“Ow,” Akaashi muttered quietly, releasing the harpy’s talons as Mai got off of him. “I will require bandages.”

Mai glanced at the gash and hissed in sympathy. “Ow. You’re lucky we keep antiseptics and bandages up here just in case. And there’s a faucet over here, we need to wash it out before anything else. With soap.”

“I’m going to regret existence very soon,” Akaashi predicted, one hand clasped over the injury, although a fair amount of blood was leaking through. Chikara was suddenly very glad he wasn’t particularly squeamish.

The harpy gave a quiet chirp of apparent apology, getting up with a fair amount of difficulty and following Akaashi and Mai over to the sink.

Chikara trailed them too, standing next to the harpy while Akaashi ran the cut under the water.

“Update we have hydrogen peroxide, no soap is needed,” Mai said, looking through the nearby cupboard.

“Great.” Akaashi sighed, very much looking like he regretted his existence now. Mai held the bottle up to him and he nodded his approval. “Thanks.”

Mai applied both hands as Akaashi insisted on doing it himself, squeezing a decent amount onto the cut before applying pressure down onto it to stop blood from seeping out. It was still pretty gross though. Chikara looked away.

“Hey, Chikara,” Mai said after a moment. “I can see your hand.”

“What, really?” he looked at the harpy hopefully and it lifted its wing off of him; whatever was covering his body faded away with it. There wasn’t even any pain this time, and he looked at his hand – it was completely unharmed. “I can touch you now!”

The harpy ruffled its feathers slightly as Akaashi smiled, looking relieved. “Well, I guess we’ve got the pain down pat for this one. That’ll be a huge help for your next transformation.” He glanced at Mai. “You mind taking me back to the infirmary now?”

Mai nodded, folding up whatever it was she had used to cover Akaashi’s wound and tucking it into his bag. Chikara watched as they headed down the ladder; he paused at the top to look back at where he was, high up in the mountains. It gave him a bit of vertigo but nothing too bad. He’d be willing to come back to visit for sure!

“Thank you again, Chikara-san,” Akaashi said as Mai helped him onto his usual bed.

“It was no problem,” he said. “I’m glad I can help! How are you feeling now? Do you need anything else to make you feel better?”

Akaashi shrugged. “Not really. I might have a scar there but it’ll be fine in due time.”

“Good!” Chikara grinned. “Well, I guess I’ll be off then! See you around!”

With that, he turned and left. He’d have to come back some time for sure – he wanted to try out the harpy transformation again too! Maybe next time they could find something that would let him stay uninjured afterwards? Mai said she was going to try and research stuff too, so maybe she’d have some ideas. Knowing her, she probably would!

Chikara paused in the hallway outside their room, standing on his toes to peek into Akaashi’s bag where Mai had tucked away whatever it was that covered up Akaashi’s injury. He could see a lot of other bags stuffed into it too – must be really heavy if Mai felt the need to help carry it…

He blinked as he saw a flash of colour from inside one of them; reaching in with two fingers, he pulled out a red ball. Chikara glanced at the door before turning back to look at it curiously; opening it slightly, he realised there were smaller versions of this same ball inside the room. There were a few of them – maybe Akaashi was playing with them?

He pushed the door open a little more and stepped inside, picking up one of the balls and trying to figure out how it worked. He tilted his head back and forth since there didn’t seem to be any way to open it… until he felt something hard slam into the back of his head and he yelped in surprise, dropping both ball and phone.

“What do you think you’re doing?!” came Mai’s sharp voice from behind him as she stood at her full height where Chikara couldn’t see her; he blinked then looked up at her, heart racing. She slipped down onto all fours and growled. “You’re not allowed in here, Chikara-san.”

Her face looked really scary so he nodded quickly in agreement – she even looked like she might try to bite him! He didn’t want to get eaten by a harpy… he stood up slowly, holding his hands up when she bared her teeth at him again. “Sorry, sorry! Sorry! I’ll go back outside now, yeah?”

Mai paused then backed away slowly – watching him carefully the whole time. She stayed like that until he’d gone back down the ladder (and made sure to close the attic door behind him), after which she went downstairs; Akaashi was sitting at the table, looking at something on his phone. He looked up when he saw Mai.

“What’s wrong?”

Mai sat down across from him and sighed. “I hate that kid.”

Akaashi raised an eyebrow before returning his gaze to whatever had been on his phone before she’d come downstairs. “Why do you say that? Did he try to go up again without asking?”

Mai nodded slowly – Akaashi’s brows furrowed further as he put away the phone and picked up one of the balls Chikara had tried opening earlier, tilting it back and forth in his hands idly as he thought about what they should do next time… maybe they should make sure to lock the door?

“Akaashi-kun?” Mai said, getting his attention again. “Do you remember how we first met Chikara-san?”

He looked up at her as she asked the question – and then frowned as he thought about it for a moment. He nodded slowly; now that he thought about it, he remembered that Akaashi had been out on one of his trips with some supplies when he’d come across Mai who was looking quite exhausted from exhaustion despite being a Harpy. She’d still managed to be quite forceful though so they were able to get going again… but not before spending the night together in a cave near where she’d been resting.

