The harbour was bustling with activity when Yukari descended from the ship. There was a mix of all kinds of people as far as the eye could see, but she seemed to have been the only teenager to descend from a fishing ship, as opposed to all the people coming from a cruise one. After looking at it intently for a few seconds, she sighed and sat on one of the rusty bollards near the ship, fishing on her bag for a deck of cards.

The deck box was made out of dented, scratched brown leatherette. Inside the box was a mix of old cards with blown-out edges and full of creases on the edges, alongside a few brand new cards in a seemingly pristine condition. She took out the entire stack and fished around for one of them, leaving the rest back inside as a faint tug arose on the corners of her lips. She then proceeded to silently stare at it until her father had come down.

“Well, Yuu,” he took a deep breath. “I want to wish you the best of luck, but I also want you to fail hard so you can come back home with us. Crazy, isn’t it?” He claimed as he put his hands on his hips. Yukari’s father was a brawny tanned man with long black hair and a short unkempt beard. He put a hand on Yukari’s shoulder as his grinning eyes softened.

“Don’t worry about good ol’ pops, come on. As much as it hurts, kids need to leave their parents’ nest one day. What matters is that you have the courage to put your own foot forward for yourself.”

Yukari shook her head. She opened her mouth, but then closed it without saying anything. Her father took her deck case, slid a bank note inside and put it back on her hands. “Here, go buy some energy drinks and a candy bar. You need to be pumped in the exam!”

He gave her a hug. “I’ll be back at 6pm. Now go show those freshwater toads how we do it in the south!” He winked and walked away. Once he had boarded the ship again, she waved at him one last time and left for the train station. The sky was still a bright shade of pink when she boarded the train.

Even at the earliest hours of the day, Yukari was impressed by how densely packed the trains became. While not many people had boarded at the harbour, it took no time for all the seats to be taken and for people to lean back on the doors of the train as they pulled out their smartphones to play a mobile game or watch a livestream. Still, the only she could hear inside the car was the muffled announcement of the coming stations.

At one point, she noticed a baby calico cat with a huge head crying up and down the station. As the cat came to Yukari, she reflexively lifted it up, noticing a collar with the name Milano written on it. The reverse of the tag had a phone number attached to it, but no name.

She tried dialling, but there was no response. A few seconds later, a notification flashed on her screen.

«what ya cookin sis nobody makes calls nowadays www!!!» «u sure glad i was @ twitter cuz my phone is always on silence _('ω'_U⌒)シ»

The sender was listed as @YuunaruYuuna, and it depicted a middle schooler with blond hair and purle eyes.

«I'm sorry, I don't really text much,» she typed in response. «I found your cat! Are you on the train from Tokyo Harbour?»

The girl on the other side posted an emoticon with its hand on the chin. A second later, the typing notification flashed frantically.

«wait milano???» «you can see milano!!???» «im kettink there brb tont mohe!»

A few seconds later, the middle-schooler appeared in front of her. Before exchanging any words with Yukari, the middle schooler looked at the cat straight on the face, frowned, stuck her tongue at it and then laughed, before taking it in her own arms. The cat quickly clung onto her shoulder, balancing from her back with a pair of tiny wings Yukari had failed to note up until that moment.

“How come you can see Milano, anyway...!” She then spouted to Yukari. Seeing her shrink in fear, the girl laughed it off. “No, I mean, it's not like it's BAD that you can see him — it's just that you're, like, the first person that can see him, you know...?” “What do you mean?” Yukari blurted. “He's here, I can touch him. He has… Weight.” “Well, you see — almost nobody can see this bag of fluff right here. Sometimes people look at me like I'm crazy, and I can tell that they do, but you said it yourself. He's like very chonki,” Yuuna explained as the pretended to heave the cat, “and loves to cling everywhere. Which is why I had to give him a collar with my LINE ID — and the phone number, just in case.” “Hmm.” “But anyway, sis, where'cha goin'?”

Yukari's ears flashed a soft shade of pink over her own tanned skin. She stroked the back of her head with her hand, and looked around in mild embarassment.

“I'm- Well, you know this card game people play on TV for money and stuff-” “Yeah, Duel Monsters. Don't be shy, sis, everyone plays that game nowadays. I heard the major is like one of the big fish in the Duel Monsters industry and won't let you apply for residency unless you have an I-Three-D card!”

The Industrial Illusions ID card -usually abbreviated as I3D card in text form- was an ID created by Kaiba Corporation that allowed duelists to use their duel disks and sign up for tournaments. Whenever a duelist purchased a duel disk, they would be prompted to introduce an existing I3D card in a certain slot, whose location varied throughout different iterations of the device. Yukari, having only sloppily read throughout the extensive rules and regulations of the school she was trying to apply to, felt her heart sink as she realised she may be denied entrance to the building once she fails to show an I3D card.

“Wait, so I cannot take the entrance exam for Duel Academia without one of those IDs!? I-I thought you only needed your regular ID...!”

