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    "The winner of the first match between Team Genesis and Team Free... Is Charlie Robin, Captain of Team Free! Let's hear a round of applause for them!" While there was some cheering, it wasn't as much as anyone would have expected. For Sai receiving a loss. For Charlie winning. In general. The duel simply felt... empty to the audience, who reacted rather lukewarmly. ----- “Alright. I draw!” Shortly after doing so, Eve turned her attention to her graveyard. “And during my standby phase, I activate… a whole bunch of effects in my graveyard! Take a moment to read over them. If you want to put that Arvata to use, this would be a good time.” “Nah, I doubt it’s relevant,” Agira gave a hearty laugh. “Alright, then. First, Matriarch of Nephthys will special summon itself in defense position! Next, Disciple of Nephthys allows me to add a “Nephthys” spell from my deck to my hand, and I choose Rebirth of Nephthys. Then, Defender of Nephthys destroys Devotee of Nephthys from the deck, and finally, Chronicler of Nephthys lets me return it to my hand.” After moving around the relevant cards, Evelyn commented “You really should have stopped something. Probably Disciple. Because now I’ll activate the Rebirth of Nephthys I was able to get from her effect. By tributing Devotee of Nephthys, I’ll ritual summon Conductor of Nephthys! And since I tributed Devotee, the spell’s additional effect activates, letting me destroy one card on the field. Since you don’t seem to want to use that Arvata, I’ll take the liberty of getting rid of it!” “Wait, what?” As a blue flame appeared on the field, from which stepped a young woman in a red outfit with an elaborate headpiece, the fires behind her took to the sky, before crashing down on Agira’s elephant, leaving not even ashes behind when the fires had faded. “Ah fuck, maybe I should’ve paid attention earlier… Well, live and learn I guess!” “With Conductor on the field, her own effect activates, letting me summon a ritual monster from my deck. Before you ask, yes, this does count as a proper ritual summon. And I choose another Devotee of Nephthys!” After a brief chant on her Conductor’s part, a second pillar of blue flame appeared beside her, soon subduing to reveal a woman in a blue outfit not entirely unlike Conductor’s. And in response to her own appearance, a third - yellow this time - pillar of flame appeared, behind Evelyn. "And when Devotee is ritual summoned, she can summon any non-ritual “Nephthys” monster from my deck. I choose Sacred Phoenix of Nephthys!” With her field going from near-empty to four monsters of varying levels of power in a single turn, Evelyn took a sharp turn around the track’s corner, before declaring “And now, my battle phase!” “Hold it! I activate my set Threatening Roar, which prevents all attacks this turn! Bet you didn’t see THAT coming!” “Tch. I didn’t, in fact. I have no choice but to end my turn, then.” A big grin etched itself on Agira’s face as he drew for turn, glancing at the card before pointing at Bear. “I activate my Fire Fist guy’s effect! By sending this Tensu to the graveyard, I can target and destroy one monster you control… and I’ll choose Conductor!” Evelyn muttered, moving her monster to the graveyard. The plan had been to eventually destroy her all along, but… “If I read right, she only activates when destroyed by your own cards… so I’ll continue by activating the card I drew, Share the Pain! We both choose one monster from our field to send to the grave. I choose Bear, obviously.” “And I’ll tribute Devotee of Nephthys…” “Perfect… now it’s finally time! I activate Onslaught of the Fire Kings! While my opponent controls a monster while I don’t, I can summon 1 FIRE Beast, Beast Warrior, or Winged Beast from my deck, at the low price of having its effect negated. Burn bright, Fire King High Avatar Garunix!” From behind Agira’s bike came a massive burst of red-orange flame, roaring wildly before taking the form of a bird with wide wings, fanged beak, and ornate designs, all flowing with the fire that made its body. “It’ll fade away in the end phase, so you don’t get to see its fully majesty, but that’s still enough. Next, I’ll normal summon Fire King Avatar Yaksha from my hand and… Battle! Garunix, destroy Nephthys with Flame God’s Ire!” The effigy of flame behind Agira let out a shrill roar, before charging forward to the sacred phoenix, engulfing it in flame as its owner grinned. As Eve’s life fell from 2400 to 2100, Agira pointed at Eve directly. “Then I’ll have Yaksha attack directly!” The saber-toothed warrior nodded, brandishing its burning staff, before striking at Eve, causing her life to drop to 300. With a triumphant look on his face, Agira proudly declared… “And with that, I end my turn!” “...eh? Just like that?” “I’m not sure, but… Did Agira just spare his opponent from Team Genesis!?” “Say wha?” Agira looked up to the announcer’s voice with a confused look, giving his head a scratch, even though the helmet made it pointless, “I don’t have any way to win this turn, do I…?” “Well, you did…” Drawing her card, Eve explained “I don’t know if you’re new to Turbo Duels or what, but each turn, both of us receive a Speed Counter to use on the effects of Speed World 3. Right now, we have four counters - five now that it’s my turn again - which is just enough that you could have used them to deal an extra 800 damage and win the game.” Agira stared in silence for a moment, before taking a deep breath. However, when he spoke, his mic appeared to have been cut, leaving only Eve to hear the string of expletives from his mouth. Once he calmed down, he took another deep breath, slapped at his face with both hands, then shot a grin at his opponent. “I mean, hey, if you win from that you deserve it! I messed up. Besides, it’s not like I’m defenseless… Return from the ashes, Garunix!” A pillar of flame erupted around Agira’s field, leaving only the same phoenix as earlier… but now covered in flesh and blood. Bright red feathers adorned with rainbow tips, golden adornments, and a long, reptilian tail adorned the same figure as earlier as it now stood in its full glory. “When Garunix is destroyed by an effect, it revives during the next standby and destroys all other monsters on the field… So I have to say goodbye to Yaksha, but it’s worth it! Take me down, if you can!” This was it. A measly 300 life points, and only two cards in her hand. Looking over her options, the potential was something was there… but only if she was really lucky. Taking the next turn on the track, Evelyn put down a spell card. “I activate Pot of Avarice! By shuffling five monsters from my graveyard back into the deck, I can draw two cards!” After returning her monsters of choice to the deck, and drawing her cards, Evelyn wasted no time putting down another spell card, already reaching for her deck again. “Next, I activate Preparation of Rites, allowing me to add a ritual monster from my deck to my hand, and a ritual spell from my graveyard as well. I add Conductor of Nephthys to my hand, and pick up my Rebirth of Nephthys again. Before using it though, I’ll activate the effect of