Episode 1 - Death And Rebirth
Blue eyes peered into their counterparts in the small dressing table's mirror. A young woman, no more than fourteen, brushed her wavy, dirty blonde hair down into a state most would agree to call 'presentable'. The expression on Karaia Silvis' face betrayed none of the thoughts that were bouncing around in her mind on this Saturday morning. Memories of how last week's session had gone, and the mild irritation they brought.
“The subject showed higher brain activity in general as well as superior cognition and reasoning during the duel, but there were several anomalous increases in activity in the subject's premotor cortex and posterior parietal cortex with no corresponding measurable physical parallel.”
“Why are they so impersonal?” she grumbled to herself, shifting the black hairband over her head to finish the task of getting ready, “I bet they don't call her 'the subject' all the time.”
She pushed herself to her feet and stifled a yawn. It was still far too early for her liking. Not even quite seven yet. A warm presence flickered in her consciousness, driving back the feelings of sleepiness that still clouded her thought, and Karaia smirked to herself.
“Good morning to you too.”
Emerging from her artificially lit bedroom into the sunlit kitchen and dining area of the Silvis house made her groan and instinctively squint. The smell of waffles had long since filled the place, so there had been no question in her mind as to what breakfast was going to be, either way.
“Dad why can't you cook with the drapes pulled like regular people?”
“As soon as you give me a statistical survey on 'people who pull the drapes while cooking on mornings vs those who do not', we'll talk,” Joe Silvis teased, pointing at the place setting he had prepared for his daughter ever since she had dragged herself out of bed and into the shower.
“That one's yours, your mother is probably not going to get up until noon, eat up quick so we can get going or I'll be late.”
Karaia, still squinting, looked at her father with a puzzled expression.
“I thought I told you I was gonna take the metro there today? Easier on both of us.”
“Oh sure cause most fathers let their fourteen year old daughters ride the metro alone before eight on a Saturday morning. Oh wait I forgot, you didn't get me the stat survey on that either...”
Karaia thought to retort, and opened her mouth to do so, which made the sound of her stomach rumbling even more pronounced. She thought better of it and sat down, chewing her way through at least three large mouthfuls of waffles before putting up any argument.
“You're going to be late if you drop me off no matter what you do, and it's far out of your way so you can't even say it is going to be only a little. You need the stats on the unemployment rates in the city? I at least know where to find those.”
“Cheeky,” was all Joe muttered through his own mouthful of waffle.
“I'll be alright on the train, Dad,” Karaia insisted, checking through her bag to confirm that nothing had been forgotten, before stuffing an entire bacon strip into her mouth.
Joe snickered, “You look like a squirrel. Anyway, no. If anything, take a cab there. If you call now, you should only be a little late.”
The flickering presence in Karaia's mind 'ignited' the young girl's irritation a bit, but it took a few more moments before her mouth was clear enough to actually complain.
“Wait you wanna put me in a cab with some random guy driving but you won't let me walk through my own neighborhood on my own feet to get on a train with a schedule?”
Joe paused, his mouth slightly open, then answered simply, “Yes. Go call a cab.”
Karaia put her hand over her face and whimpered slightly at what she considered 'crazy adult logic', but obeyed, wondering to herself why somehow it did not make more sense for her father to make that call, given the situation.
By the time she returned to her unfinished breakfast, Joe Silvis had finished his own.
“Okay that works out well actually, you should have enough time to do the dishes quick before they get here. Handle mine too, would you, sweetheart? I'm off! Call me when you're done and I'll come pick you up.”
With that he kissed her on the forehead and dashed for the door, not even giving Karaia a chance to argue about that decision.
“Why is he crazy?” crackled the 'other presence' in her mind.
Karaia responded with a swirl of thought regarding her mother's personality, implying that no one else would have married her.
“Oh right.” The warmth receded again, leaving Karaia with her own basic thoughts.
