ATK 1600 / DEF 700).

"Oh my GOODNESS...!! That thing is so repulsive...!!" said a horrified Rarity.

"Yeah, that thing - whatever the heck it is, ain't winnin' any beauty contests, that's f'sure." Applejack noted.

(Hmmm...an Alien Deck...?) thought Sunset. (I've heard about the Deck, but I never met anyone that ever used one... This could be pretty interesting.)

"Next, from my hand," Bright Mind continued, "I'll activate a Continuous Spell Card: Code A Ancient Ruins." After playing the card, a large stone temple appeared behind the speculated boy. A deep blue glow came out from the back end of the temple, and the walls appeared to ooze a strange purple slime. "But for now, this card cannot do anything," Bright continued, "so I'll end my turn by setting two cards face-down."

"Then I guess it's my turn." Flash said. "I draw!" Looking at the card he got, he looked over the field and thought, (I'd better be careful... I'm not too sure what he's planning. After all, I've never seen any of the cards that he's played before... Still, I should try and get an early lead while I have the chance.) Taking a card from his hand, he shouted, "I'll start by Summoning Heroic Challenger - Thousand Blades in Attack Mode!"

Flash Sentry's first monster was a man in mostly silver armor, with some bits of black here and there. In his hands was a bladed weapon that combined the elements of a sword and a spear. However, it was not the only weapon he had; far from it. This warrior seemed to have countless MORE swords and other bladed armaments attached to his back; there appeared to be a thousand of them. (Heroic Challenger - Thousand Blades: Level 4 / ATK 1300 / DEF 1100).

(So Flash is sticking to his Heroic Deck...) thought Sunset. (I've played against it a couple times and it's a pretty tough Deck. Now I guess we'll see if it's tough enough to help him through this round...)

"I activate the effect of Thousand Blades!" Flash then declared. "I discard my Heroic Challenger - Double Lance in order to bring out another Heroic monster from my Deck! And I'll choose Heroic Challenger - Extra Sword!" His second monster was another man in steel armor that was colored silvery-white, gold, and dark green. In each of his hands was a standard-size sword (Heroic Challenger - Extra Sword: Level 4 / ATK 1000 / DEF 1000). After he did that, the effect of Thousand Blades switched it to Defense Position.

"Now he's got two Level 4 monsters on the field!" Spike pointed out.

"Which can mean only one thing..." Twilight said to him, knowing what Flash was about to do...

"I overlay my Level 4 Thousand Blades and Extra Sword to build an Overlay Network!" shouted the blue-haired boy as both his monsters transformed into a pair of orange-colored lights that flew into a red portal in the center of the field. "Come forth, sheathed in light! Shining lord who slashes through the dark!" he then chanted. "Gain your power from the mighty hand of justice! Xyz Summon! Rank 4! Heroic Champion - Excalibur!"

The red vortex then exploded as a large figure came out of it, surrounded by two yellow-colored orbs. It was yet another man in heavy body armor, this time colored in red, black, dark-grey, and a few bits of yellow. He had massive shoulder pads and a long, golden horn on his helmet. His weapon of choice was a large sword with a decorative golden handle and a shining, silver blade (Heroic Champion - Excalibur: Rank 4 / ATK 2000 / DEF 2000).

"Now THAT'S more like it!" said Rarity, blushing deeply after seeing the powerful man in armor appear on the field. "That is how a Duel Monster OUGHT to look!" Applejack and Rainbow Dash let out a small groan in response, Pinkie giggled a little, and Fluffle Puff...just gave out another raspberry.

"Hmmm...quite a strong first move." Bright Mind complimented. "I can see that you're serious about this."

"You bet I am!" Flash said with confidence in his voice. "After all, I'm in a major tournament, so I gotta play for real! That's why I made sure to bring out Extra Sword with Thousand Blades's effect! If Extra Sword is used as an Xyz Material, the monster it helped to Summon gets another thousand attack points!" At that moment, a second sword appeared in his hands to signify the power boost (Heroic Champion - Excalibur: ATK 2000 + 1000 = 3000).

"Just as I thought." Sunset stated. "This is usually his most common opening move - to put out a monster with three thousand attack points right on the first turn."

"But there's more! I also have Excalibur's own effect!" he continued to say. "By removing both of his Overlay Units, I can pump his attack power to double his original attack power!" (Heroic Champion - Excalibur: OLU 2 - 2 = 0)

"S-so it'll be six thousand?!" asked Rainbow Dash in shock.

"No." Applejack told her. "Excalibur's ORIGINAL attack is two thousand, so his power only goes up to four thousand (Heroic Champion - Excalibur: ATK 3000 > 4000). That bein' said, it's still pretty high, and it'll stay that way until the end of his opponent's next turn."

"And even after it loses that power boost," Rarity noted, "he'll still have the extra one thousand attack points granted by Extra Sword."

"Aw man...all this math is makin' my head hurt..." Dash groaned. At that moment, Fluffle Puff pulled out what appeared to be an ice pack from out of her purse and handed it over to the cyan-skinned girl. "Oh, thanks." she said, accepting the gift. Fluffle Puff just smiled and nodded, remaining silent.

Entering his Battle Phase, Flash shouted, "Go, Excalibur!! Attack his Alien Hypno with your Double Shock Sword Slash!" The powerful armored man rushed forward, both swords ready to slice the enemy apart.

"Not so fast!" shouted Bright Mind. "I anticipated such a move and am well-prepared to defend against it! I play my Trap Card: Defense Draw!"

*******************************

Defense Draw:
(Normal Trap Card)

During your opponent's turn, at damage calculation: Make the battle damage you take from this battle 0, and if you do, draw 1 card.

*******************************

Flash gasped as his monster succeeded in destroying Bright's, but was unable to inflict any damage. "Aw man...!" he groaned after seeing his opponent survive the attack and even draw an extra card out of it.

"Don't get too down, Flash." the glasses-wearing boy told him. "You still managed to destroy my monster... Of course, that might not be a good thing for you either."

"How come?" the blue-haired teen inquired.

"Because due to my Code A Ancient Ruins card," Bright explained, "every time one of my Alien monsters is destroyed, it gets something called an 'A-Counter'. In other words, this card makes the loss of my monsters turn into an advantage for me. So you had best be careful about destroying my cards." As he said that, a creepy, slimy, light-purple blob suddenly crawled out of nowhere and could be seen in the back of the temple behind the speculated teen (Code A Ancient Ruins: A-Counters 0 + 1 = 1).