Akaashi looked at her properly then, eyes widening in surprise. “You don’t mean…”

Mai nodded slowly. “I’m not sure if he knows yet, but I think it’s best if we don’t let him get too close to Chikara-san while he still thinks you’re just a friend I met along the way.” She paused then added thoughtfully: “As much as I hate to admit it – having someone around who knows what he is might be useful for when they do finally find us…”

Akaashi nodded again, returning his attention back to the ball in his hands. He noticed Mai was watching him with something like concern in her eyes – but he smiled and looked up at her again, nodding. She looked somewhat relieved and returned his smile before returning to whatever it was she’d been doing (reading a book, if Akaashi’s memory served him correctly).

Akaashi pushed down thoughts of Chikara as he thought back to how he and Mai had met; the little ball reminded him of that time because it had been such an intense moment – passionate rather than friendly or antagonistic (though there were moments of both). He’d never forget that first night either; Mai had no problem with showing her feelings … As much as she could scare Akaashi sometimes, he knew it wasn’t always like that.

Chikara didn’t know what he was, but Akaashi found himself wondering if the little brat would be scared of him too…

He’d have to think about it more later. For now, this ball needed opening so they could figure out what it did – maybe there was a reason Mai wanted to keep Chikara away from these things? They were probably important, after all.

Akaashi spent another hour or two looking at the ball before suddenly having an idea; he placed the ball down on his table and headed outside for some fresh air. He’d been inside with Chikara for too long; he wanted to get away for a little while since his presence had made Markou stay out in the forest (he’d probably be back when Akaashi returned though).

Akaashi took a moment to close the door behind him before looking around for any sign of Markou. It wasn’t long before he spotted her, up in one of the trees near his house; she was licking the blood off her teeth in an almost cat-like manner. Not many Monsters would have been able to get that close without being noticed – even if they’d managed to hear Akaashi coming or going, it would take them some time to adjust their senses enough to make sure none of their movements were detected… especially since there were no signs of life here apart from Akaashi himself and Markou herself. She probably hadn’t eaten properly in days – but there was nothing Akaashi could do about it right now since all those monsters had been from other races besides a monster she’d become part of…

Akaashi looked away as he remembered that first time. He didn’t know why, but he found himself thinking about it more and more often lately – even though Markou herself only spoke to him once or twice a week now. The last time Chikara had been around though…

The little brat was getting bolder after having spent the night with Akaashi; he wasn’t afraid of them anymore, despite being told monsters were dangerous. It reminded Akaashi of his own childhood for some reason; how he’d been different from everyone else and would always scare away anyone who tried to be friends with him. It probably had something to do with that little brat being a Monster and it occuring around the same age too…

Maybe he shouldn’t have been so hard on him… But if they met before Chikara ran off from wherever it was he came from, there was no way Akaashi would bring him out here. He’d rather stay alone before letting some kid get hurt by staying near them – but maybe…

Markou’s gaze suddenly fixed on one spot behind Akaashi; she was staring at something through the trees. Once again, Akaashi found himself without a clue what she could be looking at – until a familiar voice called out for him: “Akaa-neechan?”

Akaashi turned around to see Chikara standing at the edge of his property, looking like an innocent child despite knowing what kind of things he was (a Monster). Akaashi turned back and glared at Markou, but she paid it no attention other than a shrug. “I thought I told you not to come here?”

“But I have something for you!” Chikara said cheerfully as he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small black ball – just like the other one that had been inside that box earlier. The little brat walked up to him while holding the ball in front of himself.

He should have expected this… Akaashi sighed before leaning down so he could look at the ball closer. He was surprised to see it open up once Chikara got his hands on it, revealing a little black and white creature inside. He’d never seen such a thing before – he couldn’t tell what the hell it was supposed to be; but Chikara picked it up and placed it in Akaashi’s hand anyway. The moment he held it though, he could feel something trying to get out: the creature itself.

“He-hey! Put that back where you found it!” Markou warned him as she started climbing down from her tree; Akaa-neechan would only make things worse if she stayed here… but even with her warning, Akaashi was still holding onto the ball when the creature got out of its box, ready to attack – only for Chikara to bring out another ball of his own. “Chikara! Put that thing down!” Markou shouted back as she landed behind the two of them.

“But Mister Steve said I should keep it away from you guys!” Chikara replied as he prepared to throw the ball towards Akaashi and Markou; they immediately took a few steps back when they saw what was inside the second box… but even then, Akaashi found himself unable to move anymore until he heard that Steve’s voice again:

Another card? How many is this kid hiding?! No… wait… this isn’t anything like those cards. This one feels different somehow…

A moment later, a different voice echoed inside the monsters’ heads – one that sounded more sympathetic and less commanding. Akaashi even felt it talking to him somehow, as if there was a warm presence inside his head…

Hey now… Relax. We’re not going to hurt you. You don’t have to be afraid of us.

