WDKY Chapter 27: Adrift – Part 4

What Doesn’t Kill You
Chapter 27: Adrift – Part 4/13
A Yu-Gi-Oh Fanfiction
 Azurite – azurite AT seventh-star DOT net
Site: seventh-star DOT net
Conceptualized/First Written: 6/28/05
Completed/Final Edit: 8/6/16

Téa ran her right index finger over the smooth edges of her Duel Monsters cards, back and forth. She listened with half an ear to the goings-on in the ship’s arena below her. Alone in a loft-like space overlooking the arena, Téa’s eyes weren’t on the final duels taking place downstairs. Instead, she directed a vacant stare at the side deck in her hands–the cards that Kaiba had given her. Everyone else was too busy watching two of the last duels before the championship match. Duel one: Alessa Marino versus the third surviving upper division duelist. Duel two: Alessa’s partner, Serena Compagno against the third lower division finalist.

In a matter of minutes, Téa knew how her fate would play out. Either she would be facing Serena with her unsettling calm smile and sparse words… or she would be facing someone else. After something like 18 duels, she had stopped paying attention to anyone but Alessa and Serena. Mai acted like she didn’t care about Alessa, but duel after duel went by, and she hadn’t lost a single one. Now, Mai was actually bothering to watch Alessa’s match downstairs. The other duelists said that both Alessa and Serena were as unstoppable as Mai and Téa, but everyone knew that even one loss would do them in.

“AND THAT’S THE FINALS, LADIES!” a loud voice proclaimed, startling Téa out of her reverie.

‘Wait, that’s the finals? What about–’ Téa stood up, about to head downstairs from the lounge when she caught sight of the crowd downstairs, murmuring to themselves in astonishment. In the center of the throng, a smug-looking Alessa looked down on her downcast opponent. Serena had left her duel ring and stood below Alessa, staring up at her partner with a haunted smile. It looked like she had won, too.

“I know, I know! You’re shocked! Flabbergasted! Confused!” Duelists around the arena winced as the microphone squealed with feedback. The enthusiastic emcee had the grace to blush as bright pink as one of the multicolored streaks in her hair, but only for a moment.

“It’s a surprise I’ve been ITCHING to share with you,” the announcer continued. She pretended to scratch herself on the hip with the free hand that wasn’t holding her microphone. “And now I’ve scratched that itch! The final duel will be nothing less than an all-out battle of brains, beauty, brawn! A tag-team duel of epic proportions!”

Téa headed downstairs as the announcement continued, trying to remain calm.

She didn’t know which was worse. Was it the possibility of getting defeated by a silent opponent with the perfect poker face? Or a snot-nosed, obnoxious, arrogant duelist who thought she knew everything about Téa’s relationships? To have to deal with them both at the same time? A shudder rippled from her toes to her neck, prompting Téa to shake her head, her hair whipping in front of her face.

Mai moved her way through the throngs until she met Téa at the base of the stairs from the lounge. Just then, the announcer made a sweeping gesture, her rainbow locks arcing through the air. “Presenting the two teams that will battle against each other for the championship. Here we have Alessa ‘The Conqueror’ Marino and silent Serena Compagno from Italy… Up against Japan’s ‘Deadly Sweetheart’ Mai Valentine and my favorite cuppa, Téa Gardner!”

Mai and Téa shared an incredulous look upon hearing their “nicknames.” But their amusement was short-lived. The crowds thinned to make way for Alessa approaching them, her arms crossed over her ample chest. Serena followed behind her, her expression blank. She didn’t seem all that surprised by the announcement. She also didn’t seem pleased by her and her partner’s recent victories.

“So, you managed to make it this far, leech,” Alessa said, jutting her chin at Téa. “I’ll take great pleasure in crushing you beneath my boot and showing the world what a sorry excuse for a duelist you are.”

“Watch your mouth, brat,” Mai snapped immediately, before Téa could even move her lips. “We didn’t make it this far–together–because she’s a sorry excuse for anything.”

“Beginner’s luck,” Alessa sneered.

Eighteen duels worth of ‘beginner’s luck’? You are crazy!” Mai exclaimed, twirling her finger beside her head.

