"Stand up! The! Vanguard!"

"Stand up! My! Vanguard!"

All of a sudden, a whirlwind surrounded the two fighters. Their imaginations had taken them to the Planet Cray.



"I'm doing this for your own good," Asahi told him.

"And I the same," Reiji insisted. "When will you ever learn that you were no match for me?"

Asahi smiled. "I suppose that's the problem. Once I started playing Vanguard, I couldn't stop."

"Well then," Reiji demanded. "Show me what you got!"

"Bring it on, Reiji!"

"Vanguard Fight!!!"

"Ride!" Asahi declared. "Dragonic Panzer! With the skill of Lizard Runner, Undeux, I draw one card."

Destiny made note of the desperate situation before her. On Rex's side, all of the fighters besides herself, as well as Agrise, who, while no longer in the tournament, had stayed to cheer Asahi and Makoto on. Even Makoto, it seemed, had fallen victim to Rex's influence.

On her side, Makoto's sister Hanako, who was the only other person not to fall victim to Rex's influence. Hanako, however, was not in the tournament either. She was barely a Vanguard fighter to begin with. And who knew how many people watching on TV were under Rex's influence as well. It was certainly a very desperate situation.

All Destiny could do was watch the horror unfold as people were fighting for a chance to have their deepest desires fulfilled.

Reiji took a step back, figuring out which card to ride. "Ride! Yellow Bolt! Attack!"

"No guard."

"Check the drive trigger," Reiji then said. "Critical Trigger!" Neither of Asahi's damage checks were triggers.

"Ride!" Asahi said quickly, "Dragon Knight, Nehalem! Attack!"

"No guard."

"Check the drive trigger. No trigger."

"Check the damage trigger. No trigger."

Reiji remembered his first win with Kuromi. It was right there at Card Capital shortly after he acquired Kuromi. Something had come over him, causing him to challenge Aichi on the spot.

"Arise, my avatar!"

"Hey! That's my line!"

"From the flowing plains to the frozen tundra, shine brightly across all the land! Ride! Beacon of Hope, Kuromi!"

"That's a pretty sweet move," Aichi said with his signature shyness. "What does the card do?"

"While it's on the board," Reiji explained, "all Blaster Blades get 5000 Power! On top of that, call two Blaster Blades!"

He's playing that deck like an expert...

"And when I have two or more Blasters on the board, Kuromi gets 5000 Power! On top of that, Kuromi's Counter Blast!"

Aichi was stunned. Reiji had just gotten these new cards, but here he was playing as if they already had a bond.

"I choose a hand card with Alfred in its name and place it in the soul. I choose Alfred Early, so I can search for a Monarch Sanctuary Alfred to add to my hand. Now, Kuromi! Attack Aichi's Blaster Blade!"

"No guard!"

"Drive check, Critical Trigger!"

Reiji began to cry in the present. He realized that win was what eventually led Reiji down the path to where he was standing now. Without that win, he probably wouldn't have met Jun and Asahi, and he wouldn't have become so obsessed with winning.

For once, Asahi didn't care. Rex's influence had overridden any of Asahi's more sensitive nature. He, too, had become obsessed with winning.

Reiji's sadness turned into anger. "I won't allow you to take this victory away from me... Makoto!!!"

Everyone was surprised to hear Makoto's name instead of Asahi's.

"Did he just call Asahi 'Makoto'?"

"Ride! Werwolf Sieger! Call! Emblem Master! Crucio Vampir! Variants Killer Tail! Emblem Master's skill: Counter Blast to send three Variants Killer Tail from the deck to the soul. Killer Tail rests so I can send a damage into the soul. I then place the top card of my deck into the damage zone. Counter Charge! Emblem Master gets 5000 Power! Restand Killer Tail."

Reiji knows his cards extremely well, Destiny noted to herself. If I have to fight him in the final, I might be in trouble...

Makoto then looked at her.

Then again... I might not have to...

"I swore on that day that I would never lose again!" Reiji continued, but at the wrong person. "Then you come along and ruin everything! You won't ruin this for me! Werwolf Sieger, attack the vanguard! Soul Charge 2!"

"Flame of Hope, Aermo guards!"

"Check the drive trigger. Draw Trigger. Power to Emblem Master. Cruico Vampir's skill: I discard one and it goes into the soul so Werwolf Sieger can attack again. Soul Charge 2!"

"No guard."

"Check the drive trigger. Critical Trigger. All effects go to the vanguard."

"Damage check. No trigger."

"Emblem Master attacks!"

"Embodiment of Spear, Tahr guards!"

"Turn end." Asahi could still see tears running down Reiji's face. Something in that sight must have touched Asahi, causing him to temporarily break from Rex's influence.

"Reiji..." Asahi said quietly. "Stand and draw..." He saw the card in his hand. It was just what he needed. "Ride the Vanguard! Dragonic Overlord!!! Imaginary Gift: Force II! I call Nehalem and Nix to the rear-guard. Then, Killer Tail retreats."

