08-17-2009, 01:06 PM
Learning the Ropes
Join Date: Aug 2009
Location: Shoeburyness, U.K.
Yu-Gi-Oh!: Queen of Games
This fic can also be read here.
Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters is the property of Kazuki Takahashi and copyright Konami. Any original characters are the intellectual property of the writers. No profit was made as a result of this story.
QUEEN OF GAMES
Written by Scott D. Harris & Hikari
Chapter 1: “The History of a Game”
The reign of the House of Tudor is viewed by many historians as a rather turbulent age in English history. It was a time of glamour and magnificence. It was a time of magic and the unknown. It was a time of monsters. The year of our Lord, 1547, saw the beginning of the reign of King Edward VI, a sickly child who spent most of what remained of his short life in bed. One day, the grand explorer Sir Maxwell Wyvern, a man of humble heritage but great merit, returned from the faraway Eastern continents with the inspiration to create a game. It was a very special, very certain game that would eventually garner great influence in the history of the world. With the legends of the mysterious countries fresh in his brain, Sir Maxwell gifted poor Edward with a card game he called Duel Monsters. Originally for his own amusement, Edward showed a French ambassador how to play and after an afternoon of enjoyment, he requested that its creator circulate his brilliant idea to France. Thus from slow private joy did Duel Monsters begin to take hold of Europe.
The Blackwood family were quite wealthy, though they had no notable breeding, they were successful landowners and it was not uncommon for members of the family to work for the aristocracy, sometimes the royalty themselves. They lived in a fairly charming house in Westminster with a small number of housekeeping staff. Presently, eight-year-old Sebastian Blackwood was playing with his younger sister Gwendolyn in the family’s garden. Two women watched them from the doorstep.
“It’s quite unladylike for young Gwendolyn to be roughhousing this way,” said Mrs Nesbitt, the children’s in-house nanny. “Not sure I approve of such behaviour.”
“I understand, Mrs Nesbitt,” said Candida Blackwood, the children’s mother, “but I spoke with Sebastian’s teachers, and they say he learns better when he has someone to compete with, so call it a…”
“A necessary evil?” Mrs Nesbitt asked, eyebrow cocked.
“Hmm…if you want,” Candida nodded, though she did not agree with such a term. She never spoke aloud, but she knew both her children had the makings of greatness inside them, and dreamed pleasant dreams of them. Dreams that disturbed her in just one aspect, they were all haunted by the image of a mysterious golden eye that she could never make sense of.
In 1553, Edward died of tuberculosis and after a measly nine-day reign by his cousin Lady Jane Grey, the throne was passed to his older sister, Mary I, who tore down her predecessor’s Protestant rule in favour of Roman Catholicism. At first, Mary was intrigued by Duel Monsters, and ordered Sir Maxwell to create powerful new cards for her own personal use. Disgusted, the explorer circulated the new sets among the court. Her association with Philip II spread the game to his native Spain, and then to Italy. At first, Protestant families were restricted from playing, but after discovering their creator’s betrayal when an opponent played one of her creatures, she outlawed it completely, going so far as to have duellists imprisoned on trumped up charges.
In 1558, Mary died mysteriously after two phantom pregnancies. Ultimately heirless, the throne passed to Elizabeth, who had suffered her half-sister’s wrath and immediately demolished the Catholic regime, reinstating Protestantism as the national religion. On 15 January 1559, Elizabeth’s coronation took place. Despite the wind and cold outside, there was a distinct glow in the Palace of Whitehall as the new monarch was showered with gifts, including the shock return of Sir Maxwell Wyvern, who gave unto her what he described as, “A very special deck, for a very special Queen. I see a great many things in your future, Your Majesty.” Elizabeth felt her cheeks heat up, but hid it behind stern professionalism and waved him off with a simple, “Thank you, Sir Maxwell.” He knew, through the odd air of empathy he carried everywhere, what she really felt. That was good enough for him.
Sebastian Blackwood grew into a strong, athletic young man, and his sister blossomed into a fine example of womanhood. One bright day in the spring of Elizabeth’s first year, the two spent the morning playing across the wooden table in the kitchen. Gwendolyn brushed a few strands of chestnut hair out of her face as she examined her hand and she smiled, slapping her winning card on the game mat.
“I believe that’s another one to me,” she said smugly, “you know, dear brother, since I’m better at this game I should really be the one going to court instead of you.”
Sebastian scoffed, “You may have worked out how I play through all our practise games, but you’d never stand a chance against tournament players.” He looked over at the clock on the wall and began to slip his cards back into their little protective case. “Speaking of which, I should take my leave or I’ll be late. Mr Cecil will have my codling on a stick if I’m late.” He gave his sister a quick peck on the cheek and took off, grabbing his coat and hat from the rack in the hallway. After hearing the front door pull shut, Gwendolyn rested her chin on her hand, puffed out her cheeks and exhaled. She got bored rather quickly and disliked the strict monotony of her home schooling, which was administered by the oh-so-loyal-to-the-family Mrs Nesbitt, who had in fact taught her mother when she was much younger. She liked to think Old Nesbitt was always there, like some inevitable landmark, and the house, nay, the whole city, had been built around her. Maybe if you flicked her hard enough she would crumble into dust…or explode! Yes, yes that would be most fun! To see her go up in a roaring fireball! Gwendolyn’s face split into a wide, cat-like grin and her eyes sparkled mischievously.
“I know that look, dear-heart,” said a velvety voice. Gwendolyn was jolted out of her manic dream state by the feeling of her mother’s slender fingers on her shoulders. “And my answer is still the same. You are not to perform unsavoury acts on your mistress’ clothing while she’s taking her afternoon rest, no matter how funny it may be.”
“Just one little matchstick? She won’t even wake up,” Gwendolyn asked playfully.
“You wouldn’t get within ten paces of her before she asks what you’re up to,” Candida chuckled, patting her daughter’s hair. “Now, I must speak with you regarding matters quite important. Let’s go to my room.” So they went. The bedroom of Candida and her husband was elegant, with a four-poster bed and fine curtains, a portrait of her distinguished father-in-law, the man who established their fortune, and other ornaments and the like. The window of the bedroom showed a far and wide view of the city outside. Mother and daughter sat beside each other on the bed.
“You worry about your brother, don’t you?” asked Candida.
“Sometimes,” Gwendolyn shrugged, “but that’s normal, is it not?”
“Very,” Candida pulled her offspring closer, “but listen, dear-heart, I am going to ask you to do something you may find unusual. I want you to gain employment as a maid at Whitehall. You will be able to keep an eye on your brother during these tournaments of his, for they are what concern me more than anything.”
“But why, Mother?”
“I’ve heard…rumours, unearthly things. I’m sure it’s nothing, but I want to be sure…if it helps, you can keep all your earnings for your dowery. Will you do this for me?”
“You really have to ask?” Gwendolyn smirked. “Of course, I’ve always wanted to see what happens at court anyway…anyway, how hard can a maid’s work be?”
“Harder than you think and don’t you dare to forget it!” a hoarse woman’s voice yelled from the hallway. It could only, of course, have been Mrs Nesbitt. Candida and Gwendolyn looked at each other in disbelief.
“How does she do that?” they asked each other in unison.
Last edited by Duellist Royal : 08-17-2009 at 01:11 PM.
08-17-2009, 01:24 PM
Don't indulge me.
Join Date: Jun 2009
Location: I'm ubiquitous.
Somewhat short, so I suggest putting the first two chapters together to beef up the length. It's amazingly written though, good work.
Originally Posted by themarchhare
There is also a chance that Brad Pitt is hiding in your closet while singing Purple Rain as Prince fellates himself, waiting to spring forth from your Underpants once you read this post while hugging Erik the Red's descendant.
Small chance, but a chance none the less.
Originally Posted by monkmo89
stop following me tcwalter ****
08-17-2009, 02:05 PM
Learning the Ropes
Join Date: Aug 2009
Location: Shoeburyness, U.K.
Tried to take your advice, ShinyPuffy, but the result was too big, hopefully the length of the second chapter will make up for the shortness of the first.
This fic can also be read here, where you can also find Author's Notes from the both of us.
Chapter 2: “A Duellist in Queen Elizabeth’s Court”
The Palace of Whitehall was the favoured residence of the monarchs, and being within the capital Elizabeth more often than not had to forsake her own familiar quarters in order to conduct her royal affairs. As the young Queen sat in her throne with her advisors at her side, a German ambassador stood before them. He bowed respectfully and then straightened himself up. The ambassador’s master, one Prince Ambros the Immortal, had apparently fallen madly in love with the young ruler and now insisted on being permitted to court her, much to Elizabeth’s chagrin and, quite honestly, her disgust. After much forced civil debate, the ambassador eventually said, “My master’s Duellist Royal will arrive by carriage in one month’s time. If his counterpart in your court can best him – and may I add he is so far undefeated - then you shall never hear from him again, but should our man win, you must forgo courtship and wed my master.”
Elizabeth’s cheeks lit up in outrage, visible even through the thick layer of pale make-up she wore. She hesitated, taking a firm hold of her nerves before giving her answer.
“Inform your Prince Ambros that I accept the terms, and also let him know that his so-called champion will taste defeat in this land.”
“His Glorious Highness will be pleased,” said the ambassador. “I will take my leave of you now. Good day to you, Your Majesty.” He bowed again rather briefly and then made his way out of the room, passing by the figure of a tall, strapping man in red in the corridor. One of the advisors, a gentleman called Robert Cecil, bent down to speak in Elizabeth’s ear.
“My Queen, there is one problem with your decision.”
“And that would be?” asked Elizabeth, already aware.
“You don’t have a Duellist Royal,” said Cecil.
“We do have a whole month to prepare, Your Highness,” remarked the other advisor, an older fellow called Sir Francis Walsingham. “We could hold an official tournament, with the winner receiving the honour.”
“Titles are attractive an all, Walsy,” said Elizabeth, “but there is no real incentive. What can we offer that would draw in the attention of skilled duellists?” At this point, the doors opened and in walked a very tall man dressed all in fine crimson. He had smooth, silver hair and smooth brows above his deep, thoughtful eyes.
“Sir Maxwell, this is highly improper,” Walsingham protested, “you must have an appointment before gaining an audience!”
“Ah, then you will not want the solution to your current problem,” Sir Maxwell Wyvern smirked, “I do hope the Queen enjoys Germany.” He turned on his heels and started to walk out when Elizabeth called for him to stop. When asked for his idea, he presented a golden casket. It was rectangular in shape, with an ornate Egyptian eye on the front surrounded by ancient hieroglyphics.
“What is that?” asked the Queen.
“A powerful relic I found in the Valley of the Kings,” replied Wyvern. “My guide there told me it is one of the most sacred treasures in the world. It is called…” He lifted the lid to reveal a collection of gold blocks of various shapes, “the Millennium Puzzle. It belonged to an ancient pharaoh who was believed to have had the luck of the Gods on his side. I propose that along with ownership of the title permanently, the winner of your tournament be given this at Christmas, if that is not incentive then I fear the population is desensitised to value.”
“I will consider your idea, Sir Maxwell,” said Elizabeth, “your thoughts are appreciated.” She held out her hands and the explorer placed the casket in them. Reaching in, she retrieved a piece with the same eye carved into it. She could have sworn it was gazing right into her, past her body and into her soul. She shivered and set it back inside, popping the lid down with a ‘clunk.’ She had a feeling deep inside her that this ‘Puzzle,’ had a great many secrets. Secrets that, mayhap, should never be known to the world. She did not notice her advisors staring in a mix of wonderment and greed at the golden prize.
The notice went out, and it was not long before preparations were underway. In the kitchen at the back of the palace, the maids were deep in conversation about those rumoured to participate. Among their number was Gwendolyn, who had easily found employment thanks to her family’s existing connections with the aristocracy. She was talking with a young and handsome but ultimately scruffy and unkempt stable-boy named Jethro Marrack. The two found a connection through their shared love of Duel Monsters and had been firm friends ever since.
“I reckon you’d beat anyone in that tournament,” he said, picking a stalk of hay out of the mad bushel of his sandy blonde hair. “Bunch of upper-class toffee-noses whose idea of adventure is not taking sugar with their porridge.”
“My brother happens to be one of those ‘upper-class toffee-noses,’ and as it happens he has a potent sweet tooth,” replied Gwendolyn, taking off her maid’s bonnet to swat him across the top of the head with it. A few of the maids laughed. They liked Jethro. Despite his messy appearance and the smell of the stables that followed him, he could be charming and saying he was friendly was an understatement, and yet it was always amusing to see him humbled by one of the girls he occasionally preyed upon.
“As for that remark about me beating anyone,” said Gwendolyn, “I’m inclined to agree with you.”
“Yeah but unless you can somehow pass yourself off as a boy, you’ve no chance,” said Jethro. He went completely still when he saw the thin, sly line growing on her lips. Jethro gulped.
The tournament commenced at the end of the first week, and within two days, only six players remained. On the day of the finals, they were all gathered in the room adjacent to the throne room, wherein the duels took place, under the watchful eye of the Queen. Each of the six had also been given a symbol to mark their status; a brooch of fine silver with a flower-shaped gemstone embedded in the middle. The stone was cold to the touch, cold as a waterfall, and while it appeared to be darkest ebony, one could see green flames dancing in its oblivion depths. A tiny world unto itself. Some of the participants were shuffling their decks or performing other good luck rituals. Two were having a quick little practise to see who could draw the better opening hand. It was these two who were accompanying Sebastian Blackwood (who was playing as the representative of his master, Robert Cecil). Donovan Smyth and Arthur Pomeroy were friends from grammar school, though they had known each other their entire lives. Donovan shuffled his hand back into his deck of cards as Arthur inspected his own hand.
“There’s Lord Whitehawk,” he said, gesturing to a meek, frail man with dark hair and high, sharp cheek bones. He was pacing up and down in anxiety.
“Stop that!” someone screeched. A short fellow with a pointed beard stamped up to Whitehawk and shook him firmly by the shoulders. “You’re giving me a bally migraine, sir, so sit down before I give you something to be anxious about!”
“Rude sort, that one,” Sebastian muttered.
“He’s renowned for it,” replied Arthur. “That’s Wilfred Underhill, heir to the Underhill fortune.”
“The same. Apparently his father’s company fashioned ships for both Sir Maxwell Wyvern and Sir Walter Raleigh.”
“Fancy,” Donovan snorted. Sebastian found himself looking over at a boy standing in the corner. He was wearing rather plain russet-coloured clothes and kept his head bowed so his cap obscured his features. He did not speak to anyone and spurned attempts to socialise if anybody came close. He just stood there, shuffling his cards in contemplation. Suspicion dogged the young man and he continued to watch the mysterious duellist. Eventually, an aid came out of the throne room and called for Sebastian and the stranger, whom he referred to as, ‘Douglas MacWood.’
“Wouldn’t happen to be your Scottish cousin, Blackie?” Donovan chuckled. Sebastian shrugged and followed his opponent to the throne room. He noticed the odd way in which he walked and hmm’d to himself. The interior of the throne room was set out with two tables spaced apart on opposite sides. The Queen’s throne was perfectly between them. Sebastian stopped and bowed, but what caught his eye was Mr MacWood. He bent his legs as if to curtsy, but quickly caught himself and transitioned into a slightly clumsy bow. The Queen looked irked, but let it slide.
“Gentlemen,” she addressed them, “you will now cut and shuffle each other’s decks, then take your seats. The player who goes first will be decided by the flip of a gold piece. Walsy, if you please.” Sir Francis Walsingham emerged from behind the throne, already holding a coin in his outstretched hand. The players slipped their cards from the deck cases on their belts and followed the pre-match courtesies as ordered, then sat down at the tables. Game mats had already been set out for them. Neither really understood why there was so much space between them this time, what they did see was that their brooches now emitted a gentle green glow from the black gemstones.
“Please call it,” said Walsingham, flipping the coin.
“Heads,” said Sebastian quickly.
“Heads it is,” Walsingham nodded. “Mr Blackwood will go first.”
[Begin Duel: Sebastian Blackwood vs. Douglas MacWood]
“May the best man win, Mr MacWood,” Sebastian smiled, making his first draw. “To start off, I’ll play one card face-down and end my turn.” As he set the card on one of the mat’s designated spaces, he saw a thin rectangle of yellow light appear underneath the material and then fade out. He was now feeling apprehensive. What on God’s green Earth was happening? He put it out of his mind. Probably just stress brought on by being in the finals. He never imagined he would get this far. Across the room, Mr MacWood nodded and drew.
“First…” he began. No! Unbelievable! Sebastian had been dubious of this man since he first set eyes on him, but he had not expected this! He could see his features, and the sound of his voice…his hand shook. He gulped. No, he thought to himself, maintain your game face. Answers later. You’re duelling in front of the Queen, by God! Gwendolyn felt just as tense. Even with the slightly deeper falsetto she was putting on, she was not very good at holding it. She dreaded this match-up, Sebastian would recognise her face eventually, she prayed that he would not blow her cover. Sebastian would never do something like that. They both loved the game too much to ruin it for themselves. They had practised for so long at home, but this was real. This was their first real duel.
“First,” she said, “I will discard Hecatrice (1500/1100) to my Graveyard so I can summon this Spell Card from my deck. Valhalla, Hall of the Fallen!” She put down the card and the stone in her brooch shone even brighter. The air around the players seemed to lose stability, rippling like water. With a sound like a most angelic chorus, the throne room was replaced by a magnificent open-air temple with golden columns and a fine, red rug. The Queen seemed to have expected this, as her own throne became an intricately carved marble seat.
“Wha…?” Sebastian choked out. “What happened?”
“Nothing you need to fret about, Mr Blackwood,” said the Queen, “it is simply the magic of the Fairy Pins you now wear. This is no mere card game to be played across a table. This is how Sir Maxwell intended Duel Monsters to be played. Now, Mr MacWood, continue your turn.”
Shaking off the dizzying feeling from the shift in reality, Gwendolyn returned her attention back to her hand. Stay focussed, she told herself, my word, I can actually feel the wind outside this temple…no, don’t let Sebastian down. Have to give him the match he deserves.
“The effect of my Hall of the Fallen,” she said, “is that so long as I have no monsters on the field, I can special-summon a Fairy from my hand…and I summon the Airknight Parshath (1900/1400)!” The card she played glowed and in a burst of light, there appeared in front of her table a beautiful centaur with smooth skin, long golden locks and white fur on his equine legs. Parshath was clad in blue-and-gold armour and a helmet decorated with silver-white feathers. He carried a brilliant sword and shield. The creature let out a groan-like sound that sounded as if he were saying, “My master.” Gwendolyn stared at the handsome beast before her, then shook her head to regain her composure. This was all so…so…so unearthly. So magical.
“Parshath!” she commanded. “Attack his face-down card with your Sword of Hermes!” The centaur reared up on his hind legs and charged forward, swinging his beautiful blade down at the floor just in front of Sebastian. The sword bounced off an invisible barrier and Parshath took several staggering footsteps back. The area where the sword made contact rippled and the hidden monster grew out of the rug. It had the frame of a muscular man covered from head-to-toe in white-gold armour, but its head was like that of a black rhinoceros. It snorted puffs of gas from its nostrils in what sounded like a mocking laugh. Parshath gritted his teeth and returned to his original spot in front of his master.
“As impressive as your Airknight is,” said Sebastian, perhaps a little too smugly, “he’s no match for my Gladiator Beast Hoplomus (700/2100)! And thanks to Hoplomus’ effect, your attack allows me to switch him with another of his brethren. So he returns to the safety of my deck in exchange for Gladiator Beast Murmillo (800/400)!”
Hoplomus winked as he sank back into the rug and another monster grew out in his place. This one was a skinny, dark blue creature with a long torso and arms but short legs and floppy, oversized fins for feet. Its fingers and arms were linked by pink membranous webbing. It wore scant steel-blue armour and a crown above its rubbery lips and yellow eyes.
“And in accordance to Murmillo’s own effect,” said Sebastian, “if he is summoned by the ‘tag-out,’ technique, he can destroy one monster on your side of the field…and that means your Airknight Parshath dies!” Murmillo puffed out its cheeks and then exhaled a stream of large bubbles from its large, round mouth. The bubbles floated towards Parshath and exploded against him. With a pained roar, the centaur shattered like glass and the fragments fizzled out of existence.
“You killed him,” Gwendolyn whispered. Though the card itself remained intact, it was still a horrifying spectacle.
[Sebastian’s L.P.: 8000 / Gwendolyn’s L.P.: 7800]
“Now it is my turn,” said Sebastian, drawing another card, “first, since you’ve no monsters to defend you, Murmillo attacks your Life Points directly with his Bubble Bomb!”
Murmillo puffed up its cheeks again and spat out a single, giant liquid orb straight at the girl. The bubble engulfed Gwendolyn’s head and there was a sickly feeling of suffocation before it exploded. The attack did no physical damage aside from singing her cap and bruising her forehead, but it took a considerable chunk out of her Life Point counter.
“Next,” said Sebastian, “I’ll set one card face down and use my tag-out technique to exchange Murmillo for Gladiator Beast Bestiari (1300/800)!”
Murmillo jiggled its fat lips before sinking into the rug, replaced by yet another of its master’s creatures. This one was a proud bird-man with bright green feathers and a maroon crown. He wore malachite armour with two silver spears mounted on his shoulders and a pair of giant wings composed of crackling light.
“And Bestiari’s effect allows me to destroy one Spell or Trap Card, and I choose to demolish your Hall of the Fallen! Bring it crumbling down, my monster!”
He had never addressed his servants in such a way before, but he was adapting quickly and comfortably to this new level of game-play. Bestiari fired its spears into two of the supporting columns and with a mighty tug, brought them crashing to the floor with an apocalyptic sound. Queen Elizabeth coughed and waved the dust away from her face as the ruins faded, revealing the throne room once again.
“If you’re done playing the theatrical villain,” said Gwendolyn bitterly, “I’ll draw.” She did so, and smiled. “First, I’ll play Graceful Charity, which lets me draw three cards from my hand, providing I discard two cards immediately after.”
In a flash, an angel with a sad smile on her face materialised beside her and lifted the top three cards of the deck. Gwendolyn plucked one from her slender fingers and the angel set the other two in the Graveyard before disappearing.
“Now I’ll play my second Valhalla, Hall of the Fallen!” The throne room transformed into the grand temple again. “And I use its effect to summon Athena (2600/800), the Greek goddess of wisdom!”
In the space once occupied by Parshath, there now stood a tall, statuesque woman in a white robe and silver armour trimmed with bronze, clutching a round shield and a razor-edged caduceus.
“And I’ll normal-summon Majestic Ohka (2400/1400).” A large white wolf covered in red markings appeared beside Athena. The Greek goddess tapped the end of her staff on the ground and the wolf opened its jaws, blowing out a rosy pink mist that engulfed the floor of the temple.
“In accordance with Athena’s effect, when I summon a Fairy while she’s on the field, she can deal 600 points of direct damage to your Life Points.” Athena raised the caduceus and aimed its three glistening points at Sebastian. The young man raised his arms to defend himself as the staff extended at great speed, stopping only as it touched his forehead, letting free a thin trickle of blood before returning to its original length.
“Ohka!” Gwendolyn commanded. “Destroy Bestiari!” The wolf howled and lunged at the bird-man, who took a combat-ready pose to meet the oncoming beast.
“I activate my face-down card!” Sebastian cried. “Defensive Tactics, saving my creature and reducing any battle damage to nil!” A ball of indigo light appeared around Bestiari and Ohka bounced off harmlessly, skidding back into his original position. Athena knelt down to check on her comrade with an expression of concern on her face. The bird-man wagged his finger tauntingly as the ball vanished and the card went to the Graveyard.
“Fine, we’ll play it dirty,” Gwendolyn smirked. “Summoning Ohka without a tribute means she’ll go to the Graveyard at the end of my turn, but I’m going to cheat fate and use Athena’s other effect. By sending Ohka to the Graveyard myself, I can resurrect my Airknight Parshath!”
Ohka howled again as it was engulfed in a column of white light, which parted like a pair of curtains to reveal the centaur. “And that means Athena can deal another 600 points of direct damage.” The caduceus grew towards Sebasatian again, this time he did not bother to raise his arms as the blade drew blood from a spot just above the first cut.
