Carefully, he walked across the narrow pathway, one foot in front of the other, careful not to fall into the abyss below.
He came across a giant chained door that’s fence stretched across as far as he could see.
It spoke to him In a deep and commanding voice, “He who opens this door shall obtain a new power. However, as the price for this power…You shall lose what is most important to you.”
He’s seen this door many times but never understood its question.
As the door’s eyes glowed, the key around his neck lit up in response.
He had no idea what was most important to him and he had no desire to discover what it would be.
Slowly, he stepped backward. The ground below him broke away from underneath him and he fell, waking up on the floor of his attic.
He sat up slowly, mind still lingering on the dream he had. His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of someone climbing up into the attic.
“Astral, I’ve been calling you. We’re going to be late if you don’t hurry up.” Said his brother, “You should really rethink this whole ‘sleeping in the attic’ thing, I might just leave you behind next time.”
With that, his brother was gone.
Their interactions were rather sparse despite living in the same home and despite being twins, their lives were far from normal due to many different factors.
For one, Astral and his brother Black Mist (Yes that is his full name) were born of Superfecundation, meaning despite being twins, they had two different fathers.
Astral’s parents were renowned archeologists, they specified in ancient Egyptian history due to that being his father’s place of origin. Astral’s father, Eliphas, was actually colleagues with Black Mist’s father, Don Thousand, even before their mother, Ena, came into the picture.
Ena was of Japanese descent and although Eliphas lived most of his life in Egypt, the two of them ended up moving to Heartland City, occasionally visiting Egypt for exhibition work.
Not long after Astral’s parents married, Ena had an affair with Don Thousand.
Strangely enough, Astral’s parents didn’t divorce. They stayed together and cared for Black Mist as their own until Don Thousand insisted on having full custody.
Astral couldn’t help but wonder whether they truly ever loved each other, or if they simply stayed together despite everything that happened. Even then, Astral always felt a sense of detachment from his parents. A certain feeling that they weren’t happy with each other or him.
Apparently, his parent’s behavior wasn’t normal, and Astral was more or less ‘emotionally stunted’ by it.
His friend Kotori would tell him that it wasn’t his fault he couldn’t connect with others easily, and that he just needs to focus on making friends through dueling.
Tetsuo would tell him that his parents just didn’t hug him enough and that’s why he’s ‘weird’.
5 years ago, his father went missing once more, and this time he didn’t return. His mother was desperate and called Don Thousand, begging him to look after Astral while she was gone, she never returned either.
There was no connecting with them now that they’re gone, all Astral had was his brother he barely knew and the man who still wouldn’t tell him what his relationship with Ena was like.
Feeling like a stranger in his own home was an overwhelming feeling and a part of him still wanted to be close to his parents, so the attic is where he stayed while his brother took over his room below him.
The one piece of memorabilia from his parents was a golden pendant that his father had given him. It was the first and last time his father had ever given him a gift, so it stayed with him at all times. Not just because it was from his father, but because his father would expect him to have it at all times.
He threw on his uniform along with that pendant necklace and climbed downstairs, Black Mist was still calling his name but this time from the living room.
Before Astral could enter, Black Mist came up to him and shoved a tea tray into his arms.
“Can you make father’s tea? I messed it up and I actually want to get to school on time today.” His brother asked.
“What did you do this time?” Astral questioned him as Black Mist tried to escape into the kitchen, “Did you use tap water instead of soft water?”
Black Mist just shot him an irritated look, implying that Astral guessed the question right exactly.
Astral rolled his eyes and complied, pulling the right water out of the pantry and tea leaves.
Black Mist watched him over his shoulder.
“I don’t see why it’s such a big deal to him, there’s no difference.” Black Mist muttered.
“There is a difference.” Astral told him.
Once the tea was finished, he quickly gathered it up quickly onto the tray and took off to the corner of the house he rarely ventured to, “I am not arguing with you.” He told his brother.
He entered Don Thousand’s room which was dimly lit by the lamp by his desk, he was writing something and didn’t notice that Astral had come in. Either that or he chose not to greet Astral as he was too busy. His long blond hair was draped over his shoulders, red bangs tucked behind his ears. He brought his pen up to his chin and held it there for a while in thought.
“I have your tea.” Astral announced.
“Could’ve sworn I sent Black Mist to take care of that.” Don Thousand replied without even turning around.
“I took over for him.” Astral tentatively brought the tray over to him and set it down by his desk.
Don Thousand poured himself a cup of tea and took it to his lips, “You’re so responsible.” He said before taking a drink, “You get that from your father.”