(...Darn... I should've known he'd be able to defend himself.) thought Flash. (I should've waited to use Excalibur's effect and just attacked with him while he had 3,000 attack points. I guess I got a little too hasty...) Shaking his head and taking a deep breath, he then told himself, "I gotta calm down and not rush things, just like my opponent said... I'll only have a chance to win this Duel as long as I think out my moves better." Facing his opponent once more, he then told him, "I'll set a card face-down and end my turn."

"And now that you've ended your turn, I'll activate my second face-down card." Bright told him.

"Now what...?" wondered Sunset.

She didn't have to wonder long - nor would anyone else, because the other card in Bright's back row flipped itself face-up and revealed itself. "I activate the Quick-Play Spell, "A" Cell Recombination Device!" he shouted. "By sending any Alien monster from my Deck to the Graveyard, I can place A-Counters on a monster you have on the field equal to the Level of the monster I dispose of."

"That'll give him quite a dangerous advantage..." Sunset said. "Not only can he place more of those counters on the field, but he'll also be able to send a potentially powerful monster straight to the Graveyard that he could possibly use later..."

Taking his chosen card from out of his Deck, Bright Mind revealed it and said, "I send Alien Mother - a Level 6 monster, from my Deck to the Graveyard! And that means I can place six A-Counters on your Excalibur!"

Flash watched as six more of those ugly-looking blobs stuck themselves to his only monster on the field. The blue-haired boy felt a bit sick as he watched them crawl all over his monster's armor, leaving a slimy trail as they did so (Heroic Champion - Excalibur: A-Counters 0 + 6 = 6). "Urrgh...that sight's gonna be haunting my nightmares for a while..." he said to himself. He then turned to his opponent and told him, "Okay, go ahead with your turn, then."

"Very well... I draw." said Bright as he picked up his next card. He then placed it into his hand an played a different one onto the field. "I activate another Continuous Spell! "A" Cell Incubator!" After he played it, a strange machine appeared in front of him, consisting of several small-sized tanks with tubes attached to them. One could only wonder what it was for...

"And now I'll activate the second effect of my Code A Ancient Ruins!" the green-haired boy in glasses then declared. "Now, by removing 2 A-Counters on the field, I can bring back an Alien monster from my Graveyard!"

"But...his card only has one of those counters!" Spike argued. "How can he remove two counters if he's only got one??"

Chuckling a little and adjusting his glasses, Bright Mind then said, "In case you were wondering...my Ancient Ruins doesn't say that they have to be A-Counters that it has acquired. And not only that, it ALSO doesn't say that the counters even have to be on my side of the field!"

Gasping, Flash then told his opponent, "So THAT'S why you stuck those counters on my monster!"

"Indeed, Flash." Bright replied. "And I'll relieve your Xyz Monster of two A-Counters to use the effect of my Ancient Ruins!" Everyone watched as two of the purple blobs on Excalibur dematerialized, turning into similarly-colored balls of light that flew into the back of the temple (Heroic Champion - Excalibur: A-Counters 6 - 2 = 4).

"What do you think he's gonna bring back?" asked Pinkie Pie, munching on a candied apple that she had obtained from Granny Smith's food stand.

"Perhaps he might revive that monster that he sent to the Graveyard at the end of Flash's turn..." Rarity figured.

But Bright Mind surprised everyone when he said, "I use my Code A Ancient Ruins to bring back Alien Hypno in Attack Position!" And right away, the monster that he had Summoned on his first turn came back to the field.

"Huh?" asked Flash, expecting to see Alien Mother come back from the Graveyard. "I don't get it: Why'd you bring that one back?" he then asked. "It's not strong enough to beat my Excalibur..."

"Before we get to that, there's one other matter to attend to: My "A" Cell Incubator." the green-haired boy informed his opponent.

*******************************

"A" Cell Incubator
(Continuous Spell Card)

Each time an A-Counter(s) is removed by a card effect, or to pay the cost of a card effect, place 1 A-Counter on this card. When this card is destroyed: Place A-Counters on face-up monster(s) on the field, equal to the number of A-Counters this card had when it was destroyed.

*******************************

"Since I removed two of the A-Counters that were on the field to use my Ancient Ruins' effect," Bright continued to explain, "I can return one of those counters to this card." After he said that, another small blob suddenly formed itself inside one of the small tanks in the machine in front of him ("A" Cell Incubator: A-Counters 0 + 1 = 1). "And now that that's settled," he then said, "I'll now explain why I chose to bring back my Alien Hypno..."

"Okay then, tell me." said Flash, both eager to hear the answer...and also not eager to hear it, worried that it could mean trouble for him.

"The reason is because my Alien Hypno has a very powerful effect hidden away inside him..." Bright Mind told him. "And now I can unlock that power! I now Gemini Summon Alien Hypno and make it into an Effect Monster!" After he did so, his monster then began to radiate a faint, yellow light.

"Gemini-what??" said Spike, confused. Turning over to Twilight, he asked her, "What's he talking about??"

"No idea." Twilight admitted. She then asked her red-and-yellow friend, "Sunset, what just happened?"

"I'll tell you: Gemini Summoning is a method used only on monsters known as Gemini Monsters." Sunset explained to them. "Gemini Monsters start out as Normal Monsters without an effect, but by giving up your Normal Summon for the turn, you can give them their effects, and most of them are very powerful."

Back at the Duel, Bright Mind then said to Flash, "Now that Alien Hypno has obtained his effect, I'll now activate it! It allows me to take control of any of your monsters on the field! That is, as long as they have at least one A-Counter on them."

Flash gasped both out of shock and horror as Alien Hypno's eyes began to glow brightly. This caused the blobs that were stuck to Excalibur to move quickly. One of them attached itself to his head, and after it did, Excalibur's eyes began to glow as well. Then, it very slowly walked away from Flash's side of the field to Bright's.

"Th-that's nuts!!" exclaimed Rainbow Dash. "Flash's monster just turned traitor on him!"

"I-i-it's like an alien abduction!" Pinkie pointed out.

"So that's the REAL reason that boy put those A-Counters on Flash's monster..." said Rarity. "He was planning to take it from him from the very beginning...!"

"It gets worse:" Applejack told her. "Due to his effect, Excalibur's still at four thousand attack points, and Flash doesn't have any other monsters out t' protect him! Which means if Bright succeeds in attackin' Flash with Excalibur, the Duel's over!"

"Th-that's not good!" Pinkie chimed in. "Well, for Flash it isn't... For Bright, it's the best thing ever... Wait - what were we talking about? I lost track."