“Since you attacked Bestiari,” he said aloud, wiping the trickling scarlet fluid away with his sleeve, “I’ll use tag-out again, and while he retreats to safety, I’ll call on Gladiator Beast Laquari (1800/400)!” The bird-man crossed his arms over his chest as he sank into the rug and a humanoid tiger clad in orange armour with a gold horn jutting from his helmet took his place. Laquari roared. Athena and Parshath both tensed, drawing their respective weapons close.
[Sebastian’s L.P.: 6800 / Gwendolyn’s L.P.: 7000]
Sebastian drew a card and pointed towards his tiger-beast.
“Laquari!” he cried. “Tear her Airknight to ribbons!” Laquari roared again and bounded across the room. Parshath raised his shield to protect himself but one swipe of Laquari’s claws sent it flying. Another swipe shattered the centaur.
“But Laquari’s attack points are lower than Parshath’s!” Gwendolyn protested.
“Normally yes,” Sebastian replied, “but if you didn’t notice, each of my Gladiator Beasts has a special power that activates when I use the tag-out technique. In Laquari’s case, his attack points are raised to 2100, making him 300 points stronger than Parshath.” The Queen stroked her chin between her thumb and index finger. He has a very powerful combination, she thought, his monsters use one another for maximum strength, but if he gets overconfident he’ll slip up.
“I’ll play one card face-down,” Sebastian continued, “exchange Laquari for Murmillo and destroy Athena.” The tiger-man was replaced by the awkward-bodied fish and just as it had done to the first Parshath it blew out a stream of explosive bubbles that obliterated Athena with a scream of agony.
By now Gwendolyn was beginning to get worked up. Truth be told, her brother had been saving these particular cards for now. She never realised just how deadly he really was. She refused to regret or eat her words about being a superior player. Now was the opportunity to really prove it, if she could just break his sequence. She drew a card.
“I’ll play one card face-down,” she said with struggling calm, “and then summon a monster in face-down defence. I’ll end my turn there.” Her hand was now empty.
[Sebastian’s L.P.: 6800 / Gwendolyn’s L.P.: 6700]
Sebastian drew a card.
“First,” he said, “Murmillo will attack your face-down monster.” The offensive bubbles, however, were useless. As they came close, two spinning hoops of light burst of the floor and sliced them into tinier bubbles that popped harmlessly in mid-air. Two little imps with bean-shaped heads and lapis eyes appeared inside the hoops. They glared at Sebastian and huddled together, linking hands.
“Well if that’s not just adorable,” the older boy sneered.
“Oh dear, you made a mistake. How tragic,” said Gwendolyn sarcastically. “You attacked my Gellenduo (1700/0), and while their defence points are nil, they can’t be destroyed in battle.”
“Fine,” Sebastian growled, “but the attack still counts, so I can exchange Murmillo for Laquari.” The fish was replaced by the tiger-man. The Gellendou blew raspberries at him and he snarled hatefully in response.
“If that’s all,” said Gwendolyn, “I’ll just draw and pass my turn there.”
[Sebastian’s L.P.: 6800 / Gwendolyn’s L.P.: 6700]
Drawing his next card, Sebastian contemplated his next move. It may not damage her Life Points, but if I have Laquari attack, I can switch him for Murmillo and remove Gellenduo from the field with his effect. You’re an intelligent duellist, ‘Mr MacWood,’ but I’m the one who taught you everything you know about this game.
“I summon Gladiator Beast Andal (1900/1500)!” he declared.
A towering black bear appeared next to Laquari. It wore purple armour and its left eye had been gouged out, leaving a sealed and scarred lid. Judging by the aura of courage it radiated, whatever terrible incident that blinded it could only serve to anger the beast, not humble it.
“And Laquari attacks Gellenduo!” The tiger-man glanced at his master, grinned knowingly, and charged. Rather than being stopped by the hoops, Laquari was caught in a field of aqua blue light. His limbs outstretched and his body paralysed, Laquari roared indignantly. The field dissipated and Laquari collapsed at Andal’s feet. The bear knelt down to aid his fellow gladiator.
“You forgot my face-down card,” Gwendolyn chuckled. “My Draining Shield negates the attack of your monster and increases my Life Points by its attack points. Since Laquari never actually made contact with Gellenduo, you can’t pull your little magic trick. But don’t be disheartened, this is just getting fun!”
“My sentiments exactly,” Sebastian replied, “so make your move, my friend.”
[Sebastian’s L.P.: 6800 / Gwendolyn’s L.P.: 8800]
“Gladly,” said Gwendolyn, drawing. When she saw the new addition to her hand, she smiled. “First, I’ll play this Spell Card, Sanctuary in the Sky!” All around them, the Hall of the Fallen began to change. Its components mixed like paint dancing in a cup of water. The open-air temple split wide and now the duellists found themselves on a stone landing between two marble staircases, one leading down to the open air, for they were now standing on an island floating through the wide blue yonder. The other staircase led up to the entrance of a glorious new temple, one that was built from different levels of marble architecture, squat buildings and round coliseums, all gravitating around a single column, and mounted atop that was a statue with two arms curving upwards with a featureless globe nestled between them. The Queen’s throne was at the top of the ascending stairs and she looked just a little nervous. The magical world created by the Fairy Pins was starting to become a little too dangerous for her liking.
“Here’s the best part,” said Gwendolyn, gesturing to the island around them. “While my Sanctuary in the Sky is active, I take no battle damage so long as my Fairies are involved in combat. Next I’ll sacrifice my Gellenduo to summon…”
The two imps danced around each other as their hoops spun faster, carrying them higher and higher until they faded into the rays of the strange world’s sun. There was a bright flash and the sound of a horse neighing. A glowing collection of gold-and-blue pieces of armour and silver-white feathers assembled themselves above the girl. An ivory mask materialised under the winged helmet and green lights illuminated its empty eyepieces.
“Neo-Parshath, the Sky Paladin (2300/2000)!”
“Awe-inspiring,” Elizabeth whispered.
“My God,” Sebastian croaked.
“Close but not quite,” Gwendolyn smirked, quite overtaken herself, “and because of my Sanctuary in the Sky, Neo-Parshath’s power increases depending on the difference between our Life Points. So he now has 4300 attack points and 4000 defence points!” Sebastian felt a lump rise in his throat.
“Neo-Parshath! Annihilate Laquari!”
The tiger-man roared in fear as the angelic being raised its huge sword over its head and swung it downwards. The blade sliced the gladiator neatly in half down the middle. The two halves shattered into fragments and the shockwaves toppled Andal onto its side and pushed Sebastian back so he almost fell off his chair.
[Sebastian’s L.P.: 4600 / Gwendolyn’s L.P.: 8800]
Steadying himself, the young man drew a card, and a confident smile spread over his face. This is where things will start going my way.
“I’ll play this Spell Card!” he announced. “Lightning Vortex! By paying the cost of one card, I can destroy Neo-Parshath.” The white clouds surrounding the Sanctuary turned black and a rain of lightning enveloped the glowing phantom, reducing it to dust on the wind.
“Blast you,” Gwendolyn growled. “You’ll pay for this.”
“Not yet,” Sebastian replied arrogantly. “Next I’ll summon Gladiator Beast Dimacari (1600/1200) to the field!” A humanoid buffalo with black horns and red-and-cobalt armour materialised next to Andal. “And my monsters will attack together for double the carnage!”
The bear and buffalo jumped towards Gwendolyn and delivered an almighty simultaneous punch to Gwendolyn’s stomach. The girl spat up blood as she tumbled out of her chair and onto the marble landing. When he saw his sister lying prone there, he paused. Feeling their master’s mixed emotions of fear and doubt, the two gladiators looked at each other, then at him questioningly, like the warriors of the ancient Roman circus awaiting Caesar’s judgement.
“C…continue your move, Mr Blackwood,” said Queen Elizabeth, although she too was also worried for the other player.
“I…I use the…the tag-out technique to exchange Dimacari for Bestiari and destroy the Sanctuary in the Sky.” Dimacari vanished and the bird-man took his place. The spears launched from his shoulders, this time into the central statue. As it came down, it smashed through the main building and Valhalla, Hall of the Fallen reasserted itself as the battlefield. Did I go too far? Sebastian wondered. I didn’t know…oh God, please, let her be all right…
A long pause followed, then Gwendolyn groaned. She forced herself up on all fours, letting her cap drop to the floor as she struggled back into her chair. A trickle of scarlet stained her chin. She swallowed blood and drew her next card.
“I…” she groaned. “…I…s-set one c-card in face-down defence…and…and end my turn.” She forced an encouraging smile to her face.
[Sebastian’s L.P.: 4600 / Gwendolyn’s L.P.: 5300]
Sebastian drew a card.
“First I’ll summon another Andal to the field,” he said. A second black bear appeared beside the first and the two nodded to each other in acknowledgement. This one had lost its right eye rather than its left. “And my second Andal attacks your face-down monster.” The monster roared and swiped down at the floor with its huge paw. An orange wreath wrapped in teal ribbon rose from the rug and shattered.
“That was my…N-Nova Summoner (1400/800),” Gwendolyn explained, “and when it’s sent to the Graveyard, I am allowed to special-summon another Light Fairy from my deck…and I choose my second Nova Summoner in face-up defence position.” Another wreath appeared, this one with two wings d***** over it.
I’ve still got dominance over the field, thought Sebastian, so if I keep destroying her monsters, she’ll lose through attrition. He repeated the same move, and a third Summoner came forth. When the cycle occurred again, Gwendolyn called forth a different creature.
“I summon Shining Angel (1400/800) in face-up defence,” she said, pausing to swallow more blood welling in her mouth. She was starting to feel sick, however, it is a fact that a human can approximately ingest a pint of blood before any unpleasantness occurs, and while Gwendolyn did not know this herself, she was still quite capable of concentrating on the task at hand. As she played the card, a young man wearing a white toga and with four golden wings appeared. He knelt down and crossed his arms over his chest while his wings d***** protectively around him to form a feathery, ball-shaped shield.
“I’ll end my turn by switching Bestiari for Murmillo,” said Sebastian as the fish-beast rose up to take the bird-man’s position. “And use his effect to destroy your Shining Angel.” Murmillo attacked with his incendiary bubbles, smashing the wing-shield and killing the angel in a blast of light.
Gwen drew and smiled weakly.
“With n-no monsters on the field…” she bit back her discomfort to speak more clearly, “my Hall of the Fallen lets me summon a Fairy monster, and I choose to summon Tethys, Goddess of Light (2400/1800)!”
Sebastian mentally kicked himself. Curses! He should have destroyed that card while he had the chance! Now the tables were beginning to turn against him! A giant celestial entity flashed into existence. She had a doll-like, pale face with big, black eyes and long, dark silver hair that flowed more than the wind could have logically caused it to. She wore a wide-sleeved white dress that trailed behind her, adorned with an armoured vest of silver, blue and gold and a gold crown embedded with many magnificent gemstones. There was a pair of sparkling wings attached to her back with the aid of two sapphire orbs.
The goddess of light cupped her hands together at arm’s length as a star of solid light appeared between her palms. The Gladiator Beasts withdrew nervously as she whispered a chant in some unknown archaic language and threw the star forward. It struck Murmillo in the heart and the fish groaned before shattering. Tethys knitted her fingers together as if in prayer as she stood in front of her master.
[Sebastian’s L.P.: 3000 / Gwendolyn’s L.P.: 5300]
Sebastian drew and thought to himself, No! This is a poor draw…there’s nothing I can do.
“I pass,” he murmured. He would regret it. He was fumbling, losing focus, failing. The sight of his sister’s bleeding and wounded body had shaken him and thrown off his instincts.
As Gwen drew, she looked across at her brother.
“Because of Tethys’ effect,” she said, “when I draw a Fairy monster, I can show it to you in order to draw another card. So here’s the card I drew, the Agent of Force – Mars…so…” Another swallow. “I draw another card, and once again I’ll show it to you, it’s Zeradias, Herald of Heaven, and draw a third card. This one is a Spell Card, Cestus of Dagla, which I equip to Tethys, giving her an extra 500 attack points.” Tethys smiled and reached behind her, retrieving two weapons with gold, D-shaped blades.
“N-next, I p-play my second Sanctuary in the Sky!”
Valhalla swirled around them until they were back on the floating island.
“And finally I summon the Agent of Force – Mars (0/0), and while my Sanctuary exists, the difference between our Life Points becomes his attack and defence, putting him at 2300 for both.” A red-skinned man appeared beside Tethys. He wore a deep crimson sash and broad breechcloth affixed by a bronze belt. A pair of violet wings extended from his back and he clutched a long pole in both hands, tipped on one end with a double-pronged blade and on the other with a vicious mallet.
“Now, Tethys, destroy the first Andal!”
The goddess pointed the blade in her right hand at the bear and a beam of brilliant green power shot out, impaling the enemy monster like a spear and sucking the life out of it, leaving a skeleton and an empty suit of armour that broke against the marble floor. Tethys aimed the blade in her left hand at her master and the same beam flowed into Gwendolyn.
“When a monster using Cestus of Dagla damages an opponent’s Life Points,” she explained, “it increases my own Life Points by just as much, widening the difference between us and also increasing my Agent of Force’s power even more. Now, Mars, crush the second Andal!”
Mars released a menacing bellow as he ran forward, plunging the blades at the bottom of his staff into the bear’s stomach. With a mighty heave, he tossed the animal into the air and then followed it. With an evil twinkle in his white eyes, he swung the mallet down, concaving the bear’s skull and plunging it hard into the floor where it shattered. Gwendolyn picked her cap up and jammed it back on her head. “And the game is mine.”
[Sebastian’s L.P.: 0 / Gwendolyn’s L.P.: 7300]
[End Duel: Winner – Douglas MacWood]
The Sanctuary disappeared, fading gently out of view, leaving just the throne room at Whitehall. Mars and Tethys bowed as they too vanished, returning to sleep in their cards. Sir Francis Walsingham emerged from behind the Queen’s chair to declare the winner.
“The victory goes to Mr Douglas MacWood,” he said.
“Great,” Gwendolyn croaked, then promptly collapsed from exhaustion. Sebastian raced towards his sister and knelt by her side, propping up her head with his hand. She could not hear what he was saying and her vision was blurring, rendering everything as just shapes and lights viewed through decorative glass. Don’t give me away, you twit, she thought before the sucking oblivion of unconsciousness took her.
08-17-2009, 03:56 PM
Join Date: Dec 2005
It would be called Yu-Gi-Jo-Oh!
Chaosruler52: On a side note I think Elemental Hero Bubbleman should be banned, I can only shutter to think of the power of bubbles.
08-18-2009, 08:09 PM
King of Hypocrisy
Join Date: Jan 2009
Location: Suriname, South-America
My my, this is written very well. I'm gratefull the fanfiction section of today has a reasonable set of fresh-writers who write just wonderfully.
Keep up the good work sir.
~Zerachiel van Mark~
"Evolve yourself, without preventing the evolution of others"
The Fanfiction writer & Artist, at your service.
Hail the Grammar Nazi's, have mercy with the Mad Scholars and bow to the Frustration threads. The only things worth visiting on Pojo - before they were all abolished, that is.
08-19-2009, 05:56 AM
Learning the Ropes
Join Date: Aug 2009
Location: Shoeburyness, U.K.
This fic can also be read here, where you can also find Author's Notes and an original card list.
Chapter 3: “Over Hill and Underhill”
The palace kitchen was always warm and strangely comfortable. Perhaps that was why Jethro liked it. His close companionship with the staff had led to him becoming something of an unknown resident. Rather than let him sleep in the cold stables with the horses he cared for, they had built a low camping bed behind one of the larger stoves. It was this bed that Gwendolyn was presently occupying, wrapped in blankets as she lay recovering from the physical assault she had suffered at the hands of Dimacari and Andal. Sebastian paced back and forth across the kitchen. He had been the one to carry his prone sister to this little sanctuary.
“What in the Good Lord’s name were you thinking, woman?!” he exclaimed. “Oh, wait, I forget! You weren’t thinking at all, were you?!”
Gwen curled tighter under the blanket and responded with a hint of whining, “It’s not my fault. You’re the one who ordered the attack, you know.”
“You cheeky little…!” Sebastian growled and pointed to the two tiny red marks on his forehead. “I didn’t know! I thought this was the worst that could happen!” Nearby, the cook was peeling potatoes and watching the exchange with interest. Molly Randolph, known to the younger staff members as ‘Mother Molly,’ or ‘Old Ma Randolph,’ was a Scots woman with a relaxed demeanour who took everything in her stride. Noisy little Sassenach, she thought, not quite sure how a simple card game could cause so much uproar.
“And besides, that’s not even the point!” Sebastian spluttered. “The point is that you entered this tournament under false pretences. You do realise what could happen if you’re exposed, don’t you?” He made a noise in the back of his throat while crossing his finger over his neck.
“Well,” Molly spoke up, “whennit comes tae enterin’ an’ all that, Ah dinnae see how any of us coulda stopped the wee lass. After all, ye may talk like London jessies, but yer family’s Scottish tae the core.”
“What makes you say that?” asked Sebastian. It was true that their grandfather had come down from Scotland in his younger days, but the siblings and their parents had all been raised in the midst of London life.
“Ye don’t look before ye leap, boy,” said Molly. Gwendolyn poked her head out from under her blanket.
“Answer me this, Seb,” she croaked, “would I have been allowed to compete otherwise?”
“Well…no,” Sebastian admitted, “but is a piece of jewellery and a fancy title really worth it?”
“That’s not-” Gwendolyn began, interrupted by a bout of coughing. Molly promptly ushered Sebastian towards the door.
“Now if wi’ ye,” she said. “Can ye no’ see the lass dinnae feel no weel?” The young man nodded and beat a hasty retreat from the room. As he escaped into the hallway, he almost bumped into an imposing, broad-shouldered man dressed all in black. He had a lofty domed forehead and a long, thin nose. His thick eyebrows almost met in the middle over piercing eyes the colour of flint. This was not a man to be trifled with.
“Sebastian, my boy,” said Robert Cecil in a smooth, slow manner, “to think, I chose you over all the other duellists in my employ to represent me, and you still disappoint me. Still, brave heart, child, victory may still be ours.”
Sebastian was not quite sure how to reply to this ominous declaration. Something about his master always made him feel small and weak, unsure of himself. The only thing he could manage was a rather tiny, “Sir?” Cecil clapped a hand with long, spidery fingers on the boy’s shoulder and pulled him close, bending down so they were at eye level.
“I smell a rat,” he whispered, “and the best thing to do with rats is…to remove them.” The young pageboy paled as the man’s intentions made themselves clear. O calamity! O misfortune! “MacWood was injured, I saw you leading him away from the throne room after your match. Pray tell where you took him.”
“I helped him as far as the gate, sir,” Sebastian replied quickly. “After that he said he could walk on his own.”
“When the day’s games are not yet over?” asked Cecil, feigning confusion. “He must live quite close, then. You wouldn’t lie to me now, would you?”
“Of course not, sir,” Sebastian shook his head. “Perish the thought, I say.” Cecil’s eyes darkened as some calculating clockwork clicked and clanged behind them. There was always something not quite right about this man. He could render men to gibbering puddles of flesh with just a few sounds of that devilish tone.
“I see,” he murmured after a moment. “Then come, we’ve work to do.” He steered Sebastian ahead of him, all the time they walked his eyes burned into the back of his servant’s head, as if he were peering right into his mind. Following a few minutes of walking in complete silence, he said without a flicker of real meaning, “Your lack of ability to remain focussed aside, I’m sure you used your deck well. I shall have to increase the number of lessons to ensure you do not fail again.”
“Yes, sir,” whispered Sebastian.
A couple of hours passed, and Gwendolyn had sufficiently healed. Now back in her more comfortable maid’s attire, she sat at the wooden kitchen table, sorting through her deck as Molly stirred a large pot of stew. Gwendolyn held her Parshath card up to the light. The armoured centaur’s eyes now gave off a green sparkle of life. She felt a pang of guilt at the abuse the poor thing had suffered in the last conflict.
“I wonder what they think when they’re called into battle,” she mused.
“Well, bein’ made from parchment an’ such, darlin’,” said Molly, “Ah shouldnae say they think much at all, but then Ah’m just the cook. Whit do Ah know about such things?”
“No, this was different, Molly,” said Gwendolyn. She reached for the Fairy Pin resting on the table and picked it up. “There’s something about these brooches they gave us. I don’t know how they work, but when we duelled with these on our cards were brought to life!” Molly stopped stirring and lifted up the little trinket. She gazed at it for a while as if searching through her memory. Finally, she shrugged and popped it back in the girl’s hand.
“Wonderful whit they can make these days.”
Gwendolyn smiled at her. The door of the kitchen opened and Jethro poked his head round.
“They’re setting up your next match, Gwen,” he reported.
“Who’s my opponent?” she asked.
“I dunno,” he shrugged. “Probably some posh nob.”
“Well that narrows it down,” Gwendolyn rolled her eyes. She stood up and walked over to the corner, unbuttoning her dress to remove the stomacher underneath. She glanced over her shoulder and saw Jethro still standing there.
“If you want your eyes to remain in your head,” she glowered, “I’d suggest you leave.”
“Pff! You’ve nothing I haven’t seen already,” the stable-boy replied, turning his nose up and disappearing from the room just as a wooden spoon flew through the air and banged against the door. Molly, who had previously descended into the cellar, returned carrying a neatly folded pile of pale blue and grey clothes, a brown cap and a red sash. Upon seeing this last article, Gwendolyn winced, “Ooh, I hate this part.”
“Look, dearie,” Molly told her, tapping her foot impatiently, “if they aren’t completely flat, someone will notice.” The girl sighed and finished disrobing, then lifted her arms up above her head.
“Brace yerself,” said the cook. With that, the sash was pulled tight, crushing Gwendolyn’s small breasts to her torso. She squawked breathlessly, “Too tight!” Molly shook her head. How in the world had she let herself get talked into this ridiculous cross-dressing business? Well, she loved her girls (for that was how she saw the maids) and she would do anything for them, so maybe it was her own softness at fault.
There were few individuals as downright repulsive as Wilfred Underhill. From his greasy bowl cut hair and ridiculous goatee to his slime green clothes and his likely out-of-proportion codpiece. He had never worked a day in his life and had been given everything. He acted as if he were a person of absolute importance, and was the only one who thought so. Even his parents were rumoured to carry a level of disdain for their irritating offspring. Now in his teens, he was just as childish as he had ever been. He now sat at one of the duelling tables in the throne room, arms crossed and tapping one gloved finger against the crook of the opposing arm.
“Where is he?” he screeched. “He is already five minutes late! Surely that means a disqualification!” He looked towards the throne. The Queen remained silent as Sir Francis Walsingham and Robert Cecil stood at either side of her, barely able to maintain eye contact with the spiteful little goblin.
“There is nothing in the rules regarding time limits, Mr Underhill,” Walsingham sighed.
“Well there should be!” Underhill spat. “I can’t waste my time here all day! Honour as it may be to duel in the presence of Her Majesty, I’ve a business to run and ships to build!”
“As if,” Cecil muttered. Walsingham smirked.
“What are you snickering about?!”
“Oh, nothing,” Cecil smiled innocently. The doors opened and Douglas MacWood entered.
“Please forgive my lateness, Your Majesty, sirs,” he said, bowing apologetically.
“You are forgiven,” said the Queen, thankful she no longer had to listen to the little green man’s sniping.
“Please take your seat, Mr MacWood, so we may begin.”
“Do not let it happen again,” Walsingham added.
“It’s about time,” Underhill grumbled. Just as before, the players cut and shuffled each other’s decks, then Walsingham flipped a coin and the call was made. It landed in favour of MacWood.
[Begin Duel: Douglas MacWood vs. Wilfred Underhill]
MacWood drew his opening hand of six.
“First,” he said, “I’ll play a Field Spell, Sanctuary in the Sky.”
The throne room shuddered and melted as it was replaced by the flying city. Underhill glanced over his shoulder at the marble staircase behind him. He made a nervous noise when he saw it led to nothing and scooted a little further in, although there was already plenty of space for him providing he did nothing silly. The Queen and her advisors had their vantage point at the top of the ascending stairs. Cecil looked around in interest, brushing his beard between finger and thumb.
“Now I’ll set a monster in face-down defence and end my turn,” MacWood continued.
Underhill hmm’d to himself as he drew his own first hand.
