Chapter 24 (or, “The Definition of True Love”)
“You heard what I said,” Nathan Tyler yelled across the clearing. “Put the rabbit down, get off of Kyara, and you won’t be hurt.”
His words were confident, but his tone was a little shaky and he could feel the pit in his stomach growing. This was something right out of one of those cheesy movies the talent agency always had him acting in. There would be some monster, and it would kidnap a girl or destroy half of Tokyo or get a kitten stuck in a tree, and it would be up to him (and maybe several other good looking costars) to save the day. Except this wasn’t fiction. There was no director who could just yell “cut!” from the sidelines and stop the action.
This was real, and Kyara Losule was in trouble.
Never mind that Digital Merge shouldn’t even be a reality in this way. It was a card game, one that he had never had an interest in. Before this adventure, he had never even had contact with the card game before. But now -- now it was their entire world. If finding all of the cards meant they could get out of this world and back into theirs, then so be it. Nathan would put up with it for that long. And if they had never come to this world, then he would have never met Kyara Losule in the first place.
He narrowed his eyes at the Roses card. Erika better think of something, lest he just charge the card himself and see what happens. With every second that passed, he felt the panic intensify.
It reminded him of another place and time -- of his father, how he would stand over his mother and yell at her, while he hid behind the couch. That was ten years ago, before the foster system came for him, but the memories were still vivid in his mind. No number of therapy hours could fully erase the look on her mother’s face, and the longer Kyara was under the Roses card, the more she reminded him of his own mother -- trapped, helpless.
And Nathan couldn’t get up the nerve to help her other than throwing rocks.
Japan. That had been his escape route from all of this. Once in the foster care system, he had bounced from house to house for a year, then had been taken in by an elderly Japanese couple who had been unable to have children of their own. He kept his own last name but learned their language, their mannerisms, and found love within their family unit. After he was finally adopted by them, his new mother grew sick, and they decided to move back to Japan to be with their more immediate families.
Nathan had hated Japan at first. His mother now spent all her time sick, being cared for by her sister, and his father worked all day and night to pay the bills. At first, he had tried to fit in with his fellow schoolmates, but most of them wouldn’t talk to him because he was a foreigner. There was never any overt racism, but he was ignored -- by everybody. By people on the street, on the train, at school, everywhere he went. He sometimes wondered if he would ever be noticed by anyone, and if anybody would care if he disappeared altogether.
“What are you going to do about it?” the Roses card chided. “Seems like you’ve got a good hand to fight me with...oh, wait. You don’t have any hand at all. Silly me.”
“Salamanga, assemble on the scene!” Erika yelled, throwing down one of her cards. The salamander made of fire was small, but it might just stand a chance against this plant based enemy. Matsumoto-san and the Hispanic girl stood behind Erika, and Nathan watched as they pulled out their own communicators, which they still had. He didn’t know what was going on, but he hoped they were here to help. They had helped so far, at least. They had explained why they were in this world, and how to get out of it.
But it still made Nathan feel hopeless. If he didn’t play Digital Merge, what good was he at all?
In the end, the guitar had been his solace, his way out. While on the Internet, he found comfort at looking at videos of America, his homeland. He listened to all of the old rock bands and felt as if he could identify with the lyrics and content. He found similar bands in Japan, underground efforts with smaller fans and a true spirit. They hung out in Shibuya at night and went to dark bars, comparing guitar loops and playing patterns in the back. It was at one of these bars that Nathan had met Kouko Oomori, wife of a record producer who was looking for new talent. She had been the person who had matched him with Niji-iro, a long standing Japanese rock band that was in need of a new lead guitarist.
She had also been his first love, ever out of reach and the subject of quite a many song.
“Salamanga, attack but be careful!” Erika-san yelled, and the Salamanga spit out fire from its mouth, aiming for the Roses card.
The Roses swatted away the flames with one of its long arms, unfazed by the attack. “We need a better dice roll!” Matsumoto-san yelled from his spot behind Erika-san.
Everybody knew his name then. He was Nathan Tyler, star guitarist of Niji-iro. He became a spokesperson for soft drinks and razors and everything in between. Niji-iro’s songs tied in with dramas and anime shows. Kiiroka Jaci herself had even done a cover. Their biggest draw, however, was their own tablet show that ran every Tuesday night...and he had been in the Cerulean Tower to talk to someone about that very show the day the world had ended.
He had seen her first then. Had been taken aback by her beauty. A real yamato nadeshiko in spirit and grace. Losule Kyara. Her last name wasn’t Japanese, but her heart was. It charmed him more than he had ever thought possible before. She was the only good thing about this entire world. She knew who he was, and was even a little bit star struck when they had first met, but that giddyness had been replaced with a sincere knowledge of the world and a calmness that Nathan had only experienced with his parents. He needed that calmness in his life, to be a part of it, to find a home somewhere. Was Kyara a potential home? He didn’t know that yet. All he knew was if the Roses card got to her like this, he would never have the chance to find out.
He was probably going to die anyway, wasn’t he? This world had no guarantee of surviving this craziness, this limbo. He had to be like one of the shonen heroes that Japan so idolized, like one of the cards that Erika-san or Canberra-san used. He had to become the power, the change. And he knew better than anybody that change did not come by sitting down and letting life happen to you. It finally made sense to him, after years of coasting and letting it all wash over him.
No more coasting.
He ran toward the Roses card, not thinking about the sharp thorns on its arms. With one swing, he kicked its left arm, sending Erika-san’s navigator Joliar tumbling to the ground. Then, he kicked toward its midsection and reached down for Kyara in the same motion.
“Nathan-san?” she asked, big eyes wide and curious.
He smiled. “Don’t worry. I’m here for you.” And somehow, he knew those words would always be true.
Without any warning, the Roses card disappeared into thin air. Nathan had just enough time to look at where it could have gone before the world changed around him, as well. No longer was he in a clearing, but he was in a classroom, well lit, small, with four rows of desks and huge windows that were shut. He couldn’t see outside them from where he was standing.
He realized he was still holding on to Kyara’s hand, and sure enough, there she was on the ground, in between two desks. “Kyara,” he said, and then he pulled her up and into his arms.
“Where are we?” she asked, looking around their new surroundings, at the empty chalkboard and the door that was firmly closed.
Then, without a pause, they could see the Roses card, its huge arms spread wide, ready to attack both Nathan and Kyara. Nathan had enough time to register that it was there before it disappeared again into a flash of bright light, like it had never been there in the first place.
“That was close,” a voice said, and Nathan saw the American boy there from before. “Are you guys okay?” he asked in Japanese. "That thing won't come in here unless we let it."
Nathan nodded. “Where are we?” he asked in his mother tongue.
It took the other boy a minute to answer, but he did. “Limbo.”