Devotee of Nephthys from my graveyard. By destroying this Last Hope of Nephthys in my hand, Devotee can special summon herself!” Putting down the third spell this turn, Evelyn continued “Now I activate Rebirth of Nephthys! By tributing Devotee of Nephthys, I summon Conductor of Nephthys! And surely you’ll remember that by tributing Devotee with this effect, I can destroy a card. I’ll be taking that face-down out of the picture now!” "Ooooh, that's not good..." Her opponent muttered, hand rubbing his head as his eyes glanced to the booth his team sat in. “And surely you remember what Conductor does as well. This time, I’ll summon the other ritual monster up my sleeve. I summon Cerulean Sacred Phoenix of Nephthys!” From behind Evelyn’s bike, the two duelists were washed in the blinding light of a tower of blue flame erupting from the track, shooting up about as high as hologram technology would allow. A pillar that branched out, creating wing-like appendages before swirling around, closing in on itself. Once the pillar-gone-sphere burst in an azure explosion, a bird-like monster similar to the one Eve had summoned last turn, albeit quite a bit larger and with a different color, occupied the airspace just behind her. “I won’t waste any time, and get straight to activating Cerulean Sacred Phoenix’s effect. By destroying “Nephthys” cards from my hand or field, I can destroy an equal amount of cards you control. I’ll destroy this Sacred Phoenix of Nephthys in my hand, and your Fire King High Avatar Garunix!” The card that Evelyn discarded for the effect appeared over the blue phoenix’s head, going up in bright flames that became a blazing fireball, bound directly for Agira’s monster, and impacting with an explosion she could only describe as “satisfying”. “Ha, that’s not… Hey, wait, no that’s…” He muttered, before smacking himself in the face, “That’s lethal!” “It certainly is! With your field wide open, I’ll go into the battle phase, and attack directly with my Conductor and Cerulean Sacred Phoenix!” On her cue, the two monsters moved to go on the offensive, each channeling forth fire of their own respective colors. The two burning attacks were then fired forth at Agira; a red fireball from Conductor, and a blue stream of flame from the phoenix. “Belle’s gonna call me an idiooooooot,” Agira whined as the two attacks converged on him, wiping out his life points from max. As the holograms began to fade, the two duelists’ bikes followed suit, slowing down for a safe stop. Once they did, Agira tugged his helmet off and dramatically rifled his fingers through his hair, groaning loudly, “I can’t believe I threw like that! And against someone with the same decktype, I should’ve known!” “Consider it an important reminder for later, then,” Evelyn suggested, removing her own helmet. “I’ll admit, I only remembered Speed World’s effects because most of the pros I watched before joining a team were turbo duelists.” “I getcha, and I mean hey, I’m the one who screwed up. Just gotta do better next time, you know?” The boy grinned as he got up from his bike, walking over to Eve with his hand extended. “I’d love to have a rematch sometime, cause… well, we saw it could go either way!” “I’ll look forward to the rematch then,” Evelyn said, giving Agira’s hand a firm shake. ----- "Ugh... Hey guys, I might need to dip out for a bit." Vega spoke from the side as the first two matches came to a close, clutching her head, "So, uh... meet up and have your discussion here when it's done, yeah? And then the meeting will be on Tuesday... Sorry..." She gave a weak thumbs-up as she headed toward the elevator from the booth, sighing as the doors closed behind her... And, before long, getting off and heading for the nearest restroom, where she found herself throwing up before long. That would teach her to drink before a match again. ----- “Well, why don’t I take the rest of the turn easy on you? I activate my own Supply Squad behind Zakiel, then I’ll pass. Make your move, miss.” “Draw!” Rosalia examined the cards in her hand critically as she gathered herself, eyes panning over her cards slowly. He’s faked me out successfully, and managed to stop my counter, she thought to herself quietly, raising her eyes a fraction to examine her opponent across the field. He’s also using the same Supply Squad card I’m using, which means he draws a card if I destroy any of his monsters… But. She raised her eyes to glance up at one of the large screens that ringed the arena. Sai was nowhere to be seen, and it seemed Eve had narrowly escaped defeat. But her eyes finally found what they were looking for: Jon’s Life Points. His Ties of the Brethren lowered his Life Points low enough that with a single strong hit… She ran through some of the monsters in her Extra Deck, her mind settling on one large dragon that let out an echoing roar. I only need to line up one solid shot to finish it. And he’s no longer got the Life Points to use his Warning to stop it! “I set Silverrokket as Link Material!” Her monster blasted forward, streaking into the Link portal. I’ll have to be careful of the cards his monsters let him use from his hand, but that monster. It can put them all to a stop. All I have to do is reach it! “The materials for this monster is a single Dragon of Level 4 or lower! Link Summon! Striker Dragon!” Striker Dragon Link 1 (Left), 1000 Her monster was only on the field briefly before the hammer on the back of its head began to move. “When this card is Link Summoned, I can add the Field Spell Boot Sector Launch to my hand, and then, my Dragon can destroy itself to return any Rokket to my hand! I return Silverrokket!” Her monster erupted in a sudden and massive explosion, the shockwaves roaring out across the stadium and sending Johnathan and Rosalia’s hair flying back in its wake. Even in the face of this Rosalia was already continuing, as the chamber of the massive revolver appeared below her. “Boot Sector Launch gives all my Rokkets 300 extra attack and defense points, and it lets me choose one mode each turn: To summon any two Rokket monsters from my hand, or to summon any number of Rokket monsters from my Graveyard, so long as I don’t exceed the number of monsters my opponent already has.” “Hm… I suppose that’s fine. After all, nothing to revive right now.” “I summon two Rokket monsters from my hand! Summon again, Silverrokket! And Shelrokket!” Silverrokket and Shelrokket appeared on the field, both letting out echoing shrieks as they appeared in Rosalia’s 2nd and 4th monster zones. Silverrokket Dragon Level 4, 1900/100 > 2200/400 Shelrokket Dragon Level 2, 1100/2000 > 1400/2300 However, the two’s shrieks were quickly muffled as they began to be dragged downward, a trap rising on John’s side of the board. “I think that’s a good time to stop you… I activated Floodgate Trap Hole, which flips any monsters you summon simultaneously face-down.” And just like that Rosalia’s line of play disintegrated before her eyes. In that imaginary space within her mind, she saw her bullet perfectly deflected once again, with the offending shot now streaking straight for her. If my monsters are face-down, I’m unable to Link Summon! Rosalia took