Chapter 39 (or, "The Last Battle")
“Talk this through?” Erika held her breath. “A proposition? I know better than to deal with you.”
“Well, let’s see.” Dvorak crossed his arms, staying a good distance away from Tama and Erika. “I bet you’ve noticed by now that I have ultimate control in this world. There’s nothing either one of you can do to stop me. So I’ve decided to suggest something.” He pointed at Tama. “How about you come with me? If you do that, I’ll let this girl go to limbo and write whatever the hell she wants to.”
“And we expect you to keep your promise how?” Tama asked.
“Well, it’s not like you’re going to die if you come with me.”
“But you can’t guarantee that Erika will go to limbo.”
“I can if I take her with me.”
“I have an idea.” Erika stood up. “How about we wager something? You and me, Dvorak. Make a bet. If you win the bet, Tama gets to go with you, and I don’t even have to go to limbo if you want me to stay out. But if I win, Tama and I go to limbo to write this world back to reality.”
“Oh, I like wagers.” Dvorak grinned. “What do you have in mind, Miss Tomoyaki?”
“A Digital Merge game. The way it’s supposed to be played.” Erika pulled out the deck of cards that she had built. “I’ll play by your rules, but only if you’ll play by mine.”
Tama raised an eyebrow. “Erika, are you crazy?”
“Maybe.” She grinned back at him. “But I might just be crazy enough to pull this off. Dvorak, it’s up to you. Does this sound like a plan, or not?”
“I’m game.” Dvorak cracked his knuckles. “Why don’t we start right now?”
“Nuh-uh.” Erika beckoned Dvorak forward, motioning with her arm downward. “Let’s make this an official match. We’ll need someplace to sit. I don’t know, doesn’t the town hall sound comfortable to you?”
“That it does.” Without any warning, they were teleported to the town hall -- Dvorak’s doing. Erika steadied her feet as she found her footing on the floor; Tama, meanwhile, tripped and fell.
Dvorak simply glided down to the floor. “Now.” He snapped his fingers, and a table appeared in front of them. “Your deck against my deck. I win, Tama comes with me. You win, you get your dimension back. How’s that?”
“Sounds good.” Erika put her decks on the right side of her table. “There are supposed to be three decks per person: a hero deck, a gift card deck, and a problem deck. In addition, there are supposed to be vehicles to rent out. We don’t have problems or vehicles, so we’ll have to make do with what we can.”
Dvorak scowled. “How did you end up with two decks and only one for me? That’s not very fun, is it? Care to share your other deck?”
Erika waved a finger. “No can do. Gift card decks are personalized to each person’s deck. You’ll have to make do without any. In my real world, people usually have to pay extra for their own gift card decks. Draw five cards and choose which heroes you want to start with.”
Dvorak took five cards off the top of his deck, and Erika drew five as well. Tama watched the two from the sidelines. It was strange to see Dvorak, a man of very little words and very big ego, standing here, playing a kid’s card game with Erika. But the stakes were high, and time was running out -- any second now, and the worlds would merge. He didn’t know how much longer they had.
Luck was in her favor -- the Rainbow Ryuuzaki card had been right toward the top, but she needed the two gift cards in her hand in order to pull off the combo. First things first: she had to start this game off right. If she couldn’t pull off the Rainbow Ryuuzaki combos, she would have to use her regular strategy and build from the ground up.
“I play the Onibi and the Sen Tohr to the field,” she said, putting the cards on the table. They started to glow, and then, outside, the Onibi and Sen Tohr appeared, ready to fight for Erika. She had chosen well: the Onibi was able to levitate, so it did not need a vehicle, and Sen Tohr doubled as a vehicle.
She waited for Dvorak to make his first move, but he looked over his cards, folded his hand, and nodded at her. “Now what?”
“Well...there’s usually a disaster on the field, but we don’t have any problem cards.” Erika turned to Tama. “Can you give us a disaster to fix?”
Tama didn’t need to think that hard. “An evil magician has come to town,” he said, eyes on Dvorak. “An evil magician who has taken over the entire town and has made it his plaything. We have to set each building free from his wrath.”
Dvorak couldn’t help but grin. “I like where this is going, Tamasine. You should write a book.”
“I have more important tasks at hand.” Tama’s eyes went to Erika. She had to win this, no matter what.
Erika had two methods of winning: get up to 20 points or play Rainbow Ryuuzaki to the field. She closed her eyes adn looked at the memorized playing field in her head. She didn’t have a playmat out right now, but seh did know the location of all of the buildings in Disasterville. “Who should go first?”
“Ladies first,” Dvorak said.
“Okay, Onibi, Sen Tohr, fall in at the police station!” Erika moved her Onibi and Sen Tohr cards to the side, and outside in the real Disasterville, the Onibi and Sen Tohr went to the police station, now cast in a dim light. “Tama,” Erika asked, “how much power do I need to free the police station?”