Her cell phone rang just as she finished drying the last plate, and a quick conversation confirmed that the car that had pulled up outside was indeed her ride. One quick final check and she dashed out the door, into the waiting vehicle.
“Corner of Tenneson and Dwight?” the driver asked simply, by way of greeting.
Karaia made an affirmative sound and the car pulled off.
“So, you one of those kids that helps test that card game?” the driver asked suddenly about three minutes later. Karaia instinctively sat up straight, wondering what had prompted the question.
“Yes,” she replied, a little warily, “Why?”
“Jus' wondering, mostly. Couldn't think of any reason why a girl your age would be heading to that section of town, especially not this early. Then I remembered all the big fuss those KirriCorp guys made when they moved that stuff into the building out there and started hyping their game more around here, so I figured that had to be it.”
“Ah.” Karaia muttered back, looking out the window. She knew the real reason they had come all the way to this relatively smaller city. In the end, it had not been for simple promotional ease nor for any of the other dodgy reasons given. KirriCorp had come here looking for a person. A person she knew too well. Another minute of silence passed before he interrupted her thoughts with another 'random' question.
“So, you good at it then?”
“I was almost the Under-14 National champion.”
The response carried almost none of the irritation she actually felt regarding the subject, which in a way was unfortunate for Karaia, since her normal wish was to avoid discussing it.
“Almost? What's that mean?”
“Means exactly that. I got to the finals of the National tournament and lost. Runner up.”
To her surprise, the man did not ask any of the usual annoying questions about why she lost or who she had lost to.
“Oh really, that's cool. You must be pretty boss at that game then.”
She smiled slightly, “I try my best.”
The rest of the trip was pleasant, and Karaia got out of the cab with the feeling she had made a friend of sorts. Entering the building caused the feeling to fade. Both the security guard and the building receptionist were as impersonal as ever, so she simply proceeded to the elevator and pressed the button for the third floor. No one else shared the ride up.
She stepped out into a corridor on the third floor and walked slowly, tracing fingertips along the wall. She was ten minutes late, but it was unlikely to matter. Surely enough, upon reaching the room where she normally dueled, the door was closed, but the reason why was unexpected. Duel in progress. Karaia momentarily wondered who would have arrived even earlier than she.
“Oof...” escaped her lips as she sank into one of the long leather chairs outside the room and pulled her deck out of her bag, shuffling through it absently. It had been a strange year. Two years ago she would never have imagined herself as the type of person to get into a collectible card game, far less a recognized expert at it. Her hands moved swiftly, rearranging the brightly colored cards over and over as her mind reminisced over recent events.
As she had told the driver, she had almost reached the top. Nearly become the champion of her age division. Except for one person. Someone she once had called friend and still, to some extent, managed to think of as one, despite her disappointment at that National Tournament. Someone from her very own hometown. Everyone had hoped that with both of the girls in the running, the area was sure to have a good chance at getting recognition, but no one had expected the two to be the ones facing each other in the finals.
The match had been one of the most intense of the tournament, with a nail-biting finish. It could have gone either way. Luck of the draw. Her opponent was the one that was lucky. At the time, Karaia had been proud and happy, and simply said “I'll get you next time”. It was only later, that she learnt it would be quite a while before there would be a 'next time'. Her birthdate made it so that she only qualified for that division for the one year. She would never actually be able to challenge her rival for that National Junior Champion title.
Now, she faced college students and other 'adults', and the level of play already far exceeded what she had been used to. Even holding her own required much patience and practice.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the door being practically flung open by an excited young man in a KirriCorp polo shirt. He barely nodded to her as acknowledgement of her presence, and hurried off, obviously to report some vitally important thing to his superiors.
The door to the large dueling room closed much more slowly than it opened. She could hear the voices from within, and feel the flickers of that strange energy she knew from a few of her own duels. One such flicker was not a flicker at all, but a surge that came with a declaration from a voice she knew well. The subject of her prior thoughts. Her rival, Arielle Dumas.
“I call Artillery Officer Nina, and attack you directly with my Solarion Thistle!”