a small, hesitant step back, watching with clenched teeth as her monsters kept being slowly dragged down, full-size images of their cards appearing to begin to smother them and cover them completely. “Your set card… wasn’t Solemn Warning…” was all she was able to feebly say. And then, just before Silverrokket and Shelrokket were about to be forced beneath their cards and out of sight- A massive explosion took up Rosalia’s side of the field, violent and forceful, the commentator taken aback briefly. “Wha- What is this?! Something has exploded on Rosalia’s field! Did John have yet another trick besides his hidden Floodgate Trap Hole?” Smoke began to disperse from Rosalia’s field. There was only one face-down monster on her Duel Disk, and a gleaming spell card was in front of her, as the girl herself gazed warily from behind it at John. “You hid another Trap in place of Solemn Warning,” she commented simply. “Yep. Like I said, miss… There was no way I knew the top 3 cards of my deck. Only how to bluff. After all… the best way to mislead people is with the truth. Now, where’s that other Rokket?” “I activated my Squib Draw quick-play spell,” Rosalia explained. “I can destroy any Rokket monster, in this case Silverrokket, to draw two more cards to replace it.” She went to her Disk, taking two cards and adding them to her hand. Whereas she normally took only passing glances at her cards in hand before making a decision quickly, Rosalia now considered her hand very deeply. The commentator took the opportunity to add more of their take to the match. “Rosalia has traded out her monster for additional options against John! But by doing that she has made her defense against his massive horde of monsters that much weaker!” Rosalia closed her eyes, taking a deep breath. Her heartbeat was hammering in her chest. It was so hard to focus under the onslaught of the commentator’s loud (and incorrect, not that he knew that yet) calls and the roar of the crowd. It was almost like the entire crowd was pressing in around her, every surge of sound throwing off her train of thought. “Hey. Focus.” She paused, opening up her eyes. Once Rosalia looked at John, he continued, clearly speaking as quietly as possible, “Don’t lose yourself now. You’re not out of this yet, but you will be if you don’t lock on.” What? Rosalia frowned, unsure what to think of this… encouragement? Was it encouragement, or just stating a fact? He’s right. This isn’t going well… I may have the advantage of Life Points but the monsters on his field far outnumber mine. If I don’t get it together… She shook her head, trying to quiet the deafening noise of the crowd, and her own heartbeat in her head, a single bead of sweat dripping down from the side of her forehead. I could actually lose. The thought was like a bucket of ice-cold water: Brief and horrid, and bringing a bracing focus. She slowly clenched her teeth, her grip on her cards in hand becoming tighter. This is the first time anyone’s gotten to see the captain of Team Genesis duel. If I look weak, they all look weak. I can’t let that happen to them. I cannot lose! She finally moved her fingers along the cards she had assembled, taking two and setting them on the field slowly. “I set two cards face-down,” she said, her voice more solid, measured, having once again leveled the intense gaze directly at John. “During my End Phase… Summon.” A card ejected from her Deck , Rosalia taking it and placing it directly on the field. “Your Magical Musket monsters all share the ability to fire your Spell and Trap cards from your hand… My Rokket monsters all have an ability in common as well. During the End Phase, if a Rokket monster is in my graveyard after being destroyed, it replaces itself with any other Rokket from my Deck! The Silverrokket destroyed by Squib Draw lets me summon: Anesthrokket Dragon!” Her new monster was the smallest one yet, a beast with a head resembling a syringe, appearing on the field in Defense mode with tiny arms crossed. It briefly glowed with an emerald sheen. “The field spell Boot Sector Launch increases Anesthrokket’s defense points… To 2500.” Anesthrokket Dragon Level 1, 0/2200 > 300/2500 “Oh my!” Rosalia winced, just once, very slightly, as the announcer realized why that number was significant. “Rosalia’s monster has JUST enough defense points that none of John’s monsters can destroy it! Not even his mighty Castiel! Has Rosalia managed to stabilize against his onslaught?” Hardly, Rosalia thought grimly to herself. If he was able to suppress me this long, then this is only temporary. But it doesn’t need to be much more than that… I WILL find the way forward! Team Genesis won’t have any losses from me! “Y’know, it’s poor taste to spell that out.” John spoke as he looked up to the skybox, “I realize you’re gunning for Genesis to lose, but… Don’t you think that’s looking down on us both? Well, what would I know…” Rosalia blinked, legitimately surprised. She opened her mouth to say something, but at the end of the day really wasn’t sure what to even respond to that with. Drawing for turn, he placed the card on his disk immediately. “I activate Monster Slots behind Doc. By banishing a monster from the Graveyard with the same Level as one of my other monsters, I draw a card, and summon it if it also shares that Level. I’ll select Doc, banish Kidbrave from my Grave, and draw a card… which is Magical Musket Cross-Dominate. And then there’s Doc… Who will add Last Stand back to my hand… Unless you have a response?” Rosalia almost hesitated. A flicker of doubt ran through her as John correctly guessed her intention before she had moved to even make it. But her hand continued to her duel disk to strike a button, one of her Traps flipping up and lashing out several large black-iron chains to lash around Doc. “Last Stand will be staying in your Graveyard,” she declared definitively. “Fiendish Chain negates Doc’s effects, and also prevents it from attacking!” “Not bad… You stopped that.“ A small smirk crossed John’s face as he nodded… Before the chains fell away, clattering to the ground and staying on the field. “So I’ll use Doc as Link Material instead, in order to summon Magical Musketeer Max.” “Another user of Link Summoning… I figured as much.” “A bit more than just Links, but… This is probably the most important one.” Magical Musketeer Max Link 1 (Down), 1000 John snapped his fingers as a zombie-like man with a demonic claw grasped the rifle left behind by Doc… transforming it into a rifle made of wood and bone, pointing it at Rosalia’s board as it appeared, then taking the shot, breaking the bullet into pieces that hit each of her monsters. But when it did, they ricocheted off, returning to hit John’s deck. “It was a good attempt, but now I’ll add another Last Stand and Magical Musket - Desperado from my deck to hand. Which I’ll immediately activate behind Caspar, in order to destroy Anesthrokket.” The trap card shone bright behind the blonde musketeer, causing a rocket to shoot from it, destroying the Rokket monster walling John’s attacks. Rosalia scowled, her mind racing. In a single move he’s invalidated two of mine, she thought, drawing a card as her