Tama thought for a moment. “The places should be relatively easy to free. The challenge is that there are a lot of them. I’d say the average of all of the powers.”
“Right.” Onibi and Sen Tohr could supply that easily. “Onibi, Sen Tohr, face-off!”
In real life, the Onibi swirled around the police station, drawing out the darkness from deep within it. Then, Sen Tohr charged forward, raising up the ground around the police station to protect it from further attack. The table in front of Erika and Dvorak lit up, with the Onibi and Sen Tohr cards now glowing.
Joliar jumped onto the table. “Erika earns two points for freeing the police station,” he chirped in auto-mode. “Erika, please draw a gift card.”
Erika did -- the Bicycle Built for Two. With no vehicle cards available, this would come in handy. “Okay, Dvorak. It’s your turn.”
Dvorak sat a card down on the table. “I play the Sugar Sweets villain card and end my turn.”
What? Had Erika heard that right? “You’re not going to play any hero cards, but a villain card instead?”
“That makes sense, coming from Dvorak,” Tama muttered.
Dvorak just smirked and pushed the card out further onto the table. “I play this card. Your turn, Tomoyaki.”
Great, Erika thought to herself. She drew a card -- Rikimo’s Warrior of the Crystal Shield. She would have to defeat the Sugar Sweets card before she could progress with saving the buildings. “Warrior of the Crystal Shield, fall-in! Ride on the back of the Sen Tohr!” Thank goodness the Sen Tohr doubled as a vehicle, otherwise the Warrior wouldn’t have been able to land. She knew Sugar Sweets well, a normal-grade villain that was mainly used to slow the battlefield down.
She realized what Dvorak was doing. He wanted this battle to last forever. He knew he didn’t stand a chance against Tomoyaki Erika, the third highest ranked Digital Merge player, but if their battle went over the merge time, Dvorak would still win.
“All heroes, refocus your efforts onto the Sugar Sweets card!” she yelled. Outside, the sugary pile of candy was easily dispatched by the Onibi setting it on fire. On the table, the Sugar Sweets card glowed as Erika sat it aside.
Joliar grinned and cocked an ear. “Erika gains one point for dispatching the Sugar Sweets villain card. This ends your turn. The score is 3 to 0.”
Erika sighed. She hadn’t been able to move on the field, but at least she had gained a point that turn. Plus, she now had the Warrior in play.
She almost keeled over in shock when she watched Dvorak play the Death Seeker villain card next. “Seriously, are you trying to make this the hardest game ever?”
“Perhaps I am,” Dvorak said with a sneer, and outside, the Death Seeker stood in front of Erika’s chosen cards. “Death Seeker, attack!”
Erika knew that the Death Seeker could take out the entire field, and soon, both the Sen Tohr and Warrior cards were glowing. She discarded both and took another glance at her hand. LaTasha was in there, but without a vehicle, she couldn’t play her. Wait -- she had her Bicycle Built for Two, but she would need two heroes on it, and the Onibi wouldn’t count. A lot was riding on this next draw.
Please, reality, she thought to herself. I’m your guardian. Work with me here.
Tama jumped as he felt his pocket vibrate. He pulled out his communicator and glanced at the screen, seeing the red apple logo light up. Reality was listening to Erika. It was about time, too. He remembered how the guardian was supposed to have her own reality-altering powers, although lesser than Dvorak’s. Was Erika using those now?
She drew the next card from the hero deck: Takeru Yamato. She couldn’t be in more luck! Takeru Yamato’s special effect was that, every turn he was in play, Erika could draw an extra gift card. This had to help her get the two needed cards as soon as possible. “Takeru Yamato, fall in with LaTasha, Master of Turbines! Ride the Bicycle Built for Two.”
Takeru Yamato and LaTasha appeared outside, both perched on the Bicycle. “Oh, you have got to be kidding me,” LaTasha muttered.
Erika had to skip her solving phase since the Death Seeker card was in the way, but she could grab a gift card since Takeru Yamato was in play. She reached for the deck: the Flower Field. “I play the Flower Field on my heroes,” she said, immediately putting it down. The Field would divert the Death Seeker’s attack next turn.
“Well, damn,” Dvorak said as control switched to his end of the field. “I guess I skip my turn this time.”
“You seriously have no clue what you’re doing.” Erika drew another hero card: Rhiannon’s original Mother of the Air. Perfect. “Mother of the Air, fall in! Defeat the Death Seeker card!”
The Mother of the Air swung down from the clouds, wrecking havoc on the darkness below her. She looked the Death Seeker card in the eyes and, with a nod to her rival, dealt the final blow. The Death Seeker card glowed on the table.
“Erika gets four points for beating the Death Seeker,” Joliar chirped. “The score is 7 to 0. It is Dvorak’s turn.”