“I’ll summon my Leghul (300/350) in attack mode,” he announced. His eyes widened as his creature rose from the marble floor. It was a purple, segmented earwig with two large mandibles and three rows of spines leading down its body towards a pincer on its tail. It was only as long as one’s arm, but the sight of it made MacWood shiver.
Underhill gathered himself, encouraged by his opponent’s posture. Scared of my lovely mini-beast, he thought, joy. “My Leghul’s effect,” he explained, “is that despite his low points, he can bypass your defences and attack your Life Points directly. Go, Leghul!”
The earwig chirped and clicked hungrily. It squirmed along the floor a little, pulled itself into a tight coil and sprung forward. MacWood reacted by raising his hand to swat it away but the creature still managed to sink its sharp mandibles into his palm before it bounced back to its starting point. The enemy duellist looked at the two pink bite marks on his skin.
“Finally,” said Underhill, “I’ll lay a card face-down and end my turn.”
[MacWood’s L.P.: 7700 / Underhill’s L.P.: 8000]
Didn’t take my bait, MacWood thought as he drew, no matter, I’ll just have to take the offensive, if anything to get that disgusting Insect off the field.
“I activate my face-down monster, Nova Summoner (1400/800) and destroy your Leghul!”
An orange wreath wrapped in teal ribbon rose out of the floor. Blob-like particles were pulled from the sky in all directions, gathering as a single ball in the middle of the wreath. It fired off like a cannonball and smashed the earwig to smithereens. Underhill’s lips quivered like an animal’s. He drew.
“You’ll regret hurting my lovely little pet,” he growled. “First, I’ll play Verdant Sanctuary.” Cracks opened up all over the landing and the two staircases as various tropical plants and thin trees grew up in seconds, beating nature’s progress by decades. Leaves and grass sprouted and birdsong and bug-hum could be heard, though as far as the players and the spectators could tell, there were no new life-forms yet.
“Marvellous, isn’t it?” Underhill chortled.
“Get on with it,” MacWood huffed. “I’m used to this magic now.”
“Fine, be a spoilsport, see if I care!” the bug-man snorted. “By removing Leghul from play completely, I can summon this. Aztekipede, the Worm Warrior (1900/400)!”
The Sanctuary rumbled as a new monster burst out of one of the cracks in the floor. Its flat, green body was lined on both sides by a multitude of stubby purple legs. Four compound eyes stared out of its grey head. A pair of violet tusks curved out under its skull with a four-jawed mouth between them, which slid open to reveal two rows of disturbingly human teeth, from which hung white-yellow strands of saliva. Raised up on half its body, the monster stood three times taller than its master.
“They just keep getting uglier, don’t they?” remarked MacWood.
“Shut your mouth!” Underhill snapped. “Aztekipede will now take a big bite out of your Nova Summoner!” The giant arthropod reared back and howled hungrily. Its jaws opened wide and snapped shut around the Nova Summoner, scattering the wreath’s twigs and ferns to the wind. “And due to his effect, the top card from your deck goes to your graveyard.”
“Then I lose my Guardian Angel Joan (2800/2000),” said MacWood, confirming the loss, “and with the destruction of my Nova Summoner, I can call on another monster in its stead. Normally that monster’s attack points must be 1500 or lower, but since my Sanctuary in the Sky is active, I can summon this card…” The sound of a horse neighing echoed throughout the flying temple and an armoured centaur appeared before its master. “…My Airknight Parshath (1900/1400). Now it’s my turn.”
[MacWood’s L.P.: 7700 / Underhill’s L.P.: 6900]
He drew, then shook his head and said, “I pass.”
Underhill drew, and a wide, stupid grin grew on his lips.
“First, a change of scenery is in order,” he tittered, “so let’s do away with your Sanctuary of the Sky and replace it with my Forest.”
Those gathered felt their stomachs rise in their throats as the Sanctuary plummeted, crashing to the ground with such a thunderous impact it almost sent everyone flying. They had landed in the heart of endless woodland. The trees already breaking up the surface of the marble expanded, becoming bigger and thicker. The bright day became eerie night, with a full moon floating high above. MacWood and Parshath looked around as strange sounds reverberated through the foliage.
“Prepare yourself, my foolish friend,” Underhill sneered, “because this is where the wild things are. First, I’ll tribute my Aztekipede in order to summon my Insect Princess (1900/1200).”
The Insect monster bent down as an olive-coloured cocoon materialised around it. There was a hideous wet sound of eating and smacking lips, and when the cocoon opened the Aztekipede was gone. In its place there now stood a woman. Or at least it looked like a woman. She had soft yellow skin that glistened in the moonlight, four arms gloved in violet, white compound eyes and antennae longer than her limbs stretching out from a black crest that framed her face. Two beautiful wings spread out behind her and an eldritch glow radiated from every pore.
She was much easier to look at than Underhill’s other minions, but her human frame made her even weirder. She smiled submissively at Parshath, and the centaur actually blushed.
“Show some pride,” MacWood groaned.
“My Insect Princess is the pinnacle of beauty in her race,” fawned Underhill, “just like you, Your Majesty.” The Queen looked ill. What a positively frightful thing to imply!
“I’m not finished yet,” said Underhill, “for now I activate my face-down Trap Card, Tribal Make-Up.” Rhythmic drums beat a tune in the distance and two blue-skinned women dressed in breechcloths, headdresses and jewellery made from bones and fangs danced out of the trees. They surrounded Parshath, chanting a repetitive song. Out of the darkness there also popped a blue-skinned man in similar attire, his face obscured by a huge demonic mask that stretched from a foot above his head to midway down his stomach. He was rattling a staff covered in all manner of charms and holding out a carved wooden bowl full of green powder. He blew the powder into Parshath’s face and the centaur started coughing.
“That’s bloody sabotage!” MacWood exclaimed, not realising that he had just cursed in front of the monarch. The witchdoctor shook his staff at Parshath and then hopped away into the forest with his dancers close behind. When the dust cleared, the skin of the centaur’s upper body had turned from bleached white to dark green, two antennae extended from under his helmet and his feathers had been replaced by the same silky membrane that made up the Princess’ wings.
“Tribal Make-Up changes all monsters on the field to a type of my choosing,” Underhill explained, “and of course I chose ‘Insect’. Next, my Princess will take your Airknight. Go, O mistress of the green horizon.” The Princess fluttered her wings and hovered several inches into the air, then glided towards Parshath.
“Don’t fall for it!” MacWood cried. “Girls like her are a penny a dozen!” His attempts to shout some sense into his monster were sadly for naught. Using her lower arms, the Princess pushed the Airknight’s shield and sword down while her upper hands gently clasped his head. She pressed her lips to his. MacWood’s expression made it clear he was about to be violently sick. They all heard a cracking sound and Parshath’s eyes opened wide.
The veins on his face were protruding thickly and had turned an unhealthy purple colour. The Princess whispered something his ear and the centaur staggered back, dropping his weapons and clutching his throat. He sank to his knees and exploded into fragments.
“Due to the power of my Forest,” Underhill explained, “my Insect Princess gained an extra 200 attack points, and the death of your Airknight gives her another 500, raising her attack to 2600. Try and wriggle out of my web now.”
[MacWood’s L.P.: 7400 / Underhill’s L.P.: 6900]
“Poisonous little bunch-backed toad,” MacWood mumbled, drawing his card. So long as his Tribal Make-Up remains on the field, his Princess can keep preying on my creatures, so that’ll be the first to go. “I play the Spell Card, Mystical Space Typhoon.”
A powerful wind blew. The trees bent and swayed as the witchdoctor and his dancers were sucked out of their hiding places and disappeared into a swirling black abyss in the sky. The Insect Princess clutched the soil with all four hands and MacWood held his cap down with a more confident smirk on his face.
“Next, I’ll play Valhalla, Hall of the Fallen.”
Parts of the forest collapsed as the Queen’s throne became one of marble and patches of an ankle-deep red rug grew from the earth below. White columns shot up and the moon was replaced by a warm and delicious sun. The Insect Princess looked around her in wonderment, then nodded in approval.
“You’re supposed to be on my side you Jezebel!” Underhill hissed at her. The Princess shrugged him off, appreciating the more royal setting befitting her status. Elizabeth was also glad for more familiar surroundings. There was an aura of warmth and courage from Valhalla.
“And Valhalla allows me to special-summon a Fairy from my hand so long as I’ve no other monsters on the field,” MacWood continued, “and I call upon Athena (2600/800), the Greek goddess of wisdom.” A beautiful warrior woman in white appeared. “Now I’ll normal-summon Shining Angel (1400/800) in attack mode!” A young man with four golden wings appeared next to Athena. “One of Athena’s effects is that when I summon one of her fellow Fairies, she can deal 600 points of direct damage to your Life Points. Ready to show him what a real woman can do, Athena?”
“Mm-hmm!” Athena grunted. She bellowed proud bloodlust and swung her caduceus above her head and aimed it straight at the shuddering Underhill. The staff extended, *****ed his forehead and returned to its normal length. Underhill blinked. He put a hand to his forehead, then brought it to eye level and stared at the spilt blood. He made a noise in the back of his throat that sounded a lot like mimble-wimble.
“Had enough yet, my friend?” MacWood chuckled. “Tough! Now I’ll use Athena’s other effect, which allows me to send one Fairy to my graveyard in exchange for another Fairy. Ascend to the kingdom of heaven, Shining Angel.” White rays shone down from the sky as the Shining Angel spread its wings and flew up into the air, disappearing into the afterlife.
“And I resurrect…”
The rays swung away like strips of parchment in the wind as a woman slightly taller than the already vertically advanced Athena appeared. She had bobbed red hair and tanned skin, from which glowed two sapphire eyes. She wore a beautiful white dress framed with gold-and-silver metal and a long matching scarf that twirled around her body and flowed across the ground. Two transparent saffron wings spread out behind her.
“My Guardian Angel Joan (2800/2000)!”
Athena and Joan looked at each other like old friends meeting after so many lost years. They clasped hands and nodded acknowledgements, then turned to Underhill with fire in their eyes. The Insect Princess stared wide-eyed at the two women, a young girl witnessing the glory she always hoped to have for herself.
“And Athena deals you another 600 points.”
Athena’s caduceus struck Underhill a second time, right between the eyes. He muttered and spluttered, gasped and gaped, squawked and gawked.
“Now, Joan!” MacWood actually stood up as her blood pumped from exhilaration. “Kill the Insect Princess with Light of Reckoning!” Joan stretched out one hand and thin yellow strings fired out of her fingertips, plunging into the Insect Princess’ heart and out of her back, impaling her against the ground.
“My Princess!” Underhill screamed. The defeated monster’s body evaporated into particles that spiralled into the gemstone in MacWood’s brooch. The ghost of a last enraptured smile was on her cold face. The Fairy duellist took a deep, relaxing breath.
“Thought I’d let you know, Mr Underhill,” he said, “that when Joan slays an opponent, I gain Life Points equal to its original attack, which I believe was 1900, yes?”
“Y…y-yes…” Underhill choked.
“Your turn,” MacWood smiled.
Cecil was utterly transfixed by the battle. He was wringing his hands tightly and thinking to himself, My God, the power this boy has. No wonder he defeated Sebastian, even with all the training I gave him.
[MacWood’s L.P.: 9300 / Underhill’s L.P.: 5500]
Underhill hesitated. His hand shook over his deck. Forcing it to become still, he drew and examined his available cards.
“While my Verdant Sanctuary is on the field,” he said, “when one of my Insects is destroyed, I can add another one of equal level from my deck to my hand, and the Princess’ level was six.” He did so. “Now I play Card of Sanctity, so we both draw until we have six cards each.”
A shower of coins rained down on them until one struck the corner of each deck, flipping four into his hand and three into MacWood’s. “I’ll play one card face-down and summon my second Leghul to attack your Life Points directly!” Another purple earwig sprung out of the grass and sailed towards its target. Joan and Athena attempted to block it but the little creature actually travelled through the gap beneath their crossed arms and planted its mandibles in the same spot as the first did. MacWood grunted in pain and shook his arm until the Leghul let go and scampered back to its own side of the field. Joan made a grinding motion with her foot and the bug clicked at her challengingly.
MacWood drew and immediately played his new card.
“I summon Majestic Ohka in attack mode,” he announced. The white wolf appeared between the warrior women and growled as its body markings shone and a rosy mist covered the floor of the battlefield, almost totally screening the miniscule Leghul. A third ***** from the caduceus. “Ohka, bite that Leghul in half!” Ohka howled and pounced.
“Activate Trap Card!” Underhill shrieked. “Windstorm of Etaqua!” The sky turned a dirty yellow and a murder of black crows swooped over, kicking up a gust that sprayed sand and dirt up into the faces of MacWood’s servants, who got down on their knees and covered themselves for protection. The wind died down a few moments later but the monsters remained where they were. “This card automatically sends all your face-up monsters into defence position.”
“You’re tricky, I’ll give you that,” MacWood frowned. “Since I summoned Ohka without a tribute, she should go to my graveyard, but instead I’ll use Athena’s second effect and exchange her for my Airknight Parshath, who is unaffected by your Windstorm. I should really put your Leghul out of its misery, but I’m happy with picking you apart slowly. It’s more fun that way, so I’ll settle for the 600 points Athena deals you.”
Athena and Joan looked with slightly disapproval at their master as Parshath replaced Ohka on the field. The centaur’s nose was wrinkled up and his lips were sucked in as if biting into a lemon. He was fearful of another kiss of death, but relaxed when he saw the Princess had long since been felled. Despite her inclinations, Athena lowered her shield and struck Underhill higher up on his forehead with the fourth attack from her caduceus.
[MacWood’s L.P.: 8400 / Underhill’s L.P.: 4300]
“You’ll regret your arrogance,” Underhill sniped as he drew.
“Heh! Look who’s talking,” MacWood scoffed. Underhill snorted indignantly.
“I’ll play this card, so say your farewells to Athena and Joan!” he taunted. Two white streams of silk fired from somewhere in the shadows and wrapped themselves around the confused warrior women. They struggled as their arms were pinned to their sides and their legs were sealed together by the webbing. MacWood reached out futilely as the duo were dragged away from her and disappeared. He recoiled in fear when he heard an almighty crunch of bones and the sloppy sloshing of flesh being torn and blood spilt. Two black, hairy legs as long as horses and tipped with deadly knives stretched out and dug their pin-point feet into the soil. Six green eyes lit up in the ebon behind Underhill.
“And say hello to my Mother Spider (2500/1400)! So long as all the monsters in my graveyard are Insects, I can sacrifice two of your defence position monsters to summon her. So no more ‘picking away,’ at my Life Points, you common fool.”
The Mother Spider made a rumbling noise in her throat.
Underhill chortled. “Mother Spider’s still hungry after eating those silly little girls, so I’d say it’s time for pudding. Devour Airknight Parshath!” Another sticky glob of webbing fired out and wrapped around the centaur’s torso, dragging him slowly towards the giant hidden arachnid. MacWood cried for his creature to fight back, but no matter how much he squirmed and kicked and bucked, Parshath followed his companions into the lair of the beast. Another hideous cacophony of gore and Parshath’s empty helmet rolled out onto the field before shattering.
“And that leaves you open for Leghul to strike directly!”
The earwig bit the same spot yet again. That hand was feeling sore, and MacWood tucked it under his armpit. In his mind he yelled every forbidden word he could think of. Ah, how he hated that despicable cretin across the field now. Even more than he hated the creeping crawlers he insisted on using. After the pain in his hand became just a dull ache, he drew. He smiled, then burst out laughing.
“What’s so funny?!” Underhill shrieked. “Play your next monster so my Mother Spider can make another meal out of it!”
“Your spider’s about to get squished,” MacWood said in an assured tone. “First, I’m going to use Valhalla’s effect to special-summon one of the strongest monsters in my possession. Behold, my Majestic Goryu (2900/1800)!” Thunder and lightning cracked and bellowed above as the clouds swirled into a single spiral of gas. A beam of star-shine burst through and from it emerged a gargantuan, white, winged serpent, covered from its head to its tail with gold markings. Underhill screamed again.
“But I’m not doing crushing you under my boots yet, Underhill,” said MacWood, “I’ll also normal-summon this monster, Mudora (1500/1800)!” A patch of the grassland opened up to reveal a pool of bubbling quagmire, and a figure rose from it. He was muscle-bound and wore scant gold-and-blue armour, including a pointy-eared death mask. He was holding a curved Egyptian sabre in his hand.
“Mudora’s effect is he gains 200 attack points for every Fairy in my graveyard. By my count, that’s six, raising his attack to 2700! Go, my mud warrior, eviscerate his Leghul!”
“Run, Leghul! Run!” Underhill squawked as flecks of spittle flew from his mouth. The Insect squealed and attempted to burrow into the ground, but was unable to escape as Mudora’s blade came down and cut it perfectly in half.
“I think you know what’s coming next, Underhill,” said MacWood. “Goryu, annihilate! Heavenly Fire!” Goryu opened its jaws and a stream of brilliant flames burst out, tearing through the shielding foliage to reveal Mother Spider. For just a second, everyone could see its huge, dark purple body, covered in orange lines and fleshy growths like stretched pores. Mother Spider released a pained cry as it flipped onto its back and its legs curled in before it was reduced to nothing but ash.
“Make your move,” MacWood licked his lips.
[MacWood’s L.P.: 7200 / Underhill’s L.P.: 1700]
Underhill quivered and quaked like a jelly. Not only had his entire swarm been exterminated one after another, but the difference between the Life Points was utterly staggering. He reached for his deck to draw again, then released a strangled cry and fell backwards off his chair, eyes rolled up in his eyes and froth pouring from his mouth. There was a long silence before Walsingham spoke up.
“It seems that Mr Underhill is unable to take his turn,” he said, “so it would only be logical to declare Mr MacWood the winner by forfeit.”
[End Duel: Winner – Douglas MacWood]
The monsters bowed their head as the amalgamation of Valhalla and the Forest gave way to the Queen’s throne room. Seeing the rather pathetic pile of skin lying sprawled on the floor and suddenly felt quite unfulfilled. What a waste of good tactics, and so close to the finish line too.
“That is the end of today’s matches,” said the Queen.
“Someone get that disgusting creature out of here. Mr MacWood, good show, the title duel will be held two days from now, so practise and ensure your deck is ready. You’ve done well so far and I’ve a lot of faith in you.”
“Your Majesty-” Walsingham tried to protest but was stopped by a raised hand in front of his mouth.
“Thank you, Your Majesty,” said MacWood, bowing once more before gathering his cards into the protective case on his belt and leaving.
Gwendolyn returned to the kitchen with a disappointed look on her face. She had expected more from a fellow finalist, but it seemed Wilfred Underhill was just as lowly as his reputation implied. How he got so far into the contest she could not imagine. Setting aside her cap and unbuttoning her blue doublet, she turned to see Molly rearranging her utensils.
“Good match then, darlin’?” asked the old cook.
“Not really,” Gwendolyn sighed, now removing her shirt. She reached for the knot that kept the restrictive sash in place and undid it. As the length of material came loose, she released a groan of relief. “Good God! That feels much better.”
“Thought I’d let ye know,” said Molly, “ye’ll be takin’ the Queen her luncheon the morn.”
“Me? But that’s Mary’s job!”
“Afte’ seein’ whit was goin’ on in’at throne room, poor Mary said she’s never goin’ in there again. So congratulations, ye’ve got haer job.”
“The good news just keeps rolling in, doesn’t it?” Gwendolyn whined and puffed out her cheeks.
08-19-2009, 04:01 PM
King of Hypocrisy
Join Date: Jan 2009
Location: Suriname, South-America
Again, an excellent chapter in Victorian style.
One thing that bothers me, dear sire: You have no interactions with your readers. Please, sympathize with us and give hints and whatever. It seems like you're posting your fanfic just for the sake of spread.
~Zerachiel van Mark~
"Evolve yourself, without preventing the evolution of others"
The Fanfiction writer & Artist, at your service.
Hail the Grammar Nazi's, have mercy with the Mad Scholars and bow to the Frustration threads. The only things worth visiting on Pojo - before they were all abolished, that is.
08-23-2009, 06:55 AM
Learning the Ropes
Join Date: Aug 2009
Location: Shoeburyness, U.K.
First off, it's Elizabethan, not Victorian, but thanks for replying anyway. The only reason me and my co-writer haven't extensively interacted with the rest of the forum is we have yet to find a discussion we either agree with or can make a genuine contribution to, but once we do we intend to get more involved.
Originally Posted by zerademark
Again, an excellent chapter in Victorian style.
One thing that bothers me, dear sire: You have no interactions with your readers. Please, sympathize with us and give hints and whatever. It seems like you're posting your fanfic just for the sake of spread.
~Zerachiel van Mark~
This fic can also be read here, where you can also find Author's Notes.
Chapter 4: “Luck of the Draw”
Sebastian was in despair. He had tried to tell his mother of his sister’s activities, in the hopes that she would put her foot down, do something and take her out of danger. No, she sat there in the kitchen, nursing a cup of tea in her hands with an expression of complete nonchalance. He groaned and rested his head on his crossed arms.
“I was hoping Underhill would beat her,” he muttered. When Candida said nothing, he slammed both fists down on the wooden table and stood up.
“Have you been listening to me?!” he cried. “Your daughter is dressing up as a boy in order to duel illegally!” From the room above there was a thump of something hitting the floor and a muffled moan of protest, followed by a voice yelling, “You’ll come right downstairs this instant, little madam!”
“My dear,” said Candida, “I’m quite sure your poor grandfather would roll in his grave to hear you speak with such a tone. The Queen hasn’t stopped her, so it can’t be illegal.” Sebastian slapped his palm to his face.
“I cannot believe I’m hearing this,” he whined. “You honestly find nothing wrong with her decorum? Come on! Show a little support for your first-born, will you?!” At this point, Mrs Nesbitt appeared as if by magic in the room (and between you and me, she is very witch-like), tugging poor Gwendolyn – still dressed only in her nightgown – by the ear. The girl was biting back tears and releasing a strained, “Ow-ow-ow!” noise.
“Here she is,” said the old mistress, “now what’s the little wretch done this time?”
“Thank you, Mrs Nesbitt,” said Candida. “I’ll take charge from here while you return to your duties.”
“As you wish, Mrs Blackwood,” Mrs Nesbitt scowled. She hesitated for a second, then let go of the girl and stalked out of the room. Gwendolyn covered her sore ear.
“Can we get a new one?” she asked timidly. “This one’s mean.” A long silence hung in the air, and when Gwendolyn saw her brother’s uncertain expression, she realised he had told on her. How could he? Well, he could expect to find a frog in his bed tonight and no mistake!
“So,” said Candida finally, “who are you duelling next, dear-heart?” Another pause. The siblings stared at each other in amazement.
The first duel of the day was now beginning. Arthur Pomeroy, heir to a prominent trading company, and Lord Tarquin Whitehawk, heir to the Earldom of Sussex, were cutting and shuffling each other’s decks as up on her throne, the Queen was talking to Lord Walsingham.
“I wonder how long it will take Mr Pomeroy to win?” she yawned. There was no denying she had a special place in her heart for cultured men. Due to his position, Arthur had travelled to other countries with his father, and one of those had been Japan, where he had quickly discovered an affinity for that language, as well as others. Whitehawk, on the other hand, was a decent gentlemen but also a spineless jelly.
“Your Majesty,” Walsingham replied in hushed protest, “I really do not think that sort of talk is appropriate.”
“Oh, pish-posh, Walsy,” the Queen chuckled. “You know I cannot resist a man of such calibre.”
“Yes, Your Majesty, but you see…Lord Whitehawk can hear us.”
The two looked down at the competitors. Arthur had one hand behind his head and was blushing deeply, while Whitehawk looked as if God had just materialised, pointed at him and said, “I hate you.” His eyes were big, wet, quivering, black pools and his lips were trembling.
“You know, Walsy,” the Queen muttered, “I do believe he’s about to cry.”
“Bad luck, old boy,” said Arthur, trying to sound sympathetic.
In the palace kitchens, preparations for the royal luncheon were well underway. Gwendolyn stood by a serving cart as Molly loaded it with the Queen’s favourites. She listed them off thusly;
“Five baked blackbirds, one Pudding of Goose Blood, Calf’s Head served with oysters, Marmalade of Apri***** served on a sugar-plate and a posset. That seems tae be all.” Gwendolyn grimaced a little at the rich cuisine, then turned to the old cook.