You… what are you?! Markou asked as she looked around for any nearby people who could be responsible for this strange feeling; but there was no-one else nearby except them and Chikara – who simply stood there with another ball in hand, looking confused at both monsters who had stopped moving on their own volition.

I think they understand how we feel about the card game though… Akaashi thought. I can’t move my limbs though…

We just wanted to have some fun, that’s all! It’s not our fault things got out of hand before. Steve said there was only one Monster in the world who could use this deck – but he never mentioned anything about them being so powerful… Akaashi felt a new voice appear inside his head too; it sounded both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time – almost like they knew each other from somewhere before, but couldn’t quite remember where or when they met.

I don’t know whether to thank you guys for stopping us in time… or be angry with you for interfering again. Who are you?

The purple-haired woman turned around to face Chikara after he said that, with her eyes twitching in frustration. “Chikara! I told you to put them down this instant!” Akaashi didn’t even need to be looking at her face when he could feel how angry she was just by the tone of her voice.

I’m sorry…

It’s not your fault. We’ll go now; but if we find out there are more cards like these in the future – I swear on my honour as a monster, we will destroy them all! Markou shouted aggressively with enough force to almost knock Akaashi over again before storming off in the opposite direction without saying another word about it… leaving Steve behind…

If you ever get into trouble though, please keep in mind that we’re not your enemies. Akaa-neechan is just looking out for you guys; and we’re doing the same too. We all want to play some games – but it’s best if everyone can have fun, right? After hearing those words, Akaashi felt his head clear up enough so he could move normally again… but he decided to stay still until Chikara put down the ball too…

“They really are strong.” “But they sound nice…” were two of the thoughts that now floated about inside both monsters’ heads now that they could think clearly again after their unexpected visitor had left. Meanwhile, inside Kiyoshi’s house, three people were preparing to take on yet another strange force that had suddenly taken over their lives…

“Haha! I got them all!” Kiyoshi shouted triumphantly as he laid his cards down on the table. “Forbidden Monster Alchemy, activate!” All 33 of his monster cards suddenly began to glow brightly… before they split up into three different coloured piles – one red, yellow and blue pile each. Since there were no grey or white-coloured monsters inside this deck, Kiyoshi took this moment to combine two of each colour before continuing his previous turn. “Now I get to summon my Synchro Monster too!” He declared loudly while triggering the Spell Card in front of him. A six-wheeled machine then out from a strange portal located underneath the Monster cards, while a yellow plug on its back connected itself to Kiyoshi’s Duel Disk. “Synchro Summon! Come forth – Junk Warrior!” The weapons inside the machine then activated on their own accord – shooting out beams of light everywhere as one large yellow beam connected with another smaller blue beam that had just appeared in front of Kiyoshi. A loud rumble could be heard coming from all around them… but it soon faded away when everything went silent once more after a few seconds passed by.

“My Junk Warrior has 3800 ATK points; so I win this duel for sure!” Kiyoshi declared proudly before slamming his fist down hard enough onto the table to make it shake… … But not even he was prepared for what happened next…

“Junk Warrior is not the only monster on the field.” The words from Chikara’s mouth caused everyone inside Kiyoshi’s house to freeze up in a state of shock. “I activate his Spell Card – Junk Swap! This lets me switch out one of my monsters for a stronger one from my hand. So I choose to take your Junk Warrior and put it in my graveyard… before summoning a much more powerful Synchro Monster in its place!” A new portal opened up underneath both Kiyoshi and Chikara; leading them to look even closer at their syncroed monster, which was now floating above them both.

“So this is what he meant by ‘stronger’…” Kiyoshi muttered softly to himself. “But how much stronger?” He continued to think to himself before finally asking the question that would never leave his mind until he was given an answer.

“I’m about to find out…” Chikara replied with a simple yet so deadly serious tone of voice…

Deep within the shadows, two shadowy figures watched on as all three protagonists prepared themselves for what they knew would be one of their final battles… One stood still – looking at everything without making another sound; but the other couldn’t contain herself anymore and decided it was time to speak up….

“Well now! It looks like all our preparations have finally come together just in time.” “Of course Mistress; you can count on us to do whatever is required of us to make sure that your goal will be fulfilled… ” The first shadowy figure replied shortly before disappearing back into the darkness; leaving only one left standing in its place once more.

“By my side again, huh?” She said softly while looking at her hands – covered by a pair of red gloves. “Let’s hope it’ll be enough this time.” …

Meanwhile, inside Kiyoshi’s house, Chikara was about to do something he never thought he would ever have to do in his entire life… But there was no other option for him now since he had already decided that he wouldn’t run away from this fight anymore than what he already had. I can’t let everyone here get hurt just because of me… He thought to himself while placing his hand down on the table in front of him.

“I activate my Trap Card – Synchro Ejection! Since I’m using your Junk Warrior as a material for this summoning; I can choose to send it back into your extra deck instead.” An awkward silence followed for several seconds after he finished talking before he began to speak up again. “Now here comes my other Synchro Monster! His name is… Stardust Dragon!” Chikara flipped over another one of his Spell Cards and placed it in front of Kiyoshi so that they could both see the effects written on its surface…

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