Chapter 9 (or, "The Glass Girl")
Canberra hadn't seen the earthquake coming, but he did what only he could do best: snap into action, Digital Merge style.
In a situation like this, he would normally assess the damage done on the playmat and then use most of his Hero Points to get the necessary vehicle ready. From there, he would call forward his Spirit Teammates. Any of them would do, but he had three favorites: the Glass Girl, the Tree of Life, and Takeru Yamato the Deliverer. There were some games where he would use all three of them together early on, and their combined powers could fix any problem on the field, even without gift cards. Plus, the right vehicle would get them there in no time, eliminating the need for extra turns.
But this wasn't Digital Merge. This was a real earthquake, and Noh Kee Moh Rhiannon was about to disappear into the ground.
"Counter!" he heard the girl Isabel yell, and before he could even get to his feet, the girl had pulled out what looked like a tablet and was pressing something on the screen. A few thoughts flew through his mind -- how did she still have her tablet, and why was she pressing on the screen? Didn't it have buttons?
"It's busted!" he heard her yell, and then the boy in blue's patience ran out.
"Oh, we are so done," Canberra heard him say, and he ran forward to the area of sand that had swallowed Rhiannon alive. Without any warning he dove into the sand, headed straight for her.
Canberra wasn't sure why he had just done that, but before he got a chance to react, the ground beneath his own feet opened up.
He found himself falling deeper and deeper, into the ground, farther than he had ever fallen before. When he landed, he noticed that it didn't actually hurt at all. Looking around him, he saw that the ground looked unstable, as if it were constantly shifting and changing beneath the surface.
"That's kind of weird," he thought out loud to himself. "This kind of reminds me of the way the villain Psycho Kitchen changes the earth during a Digital Merge game...but this is real life, isn't it?"
Afraid that the sand and earth still around him would swallow him alive, Canberra kept moving, and soon, the ground opened up below him again, and he fell further. This time, he landed in a small cavern with low ceilings, barely tall enough to fit himself. The ground beneath his feet actually felt solid, and he sighed in relief. At least down here, he didn't have to pretend to have all the answers.
He could only shake his head at himself, though. He could save the world, sure -- as long as it was on a playmat! Some real world superhero he was. He couldn't even save himself.
The ground in front of him kept changing, and Canberra ran a hand through his hair to get some of the dirt out. He peered into the darkness and saw that the rocks ahead of him were cracked, and there was some sort of light coming from behind them. When he pressed on the rocks, they crumbled, and the cavern became bigger.
The room behind the rock wall was empty save for what looked like a statue, standing in the middle. It didn't make any sense to Canberra until he recognized the design of the statue's hair, how it gleamed off the light shining from the middle of it. It was the exact image that was normally on his Glass Girl card, but in real form, in front of his very eyes.
"This entire thing is one crazy dream," he said out loud before reaching out and touching the statue, to make sure it was real.
It was -- and without any warning, the statue came to life. The girl's curled hair seemed to bounce and her glass eyes blinked, staring straight at Canberra. She curtsied with her flowing glass dress, then held out her hand to Canberra. When he took it, he felt the surge of power from around him, and then the vortex pushed both him and the Glass Girl up and out of the ground.
He didn't let go of her hand, and she helped him float to the ground. Erika, Rikimo, and the others were still on the ground, and Rikimo was looking directly at him.
"That girl looks exactly like the Glass Girl card," she said, one of the few times she had opened her mouth recently around Canberra.
Canberra nodded. "I think...I think she is. And if my thought process is correct, I think the Psycho Kitchen card is what's causing these earthquake problems"
"That's bizarre." Erika joined their conversation. "It's like some sort of real world version of a Digital Merge battle."
Canberra jarred back to reality when Erika said the words Digital Merge. "Where's Rhiannon? Did that other guy find her?"
They raced to the edge of the pit Rhiannon had fallen into. Komari was standing there, just looking into it. "I'm calculating the odds of survival," Komari said. "The odds themselves do not look good."
"Then why are you just standing there?" Canberra asked. This was Rhiannon they were talking about -- he should have done what that foreign kid did and jump in after her -- then, he had an idea.
He turned to the Glass Girl and said the same words he would say during a Digital Merge match. "Fall in! Glass Girl!"
Thankfully, the Glass Girl listened and obeyed. Normally Canberra would just play her card and that would be it, but with her being somewhat sentient, he didn't know how that would work. She moved forward and without any notice jumped into the pit, disappearing into the sand. Before Canberra could voice his concerns, she arrived back on the surface with Rhiannon in one arm and the American boy in the other.
He reached Rhiannon's side as she touched the ground. Not a lot of people were close to Rhiannon, and Canberra didn't consider himself particularly close, but he had met her several times. If she was lost during this adventure, their world -- and his -- wouldn't be the same. "Are you okay?" he asked in their native Korean.
She smiled and nodded. "The boy -- he had this bubble thing that protected us. Is that the Glass Girl?"
"It is." Canberra almost asked if Rhiannon thought some version of Psycho Kitchen was causing the earth drama, but the thought was forgotten. He understood, as Rhiannon lifted her hand and touched the Glass Girl's shoulder, that she was meeting one of her own creations for the first time.
"This can't be real," she said in Korean. "It just can't."
"It can," another voice in Korean said, and Canberra and Rhiannon turned to see the Chinese boy from earlier standing behind them. "This is a strange world, and anything is possible in it. I suggest you be prepared for anything."
Rhiannon nodded. "Canberra, do you think the Glass Girl can defeat Psycho Kitchen by herself?"
So she already knew what the culprit was. Of course she did. She was the one who had created the cards in the first place. "I don't think so," Canberra noted, "but I don't know where we'll find any other cards in physical form. We could do a face-off with gift cards, but I already checked. My physical cards are gone, and I'm not sure they would matter anyway."
"We can help," Jen the Chinese boy said. He turned to his friends. "You think the communicators can help at all?"
"They're bugging out, but I think if we focus their power, we can help," Isabel said.
"Komari," Rhiannon said, "I want you to take the IP addresses of these six tablets and regulate their commands directly to the Glass Girl. Then, I want you to use the Global Positioning System to locate the heart of the Psycho Kitchen, which should enable the Glass Girl to hit it."
"Affirmative," Komari noted in the tone of voice that indicated her coding was working. "Completing requests now."
"Dealey Five team," Isabel called out, "we need power diversion commands. Point them at Komari -- she'll direct them."
"Roger," the goggle-headed Japanese leader said, and the six tapped on their devices again. Within seconds, six beams of light headed towards Komari, then to the Glass Girl. Canberra knew the time was now.
"Psycho Kitchen, face-off!" he yelled, and the Glass Girl jumped into the pit again. He could only watch as he normally did during a game, hoping that the result would work.