Flash began to sweat as his favorite monster was now in the enemy's territory. "Seems as though I'll be moving on to the next round..." stated Bright Mind. "Unless you can somehow stop my attack from working, this Duel will end in my victory right now!" Pointing forward, he then shouted, "Go, Excalibur! Attack him directly!!" The brainwashed warrior then ran towards his former owner, ready to eliminate him for good. Everyone watched to see if this would be the end of the match...

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Elsewhere, in the place that was known as the Duel Spirit World, a circular stone podium sitting in front of the doors to a large, impressive white castle with golden yellow rooftops began to glow a bright green. Then all of a sudden, a column of white light erupted from the podium for about a second or two. When it faded, a young girl was now standing there: It was Mana (a.k.a. the Dark Magician Girl), who had used a similar podium to initiate a teleportation spell in order to arrive at the castle.

"Ooooo..." the girl groaned, trying to stay on her feet. "I don't get it... I've been using that warp for over three thousand years now, and I still feel queasy afterwards..." She then opened a bottle of water that she had carried with her and took a small sip from it to help settle her stomach; apparently even Duel Spirits could have upset stomachs. Sighing contently, she said, "That's better..." Turning to face the front doors of the nearby castle, Mana nodded and entered the massive structure.

Walking down the marble-stone hallways inside, Mana was on her way to a large room ahead. Upon entering it, she gazed silently at three large, crystal statues on a large circular platform in the center. The statues were designed to look just like powerful dragons, and like any statue, they simply stood there, not making any move, not making any sound.

Mana just stood there, staring at the three dragons in the room. "Good morning, Mana." said a male voice from behind her.

Flinching and letting out a slight "EEP!", Mana turned around to see who it was that had spoken to her. But she calmed down when she recognized him. "Oh! Master Mahad!" she said in surprise. "D-don't scare me like that!"

The person standing in front of Mana was a tall, adult man with peach-colored skin (the same color as Mana's), aqua-blue eyes, and dark purple hair. His outfit was very elaborate, consisting of violet robes and a matching hat, with light-pink rims and patterns swirling around all over it. In his right hand was a long, green staff with an olive-green jewel inside of it. Although Mana called him by the name of "Mahad", Duel Monsters fans knew him by another name: The Dark Magician.

Smiling warmly, the man said to Mana, "Forgive me; it wasn't my intention to startle you." Looking out at the Sun's position from one of the open windows of the castle, Mahad then said to her, "You're here early this time, Mana; I have to say, I am impressed by your punctuality this time around... After all, you do often come here a few minutes later than usual."

"Well, you said that I have to try to come here on time more often," Mana replied, "so...here I am!" This was followed by a bit of awkward chuckling by the girl.

Humming a bit, the purple-clad magician then asked her, "...Is there something bothering you, Mana? You can tell me."

Sighing, she then told him, "Yeah...I should've known that I can't hide anything from you, Master." She then told him, "It's just...well, I...I'm not sure what to make of everything right now..."

"What do you mean?"

"Well...I've been coming here to watch over the Legendary Dragons every day for about three thousand years," she explained to him, "And well...is that all there is for me here? Don't get wrong; I'm not ungrateful for having this job; it's an honor to look after and protect the dragons... It's just...I kinda wish there was more to my life here in the Spirit World, you know...?"

Humming again, Mahad then told her, "I understand how you must feel, Mana. I suppose everyone has that feeling in them at one point in their lives...or afterlife in our case." He then turned to his pupil and continued, saying, "But as one who has fought alongside Timaeus, Critias, and Hermos themselves, you ought to know that what you do here is very important, even if it doesn't seem like much."

"...I guess so."

"And while you may not see it as very glamorous or even interesting," Mahad continued, "your job here plays a very vital role in the greater benefit for all of us here in the Spirit World. You are in charge of the care and well-being of these three great beings, and we truly appreciate what you do here."

Mana looked around the room as several smaller creatures gathered around both her and her master. Some of them included a small, pink, spherical creature with wings, a tiny fairy wearing a blue cloak and holding a key, a lavender-haired woman holding a clay jar, and a blue-skinned fairy with orange hair and wings, among others. Seeing the appreciative smiles on their faces helped Mana feel a little better about her duties in the castle. Turning back to Mahad, she told him, "I guess you're right. Like it or not, this is my job, and it's an important one; I should just be happy for that at least." Looking over at the other friendly faces in the room, she then told them, "And thank you all for helping me feel better..."

At that moment, one of the other creatures in the room - a tiny little pixie with long, pink hair, large red eyes, and a small outfit consisting mostly of yellow and orange, suddenly noticed something peculiar and quickly flew over in front of both Mahad and Mana. "Hm?" said Mahad as they watched the little sprite fluttered around and made noise to try and get their attention. "What is this?" he then asked.

"I...think she's trying to tell us something..." Mana figured. "But I'm not sure what she's saying; she always sounds like that lab assistant character in that show with the puppets..." She then leaned forward so as to get closer to the pixie before asking, "What is it, Sunny? Is there something we need to know about?" The tiny pixie nodded and began frantically and repeatedly pointing at one of the dragon statues in the room. "Is there something wrong with the statue or something?" she then asked the sprite, who replied by nodding yes.

"The statue she was pointing at..." Mahad began to say, "it is the one of Timaeus..." Upon saying that, both he and Mana became a little concerned; after all, they had a very close bond to that particular dragon. The two magicians then walked over to Timaeus's statue, with the rest of the creatures in the room following them.

Upon looking at the giant, crystal dragon in question, both Mahad and Mana gasped a little. "Wh-what's going on...?" she asked her master. "Why is Timaeus's eye glowing like that?"

"I...I do not know, Mana..." he admitted. "But what I do know is this: The last time that Timaeus reacted in such a way was when-"

Mana then gasped suddenly, interrupting his statement; she knew what he was going to say. "...Was when the Great Leviathan attacked...!" the girl said, finishing his statement. "But...but the Leviathan was destroyed long ago...! So why is Timaeus doing this?"

"Again, I am not certain..." Mahad told his student, "but I have a feeling that he is reacting this way because he may be sensing a new threat; one we have yet to witness for ourselves... And he may feel as though his services are needed once more..."

(A new threat...?) thought Mana. (Could it be the one that Kisara told me about a while ago...?) She then asked her master, "But why only Timaeus? Why aren't the other dragons reacting in the same way?"

