Chapter 14 (or, "Sen Tohr")
Storm couldn’t believe her luck.
She had never anticipated she would even be part of the press conference Rhiannon had been holding earlier in the Cerulean Tower. That in itself had been a dream. And now, it was as if she had been sucked into the world of Digital Merge itself. Her cards and her navigator, Pegacat, had come to life. Canberra had his Glass Girl, Tomoyaki Erika had her onibi, and Storm herself had just been told to go look for all of her cards -- which she had a lot of. And to top it all off, she had been placed in a search party group with THE Canberra Longshore, the calm and collected player she had seen countless times on her tablet news. She was in the presence of Digital Merge royalty.
She hadn’t gotten a chance to talk to him yet. He had taken charge of their small group, which included him, her, Jaci Kiiroka herself, and two of the people from the new group. But she hoped to talk with him soon. Canberra was one of those people who could make you like anything, and she wanted some serious Digital Merge tips from him...not to mention ideas on which kind of deck to build.
Storm was surprised that Jaci was as scared as she was of their new world. Gone was the confident, silly facade she had seen many times on the news, and in person at the concert and ticket reveal. She had been really quiet at the rock and still hadn’t said anything, not even to her navigator, a strange talking fruit she had called a papaya. Storm had never heard of a papaya, and she didn’t know why Jaci would choose a fruit as her navigator of choice.
Jaci and her fruit weren’t even walking now -- they were riding on the back of Canberra’s red dinosaur navigator, named Growl. Growl and Canberra were talking up a flurry of activity; Storm herself tried to keep track of all the jokes they were telling, but couldn’t. She had a feeling they had gone over this routine time and time again over their communicator connection, as Growl’s programming would have been able to do so anyway.
But to hear it here, in real life...for this to be real life...it was fantasy come alive. Storm had wanted to tell her grandmother, but reminded herself that her grandmother and the rest of the people in Tokyo needed saving now. If she didn’t help Erika and the foreigners get the cards all together, they’d never save the world. It didn’t scare Storm. This was a game, and besides, Canberra was here.
The two new kids were walking ahead. Jason the boy was looking ahead, while Rosa the girl was looking at her own mini tablet. Storm still didn’t know exactly who those two were, but Canberra seemed to know what was going on, so she trusted him. The Glass Girl had turned back into a card for easy transportation, but Canberra had figured out if he just called on her, she would turn back to life in a split second when need be.
It reminded Storm that nothing was as it seemed in this world. She touched the top of her head, where Pegacat was sitting. “Hey, Pegacat?”
“Yes, Arashi-chan?” the cat meowed, calling her by her given Japanese name. The others in the group were calling her Storm, since it was easier to remember (apparently).
“Do you think we’ll find all of my cards?” Storm asked. “I sure brought a lot of them with me. I hope I don’t get in trouble for doing that.”
“Doing what?” Growl asked, having overheard the conversation.
Storm gulped. She had hoped it would take a while before the others noticed her predicament. “Okay, so look,” she said. “I’m not the best Digital Merge player. I’ve collected all of the cards, and I brought them with me to the press conference because I wanted help creating a deck!”
She watched as Canberra stopped walking and turned, his face pale. “You mean...as far as heroes, you brought as many as possible?”
Storm nodded and looked at her feet. She heard Jaci mutter, “This is bad, this is bad,” from her perch on Growl’s back.
She was afraid Canberra would yell at her. So many heroes would take forever to find. But instead, there was a smile on his face. “That’s awesome!”
She tried to find the right words to say. “It...it is?”
“Of course! Something tells me we’re going to need all the help we can get when it comes to heroes in this world! In normal gameplay, sure, you’d only want a certain number of heroes. But it’s actually to our advantage in this world that you have so many.” He paused. “Why do you have so many, anyway?”
Storm twirled a finger around one of her braids. “Because I don’t know what kind of deck I want. I’ve looked at a bunch of cards, but I don’t have any favorites yet. I like them all.”
“Oh.” Canberra still had his smile on. “I’m fine with that. Do you remember all of the cards you brought?”
Storm shook her head. “I know I just opened a new Earth deck, the most recent hero expansion. Other than that, I brought all of my favorite cards because I wanted some help. I was hoping if Rhiannon had time, she’d be able to help me build a deck…”
“Well, Rhiannon might be a little busy at the moment, but I’d be more than happy to help you if we get a chance.”
“Hey.” That was Jason, the strange boy in front. “We’re reaching a wooded area up ahead. Since the terrain is changing, we might find some hints as to where some cards are. Canberra, do you have any ideas?”
Canberra thought for a moment. “I’d have to see for myself.”
“It’s too far away to be seen with just your eyes,” Rosa piped up, “but you can see it through our communicators.”
Jason and Rosa stopped walking, and Rosa handed her small tablet to Canberra. “Just tap the screen here if you want to zoom in,” she noted.
“On the screen?” Storm asked. “But it’s a screen.”
“Precisely,” Rosa said with a smile. Sure enough, Canberra tapped on the screen, and the image grew in size. Storm crowded around, and soon, Growl blocked out the sun as Jaci took a look as well. The screen detailed a lush forest with tall canopy trees, like something out of a fantasy movie.
“Looks like we’ll get relief from the sun, at any rate,” Canberra noted. “I wish there was some way to track cards using this device.”
“Might I be of some service?”
Everybody yelped and turned to see another shadow blocking the sun. Growl immediately turned and got into a defensive stance, prompting Jaci to jump off and stand in the sand. “Who are you?” Jason asked back.
“Calm down,” Canberra said, holding up his hand. “This is the Sen Tohr card. He means us no harm.”
“Sen Tohr?” Rosa asked.
Storm smiled. “Sen Tohr.” The name was a pun off of centaur, an American loan word. The man who stood in front of them had the torso of a man but the lower body of a fully grown horse. His hair was done back in a low ponytail, and his dark eyes were on her. She remembered this card well; it was one of the ones she had received in her new package. Did anybody else have a Sen Tohr hero?
“You are correct,” the Sen Tohr said, his eyes not wavering once from Storm. “I am seeking my master, Yamazaki Arashi.”
“That’s me,” Storm said, giving the Sen Tohr a short bow. “You must be my card! It’s very nice to make your acquaintance.”
“I believe I should be the one to serve you.” And with that, the Sen Tohr knelt on its forelegs and went into a sitting position. His torso then went into a forward bow, extending his hands on the ground in front of him. “As long as I live on this earth, I will serve you,” he said in his formal language.
Storm felt extremely nervous. The Sen Tohr was stronger and most definitely older than her, so why was he bowing to her? And then she realized: it was because she was the one who owned the card. It was the same as when the Glass Girl obeyed Canberra’s commands, or when the Onibi wouldn’t stop swirling around Erika’s head. She was the Sen Tohr’s master in this realm.
“I accept you,” she said, putting her hand on the Sen Tohr’s shoulder.
The Sen Tohr looked up, and with a smile, he disappeared. When Storm looked closer, she could see a card laying on the ground where he had been kneeling. She picked it up and could still remember how the Sen Tohr had knelt in front of her.
Was this what it meant to play Digital Merge? Did it mean having this much power all the time?
Storm couldn’t wait to find out.