“Has Mary recovered yet?”
Molly walked over the pantry door and pushed it open. They could see nobody, but there was definitely the sound of a girl hysterically screaming and sobbing. After a couple of seconds, Molly pulled the door shut again.
“Might jus’ be me, but Ah dinnae think so, lass.”
“Well, guess it can’t be helped,” Gwendolyn sighed, “I won’t be long.” With that, she rolled her trolley through the corridors while humming Green Sleeves to herself. It was a tune she enjoyed because it was simple but elegant. She eventually came to the curtain pulled across the door to obscure the duel in progress. She poked her head around and called out, “Your Majesty, lunch is here,” quietly enough so as not to distract the players. The Queen nodded to her and Gwendolyn pushed the trolley over. As she, Walsingham and Cecil (who had appeared with that same ghostly quality possessed by Mrs Nesbitt) partook of what was available, Gwendolyn watched the duel as an Asian man in green armour sliced his two swords downward, cutting a large, vicious-looking snake into three equal pieces. Whitehawk was sweating profusely. The Queen glanced at the servant girl and narrowed her eyes thoughtfully.
“Are you new, girl?”
“Oh, ah, yes, Your Majesty, I just started this week.”
“You have quite a nasty bruise there,” the Queen raised one hand to point a well-manicured finger at the dark mark on the girl’s forehead. “Perchance, how did you come by it?” Gwendolyn mentally slapped herself. Of course! The bruise from that blasted bubble bomb during her battle with Sebastian. It was nowhere near as bad as it had been before, but it was still noticeable.
“Oh, this?” she squeaked, putting her hand over the blemish. “I, ah, walked into a door.”
She heard Walsingham mutter, “Clumsy child.” By the time they were finished with their meal, Whitehawk was sprawled on the floor, twitching and gibbering. She wanted to say he reminded her of Underhill, but something about his face made him too – well, I suppose you could say he was too cute, too pathetic and vulnerable, to hate. She took their plates and left, but not before shooting Walsingham a quick, annoyed glare for his insult. The advisor cocked an eyebrow in return but said nothing.
The Pink Pony was a little establishment on the Thames riverfront, with little but loyal custom. Due to its name, flamboyantly French décor and the questionable gender of its proprietor, one Vivienne Crowler, anybody with a reputation to uphold would not find themselves within ten yards of the place. Perhaps that was why Sebastian Blackwood and his two friends frequented it, away from the prying eyes of the court and the agents planted by the ever-resourceful Robert Cecil. Even the royal spymaster’s men tended to keep their distance. Ms Crowler was simply too strange for them, and yet they claimed to have seen demons in the dark corners of the capital without flight. It was the evening of the second day of the finals, and the trio were celebrating their respective victories.
“A toast!” announced the slightly drunken Arthur, raising his stein. “To Donovan Smyth, Esq., whose luck was finally on his side!” He emptied his drink and Ms Crowler walked over to refill it from a ceramic flagon.
“And a toast!” the even drunker Donovan added. “To Arthur Pomeroy, Esq., who at last realises my greatness!” He knocked back the ale. Ms Crowler rolled her eyes and refilled it again. It got up her nose that these three – or at least two in particular – could get quite loud when drunk and it sometimes bothered the rest of her clientele, but they never started brawls and they paid long and well so she usually left them to it.
“And of course,” said both Arthur and Donovan together, “a toast to our best mate, Mr Sebastian Blackwood, who’s paying tonight since he lost before us!”
“I hope Cecil p-pays you well, Sebsy old boy,” Donovan slurred, “because we…we are…” he belched, “far from finished.”
“You’re drunk,” said Sebastian with a deadpan expression.
“I…I am not drunkening…!” the blonde youth protested, swinging his stein dismissingly. “I got the constitution of a brass helethump! A-and tomorrus, U’m gonna absolutely pulveraish t’other’un!”
“Pulveraish!” Arthur hooted. “Sounds a bit rude, doesn’t it? Sounds like…”
“Bum!” they both yelled. Sebastian shook his head and smiled. What a pair those two made. His expression became serious when he remembered who Donovan would be duelling the next put a hand on his friend’s arm.
“Look, Don,” he said, “I’m really happy that you won today, but do me a favour.”
“Anyshing fo’ m’ besht chum!” Donovan beamed.
“Could you take it easy on your opponent tomorrow?”
“Why…? He a friend o’ yours?”
“Well, not necessarily, it’s just…”
“Then what’sh the promblem?” Donovan blinked. “Ifish goes well, people will r-recognise the namea Smyth again.” He winked playfully. “I might even ask the Queeng if you two can watch me grind MacWood into shawdust.”
“Shawdust! Damn good show!” Arthur cheered and raised his drink again. “To Donovan, sending the outsider home, crying like a wench!” They both whooped and knocked their steins together. Sebastian buried his face in his hands. You don’t know the half of it, he thought morosely.
“Oh, God! My head!” Donovan cried, clutching his temples between his hands.
“It’s your own fault you’re hung over,” Arthur shrugged. The three friends were sitting together in the room adjacent to the throne room, waiting for the match to start. “You shouldn’t have drunk so much.”
“You were drinking too,” Donovan groaned.
“I know when I’ve had enough,” Arthur pointed out. He looked about the room. “Where’s that MacWood fellow?”
“I’m here,” said a voice as the young gentleman ran into the room. Sebastian watched Gwendolyn, dressed this time in a russet and darkish yellow ensemble. She was fixing her cap into place. “Sorry I’m late.”
“Well, we’ll see if your card skills make up for it,” Donovan smirked. “Do me a favour. Make sure you play at your best today. If this final doesn’t turn out to be worth all the fuss, there may be consequences.” Sebastian knew what was going on. Men liked to psyche each other out, break down mental defences before the game could start in order to affect the outcome. He understood that Gwendolyn was a strong-willed girl, but he had no idea how long it would take her for to crack under such interrogation.
“Been duelling long, Mr MacWood?” asked Donovan. “I’ve been playing the local tournaments since grammar school. Seeing so many card combinations makes you ready for anything, and I do mean anything.”
“All right, that’s enough,” said Sebastian, putting a hand on his friend’s shoulder to silence him. “And remember, be careful. You’ve seen that this has been like no duel we’ve been in before.” He was praying that whatever kind of power Donovan was packing in his deck case would not put too much physical strain on his sister. He still felt a crushing sensation of guilt for what Andal and Dimacari had done to her.
An aid emerged from the throne room and said, “Donovan Smyth and Douglas MacWood, please come in. Even though the rest of you are no longer in the tournaments, Mr Cecil has requested you be allowed to watch and Her Majesty has consented to this, so if you’d follow me…”
“Well this is different,” said Arthur with suspicion.
While Arthur and Sebastian stood by Robert Cecil at the Queen’s side, Donovan and Gwendolyn had already cut and shuffled each other’s decks and taken their seats.
“Just to let you know,” said Donovan, “luck is on my side lately, so don’t be too broken when you lose.”
“We’ll see who gets broken,” Gwendolyn frowned.
“Call it,” said Sir Francis Walsingham, flipping his coin.
“Heads!” replied Donovan before Gwendolyn could even part her lips.
“Heads it is,” said Walsingham. “Mr Smyth will go first.”
[Begin Duel: Donovan Smyth vs. Douglas MacWood]
Donovan drew his opening hand and scanned his cards.
“First,” he said, “I’ll lay a card face-down, and summon Arcana Force VI – The Lovers (1600/1600), in attack mode.” Two worm-like tendrils – one blue and one pink – grew out of the floor of the throne room and spun around each other, intertwining into a delicate spiral that grew ******ds and upwards, changing shape and colour into the most bizarre monster any of them had ever seen. The thing was as tall as a human being and covered completely in black material that moved like silk but rippled and reflected like water. Its round head ending in a pointed tip and oversized hands were a white-brown colour and its shoulders, chest and dress were overlaid with blue armour encrusted with dark magenta gemstones. A pair of red eyes stared out of its otherwise featureless visage.
“What in heaven’s name is that thing?” asked the Queen, utterly fascinated.
“This is an Arcana Force monster, Your Majesty,” Donovan explained, “and when one of them is summoned to the field, someone has to flip a coin to decide how it can be used.”
“If I may,” said Walsingham, flipping his gold coin again and catching it. “Heads.”
“Oh, good,” said Donovan. “I’ll end my turn there.”
Gwendolyn looked at the Lovers while drawing her own opening hand cautiously. She did not like the way it seemed to be staring right at her with its big, empty globes.
“I’ll start by playing Valhalla, Hall of the Fallen,” she said.
“I like this part,” the Queen muttered as the throne room was replaced with the beautiful open-air temple.
“And since I have no Fairy monsters on my field, I’ll summon Athena (2600/800) in attack mode.” The white-robed Greek goddess appeared. “Athena, attack-”
“Oh no you don’t!” Donovan interrupted with a wag of his finger. “I’ll activate my face-down Trap Card, Bottomless Trap Hole!” An abyss opened in the floor beneath Athena and she toppled into it. She held onto the edge with all her might, but the wailing, swirling, laughing entities within took hold of her and dragged her down. The goddess’ scream of anguish was cut off as the hole sealed above her, leaving no trace that she had ever existed. “Because you summoned a monster with more than 1500 attack points, not only does my Trap Hole swallow her up, but she is removed from play completely.”
“You’ll pay for that move, Smyth,” Gwendolyn growled. “I’ll set one monster in face-down defence and end my turn there.”
[Donovan’s L.P.: 8000 / Gwendolyn’s L.P.: 8000]
“Now the fun starts,” Donovan chuckled as he drew. “I get to hit something. I’ll summon Arcana Force IV – The Emperor (1400/1400) in attack mode!” The new monster that appeared hovering beside the Lovers was a floating apparition clad completely in steely-violet armour over the same living liquid as its fellow monster. It had no legs, but two large, flat wings kept it aloft, two short arms attached to the ball of its waist and three tendrils ending in claw-tipped ebony spheres grew out of each shoulder. A small skull peered out from beneath a bat-winged helmet.
“Another coin, if you’d please, Sir Francis.”
“Heads,” Walsingham reported.
“Marvellous,” said Donovan. “When the Emperor’s coin-flip lands on heads, all my Arcana Force monsters gain 500 attack points. So now my Emperor attacks your face-down monster.” Red orbs opened up on different spots all over the creature’s armoured body and from each one there spat a beam of scarlet light that struck the floor in front of Gwendolyn’s table. The ground rippled as a fist-sized glass bubble grew out of the rug and shattered. There goes my first Mystical Shine Ball, Gwendolyn thought. I cannot lose focus and underestimate him. She had a sinking feeling that this one would be difficult, or at least very cunning.
“Next,” said Donovan, “the Lovers will attack your Life Points directly with her Curse of Heartbreak!” The monster in question held out her arms, and like the tentacles of some vast sea monster, they extended until they reached Gwendolyn. The oversized hands clamped shut around her head and as she struggled, the three gemstones on the monster’s bosom glowed. An image of a love heart appeared over Gwendolyn’s chest. It beat for a few seconds and then broke apart. The Lovers’ arms retracted as Gwendolyn put one hand to her chest. I felt it, she thought, I felt my heart freeze.
“I can see you crying,” Donovan smirked, brushing the spot under one eye. Gwendolyn wiped her face on her sleeve.
“Shut up,” she growled. “It’s my turn…” She drew. “First, I’ll use Valhalla’s ability to summon a second Mystical Shine Ball (500/500) and tribute it in order to call…”
A second fist-sized orb emerged from the floor and was wrapped in light. Two albino-white hands in cobalt blue-and-gold armoured sleeves tore the light apart and out stepped a tall knight with amber eyes staring from a pale face inked with black markings. Two red wings opened on its back.
“…My Fallen Angel Desire (3000/2800)! First, I’ll use his special effect. By reducing his attack points by 1000, I can send one monster you control to the graveyard, and I choose to send your Emperor!” Desire crossed his arms over his chest then with a mighty roar he swung them both ******ds. A wave of gold light flew out and sliced the Emperor in half, spraying green blood all over Valhalla’s floor. The two pieces tried to remain in the air, but they fell and disappeared into the rug as if it were a pool. Donovan winced.
“And now Desire, destroy the Lovers with Celestial Scissors!” Desire raised his arms as two silver claws sprouted from the tip of each of his armoured sleeves. He kicked off and flew towards the enemy monster. The claws clamped shut around the Lovers’ neck and waist, sending all three segments toppling through the air before they burst into shards. Returning to his former place, the dark angel licked green blood from his weapons and sneered threateningly.
[Donovan’s L.P.: 7600 / Gwendolyn’s L.P.: 5900]
So she’s going to use field-clearing tactics, Donovan thought, drawing his next card. Well, two can play at that.
“I play one card face-down and summon Arcana Force 0 – The Fool (0/0) in attack mode.” In a shower of sparks, a scrawny entity with silver skin materialised. It had two bulging azure eyes and wore a simple purple vest trimmed with indigo accompanied by billowing tight-ankled trousers. Orange shoes with pointy ends covered its feet and a multitude of long, black liquid dreadlocks hung from the back of its head. A yellow third eye opened on its forehead and five more on its shoulders and down the front of its torso.
Walsingham had by now gotten the hang of the Arcana Force creatures and flipped his coin. “Tails.”
“I’ll end my turn there. Try clearing out my side now, MacWood,” said Donovan.
“Gladly!” Gwendolyn drew. “I’ll also play one card face-down, and Fallen Angel Desire will slice your Fool into salad! Go!” The angel pounced on the Fool, but his scissors never made contact.
“I activate my Trap Card!” cried Donovan. “Waboku!”
Three golden-skinned women in teal robes appeared in front of the meek monster. The two at the back put their hands on their leader’s arms, and the leader held out a bat-shaped key, from which expanded a transparent wall. Desire returned to his original place with an indignant scowl while the Fool clapped his hands happily. I could have simply used Desire’s special effect and removed the Fool without attacking it, Gwendolyn thought, but that would cost me another 1000 attack points, and I have no idea what happens because of the Fool’s coin-flip. I may have ended up just hurting myself. It was a wise decision even if it was just a guess.
[Donovan’s L.P.: 7600 / Gwendolyn’s L.P.: 5900]
Donovan drew, and his smile was so like a wolf’s it made Gwendolyn cringe.
“First, I’ll tribute my Fool,” he said, and the monster he spoke of suddenly looked worried, hunching his back and wringing his thin hands, “to summon Arcana Force XII – The Hanged Man (2200/2200)!” The rug rumbled as a column of liquid glass sprouted up. It grew and grew and grew until it almost touched the ceiling and curved at the top, hardening into a thing of divine loveliness. A rope, which also appeared to be crafted from glass, descended from the top and looped itself around the Fool’s neck. With a brief gurgling choke, the Fool was whipped into the air and his neck was snapped. The poor monster hung suspended from the terrible gallows. The glass rope began to melt and increase until it smothered its victim in a cocoon.
“That’s…oh my, I think I’m going to be quite sick,” the Queen choked.
“Now MacWood’s in trouble,” said Arthur. “If the coin lands true, he’s going to have to pull a miracle out of his cap.” Sebastian stuck his knuckles between his teeth to keep from crying out.
“You swine, you executed your own monster like a common criminal?!” Gwendolyn yelled.
“Everything has its use, and his use was to die,” Donovan told her. “Now, Sir Francis, the coin please.”
Walsingham flipped. “Tails.”
“Perfect,” smirked Donovan, “and so I’ll use the Hanged Man’s effect to remove your monster and deal damage to your Life Points equal to its total attack points.” The cocoon dropped from its holding and smashed on the floor. A new rope swished off the top of the tree and wrapped itself around Desire’s neck. The fallen angel struggled to hold his ground but it was useless. He was whipped up into the air, his neck snapped, and his corpse encased just like the Fool. “Now I’ll attack your Life Points directly.” The cocoon dropped again and this time the new rope looped around Gwendolyn’s throat. As it started to tug and tighten, she played her face-down card.
“Negate Attack!” she yelped. A small red-and-blue portal opened around the middle of the rope and with a swirl of white magic, both ends were sucked in, leaving the tree bare and the girl with a mere red mark around her neck. That was a close one, but my Life Points are still vulnerable. I need to gain the advantage or I’m finished.
She drew, and breathed a sigh of relief.
“All right, Smyth. You’ve proven yourself to be a clever player, but your luck’s just run out. I’ll use Valhalla to call on my Wingweaver (2750/2400), and I’ll also summon Bountiful Artemis (1600/1700) in attack mode.”
In a flash, two new figures appeared. One was a tall woman with pink skin and flowing plum-coloured hair. She was elf-beautiful and filled the room with a fragrance like fresh flowers. She wore a yellow dress, two emeralds - a small one on her forehead and a larger one between her breasts – and a sapphire in her belt. Six blue wings spread behind her. The other was a floating, legless and featureless statue of white-and-malachite marble. Its triple-layered wings were on stalks that grew from somewhere behind its neck. Its only attire was a deep purple cape trimmed with yellow.
“Bountiful Artemis, destroy the Hanged Man!” Gwendolyn commanded.
“You’re mad,” said Donovan, “my monster is far stronger than yours!”
“That’s what you think,” Gwendolyn smiled as the marble statue flew towards the tree, the markings on its body glowing brightly, “but by dropping Honest (1100/1900) from my hand, I can give my monster attack points equal to those of its target, raising Bountiful Artemis’ power to 3800! Artemis, Malachite Inferno!” The statue held its hands out towards the tree. The green glow from its body travelled down its arms and into its palms, and with a deafening explosion, the Hanged Man was vaporised in a storm of green flames.
“With your defences destroyed, I’ll have my Wingweaver attack your Life Points directly. Go, Storm of Six Wings!” The angel rose up into the air and flapped all six of her beautiful wings at increasing speed, brewing up a windstorm that engulfed Donovan’s side of the field, before her entire body shrank into an arrow of pink energy that swooped down, passed through Donovan, circled back and returned to her original shape. The windstorm died down, revealing the blonde man skin to be covered in small scratches and his hair thrown out of shape. His shirt had been torn open and Gwendolyn could see a bruise forming where the arrow had hit him.
[Donovan’s L.P.: 3250 / Gwendolyn’s L.P.: 2600]
No, this is all wrong, Donovan kicked himself mentally. In the past, his Hanged Man had always been the one to ensure his victory, but now it was gone and he was without a solid strategy. What was it about this man that shook up his confidence and made him act so carelessly? He drew and groaned inwardly. Nothing that could help him.
“I’ll just set a monster in face-down defence and end my turn.”
Gwendolyn drew. Her own confidence was growing as her opponent’s was dwindling.
“I’ll tribute Wingweaver and Bountiful Artemis,” she said as the two monsters floated upwards into the sky, “and summon Majestic Goryu (2900/1800) in attack mode!” There was a flash and a roar as the winged serpent coiled its way down from up high. “Destroy the face-down card!” Donovan paled as his only card (a second Fool) was reduced to dust by the dragon’s fiery breath. Due to the terrifying creature’s ability to damage him regardless of the position of his monster, his Life Points had now been hacked away to almost nothing. Now feeling desperate, he drew again. Still nothing. There was not a single monster in his hand. All he could do was prolong the agony.
“I’ll set a card face-down,” he murmured, hoping MacWood would not call his bluff. Unfortunately, the next turn would prove to be his ultimate undoing.
“I’ll play Bait Doll,” said Gwendolyn, throwing down the card she had just drawn. “Since I’m not quite sure what you just played, I’ll force its activation, and if the timing’s wrong, that card is destroyed!” A small painted wooden doll emerged from the floor, grasping a green hammer in its tiny hands. The doll bounced into the air and descended towards the spot in front of Donovan’s table. The hammer smashed down onto it and a dome of turquoise light appeared for a second before sizzling out harmlessly. Donovan covered his face with one hand, peeking through the gap between two fingers as his Draining Shield was discarded and Goryu reared up to finish the duel. The golden fire blanketed him utterly.
[Donovan’s L.P.: 0 / Gwendolyn’s L.P.: 2600]
[End Duel: Winner – Douglas MacWood]
Donovan lowered his arms as the Hall of the Fallen faded back to the throne room and the monsters returned to their slumber. His entire body was lightly toasted (he actually thought, I smell good) and his clothes quite badly blackened. Thankfully his cards seemed to have survived any damage, though of course that was all part of the logic-defying magic of the Fairy Pins.
“Mr MacWood,” said the Queen, “you may approach.” The winner did as bid, standing up from behind her table and turning to face the monarch. She ascended the short stairway between her and the throne and bowed as Walsingham presented a sword from beneath his cape.
“It is only proper that I raise your status appropriately, as you will now be part of my most trusted inner circle,” said Elizabeth, taking the sword, “so…kneel, Douglas MacWood, and arise…Sir Douglas MacWood, Duellist Royal to the monarchy of England.” Gwendolyn could barely control the smile that rose to the surface of her skin. Granted, it was the wrong gender, but considering the circumstances, she was honoured beyond comprehension. Cecil and Walsingham clapped. Arthur outright applauded, joined shortly by Sebastian, who despite his reservations was feeling immensely proud of his sister right now.
Donovan stood up and called, “Sir Douglas!” The girl turned. Donovan clapped and said, “We should do this again some time.”
“Yes,” Gwendolyn nodded. “We should.”
Last edited by Duellist Royal : 08-23-2009 at 06:55 AM.
Reason: Automerged Doublepost
09-07-2009, 04:49 AM
Learning the Ropes
Join Date: Aug 2009
Location: Shoeburyness, U.K.
This fic can also be read here, where you can also find Author's Notes.
Chapter 5: “Exposed”
The Queen sat alone in the throne room. They were well into the evening and she had decided to retire from the after-tournament celebrations, as brief as they were. Something about her new Duellist Royal bothered her. She did not want to speak of her suspicions, for fear of being wrong, but there was definitely something. As she pondered the situation, Walsingham entered the room and approached her.
“Your Majesty,” he reported, “I’ve spoken to everyone in the court, none of them know who this ‘Douglas MacWood,’ is or where he comes from, and my agents have found nothing pertaining to his origins.”
“I see,” the Queen sighed. “Very well, Walsy, I appreciate your efforts. You are excused.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty,” Walsingham bowed and left. The Queen twirled a lock of her red hair around one slender finger and considered the available options.
The next morning, Gwendolyn arrived at the palace kitchens. Most of the kitchen staff were out on various duties, leaving Molly to clean up her utensils from preparing breakfast and begin the work for the rest of the day.
“Yer late,” the old cook said without looking up.
“Good morning to you, too,” Gwendolyn yawned and stretched her arms up above her head. The double party to celebrate her male alter-ego’s simultaneous ascension to knighthood and the esteemed rank of Duellist Royal had gone on quite late, even after the monarch had disappeared. To be honest, she felt hung over and drowsy. If only the sickly sensations could be hidden away along with her clothes. She wished MacWood really was a separate person, then she could give him a good kicking for making her feel so foul.
“I think you learnt something last night,” Molly observed. “Moderation’s a virtue. Anyway, messenger was down here earlier, th’ Queen wants ye on bedroom duty.”
“Oh God…” Gwendolyn groaned. It was not the bedroom work itself she minded, it was the fact she would get bossed about by the ever-stuffy ladies-in-waiting. Worst of all, she had a nagging feeling that the Queen suspected something about her and that meant the longer they were together, the more at risk her secret grew.
“Coorie up, lass,” said Molly, swishing a wooden spoon in the air for emphasis.
Liza Townsend was not a very patient woman. She stood outside the door of the quarters saved for the ladies, remaining stoic and still on the outside but growing agitated within. The Queen had told her of her suspicions regarding the relationship between the new Duellist Royal and that maid, and had been charged with discovering the truth (with the promise of a bonus should she succeed in this endeavour). When she saw a thin slip of a girl with chestnut hair – several strands of which bobbed in front of her eyes – coming up the hallway towards her, she could not stop both eyebrows from rising as high as they were able. This was the one that had Her Majesty so worked up? Ridiculous. Undisciplined. Unladylike. Destined to return to the poorhouse from whence she came.
“You, girl,” she said in a stern fashion. “I do not appreciate my time being wasted. Tell me your name, I want to know who I’m going to punish.” The girl gave her an absolutely filthy look.
“My name’s Gwendolyn,” she growled. “Gwendolyn Blackwood.” Liza was surprised. The late former patriarch of that family had been a highly respected entrepreneur, and his son had carried on in his footsteps, yet this impertinent stalk who lacked proper respect carried his name? Liza shook her head.