"...It is clear that - whatever is going on," the magician then told his pupil, "we will not know it by staying here... We have to find out what this is all about, but even my vast knowledge cannot say for sure just what it is that is causing Timaeus worry... But there may be one person that knows the answer..."

Gasping, Mana then asked her master, "You mean...him...?"

---------------------------------------------------------------------

Back in the "real" world, Bright Mind had taken control of his Duel against Flash Sentry by taking control of one of his opponent's best cards. Now he had just initiated an attack on Flash's Life Points with a fully-powered Heroic Champion - Excalibur at four thousand attack points. "Excalibur, direct attack!!" Bright shouted as the monster rushed forward with its swords.

"Flash...!! Do something!!" Twilight suddenly shouted out of concern.

Luckily, he DID have something he could do. "I activate my Trap Card!!" he shouted. "I play Half or Nothing!!" After his card was flipped face-up, Excalibur stopped its attack short.

"Half or Nothing?" asked Bright Mind.

"That's right..." the blue-haired boy told him. "After I activate it, you have to pick one of two choices: Either you cut the attack power of all of your monsters in half, or you let the Battle Phase end right now."

"That means Flash will get to survive for another turn, no matter which choice his opponent makes..." Rarity noted.

"Hmmm...well the choice is obvious, then:" Bright replied. "In order for me to still cause damage to you this round, I'll choose the first option and halve my monsters' attack points for this turn." And with that choice, both of the monsters on his side of the field were weakened (Alien Hypno: ATK 1600 ÷ 2 = 800) (Heroic Champion - Excaliber: ATK 4000 ÷ 2 = 2000). "And that means that my attack with Excalibur can still be carried out!"

Flash braced himself as his own monster knocked of half of his Life Points away, slashing with both his swords (Flash Sentry: LP 4,000 - 2,000 = 2,000). "Urrgh...that wasn't pleasant," he said, "but at least I didn't lose."

"Perhaps, but I still have Alien Hypno's attack this turn." the green-haired boy informed him. His second monster then let out a damaging energy wave that struck Flash directly as well (Flash Sentry: LP 2,000 - 800 = 1,200). "Not a bad recovery move, Flash." Bright complimented. "You managed to buy yourself another turn. Of course, now that the Battle Phase is over, my monsters' attack powers are restored back to what they were before." (Alien Hypno: ATK 800 > 1600) (Heroic Champion - Excaliber: ATK 2000 > 4000)

"Man...that sure was a close one..." said Applejack.

"Yeah, but now Flash is down t' just 1,200 Life Points!" Rainbow Dash pointed out. "And he doesn't have any other cards on the field! If he's gonna make a comeback durin' this Duel, he's gotta do it next turn!"

Taking two cards out of his hand, Bright Mind then said, "I'll end my turn by setting these two cards face-down. Then, during my End Phase, I have to remove one of the A-Counters on Excalibur in order to keep him on my side of the field, due to Alien Hypno's effect." And after he said that, one of the pink blobs attached to the Xyz Monster vanished completely (Heroic Champion - Excalibur: A-Counters 4 - 1 = 3). "Of course, that does mean that my Cell Incubator generates an A-Counter of its own to replace it." ("A" Cell Incubator: A-Counters 1 + 1 = 2)

"Don't forget this, either:" Flash reminded his opponent, "Since it's now the end of your turn, Excalibur's effect to double its original attack power expires, too." (Heroic Champion - Excalibur: ATK 4000 > 3000)

"Indeed it does..." Bright responded. "But his attack power is still quite high, thanks to the effect of your Extra Sword. For now, I'll end my turn... So go ahead and make your next move."

"You bet I will... I draw!" Flash then drew his next card and looked at it. He wasted no time in playing, saying, "I activate Pot of Desires! I banish the top ten cards of my Deck to draw two more cards from it!"

"I see." Bright acknowledged.

After having drawn his next two cards, he played one of them right away, saying, "Now I'll activate my Reinforcement of the Army! This card lets me search my Deck for a Level 4 or below Warrior monster and add it to my hand! And I'll choose the Duelists' best friend: Doggy Diver!" Placing the card he picked out in his hand for now, he took out a different card and said, "Next, I'll Normal Summon my Heroic Challenger - Assault Halberd in Attack Mode!" Flash Sentry's next monster was yet another man in armor - this time colored mostly purple, wielding a powerful axe-sword combo weapon that appeared to actually be a part of the armor itself (Heroic Challenger - Assault Halberd: Level 4 / ATK 1800 / DEF 200).

"Hmmm...that's strange..." thought Sunset.

"What's strange?" asked Spike.

"Heroic Challenger - Assault Halberd has an effect that lets Flash Special Summon it from his hand if his opponent is the only one to have a monster on the board." the jacket-wearing teen explained. "But Flash chose to Normal Summon it instead..."

"I wonder why he did that..." Twilight pondered, though she seemed to think that he must have had a good reason to do so.

Bright Mind wondered that as well and decided to ask Flash, "So...why didn't you Special Summon your monster?"

"It's pretty simple, actually." Flash told him. "I didn't have any other monsters in my hand to Normal Summon."

"...I see." the glasses-wearing boy responded, understanding. "That makes sense."

"However, the conditions ARE right for me to bring this guy out!" the blue-haired teen then told him, taking out the card that he had gotten with Reinforcement of the Army earlier. "I Special Summon Doggy Diver in Attack Mode!" His second monster was a small dog with black fur wearing a scuba-diving outfit and oxygen mask (Doggy Diver: Level 4 / ATK 1000 / DEF 1000).

"Awwwww!! He's got a little scuba outfit!!" Gabby squealed after seeing the monster appear. "Eeeeee!! That's so CUTE!!!"

"Doggy Diver can be Special Summoned from my hand while you have at least one monster out, and all of the ones that I control are Level 4 monsters." Flash explained. "Since Assault Halberd is Level 4, that's all I needed." Taking out another card from his hand, he played it and said, "Then I activate Monster Reborn to bring back Thousand Blades from the Graveyard!" And in an instant, his armed-to-the-teeth warrior revived itself and was back on Flash's field. "And then, thanks to the effect of Thousand Blades, I'll discard my Heroic Retribution Sword to bring out an extra...um, Extra Sword from out of my Deck!" And with that, another copy of his two sword-carrying warrior emerged, and then Thousand Blades went into Defense Position.

"He just Summoned four Level 4 monsters in a single turn..." noted Steel Shadows, watching from the sidelines. "It seems he might be able to make a comeback on this turn after all..."