Supply Squad briefly glowed. Now he has Last Stand, and he’s destroyed the only monster that can defend my Life Points! Then, like before, Caspar’s demonic wing suddenly appeared once again, shooting a bullet at John’s deck. “And now I’ll search Magical Musket - Fiendish Deal… Switch Caspar to attack position… and then… Hm…” He took a moment to consider, eyes glancing across the board and field, before looking back to his own hand. “Then I’ll normal summon the Wild I added back last turn.” Fitting its name, the Musketeer appeared, bare chested and roaring, with an absolute arsenal carried on his back. “And I think Battle is next up. So first, Zakiel will destroy the set Shelrokket.” With a wicked laugh, the masked demon took a bow, before standing upright suddenly with its two guns cocked and ready, firing at the set dragon. Once it flipped, the yellow dragon quickly exploded, pierced by the demon’s bullets. “And then the others.” Before Rosalia had a chance to think, the other three Musketeers took aim. Caspar, then Max, and finally Wild took their shots, with bullets and rockets flying to Rosalia’s side of the board, leaving a cloud of smoke as John waited to see the outcome. The first noise to come from the cloud of smoke was coughing. Rosalia had taken another step back, this time just to brace herself, and she was barely visible inside the cloud. “That’s… quite an onslaught.” “‘S not much. I’m sure you can tell my deck isn’t nearly as good at outputting damage as others.” “Would you like a little help with that, then?” “Oh? Are you conceding after that?” A rectangular shape appeared in the cloud, a card that started pulsing with violent purple light. “Card of Endurance… This lets me draw one card… IF I increase the damage you deal to me by 1000 extra points.” Though Rosalia wasn’t quite visible inside the smoke cloud yet, she was glaring straight out at John, almost daring him. Do it, I dare you… use Last Stand! “I see… Risky, but maybe it’ll work out for you.” Rosalia allowed herself the smallest of triumphant smiles. On her duel disk screen two images of Shelrokket and Anesthrokket pulsed on her screen. “I’m confident it will. DRAW!” And as she pulled the card from her disk, the Card of Endurance erupted in a cloud of purple smoke, completely re-obscuring Rosalia just as the first smoke cloud disappeared. Rosalia: 5000 > 3800 > 2800 > 1100 > 100 “I hope what you drew was good, though. After all… your hand’s all you’ve got.” John placed another card on his disk from his hand, “I activate my Magical Musket - Dancing Needle.” As the trap card from his hand activated, three tiny bullets shot from it… and hit Rosalia’s graveyard on her disk. Anesthrokket, Silverokket, and Shelrokket each dissolved from Rosalia’s display as the card resolved. “Dancing Needle banishes up to three cards from my opponent’s graveyard… and I don’t think I want them resolving. Or for your field’s secondary mode to be live, while I’m at it.” “What?!” Rosalia was truly alarmed now, the smoke clearing to show she was wide-eyed and, after being at the heart of so many large eruptions, considerably more bedraggled than she had been at the start of the duel. Her hair was heavily windblown, and she stood with a definitive slacked posture, breathing hard as she watched Dancing Needle take away her last line. In the mind’s eye vision she shot three times, and had each bullet struck out of the air with ease. “That’s enough for now. I’ll set one card and end my turn.” John did just that, before glancing at Caspar. “Shame he isn’t a level 4 monster. I would have had lethal if he was.” Rosalia felt the noise closing in around her once again. “Aaaaand Marlowe has had EVERY play she’s tried to set up countered by Nava! And now that massive advantage of Life Points has been whittled down to her last sliver by Johnathan’s assault! What will this captain do in their first challenge here in this league???” Rosalia took two halting steps forward, returning to the position she had held before Johnathan’s attacks. All the shots in her head were a confused mess. Almost had lethal… And yet it feels like every shot he’s lined up has been perfect. Her hands tensed around the cards she was holding, gazing down at the ground with her mind in a furious flurry of confused thought. An S+ class duelist… I’m on this team for my skill and I’ve already gone up against someone I can’t defeat, the one thing I’m here for. The tension of the crowd was palpable, and Rosalia felt like every single audience member was personally breathing down her neck. The team was 1-0 right now, with Eve barely winning... Rosalia’s eyes flew to the screen like a magnet, and as she saw Sai’s life counter reach 0, her blood turned to ice. They will line up out the door hoping to see me lose. Sai’s words, his justification, ran through Rosalia’s head. So too did the sound of something deflating with gusto. Rosalia wasn’t sure if it was Sai’s ego, or her own. That was a loss to the team. A loss she all of a sudden couldn’t afford to stand alongside. I don’t know what to do. “Breathe.” John cut through Rosalia’s thoughts, speaking softly like before. His eyes trained on her, but his gaze didn’t feel stern. “Don’t get too lost in your head. One of your teammates won, the other has been on the backfoot this entire game. Show them you can lead. Ignore the MC. He’s an idiot.” She hadn’t even realized that her breathing had slowed. She forced herself to take a slow, rattling breath, the slight redness that had begun to build up around her collarbone lightening slightly. She continued to look down at the ground, not wanting to look up at the roaring crowd, the bright lights. She reached up with her spare hand to draw some of the hair out of her eyes. She caught sight of what she had drawn off of Card of Endurance, only now registering that she even had it. She let out one quick huff of a sigh, adding the card to her hand. “Evelyn. Sashisematta.” As the attention of the stadium turned towards the only duel still ongoing, Rosalia slowly raised her gaze to level back on John. “Thank you for your dueling so far. Like I told you before we started today… I won’t lose.” “Draw!” Only the briefest of glances before Rosalia was off like a shot. I have to move quickly. There’s a chance, a small, tiny window for him to make a mistake… I won’t rely on it, but if he stumbles I’ll take the shot! If not… Well. Like I said. “My graveyard has no Rokket monsters for Revolve Boot Sector. My hand is another matter. Activate my Field Spell! Summon! Metalrokket! Magnarokket!” Two blue-armored dragons rose from the revolver chambers, one the thin-headed missile that had been the cause of Kendra’s recent loss, the other a bulkier beast with a hollow-pointed head. Metalrokket Dragon Level 4, 1700/1400 > 2000/1700 Magnarokket Dragon Level 4, 1800/1200 > 2100/1500 “Your Life Points are too low to activate your Solemn Warning,” Rosalia called across the field, raising her hand to point directly towards John’s set card. “HOOOO! Rosalia has once again decided on John’s face-down card to be Solemn Warning! But has he set up a second bait, as he did with Floodgate Trap Hole???” “Hm… And how do you know that it’s Solemn Warning?” John smirked a bit, hand at his side, “Let me hear the line of thought.” Rosalia slowly raised her hand to point at John’s own… and the cards within it. “Process of elimination,” she said with finality. “I see… Now you’re thinking a bit more clearly. Well, I’ll admit it. It’s Solemn Warning, since you know all I’ve got. Show me what you can do with that knowledge!” “Do you know what nickname some of the members of our dueling club got to call me?” Rosalia’s eyes stayed focused on John’s hand, and the arsenal she knew it contained. “The nickname they gave me was ‘Sniper.’ They seemed to think I had almost a sixth sense to anticipate their moves and stop them before they’d even begun. But it was just that. Process of elimination.” Her eyes flicked to the Supply Squad card on her field, and its mimic across the way on John’s. There had been a reason she had been so loathe to destroy his monsters with that card in play. “I know every card you’re holding, and what they’re all capable of. Giving me the time to collect that knowledge… was a mistake.” “When I control any Rokket monster, I can summon Absorouter Dragon from my hand!” Another blue-armored dragon appeared, but this one lacked the glimmering wings that all her Rokkets seemed to share, and was much larger than any of the ones seen thus far. Absorouter Dragon Level 7, 1200/2800 “I set Absorouter and Metalrokket as Link Material! The materials for this monster are any 2 DARK Dragon monsters! Link Summon! Dillingerous Dragon!” Dillingerous Dragon Link 2 (Up, Down), 1600 The purple-armored dragon appeared on the field, the one that had blown Kendra’s Thunderbird into smithereens. But Rosalia knew that wouldn’t happen here. “Your Fiendish Deal trap card in your hand stops me from destroying any of your monsters with my dragon’s effects. But it gives me the effect of Absorouter: It adds any Rokket from my deck to my hand, and the one I choose is Autorokket Dragon! Summon!” The card ejected from her deck, allowing her to grab it and place it on the field, the tan-armored dragon flying to land alongside Magnarokket. Autorokket Dragon Level 3, 1600/1000 > 1900/1300 “It’s time for that dragon, then?” Rosalia’s eyes narrowed. “Seems I’m not the only one who’s figured a few things out. I set Magnarokket, Autorkket, and the Link 2 Dillingerous Dragon as Link material! The materials are any three effect monsters!” Almost subconsciously she heard that roar again; The roar of the dragon she had wanted to call forth previously, the creature lurking in her Extra Deck: Her ace monster. Her dragons all collapsed into rays of light, Dillingerous splitting into two bright winding trails of sparks. “Roar of the battlefield, coalesce into a mighty shot,” Rosalia intoned, in a rare bid of activity for her: A summoning chant. “Take aim and let your bullet become victory! Link Summon! FIRE! Borreload Dragon!” The three dragons flew into the points of the link portal… And it erupted in fire and billowing green sparks, a huge mushroom cloud of flame that held a large, bulky silhouette. Large, metal-tesselated wings stretched out, searing emerald light ringing the mighty dragon, as the smoke cleared and red armor plates shone in the light of the afternoon sun, and the body of a gun barrel slowly clicked into place, heralding a mighty roar that echoed across the field. Borreload Dragon Link 4 (Left, Lower-left, Lower-right, Right), 3000 The announcer was practically having a conniption. “What is this?!? Rosalia has managed to turn things around somehow, and summon the strongest monster to grace this duel so far! Is this it? Can she turn the corner on this duel?” “Just as I thought. Well, that is impressive,” John began, flicking his fingers, “But you’ve already normal summoned… and you already used your field… And, most importantly,” he held up his hand, “You know what I’m holding. So, how do you overcome this?” “Borreload Dragon has an ability… Anti-Enemy Rokket,” Rosalia said simply. “It lowers any monster’s attack power by 500 at any point in the turn. Most importantly, you can’t activate Cross-Domination in response to it, meaning I’ll keep all 3000 of Borreload’s attack power.” Rosalia waited. She knew the ‘but’ would come from John shortly. However, she was met with the same smirk as before. Not taunting, not demeaning, just… There. As if challenging her to meet him on the same level. “... But we both know it’s not that simple,” she said softly. Instead of proceeding to battle, she reached to her hand and pulled out one of her signature cards. “I’ll supplement Borreload with this Spell! Quick Launch summons any Rokket from my deck! Go ahead! Negate it with your Last Stand!” “One step ahead of you, miss. No… Rosalia.” He snapped, the spell shattering almost as soon as she activated it, Last Stand appearing behind Caspar, “And you know that allows Caspar to search a card, of course. So I’ll have him-” ”-find Magical Musket - Desperado,” Rosalia interrupted, pointing at him, almost daring him herself. “My, where were you this whole game?” John chuckled heartily, adding Desperado from his deck to his hand, “Took you a while, but you’re getting into the groove now. Show me what you’ve got!” “I’ve been here the whole time. I’ve just been… lining up my shot. And there’s something you should know. Once I’ve lined up that shot…” She reached to the last card in her hand. “I do not miss,” she intoned, turning it around to reveal- “A SECOND Quick Launch is in Rosalia’s hand!” The announcer called. Rosalia took the brief moment of crowd fervor at this to close her eyes and breathe one more time. It had been on top of her deck. The first one had come from Card of Endurance. One after another. A double tap, as it were. “Ah, there it is… Is that really enough, though? In response, I use Desperado from my hand, behind Wild, to target your Borreload!” Wild raised his hand, taking aim and firing straight into the gun-barrel chest of Rosalia’s Dragon… only to have the shot ruined in an instant by a curtain of dark mist erupting around Rosalia’s side of the field, the bullet being swept aside to shoot through the air approximately one foot away from Rosalia’s head. She didn’t flinch. Just allowed herself the satisfaction of watching John’s face as her Trap card revealed itself. “Dark Illusion. This stops one of my DARK monsters from being targeted by an effect. And notably… You aren’t the only one in this duel who knows how to use a Counter Trap.” John froze as he watched his card get negated, never speaking as his eyes darted to see what came from Quick Launch. “As I said, Quick Launch summons any Rokket. I choose this one: Summon! Exploderokket!” A long, many-segmented dragon with bronze armor burst forth from the card, each link of the beast chinking back and forth as it snorted crimson flames from its mouth. “And it has an extra 300 attack and defense points added from Boot Sector.” Exploderokket Dragon Level 7, 2000/2000 > 2300/2300 “Locking me out of the chain with a counter trap was clever, but…” Another hearty laugh escaped the man as Exploderokket was summoned, “That old man told me it was the worst Rokket, not worth