Chapter 16 (or, "The Salamanga")
“Everybody awake and accounted for?”
While Rhiannon and crew were dealing with the Moles of Molten Lava and Canberra was traveling with Storm, Erika and Isabel were starting day two of their adventure...albeit a bit early.
Erika had heard Isabel’s loud voice and had dragged herself awake, next to a snoring Kyara. She now watched as Isabel absorbed the tent back into her communicator, breaking down the fabric and folding the plastic’s coded DNA in on itself. She had never seen a tent like that before...most of the tents she had seen had only been on television, or faithful reproductions in museums in downtown Tokyo. Isabel had passed out fish leftovers from last night to use as breakfast.
Her sleep had been fitful and messy, culminating in her sitting with Tama outside. She had fallen asleep out there, actually, under the stars, and had woken up in a sleeping bag in the tent with her hat under her head as a pillow. She had been tempted to ask Tama if he had moved her in her sleep, but she hadn’t had a chance to talk to him yet alone today.
She wasn’t sure when she would. But give it time, she told herself. The sun wasn’t even technically up yet; even though the sky was a bright pink, the sun was nowhere to be seen.
Kyara had slept well, and was talking surprisingly with Nathan -- and thankfully, it looked like Nathan didn’t mind. Good for Kyara. Erika had more important things to think about right now than her friend. Joliar had slept peacefully and was now perched on top of her hat. asking her questions. He did this all the time anyway -- asked her questions -- and today they were some of the weirdest Erika had ever heard.
“Ericchi,” he said, calling her by the nickname she had registered on her tablet, “why are we still walking in a desert?”
“How many times will we run into those weird cards?”
“Do you think they have butterscotch pudding out here?”
“Ericchi, what’s the easiest way to get to Santa Fe?”
I don’t know half the answers to these questions, Erika thought to herself, but she didn’t mind. She had programmed Joliar to be her best friend, and apparently that had resulted in him asking endless questions. The fact that Joliar was even asking these questions meant that he was just acting within his parameters...which was a nice stability in this unsure world.
She wanted to go and interrupt Tama, but he was now talking with Isabel and she figured it best not to disturb him. “Joliar, can I ask you a question?”
“You haven’t answered any of mine, but I guess so! What do you want to know, Ericchi?”
Erika smirked. “First of all, I bet they have butterscotch pudding, but I don’t know where. And second, you know how my tablet usually has a Digital Merge prog?”
“Can I still access it even without my tablet here?”
“Of course, Ericchi! You just ask me and I’ll tell you what the prog says.”
“Perfect. For starters, what does it say about the onibi?”
Joliar’s bright green eyes glazed over as he accessed the prog -- short for program -- and he started speaking. “The onibi card was released as part of the Wild World expansion,” he said, reading off the information the prog was giving him. “With a energy signature of 2, it is usually used as a sidekick superhero, in conjunction with a more powered card. Perhaps you should try pairing it with your favorite card, the Red Giant?”
Erika nodded. “Once we actually find it.” She didn’t know when they would find the Red Giant -- or where -- but as long as they found it, she could combine the Onibi with it to give it a nice power boost. Now she knew she had to interrupt Tama’s conversation. “Isabel-san?”
The Hispanic girl with the penguin socks turned around and faced her. “Just Isabel is fine,” she said with a strange look on her face.
Erika tried, but it wouldn’t come out of her mouth that way yet. Isabel was too unfamiiar to her. “Do you know where we are going to search for my hero cards?”
“Canberra is taking his team across the shore,” Isabel said, giving a glance to the mini tablet in her hands. “And Rhiannon went to the north, which means we are going west. I don’t know which direction that girl all in black went.”
“Rikimo-san,” Tama spoke up.
Erika blushed. “She’s really good at Digital Merge,” she noted. “I bet she’s just wanting to do this on her own. I guess she’s always kind of like that.”
“Can you explain?” Isabel said, eyes not moving from her small tablet.
“Well...she’s really good at Digital Merge, as I mentioned. And by really good, I mean she’s only second to Canberra. But she never does any interviews, and when she plays, she doesn’t say a word. She just stares out into the field. She plays with a modified water deck with mostly ice heroes, and that’s why they call her the Ice Queen.”
“She sounds like it,” Isabel said. She still hadn’t budged.
But Tama had. “She seems like a very popular person.”
“Well, if you’re really good at something and you receive a lot of attention for it, and you’re not used to all of that attention, wouldn’t you want to run in the opposite direction?”
Erika thought about it for a moment. “I don’t mind the attention,” she said, “but I can see why someone else wouldn’t...I suppose.”
“Perhaps she has her reasons.” Tama turned to Kyara and Nathan. “We’re headed out, going west. Isabel and I will lead the way.”
“Sounds good!” Kyara said, Kuchi on top of her head.
“Do you know why that Nathan kid doesn’t have a pet?” Isabel asked as she turned and started to walk away from the campsite.
Erika didn’t know what Isabel meant by pet until she remembered it was a word used in Hokkaido for an animal member of the family. People in Tokyo weren’t allowed to have pets. Isabel must have meant a navigator, and to be honest...Erika didn’t know why Nathan didn’t have a navigator. It might have something to do with the fact that he was from America, but that was the only difference between him and the rest of their group. (And with Isabel and the others, it wasn’t even that much of a difference.)
She shrugged. “I don’t know of a lot of people our age who don’t have one. Nowadays even most adults have one. Except for you guys, of course.”
The ground below Erika’s feet shifted just a bit. Immediately her eyes went to the sand. What if it was another earthquake, another villain card? She reached for her back pocket to pull out her Onibi card, but before she could, the ground opened up below her...and the hole was much smaller than she had been anticipating.
A small head poked itself out of the ground, then revealed a slimy, long body much like a newt. It crawled out of the hole, up Erika’s shoe and pant leg, then jumped onto her arm and climbed onto her shoulder. “¡Eres tú!” it said in fluent Spanish.
Erika was confused. “What?”
“The Salamanga card is from the most recent Ancient Civilizations expansion,” Joliar rattled off from the top of Erika’s hat. “Based off of the fire salamander common to Europe, the Salamanga can breathe fire with the fire glands in its mouth. It can also freeze any enemy with its innocent looking eyes. It has an energy signature of 3. Oh -- and it’s also really cute!”
The Salamanga almost seemed to squeak as it looked at Erika with its huge black eyes. “Muchas gracias, maestra,” it said. “He estado buscando para tí.”
Erika looked at the Salamanga. This was most certainly one of her cards...but why couldn’t she understand what it was saying? “Um…”
Isabel had stopped walking. “Wait -- what is that thing saying?”
“I don’t know. I don’t understand it.”
“It said it had been looking for you.”
Erika was in shock. “How did you know that?”
“Simple. I speak its language.” And with that, Isabel got closer to the Salamanga and smiled at it. “¿Puedo tocarte?”
“¡Claro que sí!” The Salamanga even seemed to smile at Isabel.
Isabel laughed as she touched the Salamanga on its head. “Is this one of the hero cards we have to find?”
“Yep.” Erika gave Isabel a smile, more comfortable with this stranger. She had never met someone like Isabel before, and yet, with a few words and a smile she had charmed her Salamanga and made a lasting connection. Her eyes went over to Tama, standing nearby, with a smile on his face as well.
She found herself able to breathe again.
Maybe everything would really be okay after all. “Thank you...Isabel.”