Karaia made a rather rash decision right then, scrambling to her feet and through the almost closed door. She fully expected to be scolded and immediately sent back out, but luck was with her today. There were only three KirriCorp staff members remaining in the room, all three of which were focused on either the duel, or their monitoring screens, and facing away from her, mostly. She slipped off to one side to further lessen her chances of being noticed.
Unfortunately, her new position gave her no view of the dueling table where her rival and the older teen boy were facing off. She took another chance, mentally 'poking' the other presence in her mind to request a view of the action. It came suddenly, as if sucking her into a vision, overlaying her regular perceptions with something akin to a very potent daydream.
In the distance she could make out the floating 'airship' of Arielle's Sky Pirates as it moved in for an attack. The large flower that appeared to have sprouted from the deck was currently bombarding the encased form of the other duelist with its explosive thistledown. She could tell immediately that the duel had not been going on for very long. Arielle's dueling style was generally quite straightforward, yet her opponent's Grid defenses were still mostly intact. This was the first attack of the duel.
The surge of energy she had felt prior, therefore, could only have been caused by Arielle's intent to summon her favorite card, Nina, before launching this bold attack. The opponent already had three creatures of their own in play. The tiny phoenix creature known as Espy Arrow, the Marauder called Brave Hessus J, and the discarding Submarina type Ghost Jellyfish. Two Fire creatures and one Gravity.
“Are you done?” the youth asked, as Arielle seemed lost in either thought or her own mental imagery. There was another creature on Dumas' side of the conflict that could attack, but not even Arielle was too likely to send the relatively weak Sky Pirate in to attack knowing that a counterattack would defeat it. Linsay Buckler was an acceleration card, not much of a fighter.
Physically, Arielle scratched lightly under her right eye. In Karaia's mindspace, the action manifested as a shift in the movement of the great ship, with Artillery Officer Nina looking out over the rocky plains that lay beyond the cliffs of the other duelist's world from the bow. Linsay had not left her place on the rigging yet either.
“Yeah, I end turn.”
“Mm. Well clearly that one has to go,” her opponent contemplated, drawing his card. He added it to his hand, but played something different with the six tempo he now had.
“Cast Wormhole, at full power, on your Solarion Thistle.”
Even from her 'distance', Karaia could feel Arielle brace for the effect of the dimensional distortion. Normally, the gravity spell would only bend spacetime temporarily, and the creature sucked into it would be ejected again, but at full power, it simply swallowed up the powerful Flora creature without a trace, leaving the skyship rocking for a bit before the young man ended his turn.
By now Karaia had a clearer idea of what was going on. Both players had six tempo, and this normally meant that things were about to liven up a little, but Arielle's opponent was playing Fire and Gravity, the most destructive possible current combination.
“He didn't attack, either. Perhaps he has already figured her out...” came the contribution from the other voice in her mind. Attacking Arielle too early was usually dangerous, as her acceleration would cause her tempo to be pushed high quickly, and her few stronger creatures could then quickly overwhelm even the most prepared of opponents.
The Salamander took form now beside Karaia, in her perception, blue-green flames flickering from its body as it joined Karaia in observing from afar. The creature known as Turquoise Temper.
Karaia's thought stream conveyed a 'maybe', and two other possible other reasons. Her 'conversation' with Temper was cut off by Arielle's next play. She drew the top card of her deck, looked at it, and called it into the conflict without hesitation. Suna.
The Glacia's chilling presence sapped one tempo from each of the players, and Arielle ended her turn there, as if waiting for something.
“Unexpected,” the youth admitted, smirking, “But not enough to hold me back. Looks like this is going to go my way after all...”
Karaia's eyes shot open from the heavy lidded trance she had fallen into, but her vision remained focused on the world in their minds. She could feel what was coming. The young man was no ordinary duelist. Like most of those who were asked to help with the testing at this 'temporary' KirriCorp facility, he had the gift. He had the ability to use the same, strange 'power', and whatever creature embodied that power in his mind was about to be played. His two fire creatures glowed briefly. Whatever it was, it was large enough to require almost all his tempo.