playing, so I didn’t play around it… now here we are. I see what you mean by you won’t lose, Rosalia! But first, Wild procs, which lets me shuffle in Doc, Needle, and Last Stand into my deck, then draw 1.” If Rosalia’s feelings were hurt by this comment on her card quality, she did not show it. A brief flutter of doubt came into her mind, a twist of sickness in her stomach as John drew. This was the only weak point. That one card could mean her downfall, the one piece of knowledge she did not, could not have. But she merely raised a hand and pointed at Magical Musketeer Max. “Battle.” Her single word was heralded by a growing whoosh noise as small lights started to spark to life in Borreload’s eyes, and the gun barrel began to revolve. “Borreload Dragon-” “It’s now or never. Let’s go down together… I use Cross-Dominator, targeting Borreload Dragon! If your attack connects, your life points will be wiped out, and I have an unknown quantity in hand, unlike you.” As he finished speaking, Max raised his weapon again, taking aim at the massive mechanical dragon roaring at it. “The shot’s been lined up… Evelyn! Sashisematta! As I said. I won’t lose. Anti-Enemy Rokket!” Even as a cross-hairs appeared on Borreload’s face, it roared, a great bellow that synched with the whirling of the gun barrel in deafening harmonics. “I target any monster on the field to lose 500 attack points… And I choose Exploderokket!” To say this heralded confusion from the crowd would have been an understatement. To say it heralded confusion from the announcer was both an understatement and expected. All the while, John just smiled and nodded. But even as Exploderokket glowed with a harsh green light, it suddenly shrunk down, coalescing into a green sphere of light that rose up into the air. “Rokkets all have another effect, one that only activates when they’re targeted by the effect of a Link Monster,” Rosalia said, the light of her monster casting half her face in shadow as it rose towards Borreload. “An effect that activates by destroying them. In tandem with Anti-Enemy Rokket, my dragons become its bullets.” She took one last deep breath. I’m sorry, Team Genesis, she thought, with a touch of anger at herself. No, not anger. Disappointment. That she was to fulfill her promise in the letter and not the intended meaning. I promised you I would not lose. Against him… This is the best I can offer. “When Expldoerokket is targeted by a Link monster’s effect, I can destroy it to inflict 2000 points of damage-” A crackle of feedback as the commentator fumbled his microphone, before she finished: “To us both.” The orb of light entered into one of the chambers of Borreload. Instantly the chamber halted, and Borreload opened its jaws to reveal a massive gun barrel sticking forth, one that shone with horrid lurid orange light that erupted out as if from a flamethrower. The spearhead of the fire struck the center of the arena like a meteor, and it exploded out in a huge disaster radius that wreathed the entire duel field and its inhabitants in flame and smoke. Jonathan: 1400 > 0 Rosalia: 100 > 0 Rosalia had taken the window of time that the field was wreathed in smoke to gently run her hand through her hair and make it look a touch more presentable. It had been blown out of its style by the many blasts she had endured over the course of the duel. Readjust her hair and take a brief solace in the fact that for just a few brief moments every eye in the stadium wasn’t on her. As her Borreload hologram faded from sight beside her, she resumed the neutral expression she had carried onto the duel field, and the smoke parted to reveal a girl who looked unruffled, and accepting. “Good game, Rosalia.” John extended his hand to her, having walked over during the explosion and the smoke that followed, “You played to your outs. And, if it helps… You chose the right line of play, considering my draw.” Rosalia reached forward, and very gently accepted John’s handshake. “And to you as well… Thank you for the duel. You and all your team.” At last the announcer managed to splutter out. “Oh my! The duel has ended… in a draw! Well that’s certainly not something you see every match, folks! And with that draw, and a win for both Team Free AND Team Genesis, we have us a good old-fashioned draw to the ENTIRE match!” Despite the enthusiasm the announcer mustered, the crowd remained silent, other than a few rare claps echoing quietly. Inwardly Rosalia had a slight flutter of the heart, wondering if she had done something wrong. She kept her hand in John’s for as little time as seemed polite, and turned to walk back, back off the duel field. “Hey, before you go,” John added, motioning to her, “You have a lot of potential playing a control deck… And I know the deck you’re playing fairly well. Why don’t you come to Team Free’s next meeting and we can have a low-stakes discussion and practice? Trust me, the rest of the team won’t care… and your coach is good friends with our captain. What do you say?” Rosalia turned back, pausing at the edge of the duel field. The offer surprised her, though it was only apparent on her face for a moment. Her pale eyes flicked to Johnathan’s for half a moment and then away again, the girl now unable to maintain strong eye contact. “I’ll… have to see,” she said back, barely loud enough for him to hear. It was not a no, though it was by equal measure not a yes. She wasn’t sure herself what the answer would be. ----- "And with that, this match comes to a close, with a draw! Neither Team Genesis nor Team Free walk away with a win this week, due to a single misplay sparing Team Genesis! Despite their strong start last week, are they already out of steam!?" As the duelists returned to find their coach missing, hopefully explained by the three viewers upon entry, they were left to their own devices, to discuss amongst one another, while the booming MC's words still hung in their minds.
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    Ryia was certainly on edge as they went into the night. Both with Damien's warning about the wolves and the strength of the young creature that they had fought before made Ryia that much more aware of how dangerous a place they were in. More so than anywhere else they had been thus far. And so she kept her eyes peeled for any wolf-like monsters or gigantic lizard monsters that would threaten them while the group was trying to rest. Her partner in this endeavor was Lindow, which if nothing else the man seemed to always have his eyes peeled for danger - for better or worse - so she at least took some solace in that. The two of them simply sat there for the first part of their watch, dead silent between them as Lindow hadn't spoken up and Ryia didn't have the faintest idea of what to talk about with the swordsman. This was broken, however, as Lindow made the first comment. "Eh?" Shocked both by the suddenness of it and the words themselves, Ryia's eyes darted around the woods looking for any strange women-like figure that might've been there. She calmed down, though, as he further elaborated. "Oh...well um, he hasn't mentioned one, if it is." As she said that, the girl thought back to their first meeting, and more specifically when the two were left alone. Her brow furrowed as she remembered the relentless teasing he had put her through, alongside pointing a sword to her neck. "And I uh, don't think he's too concerned about...that kind of uh, stuff..." Thinking back earlier to that very conversation, though, the girl added, "oh but I uh, I think he likes animals? So, well uh, maybe it has something to do with weird animals or something?"