Astral was caught off guard by the comment of his father and froze in place, unable to move until Don Thousand said more.
Don Thousand turned to him, “You can go now.” He ordered.
Astral backed out of the room, eyes still locked on Don Thousand’s lingering gaze until he closed the door.
He let out a relieved sigh, not even noticing how he held his breath and how his heart was racing during such a short convo.
Astral retreated to the living room to get his book bag and found that Black Mist was no longer there. A quick glance at the clock told him that he was already at risk of being late in five minutes and Black Mist had clearly ditched him to save himself from tardiness.
Astral didn’t have the time to be hurt, it had happened plenty of times before and there was no point in feeling anything. His brother would surely tease him for ‘taking too long’ and then the two of them would spend free period together because what else would they do.
He walked to school alone, Tetsuo who sped past him on his skateboard had shouted some of the usual teasings, “If you’re competing in the slowest walker race, you’re definitely winning!”
Astral didn’t give him a reaction, per usual, Tetsuo seemed to think the fact that he was rarely outwardly upset about anything was hilarious.
Astral endured plenty of Tetsuo’s quips throughout the school day, and while they disappeared once Astral went to his classroom meant for 3rd years, Tetsuo still found plenty of people, including himself, to duel against Astral during any given chance.
Astral finally arrived at school during the beginning of a lecture, his teacher had stopped mid-sentence when they noticed him come in. Astral received plenty of glares from his peers including one from his brother who looked like he was holding back laughter.
“Astral Zaher, I see your brother can make it here on time but you can’t. Is this something I should look into?” The teacher asked.
Astral went to just silently sit down in his assigned seat, but the teacher wasn’t having it.
“When I’m talking to you, I expect an answer.” The teacher insisted.
“No, ma'am. I am sorry.” Astral replied, and then he said down, not uttering another word throughout the entire lecture.
Astral was not only known for not feeling much at school, but he was known for not talking much as well. So whenever he said anything, there was bound to be commotion around the classroom about what he said afterward.
Thankfully, Black Mist never fed into what people said about him. Part of the reason behind that is because everyone also though Black Mist was weird too, but part of it could be because he does care about his brother.
When free period began, Black Mist was quick to follow his brother out into the courtyard where all of the students went to duel.
“So how did it go with father?” Black Mist asked him, “I was going to wait for you but it felt like you were in his room for hours.”
“He accepted the tea, he was busy writing something and wanted me to leave.” Astral answered.
“Then why’d it take you so long to just get outta there, what-“ Black Mist was interrupted by the sudden appearance of a first-year girl walking into their conversation.
“Good morning!” She greeted, “Are you going to duel today?”
“Good morning Kotori.” Astral replied a bit nonchalantly, but he meant no harm in it and did decently enjoy her company, “I might, I thought Tetsuo would have rallied up some classmates for me to duel against by now.”
Astral put on his d-gazer and watched as augmented reality lit up the whole area. Duel Monsters came to life among the many duels taking place.
“He told me that he was going to in class, but I don’t know where he went off to.” Kotori answered, “He’s determined to find someone at this school who can beat you.”
“My brother’s excellent dueling abilities make up for his lack of social skills, doesn’t it?” Black Mist teased.
Kotori got mad at him for Astral, “You shouldn’t say that about your brother!” She lectured.
“I kid! I love the guy. You and I are his only pals in the world, we shouldn’t fight amongst ourselves.” Black Mist placed an arm around the first-year girl’s shoulder.
“I’m his friend, I don’t know about you yet.” Kotori removed his arm.
“Am I at least growing on you?” Black Mist asked.
Astral had stopped paying attention to the two bickering, his eyes wandered over to another section of the courtyard by an area of stairs. There he found Tetsuo dueling against someone, and he looked upset.
Astral quickly left without saying anything, confusing both Black Mist and Kotori who stopped their bickering and followed him closely behind.
Once Kotori saw who Tetsuo’s opponent was, she grabbed Astral and pulled him back, preventing him from walking up to close.
“Astral! Tetsuo’s opponent is Shark!” Kotori said, “You don’t want to get involved with him.”
Astral watched as Shark XYZ summoned and sent his aeroshark to directly attack Tetsuo, beating him swiftly with 4000 life points left to spare.
“I’ll be taking this.” Shark said arrogantly, taking Tetsuo’s deck right out of his hands. That wasn’t right.
“You should not take that.” Astral spoke up.
Shark looked at him dead in the eye and sneered, “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you talk before, Astral, is it? I hear you’re pretty good at dueling, I am too as you can see. This deck here is my reward for winning this duel.”