"And now, I overlay my Thousand Blades, Doggy Diver, and Extra Sword - all Level 4 and create an Overlay Network!!" shouted Flash. His monsters then transformed into three colored lights - two orange and one purple, before they were drawn into a red vortex in the center of the field. "Come forth, with the force of the earth itself!" the blue-haired boy chanted. "Brave samurai who towers over all who oppose you! Unsheathe your sword and let loose the fires of justice! Xyz Summon!" The vortex exploded at that moment as a figure rose from out of it. "Rank 4! Heroic Champion - Kusanagi!"

The monster that emerged from the vortex was a samurai-like warrior with armor that was colored mostly brown and orange, with a silver face mask on the front and green-colored armor plates on his lower legs. His weapon of choice was what appeared to be a red-orange katana made up of pure energy, which he proudly displayed. Surrounding the warrior were three orange-colored orbs (Heroic Champion - Kusanagi: Rank 4 / ATK 2500 / DEF 2400 / OLU 3).

"Woah...not bad at all, Flash..." Sunset uttered, impressed by her ex-boyfriend's strong move.

"But...he only has 2,500 attack points..." Sweetie Belle stated. "And that other guy's monster has three thousand..."

"Not quite." Ember told her. "Remember, he used Extra Sword to Xyz Summon Kusanagi, so he gains another thousand attack points." (Heroic Champion - Kusanagi: ATK 2500 + 1000 = 3500)

"Oh yeah, I forgot about that!" said Rarity's younger sister with a smile. "That means he has a chance after all!"

Knowing what he had to do, Flash shouted, "Now, Kusanagi! Attack Excalibur!!" His samurai then raced towards the brainwashed warrior on Bright Mind's field, intending to destroy it.

"Hold it! I activate my Quick-Play Spell, "A" Cell Scatter Burst!" Bright shouted, flipping his card face-up. "This card destroys my Alien Hypno, but in exchange, it ALSO places A-Counters equal to its Level on all of your monsters! And since Alien Hypno is Level 4, I place two counters on each of your monsters!" Immediately after that, Bright's Alien monster self-destructed, and four more blob creatures flew out and stuck themselves to Flash' monsters (Heroic Challenger - Assault Halberd: A-Counters 0 + 2 = 2) (Heroic Champion - Kusanagi: A-Counters 0 + 2 = 2). In addition, Bright's Code A Ancient Ruins gained another counter as well (Code A Ancient Ruins: A-Counters 1 + 1 = 2).

"But...I don't understand..." Rarity wondered. "That didn't affect Flash's monster's strength or its attack... So what was the point of that move?"

Flash Sentry wondered that too...until Bright announced, "And now I activate my other face-down card...the Trap Card, Cell Explosion Virus!! Now because you attacked with a monster that has at least one A-Counter on it, my Trap can destroy all the monsters you have in Attack Position!"

"So that's what he was doing!" said Twilight. "He used the Spell Card to put counters on Flash's monsters, so that he could destroy them with that!"

"Th-that doesn't sound good...!" said Spike, worried for Flash as was everyone else watching the match... But a few people weren't as concerned as the most of the others were: Sunset, Ember, and Steel Shadows seemed to know something the audience didn't...

"Not bad, kid..." Flash complimented. "But it's not good enough!" Pointing forward, he shouted, "I chain Kusanagi's effect! By removing one of his overlay units, I can negate your Trap Card and destroy it!" Bright Mind gasped as Flash's monster absorbed one of his floating orbs into his sword, powering it up (Heroic Champion - Kusanagi: OLU 3 - 1 = 2). Then, Kusanagi fired a red beam at the activated Trap Card, eliminating it and its effect.

"Oh no...! How could I have miscalculated that...?!" the glasses-wearing boy asked himself in shock.

"But that's not all:" Flash continued. "Every time he uses that effect, Kusanagi gains an extra five hundred attack points!" (Heroic Champion - Kusanagi: ATK 3500 + 500 = 4000) Throwing a forward punch, the blue-haired boy shouted, "Now, Kusanagi! Continue your attack!!" The warrior then slashed his beam sword across Excalibur's chest, destroying him and sending him to the Graveyard.

"Urrgh!!" grunted Bright as his Life Points decreased from the battle (Bright Mind: LP 4,000 - 1,000 = 3,000).

"And my Battle Phase isn't over yet!" said Flash. "Assault Halberd, attack him directly!" His second monster then landed a blow on the opposing player as well, knocking his Life Points down even lower (Bright Mind: LP 3,000 - 1,800 = 1,200).

"Woah...! That was awesome!" praised Rainbow Dash. "Flash was way behind when this started, but now their scores are even!"

"Yeah! This great!!" cheered Pinkie. "He can still win this!" Fluffle Puff just smiled and let out a gasp in response.

Flash smiled a bit and then told Bright Mind, "Now for Assault Halberd's effect: Since he damaged you in battle, I can take any Heroic card out of my Deck. And I'll pick out another copy of Double Lance." Moving on with his turn, he then added, "Next, I'll wrap things up by using Mystical Space Typhoon to destroy one of your Spell or Trap Cards. And since your Ruins has two of those counters on it, I'll destroy it so that you can't bring any of your monsters back!" And with that, a powerful cyclone shattered the ruins behind Bright Mind. "That's all for now." Flash said, ending his turn.

(Hmmmm...this isn't good; I never saw that Kusanagi card before, so I wasn't aware of what it could do...) thought Bright. (Now I'll have to come up with a different strategy in order to defeat it...) Humming to himself and remaining calm, he then thought, (Well...I'd be nothing if I didn't know how to think on my feet every now and again; as far as things are concerned, this Duel is just another pop quiz... And I intend to pass that quiz!)

"It's my turn...I draw!" the green-haired boy said, pulling the top card of his Deck. Looking at it, he then thought, (Good... This will definitely help me right now...) Playing the card he just drew, he said, "I activate a Spell! Card of Demise! This card allows me to draw from my Deck until I hold three cards!"

"That means he gets t' draw three cards, since his hand's currently empty..." Applejack pointed. "Ah've got a funny feelin' this Duel's not quite over yet..."

"At the very least," Rarity started, "due to the effect of Card of Demise, Flash is guaranteed not to take any damage this turn. And not only that, but his opponent can't Special Summon this turn, and any cards left in his hand are sent to the Graveyard during his End Phase."