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    Rosalia was in the team’s private box at the arena before anyone else was. She had opted to keep the lights off, allowing only the light of day to illuminate the box. When the door opened before her to reveal Sai, the shadows in the back portion of the box made him look almost ghostly, his bottom half almost looking like they weren’t there. “Thank you for coming, Sashisematta. I wanted to have a talk with you… about last time.” She rose from her chair and walked around to face him, silhouetted in his vision by the sun behind her. “I’d like for you to hear me out first.” "Of course. I'm always open to criticism from those who keep an equally open mind." “... Your match against Avery was disrespectful to him… But you had intent behind it, a plan. I’m willing to see where it goes… for now. But you went too far against Avery. Do not push your luck… You’re skilled, there’s no denying it. And perhaps you’ll end up being correct about people wanting to see you lose. So for now we’ll wait and see if it works out. But don’t push it with this duel, Sashisematta.” A shrug from Sai. "This duel is different, there is no need for me to play up my opponent. They are already a hero." “I have one other condition.” Rosalia held up her Duel Disk, which was on video mode, paused on Sai’s duel with Avery. She hit the play button and the Sai’s own voice resonated from it. "This is your first duel at a pro level, isn't it?" Avery this time. “I don’t see why that’s relevant.” "How could it not be? I'm sure your team captain is doing just fine, the duelist she is against is an idiot, but can you imagine how she would feel if you let her down?” Rosalia hit the pause button. She hit rewind, repeating Sai’s last words against Daichi. She had not taken her eyes off of Sai the entire time. “Feel free to turn yourself into a heel to everyone else, Sashisematta… But I won’t allow you to drag anyone else on Team Genesis with you. Don’t insult the rest of the team on that stage. Is that understood?” "Ah, I suppose that comment may have crossed a line. I still hold hope that it will incite change within Daichi, but I will take your opinion into consideration." "I didn't ask you to take it into consideration." Rosalia's eyes narrowed. Her expression was only two or three degrees north of a glare. "I asked if it was understood." "Feisty." Sai narrowed his own eyes, almost as if he were a mirror for Rosalia. While the top half of his face held an expression of rage, brow furrowed like a beast about to attack, his lips curled into a gentle smile. "I understand you, better now than ever. Make sure to take some of this fury into your duel." The door opened before Rosalia could react to this, as a very tired-looking Vega came into the room. Sai turned to greet their coach, all smiles suddenly as he greeted her, asking something about when Evelyn would be joining them. Rosalia took a deep breath, looking down at her duel disk. She reached up and closed the video that had been pulled up, before Vega had a chance to see it. Vega didn’t need to get involved. She could handle this. - - - - - - - And I’ll handle it without rage, Sashisematta, she thought as she watched Jonathan with rapt attention. You misunderstand me. It wasn’t rage that motivated me to confront you… It was what the team needed. The only way forward. Just as I’ll find the way forward now. - - - - - - - Back in the box, as Daichi moved one of his packs aside, it exposed the small envelope that had been on the table beneath it, unseen up to this point. It was labeled simply with Kendra’s name in what was recognizably Rosalia’s smooth cursive. The contents were just as simple, once Kendra saw it and was able to open it. Just a short note and a single black-framed card. The note read merely: Thank you for helping me find a way forward. I thought it only fair to help you do the same. -R - - - - - - - I don’t need rage. All I need is to see the path forward… and take the shot. She took a good twenty seconds between Jonathan’s End Phase and the start of her turn, as the drama with Sai started to fade slowly to the background of her mind. To the back of her mind as the only thing that took up her thoughts was the duel. Solemn Warning…. A powerful card, to be sure. But considerably less powerful when I know about it. She thought back to her duel against Kendra in the mall a few days ago. Normally I would want to Link Summon Striker Dragon… But with Solemn Warning he can leave me defenseless. I have two paths forward. I’ll attempt to bait him into using it… or I’ll have to reduce his Life Points below 2000 first! Then he’ll have no chance to activate it. Already everything felt so much simpler, so much clearer. As if everything else was being forced to the sides, out of the long scope she felt in her mind’s eye, a scope that aimed directly at Jonathan. “Draw!” At last she drew for turn, just as the commentator was drawing breath to comment on how long she was taking, hurriedly stopping himself so as not to talk over Rosalia’s move. “First, I activate a Continuous Spell: Supply Squad!” She placed the card in her Duel Disk, in zone 1. Unlike Jonathan, she didn’t verbally clarify the placement. Every piece of a duelist’s turn reveals information… and he’s given away something already. She moved her hand to her cards, taking hold of another one. The fact that he’s so used to clarifying which monster zones he’s using means only one thing… He’s used to summoning Link Monsters as well. “As long as Supply Squad is in play, I draw a card when one of my monsters are destroyed. This ability triggers only once every turn. Summon! Silverrokket Dragon!” A silver-armored dragon with a long, rounded head appeared, searing wings of violet energy issuing from its back. Silverrokket Dragon Level 4, 1900/100 Rosalia waited a few brief seconds after her dragon appeared before she spoke up, allowing her voice to carry across the duel field. “So you’re not using it, then? That face-down card you have?” “Nah, it can wait for now.” Rosalia swept her eyes over Jonathan, appraisingly. Not even a single twitch. He clearly had never even considered activating it. I suppose that’s the difference with S-ranked players… Some would negate the summon of a monster with attack power this high, use it as an opportunity to strike at my Life Points while they’re undefended. I figured it wouldn’t work, that he’d hold onto it for later. But that’s fine. It lets me take away something else from him! “Battle! Silverokket attacks Starfire!” Her monster flew upward, changing into a bolt of violet light as it streamed into the blade of Rosalia’s Duel Disk, suffusing it with glowing