“I do not recall stealing other people’s decks as part of dueling.” Astral said in ‘a matter of fact’ tone, Black Mist and Kotori were writhing behind him, neither of them able to convince Astral to just stand down and mind his own business.
“We bet our decks, Tetsuo agreed to it.” Shark said, looking towards Tetsuo who was just starting to stand back up.
“Why would you do that?” Astral asked Tetsuo.
“He said I was a poser duelist with no talent.” Tetsuo admitted through clenched teeth.
Astral turned back to Shark, “I will win your deck back.” He said with what seemed like confidence.
The goons by Shark’s side were just as surprised as Astral’s own friends, “Alright, you’re good, but this is Shark we’re talking about. He’s been in tournaments, I don’t recall you doing much of anything.”
“I know that, it does not matter to me. You took something valuable from Tetsuo and I will do whatever it takes to make you return it.” Astral explained.
Shark’s goons snickered amongst themselves, “This guy really doesn’t quit!” One of them exclaimed.
“If you want me to return this deck you’ll have to offer me up something valuable in return.” Shark said, his eyes gazed upon Astral’s pendant around his neck and without warning he roughly snatched at it, breaking the tie off.
Astral’s automatic reaction to this was to lunge at Shark to which Shark’s goons and quickly held him back.
Shark laughed in response, “I struck a nerve, didn’t I? I think that’s the most emotion you’ve ever shown. This here is definitely something valuable.”
Black Mist had enough and went to his brother’s aid. He roughly grabbed at Shark’s arm that held the pendant in an attempt to relieve it, but Shark was quick to knee Black Mist in the stomach.
One of Shark’s goons removed his grip from Astral and went to pin Black Mist on the ground. Astral still struggled under the weight of just one boy, watching with desperate eyes to see what Shark would do with what was most valuable to him.
“I’ll teach you about what’s valuable.” Shark said, dropping the pendant to the ground, “It’s only when you lose something that you realize its true worth!”
With a swift kick, Shark broke the pendant under his shoes.
Kotori and Tetsuo watched as Astral and Black Mist were released. Black Mist still tried to pick a fight while Astral sat silently on his knees.
“Do you know what it’s true worth is now?” Shark asked tauntingly, kicking one of the pendant’s pieces out of the gated area.
“Now you don’t have something valuable to bet Tetsuo’s deck on, too bad.” Shark said.
“How dare you insolent little-“ Black Mist tried breaking away from Tetsuo’s hold on him, but Tetsuo stood firm on the ground. “Just stop!” Tetsuo begged of him.
“I struck a nerve in both of you, huh.” Shark observed, “Alright, I’ll still duel you, Astral. But you’ll be betting your deck if you want to get Tetsuo’s back. This Saturday, at the plaza in front of the station.”
Shark left with his goons following behind him.
Tetsuo released his grip on Black Mist and watched as he immediately left to console his brother.
Black Mist sat on the ground with Astral, retying the now broken pendant around his neck, but it seemed useless…
Since that moment, Astral had become even more closed off than before.
He refused to speak to other’s period, not even Black Mist could get a word out of him.
When Kotori expressed concern, there wasn’t much Black Mist could do to help it.
“It was given to him by his dad, not mine, his. He and his old man never had much of a relationship, but the pendant, it was the one thing that his father gave him.” Black Mist explained to her as they followed Astral from behind on their way back home from school, “Our family is kind of weird, I can deal with it a lot better than Astral because I still have a parent around, he doesn’t. I’m his only family, but it’s just not enough, you know?”
“That’s so sad…I didn’t know you two before coming to Heartland Academy, you’re both two grades ahead of me, so I wouldn’t know, but did he act differently when his parents were still around?” Kotori asked.
Black Mist bit his lip, “I was still living with my father in Egypt actually, so I don’t really know. I barely have any memories of when the two of us lived together with his parents, we were both so young…I don’t even know if I’ve ever seen him smile, not even as kids.”
The sound of something fast approaching had caught both Black Mist and Kotori’s attention, they looked behind them to see Tetsuo coming up fast on his skateboard.
“Astral!” Tetsuo called out, Astral stopped and turned around.
“Are you planning on dueling Shark tomorrow?” Tetsuo asked.
“I am.” Astral answered, the first words anyone had heard from him in a while.
“Well, don’t go. You shouldn’t get mixed up with that guy just because of me.” Tetsuo tried to convince him, Black Mist and Kotori agreed with his sentiment.
“Shark destroyed something precious to me, this is what you would call ‘personal’ now.” Astral said, “I am going to duel him for myself, and my parents.”