After drawing his next three cards, Bright Mind looked at them with an expert eye, trying to come up with a strategy with them. After figuring out what his best move would be, the boy then said, "I'll set all three of the cards I drew face-down... and then I'll activate the second effect of my "A" Cell Recombination Device: By banishing it from my Graveyard, I can add any Alien monster from my Deck to my hand. I'll choose my Alien Psychic and Summon it to the field right away."

Bright Mind's new monster was a smaller reptile-like creature with frills on its small head, and two thin tentacles coming out of its small body. A long, thin, segmented tail came out from its back end as well. Although the monster was Summoned to the field in Attack Position, its effect caused to switch to Defense Position (Alien Psychic: Level 1 / ATK 200 / DEF 100).

"Why'd you play that card?" asked Flash Sentry. "He's not even close to either of my monsters in terms of strength..."

"That is true..." said Bright, adjusting his glasses, "However, due to his special ability, Alien Psychic prevents all monsters with an A-Counter from attacking." To emphasize his point, Alien Psychic's tentacle arms began to glow, causing a reaction in the blobs that were still stuck to both of Flash's monsters. A similarly-colored glow then surrounded them and both monsters were lifted into the air.

"Look at that...!" said Spike. "That weird thing's levitating them in the air!"

"You're right...!" said Twilight. "And if they can't move, they can't attack either!"

"I now end my turn." Bright stated. "And that means I have to discard the rest of my hand due to the effect of Card of Demise... But as you can plainly see, I don't HAVE anything in my hand, therefore, I have nothing I can discard."

"Clever move..." Sunset said to herself. "That's one way of getting around that card's negative side effect."

Flash then began his turn, drawing a card from his Deck. (This could be a little tricky...) he thought. (Thanks to that new monster he played, neither of my monsters can attack him... The only way out of this is to Summon a new monster and use it to destroy Alien Psychic. Once it's gone, I can attack with my other monsters and win the Duel...) The blue-haired boy then glanced down and saw the three cards his opponent had in his back row. (Those face-downs might be trouble,) he continued to ponder, (but Kusanagi's effect can still possibly stop them, even if he can't attack right away. I just hope that'll be enough...)

Beginning his first Main Phase, Flash then announced, "I'll Summon Heroic Challenger - Double Lance in Attack Mode!" His next warrior was one clad in white and silver armor. He wore an elegant-looking knight's helmet and - true to his name, carried a pair of lances as his weapons (Heroic Challenger - Double Lance: Level 4 / ATK 1700 / DEF 900). 'And when he's Normal Summoned," Flash continued, "his effect lets me Summon a second Double Lance from my Graveyard!" And just as he said, another warrior just like the first one appeared on the field.

"During his first turn, when he used the effect of Thousand Blades," Sunset recalled, "he discarded one of his Double Lance cards to pay the cost. It was all so that he could make this move..."

"And now I overlay both of my Level Double Lances and create an Overlay Network!" Flash shouted as his two monsters transformed into a pair of orange lights before being sucked into another red portal. He then chanted, "Come forth, with the force of the earth itself! Noblewoman clad in mighty armor! Ready your bow against evil and fire the arrow of justice! Xyz Summon!" The portal then shot out a column of red light after that part of the summoning chant. "Rank 4! Heroic Champion - Gandiva!"

Flash Sentry's next Xyz Monster was another armored warrior; this time on horseback. The suit of armor - colored mostly in black, gold, and orange, was shaped much differently compared to the rest of Flash's monsters. It appeared to be more feminine in appearance, suggesting that the person underneath the armor was a woman. After appearing on the field with two orange orbs orbiting her, Gandiva readied a bow that was built into her armor and loaded it with an arrow (Heroic Champion - Gandiva: Rank 4 / ATK 2100 / DEF 1800 / OLU 2).

"No way...he brought out yet another Xyz Monster...!" stated Vinyl, sitting next to her friend Octavia.

"And because she was just Summoned," the cello-playing Duelist pointed out, "she has no A-Counters, so Alien Psychic's effect doesn't affect her. That means that, if Flash's attack is successful, he can win the Duel this turn."

Taking the card he had drawn this turn, Flash then said, "Next, I'll equip my Magnum Shield to Kusanagi. This Equip Spell raises Kusnagi's attack points by the number of his original defense points while he's in Attack Mode." A burgundy-colored shield with gold trims then attached itself to Kusanagi's left arm, giving him more power (Heroic Champion - Kusanagi: ATK 4000 + 2400 = 6400).

"Man, that's a lot of attack power..." Spike noted. He then looked up at Twilight and asked her, "D'ya think Flash will win the Duel now?"

"I guess we'll see..." the young Princess told him, hoping that Flash would win the Duel.

"Alright, this is it!!" Flash Sentry shouted. "Gandiva, attack Alien Psychic now!!" Hearing her controller's command, she took aim at Bright Mind's only monster and fired her arrow straight towards it.

"I'm afraid I cannot let you win that easily!" the speculated Duelist told his opponent. "I activate my Trap Card!"

(I knew it...) thought Flash. (I had a feeling he'd have something to block my attack. Too bad for him; I still have Kusanagi to stop that Trap from working.) But when he saw the card that flipped face-up, he gasped in shock. "Aw, NO!!"

"I play my Counter Trap Card, Negate Attack!!" Bright Mind announced, revealing one of the cards he had set last turn. "Not only does this card absorb your attack via an inter-dimensional vortex, it also skips the rest of your Battle Phase as well!" And just as he had said, Gandiva's arrow was sucked into a portal, leaving Alien Psychic unharmed.

"Hey, hold up..." Rainbow began to ask, "why didn't Flash's monster negate that card? Isn't he supposed to negate Trap Cards?"

"It's because Negate Attack is a Counter Trap, Rainbow dear." Rarity informed her. "Counter Traps are classified as a type of card known as Spell Speed 3. According to the rules, only ANOTHER Spell Speed 3 card - i.e. another Counter Trap, can chain to it. But Kusanagi's effect is only Spell Speed 2, so it couldn't activate in response to Negate Attack."

"Oh yeah, I get it now...I think." said Dash.

Flash grumbled a little. (Aw man...I wasn't expecting a Counter Trap... And now my Battle Phase is already over...) Knowing that he had few options right now, the blue-haired boy then stated, "I guess I'll end things by switching Kusanagi to Defense Mode. And because I did, my Magnum Shield changes its effect to boost his defense points by the amount of his original attack points." (Heroic Champion - Kusanagi: ATK 6400 - 2400 = 4000 / DEF 2400 + 2500 = 4900). Looking at his opponent, he then told him, "It's your turn."