Tama stole another glance at his communicator, unlocking it. He tried to send a message to Sarah. “How much time do we have?” So far, none of his communications to Sarah had gone through, and while he knew they were close, he didn’t know how close.
“I play the Alpine Queen card, in villain mode,” Dvorak said.
Erika deadpanned. “There is no such thing as a villain mode. This isn’t in the rules!”
“You should know by now that I don’t play by the rules.”
“Of course you’re not. You’re just making things up as you go along!” Erika paused. This reminded her of her, actually. She recalled how she could never sit still in class and how she bugged her parents with endless shopping trips to get more Digital Merge cards. What if Dvorak’s just trying to fit in somewhere, like me?
“The Alpine Queen will not attack. Your turn, Tomoyaki.”
“Takeru Yamato and LaTasha, go to the high school!” Erika called out, moving her cards and drawing another one from her hero pile. The Frost Ninja -- another card without a vehicle requirement. Cool! “Frost Ninja, fall in with the Onibi. Work together as a team! Takeru Yamato and LaTasha, go to the high school. Frost Ninja and Onibi, fly to the middle school! Set them free!”
“Erika earns five points and three gift cards,” Joliar chirped back as the cards glowed. “Please draw your cards now. The score is 12 to 0.”
Erika pulled three gift cards from the top of her stack. The first one was the Sword of Infinite Light -- finally! She shuffled it into her hand next to Rainbow Ryuuzaki, then took a look at the other cards, Field of Butterflies and Hearty Dinner. The second one could allow her to draw more gift cards, but she had to wait until a solve phase to do it. “I end my turn.”
“Hm. Let’s see…” Dvorak thought for what had to be the longest moment in history. “Alpine Queen, go to the middle school and freeze it,” he said, moving the Alpine Queen to where the Onibi and the Frost Ninja were.
“Stop using her as a villain card!” Erika called out.
“I’ll do whatever I want.” Dvorak tapped on the Frost Ninja. “The Alpine Queen will now attack your Frost Ninja as well.”
The card glowed, and Erika had to take it off the field. She grumbled, but not for long as she drew the Red Giant at the beginning of her turn. “I pull LaTasha from the Bicycle Built for Two and put the Red Giant on it instead,” she said, knowing LaTasha would forgive her. “Bicycle, ride to the middle school and thaw it out!”
Takeru Yamato held on for dear life as the Red Giant blew flames behind the bike, propelling it forward. A simple flamethrower thawed out the icy exterior and also put an end to the Alpine Queen. “I play my Hearty Dinner card to gain an additional two gift cards,” Erika said, playing the much-needed card now.
“You get one point for thawing out the middle school,” Joliar said. “13 to 0.”
Erika drew her gift cards: the Book of Infinite Knowledge was right smack dab in the middle of them. Erika dipped her head, making sure Dvorak couldn’t see her face under her brim. This was it. She had the winning combination. All she had to do was make sure she could wait through Dvorak’s next turn and not spoil her surprise. She was fairly certain he didn’t know about these cards.
And then what would happen? She would save the world, right? She’d go to limbo and rewrite everything and make sure nothing in limbo disappeared. But then she remembered what Isabel had said: nobody can leave limbo without somebody going in. And Dvorak could just go in and out of limbo as need be, right? Wasn’t he supposed to just set everybody free? He wasn’t going to do that. Erika knew that he wouldn’t. She trusted Tama’s words about this man.
She looked back over at him. His eyes were on her, holding his breath. She could tell from his look that she didn’t have much time. “Your turn, Dvorak,” she said, head still bowed.
Dvorak nodded. “Okay. Tell me, Erika, how are you doing over there, knowing that you’re about to lose?”
She kept her face down. She had to find a way for him to give up his turn. If he kept going on like this, the worlds would merge and everybody would lose except for him. “I won’t lose. Not now. Not ever.”
“I doubt that. Okay, I skip my turn. Let’s see what you got.”
Erika had to restrain herself not to rush. She took a new hero off the top -- the Flame Baby, but she didn’t need it. Then, without a word, she put Rainbow Ryuuzaki with the two gift cards down onto the table.
There was a huge flash of light, and then, the room was so bright that nobody could see anything. Erika tilted her cap back and saw that, rather than be outside, Rainbow Ryuuzaki was standing where the table had once been. She yelled for him to attack, but the light swallowed up her words.
And then she realized: it wasn’t up to Rainbow Ryuuzaki to attack him anyway.
She turned toward Tama, who had his goggles on. Motioning him over, he ran toward her. He opened his mouth to speak, then shut it again as she pulled him close into a hug. She wished she could tell him what she really wanted to say, but there was no more time.
She pulled back just enough to quickly tap her lips to his as a thank-you, and then, she let him go, turned, and ran past Rainbow Ryuuzaki. With arms outstretched, she charged toward Dvorak, swallowed up by the light.