Tetsuo saw that there was nothing stopping Astral’s determination, “Fine, you can do what you want. You should have this back.”
From his back pocket, Tetsuo pulled out a piece of the key that had gone missing since Astral’s last encounter with Shark. Black Mist could’ve sworn he saw Astral’s eyes light up, just a bit.
“Thank you.” Astral said with sincerity.
Black Mist added in, “Seriously, thank you. It means a lot.”
Tetsuo turned away before they could see him grow flustered, “Yeah, I just stumbled upon it. Take care of it.”
With that he left, the duel between Shark and Astral coming up soon.
Astral spent nearly the whole night in the attic working through his father’s old deck.
By the next morning, something strange had occurred.
Don Thousand was drinking tea in the dining room.
Astral looked around for his brother, and as if he were reading his mind, Don Thousand greeted him with, “If you’re looking for your brother, he’s out front with that nice girl you’re friends with.”
Astral froze in place at that comment.
“You can have some tea if you’d like. I think you finally taught your brother how to brew it right, but he made far too much for just me.” Don Thousand gestured to the seat in front of him.
Astral felt trapped, reluctantly, he sat down and watched as Don Thousand poured him a cup. He accepted the tea and drank it down fast despite how hot it still was, he felt Don Thousand’s eyes watching him as he did.
“I know about this duel you’re having today.” Don Thousand said.
Astral stopped drinking and swallowed hard.
“Teach that boy not to disrespect priceless ancient artifacts.” Don Thousand encouraged.
Suddenly, a wave of relief overcame Astral, and a smile almost made it’s way on his lips, just almost.
Don Thousand took away his empty cup and wished him luck out the door, for once, Astral didn’t feel quite as fearful. There was no resentment, there was even a bit of a connection.
That enough was motivation for Astral to win this duel.
He along with his brother, Kotori, and soon Tetsuo all met up with Shark who was seemingly impressed by their appearance.
The duel began and Astral and Shark were very close to equals.
Astral had to admit that Shark was good, and at times, Astral began to doubt the strategy he had set up.
What made matters worse was that despite being known for having a poker face at school, Shark still seemed to be able to read him.
At every opportunity, Shark would tease Astral.
“You can’t beat me!” Shark called out to him, “An emotionless husk like you can possibly beat someone like me!”
“Say that again.” Astral said curtly.
Shark was taken back a bit, but obliged, “I said an emotionless husk like you can’t beat someone like me!”
“You clearly have no idea who I am. I know I do not express much, but do not question how much I care for my deck, my friends, and my family!” Astral spoke up, his voice louder than anyone had expected to come out of him, “People like you know nothing about me, you don’t know how much I care and how determined I am right now to beat you!”
In the heat of the moment, in a surprising display of emotion, Astral ripped his necklace off. The pendant clasped in his fist began to glow brightly, and when that bright light had ceased, Astral saw that the pendant was whole once more…and he was no longer in Heartland’s plaza.
He was standing on that narrow pathway once more, that same giant chained door infant of him, tempting him to open it.
“Open the door.” The disembodied voice spoke, “Once you do, you will receive a new power. However, as the price for this power…You shall lose what is most important to you.”
The same words as before.
This time, Astral wasn’t backing away.
With determination, he inserted the pendant into the lock. It acted as a key, breaking apart the chains and releasing whatever was hidden behind the door into the world.
A strange vision appeared before him and quickly flew right into him, Astral closed his eyes and winced, feeling nothing of the impact.
When he opened his eyes again, he was momentarily surrounded by strange cards. As they disappeared, Astral found himself on the plaza floor.
Suddenly, Shark began to yell. A dark aura surrounded him as Shark XYZ summoned his next monster.
Before Astral stood a monster completely unknown to the world until now.
“Come, Number 17 Leviathan Dragon!” Shark called as a numbered monster appeared.
The large dragon uncoiled its many wings, everyone was confused upon seeing it, because it was just so ‘otherworldly’
“What kind of monster is that?” Kotori asked, both Tetsuo and Black Mist had no answers for her.
“I’ve never heard of numbers before.” Black Mist admitted.
Leviathan Dragon quickly gained Shark the advantage over Astral, using its special effect to raise its attacks points before destroying Astral’s monster.
While Shark was already declaring victory, Astral found himself at a loss of what to do next and how to gain an advantage over a monster as strange as Leviathan Dragon.
“Hey.” A strange voice called out to him, “Get up, the duel isn’t over yet.”
Astral glanced back and forth, the voice didn’t sound anything like the people who came with him.