Drawing his next card, Bright Mind then said to Flash, "I must admit; had I not drawn Negate Attack with Card of Demise in my previous turn, I would have lost to you... But since I was able to survive, I now have everything I need to turn this game around."

"Y-you're joking, right...?" asked Flash, sweating a little.

"Yes, I suppose it would sound unbelievable to me as well if our current positions were switched," Bright told him, "but I can assure you, I am not joking. But if you still don't believe me, I'll prove it with my cards." Revealing the card he had drawn, the boy said, "I'll begin by Summoning my Alien Warrior in Attack Position!"

Bright's next monster was much, MUCH more muscular than his previous monsters were. While it still retained the overall general appearance of the other Aliens, this silvery-purple creature looked stronger, tougher, and meaner. It had a powerful body complimented by a pair of large clawed arms and a pair of well-developed legs (Alien Warrior: Level 4 / ATK 1800 / DEF 1000).

"Next, I'll activate my Trap Card, Detonator Circle "A"..." the green-haired boy then added. "It allows me to destroy any monster on the field with at least one A-Counter, and then we both take one thousand points of damage. Naturally, I choose to destroy your Kusanagi!"

"But...but that won't work, right?" asked Spike. "Flash's monster can stop Trap Cards from working!"

"Yeah that's true," Twilight replied, "but I'm pretty sure his opponent is aware of that by now..." Sunset nodded in agreement, figuring that there was more to this than it appeared to be...

"I activate Kusanagi's effect again!" Flash shouted. "I remove an overlay unit to negate your Trap Card!" And just like he did before, Flash's monster used his sword's power to wipe out Bright's Trap Card before it could resolve (Heroic Champion - Kusanagi: OLU 2 - 1 = 1), and then gained more attack power as a result of it (Heroic Champion - Kusanagi: ATK 4000 + 500 = 4500). "Sorry, kid...but I wasn't gonna let that happen." the blue-haired boy said to him.

"Oh, don't worry... You have no need to apologize." Bright responded. "Not only did I know you would stop my Trap Card just now, I had planned that you would."

"You mean...you LET me negate it??" asked Flash. "Why?"

"It's actually very simple:" Bright explained, adjusting his glasses once more. "Now that Kusanagi has negated my Trap Card, he is no longer permitted to do so again for the remainder of the turn... And unfortunately for you, I still have one more Trap to activate now. I activate my last Trap Card, Interdimensional Warp!!"

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Interdimensional Warp:
(Normal Trap Card)

Target 1 face-up monster you control and 1 face-up monster with an A-Counter(s) your opponent controls; switch control of those targets.

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Flash gasped in shock, as did everyone else when Bright Mind activated his second Trap Card. "I knew it..." said Sunset. "Bright Mind let Flash negate his first Trap Card so that he COULDN'T negate the second one! He was planning to take Flash's monster from the very beginning of the turn!"

"Now," the speculated Duelist began to say, "I use the effect of Interdimensional Warp to exchange my Alien Psychic with your Kusanagi!" At that moment, both monsters were each sucked into a distorted portal on each side of the field, only to then reappear from out of the OTHER portal. As a result, Bright had now taken control of another of Flash's own monsters.

"Aw man...this can't be..." said Flash in disbelief.

(Alien Decks tend to be a bit on the weaker side in terms of their competitiveness...) thought Sunset. (However, they are very good at one thing: Using the enemy's power against them. With cards such as Alien Hypno and Interdimensional Warp to support them, they can cause the opponent to become their own worst enemy. And that's not good for Flash right now...)

After he switched Flash's Kusanagi to Attack Position (Heroic Champion - Kusanagi: ATK 4500 + 2400 = 6900 / DEF 4900 - 2500 = 2400), Bright Mind was ready for the finishing blow. "I now move to my Battle Phase and attack with my Alien Warrior!" His remaining Alien monster leapt forward, slashing Alien Psychic and destroying it. "And now that Alien Psychic is gone, I am now free to attack you with Kusanagi." he then pointed out. "Now! Destroy Gandiva and the rest of his Life Points!" The newly-brainwashed warrior raced forward and used his bean katana to attack his former ally, wiping her out completely.

"Rrrgh...no..." Flash groaned, falling to his knees. "I lost..." (Flash Sentry: LP 1,200 - 4,800 = 0) (WINNER: Bright Mind)

"And that all, folks!!" said Megan Williams. "With an impressive come-from behind win, Bright Mind moves on to the quarterfinal round!"

"Guess that means I'm done..." Flash said with a sigh. But then he smiled and thought, (Oh well...at least I fought my hardest out there.) Getting back up onto his feet, he walked over to his opponent and told him, "That last move was pretty good, there... I don't feel that bad at all losing to someone as skilled as you were."

"And you were quite a strong opponent yourself, Flash Sentry." Bright told him with a smile. "It was a great honor to battle a strong Duelist such as yourself."

"Same here." Flash replied, smiling as well. Shaking his opponent's hand, he then told him, "Good luck in the next round, especially since you'll be going up against that girl Sonata. Be ready for anything." Bright nodded to say that he would do his best.

"Aw man...what a bummer..." said Rainbow Dash. "I can't believe Flash lost that one..."

"Perhaps, but at least he is a good sport about it." Rarity stated.

"Yeah, Ah guess as long as y'all enjoy the Duel and fight yer hardest out there," Applejack said to her friends, "winnin' or losin' doesn't really matter that much."

"Yep, having fun's the most important part!" Pinkie agreed with her. She then said to (seemingly) no one, "Did you guys out there get all that?" She and everyone else watching, including Sunset and Twilight, gave a round of applause for a Duel well-fought.

Of course, the only ones not clapping were the Dazzlings. Adagio, Aria, and Sonata were watching the Duel from inside of the tunnel leading into the arena, far away from the others. "So...looks like Sonata's next opponent will be that kid in the glasses..." Adagio noted. Smirking, she then said, "He may have brains on his side...but with what I have planned, no amount of knowledge will do him any good..."

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Back in the Duel Spirit World, Mana had returned to her home to get her things together for what one would assume would be a long trip. With her was her friend, named Apple. She wasn't the only companion with Mana at the time: Four other girls dressed similarly to the two of them were in the house as well. They included a tan-skinned girl with silver-blonde hair wearing a yellow costume, a smaller girl with red hair wearing a light-pink and light-blue costume and having a pacifier in her mouth (she was holding onto the tan girl's hand), a teal-haired girl with a dark-blue outfit that exposed her navel, and a purple-haired girl with a black and aqua-colored costume that covered her entire body who seemed to be older than everyone else in the room.

