Chapter 27 (or, “The One Where Everything Goes to Poop”)
Well, shoot, Isabel thought to herself, grinding her teeth against one another. This was not going to plan at all.
They had been just fine while Erika had been deciding what to do about the Roses card. Kyara had been under the card, and Erika’s pet rabbit...thing...had been held captive. Then Nathan had charged in, and without any warning, both Nathan and Kyara had disappeared. No notification. Nothing.
And Isabel was starting to suspect exactly who had caused this mess.
“¡Concho!” she yelled, cursing under her breath. “That damn Dvorak -- I bet he’s got something to do with this. Tama! Erika-chan! Stand back!”
She pointed her communicator straight at the Roses card’s still form and unlocked the phone with one swipe of her thumb. It was far away enough that she had about fifteen seconds buffer time before either Tama or Erika were captured. They both ran out of the Roses’ reach zone just as Isabel tapped on the diagnostics application.
It launched immediately and started to identify the figure in front of her. After giving a retinal scan and processing the information, it came up nice and clear, in black and white letters on Isabel’s screen: Property of QWERTY Headquarters.
Dvorak had done this. This might be just a regular card in Erika’s card game, but right now, it was being controlled by Dvorak. He probably hadn’t anticipated that they would come after him. But they were. And he was about to lose his stupid suited mind. Instead of just calling it quits and letting them win, he was going to erase them one by one, sending them to limbo where they wouldn’t be able to do a damn thing about Dvorak or his issues.
If Erika went to limbo, Dvorak would win. Their world would disappear. Over Isabel’s dead body. This was her last test before becoming a full operative of QWERTY, and that man had overstepped his line with her one too many times.
“Erika-chan!” she yelled in her off-Japanese. “Take three GIANT steps away from that thing. Tama.” She switched back to English. “Dvorak did this. We need to get Erika out of here. Find the others. Protect her. If Erika gets taken to limbo before she can beat Dvorak, there’s no way he’s going to let her have a say in the new world. She needs to go to limbo alone if Dvorak is going to be this much of an asshole. Got it?”
Tama nodded. “Affirmative. What’s our first step?”
“Grab Erika and run.”
“Okay, sounds like a good --” Tama stopped short. “Do what now?”
“You heard me. Grab Erika and run! This is Dvorak...which means it’s me she wants.” Isabel stuffed her communicator in her pocket. What an idiot. Didn’t he know when to leave well enough alone? Why was it always her fault, her job to take care of this man?
She took a fighting stance. All of those hours with Rider in the back gymnasium were about to pay off. “Come at me, Roses!”
Never mind that she had never thrown a punch in her life before she had set foot inside QWERTY headquarters. Sarah had made sure that she would get all of her training in as needed, and Isabel had, most of it taking place while the Dealey Five were still in transit. Those six months had been filled with classes, tests, and physical exams. Isabel had passed the tests...and failed the physical exams. A girl who spent her days lounging on the couch watching telenovelas had no chance of making it through.
She kept her eyes on the Roses card as it came straight for her, shuffling in its slow speed. It stretched out its hands and shot thorns at her; Isabel ducked low to the ground, missing the blast entirely.
She had gotten into contact with Rider soon after her failed physical, asking him for assistance. Her first day in the gym had been hard, muscles aching after hours of practice and cardio. She had wanted to give up, but then remembered how Carissa and Mac had worked so hard to save her world. She had stepped in at the last second when Dvorak had been found, saving their world at a cost of no longer existing in it. QWERTY was home now. She had nowhere else to go. If she didn’t pass this test, she could disappear into nothing.
Isabel jumped and swung her foot out toward the Roses’ branchy feet, tripping it up. She then brought her same foot down upon its head as it fell, resulting in an ear-piercing scream. She looked up and saw Tama running toward Erika.
Good, she thought to herself. Those two need to get out of here, rapido.
She had spent three weeks training under Rider, three long weeks that ensured she had the hugest of crushes on him when it was all said and done. He wasn’t exactly Hispanic, which was usually how she leaned, but he had a darker skin tone and was oh, so very tall. There was something about the way he held himself that made Isabel’s stomach turn knots. It was all great and blissful until she found out he didn’t even swing that way. She aced the retake test and knew that, someday, she’d be able to be friends with Rider again.
But not just yet. Not at this moment in time. All she could do was fight to keep the pain away. And soon after that, Tama and Rosa had woken up and she had been surrounded by familiar faces that couldn’t see her.
The Roses card stretched out its arm, trying to attack Isabel, but she was quicker -- much quicker. She crawled away and out of range, biting her lip. Avoiding the card could only last for so long; when would she be able to get rid of it? Well, how would she get rid of Dvorak in this situation? Because, simply, that was all it was. This Roses card was just Dvorak in disguise, like if Dvorak had become a final boss in one of Mac’s video games and this was just one of his lackeys.
If she wanted to get rid of the Roses card, she’d have to take it to limbo. And she could get into limbo. Any QWERTY member could. But once she entered limbo, she wouldn’t be able to get back out to help Tama or Erika. They would be on their own.
She whipped her communicator back out. Tama was too far away now. She couldn’t tell him all of this right now. It would have to wait. Unlocking it, she skipped back again as the Roses card slashed at her, and then she pulled it back out, starting up the voice recording program. She stuffed the phone into her pocket so she could use both of her hands to go up against the card.
“Tamasine,” she said in English, “I’m recording this as I’m fighting the Roses card. You have to listen to me. I’m going to take this card to limbo with me, so that it’s not in your way. You have to listen to what I’m saying. Keep this message and get it to the others. I’m only hoping that Dvorak hasn’t gotten everybody else into limbo yet.” She chewed on her lip. How should she put this? “You’ll probably face other cards like this. You won’t be able to beat them, so you’ll just have to run. Erika will probably think she can beat them, but she’s wrong. They’re designed to get stronger. They’re designed to win. Dvorak put these cards here to stop you from finding him and challenging him to a Digital Merge game.” She paused as she jumped out of the way again. “You need to find the others. See if Rifka has her communicator open. Your best bet is to find Rhiannon and meet up with her, I think. Don’t be afraid to go into limbo to help save Erika, but do NOT let Erika go into limbo until Dvorak is defeated!” Another duck as Isabel tripped on her own two feet. “Remember, Tama. People can only come out of limbo if somebody goes in. It needs to be the five of you in limbo when the worlds merge. Nobody else.”
And now, the Roses card was on top of her, and Isabel shut down the recorder. She rolled away from the card as it hissed at her, landing a few meters away, then got to her feet and ran for the nearest tree. Ducking behind it (as she had no tree climbing skill), she pulled out her phone again and had just enough time to send the audio message to Tama’s communicator. Whipping around, she smiled at the Roses card. “I’ve been waiting for you. Wanna go to limbo with me? I’ve heard they’ve got a great salad bar, and you’d be great as the main centerpiece.”
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