“Wilful child,” she sighed. “Come, we’ll get you started. You can clean and make the chambers.” Gwendolyn puffed out her cheeks and followed the older girl into the room. Thankfully the ladies were tidy individuals, so it was only the cleaning she had to worry about. She was sure it had been left so on purpose. It was too deliberate, too…too neat. Perfectly square patches of dust and evenly overturned corners of the carpet. She shot a quick glare over her shoulder at Liza, who shoved a feather duster into her hand.
“Get to it, child,” said Liza, smiling a little. “After this you can change all the sheets and beat the dust out of the rugs…”
“Ma’am, with all due respect,” said Gwendolyn, “but are there not any other maids? This is a lot of work for one.”
“There were,” Liza smirked, “but they have the day off.” Gwendolyn narrowed her eyes. That did not sound at all deliberate. Soon she was hard at work. Whenever it seemed she had finished dusting down a spot to perfection, Liza would sprinkle more grit down and then deny it of course, instead blaming it on the younger girl’s sloppy work. When she finally ran out of spare dirt and the maid was able to finish fixing the corners of the carpet, poor Gwendolyn was dragged back up to her feet and set to strip the beds. After a long, tiring silence, the lady-in-waiting spoke up.
“Interesting tournament, don’t you think?” she remarked.
“I would have thought Mr Underhill would last longer. I’m told it was a relief that he surrendered when he did, his choice in cards was, ah, quite unnerving.”
“Wouldn’t know, ma’am,” said Gwendolyn. “I wasn’t there.”
“Ever duel yourself?” asked Liza.
“Occasionally,” said Gwendolyn, “but I’m not very good.”
“Pity,” Liza shrugged. “I hear your brother, Sebastian – he is your brother right? – duelled magnificently against that MacWood person…until for some odd reason he lost his edge and started playing like a withered little chicken-hearted shrimp. Of course I’d already heard he was little more than Mr Cecil’s lapdog anyway.”
Gwendolyn slammed her fist down on the floor and stood up.
“Ma’am!” she snapped. “I’m not sure why you feel the need to try and provoke a reaction from me, but kindly leave my brother out of this. It’s obvious from what I’ve heard that MacWood was simply luckier in his draws.”
“Or in that he was born with a backbone,” Liza scoffed, “or perhaps he sought to stir feelings of guilt in your brother and resorted to psychological warfare.” She saw Gwendolyn’s fist clenching. “Raise your hand to me and you will sorely regret it, child.” The girl backed down, but Liza could see the anger in her eyes. This one was going to be hard to crack. She clapped her hands together twice and said, “Hurry up now, the rugs are waiting outside. I’ll be down to inspect your progress in five minutes. Go.” As the maid hurried away, Liza decided to investigate a little deeper. The maid’s quarters were not far from the palace kitchens, and that was where she would start. It would surely be empty by now.
Ascending to the ground floor, she quickly made her way to the right room and pushed open the door. No sign of anybody. Moving between the beds until she found the one marked with the girl’s name, she knelt down by the wooden strongbox at the foot of the bed. Taking another peek around to ensure she would not be caught, Liza took out a hairpin and slipped it into the lock, but just as she lifted the lid…
Liza slammed the lid down and stared wide-eyed at the door of the room. That damned girl was standing right there!
“I…uh,” she cleared her throat. “I saw a spider. It’s gone now.”
“You saw a spider in my strongbox?” the girl questioned.
“…Yes!” Liza squeaked and dashed out. Gwendolyn smirked knowingly. Nice try, she thought. Catching that witch in the act would deter her, she was certain, and for a time she was correct. Liza was so embarrassed and unready to try again she kept her distance for the rest of the morning. No more chores, no more snipes or commands, or at least until she found herself in the Queen’s chambers in time for the monarch’s nap…
As Gwendolyn turned down the bed and made certain all was ready, Queen Elizabeth sat at her dressing table, sorting through her own collection of cards.
“But what if the other player does this…” she was thinking aloud, “…perhaps I should put in more Traps…oh my, now there’s too many in my deck…” Gwendolyn could not help but edge closer as she listened to this dilemma. The sleeping, orange afternoon sun shone through the window and cast a beautiful fiery blaze across the two women, as if to illustrate the burning souls deep within them and the destiny they would share. The same ethereal light also coated the cards on the table, and Gwendolyn could see the sparkle of life in their painted eyes. Her train of thought was broken when the Queen asked, “What do you think, Ms Blackwood? I’m afraid I’m still a beginner.”
“Well, I…” Gwendolyn paused to scratch the side of her nose thoughtfully. “If you’re past the 40 card limit, the best idea would be to work out the right balance and-” The Queen leapt to her feet and twirled about like a whirling dervish, pointing one long finger at the astonished maid.
“I KNEW IT!” she cried both joyfully and accusingly. Gwendolyn gulped. Well done, Blackwood, she thought, you get the prize for biggest idiot of the year. She giggled very nervously.
When Liza came to the Queen’s chamber to ensure the monarch was well-rested, she was quite surprised by what she found. She was not asleep, in fact she was quite awake, and sitting with her legs tucked under her on the bed. Sitting opposite her in the same position was the maid, though she had since removed her uniform bonnet and her shoes were neatly placed on the floor. Between the two was a veritable treasure trove of Duel Monster cards and they seemed to be sorting through them.
“…But I would rather be able to summon strong monsters like you,” the Queen finished whatever she had been saying when the lady-in-waiting arrived.
“That’s not the only way to gain an advantage,” Gwendolyn explained. “Your deck’s built differently to mine. It’s most suited strategy is to swarm and control the field.”
“I would prefer not to just use the cards Sir Maxwell gave to me,” the Queen protested.
“If you’ll pardon me, Your Majesty,” said Gwendolyn, “I believe they were given to you like that for a reason. This is a very advanced deck and if you are able to wield its power effectively, even Sir Maxwell himself would have difficulty facing you.”
“You…you believe that?” the Queen felt her face growing hot at such flattery.
“Of course,” Gwendolyn nodded, “and if you need a partner to practise with, I’d be more than happy to oblige.”
“My Queen,” Liza croaked after regaining her voice. The two women looked at her, caught off-guard by the intrusion. “Ah…I’m g-glad you could confirm your suspicions…but, ah, what are you planning to do about it?”
“What else?” Elizabeth grinned.
Sebastian, Donovan and Arthur were all pleasantly surprised to be invited to dine at the palace. As it turned out, the meal was set up so that Her Majesty could personally congratulate the finalists. The celebration of the night before was entirely social in nature, involving the duellists and their supporters, along with plentiful drink and, according to the distinguished Mr Smyth, matters of the flesh. The initial excitement had dulled, so they could enjoy a more peaceful gathering. As the three friends took their seats, they noticed that Lord Whitehawk sat opposite them (he gave them a weak smile and wave then went back to staring into the depths of his goblet) but Mr Underhill was absent.
“What do you reckon?” muttered Arthur. “Scared? Ashamed?”
“Still unconscious,” replied Donovan, “that’s my guess.”
“And MacWood?” asked Arthur. Sebastian said nothing. He could see his sister right there at the Queen’s right-hand. He had thought it strange when he saw six ladies-in-waiting rather than the usual five, but there she was. It was beginning to make sense to him. She had been found out and the Queen was going to keep a much closer eye on her as a result.
“Where have I seen that new girl before?” Donovan pondered aloud.
“I’m surprised you recognise me at all, Mr Smyth,” said Gwendolyn, having overheard the boys’ conversation, “the last time we met, I was only four years old.” Donovan paused to think, then his eyes widened.
“Well I’ll be dipped in treacle!” he exclaimed with his big wolfish smile. “Little Gwen! Sebby, why didn’t you tell me your sister was one of the Queen’s ladies?”
“I’m sure Mr Blackwood is just as in the dark as yourself,” said the Queen slyly, though her expression was one of relaxed joviality, “since I promoted young Gwendolyn to her position only this evening.”
“You know, I remember when I saw you last,” said Arthur, stroking his chin between finger and thumb contemplatively. “Summer, I believe. Yes, that’s right. Every time the three of us tried to go off somewhere, you were never more than five paces behind us. Incredible tenacity for someone so small.”
“The word is ‘petite’,” Gwendolyn huffed.
“Uh…begging pardon for my inappropriateness,” said Sebastian, “but may I speak to Gwendolyn in the hallway for a moment?”
“You may,” said the Queen, “but do be quick. The starters will be here soon.” Sebastian nodded and got to his feet, took his sister by the wrist and led her out of the dining hall. They went a little way down the hallway until they were out of earshot, then Sebastian rested his back against the wall and crossed his arms over his chest.
“All right, I slipped,” sighed Gwendolyn. “Is that what you want to hear? That I ruined my own disguise?”
“That would be a start, but alas, that’s not it and you know it,” Sebastian shook his head. “I have my own suspicions, but what I want you to tell me is why you’re still here. You know how bad the consequences would have been if the Queen decided to call it treason to duel in her presence under a false identity?”
“She’s not as bad as you seem to believe,” Gwendolyn glowered. “Yes, she was mad at first, but we got to talking and she saw things from my perspective. Besides, if she did bump me off and word got out, there’d be a scandal, and that German prince would take it as either an insult of a sign of surrender.”
“But why did she make you one of her ladies?”
“…So she can keep an eye on me,” Gwendolyn admitted.
“That sounds fair…mind if I make one suggestion?”
“If you’re going to maintain this MacWood identity, learn to walk properly. No man I know swings his hips or sits or almost curtsies like that, and we wouldn’t want people thinking he’s, ah, questionable now, would we?” He started laughing and Gwendolyn swatted him angrily with her bonnet.
Neither of them noticed two beady eyes watching them - though not quite hearing their words - from the far end of the hall. Robert Cecil hmm’d under his breath and slunk back into the darkness like a serpent. The Queen had never cleared this sixth lady with him, and he disliked being left out of the loop. That frothy frump Walsingham may have been the official court spymaster, but it was he who knew everything that happened within the palace walls. The very idea of the unknown disgusted him and because with ignorance there was always the risk of being unaware, and when one was unaware, one would inevitably fall. He would get his answers from the boy soon. No truth could evade his sight forever. With truth he would prevail.
It was close to midnight. When the dinner was finished and the guests had been excused, Sebastian and his friends had headed directly for the Pink Pony. Ms Crowler was busy using her broom to sweep a quivering lout from her doorstep while the three conversed. Arthur was expressing a certain interest in Gwendolyn, evidenced by remarks that Sebastian did not greatly appreciate.
“What does she like in a man?” he asked.
“Oh, shut your biscuit-hole!” Sebastian snorted, banging his stein on the table. After a minute of tense silence passed, he said, “I’m sorry, but I’ve got a lot on my mind. I need your help, boys.”
“What’s the problem?” queried Donovan.
“You, uh…remember that ‘MacWood,’ fellow?”
“I’d hardly forget him after our last meeting.”
“Well…he’s uh…he and Gwen are, um…” Sebastian crossed his index fingers, a sign that his companions utterly failed to recognise.
“A couple?” asked Arthur with a hint of disappointment.
“How does that even work?” Donovan blinked. “They look so…oh, wait…no!” The realisation made his eyes bulge in their sockets. “Please, don’t…tell…me…”
“Yes,” Sebastian mumbled, “they’re the same person.”
“WHAT?!” Donovan’s bellow echoed throughout the entire pub and drew the eyes of all present. He sprung completely upright, jogging the table and spilling ale all over the floor. Arthur fell from his chair in a fit of laughter and Sebastian grabbed the screeching blonde by the shoulders, forcing him to sit back down.
“Hell’s teeth,” he hissed. “Keep your voice down, man.”
“By God, Donny,” Arthur struggled as he pulled himself up onto his knees using the table for support, “the most humiliating defeat of your career, and it comes not only from a woman, but one four years your junior!” Donovan shoved him to the floor then grabbed Sebastian by the collar of his shirt and pulled him close so he could smell the anger and brimstone on his breath.
“This might just be the booze talking,” he growled dangerously, “but I have the inexplicable urge to start taking heads. I’ll probably start with that snickering hyena on the floor, then you, then that gender-bending strumpet. Then I’ll wipe out everyone in the world followed by committing suicide so nobody will ever know.”
“Bit elaborate, don’t you think?” Sebastian squeaked.
The moon over Waltham Forest was fat and pale, like an alabaster eye in the face of God. A black carriage - gold-trimmed and horse-drawn – trundled down a dirt path. The horse was a silky black creature of great size and many years of service left under her, but she was nervous and twitching her head from side to side. Every so often she would hesitate before taking her next step.
“Easy, Oyster,” the driver comforted her. “I don’t much like this place meself.”
“Is dhere a problem, driver?” asked the passenger.
“Oyster’s a bit nervous is all, guv’nor,” replied the driver. “They say this place is ‘aunted. People ‘ave been known to disappear ‘round ‘ere.”
“I assure you,” the passenger released a titter that stabbed icicles through the poor little man and his horse, “I am much scarier dhen anyzink you vould ever find in dhis forest.” He took an ornate box from beneath his cape and stroked it gently. “Soon, my darlings, you vill have fresh blood.”
This fic can also be read here, where you can also find Author's Notes.
Chapter 6: “The Bloody Baron”
It was odd, at least to Gwendolyn, how emotional the atmosphere in the kitchen felt. She had gone down there to tell her former co-workers of her ascendance to the Queen’s side, and the moment they saw her in her new uniform they crowded all around to congratulate her.
“This is so wonderful,” one of them exclaimed.
“We’re so proud of you,” added a second.
“Well done, well done,” a third and fourth (twins) chorused. Molly came forward, using her wooden spoon like a staff to break through the sea of white bonnets.
“Give the poor lass some air,” she scolded them. “Divvent ye all have work tae be doin’? Be off wi’ ye!” As the maids flocked out of the kitchen, all giving farewells and shoulder-pats to their friend, Gwendolyn smiled and straightened her gown. For what felt like a long time, she and Molly just looked at each other. Finally, the old cook returned to her work and broke the tranquillity. She was plucking the feathers from a chicken and dumping them in a bucket outside the door.
“Ah’m not sure how Ah’ll find a replacement for ye,” she said. She was calm though her eyes said different. She was sad to be losing one of the girls she’d come to look upon as a daughter.
“Oh, Molls…” Gwendolyn began, but she was interrupted when a head with a mop of unkempt, sandy hair and freckled cheeks poked in from the yard.
“I’ll miss you too, Blackwood,” said Jethro, smiling impishly. “You were the only girl who hasn’t fallen for my charms.”
“Oh, come now!” Gwendolyn huffed, puffing out her cheeks. “It’s not like I’m leaving the country, I’ll still see you both!”
“Sure you’ll have the time?” the stable-boy smirked. “What with all your fancy new lady friends?”
“Of course, Jethro,” said Gwendolyn, walking over and giving him a hug. “Especially you, someone has to teach me how to ride a horse.”
“This isn’t all fun and games, my girl,” Molly warned her, “it’s a serious job, an’ if ye screw it up f’ yerself, I’ll be after ye like a hellhound.” Gwendolyn was about to respond when the kitchen door opened and Liza entered. Molly shot a warning look at the tall, thin creature, with her perfectly maintained chocolate-coloured hair and thin, arched eyebrows that almost met above her delicate nose.
“Lady Blackwood,” she said (both Molly and Jethro had to stifle a chuckle at the honorific) in a much softer and kinder way than when the girl had first met her, “the Queen has requested your presence.” Gwendolyn nodded and pulled herself away from Jethro.
“I have to go now,” she said, “but I’ll see you both again soon.” With that, she followed the older girl out of the kitchen. When they were gone, Molly allowed a few salty tears to run down her cheeks, which she dabbed away with her apron.
Seeing this, Jethro batted his eyes at her and said in the best (actually not very good) Scots accent he could muster, “Ooh, Molly, old girl, ye know Ah love it when ye get all emotional like ‘at.”
“Be off back tae yer stables,” she grumbled, taking a half-hearted swing at him, “an’ take a scrub while yer at it.” Jethro winked and dashed out of the door, pausing for a second on the doorstep to do a happy little spin on one foot. Molly shook her head and went back to preparing the fowl. Whatever was she going to do with that boy? When she heard the cool, serpent-like voice behind her she felt a terrible chill all over.
“Pardon me, miss,” it said. Molly spun around to face it, and from the shadows of one corner appeared a tall man with a face like a vulture, dressed all in best black. Robert Cecil clasped his hands together in front of his stomach. “I could not help but notice your attachment to the new lady-in-waiting. Have you known her especially long?”
“Long enough, Mr Cecil,” Molly replied. “I look after all my girls as if they were my own. Whissit tae ye?”
“I don’t suppose you know whether or not she or any one of your, ah, your girls, likes to duel?” His tone was like velvet, but the old cook was not fooled in the slightest. She knew his kind. She had dealt with them all throughout her life.
“Ah wouldnae know ‘bout that,” she told him. “This ‘duelling,’ lark doesnae really grab my interest.”
A pause. “Clumsy girl, is she?”
“The other day,” Cecil explained, “during the finals – you at least know about the recent tournament, correct? – she had quite a nasty bruise on her forehead. Do you know how she came by it?”
“Well,” Molly looked off to the side and tapped her chin with her spoon thoughtfully, “while Ah do wonder why yer even concerned, sir, she probably jus’ walked intae a door. Scatterbrained, that yin, but then, aren’t they all at that age? Minds filled wi’ thoughts o’ rich men an’ high society…”
Cecil frowned. He had heard the cook was a tough old cow and it was painfully apparent he was not going to get any more out of her. Perhaps the stable-boy would be more useful. He bid her goodbye and walked towards the door to the yard.
“Dinnae let the door hit ye on the way out, sir,” Molly sniped.
“Excuse me?” he glared at her, picking up on the insult.
“Unpredictable hinges,” she grinned.
“Of course,” he muttered and took his leave of her.
When he reached the stables, Jethro was brushing down one of the younger horses’ neck.
“Good boy, Boxer,” the boy was whispering in the animal’s ear. “Thanks for standing still for once, ya crazy beast.” The horse snorted and nuzzled the side of his ear. “Ah…” the boy was about to say something when he caught sight of Cecil. The nobleman gestured for him to come closer with a wag of his index finger.
“You, stable-boy, come here,” he said and the youth obliged. “You’re Marrack, aren’t you? I hope they taught you proper English in Cornwall because I need you to answer some questions for me.”
“If you’ll excuse my bluntness, Mr Cecil,” Jethro replied, “my parents are Cornish but I was raised in the city more or less my whole life. What can I help you with?”
“I saw you talking to Lady Blackwood earlier,” said Cecil. “I won’t bother going into how inappropriate that is because I’m hoping that means you know her well.”
“I know Gwendolyn,” Jethro nodded. “She’s always been nice to me.”
“Nice. Eh, boy?” Cecil wrinkled his nose in disgust. “She must be lacking her olfactory senses, or her sight.” At this last part he flicked a lock of the stable-boy’s messy hair. “I heard you say she was the only one who could – how did you put it? – resist your charms. While I dread why she’s the only one, I have more important questions, such as does she duel?”
“No, sir,” said Jethro, holding back his indignity at being insulted so unnecessarily, “aside from Her Majesty, it’s not a very lady-like past-time, is it?” Cecil placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder and gripped tightly. Jethro winced. It was like being clutched in a blacksmith’s iron vice.
“Then tell me this,” said the man in black, “why do you think a lowly scullery maid was suddenly granted the position she currently holds? The Blackwood family are wealthy landowners but they are far from nobility.”
“Lady Blackwood is a good, reliable woman,” Jethro scowled. “She is diligent in her work and is a good friend.” Cecil grinned like the Devil when he heard this. His grip on the boy’s shoulder tightened.
“And don’t you hate that, my young friend?” he sneered. “That she’ll always be your friend, and unlike those who simply felt pity for a pungent, inbred little serf, she will never share your bed.” That was enough. Jethro’s face turned a dark red.
“Don’t you dare talk about her like that!” he cried and lunged. Cecil caught the oncoming wrist in his free hand and squeezed it hard. Jethro swallowed the vile discomfort and struggled but it was futile. The man in black was too strong.
“Violence against your betters?” Cecil hissed. “Shame on you.” He twisted the boy’s arm behind his back – Jethro released a strangled noise – and with the force of a high-powered gun, slammed him into the wooden outer wall of the stable. The horses inside reacted nervously, neighing and kicking their individual stalls. Cecil released Jethro and watched him slide to the ground in a daze.
“I’ve wasted enough time with you,” he growled and kicked the fallen boy in the side. “Rest assured I will find what I’m looking for, and if you try to stop me…well, all the worst for you.” He was about to hit him again when he heard a loud fanfare outside the gates of the palace. That could only mean one thing. Their guest had arrived. Cecil dusted himself down and went back inside at a brisk pace. Jethro squirmed in the dirt and reached up to grip the door of one of the stalls – Boxer’s actually, the big horse nosed his hand out of worriment – and pulled himself to his knees.
“Damn that *******,” he wheezed. “Have to warn Gwendolyn.”
When Cecil arrived and was allowed entry into the royal bedchamber, the Queen and her six ladies were in the midst of sewing a tapestry of already considerable size. From what he could see, the tapestry displayed a green-skinned knight clad in blue-and-red armour, mounted on a purple horse with a fierce golden mane. In each hand the knight held a deadly crimson lance.
“Interesting colour,” one of the ladies murmured. “I wonder if he’s from Spain.”
“Certainly not,” replied another, “my money’s on Greek.”
“A Greek knight?” a third mused. “He could be. Are all Greeks olive-green?”
“Well, I once heard they were ‘olive-skinned’,” said the second, “so perhaps that’s what it means.” Cecil cleared his throat to catch their attention.
“My apologies, Your Majesty,” he said, “but the German Duellist Royal has arrived and is waiting in the courtyard.”
“Thank you, Mr Cecil,” said the Queen, setting down her sewing kit. “I would like you all to accompany me,” she addressed her ladies, “except for you, Lady Blackwood. Please go find Sir Douglas MacWood, would you?”
“Gladly, Your Majesty,” Gwendolyn curtsied and quickly left the room. Cecil raised an eyebrow at the retreating figure. Yes. There was definitely something about her. He was certain he knew what it was but he had to confirm it. The cook was clever, the stable-boy was useless and his own servant Sebastian was a lost cause. Still, he would uncover the truth, even if he had to tear it out of the little strumpet with his bare hands.
“Let us go now, Mr C.,” said the Queen pleasantly.
The courtyard was bathed in a healthy wave of sunlight. All around the palace, rows of decorative trees shone beautifully. Occasionally a bird would flutter by through the puffy white clouds. A crowd of servants and court-goers were gathered as Elizabeth emerged with Cecil and her five ladies in tow.
“Ah, Your Majesty,” said Sir Francis Walsingham, who had been standing by the black carriage at the gates. A pageboy opened its door as Walsingham continued the introduction with a dramatic flourish.
“May I present our esteemed guest, duellist to the royal family of Germany, the noted scholar, sailor, landowner and of course, champion card player, Michel Freiherr von Dijkhuizen.”
“What’s a Freiherr?” one of the ladies whispered.
“Like a baron,” a second replied. Von Dijkhuizen was an absolute giant of a man. He towered over all of them and it was quite a wonder he even fit into the carriage. He wore clothes of fine dark scarlet and gold trim, topped with an elegant cape that was black on the outside and red on the inside. He had pale skin and long but well-manicured nails like claws. His jet black hair hung down to his shoulders and a thin moustache and tidy beard surrounded ruddy lips. His beady eyes were an icy blue.
“W-welcome to England, Freiherr,” said the Queen, quite stricken by his inhuman size. Von Dijkhuizen bent down and took her small hand in one of his huge ones and kissed it.
“Ah, you are as lovely as I have heard, Queen Elizabeth,” he said in a voice that made even the hairs on the back of Cecil’s neck stand on end. “As a gesture of good vill, I have brought a present from my master, Prince Ambros dhe Immortal. I believe he called it his ‘veddink present’.” He brushed his cape aside to reveal his travelling companion. Against his sheer mass, she was almost a doll. Nobody doubted he could easily carry her in a single pocket of his clothes or that she might sleep under his cape and never be heard from again. She was a little girl of no more than nine or ten years, with the same white visage as her master, with large but emotionless green eyes and long blonde hair tied in an elegant braid. Her clothing was white and pristine, also like a doll’s, and she carried a casket of fine polished wood. This she handed to the Queen.