"So you're really gonna go through with this?" the girl in the dark-blue costume asked Mana.

"I have to, Chocolate." Mana answered as she checked over her things. "This mission is really important; it could very well mean the difference between life and death!"

"Life and death?" asked the tan girl. "A-are you really sure?"

"If Mahad told her this, Lemon..." the eldest girl in the room spoke with a stern voice, "then we have to assume his words are the truth. Mahad is one of the most skilled Spellcasters here in the Spirit World, and his knowledge is incredibly vast. So if he says that something is true, we should not doubt his words."

"Okay...! I get it, Kiwi..." Lemon responded. "It's just...well, it just sounds really big and everything, you know?"

"What do you mean?" Apple then asked.

"I get what she's saying;" Mana then spoke up as she finished zipping up a backpack full of supplies. "This mission that Master Mahad sent me on...it's a pretty major one, and I might be gone for a long time."

"Y-yeah, exactly..." Lemon then said. "I was trying to say that...we'll kinda miss you. After all, we've been friends for a long time, and well...it just won't be the same without you around..."

"I know that, Lemon. And I feel really bad about leaving you all behind." Mana said to them. "But if my master asks me to do something, I must honor his wishes..." Mana then recalled the previous hour to her friends, where she and her master had witnessed a strange event in shrine of the Legendary Dragons...

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"Torunka...?" Mana asked her master as stood before the statue of Timaeus, whose eye was glowing brightly all of a sudden. "The legendary Dark Sage?"

"Yes..." Mahad told her. "Torunka is one of the oldest living residents of the Spirit World, so his knowledge of this world and everything in it has no equal. He could tell us what exactly is causing Timaeus to react in such a way..."

"But...why can't we ask Timeaus ourselves?" asked the magician girl.

"I'm afraid he has not the power to do so..." Mahad told his pupil. "After the battle against the Great Leviathan, he - along with Critias and Hermos, returned to their dragon forms once more, having expended all their power. And we do not posses the magic to return them to their true forms once again. Therefore, we cannot obtain any information from them directly..."

"I see..."

Turning over to Mana, Mahad then told her, "Right now, Torunka is the only one who can solve this puzzle and you must locate him."

"Then let's got going right now...!" she responded, ready and raring to go.

But Mahad gave a small smile and told her, "Mana...I believe that I said YOU must locate him."

"What...?" asked the young Spellcaster. It took her a second, but she figured out what her master meant by that. "W-wait...are you saying...?"

"I am." the male Spellcaster replied with a nod. "I have decided that you should seek Torunka out yourself, without my help."

"A-a-all by MYSELF?!" Mana exclaimed, stuttering out of shock. "A-are you sure??"

"I have never been more sure about anything in my life." Mahad said with confidence in his voice. "You can believe me; I would not ask this of you if I did not think you could do it. You have grown into a great and powerful Spellcaster, even after I passed on to the next life. You took on the role of a Millennium Priestess to aid the next Pharaoh... You even showed your respect for me by merging your soul with your Ka at the time of your passing. You are the greatest student I have even taught, in more ways than one...and I am proud to have been your master."

Hearing him say all that and hearing how much he respected her caused tears to well up in Mana's eyes. Sniffling a little, she asked him, "Do...do you really mean all of that...?" Mahad nodded to say that meant every single word. Smiling (but still crying) Mana gave him a hug and said, "Thank you...! Thank you! I couldn't have found a better master for myself if I tried...! I'm so happy right now...!" Pulling herself away from him and wiping her eyes, she then told him, "If that's how you really feel, then I accept this duty! I'll find Torunka and solve this mystery!"

"...I know you will, Mana." Mahad told her. "I wish you the best of luck."

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Thinking about that moment again caused another small tear to appear in Mana's eye. Wiping the tear away and turning back over to her friends, she told them, "I promised my master that I would take on this mission for him, and he believes that I can do it. So backing out of this is not an option."

Sniffling a little after hearing the story, Chocolate then said, "That was the most beautiful thing I ever heard..."

"Y-yeah...it was..." said Lemon, wiping away some tears of her own.

"...Although we may not enjoy the fact that Mana has to leave for a while," Kiwi then told the others, "she has an important job to do, and we should not interfere. All that we can do is support her and make sure that she knows that we have faith in her to succeed."

"I feel the same way, Kiwi." Apple responded. The others in the room nodded to say that they agreed as well. Walking over to Mana, Apple gave her a friendly hug and told her, "Good luck out there... I promise, we'll be with you in spirit."

"But...aren't we already spirits?" asked Mana.

"...Oh, you know what I meant." Apple said back to her. The two of them shared a small giggle with each other after that remark. She then told her friend, "Anyway, have a safe trip, Mana." Mana nodded to say that she would.

"Please come back soon, Mana..." said the voice of the young girl with the pacifier.

Kneeling down to eye-level, Mana said to her, "Don't worry, Berry... I promise I'll be back as soon as possible. And we'll all have fun with each other, just like before." The little girl was satisfied with that answer and gave Mana a hug as thanks for making that promise. After saying her goodbyes to all of her friends, Mana put her back pack on and walked down the dirt path leading away from her home, waving goodbye to the others one last time before she was no longer in sight.

Humming a bit with worry, Chocolate spoke up, saying, "Do...you think she'll be okay out there? I mean, none of us have ever left this village... Who knows what's out there?"

"Yeah...I'm trembling just thinking about it..." Lemon said, shivering a little. Berry didn't say anything, but also felt a little scared about the whole thing.

"Whatever's out there," Apple said to them, "Mana can handle it, no problem! After all, she was taught by the best Spellcaster around, right?"

"Indeed." Kiwi chimed in. "No matter what, we must not lose faith in her... As I had said earlier, we must do our best to show our support for Mana, for this is the time she will need it the most..." The other magician girls nodded to say that they felt the same way as they wished and hoped that their friend would come home safely...

-- To Be Continued...

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TOURNAMENT RESULTS (Round 1):

1. Indigo Bolt vs. Ember [WINNER: Ember]
2. Steel Shadows vs. Slid Diamond [WINNER: Steel Shadows]
3. Gilda vs. Night Switch [WINNER: Gilda]
4. Fluttershy vs. Gabby [WINNER: Fluttershy]
5. Derpy Hooves vs. Sonata Dusk [WINNER: Sonata Dusk]
6. Bright Mind vs. Flash Sentry [WINNER: Bright Mind]
7. ??? vs. ???
8. ??? vs. ???

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