Alessa glared at Mai. “Coming from the woman who cheated her way to Duelist Kingdom with perfume? And need I remind you of your pathetic loss to that impostor Malik Ishtar in Battle City?”

Mai reeled back from Alessa’s words, one of her violet eyes beginning to twitch. Her manicured nails dug crescents into her palms, even through her fingerless gloves. Téa thought she heard at least one knucklebone crack, but the announcer intervened before Mai could wind up a punch.

“Whoa whoa whoa, them’s fighting words indeed! But save the snappy battle patter for the battlefield, eh, ladies? After all, you have only…” the announcer made another grandiose gesture, this time whipping her left arm in a wide arc to reveal an oversized digital watch on her wrist. “THIRTY MINUTES TO DUEL!”

A gasp rippled throughout the crowd.

Though Téa had started out by beating most of her opponents in half the required time, the later duels had started to take longer. Her most recent duel only ended when her opponent surrendered, quite literally at the last minute.

The largest duel ring of the many scattered throughout the ship lit up. Glowing tracks of lights blinked toward the two dueling platforms. Each of the platforms hissed as hydraulics pushed out a doubling of the metal platform and the railing that surrounded it on three sides. The Life Point gauges on each of the platforms lit up with blood-red digits. The hanging television above the arena flashed a clock with its numerals in the same menacing shade. In moments, the countdown would begin.

“Shocking, I know, right, ladies?” the announcer spun from the duel arena in a 180-degree arc to face the crowd of duelists. “And this shock comes with a single new rule: if your partner goes down, you go down with her!”

Téa glanced at Mai. “So if one of us gets to zero Life Points–”

Mai continued staring at the arena, her gaze hard. “Then we’re both out of a championship. I don’t think either of us is going to let that happen.”

Téa glanced at Alessa and Serena, briefly catching her lower division opponent’s eye. Téa looked away, and then down at the side deck of 15 cards in her hand. She hadn’t used a single one of cards Seto had given her in any of her duels up until now, but….

If there was anything she had learned as a witness to countless duels, it was that the cards didn’t make the duelist. Instead, it was the way a duelist used them. Yugi called his strategy “The Heart of the Cards,” as if something from within the cards resonated with him. That didn’t help him pick out what cards in his Grandpa’s shop to use in the first place. Téa wasn’t sure if she could believe in “The Heart of Cards.” But she’d been putting everything she had into this tournament. It was the same way she did everything else. And that was why she would win.

The cards belonged to Seto, but they were in her deck now, and only she could use them to get what she wanted.

Téa strode up the stairs leading to the dueling platform. Yet another crew member waited with his own modified Duel Disk for validating the duelists’ decks. With a single deep breath, Téa removed the top 15 cards she had sorted earlier from her deck and replaced them with those that had been in her side deck. She shuffled them in and lifted her head up as she replied to Mai: “You know it’s not going to happen.”

Téa pushed her new deck into the crewman’s Duel Disk and turned away from him, a confident smile gracing her lips. This time, she met Serena Compagno’s gaze without blinking. She watched with silent delight as Serena’s own smile fell from her lips. Serena then attempted to catch up to Alessa, busy stomping her way to the platform on the other side of the arena.

“Deck validated,” a robotic voice announced, and the crew member’s Disk ejected Téa’s deck .

“Good luck, Miss Gardner,” he said. “Though you won’t need it.” Téa glanced at him, but she didn’t recognize him. She turned back from the thick crowds she’d glanced at to thank the crewman for his unexpected well-wishes, but the area was empty.

‘What in the world did that mean?’

Mai approached her from behind, having validated her deck with a different crewman. “Let’s go. It’s time we ended this.”

“Right,” Téa said, taking a breath. She had experience, strategies, and an attitude that had gotten her through almost ten days of duels without a single loss to her name.

‘I have all that I need.’ Téa rubbed one finger across the top of her deck. It was silly, but she knew in her heart of hearts that the Blue-Eyes White Dragon was near the top, sending electrical pulses through her finger. With it, she would show them all.

“It’s time to duel.”

Mai cracked a grin at Téa’s words and nodded at her partner’s wide smile, and the two of them headed up the stairs to their dueling platform.

Continue to Part 5/13 →