“Thank you,” said Elizabeth. “What is your name, my dear?” The girl said nothing.
“You must forgive my young servant,” said von Dijkhuizen, “she ist not quite, ah, fluent in English yet, dhough I am doink my best to teach her.” He looked down at the girl. “Erzählen Sie ihr Ihren Namen bitte.”
She looked back at him, then she turned to the Queen again. Her voice was barely above a weak whisper, “Kreszentia.”
“How lovely,” said Elizabeth. “You must both be tired from your journey. We can provide refreshment.”
“Just for dhe girl,” said von Dijkhuizen. He reached into his waistcoat and retrieved a dark red deck case. “I have been vaitink for zhis duel und vould like to get started post-haste.”
“I’m sorry, sir,” said Walsingham, “but this is quite improper.”
“No, Walsy,” the Queen shook her head. “This is important, and if the good Freiherr would be more comfortable to get on with it, then I will not argue. Mr C., please go get a Fairy Pin.”
“Dhat vill not be necessary,” von Dijkhuizen smiled, opening his waistcoat to reveal a brooch pinned to his shirt. It had the same unearthly gemstone, though the band that held it was different. It was forged in such a way that it looked like a serpent swallowing its own tail. “I have come prepared.”
“So I see,” the Queen nodded. “Very well, we’ll go to the throne room immediately. I will be allowing an audience this time, so providing they maintain good behaviour, the palace staff have my permission to take a break from their duties to watch.”
“You are very kind, Your Majesty,” von Dijkhuizen grinned. The Queen took a step back when she saw two perfect rows of pointed teeth. She had heard of soldiers who filed their teeth to intimidate their enemies and it was certainly working on her. What kind of a beast had Prince Ambros sent to spirit her away in his name?
Gwendolyn felt anxious. Her opponent, big as he was, was only a small part of it. It was more for all the eyes now resting on them. The Queen sat at her throne with Walsingham to her right, Cecil to her left and the five ladies including Liza sitting neatly on the steps in front of her. She could see Molly (though not Jethro) in the crowd with the maids, and Sebastian was there with Donovan and Arthur, and Lord Whitehawk and Mr Underhill were tucked closer to the back. There were maids and valets and pageboys and members of the court at certain points and it was all quite overwhelming for the poor girl. She adjusted her cap and held out her deck for von Dijkhuizen to cut and shuffle, and he reciprocated. As the sturdy parchment game pieces touched her palm she almost winced at how cold and evil they felt.
“Good luck, sir,” she squeaked.
“Und to you, too,” he replied. They took their seats and placed their decks in the appropriate spots. Queen Elizabeth stood up and all the conversations ceased.
“Thank you,” she said. “Ladies, gentlemen, members of the court, servants and associates alike, this is what the recent tournament has been leading up to. Sir Douglas MacWood will duel the Freiherr von Dijkhuizen. As our guest, he will make the first move.”
“If I may, Your Majesty,” said von Dijkhuizen. “I vould much rather dhe boy go first.”
“Very sporting of you,” said Walsingham. “Sir Douglas, the first turn is yours.” In the audience, Sebastian flexed his hands, clenching and unclenching rhythmically. Come on, Gwen, he thought, you can win. You’ve gotten this far, don’t lose now.
Last edited by Duellist Royal : 09-07-2009 at 04:55 AM.
Reason: Automerged Doublepost
09-07-2009, 04:52 AM
Learning the Ropes
Join Date: Aug 2009
Location: Shoeburyness, U.K.
[Begin Duel: Douglas MacWood vs. Freiherr von Dijkhuizen]
“I’ll start by playing my favourite Spell Card,” said Gwendolyn as she slapped a card down on the table. “Valhalla, Hall of the Fallen!” The entire audience murmured in excitement as the magic awakened and the throne room was transmogrified into the wonderful Norse temple. “So long as I’ve no monsters, I can special summon one to the field, and I choose to summon my Dunames Dark Witch (1800/1050)!”
A circle of gold light opened on the red carpet and from it arose a beautiful young woman with deep purple eyes and long hair. She wore white-and-bronze armour, with a winged headdress and two white wings encrusted with large opals.
“And I’ll also normal-summon another Fairy, Dunames’ sister Dark Valkyria (1800/1050)!” A second young woman materialised beside Dunames. This one was almost exactly like her in appearance, but her skin was a light violet, her eyes were red and her hair was silver. The armour she wore was dark blue and her wings were black with rubies embedded in them. The two monsters glanced at each other and took up combat-ready positions. “It’s your move.”
“Very vell,” von Dijkhuizen nodded and drew. “Fairies are powerful, zhis I understand, for dhey are creatures of the light, but to balance out dheir power is somezink even more all-consuming – dhe darkness. Today, I shall prove that. I vill begin by playink a Spell Card of my own, Call of the Mummy. Much like Valhalla, zhis card allows me to summon a monster vhen my field ist empty, und the monster I choose ist…”
A beautiful black coffin trimmed with gold grew out of the floor. Bloodshot eyes opened up all across its surface and a flock of bats flew down from nowhere, swooping over the box.
A dozen hands formed from twisted, filthy, yellow-white bandages slithered out beneath it and grasped the lid, wrenching it open with a creaking moan. Smoke belched forth.
“Vampire Lord (2000/1500)!”
The smoke dissipated to reveal a tall, slender being dressed in a dark European suit topped by a black-and-red cape much like the duellist’s. He had blue skin, faded green hair and amber eyes. The Lord pulled his cape around himself and a long, slimy tongue poked out to lick his lips. Dunames and Valkyria actually recoiled at the sight of their adversary.
“Don’t show him your fear,” Gwendolyn choked back the crackling of her own nerves.
“Courageous, but also evidence of your foolish pride,” said von Dijkhuizen, “for I vill also normal-summon my Darkness Eye (0/1000).” Next to the Vampire Lord appeared a short tree of muscle and blood, and growing from the tree was a giant, hideous eyeball with a blue iris ringed in thick black and three green dots swimming in the depths of its pupil. Little drops of filmy slime plopped from the eyeball to the floor.
“Why would you summon such a weak creature?” asked Gwendolyn in revulsion. “It has no attack power.”
“You underestimate my abilities,” von Dijkhuizen scolded. “Do not forget I am undefeated in my home-land. I vill also set vone card face-down, und as punishment for your rudeness, my Vampire Lord vill attack Dunames. Now, my creature of dhe night, make her vone of your un-dead harem!” The Vampire Lord threw open its cape and raced towards the Dark Witch with astounding speed, his feet never touching the floor. He wrapped his arms around the unfortunate Fairy and met her terrified gaze with his own. Dunames squirmed in his grasp but that mesmerising stare was just too great, and she became limp in his arms. He parted his lips to reveal a pair of long, glistening fangs.
“Fight back!” Gwendolyn cried. Valkyria moved to try and save her sister just seconds too late. The Vampire Lord sank his fangs into her neck and Dunames became deathly still. Her flesh became the same frozen blue as her captor and her body wilted into so many ashes on the floor. Valkyria roared hate and anguish at the Vampire Lord as he slunk back to his former place. He licked her blood from his lips and hissed in satisfaction.
“Dhere ist vone more detail,” said von Dijkhuizen, “since dhe last battle resulted in damage to your Life Points, Vampire Lord’s effect allows me to declare vone type of card, und you must zhen discard a card of zhat type to dhe graveyard…und I choose Spell.”
“Fine,” said Gwendolyn, searching through her deck and placing a card in the graveyard pile. “I’ll discard Cestus of Dagla. Don’t worry, Valkyria, we’ll avenge your sister. It’s my move.”
[Gwendolyn’s L.P.: 7800 / von Dijkhuizen’s L.P.: 8000]
“All right, this is a fairly new type of monster so I’ll explain it to you,” she said. “Valkyria is what is known as a ‘Gemini,’ so instead of summoning any more creatures, I can unlock her Gemini power, so here goes. I Gemini-summon Dark Valkyria!” The armoured Fairy crossed her arms, then threw them ******d as white flames issued from every pore on her exposed skin. An onyx, coin-shaped medallion appeared hanging from her neck by a chain. The number ‘300,’ was carved into it.
“Valkyria’s effect grants her a spell counter, and by removing it I can eliminate one of your monsters, and I target your Vampire Lord.”
Valkyria pointed at the bloodsucking monster that had devoured her sister and a single point of light shot out of the medallion. The dark creature attempted to defend himself by pulling his cape across like a shield, but the light simply tore through and pierced his heart. The Vampire Lord clutched his wound and released a strangled cry as he collapsed to the floor and shattered. Valkyria’s medallion disappeared in a sizzle of steam.
“Now she’ll attack your Darkness Eye,” said Gwendolyn. The Fairy flew towards the grotesque body part, the rubies in her wings glowing. As she closed in on the eye, ready to split it like a melon, something burst up from beneath the rug and bounced her away. She landed with a yelp at her master’s feet and shook her head before righting herself.
“Sorry, but I activated my face-down card,” said von Dijkhuizen. “It vas a Trap Card, Bodach-rocais!” A few people in the audience looked at each other in confusion.
“Bodach-rocais,” Gwendolyn mumbled, “it means ‘old man of the rooks.’ Then you defended with a scarecrow?”
“Das is correct,” von Dijkhuizen nodded as a large metal cross made itself visible in front of him. A few oily rags hung off its arms and a battered knight’s cuirass and helmet were dumped on top, “und despite its frail appearance, it utterly negates your attack.” The crude metal construct disappeared back into the floor.
“I’ll end my turn there,” said Gwendolyn.
“Zhen it ist my turn,” von Dijkhuizen nodded as he drew. When he saw the new card, he smiled dangerously. The rug rippled and parted like water – or blood – as a second black coffin appeared. The lid opened and out came none other than the Vampire Lord. His expression was angry and vengeful as he glared at Valkyria.
“How is that possible?!” growled Gwendolyn. “Valkyria already slew your vampire!”
“Vizh a card effect,” said von Dijkhuizen, “und vhen dhat happens, Vampire Lord returns on dhe very next turn. Alas, it vill not be he who eliminates your Valkyria. Dhis is a family affair now…und you vill learn vhy I played my Darkness Eye in attack mode despite it havink no strength. Zhanks to its effect, durink my standby phase, I can summon any monster vizhout tribute, so long as it ist in face-up attack position, und I vill use dhat effect to call upon Patrician of Darkness (2000/1400)!”
A third coffin materialised, opened and out climbed a much larger, older and more ferocious entity. “Patrician of Darkness does not appreciate it vhen his children are vounded, und now you vill face his fazherly rage.” The Patrician snarled as two red bat’s wings spread out behind him and he lunged at Valkyria. The Fairy screamed as the mighty un-dead pinned her to the floor and tore her throat out, spraying blood all over the Hall of the Fallen’s marble columns and walls. Valkyria’s eyes rolled back in their sockets as the life faded from her and she was reduced to dust. Gwendolyn tensed, dreading what would happen next.
“Und my Vampire Lord vill attack your Life Points directly!” von Dijkhuizen boomed. The younger demon’s body became like mist that rolled along the floor in two paths, rejoining and reasserting behind the duellist. Gwendolyn gasped as he wrapped his arms around her chest and bit down on her neck.
Sebastian tried to sit up but Donovan and Arthur pulled him back down.
“She’s in trouble,” he hissed at them.
“I know, and we’re sorry,” Arthur began.
“But we cannot interfere,” Donovan finished. “This is her fight.” Sebastian groaned and buried his face in his hands.
The Vampire Lord finished drinking and returned to his father’s side. The Patrician d***** one arm around his son’s shoulders and wiped blood from his lips. Gwendolyn slumped in her chair and the room was silent. A minute passed, then she slowly shook her head and flashed a confident smirk at von Dijkhuizen.
“All right, if your scummy little leech has finished his free meal,” she taunted, “we’ll get on with our match, shall we?”
“Ve shall,” von Dijkhuizen nodded, “und since Vampire Lord damaged your Life Points again, I vill choose a Trap Card.”
“Done,” said Gwendolyn, “I discard Draining Shield to my graveyard.”
[Gwendolyn’s L.P.: 5600 / von Dijkhuizen’s L.P.: 8000]
“First, I’ll set a card face-down, and with no monsters on my field,” said Gwendolyn, “Valhalla goes to work again, and this time I’ll use it to call on Tethys, Goddess of Light (2400/1800), and I’ll also normal-summon Majestic Ohka (2400/1400)!” In two bursts of power, the robed angel and the tattooed wolf appeared before her. Ohka opened her jaws and breathed out her usual rosy mist to obscure the floor and Tethys filled the temple with such a beautiful and pure light that it made the vampires recoil. Von Dijkhuizen raised his arm to shield his eyes.
“For my first move,” Gwendolyn pointed across the field, “Ohka! Turn that Darkness Eye to jelly!” The wolf howled and propelled herself through the air towards the eye.
“A vaste of a move,” said von Dijkhuizen. “Activate Trap!” The armoured scarecrow popped up again and Ohka bounced back. The German tittered. “I should have explained, I suppose, but Bodach-rocais is a recurrink Trap card, so it can rise up to defend my eye again und again und again.”
“I’d say it vasn’t – I mean wasn’t – a waste at all actually,” replied Gwendolyn. “When Bodach-rocais is used, it has to be re-set, and a Trap cannot be used during the turn it is set, which means you can only use it once per turn!” Von Dijkhuizen winced. “So with that out of the way…Tethys, destroy Darkness Eye with Surging Star!” The goddess held her hands out at arm’s length as a star of solid light was generated from the energy in her palms. She started to chant as she raised the star above her head and chucked it with all her might.
“Target control!” cried von Dijkhuizen. The Patrician of Darkness looked stunned, but as the star came closer, he held out his own hands and for a brief second time seemed to freeze. The star changed direction, much to both Gwendolyn and Tethys’ surprise, and streaked towards Vampire Lord. The young un-dead looked in horror and confusion at his father before vanishing with a screech of agony. When the explosion subsided, the Patrician hung his head in shame.
“Dhat vas close,” said von Dijkhuizen, “but zhankfully my Patrician has dhe ability to redirect your assaults to a different target. At dhe cost of Vampire Lord, Darkness Eye remains on dhe field.”
“How…how could you?” Gwendolyn croaked. “You made him give up his own son…” She looked at the forlorn old vampire and offered a meaningful, “I’m so sorry.” The Patrician turned and glared with spite at the German.
“How dare you show your fangs to me?” von Dijkhuizen snarled. “Remember that I am dhe master und you are just dhe slave.”
“I’ll make you pay for treating your followers so callously,” Gwendolyn growled angrily, “but for now, there is nothing else I can do, so it’s your turn.” Ohka, having been summoned without tribute, released a final howl before fading away like an apparition.
Von Dijkhuizen drew and glanced at his hand of cards.
“Vizh Darkness Eye still on dhe field,” he began, “I’ll use its power to summon dhis monster, Hollow Spirit (1200/1000).” A blue-white will-o’-the-wisp wafted out of the floor and took shape into a tiny girl with teal skin and large, soulless eyes. She wore a dark blue winter coat, a red cravat, and a turquoise woolly hat pulled halfway down across her round face. Despite its strange presence, it could be described as adorable and Gwendolyn had to fight off the urge to drop her cards and cuddle it girlishly. He’s up to something, she thought, Tethys could squash that baby monster like an old fruit.
“Dhe crooked smile on your face tells me all,” von Dijkhuizen chuckled, “but I’m afraid you vill not find her very desirable after dhis. You see, so long as I have a Zombie monster in my graveyard, Hollow Spirit can deliver 800 points of direct damage to your Life Points once per turn.” The little phantom disappeared in a flash and reappeared in front of Gwendolyn, making the female duellist jump in her seat. The spirit plunged both her stubby gloved hands into her chest (pausing to give her a curious look, having found a couple of things she did not expect) and actually gave her heart a squeeze. Gwendolyn gasped as her Life Points went down and the spirit retreated to her former place.
“Hmm…” von Dijkhuizen murmured, having noticed his creature’s hesitation, “I vill also place vone card face-down und end my turn.”
[Gwendolyn’s L.P.: 4800 / von Dijkhuizen’s L.P.: 7600]
Gwendolyn put one hand over her heart to make sure it was still beating after that move, and thankfully it seemed to have returned to normal. She drew and looked over at her opponent.
“I’ll use Tethys’ effect,” she said. “When I draw a Fairy monster from my deck, I can show it to you in order to draw another. So here’s what I just drew - Nova Summoner (1400/800). I draw again, and here is my second card – Bountiful Artemis (1600/1700).” She drew a third card. “This isn’t a Fairy, so I won’t show you, but I will play it face-down on the field. Next, I’ll summon Bountiful Artemis…”
The spot beside Tethys belched sparks as the floating ivory-and-malachite statue appeared beside her, its cape flapping in the breeze blowing through Valhalla’s open roof.
“I zhink not,” von Dijkhuizen interrupted as the statue took flight towards him. “I activate my face-down Trap Card, Red Ghost Moon!”
The sky above turned scarlet and the clouds parted to reveal a pinkish moon, its face scarred and pitted to resemble a laughing skull. The moonlight covered the field and Artemis slowed to a halt.
“Zhe effect of dhis card is vone Zombie monster,” he explained, “so I vill discard my Hollow Ghost (2600/0) from my hand to my graveyard, so not only does it immediately end your battle phase, but it adds dhe attack of vone of your monsters to my Life Points, und I choose your Tethys.” The moonlight condensed into a single beam that lanced through the goddess of light’s chest and out of her back. She shuddered as her attack points were copied, sucked right out of her body. A second beam stabbed through von Dijkhuizen, who inhaled deeply as his Life Points increased drastically.
“Most refreshing,” he chuckled. “Anyzhing else?”
“I’ll end my turn. Make your move,” said Gwendolyn.
“As you vish,” the German nodded as he drew another card.
“Hmm…I am content just havink my Hollow Spirit decrease your Life Points even further und end my turn zhere.” Gwendolyn cringed as the little spook squeezed her heart again, this time a little harder and without hesitation as she had done before.
[Gwendolyn’s L.P.: 4000 / von Dijkhuizen’s L.P.: 10000]
10000 Life Points, thought Gwendolyn, this might take a bit longer than I expected. It’s getting hard to breath…I need to get rid of that Hollow Spirit post-haste. Thank goodness I still have my two face-down Trap Cards to hold him off temporarily. She drew and smiled. Good for now.
“I’ll use Tethys’ special ability again, and the card I just drew is Athena (2600/800). I draw again, and this time my card is Hecatrice (1500/1100).” She drew a third card. “This time I’ll play a monster in face-down defence, and now your Red Ghost Moon won’t get in the way again, I attack with Tethys! Exorcise Hollow Spirit with Surging Star!” The goddess generated her projectile attack again, this time launching it towards the tiny spectre, who squeaked fearfully and pulled her hat down over her face before the star sliced her to ectoplasmic ribbons. Von Dijkhuizen frowned.
“You may have destroyed Hollow Spirit,” he said, “but in doink so you have activated her second effect. Vhen she is destroyed, I can automatically call upon her older sister even from beyond the grave…Hollow Ghost!” Another smoke trail, much larger and potent than the first, appeared before him, filling the temple with the scent of death. A dark blue phantasm emerged from it. She had a long body that coiled into a serpentine tail, arms that were too long to be human and a nose-less face with a lemon slice mouth, scarlet eyes and mad locks of flickering hair. The ghost released a chattering giggle that sounded like pennies jingling in a money box and the temperature seemed to drop several degrees.
“Dhere ist a lot more to our vorld dhen you understand,” von Dijkhuizen muttered. “Is it my turn proper yet?”
“Be my guest, sir,” Gwendolyn replied. Curses, she was thinking, every time I make a move he twists it to his own advantage. Is there no way I can gain the advantage in this duel?
Von Dijkhuizen drew but did not even bother looking at the new addition to his hand.
“I’ll get straight to business,” he sneered, “und send my Hollow Ghost into battle vizh Tethys!” The ghost wailed menacingly and sailed towards Tethys. The goddess took a stance to protect herself, though this was ultimately unnecessary. The ghost squealed as a pale field of energy burst up from the ground and caught hold of her.
“Nice try,” said Gwendolyn, “but you activated my Draining Shield, which blocks your monster as well as granting me Life Points equal to her attack power.”
“It seems you saved yourself from dhe vorst,” replied von Dijkhuizen, “but my move vas not a total vaste. Vonce Draining Shield is activated it is sent to your graveyard pile, und that allows Hollow Ghost to deal 600 points of direct damage to your Life Points.” The spectre floated over Tethys and coiled around Gwendolyn like a snake, plunging one long-fingered hand into her chest and the other into her stomach. Her eyes widened and her mouth opened in a silent gasp as she felt the monster furiously wrench at her insides. The Hollow Ghost released another rattling laugh but did not retract her limbs or return to her master’s side and Gwendolyn closed her eyes, waiting for the pain to subside.
Once her organs had realigned themselves Gwendolyn reached for her deck. “It’s my move.”
[Gwendolyn’s L.P.: 6000 / von Dijkhuizen’s L.P.: 8800]
“My first move is to tribute my face-down monster, Gellenduo (1700/0) in order to summon my Greek goddess of wisdom, Athena (2600/800)!” In a burst of divine magic, a beautiful woman with a statuesque build and long silver hair appeared. She twirled her long caduceus above her head and slammed the end into the floor with an echoing ‘bang!’
“Before you say anything,” said Gwendolyn as the Freiherr opened his mouth to protest, “it is true that seven-star monsters require two tributes to play, and one of Gellenduo’s effects is it counts as two.”
“Dhat puts my mind at ease,” von Dijkhuizen nodded. “I vould hate to discover I play against a cheater.”
“Do not fret about that,” Gwendolyn smiled. “The one who taught me to play this game always despised cheaters.” In the audience, Sebastian shuffled bashfully at the remark. When Gellenduo was firmly in the graveyard, the Hollow Ghost grinned meanly and began to sink her limbs even deeper into Gwendolyn’s body, her chilling aura was like ice in the duellist’s veins but she was far from finished.
“Now I’ll use Monster Reborn to resurrect…AWK!” she cried as the ghost squeezed her innards as hard as she could. With two cards discarded, the entity was doing double the abuse, even going so far as to lick her victim’s cheek with a fat, slick tongue. Gwendolyn snarled at her.
“You didn’t let me finish, you scurvy little heathen harlot. Monster Reborn allows me to resurrect a creature from either player’s graveyard, and I choose Hollow Spirit!”
Hollow Ghost squawked and quickly released the girl, flying back to her master’s side of the field in a panic. Her younger sister materialised between Tethys and Athena and the dark blue of her eldritch form drained to a dull white.
“V…vhy vould you summon her?!” von Dijkhuizen demanded.
“Call it an experiment,” Gwendolyn croaked, wiping saliva off her cheek with the back of her sleeve. “You said you needed Hollow Spirit in the graveyard to summon Hollow Ghost, even though you had already discarded her, and that told me there had to be some kind of connection between them, so now I want to see what happens when Hollow Spirit returns to the field…and from the looks of it, I like the result.”
“Tricky little vitch,” von Dijkhuizen hissed. “Fine, you vorked out my Ghost’s veakness. When the Spirit is not in dhe graveyard, she loses all of her attack points, however she still lowers your Life Points vhenever vone of us loses a card.”
“I’ll just have to remedy that, won’t I?” said Gwendolyn, “but first I’ll let you squirm a little, Mr Undefeated. Your turn.”
Von Dijkhuizen drew, but with nothing in his hand that would be of any use at this point, he passed. He did ponder the real reason his opponent did not attempt to attack. Either she was being too cautious of his Bodach-rocais and Patrician of Darkness’ abilities, or she was still disoriented from the internal torture she had just suffered at the literal hands of his Hollow Ghost, who was looking quite sickly now her source of energy was neutralised.
[Gwendolyn’s L.P.: 4800 / von Dijkhuizen’s L.P.: 8800]
“I’ll use Tethys’ ability yet again,” Gwendolyn announced, “and the card I just drew is the Agent of Force – Mars (0/0).” She drew a second card and slipped it into her hand. “And next I’ll use Athena’s special ability. By sending Tethys to the graveyard, I can exchange her for another Fairy…”
Athena held out her caduceus to the goddess of light, who was bathed in a gentle alabaster column and sank into the carpet leaving a trail of blinking stars in her wake. The column parted like curtains, unveiling the monster that now occupied her space.