Despite her best efforts, Yuuna couldn't stop herself from snickering at Yukari's desolate eyes and half-gaping mouth.

“Oh, come now. You got a duel disk, don't ya?” “I, uh-”

Yukari took an old, battered duel disk from her bag and handed it to Yuuna. It had a metallic colour throughout and looked like a small UFO plate with a sharp wing on both sides. Being the first commercially available model to have been produced, its age showed through its burst LCD screen, dusty ventilation holes and severely scratched casing. Despite Yukari's best efforts, she barely managed to get it in a state where it was no longer revolting to the touch. Yuuna couldn't help but wonder whether the duel disk worked at all.

“Yeah… Even this fossil must have NFC, so don’t sweat it.” She handed it back to Yukari, who put it back in her bag. A muffled voice announced that the next stop would be Domino City. “So anyway!” Yuuna announced, as they walked through the station tunnels, “name’s Yuuna. What about ya?” “Y-Yukari Kajiki. Nice to meet you.” “Come on, sis, skip the formalities. Anyone who can see Milano is bestie material.”

Once the train had reached Domino City, most of the people boarding the early morning train left. Everyone -Yuuna included- started setting their duel disks on their arm, revealing the wide variety of designs that had been released over the course of the years. Yuuna herself took what seemed like a red tablet PC out of her backpack and put it on top of her forearm, causing two metal arms to spring from beneath and tightly grip on her arm. She then prompted Yukari to do the same with her UFO-shaped device.

The station was full of holographic advertisements featuring fantasy creatures, most of which seemed completely foreign to Yukari. Stemming from the art style, she had a vague notion of them being Duel Monsters creatures, but she could barely recognise a few ones. There were also posters hanging on the walls, depicting a pale young man wearing a black coat, describing an upcoming tournament to be celebrated at the Kaibaland amusement park.

“And what’s yer engine, bestie?” “I- Uh- I-It's a Ritual/Xyz WATER deck.” “That's not an engine,” Yuuna lamented. “Like, what are the core cards in yer deck?” “I… Well, I use A Legendary Ocean to boost my monsters’ attack because they are all WATER type. Also, I have Leviath Dragon to help me out of a tough spot...” “...so you gathered a buncha' cards with some loose synergy out of boosters to make your deck, didn't ya?” “Yes,” Yukari admitted in a lamenting tone. “But… That’s how you make decks, right? You open boosters!“ “Yer gonna waste a ton o’ money by doing that, bestie. Yer meant to buy the cards you need! Like, on the internet, or in a card game shop!” Yukari’s face turned pale as Yuuna explained. ”Okay, okay. Let's start by the start, right? Did ya get a structure deck when you were first starting?” “A what now? This is all stuff from back when my dad played the game. That is why the duel disk is so badly knackered...” She admitted, her voice gradually becoming quieter as she went on. “He told me to go to Absolute Zero because they had this event where you can open packs and get whatever cards you wanted, to make a deck and stuff.”

Yuuna figured Absolute Zero must have been a local game shop.

“Yeah, that's draft. But imo you shoulda also get, like, three copies of a structure deck to jumpstart yourself.” “Three copies...!? But one of them alone costs ¥1500 already! I am just a beginner!” “Yer eyes say 'no', but ya heart says 'I been thinking about it so much I know exactly how much it costs'.” “Ok, fine! I may have been thinking about it! Not that I can do much to help it now.” She checked the time on her phone. It was a light blue feature phone with a clamshell design. “Anyway, I should get going to-”

Yuuna grabbed Yukari's arm to call her attention, pointing to a mom-and-pop shop where a middle-aged woman was sweeping the ground. The shop had a sign with a wooden turtle beside the entrance, showing the name «Kame Game» in stylised, upper-case English letters and the timetables. As the sweeping woman lifted her eyes, she waved at Yuuna with a smile on her face.

“Yukari, check out this place. Kame Game is part of Duel Monsters' history! I'm sure the King of Games himself's telling you to buy that structure deck you're longing after.” “What!? But Yuuna, I will be late to the entrance exam!” “It's ok, Yukari, the mayor is probably telling one of his boring speeches about how rizzsome and poggers studying is! That guy's always spouting lotty nonsense about being a smartipants and whatnot, so we got plenty a' time.” “Okay, fine, whatever…”

The walls of the shop were full of posters and prints promoting the newest Duel Monsters sets, along with framed newspaper cut-outs showcasing a young boy with spiky hair and a childlike grin on his face. The shelves and cabinets were chocked full of flat boxes, displaying all manners of brands and logos Yukari had never heard about before. She also noticed sleeved Duel Monsters cards with gold lettering and a shiny finish, displayed as trophies on glass cabinets. As they advanced to the counter at the deep end of the room, she noticed a plastic display -not dissimilar to those used in news stands to store sweets- chocked full of booster packs, and an array of plastic packages on a wire frame rack. However, there was nobody on the other side of the counter. Yuuna, who was only about one head's height above the counter, hopped in a hopeless attempt to see if there was someone bending behind.