“Your ship is tinderwood. I call my Sables Duress!”
The area around him ignited in searing white and orange flames, consuming his own Ghost Jellyfish and Espy Arrow in an instant, as the great Phoenix took form, seeming to charge the air itself with the young man's psionic energy.
Sables spread its wings and soared, letting out a terrifying shriek before diving directly at, and through, Arielle's ship.
The KirriCorp staff suddenly went into a frenzy of activity, but none of the three duelists paid any attention to them. Sables returned to the young man's side, perching on the cliff next to his form, the air around it distorted by the heat it gave off. It, and the marauder, had been the only survivors of the event.
Arielle winced. Her own such creature, Nina, had been seared away by Sables, and now her side of the conflict had no creatures at all. The ship remained, though, the damage from the blaze dying away, and it somehow stayed afloat despite the hole now punched through it from mast to keel. Arielle's own psychic energy, the thing she was known for most, now was notably less than even her previously unknown opponent. Karaia knew who this young man was now.
“But... why is he here... was he willing to travel all this way just to duel her?”
“I call Slim Jackson--” the pirate's effect caused the top card of Arielle's deck to be sent to her graveyard, another of her Suna, but accelerated her Tempo, “--and another Solarion. End turn.”
“I doubt that's going to change anything,” he said simply, drawing his card, “Call Sentient Gorge.”
The earth rumbled beneath him, and the great Deep Thought creature emerged from the gaping crack that opened, swallowing up, to Arielle's surprise, the very Sables that had just obliterated her creatures. The Gorge then turned its massive gravity field toward her own side, causing Slim Jackson to dive off the side of the ship, pistols blazing, but to no avail other than protecting the Solarion Thistle. The Sentient Gorge swallowed up the pirate as well.
“Why? Why destroy your ow--”
“For me, death is a temporary thing,” he replied. The Deep Thought glowed briefly, making it easier for him to summon another, similar but distinct, to join it. The 'channeler of will', Jonas.
“Five thousand power...” Arielle noted, mentally counting the number of creatures that had fallen on the young man's side of the conflict thus far. Each of those creatures in the grave now boosted Jonas' power by one thousand. One more, and the Deep Thought would do twice as much damage to her Grid defense, and match the power of her Solarion Thistle, which drew power from that grid. Even with the sacrifice of his own Phoenix, he had moved toward advantage.
Karaia felt the tiny ripple of confidence that Arielle's next drawn card brought her. A ripple so faint that only someone who knew her well would be sure of it. If this opponent could not read the tiny fluctuations in psionic output, he could well be in for more trouble than he was bargaining for.
“Just call my Artillery Officer again, then, and... attack with Solarion.”
The young man raised an eyebrow as the explosive thistledown again descended upon him, blasting two more of the three remaining fragments that made up his grid. Karaia's lips pressed together tightly. The move made little sense. It could only be a trap, or desperation. Arielle's reaction to her card made it clear which it was, but would it be as clear to him? There was only one fragment left of his Grid. One more attack, and Arielle would be able to strike at his core and win the duel. Gravity had few creatures capable of blocking. Fire had none. The two tempo that he gained from the absorption of the power by the Grid, went unused. He did not play any responcer card, simply accepting the damage and awaiting Arielle's signal of the end of her turn.
When it came, he drew his card with a laugh.
“Heh, you are seriously reckless, little lady. You really think I'd fall for something that obvious, though? Cast From The Depths and consume one tempo, to return my Ghost Jellyfish and other Brave Hessus J to my hand. Call Ghost Jellyfish.”
Arielle discarded one of the two cards remaining in her hand. Her Air Cannon.
“Gotcha,” he laughed, “Summon Brave Hessus, discard Burgundy Wail.”
The Salamander he had just drawn now went to grave, returning Jonas' power to four thousand.