sparks. “Fire!” As she pointed at Starfire, the bolt flashed out, piercing directly through Starfire’s chest and colliding directly with Jonathan as his monster shattered into pieces. Jonathan: 4000 > 3400 Every Life Point I take from him makes using that Solemn Warning that much more of a cost, she thought, pulling her hand up to look at her cards. “I place two cards face-down!” As the cards appeared she tried not to look directly at the one she had set right in front of her. Now I’m all prepared for the counterattack… I’ve already lined up the shot. Sashisematta is wrong about me… Rage is something for a pitched battlefield. That is not my duel. I sit far away from the fury of the skirmish, plan everything for the exact opportunity where the enemy exposes themselves to the fatal blow. That, Sashisematta, is the duel of the Sniper. “I see. So you live in fear of my trap.” John nodded as he drew for turn, glancing at it, “Perhaps that’s what Charlie meant when they said this would be a perfect matchup…” Rosalia merely narrowed her eyes at John, almost like her eyes were a warning. “Walking around a Trap you’ve been kind enough to show me is very different from being afraid of it.” “Perhaps. Anyway, I activate my spell, Ties of the Brethren, targeting Caspar.” John’s LP fell another 2000 points as he activated the spell, with Caspar taking a shot into the air, his own red-magma like wing materializing. Jonathan: 3400 > 1400 “For 2000 lifepoints, I can summon two monsters with the same level, attribute, and type as the targeted monster from my deck. I choose Kidbrave to zone 2 and Doc to Zone 5.” Magical Musketeer Kidbrave Level 4, 1600/200 Magical Musketeer Doc Level 4, 1400/1200 Rosalia’s narrowed eyes opened up quickly as she saw John’s Life Points plummet. What?! She stared at the field as two forms started to take shape on the other side of the field. A smug kid, maybe 18 at most, appeared on one side of Caspar, tipping his cowboy hat to Rosalia, while a man with greying hair and a high-tech monocle appeared on the other, brandishing a sniper rifle. He… he threw away 2000 of his Life Points just like that… He’s lost the ability to play his Trap… But he’s traded it for something else. She stared across the field at the suddenly much larger crop of monster John had. None of them were as powerful as Silverrokket. But she knew that likely wouldn’t last long. “No response? Very well. When the new chain begins, Caspar activates, allowing me to search for a Musket. I’ll add Magical Musket Mastermind Zakiel. Then I’ll use Upstart Goblin, behind Kidbrave. You’ll gain 1000, I’ll draw one, and…” Rosalia: 4000 > 5000 Whipping its pistol out, Kidbrave fired two bullets, the first hitting John’s hand and the latter hitting his deck, as the Musketeer’s demonic wing took form. “By discarding the Magical Musketeer Wild in my hand, I can draw two more. Next, I’ll tribute Kid for Zakiel in my hand, which can be summoned with a single Musketeer tribute. I’ll place him in Zone 1.” With a loud chorus of demonic laughter, Kid was grasped by a massive claw and dragged into the ground… only for a demon to rise from it, pointing his fingers at his head like a gun, before taking a mock shot at himself. Magical Musket Mastermind Zakiel Level 8, 2500/2500 “This is what your intent was,” Rosalia said aloud now, finally voicing her internal thoughts as her dragon let out an echoing screech of challenge to the horde of gunmen John had in play. “You were counting on me avoiding your Solemn Warning. That’s why you made sure I knew what it was… So your Life Points were safe and you could use Ties of the Brethren.” “Well, that’s one possibility, I suppose. But I believe thinking I know the top three cards of my deck may be giving me a bit too much credit, miss.” Rosalia shook her head. “No, it’s not that simple. You had no control over the top of your deck, but you immediately knew what the best way forward was… At least at the time.” Rosalia’s hand went to her Duel Disk. “But I’ve set up my own plan. I activate my Trap card!” The set card directly in front of her flew upward, as a massive roar of crashing water started to sound throughout the stadium, a herald of what was to come. “Torrential Tribute can activate whenever one of us summons a monster… And it destroys every monster in play!” This is it, she thought to herself. He’ll be left with no monsters… And I’ll still be left with the leavings of SIlverrokket. All Rokkets can replace themselves with another whenever they’re destroyed. He’ll have no defenses left to protect his Life Points… And they’ve just been lowered to the point where almost any Rokket in my deck can take them all out! At least, that was what she expected. Instead, when she looked at the card, there were multiple holes through the card, before it shattered. “I activated my counter trap, Magical Musket - Last Stand behind Doc, in response. It negates the activation of your trap and destroys it.” “But-” Rosalia’s eyes whipped across John’s field, taking in that the card she knew to be Solemn Warning was still there. “You only have that one card set! Explain yourself!” For the first time, a smirk crossed John’s face, though it didn’t seem to bear any ill intent. “All of my Musketeers enable me to play Muskets from my hand during either player’s turn, without needing to be set. Also, that activates Doc. He can’t add Last Stand back, but… I’ll add Wild back from my grave to my hand.” The sniper took a shot at John’s disk, causing the card to pop out of his grave, before he picked it up and added it to his hand. Rosalia had an expression on her face that was familiar to many on the dueling circuits, but it was one her teammates had rarely seen on her. Her wide eyes, surprise and confusion evident in her face. For the first time in quite a long while, Rosalia had been knocked off balance. “Well, why don’t I take the rest of the turn easy on you? I activate my own Supply Squad behind Zakiel, then I’ll pass. Make your move, miss.” The roar of the audience surged in the wake of John's move, and the commentator was swift to jump in again. "Woah! John has ended his turn with the very card that started Rosalia's own! His field has exploded outward in the wake of his Solemn Warning gambit! The only thing holding him back now is that TIes of the Brethren prevents him from attacking! How will Rosalia Marlowe respond?!?" Slowly, slowly, Rosalia took a step back, her heel sounding like another gunshot in the orchestra of gunfire that made up this duel, taking a more steady stance as her expression slowly settled back into the familiar narrow-eyed, frowning stare, the almost-glare that made up her dueling. Okay… she thought to herself, slowly. So this is how he duels. Perfect matchup indeed. In her minds eye Rosalia idly imagined the scope, with Johnathan in it, a gun raised and smoking in the aftermath of firing a bullet directly into her own. Every move I make in this duel has to be careful, every decision three steps ahead… If I give him an opening, I can already tell he’ll be more than capable of taking it. This is a duel where every. Bullet. Counts.
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