“Should we be here?” Yukari asked, uncomfortable. “The owners are going to think we have stolen something...”

“It's fine, they're sick of seeing good ol' me. I may look like a crime in the making, but I'm a good girl very down below.” She posed an exaggerate smile to Yukari.

“We're all good very down below, you know?” A deep voice outlined from another room. A tall, blonde man with a 5 o’clock shadow came into the shop from a backdoor and closed behind him. “And you, Yuuna, what's with those manners!? No 'good morning', no 'excuse me'?” “I greeted Mrs. Mutou!” “What about good ol' me?” “Excuse us for coming in unprompted, and nice to meet you,” Yukari interjected, bowing deeply. The blond man behind the counter rubbed his nape in shame, only now realising Yuuna had brought someone else with her. “See, Yuuna, this is more like it.” He crossed his arms. “Well, I guess not that formal, since you're Mai's kid and all...” “Anyway, nice to meet you. Name's Jonouchi.” He pointed at himself with the thumb. “Yukari Kajiki, Mr. Jonouchi. Nice to meet you.” “Please, don't be so uptight! Yuuna's friends are the shop's friends, so just call me Joey.” “Anyway, Joey! Yukari has no idea about deck-building, and she was trying to take the Duel Academia entrance exams today!” “Wait a second, Yuuna – the opening speech must have begun already! Why on Earth did you bring your friend here!?” “She said her engine is a Ritual/Xyz WATER deck! The examiners are going to eat her alive! Plus, who cares about that pompous guy with the white limo...?”

Jonouchi failed to hide a malicious grin after hearing the last remark.

“Yeah, well, but still! The entrance exam's not the world championship, ya know? She'll probably be fiiiine.”

Yuuna nudged Yukari with her elbow.

“Actually... There is something we have been discussing while riding the train.” She then remembered the words of her therapist, prepared the sentence in her mind and spitted it out in one go: “do you have Ice Barrier of the Frozen Prison, by any chance?”

Yuuna and Jonouchi stared at one another, dumbfounded. Rumor had it that fans had asked Industrial Illusions to make an Ice Barrier structure deck as a joke, as the archetype had nothing good besides the ace monsters. It was hard to deny the innocent enthusiasm Yukari showed as she mustered the courage to ask about a Structure deck she had thought about for long enough to recite its full name by heart, but they were uneasy about recommending it, as there was little one could salvage out of it.

Hesitant, Jonouchi took three ice-blue boxes with dragons plastered on the front cover from behind the counter, slapping them onto the desk. “Now, I don't know the contents of the structure decks by heart, but I can definitely give you a bunch of staples to go with them,” he muttered, taking a thick, white binder out of a shelf behind him. “Wait a second, Mr Jono-” Yukari tried to interject. “Mr. Joey, I cannot just go and spend ¥4500 on cards like nothing!”

Jonouchi pressed the binder against his chest. “You should play Vanguard instead, it is even cheaper than Duel Monsters.” “But Joey, there must be something we can do to improve her deck on a budget! Yukari, show him your deck!”

Yukari handed Jonouchi the stack of cards. As he looked through them one by one, a wide smile blossomed across his face, sometimes stopping at particular cards and shaking his head. Once he had put the deck down over the counter, he wiped off a tear with the edge of his hand.

“Kajiki, huh… I knew that name was familiar from somewhere,” Jonouchi muttered. “Let’s make a deal, okay? I will take you to the entrance exam-“ Yuuna lifted her fist in silence. “And I am going to watch your duel, Yukari. If you get admitted, these cards are yours, and we will talk about the Ice Barrier deck you’ve been dreaming about.” “I can see it now,” Yuuna interjected. “We gonna be roommates in no time flat!” “Wait, roommates!?” Yukari asked. “You are also going to take the entrance exam?”

Yuuna assented energetically, a dazzling smile across her face.

“That's why I need to make sure you're in top shape, Yukari! We're going to be top students, and when we graduate, they'll have us face each other in an epic climax! It'll be so cool!” “It is a barebones beat-down full of singles,” Jonouchi explained, “but I guess she worked her ass out to come up with this strategy on such tight restrictions, so it should work.”

Jonouchi threw his car keys at Yuuna, who promptly left the shop. Before Yukari could follow her, Jonouchi patted her shoulder, and handed her a pack of purple card sleeves.

“Yukari, I know it wasn't in your plans to hit a small shop in the middle a' nowhere on such an important day, but I am very happy to have met Ryouta's kid. You sure have stirred the pot of old memories quite a bit by coming here.” “Ryouta? Do you know my dad?” “Yeah. How would I know, right? I guess I was still a third-rate duelist with a fourth-rate deck, back in the Battle City days.”