Destiny, meanwhile, paid close attention to Makoto. She waited for him to make a move, any move.

"Dragonic Overlord attacks! Eternal Flame!"

I cannot allow him to get more attacks than he deserves, Reiji thought to himself. "I guard!" Reiji called out, putting two triggers and a Yellow Bolt to guard. He would not allow Asahi to attack with Overlord twice.

"Check the drive trigger... No trigger. Nehalem attacks Werwolf Sieger!"

"No guard!" Reiji responded. "Damage check, Critical Trigger! All the effects to the Vanguard."

"Tch. Turn end." Two damage for Reiji, but four for Asahi.

"It appears that was a completely wasted turn, Asahi," Reiji told him, now referring to his opponent by the correct name. "Now, on my next turn, I'll draw into Kuromi and end this charade once and for all!" He drew his next card, but to his shock, it was not Kuromi. Rather, it was his backup grade 3: Scarlet Vampir. "You got lucky, punk. I ride Scarlet Vampir! And its skill is going to blow you away! Since I have more than ten cards in the soul, I can use its Counter Blast to send two of your rear-guards to the grave! And what fun! You have exactly two rear-guards." Nehalem and Nix were retired.

"My Iron Wall card..." Asahi noted.

"Face it, Asahi-kun," Reiji then told him, "You were never a match for me. The fact that I don't need Kuromi to defeat you is simply humiliating. It shows me you haven't gotten stronger at all. In fact, you've just gotten weaker."


"I call Blue Dust," Reiji then said. "Attack."

"No guard," Asahi answered. "Damage check... Critical Trigger... Power to Overlord."

"Scarlet Vampir attacks Dragonic Overlord!"

I have to guard this attack, Asahi thought to himself. "Guardians, attend to me!" he then said, calling forth Embodiment of Spear, Tahr and Dragon Monk, Gojo.

"Checking the Twin Drive," Reiji answered back. "No trigger... Draw trigger..." He paused, realizing that even with the bonus, Asahi would just guard that next attack as well. "My turn is over."

Silence filled the room. Everyone waited to see what Asahi would do next. Asahi was at five damage. He needed to make a move soon.

"Reiji..." Asahi finally said. "I'm not sure how this fight is going to end..."

"If you aren't absolutely certain of victory," Reiji answered him, "just surrender."

"But I know one thing," Asahi continued, ignoring his opponent's taunts, "I know that the old Reiji is still in there... somewhere..."

Reiji sneered. "Jun must be filling your head with ridiculous notions again. Then again, he was always like this."

"Jun has nothing to do with this," Asahi still continued to speak. "You have allowed yourself to become maniacally obsessed with winning. So much so, in fact, you've abandoned everyone and everything you cared about."

"Winning is the only thing I ever cared about, Asahi," Reiji replied once again. "I will not allow you or anyone else to tell me otherwise." Looking down at his cards, he continued. "I won't allow myself to remain a loser..."

"Reiji..." Asahi struggled to say. "No matter what happens, I cannot allow our friendship to die. That is why I have to defeat you in this Vanguard fight."

Makoto continued to stare blankly at Destiny. It was almost as if he was trying to say something to her. What that was, though, she was not able to discern. Perhaps he sensed her screaming for help inside, making one last impassioned plea for someone to help.

"Foolish child..." Reiji answered him, "Friendship is cheap. No one is going to remember the friendships we had. History remembers the individual. History remembers the winner. When future Vanguard fighters look back on this match, they'll see a fighter on the precipice of perfection, Reiji Midorihara."

Asahi was visibly nervous. He had just once chance to defeat Reiji before he called on Kuromi to finish the fight. But in order to do so, Asahi had to deal four damage in one turn. Reiji had six cards in hand, including a Protect Marker. There was only one thing Asahi could do.

"I'm going to defeat you, Reiji... FINAL TURN!!!"

"Final... Turn...?" Makoto finally said something. Reiji only became more agitated.

"The great flame king who has lived countless lives, rise up to claim what is rightfully yours! Feast on all the enemies of apocalypse! I ride the Vanguard!!! Dragonic Overlord! The Revenge!"

Within their imaginations, Dragonic Overlord appeared once again, but this time, wrapped in golden armor blazing as the heart of the sun. This was the Revenge.

"A new Overlord...?" Rex also finally began to speak.

"This is the ultimate form of Dragonic Overlord," Asahi explained. "A form that appears when one thinks it has embraced defeat, but in reality, it was waiting for its moment to strike. This will finish you!"

Reiji was very afraid at the imagined sight of this new Overlord. Rex finally realized that his plan was not foolproof.

I have to win it in one turn...

Tournament of Champions (Final Four) Reiji Midorihara vs. Asahi Yuto (in progress) Makoto Sakaki vs Destiny (coming up)

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