He felt as though someone or something was looking over his shoulder, sure enough, when Astral glanced behind himself he was what looked like some sort of ethereal spirit floating over him, pointing curiously at his cards.
The spirit was a light red, almost pink, with markings all over its body.
“That monster looks cool, you should summon it!” The spirit suggested, unfazed by the look of disbelief on Astral’s face.
“Who are you?” Astral finally mustered up the courage to ask.
“Me? Who am I?” The spirit responded, then looked lost themselves, “Huh, that’s a good question. Who am I? I’m Yuma! I think.”
“You think?” Astral questioned.
A video of Kotori, Tetsuo, and Black Mist appeared next to him.
“What’s wrong, Astral?” Kotori asked.
“Why are you talking to yourself?” Tetsuo added.
Astral turned to where they were standing, “You do not see this being next to me?” He questioned them.
“What are you talking about?” Black Mist was trying to see where his brother was coming from, but he couldn’t see anything.
“This being right here.” Astral pointed to what looked like nothing to everyone else around him, “They are standing right next to me.”
Astral’s behavior came off as crazy and Black Mist rubbed his temple in frustration, “Alright, that’s it, my brother has lost it. Maybe this duel wasn’t such a good idea.” He said.
Astral gave up and turned to the spirit, “It appears I am the only one who can see you.” Astral said, “My d-gazer must be malfunctioning, there is no way this can be real.”
“Why do you think I’m not real? I’m floating right In front of you!” Yuma said, throwing his arms up into the air.
“Are you really a spirit?” Astral questioned.
“I’m not a spirit, I already told you I’m Yuma!” He argued, “But come to think of it, I think that’s all I know. I must have lost my memories coming here, could’ve sworn I had something important to do. Do you know what I had to do?”
“I do not, I-“ Astral stopped himself, “Oh, I think I am losing my mind…”
“Pull yourself together, Astral!” Kotori called out to him, pulling out of his feelings of dread.
Much like he always did, Astral retained his composure easily, despite Yuma floating around him trying to get a good look at all of his cards.
There were two things Astral was sure of.
Whatever this ‘Yuma’ was, only Astral could see him, and since Shark summoned a strange number card, the duel he was in changed the atmosphere drastically.
Shark rambled on momentarily about how powerful the number he summoned made him feel and placed one card face down before ending his turn.
Yuma seemed intrigued by the number, tilting his head a bit as if it helped him observe it better.
“I think we need to win this duel, I think it’s important.” Yuma said.
“Does that mean you’re a duelist spirit?” Astral asked.
That word seemed to connect the dots in Yuma’s clearly scattered mind, “That’s right! I am a duelist, it’s my turn now!”
“Actually, this is my duel.” Astral said upon drawing a card out of his deck.
Yuma glanced over at the card that Astral pulled out and announced, “I summon Gogogo Golem in attack mode!”
“That is…Not a good strategy.” Astral told him.
“Huh?” Yuma didn’t seem to recognize his mistake at all.
“Gogogo Golem should be set in defense position because it has an effect that prevents it from being destroyed in battle.” Astral explained, “…Are you sure you are a duelist?”
“Of course I am!” Yuma argued.
“Setting your monster in defense position won’t help it out and neither will blurting your strategy out loud!” Shark called out to him, “I guess I forgot to mention that you can’t destroy a number without another number! This duel is over for you!”
“I do not have a Number.” Astral said sadly, looking at the deck he had now, not even decently good XYZ monsters would help him win.
“Check your extra deck.” Yuma advised him.
Astral didn’t feel like listening to him, though he may look like an ethereal spirit, he was a real scatterbrain who was clearly a novice at the game he had to win.
He was going to ignore what Yuma said until he was met with a similar glow in his deck holster.
Astral reached in and pulled out a strange card, it was something he couldn’t read. Yuma saw his struggle and read out the strange text for him, “It’s Number 39 Aspiring Emperor Hope!”
“Is this your number?” Astral turned to him and asked.
“It is, and I’m entrusting it to you. Now summon two cards to overlay with so we can get this guy out on the field!” Yuma said with confidence.
Without hesitation, two level four monsters made it onto the field to pave way for the number.
Together, simultaneously, Yuma and Astral called out the emperor. Once Hope was summoned, the game had changed drastically.
An overwhelming sense of honor came over Astral, to see such a powerful monster on his side of the field.
His life would forever change after summoning Number 39.
His life would forever change after a strange spirit-like entity named Yuma and him were bound together.
Astral turned to see Yuma smiling back at him, and in that moment, Astral smiled back too.