“…and in this case, I choose Dark Valkyria!”
The dark-armoured girl flapped her wings to disperse the remainder of the magic and glared across at the Patrician of Darkness. The old vampire narrowed his eyes and bared his fangs at her, but the Fairy refused to back down. Athena took a few steps forward and primed the three blades of her caduceus straight at von Dijkhuizen.
“When I summon a Fairy monster to the field through whatever means,” Gwendolyn explained, glad to actually get a real shot at her opponent’s Life Points, “Athena delivers 600 points of direct damage.” The serpent staff extended forward like a released spring as it touched the German duellist’s forehead and let out a trickle of blood before returning to normal.
“Since I discarded a card,” Gwendolyn continued challengingly, “let your ghastly little ghost do her worst…if she has the guts for it.”
“Rest assured, she has more than enough, little boy,” von Dijkhuizen growled. How dare he? This little pup, acting so *****ure to the undefeated champion of Germany, it was an outrage. He stared at the pathetic Hollow Ghost with a gaze that bore right into her sleepless soul, and hesitantly floated across the room, coiling around the English duellist again and dipping her hands through. She weakly gripped her target’s heart. The Life Point counter did indeed decrease, but all Gwendolyn felt was a light chill.
“That kind of tickled,” Gwendolyn murmured to the monster, who shuddered that her formerly agonising technique was reduced to something so trivial.
“I brought Valkyria to the field using a special-summon,” the young duellist continued, “so I’ll use my normal-summon to activate her Gemini power and grant her vengeance on the monster who felled her before, the Patrician of Darkness!”
The coin-shaped medallion materialised around the girl’s neck and once more the thin, purifying beam shot out, this time heading straight for the old vampire, who bowed his head and accepted his fate, having betrayed his own flesh and blood he was willing to die. The beam sliced through him and reduced him to ash (he did not make even a single sound as he was eliminated). The medallion faded and Valkyria’s expression relaxed. As the Patrician was sent to the graveyard, the Hollow Ghost sapped at her victim again, and was met with a disapproving glare.
“Do you mind?” Gwendolyn’s voice was dangerous. The ghost squeaked fearfully and floated back towards her master as fast as her ectoplasm could carry her. “Oh no you don’t, nobody saps my Life Points like that and gets away with it. Athena, banish that appalling apparition!” The goddess of wisdom twirled her staff and aimed it at the phantom, who screamed as it rushed towards her.
“Bodach-rocais!” von Dijkhuizen ordered and the scarecrow literally sprung out of hiding and blocked the blade before vanishing again. Before the Hollow Ghost had time to breathe a sigh of relief, Gwendolyn shook her head and spoke again.
“Valkyria, she’s all yours.”
The Fairy grinned and punched her fists together as the rubies in her wings and headdress glowed brightly. She took to the air. The ghost screamed again and the two spiralled around each other in a rather comical chase, until Valkyria flew up in front of the ghost, who uttered a jittery, “Uh-oh,” before being atomised by a magical assault.
“I think that’s enough mindless carnage for one turn,” said Gwendolyn. “Now I believe it’s time for a change of scenery, sir.” She slapped another card down and the entire temple started to shake. Walls crumbled and the wind blew much stronger. The royal throne rose up to the top of a flight of marble stairs, and the duellists now sat on a wide landing between that and another staircase which hung off into the wild blue abyss. The audience stood lining the towering Ancient Greek buildings that clustered together about the magnificent Laputian island.
“Welcome to my Sanctuary in the Sky.”
“Very scenic, I’m sure,” von Dijkhuizen muttered.
“Be a spoilsport then,” Gwendolyn shrugged. “It’s your turn now.”
“About time,” the German grunted as he drew his newest card. “I vill play dhis Spell Card, Card of Sanctity. It allows us both to draw until we have six cards in our cards, und since you already have six it is only beneficial to me.” He slipped three cards from the top of his deck and added them to his hand. He quickly perused them before placing one on his table. “I set dhis vone face-down, und now I’ll use Darkness Eye’s special ability to summon a new monster to my field. Say hello to the very gatekeeper of the Netherworld…”
A crevice between two of the marble paving stones that made up the landing turned an unnatural black and a pair of tiny hands with rotted, colourless skin rose out of it. The hands flexed their fingers, then rested on the stones and pushed them apart, opening a black hole from which danced a ring of naked unholy fire. Something fired out of the hole like a ball from a cannon, landing a short distance from von Dijkhuizen with an almighty ‘thump!’ The creature was even taller than its giant master and its body was completely round, with four stubby limbs. A manacle with a ball-and-chain was clamped around its right ankle. It wore a dirty, blue-and-white striped one-piece outfit with a zip going from its crotch up to the stump of its neck and a pair of brown boots with flat soles. Its head was a mass of writhing black tendrils, in the middle of which was a pair of beady orange eyes. A low grumble sounded from deep within the new monster.
“…Il Blud (2100/800)!”
Good God, thought Gwendolyn (as well as most of the audience), look at the size of that monstrosity.
“Impressive, yes?” chuckled von Dijkhuizen. “In life, Il Blud vas so cruel dhat he actually revelled in zhe Devil’s games und so his soul vas twisted into dhe form you now behold. Il Blud, devour Bountiful Artemis!” The creature rumbled again and the zip on the front of its outfit slid down. A dozen skeleton hands burst out of the nothingness within and attempted to grab the statue.
“Not so fast!” Gwendolyn declared. “I activate my other face-down, the Trap Card Negate Attack!” A small, swirling portal of red, blue and white light opened in front of Artemis and the arms were sucked into it. “I don’t think I need to tell you what the effect of Negate Attack is, but suddenly Il Blud doesn’t feel as formidable as you made him out to be.”
“Ve shall see, little boy,” the German snorted. “No duel goes exactly to plan, but vhen Il Blud does land an attack, you vill learn to fear him.”
“And before your turn ends,” said Gwendolyn, “Bountiful Artemis lets me draw an extra card whenever a Counter Trap is activated.” She drew.
[Gwendolyn’s L.P.: 3600 / von Dijkhuizen’s L.P.: 6400]
Then drew again.
“First I’ll set a monster in face-down defence,” she said, “and after that, I’ll use Athena’s ability to switch Artemis…” The Fairy statue vanished in a heavenly beam, which opened to reveal the goddess of light. “…For Tethys, so Athena slices another 600 off of your Life Points.” The goddess of wisdom struck with her caduceus once more, right above the first spot. Von Dijkhuizen wiped the blood from his brow with the back of his sleeve before it could get into his eyes and obscure his vision. “Athena, send his Il Blud back to the depths where it belongs!”
“Not dhis turn,” von Dijkhuizen flipped another card and the mad moon above them fired another haunting beam that lanced through the advancing battle maiden’s chest, copying her attack strength and adding them to the German’s Life Points. A second Red Ghost Moon? Gwendolyn thought. I should have expected that. Stupid mistake.
“I vill discard my Skull Conductor (2000/0) to pay dhe cost of Red Ghost Moon,” said von Dijkhuizen, “und end your battle phase right zhere.” Gwendolyn frowned and looked at her hand, now overloaded at seven cards. She discarded her Majestic Goryu (2900/1800) as per the limit rule and ended her turn.
“Zhank you,” her opponent tittered as he drew, “und by dhe vay, I appreciate dhe lecture on Gemini monsters you gave earlier, but ultimately it was not needed, for you see Il Blud also happens to be a Gemini monster, und I vill use my normal-summon for dhis turn to activate his special power.” The monster rumbled again, this time much louder and with a distinct sound of snapping bones and gurgling liquid. “Vith Il Blud fully active, I can resurrect any monster from my hand or, if it suits me, eizher graveyard. I choose my Patrician of Darkness.”
Something pulsed in the hellish portal and from it came the old vampire. Blood dripped from his exposed fangs and his eyes glowed with hatred and insanity, a result of his journey through the circles of Dante. He seemed quite out of place on the flying island though the blistering heat from the abyss was quickly raising the temperature all around them.
“Vengeance ist alvays sveet,” von Dijkhuizen purred, “und my Patrician vill sip it like fine mead. Tear dhe Dark Valkyria to pieces!” The vampire roared and flung out his wings, pouncing on the dark Fairy again. She tried with all her strength to wrestle him away but the moment he sank his teeth deep into her throat, she crumbled to dust. Gwendolyn grimaced at the gruesome spectacle but was thankful that with their current location, she would suffer no damage from battles involving her signature Fairies.
“Next, Il Blud strikes your face-down card vith the 72 Hands of Hellfire!”
Il Blud’s zip opened again and the diseased limbs grew out again, dipping into a marble stone that rippled like water beneath them. They dragged out an orange wreath wrapped in a teal ribbon and pulled it apart. Gwendolyn watched as the fragments of her Nova Summoner flickered out of existence.
“By sending Nova Summoner to the graveyard, you activated its effect,” she explained, “which means I can summon another Fairy from my deck. Normally it has to be one with less than 1500 attack points but since my Sanctuary is still active, I can summon this instead…” A white centaur with blue armour decorated by six wings appeared before her. “…My Airknight Parshath (1900/1400)! Go, Athena!” The caduceus made contact a third time.
From his vantage point in the audience, disguised under a fine hooded cloak, Sir Maxwell Wyvern watched with great interest. The three vertical dots on the Freiherr’s face reminded him of the Shaolin monks he had met when he travelled to China. More to the point, he was enjoying the duel a lot. Two players at the top of their game were matched right in front of him. He never dreamed that the cards he created just to amuse an ailing child would escalate to such levels of power, at least not in his lifetime. He moved past a couple of people to get a better view. He now stood on the very edge of one of the buildings, the toes of his boots poking out over the open air beneath them.
“I’ll set vone card face-down und end my turn,” finished von Dijkhuizen. It annoyed him that he was taking damage on his own move, though at the same time it was quite refreshing to fight an opponent of this MacWood’s calibre. He was tired of all the weaklings he met. This one was strong, confident, with a firm game-face and a will of steel, if a little eccentric here and there.
09-07-2009, 04:53 AM
Learning the Ropes
Join Date: Aug 2009
Location: Shoeburyness, U.K.
[Gwendolyn’s L.P.: 3600 / von Dijkhuizen’s L.P.: 7800]
Gwendolyn drew and looked with interest at the card she had just drawn. It had helped her in a previous duel and now she knew it would come to her aid yet again.
“I’ll summon Honest (1100/1900),” she announced. A young man with tanned skin and long, beautiful hair appeared beside Athena. He wore a dark blue toga and a silver crown, and two wings of white, yellow, orange and red spread out of his back. He nodded to Athena, who delivered a fourth jab to von Dijkhuizen’s forehead.
“Next I’ll use Athena to switch Honest for a monster in my graveyard, one that’s as bright as yours are dark.”
Honest disappeared, and a terrifying bellow filled the sky. All present – humans and monsters alike – felt their nerves crackling as a titanic white-and-gold serpent spiralled down from some heavenly refuge above them.
“Say ‘guten tag,’ to my Majestic Goryu!”
The serpent bellowed again. Il Blud looked longingly towards the hole he had sprung from while the Patrician used his wings to shield himself from the blinding glare of the magnificent entity. Athena *****ed von Dijkhuizen a fifth time and by now the German duellist’s face was so twisted in anger and stained with blood he was starting to resemble the monsters he favoured.
“This duel is decided,” said Gwendolyn, pointing dramatically across the battlefield. “Go forth, my servants-”
“Before you say a single solitary vord,” von Dijkhuizen growled, “I vill activate my face-down Trap Card, Threatening Roar!” The clouds around the Sanctuary swirled into a single black mass. It brought to mind a ferocious animal with eyes like comets and a mane of storms. It was easily as huge as Goryu, and the sound it emitted was like a thousand thunderbolts exploding together. A cold sweat broke out from Gwendolyn’s forehead as her creatures crouched uneasily. The clouds dissipated but the damage had already been done.
“Threatening Roar stops you from attacking me dhis turn,” sneered von Dijkhuizen.
“In that case I will end my turn,” Gwendolyn sighed. Damn him. He has more tricks up his sleeve than an Ipswich tart, and if he gets a chance at my Life Points he could be a lot more costly too.
Sir Maxwell stroked his chin and murmured quietly, “If that boy is not careful, our dear Queen may find herself eating bratwurst for breakfast tomorrow?”
“MacWood won’t lose,” said the young man standing beside him.
“And what makes you so certain?” asked Sir Maxwell, leaning down so he could speak quietly into the man’s ear.
“He’s the Duellist Royal,” replied Sebastian Blackwood. “I know he won’t lose.”
“Ah, faith, it’s a wonderful thing,” Sir Maxwell chuckled.
“I vill begin my turn by usink Darkness Eye’s special ability vonce again,” said von Dijkhuizen, “und dhis time I summon my lost Vampire Lord’s older brozher, Vampire’s Curse (2000/800) to dhe field.” Another black coffin grew out of the marble landing and was covered by bloodshot eyes. The lid flew open and out clambered an athletic figure with greenish hair combed back into a cluster of spikes. He wore a black suit topped with an armoured chest-plate and shoulder-guards adorned with curved spikes. Two bat’s wings hung about him like a cape, hooked at his neck by their claws. He and the Patrician locked eyes as if there were severe bad blood between them. “I’m afraid Curse ist quite avare of vhat happened to his younger brozher, but no matter how his rage burns, he is still just a slave under my power. Next, I utilise Il Blud’s Gemini power to revive my Hollow Ghost from beyond dhe grave.”
Sparks belched out of the floor and the ghost – still sickly and white as when she was banished – floated into sight.
“But I thought she could only be brought onto the field by the destruction of a Hollow Spirit!” Gwendolyn protested, pointing at the diminutive phantom who occupied her side.
“Only for dhe first time,” von Dijkhuizen chuckled. “Since it ist dhe same Hollow Ghost, the cost has been paid…und speakink of Hollow Spirit…Il Blud! Svallow dhat pernicious pipsqueak!” The skeletal hands clutched the Hollow Spirit and dragged her towards their owner’s foul body. The little ghost squirmed and struggled uselessly and her sister looked sorrowful at the punishment. With a last wail she disappeared into the nothingness and was sucked into oblivion. There was a sound of bells ringing and the Hollow Ghost stretched out her arms as her strength and colour returned.
“Und now I strike!” von Dijkhuizen boomed. “Hollow Ghost, tear Athena’s soul asunder!” The spectre screeched and flew towards Athena. She coiled around the goddess of wisdom and buried her hands deep in her chest just as Athena impaled the grinning ghoul through the head with her caduceus. With a united roar they both vanished in a plume of smoke.
“Dheir attack strengths vere equal,” said von Dijkhuizen, “und vhile I lost my Ghost, I no longer have to vorry about Athena’s power to lower my Life Points. It gets a little hard to concentrate vith blood runnink over your face.”
“I can imagine,” replied Gwendolyn.
“Ach! I’m not done yet,” the German wagged his finger at her tauntingly. “Vampire’s Curse, suck dhe blood from Parshath! Gorge yourself on a centaur’s essence!” The vampire was more than happy to oblige, licking his lips in thought of such a delicacy. He lunged towards Parshath, who raised his shield to knock the attacker back. The vampire rebounded off the shield then vaulted into the air, becoming a simple length of black silk until landing, fully reformed, in his target’s back. Parshath cried out as the fangs bit into his neck and sucked the life force from him, leaving an empty suit of armour that shattered into tiny particles on the floor. Gwendolyn sighed in relief that she took minimal damage from that round. She was still sweating and desperately wanted to pull her cap off to air her head out but she could not risk everybody discovering her secret.
[Gwendolyn’s L.P.: 2700 / von Dijkhuizen’s L.P.: 6200]
Gwendolyn immediately played what she had drawn.
“I use Monster Reincarnation,” she said. “By discarding a card from my hand, I can recover Athena from the graveyard.” Purple and white shards of light shone out of her increasing pile of discarded cards and a sphere of energy floated out of it, returning to her hand and solidifying into her goddess of wisdom’s card.
“Goryu!” she pointed up at the serpent. “Destroy Il Blud with Heavenly Fire!” The monster opened its jaws and a stream of brilliant flames spiralled down towards the infernal gatekeeper.
“Target control!” von Dijkhuizen commanded. The Patrician looked venomously at the son he was far from fond of and pointed a clawed finger at Vampire’s Curse. The younger vampire released an angry cry that sounded like, “Damn you!” before the fire burnt him to a crisp.
“Dhey have a…complicated family history,” the German duellist chuckled. He fiddled with something on his table and Gwendolyn watched in confusion as his Life Points went down 500 more points than they should have. “You vill see,” he smirked at the expression on her face.
“If Goryu cannot attack Il Blud, maybe Tethys can,” she frowned. “Surging Star!” The goddess of light launched her attack, but for the third time during that duel, Bodach-rocais popped out of its hiding place and neutralised the attempt. Gwendolyn mentally kicked herself for forgetting. “I’ll see a monster in face-down defence and end my turn.”
“You vill see why I gave up dhe extra 500 points now,” said von Dijkhuizen. “By payink dhat cost I can resurrect my Vampire’s Curse, but now his attack strength is 500 points higher zhen before!” The young vampire appeared again, this time with his wings spread at full span and his clawed hands crossed over his chest. “Und I use Il Blud’s Gemini power to vonce again bring back my Hollow Ghost!” The blue spectre materialised and released a louder and more cacophonic laugh that set off a ringing in everyone’s ears. Von Dijkhuizen flicked his wrist and pointed forward with two fingers, giving a silent and much more flamboyant command to charge. Vampire’s Curse glided towards Tethys and lifted her by the throat. The revived un-dead howled with laughter and placed his free hand on her shoulder. There was a wet ripping sound as he tore in two different directions and splashed glistening blood all over the floor, the stairs and the players. As the dead Fairy’s torso flopped to the marble like a rag doll, Vampire’s Curse held up her head and drank the blood that spilled out into his waiting mouth. As he watched the slaughter, the Patrician crossed his arms and smiled, actually proud to see his progeny develop into such a fine figure of a monster. The Hollow Ghost sailed across the field and disappeared into the floor, rising out at her master’s side as the face-down monster was unveiled – a pair of Gellenduo imps who held each other tightly in fear of the bloodshed all around them.
“Not much of a Sanctuary, is it?” von Dijkhuizen hissed delightedly. “Vizh your Life Points dvindling, I’ll end my turn zhere…careful now, my Curse, you might spoil your appetite.” The vampire looked up towards Gwendolyn and grinned, exposing fangs and gums stained a hideous pink from his feast.
[Gwendolyn’s L.P.: 1500 / von Dijkhuizen’s L.P.: 4800]
Gwendolyn did not draw. She sat there silently. Her eyes were watery and her breathing was sharp. She wanted to throw up, by thunder, did she want to throw up. These creatures, these vampires and ghosts and servants of the Devil, were so horrible and cruel, and this Freiherr was a bigger monster than his minions. Her innards throbbed and her throat felt swollen. When she finally decided to pick up her new card, she passed without a second thought. Her thoughts were too jumbled by panic and uncertainty to do anything. Goryu let out a displeased sound.
Von Dijkhuizen sighed. He knew it was too good to be true. Just like all the others, MacWood’s spirit had been well and truly broken. He drew, flicked some hair out of his face and prepared to end his opponent’s misery. He had done well so far, it was the least he could do in repay for the sport.
“I vill tribute my Hollow Ghost,” he said, “und summon anozher Hollow Spirit from my hand.” The long spectre disappeared in a cloud of underworld smoke and was replaced with another of the little floating ectoplasmic children. “She vill deal 800 points of direct damage, und according to zhe conditions of Gellenduo – a card I am actually familiar vizh – they are destroyed dhe moment dhis happens.” The Hollow Spirit floated towards Gwendolyn and plunged her puny hands into her chest. The girl did not even react. Von Dijkhuizen growled at the absolutely wretched little whelp slumped across from him. He pounded his table and set his hand down. He would give him one more chance to fight back, to prove his journey to the island called England was worth it.
[Gwendolyn’s L.P.: 700 / von Dijkhuizen’s L.P.: 4800]
“Don’t give up!”
Gwendolyn looked up. Where had that voice come from?
“Don’t give up!” it repeated. “Rise up, child! So long as there is a chance, you must fight on!”
She looked at the audience. All those faces; the Queen, Liza, Sebastian, Molly, so many people had confidence in her. She could actually see the power of faith radiating out of every pore on their bodies…and yet, the voice was different, separate from them. Something that was so close but at the same time felt like somebody was outside, looking in through some otherworldly window. A golden eye burned into her mind.
“Fight!” the voice urged. Gwendolyn stared at her deck and she found herself reaching for it. Two fingers touched the top card and she squeezed her eyes shut. Please, she thought, let this be the one… She drew, and her mouth hung open in astonishment. Yes! Yes, this was it! Her back straightened and she faced her opponent with courage renewed.
“I’m going to end this duel in one fell swoop!” she proclaimed.
“Big vords, little boy,” said von Dijkhuizen, unable to hide his anticipation. “Can you back dhem up?”
“Just you watch, my friend,” she slapped the card to the table, “by paying the cost of one card from my hand, I activate Lightning Vortex, wiping every stinking demon from the face of the field!” The sky around the Sanctuary became jet black and the atmosphere was split by a rain of bolts. The Darkness Eye, Hollow Spirit, Il Blud, Vampire’s Curse and Patrician of Darkness released mixed cries of agony as they were obliterated.
“Next I’ll summon my second Majestic Ohka to back up Goryu!”
The white wolf appeared beside the larger creature and rosy mist filled the floor, pouring off the edges of the landing and down the stairs like water. Gwendolyn stood up and pointed forward.
“Attack, Majestic monsters!” she commanded. “Finish this!” Ohka went first, pouncing across the field with an angry howl and knocking von Dijkhuizen off his chair as Goryu enveloped him in another burst of holy dragon-fire.
[Gwendolyn’s L.P.: 700 / von Dijkhuizen’s L.P.: 0]
[End Duel: Winner – Douglas MacWood]
The Sanctuary faded back to the throne room. The spilt blood and ashes and flames dissipated. Gwendolyn, exhausted from the harrowing confrontation, set her cards down and staggered across to where von Dijkhuizen lay. She offered her hand to him with a soft smile on her face.
“Up you get, sir,” she offered. The giant’s hand wrapped around her own as he got to his feet. Von Dijkhuizen returned her smile.
“Vell done, little champion,” he said quietly, placing a hand on the younger duellist’s head. “You have von dhe match.” The room erupted into cheers and happy song. Hats were tossed in celebration and there was much clapping and stamping of feet. Overwhelmed, Gwendolyn fainted.
09-25-2009, 12:22 PM
Learning the Ropes
Join Date: Aug 2009
Location: Shoeburyness, U.K.
Chapter 7: “The Puzzle”
As her champion collapsed to the floor in a quivering, sweating, blood-spattered mess, Queen Elizabeth advanced several steps forwards from her throne. It was not very becoming for her to actually carry the ‘boy,’ herself, but her own reputation also depended on MacWood’s identity remaining a secret. To discover that the Duellist Royal had earned his rank under false pretences would cause a scandal, and worse still, Prince Ambros might decree that her deception rendered their agreement null and void, and his terrible giant would whisk her off to Germany. As she came closer, none other than Molly Randolph, the old cook, rushed out of the crowd with surprising speed. Without even stopping for breath, Molly had scooped the skinny knight into her arms. She turned to the Queen and they shared a look that put her mind at ease. I know, said the cook without a single flap of her lips.
“W-well done, Mrs Randolph,” said Elizabeth, “please take Sir Douglas to my chambers. I will congratulate him upon his victory when he awakens.” As she watched Molly shuffle out of the throne room, she turned to speak with von Dijkhuizen, but was only in time to see the end of his cape flutter out of view. She pursed her lips and sighed in relief.
“Quite the duel, was it not, Your Majesty?” asked Sir Francis Walsingham.
“Y-yes, quite,” the Queen nodded. “Walsy, have you seen Mr C. at all?”
“Seen him? No,” he shook his head, “though I can tell you he is probably just skulking about the corridors as always. Strange chap, that one. Can’t imagine why you keep him around, really.”