“Brave Hessus attacks directly!”
“Air Cannon,” Arielle grinned. The final card in her hand had been the same. Even as the Marauder's powerful swing crashed into her Grid, the shockwave artillery blasted right through the gravity manifestation that made up the current form of Jonas, leaving only the Sentient Gorge able to attack, and one thousand power short of being able to bring down the Solarion Thistle.
The young man did not even flinch. His confidence did not flicker for a moment, even in the face of this development. Her two creatures stood poised to finish him, yet he was not bothered at all.
“Sentient Gorge also attacks directly, and end turn.”
There was no need to wait to see if she could respond. Arielle's hand had been depleted.
“He got her,” Temper noted simply. There was nothing in Arielle's deck that could add a third attacker to her forces on this turn, and with nothing in hand, there was little chance that she would be able to stop his four creatures from overwhelming her.
“Looks that way...” Karaia noted, realizing that the boy's deck probably also contained the same popular responcer type spell that had just disrupted his own plans. Even if Arielle did only need two strikes, she would never get the second.
Arielle drew her card, and grinned, her outputs spiking, pushing back against the dominance that the young man had managed to hold onto despite appearing to be on the brink of defeat.
“What now? I don't think you even can win from here,” he sighed, apparently disinterested in what appeared to be her attempt at intimidation.
“NiaNia,” was all Arielle said, in a teasing voice. The Tradewind Pixie, one of her few Sprite cards, appeared in the conflict, and with a swirl of power, activated its effect, causing the boy to simply stare at her in disbelief. Physically, he now had to return his hand to his deck and shuffle it, drawing that many cards and showing each to Arielle. In their shared mindspace, the Sprite was already swirling through a victory dance with Nina.
“Wormhole... Burgundy Wail...” He paused, hoping, and drew the third card.
“And look, your Jonas is back!” Arielle laughed, “Too late though. Solarion, attack!”
The exploding down once again converged on the manifested form of the duelist, as Nina readied the ship's main cannon.
“Artillery Officer Nina... finale!”
The blast streaked through the sky, exploding on impact at the spot where the boy 'stood'. Outside their mind space, he staggered for a moment, then actually lost consciousness for a second, fainting backward into the supporting arms of the duel arbiter.
“Lucky as ever.”
“Seems so,” came the voice from just behind her. She had been so caught up in the duel that she had not even noticed the approach of the person, and now she whirled, nearly falling herself.
“Good morning, Miss Karaia,” the woman smiled at her, “And how long have you been here?”
Before Karaia could answer or manage to come up with an excuse, Arielle Dumas came bounding over to greet the immaculately attired female KirriCorp employee.
“Hiii Ms. Marshall! G'mornin' Turkey!”
Karaia groaned audibly at the name. Turquoise Temper flared, in her mind, with indignance.
“She'd better grow out of that soon.”
“Why do you call her that? It seems quite mean, Arielle,” the woman identified as Ms. Marshall pointed out by way of inquiry.
“It's a sec-ret, and no, it's not meant to be mean,” Arielle smiled, enthusiastic as ever.
“I see,” she said, before turning back to Karaia, “Well, Mr. Kirricort would like to see you, so please meet me outside his office in a few minutes.”
“Wait, both of us?” Arielle asked, realizing that Suzanne Marshall might have meant just Karaia.
“No, just Karaia,” Suzanne confirmed, before moving off to check on Arielle's defeated opponent. They watched as the woman made sure he was nothing more than shaken, then Suzanne left without saying anything further.
“Huh. He wants to see just you... that's weird,” Arielle contemplated, scratching her head slightly, short dark hair now disturbed slightly by the action.
“And just why is it so weird? It's not like you were always going to be the only 'special one', you know,” Karaia snapped irritably.
Arielle tilted her head, looking at Karaia in complete confusion, before expounding.
“It's not that... it's just that I've never met Mr. Kirricort either. I didn't even know he came here.”