“Mr C. has his eccentricities, I admit,” said the Queen, “but he is loyal…” Her voice trailed off. She did not want to say it aloud, but she was thinking to herself; Or at least, I hope he is.
To his Lord Highness, Prince Ambros the Immortal,
Alas, sad news. Your beloved has chosen her defender well. Sir Douglas MacWood is a man of great skill and stratagem, and snatched victory from my hands in a way I can only describe as ‘inconceivable.’ I am sending this letter to you via messenger, along with the return of the engagement ring you placed in my care. I have other important affairs requiring my attention, but I shall maintain correspondence until my return.
Michel Freiherr von Dijkhuizen
Von Dijkhuizen set his quill aside and closed the letter, pinning it shut with the wax seal of his family crest, a copy of which he always carried in the form of a ring with a flip-open top. Kreszentia, his little servant, was sitting on the bed in the temporary quarters they had been granted for their stay and sewing a rip in her master’s cape. The Freiherr was wearing a bandage around his head to cover the multiple dots he had sustained from Athena’s Olympian blade during the duel. In the next room over, a palace servant was running a bath for the German giant.
“I have finished, my Lord,” said Kreszentia, presenting the perfect repair in the material.
“Vonderful, mein Schatz,” von Dijkhuizen smiled warmly. He reached out to take it from her tiny hands when he heard a knocking at the door. “Enter.” The door creaked open and in walked Robert Cecil. He bowed respectfully and closed the door behind him.
“Begging your pardon, sir,” he said, “but I wanted to see if you require any aid in packing for your journey home. If so I can have another servant down here post-haste.”
“I am quite capable of packink myself, zhank you,” von Dijkhuizen frowned, “und besides, I am not leavink yet.”
“You’re…not?” Cecil blinked.
“No, my friend,” the German shook his head. “I believe it vill be more beneficial to teach my young vard your language in a country vith so many native speakers. You understand his, yes?”
“Ah, of course.”
“Zhen you vould be so kind as to help us find adequate lodginks?”
“I do have someone in my employ with-”
“No,” von Dijkhuizen wagged one long, clawed finger at the smaller man. “I said ‘you’. Vealth ist no excuse for laziness. You understand dhis, yes?”
“I…” Cecil cleared his throat. “I will see what I can do. Until then.” He bowed again and quickly took his leave. Von Dijkhuizen tittered under his breath. He turned back to Kreszentia and leaned forward to whisper in her ear.
“Betveen you und me,” he told her, “I am not so eager to be vizhin arm’s reach of Prince Ambros vhen he receives my letter.”
“Excuse me, Freiherr,” said the palace servant as she walked in from next door. “Your bath is ready.”
“Good girl,” said von Dijkhuizen. He stood up and placed his letter in her hands, along with a large coin. “Here ist a gold piece for your troubles, und please have zhis taken to my contact at dhe docks. Zhank you.” As the servant left them alone, von Dijkhuizen undressed. Kreszentia watched the armies of squirming oddities fight for supremacy on his skin with empty, mesmerised interest.
Christmastide soon fell upon the kingdom and a magnificent party was held at the palace. The Queen and her ladies were all dressed in beautiful, festive gowns, though the latter six’s were hand-me-downs they were as captivating as the day they were fashioned. As the only one permitted to do so, the Queen’s dress was a rich purple embroidered with silver-and-gold doves.
At her right hand knelt Liza Townsend; guiding stars and snowflakes glistened against the dark blue silk of her attire.
Gwendolyn was at her left clothed in cream velvet trimmed with white lace, from her back she was graced by a silver-and-white taffeta reminiscent of wings.
It is here that we shall know the other ladies by name.
There was Lady Anne Craft who wore gold embroidered with white candles and orange flames, Lady Jane Brondwin in red, Lady Katherine Hawkins-Miller in green with holly and ivy complimented by a circlet of leaves, and Lady Mary Broadbent in silver. These last four were currently standing by a table just behind the throne, organising the ever-increasing pile of gifts. The Freiherr approached with a wrapped parcel beneath his tremendous arm.
“Ah, my dear sir,” the Queen greeted him. Over the months he had lived in England, she could come to know him not just as a formidable duellist, but a master of craftwork capable of manufacturing the most unusual and wondrous gifts she had ever seen. “I am pleased that you are spending the holiday with us this year. Tell me, are Prince Ambros and his new wife doing well?”
“Vizh all respect, Your Majesty,” replied the giant, “I am fortunately not privy to his private affairs. Here, I have brought you somezhink of my own design.” The Queen accepted the gift and undid the wrapping, revealing a wooden purple box decorated with red diamonds and with six holes rimmed with gold on top. A crank stuck out of one side. “I call it a Fairy Box,” said von Dijkhuizen. “I do hope you find it amusing.” The Queen hesitated, then began to turn the crank. A jovial melody played out as six little green heads popped in and out of the holes rhythmically. She laughed slightly childishly at this.
“Thank you, Freiherr,” she said. “Enjoy the party.” Von Dijkhuizen nodded, bowed and then walked towards the large crowd taking up most of the room. He stood head, shoulders and chest above them all, and scampering along behind him was his ever present charge. With the gift giving over, it was time for dancing. As was traditional, the Queen would dance first, and chose for her partner a certain Robert Dudley, 1ST Earl of Leicester and Master of the Horse, known throughout the court for his simultaneous charm (believed to be the mentor in womanising to Jethro Marrack) and acid-tongued wit. The band played an upbeat and mirthful tune for them.
“I wonder if we will ever have a King for Her Majesty to dance with,” sighed Lady Katherine.
“Have you not heard the rumour regarding Lord Whitehawk?” asked Lady Jane, twirling a ringlet of raven hair around one finger. “He has been writing a love poem for her.”
“Oh, he’ll never catch her eyes,” Lady Mary waved her off before sampling fruit off a plate.
“Proper decorum if you please,” Liza glowered at them. In their hierarchy, she was the alpha and would not let any of them forget it. “We are supposed to set an example.”
“If only there were desirable gentlemen,” Lady Anne fawned sadly, then nervously whispered to Gwendolyn, “your brother’s friend Mr Pomeroy has been eyeing me all evening.”
“Yes, Arthur’s prone to that,” the youngest lady shrugged. “Give him three minutes. The next girl to walk by showing the smallest peek of her underskirt will absorb his attention utterly.” She was feeling quite bored and resisting the urge to lean back against the throne for risk of crushing her decorative wings.
“Ugh, how disgraceful,” Liza frowned, watching a young woman in the crowd. “You can actually see her ankles, has she no shame?”
Across the room, Sebastian Blackwood stayed well away from any socialising. He was not one for these occasions, a born wall-flower. Arthur turned to him with a sly expression.
“I fancy my chances with that Lady Craft,” he murmured.
“Is her first name ‘Anne’?” asked Sebastian nonchalantly.
“I think so.”
“I wouldn’t bother.”
“Oh, stop spoiling my fun,” Arthur snorted, pushing the other boy. “Watch the master at work, maybe you’ll learn something.” With that he strode away towards the opposite end. Sebastian shook his head. I could learn how to hide codling trauma, he thought. The next thing he heard was an outraged feminine, “Hmph!” and watched with quiet humour as his school companion returned to his side, nursing a hand-shaped red mark on his cheek.
“Battle scar?” asked Sebastian.
“Battle scar,” Arthur confirmed. As the first song ended, the six ladies descended from the royal dais and entered the throng. Gwendolyn walked towards her brother and was about to offer him a dance, having been watching him every now and again, but found her path blocked by Jethro, looking cleaner and more groomed than she was used to – in fact, she almost did not recognise him.
“May I have this first dance?” he asked.
“Oh…of course,” Gwendolyn responded. He took her in a waltz and circled back to the middle of the room amongst the other dancing couples. After a few moments, he whispered in her ear.
“Watch out for Cecil,” he told her, “he’s after MacWood.”
“The Queen’s advisor?” she had not expected that. “You cannot be serious.”
“Who do you think kicked me about like a disobedient dog?” he asked, briefly taking his hand off her waist to move some hair away from his forehead to reveal a thin, pink mark in his skin. “I’ve been trying to contact you ever since it happened but you’ve spent so much time with the Queen I haven’t had the opportunity. I mean it, Gwen, that man is trouble, and…”
“Lady Blackwood,” a fluty voice interrupted. Both dancers turned their attention in the direction it came from to see the Queen fast approaching. “I’m sorry to interrupt what I’m sure is a riveting exchange, but please locate Sir Douglas, would you?”
“Of course, Your Majesty,” Gwendolyn curtsied and left the room, leaving Jethro feeling rather indignant and a little unfulfilled. Robert Cecil, the man that caused the young stable-boy such discomfort, attempted to follow the mysterious young lady-in-waiting, but a rather flamboyantly dressed Spaniard seeking conversation put a damper on that.
Gwendolyn was curious when she saw her present. She was now clad in her disguise and the Queen was holding out a small, golden box. It bore the image of a golden eye, which was what caught her attention the most; when all hope seemed lost during the duel with von Dijkhuizen, she had seen it, accompanying that beautiful, strong voice.
“Sir Douglas,” said Elizabeth, “as per my decree, consider this present as a token of my congratulations. This is the Millennium Puzzle, and if your skill at other games is on par with your duelling abilities, I am certain you will be able to complete it. Merry Christmas.”
“Thank you, my Queen,” Gwendolyn replied softly, accepting the glorious gift. She popped open the top just a crack to peek inside, and Oh! How marvellous it was! There was a sensation of rushing wind and warmth, as if she were being thrust into a light everlasting. In private, she and her brother were granted two weeks holiday from court, and for the first of those weeks she sat in her bedroom and struggled with the damned puzzle! Every time she managed to slot one piece into its proper place, the others would suddenly become more difficult!
“Thrice damnation!” she screamed, tossing the barely completed item against the wall. It bounced off and landed on the floor, itself undamaged though it had left a sharp dent in the brickwork. “I’m sick of this bloody thing!” She plonked her head down on her desk and put her hands over the top of it, growling to herself in frustration. There was a gentle knock at the door.
“Enter,” was Gwendolyn’s muffled response as her mother walked in.
“Problems, dear-heart?” Candida asked. She noticed the puzzle lying on the floor and picked it up. She walked over to her daughter and set it down beside her. “Having trouble with it? You were always so good with these.”
“I know, but it’s like the blasted thing doesn’t want me to finish it!” Gwendolyn moaned, head still covered by her hands. “Eight days! I’m so tired of trying and failing after eight days!”
“Now, now, none of that,” Candida patted her daughter’s head. “Perhaps your problem is you’re too focussed on finishing it.”
“What do you mean?”
“A puzzle is ultimately a game, and isn’t the point of a game to enjoy yourself? Just remember that and I’m certain you will finish it in no time at all.”
Gwendolyn looked and smiled softly. “Thank you, Mother.”
“You’re welcome,” replied Candida. “I have some responsibilities to be getting on with, but I will see you later, my dear. Good luck.” With that, she was gone. Gwendolyn stared at the puzzle for a while before slowly lifting it up to eye-level.
“Puzzle…” she began, as if to speak to it, but her voice trailed off and she simply went back to solving it. She lost track of how long she spent like that, bent on reaching that one narrow-minded goal, but as she clicked the last component into place, the clock struck midnight and everything became a tide of power. The same feeling of total immersion she had felt when she first held the box, but now much deeper and harder, piercing the very nucleus of her soul…like it meant to split her apart.
Sebastian watched Gwendolyn sitting across from him at the kitchen table. She looked deprived of sleep, with dark rings under her eyes and a paler than usual complexion. The puzzle, which had revealed itself to be a rather large pendant, hung around her neck by a cord, and she was fiddling with it like a cat at a tassel. Pushing his breakfast aside, he finally spoke up.
“Gwen, you’ve been wearing that puzzle for the past four days,” he said, “and you know…you can’t wear it when you go out in public unless you’re MacWood, and…” He was interrupted by his sister baring her teeth like a wolf and emitting an angry hissing sound. Sebastian squeaked and dashed out of the kitchen.
Soon, the two weeks were over, and the Blackwood siblings made their return to court, only to uncover a rather nasty surprise. It had taken a great deal of willpower for Gwendolyn to leave the Millennium Puzzle at home, so she was already on-edge and when she received an urgent summons to the Queen’s bed-chamber she almost screamed. They soon arrived to find Liza and the other ladies, plus Robert Cecil and the Freiherr von Dijkhuizen and Kreszentia also in attendance. Gwendolyn entered the chamber and knelt by Elizabeth’s side. The young monarch looked sickly and weak, her eyes were dull and her entire form shook with each small movement.
“Someone poisoned Her Majesty,” Liza explained, “she’s been bedridden for the past three days. The court doctor believes it to be deadly nightshade, thankfully not a fatal dose.”
“Do you have any idea who it was?” asked Gwendolyn.
“Sadly no,” Liza shook her head.
“I have my suspicions,” said Cecil in a low, stern tone. “Am I the only one who has noticed a certain favourite has failed to make his presence known?”
“Are you implying that Sir Douglas is responsible, sir?” asked Sebastian.
“I am afraid dhat ist not possible,” put in von Dijkhuizen. “You see, Sir Douglas has been stayink at my residence in Billingsgate. He vas…quite hung over vhen I left him dhis mornink.”
“I see…” Cecil whirled around on his heels to face the giant and pointed an accusing finger at his broad chest. “How convenient that the two latest additions to the court should lodge together.”
“I am an ambassador to my people, am I not?” von Dijkhuizen responded shrewdly. “It vould not do to appear…anti-social.”
“Well I believe there’s something sinister underlying that statement, sir,” Cecil sneered. “Deals in the shadows between an arrogant canker-brained German baboon and some loutish rapscallion who appeared from nowhere.”
“Ist dhat disloyalty, Mr Cecil?” growled von Dijkhuizen. “You not only insult me, but also a fine man dhat your Queen chose above all ozhers.” Cecil snarled at such an audacious remark, but the argument was soon brought to a close by a loud croak of, “ENOUGH!” All present attention fell on the woman in the bed, who had now propped herself into an upward position.
“Please, that’s enough,” she uttered. “Mr Cecil, your suspicions regarding the good Freiherr and Sir Douglas are unjustified…” She paused to cough and take a sip from a glass of water on the bedside cabinet.
“With all due respect, ma’am,” said Cecil in a bid to regain his composure, “it’s become obvious to me that we must increase security around the palace. I will alert Sir Francis the spymaster and also set some operatives of my own on regular patrols. If you’ll excuse me, I will take my leave now.” And he was gone.
“Please forgive him,” the Queen sighed as she set her empty glass aside. “Gwendolyn, I’d like you and Mr von Dijkhuizen to acquire quarters within the court…and please return Sir Douglas to my side post-haste. Whether my health be stricken or not, I cannot allow my Duellist Royal to forsake his talents.”
“Of course, Your Majesty,” Gwendolyn bowed and left the room with von Dijkhuizen in tow. They walked together down the corridor in silence for a while, until eventually her curiosity got the better of her; it was the lie he had told that caused her to speak up. “You know?”
“I do now,” the German giant smiled. Gwendolyn’s face fell. Well done, she thought, you give yourself away more than the people you worry will. Von Dijkhuizen put a massive hand on the girl’s hair and ruffled it firmly. “You have nozhink to vorry about,” he assured her, “but if I vere you, I vould make sure nobody else found out.” Two eyes, black and shiny like a cobra’s, watched with disgruntled interest.
Walsingham was not convinced. A born bureaucrat, he would accept no appeal unless given evidence at least five times over, but Mr Cecil would not give up easily. The spymaster had been cornered in his own quarters (in the middle of supper, the dashed rudeness of it all) and was still holding the now cold soup-spoon as his compatriot ranted on like some bizarre tropical bird.
“I tell you, Walsingham, there’s something not right about this business! Think about it, old boy!” Cecil exclaimed, tapping the side of his head with two fingers. “The Freiherr loses the duel and decides not to return to Germany, so does it not make sense that his master would want retribution?”
“By murdering the object of his desires?” Walsingham sighed. “Really, Mr Cecil, I do believe you’ve been spending time in the wine cellar.” The other man slammed his palms down on the table, almost upsetting the soup.
“Don’t try that with me!” he scowled. “I know that you’re just as suspicious as me! We know next to nothing about von Dijkhuizen and even less about MacWood, for all it matters they may be enemy agents, or even worse, Papists, allied with the Scotch Queen herself!” He slipped a serpent-like arm around the older gentleman’s shoulders and his tone changed from erratic to silky smooth. “Come now, Walsy, have I ever steered you wrong?”
“Not directly,” Walsingham admitted.
“Then let’s put our heads together on this,” said Cecil, “and uncover the truth. We’ve much work to do.”
It was business as usual for the troublesome triumvirate of Blackwood, Smyth and Pomeroy, Professional-Crumpet-chasers-at-Large. Just outside the gates of the palace, they had met three attractive and hopefully rather eligible ladies of the court. They were well-to-do and easy on the eyes, the perfect blend of wealth and beauty, and judging by their witty repartee, not too shy on brains either. As he was accustomed to do, Sebastian remained behind his friends as they talked enough for a legion of would-be romantics, and he was feeling just a little like the girls were humouring them. While Donovan boasted of his athletic prowess, Arthur regaled them with tales of his trips with his father to the lands in the Far East.
“Well, as fascinating as you are,” said one of them, “we really must take our leave of you now.” She winked suggestively and then walked away briskly with her two companions. As they walked in single-file down the street, Donovan nudged Arthur in the ribs and grinned, and was answered with a lecherous giggle. Sebastian attempted to shuffle away nervously, but a firm grip on his sleeve put an end to his bid to escape. The girls turned a corner. So did the boys. They would regret that because the girls were meeting with their actual suitors. They were significantly bigger and tougher-looking than the hapless gentlemen, all with strong, square chins and prominent brows that gave them a simian look. The biggest and most gorilla-esque was a mean-tempered and cruel man named Percival Trudgwick, who eyed the trio with malicious intent.
“Might I ask,” he said, “why you boys are following our women?” His voice was an oily growl, like an animal trying to speak the human tongue.
“It’s a very fun game,” replied Donovan rudely, “afraid we can’t let you play. Teams have to be evenly numbered, don’t you know? Boys vs. girls.”
“Don, let’s just go,” Sebastian muttered.
“Listen to him,” said Trudgwick. “You could get home with all your limbs intact if you do.”
“Donovan Smyth has never shied away from a threat,” the blonde youth declared proudly.
“You’ve got guts, I admire that,” said Trudgwick, “but to fight in front of girls would be…unacceptable. The six of us will meet here again tonight at midnight.” He grabbed his girlfriend roughly around the shoulders and led her away
without another word and his thugs did the same. As they disappeared, Sebastian punched Donovan hard in the shoulder.
“You clod!” he scowled. “What the hell have you gotten us in to?!”
“Look!” Donovan protested. “There’s three of us and three of them, it’ll be fair!”
“Fair?!” Sebastian squawked. “Didn’t you see the size of them?! That one in the middle could beat us all up with just half his chin!”
“Then don’t come,” said Donovan. “Arthur and I will go alone.”
“Don’t be stupid,” Sebastian snorted. “The three of us have done everything together since school. I’m not going to be the one who breaks that. I just want you to know that this is all your fault, Smyth.”
“If you get scared, hide behind us, Blacky,” Arthur chuckled, landing a pat on his friend’s back that was so hard it actually made Sebastian stumble.
It was of great inconvenience that Sebastian’s prediction would come true. The next day, Gwendolyn was making her way towards the Queen’s bed-chambers when all of a sudden, in a rush of strawberry-blonde locks and white silk, Anne Craft whooshed out of another corridor.
“Lady Blackwood!” she exclaimed. “Oh, it’s terrible! Come quickly!”
“Calm yourself, Anne,” said Gwendolyn, grabbing the older girl by the arms to steady her. “What’s happened?”
“I…I’ve just heard from one of the maids,” Anne stammered. “It’s your brother, he and his friends…they’ve been hurt badly.” Gwendolyn stiffened. With not another word said between them, the two women rushed to see, and indeed, she saw Sebastian, Donovan and Arthur being carried swiftly to the court doctor under the orders of Robert Cecil, who was barking orders to the palace staff, “Make haste! Make haste, confound you!” This was not the work of three louts, but in fact a small army. Fifteen, mayhap twenty had been awaiting the luckless threesome on the street corner, where beneath the light of the full moon they had had been struck down with enough force to blow the tusks from a brass elephant. Watching her brother pass by on a stretcher, bruised and bloodied, Gwendolyn felt a spark catch light within her. The accursed Millennium Puzzle, tucked in hiding beneath her dress, pulsated like a heart. At that moment, she knew what she had to do. Her soul split and swung apart like a great iron gate and something sang within her. Something vast and hostile.
Percival Trudgwick was worried, but he could not show it to his followers. The reflection of the moon on the Thames seemed so alien tonight. He and his boys had just received word of the fate of one of their number – one of those with him when he threw his dishonest gauntlet – and it was not welcome news. He was in a bad way, apparently, screaming and clawing the air while babbling something about eyes and fire. He led them, seven in total not including himself, along the bank of the river, clutching the silver crucifix he wore about his neck. The streets were unnaturally silent, even for this time of night. Not even the barking of a dog spoilt the mute absolution.
“It’s a devil,” muttered the other one who had accompanied him. “A devil, Trudgwick.”
“Shut up!” Trudgwick snarled. “You’re jumping at shadows!”
“Nothing human could do that to Johnson,” the smaller bruiser protested. “Something drove him to madness.”
“Hang your devil!” Trudgwick roared, pinning the speaker against the outer wall of a building. “I won’t associate myself with a jellied weasel like you. You’ll take another route home, Hogan. Stay here until we’re well out of eyeshot, then you may move.” He gave him a shove to emphasise his point, stuffed his hands in the pockets of his coat and led the rest of his cronies away. Hogan pleaded for his boss not to leave him alone but Trudgwick either failed to hear him or simply chose to ignore him. Hogan continued to beg and cry but soon he was all alone on the cold London street. He slid down the wall and sat on his haunches, wondering whatever he should do to save himself.
Tap! Tap! Tap!
Hogan gasped and tried to pinpoint the source of the footsteps, but they seemed to emanate from everywhere. He hoped it was Trudgwick, but these steps were too light, too delicate, like a girl’s. He grunted and got to his feet. Looked left. Looked right. Choked back a scream. There, standing like a demonic silhouette was a figure. He was not easy to discern, but he radiated an aura of hatred and oncoming agony. Hogan stumbled and almost tripped as he turned to run. Turned one corner. Then another. He had come down this way with the others many times before, thought he knew every bend and curve, but now there was a feeling of unfamiliarity. This was not London. Not the one he knew. All around him the walls were sealing him in, melting away, bricks and mortar shifting into smooth, gold-brown slate. The sky above was purple, the air tasted wrong. Trapped in a land of fear and darkness, Hogan finally skidded to a halt. He breathed heavily and rested one hand against the wall.
“What’s happening?” he wheezed. “Why are you doing this?”
Tap. Tap. Tap.
He spun on his heels. There he was again, but now much clearer. A short man with thin legs and arms, dressed in chalky blue clothes with a dark brown cap over his hair, which sprayed out underneath in waves of made bangs that tipped in razor-like points. He wore a large gold pendant and pinned to his sleeves were gold cufflinks that resembled foreign crosses topped with narrow loops. The mouth was curled up in a sneer, and the eyes, by thunder, the eyes. They were huge, wide and whiter than ivory, ringed with black and quivering with vile anticipation.
“Good evening,” said the monster in deep, raspy tones.
“You…” Hogan swallowed his pride and tried to act tough, “…you’re that MacWood fellow, the Duellist Royal.”
“Play a game with me!” the monster commanded with a dramatic sweep of his arm.
“I don’t p-play Duel Monsters,” Hogan shook his head.
“Ha!” the monster spat. “I’d never waste such a noble sport on you! No, we’ll play something else!” He stretched out his free hand and opened it. As if by magic, five silver pebbles and a red ball fell out and landed with a solid ‘PLUNK!’ on the ground. “Long ago, people used astralagoi, the knuckle-bones of sheep, in the earliest known games. Have you ever played this?”
“Knuckle-bones,” Hogan repeated. “I say, is this some kind of a sick joke?!”
“You tell me,” the monster grinned. “As a courtesy…I’ll let you go first…and by the way, this is a Shadow Game.”
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